Blanche L. Morgan

fellow aid

Morgan, Blanche L.

(1912 – 1981)

Born in Los Angeles, California on December 5, 1912, interior designer Blanche L. Morgan grew up in Olympia, graduating from W.W. Miller High School in 1929. Initially studying art at the College of Puget Sound in Tacoma, she transferred to the University of Washington in 1930. There she received her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts in 1933.

A trained pianist, Morgan was heavily involved in music, art, dance and theater, in both high school and college. This training, coupled with her recent degree from the University of Washington, most likely led her to take a job as the principal stage and costume designer for the Federal Theater’s Project (FTP) in Seattle. The FTP had been established by as part of the WPA to provide employment for theater professionals during the Great Depression. The troupe opened in Seattle in 1935 with the sponsorship of the Seattle Repertory Company, and the support of the University of Washington Drama School, as well as drama professor Glenn Hughes.

After Hallie Flanagan, the national director of the FTP sent Esther Porter to lead the Seattle Negro Repertory Company (NRC) she hired Morgan to lead all NRC stage and costume production in 1937. With the help of Morgan, the NRC’s effort totaled 15 productions, second only to New York City, with both cities enjoying continuously active productions until the end of the Federal Theater Project in June of 1939.

During her tenure with the NRC, Morgan helped the players produce a variety of shows ranging from “Androcles and the Lion,” “Is Zat So,” “Black Empire,” “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby” (a Children’s Unit production), “An Evening with Dunbar,” “Mississippi Rainbow,” “The Dragon Wishbone” (Children’s Unit), and the “Taming of the Shrew.”

Morgan’s concepts for stage and costume designs were executed primarily in watercolor. Her art departed from the traditional attitudes of loose, whimsical images, and instead concentrated on a more crisp, precise form of design. She continued painting for the rest of her life, exhibiting her work in shows and galleries across the state. In fact, Morgan was a 40+ year member of Women Painters of Washington, was an active member of Northwest Watercolor Society, and was an active member of the National Association of Women Artists. She exhibited her work in New York as well as the Oakland Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum, and other regional venues.

Today her paintings are held in the collections of the Tacoma Art Museum, the Museum of History & Industry and University of Washington, Special Collections.

After the work of the FTP was over, Morgan took a job as the senior interior designer at Seattle’s Frederick & Nelson department store (1939-77). Called the “Studio of Interior Design,” over the course of her nearly 40-year career, she helped shape the taste of postwar Seattle. Morgan was comfortable in a variety of settings, from the bohemian to high end clientele. She lectured frequently to a variety of groups on topics ranging from “Interior Decoration in the Modern Home” to “Color and Design in Contemporary Decorations.”

In April of 1943, Morgan married Luther C. Losey. While she occasionally used his last name, she mainly kept her maiden name in her professional and artistic life. The couple did not have any children.

While Morgan likely had influence on thousands of interior spaces over the course of her career, specific known design work is limited. Among them is her work on the Seattle Opera House (1962, with architect James Chiarelli) and the Higashi-Nishi Decor (meaning East and West) exhibit, at the Interiors, Fashion & Commerce Pavilion at the Century 21 Exposition. Sponsored by the United States Rubber Company, the three-level exhibit incorporated a variety of products made with Naugahyde for both living and garden areas. Per the exhibit brochure,
Morgan blended “the charm and simplicity of Eastern design” with “Western practicality.” Images of the exhibit appeared in issues of Sunset, House & Garden, Town & Country, and House Beautiful magazines.

Morgan became a Fellow of the American Institute of Interior Designers in 1973 and she officially retired in 1979. Active in a variety of professional organizations, she was President of the Women Painters of Washington (1980-81), was chairwoman of the Kappa Delta sorority (1968-81), was a Board member of Group Homes of Washington, was also an active member of the Fashion Group, the English-Speaking Union, the Japan-America Society, the Seattle Historical Society, and the Women’s University Club.

Morgan passed away while on vacation in Madrid, Spain on October 2, 1981 at the age of 70.

– Michael C Houser

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