Google is honoring the vision and art of famed artist and American designer Altina Schinasi, recognized as the brains behind developing the “cat-eye” eyeglass frame, with its August 4 Doodle to mark her 116th birthday. Schinasi was born on this day in 1907 in Manhattan, New York, to immigrant parents. Her artistic career brought her from the streets of Manhattan to the vibrant art scene of Paris, where she continued her passion for painting after finishing high school.
Who Was Altina Schinasi, The Genius Artist?
Altina Schinasi was a sculptor, filmmaker, businesswoman, window dresser, designer, and inventor from the United States. She was best known for inventing the “Harlequin eyeglass frame,” also known as cat-eye glasses. The Schinasi family was rife with creative talent. She was a professor of ceramics at the University of California, Berkeley, and received the American Craft Council’s Gold Medal.
She has permanent exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Schinasi’s inventiveness and tenacity revolutionized the eyewear industry and left a lasting impression on the fashion industry.
Altina Schinasi’s Early Education
During her time spent learning the art of painting in Paris, Altina Schinasi discovered her true calling in life. Schinasi returned to the United States and immediately enrolled at New York’s Art Students League, where she studied under the guidance of renowned artists Hans Hofmann and Morris Kantor to further develop her artistic abilities. The unexpected turn in her artistic career came when she began working as a window dresser on Fifth Avenue. The chance to work with famous artists like Salvador Dal and George Grosz broadened her horizons and sparked her creativity in the realm of design.
Where Did The Idea For Cat-Eye Framed Glasses Crop Up?
She invented the “cat-eye” eyeglass frame while working as a window display designer. Recognizing the lack of variety in women’s eyewear beyond the standard round frames, Altina Schinasi set out to change that.
The bewitching design of Harlequin masks worn during the Carnevale festival in Venice, Italy, served as inspiration for Altina Schinasi, who conceived eyeglass frames with pointy ends to highlight and enhance the wearer’s visage. Making paper prototypes of her novel design, Schinasi persevered in her pursuit despite multiple rejections from major manufacturers who deemed her creation too odd.
Altina Schinasi’s Remarkable Journey Earned Her Major Awards
Her breakthrough came when a local shop owner saw her potential and creativity and asked for a six-month exclusive agreement. The Harlequin eyeglasses shot to fame in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when they were a huge hit with American women.
Schinasi’s invention was so groundbreaking that it earned her widespread acclaim and the coveted Lord & Taylor American Design Award in 1939. Prominent publications like Vogue and Life, among others, acknowledged her influence on the fashion industry.
Her Most Notable Works
Altina Schinasi has designed several iconic pieces in addition to her larger body of work. Some of these include the “Altina Schinasi” rug, made for the Knoll Textile Company in 1955; the “Aphrodite” ceramic vase, made for the Steuben Glass Company in 1960; and the “Opus II” necklace, made in 1965. These pieces showcase her exceptional creativity and innovative approach to design.
Schinasi also dabbled in filmmaking, helming the engrossing documentary “George Grosz Interregnum” about her former mentor, the renowned artist George Grosz. As a result of its success, the film was nominated for an Academy Award and ultimately won the top prize at the 1960 Venice Film Festival. She was not only a pioneer in the eyeglass and film industries; she also created the whimsical portrait chairs and benches known as Chairacters.
Altina Schinasi pursued various artistic avenues throughout her life, eventually writing her memoir, “The Road I Have Traveled,” which gives readers a glimpse into her remarkable journey through life. As a side gig, she used her artistic abilities to volunteer as an art therapist.
Nearly a century after they first emerged, Altina’s cat-eye frame design is still a major trendsetter in the world of eyewear. Her unconventional approach to the fashion industry and her insistence on seeing her goals through have inspired many others to think beyond the world in their work.
Terry Sanders, Altina’s son, took part in this doodle initiative with his children and wished his late mother and the designer together with Google.
“Happy Birthday, Tina! Thank you for your courage, kindness and inspiration.
Much love, always”. – Terry (son), Victoria, Juliette, Peter, David, Eve, Jessica, Brittany (grandchildren)