Wendy Maruyama’s Mickey Mackintosh Chair

Wendy Maruyama’s Mickey Mackintosh chair served as a declaration of independence for its young designer. After nearly a decade spent studying woodworking at schools across America, Maruyama accepted her first teaching position at the Appalachian Center for Crafts in Tennessee in 1981. Maruyama says that she finally felt free to create work which reflected her own interests, and Mickey Mackintosh combines her love of the early modern tall-back chair designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh with an homage to Southern California’s Disneyland.  It’s a textbook example of postmodern pastiche, juxtaposing high and populist culture in an unexpected fashion.  Although Maruyama is deaf, she has always maintained that the gigantic silhouetted “ears” of the chair are not symbolic and are strictly based on Mickey Mouse.

Maruyama was influenced by Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Design Group, and her use of Zolatone paint, which is a thick, sparkly substance used in the wheel wells and underbodies of cars, added an additional kitschy surface treatment which was typical of the patterns and textures used in the early Memphis furniture lines of the late 1970s.  The chair’s Disney homage was quite prescient, and pre-dates the commercial relationship between American postmodern architects and Walt Disney studios in the 1980s. The use of historicist silhouette precedes the series of chairs designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown for Knoll in 1984.

Mickey Mackintosh was first exhibited at the gallery Pritam and Eames in Easthampton, Long Island. Reviewing the chair in “The Rise of Artiture,” his skeptical account in 1983 of American studio furniture’s pivot towards designs more suitable for the art gallery than the home, the woodworker Art Carpenter mistakenly called it the “Mickey Mouse Chair” and remarked that “I see the chair now as a parody of the regality and puffery of high backed chairs…I don’t know if Maruyama sees it this way, but artiture when it teases the seriousness of furniture, even gratuitously, does service.”

Throughout the 1980s, Maruyama made the chair to order, but always kept track of the number. Early collectors of the chair included the furniture designer Gary Knox Bennett (his chair is now in the collection of Yale University Art Gallery) and the fashion designer Willie Smith.  As time passed Maruyama’s new furniture designs became both more colorful as well as politically charged.  But Mickey Mackintosh itself became more subdued in its palette, as Maruyama experimented with a darker paint which could be applied more smoothly to the surface. In 2022, Maruyama completed the final ten examples in the original edition of 25, which are being offered exclusively through R & Company.

In addition to Yale, examples of the chair are in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, LACMA, Dallas and the Mingei International Museum, San Diego.