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Helen Dryden (1887-1981) was an American artist and successful industrial designer in the 1920s and '30s. She was reportedly described by the New York Times as being the highest-paid woman artist in the United States, though she lived in comparative poverty in later years.


She was born in Baltimoremarker and moved to Philadelphiamarker when she was seven years old to attend Eden Hall. During her early childhood years Dryden showed unusual artistic ability, designing and selling clothes for paper dolls. Eventually she sold a set of her paper dolls and dresses to a newspaper for use in its fashion section. This in turn led to a position as illustrator for Anne Rittenhouse's fashion articles in the Philadelphia Public Ledger and The Philadelphia Press.

Dryden was largely self-trained, describing her works as "a combination of things I like, in the way I want to do them." Her artistic education consisted of 4 years of training in landscape painting under Hugh Breckinridge and one summer school session at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Artsmarker. Deciding that she had no real interest in landscape painting, Dryden focused her complete attention on fashion design and illustration.


Fashion illustration

After moving to New York in 1909, Helen Dryden spent a year trying to interest fashion magazines in her drawings. None, however, showed any interest in her work and many were harsh with criticism. Dryden was particularly disappointed in her rejection by Vogue. Less than a year later, however, Condé Nast assumed management of Vogue and set out to make changes. Upon seeing Miss Dryden's drawings, they directed the fashion editor to contact her immediately. Soon Helen had a Vogue contract that led to a 13-year collaboration (1909–1922) in which she produced many Vogue fashion illustrations and covers.

Costume design

In addition to her prolific career as an illustrator, in 1914 Dryden launched a successful career as a costume designer. She designed the costumes and scenery for the musical comedy Watch Your Step, followed by designs for several other stage plays including Claire de Lune, the fanciful drama based loosely on a Victor Hugo romance. Although the play starred Lionel and Ethel Barrymore, Helen Dryden's costume designs were generally given equal credit for the play's success.

Industrial design

Following the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Dryden turned her attention to industrial design, producing a number of designs for tableware, lamps, etc., on behalf of the Revere Corp. She had a highly paid job with the Dura Company until the stock market crash of 1929, at which point she was replaced by George W. Walker. It seems Dryden never fully recovered from this blow. According to Christopher Gray, "The 1925 census recorded her living at 9 East 10th Street with her 25-year-old Philippine-born cook and butler, Ricardo Lampitok. But by 1956 Dryden was living in a $10-a-week hotel room paid for by the city's Welfare Department; at the time, she referred nostalgically to her '$200-a-month' 10th Street apartment".

It was her work on the interior of the 1936 Studebaker Dictator and President that established Helen Dryden as an important twentieth-century industrial designer. Although her work was developed under the watchful eyes of the renowned automotive designer Raymond Loewy Studebaker ads proclaimed, "It's styled by Helen Dryden."



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