Category: Defies Description

Aris Konstantinidis, Greek Regional Modernist

“Architecture is not an art, it is a natural function.  It grows out of the ground, like animals and plants.”  –Aris Konstantinidis

Greek regional modernist architect, Aris Konstantinidis (b. 1913) received his Dipl. Ing. Arch. from Technische Universität München in 1936. After graduation, Konstantinidis returned to Greece, served one year of mandatory military service, and then began work on his first commission, the Villa Cerca de Eleusis.

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During the early 20th century, Greece was in constant political turmoil and was suffering the devastating effects caused by multiple wars, authoritarian regimes, economic depression, coups and unstable governments. Accordingly, private commissions for new architectural projects were difficult to obtain, so Konstantinidis began what would be a lifelong career of public sector work in 1938. His first job with theTown Planning Department of Athens was cut short by a second call to military duty from 1940 to 1941; a period that marked the beginning of Greece’s involvement in World War II and the catastrophic occupation by Italy and Germany. And while World War II would end in 1945, another conflict, the Greek Civil War, would begin in 1946. Those constant political upheavals would make Konstantinidis’s early life and career a series of civil servant positions interrupted by stints of military duty. Perhaps it was that turbulence, and the repeated attempts by foreign powers to strip Greece of its national identity, that helped form his vision of a true Greek regional modern architecture.

During the Greek Civil War and after, Konstantinidis published three books about rural “anonymous” Greek architecture. He toured the islands and countryside extensively, photographing and studying the vernacular architecture. Konstantinidis disliked the “romantic” architecture built throughout the19th century, and said that it was “a curse” — and the columns and pediments Greece had become known for were not at all Greek, but European. He believed that true Greek architecture was found in the countryside and that the true Greek forms came from the “small and modest and unassuming folk architecture.”

In the early 1950s, after decades of war, Greece began to rebuild and tourism played a major role. In 1957, under the leadership of Konstantinidis, the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) began to build a series of state-owned hotels called the Xenia Hotels. In keeping with his personal philosophy of “architecture should be experienced in relation to the environment,” Konstantinidis considered the topography and climate in the design of each site. Over the next decade, Konstantinidis designed and, with the help of a small team of young architects, coordinated the construction of over 50 modern hotels, as well as beach bars, souvenir shops, restaurants and other attractions at scenic locations throughout Greece.

In 1962, Konstantinidis designed the Anavyssos “Weekend House” in Attica, Greece for General Panayotis Papapanayotou. Considered to be his landmark project, it conveyed the most important aspects of Konstantinidis’s “god-built” philosophy. The “Weekend House” was a “vessel for life” and the structure was “so deeply rooted in its environment that it [was] as if it had always been there.” The “Weekend House,” built from stone gathered at the site, was designed so that the inside and outside became one space, and the inhabitant of the house could live with nature.

In 1967, after a group of army colonels seized power in a coup d’etat which ushered in a dictatorship that lasted until 1974, Konstantinidis went into self-exile and took a teaching position in Zurich. Three years later, he returned to Greece and again worked for the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) doing occasional consulting as a Special Advisor. It was during that time that Konstantinidis witnessed the decline of the Xenia project. Many of the properties were in disrepair, abandoned or demolished due to mismanagement, unregulated construction during the dictatorship, depreciation, bad investments and post-war economic troubles. In 1978, feeling as though he was no longer relevant, he retired.

During the 1980s, receiving little to no commission work, Konstantinidis began to devote his time to writing and expressing his personal philosophies — and condemning the current developments and trends in architecture. In his 1987 publication, “Sinners and Plagiarists: Architecture Takes Off,” Konstantinidis named numerous architects, including Le Corbusier and Loos, that he believed were doing modern architecture an injustice.

In 1992, in his last book, “God-Built,” Konstantinidis said, “so every building, small or large, blooms on a particular site like an indigenous natural feature, to live with man and to have stature, meaning and soul . . . A work that is not a harmonious part of the landscape, cannot be architecture . . . it is also necessary for the architect to belong to a particular geographic and historical place, if he wants to make something that will have life and durability. True architecture, like any true art, has to be indigenous not international.” Konstantinidis never built outside of Greece.

Suffering from depression, Aris Konstantinidis took his life in September 1993.

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ROW 1: Xenia Hotel, Paliouri Beach (Chalkidiki), 1960s (abandoned); Anavyssos “Weekend House,” 1962; ROW 2: Xenia Hotel, Poros, 1961-64 (renovated/in use); Aris Konstantinidis, 1956; ROW 3: Xenia Hotel, Kalambaka, 1960 (abandoned)(Photo: Aris Konstantinidis Archive); Xenia Hotel, Nafplio, 1960 (abandoned)(Photo: Photographic Archives of Benaki Museum)

 

 

Kay Bojesen, Danish Toy Maker and Silversmith

 

“Don’t be timid.  There’s got to be a bit of circus in it.” –Kay Bojesen

Kay Bojesen (b. 1886) was a Danish silversmith best known for his hand-constructed, whimsical wooden toys.

