Wall with 11 clocks on it in the Serious Play exhibition

Time to Check Out the Clocks in Serious Play

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year with 14 hours and 59 minutes of daylight. Since we're thinking about time passing today, we invite you to celebrate the solstice by visiting the whimsical clocks currently on view in Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America. The exhibition features 12 clocks (11 of which are shown on the wall above), each a playful design in bright colors and surprising materials.

Kaleidoscope clock by Irving Harper
Irving Harper for George Nelson Associates, Kaleidoscope clock, 1959. Lacquered wood, chrome-plated steel, transfer-print on acrylic, and enameled aluminum; 11 3/4 × 13 1/2 × 7 1/4 in. Manufactured by Howard Miller Clock Company. Collection of William and Annette Dorsey. Photograph by John R. Glembin. 

The clocks in the exhibition were dreamed up by designers in the office of George Nelson and Associates. Howard Miller Clock Company contracted George Nelson and Associates to revitalize its business after being shuttered during World War II. George Nelson realized that they would need to create a new market for the company's "radically modern clocks." They utilized a new technology called Chronopak that eliminated electrical cords in wall clocks. Nelson believed that the exuberant faces and clean designs would make successful sellers for Howard Miller.

Clock that is made in the shape of an eye
Lucia DeRespinis for George Nelson Associates, Eye clock, 1952. Walnut, lacquered wood, brass, enameled steel, and enameled aluminum. Manufactured by Howard Miller Clock Company. Collection of Jay Dandy and Melissa Weber. Photograph by John R. Glembin. 

Look closely at the clocks in this exhibition, and you'll notice that they lack numerals. Nelson realized that most people told time looking at the position of the hands rather than the numbers on the face. This allowed the designers even more freedom—numerals were replaced with spokes, carved wooden arms, or raised markers in contrasting colors or materials. Even the hour and minute hands take on unexpected shapes in these clocks.

Visit these clocks and many other playful designs from the mid-20th century in Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America through August 25.

Image at top: Gallery view of clocks in Serious Play. Photo by Jeff Wells.

Kati Woock is the editor in the publications department. Kati has been at the DAM since 2014 and formerly served as the senior curatorial assistant in the architecture and design department.

Read more on: architecture design