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Mid Century Mosaic Design Icons the Ackermans

Mid-Century Modern design (commonly known as “MCM” among fans) is more popular than ever. It’s not just nostalgia that’s spurred the enthusiasm of designers and homeowners. The clean lines, cool pops of color, and stylish use of shapes seem just as fresh in the 21st century.

Jerome and Evelyn Ackerman were powerhouses of Mid-Century California Modernism, creating pieces that were beautiful, well-made, and affordable. As you might guess, their search for materials led them to mosaic tile, which checked all the boxes and then some!

Los Angeles was a center for clean-edged modernist design for around a quarter-century, coinciding with the Ackermans’ initial studio setup. Working as a couple, the Ackermans opened their first design studio in 1952 in LA.  Today, the whimsical quality and strong lines of their work charm modern collectors.

The Jenev (the name combined “Jerome” and “Evelyn”) workshop grew with the post-war population boom, and the couple’s influence was unmistakable. Evelyn drew ideas from a wide spectrum of folk art, working with a variety of materials. You’ll see designs that feature sophisticated abstracts, colors that evoke ancient Mediterranean cultures, and figures that evoke the charm of primitive sculptures.

There is a strong handmade element in the Jenev designs, particularly evident in Evelyn’s mosaics. After visiting an inspirational exhibition in San Francisco, she began working on panels and tables. Demand was brisk, and quality control was tight. The studio opened a satellite production facility in Mexico, where the craftsmanship was impeccable and materials were plentiful.

Each design was first rendered as a full-sized drawing by Ackerman, who specified colors and placement of the tiles. Pioneers in mosaic art manufacturing, Jenev utilized techniques that are still used today by Mozaico artists and designers. Settling on a favorite type of Jenev mosaic wall art is next to impossible. Their diverse offerings are still a breath of fresh air for nearly any interior. Chances are, you’ll find many of their designs appealing.

Geometric Patterns

‘Adhara’, 1958
Image source: Midcenturia

Ackerman wall panels often have versatility in how they can be displayed, and their geometric pieces are great examples. Bold color combinations are a hallmark of these pieces. Imagine these on your own walls, and you’ll appreciate their timeless MCM provenance.

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The “Elipses” panel was as cool as a dip off the beach in Capri. Featuring an array of greens, blues, and greys, it still inspires home decor color schemes.

‘Elipses’ Mosaic, 1958 
Image source: LACMA

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Image Source: Mozaico

Strong colors and lots of contrast define these tryptic mosaic art panel sculptures. The boldness of this look allows them to blend with decors from bohemian to contemporary.

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Image Source: Mozaico

Part of a table design, these abstract cats are still highly coveted by collectors.

‘Cats’ 1955
Image source: Ackerman Modern

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Image Source: Mozaico

Folk Art Influences

Image source: Midcenturia

Animals, plants, and interesting figures were favorite subjects for the Ackermans. Their wide body of work included not only mosaics, but also tapestry wall hangings, paintings, woodcarvings, and hardware. You’ll see bits of Central and South America, the Pacific Islands, and other influences. Their daughter, Laura, mentioned in an interview that “My house… was an eclectic mix of folk and tribal art alongside Wegner, Eames, Nelson, Architectural Pottery, and my parents’ designs.”

The compelling color combinations are timeless, and, it seems, so are their mosaic installations! This frieze is still bright and lustrous, even after 65 years on the side of a West LA apartment building.

‘Fantasy Landscape’ Mosaic mural as installed by Evelyn Ackerman 1956, and detail from today
Image source Design Notes

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Image Source: Mozaico

Birds were a frequent motif, often surrounded by more neutral stone tiles in a style that hearkens back to ancient times.

‘Birds in the Sun’, 1958 
Image source: Ackerman Modern
Hot Bird, Partridge, Bird, 1958
Image source: Ackerman Modern

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Image Source: Mozaico
Image Source: Mozaico

This rare lion and tiger pair demonstrate the fun and wit that attended the design duo’s rectangular wall panels.

Lion and Tiger, 1950

Also a frequent Ackerman subject – horses. Often with a bit of nod to Greek and Roman depictions, their appeal is indisputable, even now.

‘Horse’, 1950’s 
Image source: Midcenturia
‘Horse’, 1958
Image source: Ackerman Modern

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Image Source: Mozaico

Another recurring MCM theme that is becoming popular again – the Zodiac. Somewhere between animal and myth, these panels are a little bit of old, a little bit of fresh 1950s optimism, and a lot charming.

Zodiac Panels, 1956
Image source: Ackerman Modern

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Image Source: Mozaico
Image Source: Mozaico

A real love story, a brilliant design legacy, and iconic status mark the Ackerman’s professional and personal relationship. Their 64-year marriage found them working in perfect harmony. Jerome continued to utilize his MFA in Ceramics as the studio branched out into home goods and functional pottery pieces. Today, his molded ceramic pieces are still produced in limited runs.

Image source: craftcouncil.org
Image source: Mid Century Home

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Image Source: Mozaico

The Ackermans continued to work with their favorite mediums long after retirement. When they first set out to create beautiful designs for ordinary people, it was unlikely that they could foresee their lasting legacy in today’s design world. It was a marriage of equals, a journey of entrepreneurship, and their distinct Jenev look is still recognizable. Did we miss one of your favorite designs? Let us know in the comments!

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