The art of textile design radically transformed after World War II as America’s economy boomed and optimism bloomed into consumer society. In Southern Arizona, artists Harwood and Sophie Steiger were pivotal in this artistic revolution. Incorporating bold dramatic colors and graphic motifs inspired by the plants and animals of the Sonoran desert, mesoamerican graphics and iconography of the American Southwest. They transformed the market by producing elegant hand-screened fabric that made contemporary regional design accessible in the post-war era.
Harwood Magnus Steiger was born in January 2, 1900 in Macedon, New York to Helene Leupolty and Henry Steiger. His childhood was spent in Fairport New York. Interested in art from a young age he enrolled in the Rochester Institute of Technology to study painting. His first job was as a color consultant for a dye plant factory in Rochester before he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, at the Summer School at Westchester, and the West End Art School at Provincetown. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts and during this period he designed candy boxes and wallpaper.
He taught art at the Oswego Training School at the State Continuation School, and by 1926 he was an instructor of illustration in the School of Fine Arts of the Mechanics Institute in Rochester. After working on the World’s Fair, he was selected to design the Chinese Government exhibit and decorations in the Sesquicentennial Exposition at Philadelphia. In 1927 Steiger traveled to Nova Scotia for the summer and designed a cabin in Parker’s Cover at the Bay of Fundy, where each summer he would return with artist friends to develop new work. Steiger, like the rest of the country was swept into the throes of the Depression, but his entrepreneurial spirit and artistic ability helped him weather the economic storm.