Copyright Beyond My Ken
Parsons School of Design was founded as The Chase School by Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase in 1896. He was part of a group of artists from the Art Students League of New York who longed for a more individual and dramatic form of art, something different from the traditional, formal art in vogue.
Two years later, their new institution changed its name to The New York School of Art.
William Merritt Chase, 1849–1916
Prof. Frank Alvah Parsons came on board in 1904 and concurrently studied with artist Arthur Wesley Dow at Columbia. In 1905, he received an art degree from Columbia Teachers College. Within a few years, he became president of the New York School of Art.
Under his tenure, the curriculum took on an innovative direction. Though art schools were nothing new, none had departments for interior, graphic, or fashion design (then called costume design), or advertising. To reflect this new mission, the school was renamed The New York School of Fine and Applied Art in 1909.
Mr. Parsons became sole director in 1911, and continued going from strength to strength. In 1921, he and William Odom established a Parisian branch of the school (pictured above), making Parsons the very first U.S. art and design school with a foreign campus. Outposts in Italy and England were also established.
In 1927, France awarded him the Légion d’Honneur, their highest merit, for his work in advancing Franco–American relations. Expectedly, the Paris Atelier at 9 Place de Vosges was forced to close due to WWII and didn’t reopen till 1948. Only summer courses were offered for many years, but Parsons Paris finally came back into full-time business in 1980.
The school was renamed again in 1936, in honor of Mr. Parsons. However, this name change wasn’t official till 1942.
Frank Alvah Parsons, 1866–1930
The curriculum took on a new direction in response to the upheavals of the 1960s; e.g., the interior design program’s focus went from bourgeois and wealthy homes to prisons, housing projects, and hospitals.
In 1970, Parsons merged with The New School for Social Research, now simply known as The New School. Founded in 1919, that school served as a haven to many refugees from Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and other totalitarian countries. It also took in professors fired by Columbia for refusing to swear a jingoistic loyalty oath.
The University Center for The New School, Copyright Ajay Suresh
Parsons has had many locations over the years, starting at 57 West 57th St. from 1896–1904. In 1905, they opened studios at 76 West 55th St. and 49 Court St. in Brooklyn. In 1906, they opened another campus on 2237-2239 Broadway at the corner of 80th St., which eventually became their main address.
During these early years, Parsons offered summer classes in Chester, Massachusetts; Long Island’s Belle Terre and Bayport; Booth Bay, Maine; and several other locales.
From 1939–54, they moved to 136 East 57th St., and then relocated to 136 East 54th St. from 1954–72. During the latter era, they had studios at other Midtown locations and in Queens.
In 1972, the school moved downtown to 2 West 13th St. and 66 Fifth Avenue. Through the 1990s, Parsons expanded to other downtown addresses, including 25 East 13th St. A Midtown Fashion Center was also opened in 1977 at 560 Seventh Avenue at 40th St.
Since 2014, the University Center is at 63 Fifth Avenue, and the Midtown Fashion Center is downtown.
Today, Parsons offers degrees in fields including architecture, urban design, photography, communication design, fashion design, fine arts, interior design, textiles, lighting design, illustration, design history and practice, data visualization, art media and technology, and industrial design.
My characters Irina Koneva (later Tsvetkova), Panya Ugolnikov, Klarisa Tsvetkova, and Nova Yezhova-Blinova study fashion at Parsons during the 1950s and go into business together.
Irina designs quirky women’s clothes, Panya does unique menswear, Klarisa does accessories, and Nova does shoes. They’re joined by Kristina Chernomyrdina-Yurkova (later Tsvetkova), a jewelry designer.