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Altina Schinasi, born on August 4, 1907, and passing away on August 19, 1999, was a versatile American artist and innovator. Throughout her life, she showcased her talents in various fields, including sculpture, filmmaking, entrepreneurship, window dressing, design, and invention. However, she gained particular recognition for her ingenious creation, the “Harlequin eyeglass frame,” widely known as cat-eye glasses.

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Who was Altina Schinasi: Early life, education, career, family, husband, children, and google doodle

Early life of Altina Schinasi

Altina Schinasi, the youngest child in the Schinasi family, was born on August 4, 1907, in the Schinasi Mansion located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Educated at home initially, she later attended the Horace Mann School before embarking on a boarding school journey at Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, at the age of twelve.

After completing her studies at Dana Hall, Altina, and her sister accompanied their mother on a trip to Paris. During her time there, she immersed herself in the world of art, studying painting under the guidance of her cousin, René Bensussan. This experience deepened her love for artistic expression, leading her to opt for art school upon her return to the United States, rather than pursuing a traditional college education. In New York, Altina honed her artistic skills further under the tutelage of Samuel Halpert at the Roerich Museum.

Altina’s father, Morris Schinasi, hailed from Manisa, Turkey, and was of Sephardic Jewish descent. Her mother, Laurette Schinasi, nee Ben Rubi, a descendant of Joseph Ben Rubi, a business associate of the Schinasi family, was originally from Salonica, then part of the Ottoman Empire. After Morris Schinasi’s passing in 1928, Laurette Schinasi journeyed to Manisa, Turkey, to establish the Moris Sinasi Çocuk Hastahanesi, or Moris Sinasi Children’s Hospital, in honor of her late husband. The hospital remains operational to this day.

Altina Schinasi:

Name Altina Schinasi
Born August 4, 1907
Birthplace Schinasi Mansion, Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York, New York, U.S.
Father Morris Schinasi
Mother Laurette Schinasi
Husband Celestino Miranda
Offspring Terry Sanders
Profession Professional artist and inventor
Major Recognition “Harlequin Spectacle Frame”
Citizenship American
Died August 19, 1999 (aged 92)
Place of Death Santa Fe, New Mexico, US
Award American Design Award from Lord & Taylor 1939 Georg Gros’ Interregnum Venice Film Festival, Golden Lion, First Prize 1961 Georg Gros’ Interregnum

Career As Window dresser

Altina found employment at Peter Copeland’s window designing firm on Fifth Avenue. It was during this time that she had the opportunity to work alongside the renowned Salvador Dalí, who was commissioned to create two windows for Bonwit Teller. Altina played a significant role in building the windows according to Dalí’s designs in the Copeland workshop.

In 1932, George Grosz, a German artist Altina had long admired, sought refuge in New York after escaping from Hitler’s regime. While occasionally teaching at the Art Students League, Grosz established a school in collaboration with painter Maurice Sterne. In her twenties and a divorced mother of two, Altina joined Grosz’s school to further her artistic education. It was there that she once again crossed paths with Salvador Dalí, who came to utilize the model for his artistic pursuits.

Inventions of Harlequin glasses frame

Throughout her life, Altina Schinasi continued to innovate and patent various inventions, but her most significant breakthrough came in the late 1930s with the creation and introduction of the Harlequin eyeglass frame, which became synonymous with glamour. The inspiration for this design struck her during a casual stroll down the street, where she was dissatisfied with the uninspiring eyeglass frames displayed in an optician’s window. Driven by the desire to bring whimsy, mystery, and romance to eyewear, Altina embarked on a mission to design something truly attractive.

Contemplating what would look good on a face and add an air of romance, she found her starting point in the Harlequin mask. With creativity flowing, she began cutting masks into the frames she envisioned. Despite facing rejection from major manufacturers who deemed her design too daring, Altina remained undeterred.

Determined to bring her creation to life, she took matters into her own hands. Altina established production channels and struck deals with department stores to make her eyeglasses available to the public. With her marketing and distribution expertise, she later expanded her operations to the West Coast after relocating to California.

In 1939, Altina’s efforts were recognized when she received the prestigious Lord & Taylor Annual American Design Award for her avant-garde transformation of eyeglasses into a fashionable accessory. Vogue and Life magazines applauded her for revolutionizing the eyewear industry and elevating its aesthetic.

With a successful venture on the East Coast and newfound creative energy in California, Altina Schinasi’s journey as an innovator entered an exciting new phase.

California years

During the 1940s, Altina Schinasi, yearning to devote more time to her artistic pursuits, decided to make a significant change in her life. She relocated to Los Angeles, expanding her eyeglass business initially and eventually selling it. This move away from the business world and her former home in New York opened up new possibilities, allowing her to fully commit to her art.

Embracing this newfound artistic journey, Altina began her studies under Howard Warshaw at the Jepson School of Art in Los Angeles. To ensure uninterrupted creative time, she marked her studio door with a sign: “Do not come in unless there’s a catastrophe.” With this dedicated space, she spent three hours a day focused solely on her artistic endeavors, working diligently to hone her craft.

Her commitment to painting grew deeper, and she produced a remarkable body of work. Her large paintings caught the attention of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) juried show, where they were selected for display, further affirming her artistic talent and contribution.

