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V&A/RCA History of Design (MA)

Cate McCowin

Cate McCowin graduated from the V&A/RCA History of Design MA programme in February 2023 and received the Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize for academic excellence in the first year of her studies. She is passionate about the history that is held within objects that people interact with every day. With a particular interest in disseminating the history of design and material culture in an accessible and decolonial manner, Cate has worked on the AHRC CapCO funded project ‘Making London Porcelain’ through the V&A, and co-led the AcrossRCA workshop entitled ‘The Power in Small Things.’ Her other research has led her to discover the origin of a puzzle padlock within the V&A’s collection, and to explore the commodification and objectification of black people by the visual language present in the Wedgwood abolition medallion and in ‘blackamoor’ figures.

Cover image:Federal Glass Company, 'Colonial Fluted' Sugar Bowl and Creamer, photo courtesy Cate McCowin, November 2022.

Cate, a white woman with brown hair and brown eyes is looking into the camera.

‘Depression Glass’ and the Design Agency of Women as Consumers

My dissertation focused on what is known today in collecting circles as ‘depression glass’––the pressed, mass-manufactured functional glassware sold cheaply or given away as premiums for other goods during the Depression years in the United States (1929-1939). 

Depression Glass is a popular collector’s item and beloved area of United States material culture. Despite its popularity, and the presence of information on the glassware in collector’s guides, there had yet to have been a thorough academic examination of depression glass. 

I chose to approach depression glass through the lens of consumers as agents of design. I established women as the primary consumers of household goods both prior to and during the Great Depression. As such, I argued for the agency that women consumers had on the design of tableware, and by extension, on the design of depression glass. 

Please get in touch with me for further discussion, or if you would like to read this dissertation.

Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize

2021-2022 Recipient