Legends in Design: Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman


Kimberly Phillips


Docomomo US


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Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman shared their creative way of life with the world. As pioneers of California modernism, their expansive body of work embodies the optimistic spirit of the movement. It's warm and colorful. It's innovation applied to craft. They created pieces that were affordable and meant to be lived with and enjoyed.


As the Ackerman's designs garner more and more acquisition interest from secondary markets and institutions how does one stay true to original intentions?  We spoke with their daughter Laura Ackerman-Shaw (who regaled us in 2018 with her account of growing up modern) about the importance of keeping her parents work accessible to the wider public through a new partnership with CB2 and how she's ensuring future generations will learn about and enjoy their contributions to design.


How did the Ackerman Modern Collection with CB2 come about?

The launch of the inaugural capsule collection was September 12, 2023, which would have been my parents’ 75th anniversary. I can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate that milestone and honor their legacy than having them become part of CB2’s Design Legends series. In 2021, CB2 launched their first Design Legends reissue with American midcentury designer Paul McCobb. He was the first person to sell my parents’ Jenev ceramics nationally in his Directional showrooms. When I saw that CB2 had embraced bringing McCobb designs to a new audience, it seemed like collaborating with them on an Ackerman collection would be a great way to bring their vision, artistry, and craftsmanship to a new audience. Partnering with CB2 felt authentic and was a special way to honor their enduring love story. My parents strove to create pieces that were beautiful, affordable and accessible, pieces that were meant to be lived with and enjoyed. 


At the heart of my parents’ narrative is a love story – for each other and design. They were true partners in their life and business, and I think that they would be very proud to see their lifelong collaboration expand in this way. This is the first time that CB2 has selected a couple for their Design Legends.

Tell us more about the collection. How does it represent your parents’ vast body of work? How many products will be produced?

The initial collection includes more than 50 pieces with about 16 different designs and fittingly represents different time periods, designs, and materials from my parents’ career. It also encompasses pieces that were designed by my parents individually and together, a true reflection of their partnership.


Building on the Bauhaus principles that fine and applied arts were equally important, my parents integrated their training in fine arts, traditional craftsmanship, and design over the course of their 60+ year collaboration. Their artistic vision was enhanced by a wide spectrum of references to classical, medieval, modern, tribal, and folk art from around the world. They embraced what we now identify as a California midcentury modern, with the influence of the California lifestyle strongly reflected in their design aesthetic and articulated in pieces that were organic, warm, textural, colorful, and optimistic. 


My parents remarked that “Our style expressed who we were and how we felt about design and art” and they stayed true to that whether it was for production or studio work. They designed with both aesthetics and affordability in mind to craft pieces that could be at home anywhere and I think this translates into the pieces at CB2.

What was the production process like? Did you notice similarities in the ways your parents worked with clients and how you brought their creations to life with CB2?

 My parents’ design career was so prolific and their design vocabulary so rich and varied that it gave us a great variety of material to explore, but it has also meant many, many hours of combing through not only the actual products themselves but referencing the extensive archives of catalogs, original drawings, templates, vintage photographs, and rough concepts.


Working with the CB2 design and development managers, we explored hundreds of different designs. They noted that my storytelling really enabled them to learn how my parents approached their work – for example, which tools created specific patterns.


Drawn to California and a creative environment that embraced the freedom to explore new ideas, my parents adopted a cross-disciplinary approach, constantly creating new designs, exploring different media, and adapting to meet customer needs. They offered designs in multiple colorways and different sizes to provide interior designers and architects with flexible options.

The collection with CB2 is a natural continuation of that experimentation and, much in the way my parents did, we have developed new interpretations by applying designs to different materials and products, working with trending colorways, and repurposing patterns to create new looks. The collaborative communication and idea exchange during the development process enabled us to work closely to ensure that each piece is true to my parents’ vision and aesthetic while reinterpreting applications for modern use. 


