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WALSH, OLGA ROSE SHERWIN [SALLY]

Sally Walsh (1926–1992).
Interior designer Sally Walsh has been credited with bringing modern design to Houston. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

WALSH, OLGA ROSE SHERWIN [SALLY] (1926–1992). Sally Walsh, interior designer credited with bringing modern design to Houston, was born Olga Rose Sherwin on April 10, 1926, in Miami, Arizona (though most sources list her birthplace as the nearby community of Inspiration). She was the daughter of John Dickerson Sherwin and Olga Rose (Sproesser) Sherwin. By the time of the 1930 census, the family lived in Inspiration, Arizona, where her father worked as a testing engineer for a copper mine. Also by this time, young Olga Rose Sherwin went by the name of “Sally,” which was listed in the census record. From the age of about six to ten, Sally attended grade school in mining camp schools in Sonora, Mexico, presumably in connection with her father’s occupation. Her parents encouraged an awareness of art and architecture to young Sally during her childhood. By 1940 her father had died, and her mother moved the family, which consisted of Sally and her older sister, to the Sproesser family home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where they were listed on the 1940 census. 

After graduating from high school, in 1946 Sally attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls but later dropped out due to boredom and moved to Chicago for an exciting change. Though she was not trained in architecture or design, she was hired by renowned designer and furniture manufacturer Hans Knoll of Knoll Associates. She served as his assistant for about six years. He felt that she was a perfect assistant because he considered her a blank slate; someone he could completely train. Walsh went above and beyond as his assistant, from walking his dog to writing correspondence, but the opportunity to travel to meet with other firms and have access to the latest designs and fabrics allowed her to develop into a holistic designer. 

Sally Sherwin resigned from Knoll in August 1954 after she became engaged to attorney William Frederic Walsh, who became an associate of prominent Houston defense lawyer Percy Foreman. They married in Houston in September 1954, and both were living in Houston in 1955. She had intended to open a Knoll showroom to bring the modern designs to a rapidly growing business scene, but Hans Knoll’s sudden death halted her plans. She instead went to work at Suniland Commercial, where she met architect Jack Evans. Within two years the pair established their own business, a design shop known as Evans-Walsh. Sally Walsh later accepted an offer with Wilson Stationary & Printing, where she elevated the design profile of the company and worked mostly with corporate interiors and other public spaces. Her projects also included the interior design of the University of Houston’s new University Center Building as well as the Auguste Rodin exhibit installation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. By 1972 Walsh became a partner at S. I. Morris Architects, a prominent firm in Houston. Some of her major contributions in Houston include: the Transco offices, Lehman Brothers offices, and the Jesse H. Jones Building of the Houston Public Library. She also designed the corporate headquarters of Braniff Airways in Dallas. She focused on contemporary design. For the Lehman Brothers offices, for example, Walsh introduced a bold innovation—the use of Citroën car seats adapted for use as office chairs. 

Walsh was considered quick-witted and outspoken, refusing to hold back her individuality. Both her male and female colleagues took notice, and many of her co-workers strove to emulate her. She was so intense that her fellow partner at S. I. Morris Architects, Seth Irwin Morris, called her the “toughest son of a bitch in the partnership.” While developer magnate Gerald D. Hines is commonly credited with modernizing the Houston architectural scene during the 1970s, Walsh is credited with bringing modern interior design to Houston as early as the 1950s. Walsh once said, “When I walk through Houston buildings today and find good contemporary design, whether or not I had a hand in it, I find myself taking credit…because on this specific turf it flourished with my help.”  Walsh’s design philosophy was to help the client “embrace modern design as a total concept.”

Sally Walsh left the S. I. Morris firm in 1978 and by 1980 began to work independently. She was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 1986 and was the first Texan to receive this honor. She was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia but continued to work through the 1980s until her death at the age of sixty-five on January 12, 1992. She was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Rice Design Alliance, with funding support from the Houston Architecture Foundation, instituted the Sally Walsh Lectures series in her honor.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Judy Kugle, “Inside Modern Houston: The Life and Design of Sally Walsh,” Cite (Fall 2014). Gary McFarland, “Is Your Life Dull? Is Your Environment Boring?” Texas Monthly, November 1975. Gary McKay, “Sally Walsh: 1926–1992,” Cite (Spring 1992). Rice Design Alliance: sally walsh lecture (http://www.ricedesignalliance.org/topics/sally-walsh-lecture/), accessed October 6, 2016). “Sally Walsh: 1986 Hall of Fame Inductee,” Interior Design, May 31, 2014 (http://www.interiordesign.net/articles/8369-sally-walsh/), accessed October 6, 2016. Sally Walsh MS50 Papers, 1955–1985, Archives, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Alicia Islam

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Handbook of Texas Online, Alicia Islam, "Walsh, Olga Rose Sherwin [Sally] ," accessed August 19, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwals.

Uploaded on August 8, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.