A few months back, the Center staff was treated to a tour of the General Motors Design Archive in Warren, Michigan. It was a rare opportunity to exchange ideas with colleagues and peek at an amazing collection. Since that time, we have received several queries about collections here at Cranbrook with GM connections.
One of my favorite collections is the Jayne Van Alstyne Papers. Born in Delaware, Ohio in 1923, Martha Jayne Van Alstyne was an industrial designer, teacher, and ceramicist. The Van Alstyne family moved to East Lansing when Jayne was in high school and her father, Benjamin, accepted a coaching position at Michigan State University. Benjamin Van Alstyne coached basketball and golf at MSU, and her mother, Madeline Bliss Van Alstyne was an interior designer.
Jayne attended Cranbrook Academy of Art (1941-1942) and the Pratt Institute (1942-1945), where she received an Industrial Design Certificate. She completed her bachelor’s and Master of Fine Arts at the Alfred University in New York (1948-1950). Jayne’s ambition and passion for work and life are abundantly evident in the slides, photographs, correspondence, and portfolios we have here in the Archives.
While still a student at Alfred, Jayne developed an Industrial Design program and a Landscape Design course for Michigan State University. In 1949, she was recruited by Montana State University to develop an Interior and Industrial Design program. She loved Bozeman and stayed in this position until 1955 when she joined the design staff at General Motors Frigidaire.
Jayne worked at General Motors in the Appliance division and later in the Automotive division as one of Harley Earl’s famed “Damsels of Design” until 1969. She holds the patent for the first stackable washer/dryer, as well as 8 additional patents for GM. As the Studio Head for GM Frigidaire, she was responsible for research and development, including the “Ideas for Living” and the “Kitchen of Tomorrow” presented at the General Motors Motorama.
In 1969, Jayne took her experience to the classroom, teaching industrial design at Cornell University. In 1972, she moved back to Bozeman to head the Department of Professional Design at Montana State University, where she remained until her retirement in 1985. During her tenure at Montana State, she designed the Danforth Chapel, including the stained-glass window and furnishings.
In addition to industrial design and teaching, Jayne loved skiing and fly-fishing. She was also an accomplished ceramicist and won numerous ceramic awards. Her work is in the permanent collections of Alfred University, Detroit Institute of Arts, Everson Museum of Art, and Michigan State University. Jayne passed away in 2015 at the age of 92.
– Gina Tecos, Archivist