My parents sourced skilled craftspeople around the world to execute their designs and being able to continue this practice to produce the collection is another connection to the history of the work. When my parents were designing, they supplied everything hand drawn and sent color notations, templates, and instructions by mail. Now of course technology makes it easier, but we stayed true to the quality materials and handcrafted products. It was extremely important to me to ensure that the pieces maintained fidelity to the originals so that proportions, details, and design – even when adapted to different applications, materials, or sizes – stayed true. Throughout the development process I conducted detailed reviews and provided feedback at various stages – from initial concepts and colors to CADS to samples – to ensure adherence to the pieces’ authenticity and integrity. 


The CB2 manufacturing partners are located around the world much like my parents’ suppliers were. By integrating global craft with modern aesthetics to create richly textured handmade products, the craft traditions my parents cared so deeply about are integral to the elevated design of the products.

Off the top, is there anything they designed that didn’t fit the CB2 collection? 

The fact that my parents’ designs have endured is a testament not only to their artistic talent but to their entrepreneurship. Because their company Era Industries sold exclusively to leading architects, interior designers, and store buyers, they had to accommodate a wide range of architectural and interior styles, from traditional to contemporary. Some of the work, such as the more figural designs, as wonderful as they are, simply didn’t translate to the CB2 brand and given the depth of the archives, there are still more designs to consider.


The CB2 collection also doesn’t reflect products like the Panelcarve wood designs (see above) or Era hardware that were often specified for architectural installations. They sold only to the trade and retail stores and for decades their showrooms were located in the heart of the Los Angeles design district, first on Melrose, then on Beverly Blvd., and finally in the Pacific Design Center. When they transitioned from owning a business and returned to their studio, both continued to pursue their artistic passions. They were part of a very special time and group of designers, architects, artists, and craftsmen. Their designs were featured in Arts + Architecture, the Los Angeles Times, and other national publications.


OK, so let's see the collection! And I've gotta know, do you have a favorite piece or pieces? 

The collection offers beautiful objects with character that are meant to be lived with, but of course I have favorites! I'll walk you through them...

So, what's next!?

I’d like to see the recognition of their design contributions continue to increase through additional exhibitions, museum collection acquisitions, presentations, licensing, and scholarship. My parents’ designs have become highly collectable, and their value has increased tremendously. Their work is in the collections of the Smithsonian, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, Denver Art Museum, The Henry Ford Museum, and other institutions. Fortunately with products like those from CB2, anyone can afford to have a legacy piece in their home, so I’m going to continue to work with appropriate partners to collaborate on licensing pieces for a modern audience.


In 2020 in celebration of what would have been my father’s 100th birthday, I established two scholarships: the Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman Endowed Scholarship at Wayne State University for an undergraduate art student in the College of Fine, Performing, and Communication Arts College (my mother received both her BA an MFA there, my father his BS) and the Jerome Ackerman Endowed Internship at the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum for undergraduate art and art history students to have an opportunity to work in a museum environment (my father received his MFA in ceramics at Alfred University).


Several of my mother’s tapestries were recently shown in NYC at R and Company in “Born Too Tall: California Women Designers Postwar to Postmodern” and now the gallery will be opening “Evelyn Ackerman: The Collection of Gary and Laura Maurer” on January 12, 2024, which is my mother’s 100th birthday! We just kicked off planning for an exhibition in Los Angeles at the Craft Contemporary Museum, opening in January 2026. 


I’ve presented at Modernism Week several times and look forward to continuing to give presentations and write articles. It’s wonderful to have the book Hand-in-Hand (Pointed Leaf Press) and the short film “In Tandem” so people can learn more about their personal and professional life, and hopefully there will be more to come.



Ackerman Modern is an ongoing collaboration with CB2. New accessories, wall décor, ceramics, pillows, rugs are already in the works for the Spring and Fall of 2024 and beyond. Shop the entire collection online, limited selection in stores.