Frank Alvah Parsons

Frank Alvah Parsons was born April 1, 1866 in Chesterfield, Massachusetts. In 1901, after a period of European travel, Parsons moved to New York City where he pursued a degree in Art Education from Columbia University, graduating in 1905.

Parsons began teaching at the New York School of Art (later Parsons The New School for Design) during the 1904-1905 academic year. At that time, the New York School of Art was primarily an institution for the instruction of fine arts. Parsons became co-manager of the school in 1907, and in 1911, became the school’s director. Innovations Parsons introduced include the addition of departments for costume design, interior decoration, and commercial illustration (these departments would eventually become known as Fashion Design, Interior Design, and Graphic Design, respectively). Parsons reincorporated the school as the New York School of Fine and Applied Art in 1911. In 1921, he established overseas facilities for the school in France. The Paris Ateliers evolved into what is now Parsons Paris.

In the public imagination, Parsons became inextricably linked to the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. Through relentless speaking engagements and print publicity undertaken on school’s behalf, Parsons raised the institution’s profile on an international level. He also found the time to serve as a mentor and guide to many students, including William MacDougal Odom and Van Day Truex, both of whom would later serve as presidents of the school.

In addition to administering the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, Parsons continued teaching and often lectured at museums, universities, organizations, and private clubs throughout the United States and Europe. He wrote several design books, including The Principles of Advertising Arrangement (1912), Interior Decoration, Its Principles and Practice (1915), and The Psychology of Dress (1920).

Frank Alvah Parsons died On May 25, 1930. The New York School of Fine and Applied Art was formally re-named Parsons School of Design in 1941.

For more in the New School Archives on Frank Parsons, see here.


Frank Alvah Parsons, Biographical note. Kellen Design Archives, The New School. Web. 09 Nov 2014
Frank Alvah Parsons. Parsons School of Design Alumni Association records. New School Archives and Special Collections Digital Archive. Web. 09 Nov 2014.