greg nanamura 20th century design  

Tommi Parzinger

Born in Munich in 1903, Tommi Parzinger was the son of a wealthy sculptor. In 1920, Parzinger enrolled in the Berlin Kunstgewerbeschule where he studied design and the crafts of ceramics, glass, metalwork, and furniture. This training gave him a foundation in tradition and a breadth of technique, from drafting and modeling to gilding and joinery. He won attention across Europe for a variety of designs, including wallpaper, fabric, interiors, books, posters and also porcelain for the German manufacturer, KPM, and other companies.

In 1932, Parzinger’s entry in a poster competition sponsored by a German steamship company garnered first prize, a trip to the United States on the S.S. Bremen. The visit set the stage for Parzinger's subsequent move to the U.S.A., precipitated by an event that occurred upon his return to his homeland. "He won a state-sponsored poster competition, and the brownshirts told him that he'd have to join the Nazi Party by the following day to claim the prize," says Donald Cameron. "Instead he went to the American embassy to get a visitor's visa and departed immediately, leaving everything behind."

After settling in New York in 1935, Parzinger began designing silver, brass, and crystal pieces as well as furniture for Rena Rosenthal for her shop on Madison Avenue. In 1939 he established Parzinger, Inc. (renamed Parzinger Originals in 1946). The Parzinger showroom, located for most of his career on East 57th Street, became known for its alluring arrangements of furniture and other objects by the designer, accentuated by paintings, African carvings, Navajo pots, Polynesian spears, and other well-chosen counterpoints.

Donald Cameron, Parzinger’s domestic partner over the course of his carrier in the U.S., became his business and creative partner as well, overseeing production and contributing designs. Cameron recalls, "I tended to deal more with clients," which included the Fords, Rockefellers, DuPonts, Mellons and Israeli ambassador, Abba Eban.

Parzinger designed furniture for Charak Modern, Willow & Reed, Hofstatter, and Salterini. He also designed wallpaper, perfume bottles, and packaging as well as lighting fixtures for Lightolier, fabric for F. Schumacher, and brass accessories for Dorlyn. From 1939 to 1941, Dorlyn produced hand made sterling silver tableware and objects that Parzinger designed, including large table clocks and grandfather clocks.