Dorothea Holt Redmond critiques a student’s work, 1965. Photo by Geoffrey Fulton (BFA 57 Photography)

profile / alumni / entertainment-design / illustration
December 10, 2016
Writer: Hugh Hart

Hollywood trailblazer Dorothea Holt Redmond

“Her watercolor sketches were extraordinary place-making.”

Restless, fierce and gifted, 1936 Illustration alum Dorothea Holt Redmond produced scenic designs for Alfred Hitchcock that visualized the director’s appetite for suspense with uncanny precision. Mentored by ArtCenter founder Edward “Tink” Adams after studying architecture and interior design at the University of Southern California, Redmond began collaborating with Hitchcock shortly after she became the first woman to join the ranks of Hollywood production designers in 1938.

Working on Gone With the Wind, Redmond weathered considerable workplace resentment, according to her son, filmmaker Lee Redmond (BFA 73 Photography). “It was really difficult when she started out in motion pictures but my mother didn’t take crap from anybody,” he says. “She’d walk into male-dominated places and deal with all these snide comments because she was better than anyone else in the room.”

The Atlanta bazaar scene from Gone with the Wind. Image courtesy of The David O. Selznick Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Redmond, who died in 2009 at age 98, recently earned posthumous entry to the Art Directors Guild’s Hall of Fame for her contributions to midcentury cinema, including Hitchcock classics Rebecca, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. “Hitch was very fond of my mother because she used light and shadow to create moods with her layouts,” says Mr. Redmond. “Very few people painted that way.”

To spend more time with her son and her daughter Lynne, Redmond in 1956 quit movies, taught at ArtCenter and ­­created concept art for modernist architect William Pereira. Her unsigned watercolors included renderings of the now-iconic LAX theme building, featured as the signature image in the Getty Research Institute’s acclaimed 2013 exhibition Overdrive. Lee Redmond recalls, “My mother did not love modern architecture but the concrete spider she did for LAX really resonated for her.”

Disneyland Park, New Orleans Square, Blue Bayou Restaurant, 1965. Image courtesy of the Walt Disney Imagineering Art Collection

In 1964, Redmond joined the company today known as Walt Disney Imagineering. There, she designed Disneyland’s ornate New Orleans Square and conceived the archway mural for Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle, constructed to her exact specifications from a million pieces of colored glass.

Whatever the project, Redmond favored a brisk way with the brush. “I loved watching her paint because there was no hesitation at all,” her son Lee recalls. “Everything was direct, straightforward, right on point, and then you’d start to see something emerge from color. Using a minimal amount of paint, she had a knack for capturing a feeling that allowed your brain to fill in the spaces in between.”

Image courtesy of Lee Redmond
Image courtesy of Lee Redmond