Ambitious designer A. Joel Robinson (b. ca. 1923) was the first African American to be featured in the Museum of Modern Art's landmark Good Design exhibition series, which ran in Chicago and New York City from 1949 to 1956. His purely geometric designs for manufacturer L. Anton Maix, including Ovals (see Cora Ginsburg Modern 2018 catalogue, pp. 10-11), were featured in two consecutive Good Design exhibitions (1951-1952), but were only one small portion of his output, which included designs for sheet music, book covers, furniture, and even dress design. In 1952, Ebony named the twenty-nine-year-old advertising man one of its most eligible "wealthy bachelors," with a salary of over $10,000 a year, though he insisted that his work as an advertising artist, painter, technical illustrator, and furniture designer left him "too busy to fall in love."
Roman Candles is a refreshingly simplified exploration of fireworks, with radiating black vectors terminating in sparks rendered as red, yellow, and brown dots in repeating horizontal rows. Much of Robinson's known textile oeuvre is executed along similar lines and was probably designed using the template drafting tools of his trade as a graphic designer. Although it is not specifically listed in any Good Design catalogues, Ebony noted in May 1952 that Robinson's "'Roman Candles' design was used to upholster a chair which won [a] prize at [the] 1951 Chicago Good Design show," indicating that it was used as upholstery fabric on an exhibited chair, possibly the model designed by Alvin Lustig, who also designed textiles produced by Maix.
It is extremely rare to find yardage of Maix textiles, which were produced in limited quantities to order, rather than on spec, on expensive Belgian linen. Maix's textiles retailed for $9 per yard at a time when comparable printed fabrics designed by marquee names like Bernard Rudofsky cost only $6.75.
A sample of Roman Candles is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (589.2017).
Published in the Cora Ginsburg Summer 2019 catalogue.