Former UD professor is exceptional 'chairperson'
A molded plywood chair, designed in 1956 by Norman Cherner and made by Plycraft in Lawrence, Mass., gift of Jeanne S. Rymer, 2007.
An American-designed chair, artist and maker unknown, circa 1950, of molded fiberglass and metal, gift of Jeanne S. Rymer, 2007.
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1:38 p.m., June 23, 2009----Retired University of Delaware professor of interior design Jeanne S. Rymer literally chaired an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For many years, Rymer's passion was collecting modern chairs. She had them throughout her house and established a small museum in the lower level of her home, which was open to the public by appointment and attracted many visitors, including her UD students.

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When she moved to California, she donated her collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and A Taste for Modern: The Jeanne Rymer Collection of Twentieth-Century Chairs will be on exhibition through Sept. 20 in the Collab Gallery in the Perelman Building. Rymer and her collection also sparked a feature in Antiques magazine.

“I was knowledgeable about furniture since I was in the interior design field, so my interest in chairs was natural. Modern chairs for the most part were lightweight and small and easy to transport and move so they were collectable. They were made in different designs and of wood, molded wood, plastic, metal, fiberglass and even cardboard,” Rymer said. “The house my partner and I owned had space for my collection, and I took it seriously.”

The Rago auction house in New Jersey had a modern furniture auction twice a year, she said, and she studied the offerings beforehand, decided what she wanted to buy and how much she was willing to spend. “I learned so much and had so much fun acquiring the chairs for our museum,” she said.

“When I moved to California, I was so very happy to find a home at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for my cherished pieces,” Rymer said. “They are like friends to me.”

There were two chairs by well-known architect Frank Gehry that she could not bear to part with. Known as “high sticking chairs,” the chairs are elegant, she said, and made of thin wooden strips, which are interwoven.

According to Donna Corbin, associate curator of European decorative arts, who organized the exhibit, “Chairs are Jeanne's passion, and this exhibition displays the fun, and sometimes quirky works she collected.”

She said, “Jeanne Rymer's collection documents several important trends in 20th-century chair design” and displays “a broad overview of modern chairmaking.”

In late June, Rymer said she plans to come to Philadelphia and meet a group of friends and lunch at the museum, and then go to the exhibition and visit her “chair friends.”

“I am really looking forward to the trip,” she said.

Rymer had another collection of Depression era Arthurdale furniture from her mother, Nellie Blythe Stockdale. Arthurdale furniture was made by Mountaineer Craftsman Cooperative in West Virginia. Rymer donated that collection to her alma mater, the University of West Virginia, where it is one of the main attractions of its New Deal Homestead Museum.

Article by Sue Moncure
Photos courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art