Iconic Interior Fabricator Maya Romanoff Dies

Friday Jan 17, 2014

Born Richard Romanoff in 1941, Maya Romanoff was a true original, from the moniker he used in the 1970's, Multifarious Maya, to the company he built after seeing a tie-dyed T-shirt at Woodstock. Usually trends and art forms move from high to low. Instead, Romanoff took the simple premise of dyeing fabric and created dyed leather and silk found in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Romanoff's large-scale installations of hand-dyed fabric draped the Sun-Times Building in Chicago and were called "the visual star of the Windy Cityscape" by Time Magazine. Irving and Joan Harris commissioned him to create the main stage curtain at the Harris Theater of Music and Dance at Millennium Park.

Romanoff moved from fine art to hand dyed fabrics for interiors. The legendary weaver, Jack Lenor Larsen, helped him move seamlessly from enveloping fabric environments to wall coverings. In 1988, Joyce Lehrer joined the company. They married in 1998. She was an amplifier of his vision, helping him to create an internationally renowned company with wall coverings found in homes, palaces, hotels, stores and museums worldwide.

On the Side of Angels

With seventy employees and showrooms in Chicago and New York, Romanoff strove to only create original wall coverings never before seen. He developed a reputation for incorporating tactile materials like glass beads, seashells, gold leaf and stitching into surfacing materials. He was most proud of his studio and factory in Skokie where artisans hand craft wall coverings. He developed meaningful, long-standing relationships with mills in Japan, China, Nepal, the Philippines, Italy, France and throughout the US, always striving to coax something original out of even the most prosaic materials.

Romanoff was an intensely physical person, traveling constantly, dyeing fabrics in enormous pots of boiling water, doing yoga and running every day. At the age of 49, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and devoted his free time to memorizing Shakespearean sonnets, singing, and spreadsheets. He never stopped pushing his company to create and to grow. Joyce Romanoff became president of Maya Romanoff in 2002 and her children and his niece assumed leadership roles in the company.

This month, the first biography on Maya Romanoff, published by City Files Press, is launching. In an article in Elle Decor Hong Kong 1995, Romanoff was quoted as saying, "The world is both ugly and beautiful and art makes things more one or more the other. I’m on the side of the angels."


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