While Paul Rawson may be best known for designing the first GE toaster oven and other consumer and healthcare products, he’s also a prolific painter.
The Easton resident uses pen-and-ink and watercolor to bring alive nautical scenes, landscapes, wildlife, and portraits of the people closest to him.
“Watercolor allows for spontaneity,” said Rawson, whose artwork is on display in the Easton Public Library conference room through June 30.
At age 96, his artistic passion has not slowed down.
Rawson still paints almost every day. He can take four to five hours to complete a painting, perhaps working on it over the course of a few days.
His subjects often are “things I’ve encountered in the past that still interest me,” he said. “Some are from the imagination and some from photos.”
Rawson also is known for calligraphy, often creating signs for Jesse Lee United Methodist Church in Easton, where he’s been an active member for more than a half century. In addition, he hand-paints small note cards for friends and acquaintances.
According to publicity material for the exhibit, his artwork represents a “diversity of pallet, styles and themes” and ranges “from the whimsical to the majestic.”
Rawson grew up in the eastern Connecticut town of Thompson, where his father was a house painter and wallpaper installer. “He could paper a ceiling without a wrinkle,” he said of his dad.
While he may not have been the best student when young, Rawson began to excel while attending the Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in industrial design. “It was a wonderful situation for me,” he said. “I just fell in with everything — drawing, painting, sculpture.”
After working in a shipyard and airplane parts machine shop during World War II, he eventually was hired by General Electric’s electric housewares division in Bridgeport. “It was a big operation and a wonderful opportunity,” Rawson said.
He and others combined aesthetics with ergonomics to design consumer household goods that modernized the American home. They worked closely with GE engineering and marketing personnel in the process.
In the Smithsonian
Rawson designed the toaster oven for GE, with the company being the first to sell the small kitchen appliance. Rawson holds the patent for GE’s “Toaster Oven No. 1,” now on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
He continued to design products with Van Dyke Consulting, a Fairfield County-based industrial design firm, and his own company, Rawson Design, before retiring in the 1970s.
He completed projects for companies such as Bridgeport Machines, Clairol, Black & Decker, Corning, Farberware, JC Penny, Timex, U.S. Surgical, Union Carbide and Waring.
He’s credited with designing the first electric curling iron, mid-size computer, lightweight chainsaw, computer-controlled milling machine, and mobile digital equipment to monitor vital signs at bedside. He designed the GE coffee percolator and many surgical instruments, and is responsible for multiple patents.
“It was an extremely exciting time to be in business,” he said. “I hit it at the right time. There wasn’t a whole lot of people between you and the person who made the decisions.”
Rawson said he was always thrilled when he saw a manufactured product for the first time that he designed. “I’d be excited,” he said. “After my family, it ruled my life.”
His son, Dan Rawson, said his father took satisfaction in people “appreciating a product’s good look and having it stand out from the rest.” He noted industrial design is quite similar to creative art. “It’s really just a different kind of art,” Dan said.
Rawson began painting more around the time of his retirement. He also does sculpture, and pointed out model-making in clay and plastic was an important part of his industrial design career.
He moved to Easton in the 1960s, previously having lived in Trumbull. He was married for more than 70 years to his late wife, Lois, who died two years ago. They grew up in the same small town and were childhood sweethearts.
Rawson has two children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and lives with family members.
“Every painting tells a story, and Paul Rawson continues to experiment with new styles and formats,” according to public material for his library exhibit.