​The Beifuss File: Memphis designer is an unsung great

John Beifuss , USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee - 2017


Gere Kavanaugh may be the most influential Memphis artist you’ve never heard of.

Most of her work isn’t signed. If you sat in a chair, admired a fabric, strolled through a library, scanned a typeface, unfurled an umbrella, shopped in a store or drank from a cup designed by Kavanaugh, you wouldn’t know it.

The design community is aware of her, even if the public isn’t. Earlier this winter, while Bob Dylan was not accepting his Nobel Prize in Stockholm, Kavanaugh was accepting an international arts prize, in Prague. A glossy coffee table book celebrating her life and work is scheduled for publication later this year.


At 86, she’s busy as ever. “One lifetime is not enough, even if you try,” Kavanaugh said, in a phone interview from her studio/home in the Victorian-era Angelino Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, not too far from where she once shared a bungalow studio with her friend Frank Gehry, probably the world’s most renowned living architect.

Born and raised in Memphis and educated at the Memphis Academy of Arts (the precursor to the current Memphis College of Art), Kavanaugh credits her hometown with the “foundation” that made her a pioneer in a field almost entirely dominated by men.


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