In addition to her artistic pursuits, Altina generously shared her passion for art with the community. She devoted many years as a volunteer art therapist and muralist at Synanon, an experimental mental health center in Los Angeles. Through her artistic involvement, she left a lasting impact on the lives of those she touched, using art as a powerful means of healing and self-expression.

George Grosz’ Interregnum (1960)

In California, Altina Schinasi’s creative endeavors led her to conceive and produce “George Grosz’ Interregnum,” a captivating short documentary film showcasing the anti-Nazi artworks of her esteemed former teacher, George Grosz. Obtaining Grosz’s permission through a contract written on a napkin, Altina crafted the film using sixteen-millimeter footage of his drawings. The narrated text, based on Grosz’s book “A Big No and a Little Yes,” was eloquently read by the renowned Lotte Lenya.

The remarkable outcome of her efforts garnered significant recognition. “George Grosz’ Interregnum” earned an Academy Award nomination and secured First Prize at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. Credited as the producer under her married name, Altina Carey, she celebrated the film’s success.

The importance of this cinematic creation was acknowledged by the Academy Film Archive, which took the initiative to preserve the film in 2013, ensuring its legacy endures for future generations to appreciate and learn from.

March on Washington

After the success of “George Grosz’ Interregnum,” Altina Schinasi’s attention turned to Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic March on Washington. She acquired the film rights to this momentous event and enlisted the acclaimed author John Oliver Killens to write the screenplay. Once the script was completed, Altina journeyed to Atlanta to personally deliver it to Dr. King.

Invited by Dr. King himself, she visited Savior Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. served as the pastor, and Dr. King Jr. was a guest preacher that Sunday. Standing at the pulpit, Dr. King Jr. addressed the congregation about the script, expressing his anticipation for the envisioned movie. During her time in Alabama, Altina had the opportunity to meet Rosa Parks and also conducted an interview with Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

The prospect of the film caught the attention of Vittorio De Sica, the renowned Italian director famous for “Bicycle Thieves,” who showed interest in directing the project. Despite this promising collaboration, Altina faced challenges securing the necessary funding for the film, even from potentially sympathetic investors. Regrettably, the film never came to fruition despite the passion and efforts poured into its development.


Upon observing Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph capturing empty chairs, Altina Schinasi experienced a moment of inspiration, sparking her idea to merge the function of a seat with the form of its sitter. This innovative concept gave birth to what she aptly called “chairacters” – fantastic chairs and benches that embodied a unique blend of art and utility. Beginning her creative process, Altina worked on the core using Styrofoam and then skillfully sculpted the forms in plaster. The final result materialized as fiberglass casts, crafted from the sculpted prototypes at a California-based studio and factory. Her exceptional chairacters received recognition and adorned the cover of The Los Angeles Times Magazine, showcasing their imaginative design to a wider audience.

In 1973, Altina made a significant move to Washington D.C., where she resided for the next seventeen years. In 1978, she granted an interview to Pam Peabody at WPFW-Washington, D.C., where they discussed her 1978 exhibit at the Touchstone Gallery, as well as her life, artistic journey, and experiences at Synanon.

In 1973, Altina made a significant move to Washington D.C., where she resided for the next seventeen years. In 1978, she granted an interview to Pam Peabody at WPFW-Washington, D.C., where they discussed her 1978 exhibit at the Touchstone Gallery, as well as her life, artistic journey, and experiences at Synanon.

During the creation of her chairacters, Altina’s studio assistant departed, leading her to hire Celestino Miranda, who had recently sought asylum from Cuba after arriving in the United States. Celestino, a gifted artist in his own right, proved to be an exceptional collaborator and a source of inspiration. The two artists’ connection grew stronger, leading them to travel together to Santa Fe for the summer. After this transformative journey, they returned to Washington, and their bond continued to deepen. In 1981, Altina Schinasi and Celestino Miranda embraced their love and creativity, sealing their partnership with marriage.

Later years

Throughout her life, Altina Schinasi remained devoted to her artistic pursuits, continuously painting and sculpting. Eventually, she settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she spent her final years alongside her fourth husband, the painter Celestino Miranda. Their shared passion for art and creativity brought them closer, enriching their lives together until her passing.

In 2014, a documentary titled “Altina” was released, beautifully capturing the remarkable journey of her life, celebrating her artistic legacy, and sharing the inspiring story of this extraordinary woman.


On August 4, 2023, Google honored Altina Schinasi’s 116th Birthday with a Doodle, commemorating the woman who was not only a visionary but also left a lasting impact in multiple ways[12]. Her son, Terry Sanders, played a part in creating the Doodle and took the opportunity to share a heartfelt note on behalf of their family: “Happy Birthday, Tina! Your courage, kindness, and inspiration continue to resonate with us. We cherish your memory and love you always.”


Q1: Who was Altina Schinasi?
Ans: Altina Schinasi was an American sculptor, filmmaker, designer, and inventor.

Q2: What was Altina Schinasi best known for?
Ans: She was best known for designing the “Harlequin eyeglass frame,” popularly known as cat-eye glasses.

Q3: What inspired Altina Schinasi’s “chairacters”?
Ans: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph of unoccupied chairs inspired her to combine the function of seats with the form of sitters.

Q4: Where did Altina Schinasi live during her final years?
Ans: She lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, alongside her fourth husband, painter Celestino Miranda.

Q5: How did Google celebrate Altina Schinasi’s birthday?
Ans: On her 116th birthday, Google honored her with a Doodle, recognizing her visionary contributions in various fields.

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