Throughout his life, Isamu Noguchi worked in a variety of different media, producing stage designs, sculptures, ceramic objects, electrified paper lanterns, and industrial design. Radio Nurse was Noguchi’s first major industrial commission. Together with a separate enameled metal receiver called the Guardian Ear, this piece functions as a baby monitor, transmitting sounds from the baby’s room to the receiver. The form is highly sculptural, evoking the abstracted human head of the eponymous surrogate nurse. Radio Nurse is made of Bakelite, a plasticlike material that could be molded into almost any shape and dyed nearly any color. Bakelite was used in many industrial designs throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, including telephones, cameras, and radios. While Noguchi was comfortable working in a wide variety of materials, his formal vocabulary was consistent throughout each project, using abstracted, geometric forms, as evidenced by this highly unusual and evocative example of industrial design.
Isamu Noguchi, the Japanese-American sculptor and designer whose coffee tables and other furniture are a staple of mid-century modern décor, designed this “Radio Nurse” for Zenith Radio Corporation in 1937.
Isamu Noguchi, Radio Nurse and Guardian Ear, 1937, bakelite
As featured in The Noguchi Museum’s current exhibition, Isamu Noguchi, Patent Holder: Designing the World of Tomorrow, an early industrial design commission for Noguchi from the Zenith Corporation, which hoped to corner the market for a remote monitor after sensational accounts of the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh terrified parents throughout the United States. Noguchi created the bakelite housing for both units (not the electrical guts).