The contribution to graphic art made by the Curwen Press in the 1920s and 30s was immense. That story, and the continuing tale of the Curwen Studio, has been well told by Alan Powers in Art and Print: The Curwen Story (Tate Publishing, 2008), and Pat Gilmour in Artists at Curwen (Tate Gallery, 1977). But neither of these excellent books tells us much about Marion V. Dorn, who illustrated the first autolithographed book produced at Curwen, an edition of William Beckford's gothic orientalist novel Vathek, published by the Nonesuch Press in 1929. All of the illustrations to this post are original lithographs by Marion Dorn for Vathek.
Marion Dorn was born in the USA in 1896, and studied graphics at Stanford University. Having become interested in textile design in the early 1920s, she travelled to Paris with fellow designer Ruth Reeves in 1923, to explore the textile revolution being spearheaded by artists such as Raoul Dufy and Sonia Delaunay. There, she met the love of her life, fellow-American Edward McKnight Kauffer. They fell for each other hard. Kauffer left his wife and daughter for her, and they remained together until his death in 1954.
Ted McKnight Kauffer had already experienced professional success in England as a graphic artist, and Marion followed in his footsteps. Not that she wasn't a powerful talent in her own right, but it no doubt helped to have an "in" to a publisher such as Nonesuch, and a printer such as Curwen. Vathek proved to be Marion Dorn's only book project, and the 8 full-page illustrations and two vignettes are the only lithographs of hers that I have encountered. It's a shame, as they are quite beautiful. They are printed on a beige-coloured laid paper, and have the look of a pastel drawing. 1050 copies were published in the UK by Nonesuch, and 500 in the USA by Random House.
Why Marion Dorn did not continue with graphics after this is a bit of a mystery. Although she and McKnight Kauffer did collaborate on various projects, she may have been wary of treading too heavily on his toes.
Or it may be that the success she found as a textile designer - particularly of rugs and carpets - meant that her time was more fruitfully spent pursuing that line. In 1934 she founded her own company, Marion Dorn Ltd, which was wildly successful.
In 1940 Kauffer and Dorn moved back to the USA, neither to have quite the success back in their homeland that they had experienced in Britain.
Marion Dorn is an artist I would love to know more about. She strikes me as one of those women artists of the period - such as Enid Marx or Margaret Calkin James - who were edged out of fine art into the decorative arts, in a way that in the end enriched our culture and enabled them to fulfill themselves, but that was essentially unfair to their talent.
You can see, though, in the Vathek lithographs, a wonderful sense of design, especially in the repetition and variation of motifs, that would transfer readily to a rug, a furnishing fabric, a dress, or a wallpaper design.
Marion Dorn died in Tangiers in 1964.