In 1903, Bojesen’s father, disappointed with his teenage son’s perceived laziness, sent Bojesen to work for a grocer in Store Heddinge, Denmark. While a grocer, it is said that Bojesen took an interest in metal-smithing and asked a local goldsmith if he could draw patterns for him. In 1906, Bojesen began a four year apprenticeship with Georg Jensen’s new silversmithing company, and in 1910 studied at the vocational school in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. Upon returning to Copenhagen, Bojesen’s unmistakable talents were noticed by Oscar F. Dahl and Royal Jeweler, Anton Michelsen. In 1913, Bojesen had the opportunity to purchase Oscar Dahl’s workshop, so with the help of his father, Bojesen opened his own silversmithing workshop where he was able to move away from the Art Nouveau style he had learned at G. Jensen and explore the Functionalist movement that was developing in Europe in the early part of the century.

BOJESEN PHOTOIn 1930, believing that a cutlery pattern “shouldn’t steal the picture at a table setting,” Bojesen crafted a Functionalist set that would go on to win a Grand Prix at Milan’s 1951 Triennale. The iconic “Grand Prix” pattern would eventually become the official Danish Embassy cutlery and is still used today at Danish embassies around the world. In 1952, Bojesen was honored with the appointment of Purveyor to the Royal Danish Court.

But it was Bojesen’s small wooden toys that would capture hearts around the world.

In 1919, after the birth of his son, Otto, Bojesen began crafting small wooden toys for his son, just as his father had done for him as a child. Three years later, in1922, he entered a toy competition at the Dansk Arbejde Association in Copenhagen, and Bojesen’s accidental career as a toy-maker would begin. Over the next ten years, Bojesen began hand-crafting boats, cars, and jointed dolls, and in 1932 opened Den Permante, a cooperative craft and design store at 47 Bredgade, just steps from the royal palace, Amalienborg. It was there that Bojesen would begin to design his beloved wooden figures and, in rapid succession, the first of Bojesen’s animals (Dog, Zebra, Terrier and Rocking Horse) were created. However, on April 9, 1940, the charmed life of the Danish toy-maker would change with the German invasion of Denmark. While Nazis occupied Copenhagen at street level, Bojesen continued to quietly make toys in his basement workshop at 47 Bredgade. In late 1940, Bojesen, as a sign of passive resistance, designed the “King’s Royal Guard”; wooden replicas of the palace guards that had been replaced by Nazi guards during the occupation. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Bojesen produced fewer toys between 1940 and 1945.

By 1957, Bojesen would create many more animals. Beginning with the iconic Monkey in 1951, which was created in response to a request to create a coat hanger for an exhibition of children’s furniture. The Monkey was followed by the Bear, Elephant (which was presented to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953), Puffin, Hippo, Rabbit and the colorful Songbirds.

Bojesen, who considered himself a craftsman and not a designer, was a master of many mediums. While best known for his use of silver and wood, Bojesen also used bamboo, melamine, porcelain, steel and tin for the over 2,000 objects he would create during his career.

But it was silver that captured his creative spirit. Bojesen once said, “silver possesses most of my craftsman’s heart and I’m going to die a silversmith.”

Bojesen died in Copenhagen in 1958 at the age of 72.

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Row 1: Teak Salad Set, 1955 (Photo: Artnet); “Grand Prix” Sterling Silver Cutlery, 1938 (Photo: Artnet); Row 2: Oak Hippo, 1955 (Photo: Artnet); Teak Monkey, 1951 (Photo: Artnet); Row 3: Royal Danish “Life Gards.” 1942 (Photo: MadeinDenmark.de)

 

Grete Prytz Kittelsen, “The Queen of Scandinavian Design”

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Norwegian, Grete Prytz Kittelsen (b. 1917) was a 5th generation goldsmith and enamel artist. Her exposure to the arts came early, as her father was a rector at the Statens Håndverks-og Kunstindustriskole (SHK), and would often host students and lecturers at their home. It was natural that Kittelsen would follow the family tradition, so in 1941 she earned a degree from SHK in goldsmithing and shortly after joined her family business, J. Tostrup.

In April 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Norway and began an occupation that threw neutral Norway into turmoil. Kittelsen rejected the occupation and involved herself with the Norwegian Resistance. While it is unknown whether Kittelsen’s activities with the resistance were more than passive acts, such as refusing to speak German or to sit next to a German soldier on public transport (which resulted in a law being passed that a passenger must sit in any available seat while on a public bus), her involvement was enough to force Kittelsen and her brother, Torolf, to flee to Stockholm, Sweden in 1943.

While in Stockholm, Kittelsen met Arne Korsmo (the “Norwegian Le Corbusier”). After a short courtship, they married “during a lunch break,” and, together, returned to Norway after the war. During their 15 year marriage, they would collaborate on fine housewares and Kittelsen’s lifelong home, P12.

In 1949, Kittelsen was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and came to the US with Korsmo to study at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a new school founded by the renowned Bauhaus artist and intellectual, László Moholy-Nagy.

Upon returning to Norway, Kittelsen continued her work at the family business, where she would be instrumental in the development of new types of enamel, and the design of several successful lines of jewelry, including the “Med Punkter [With Dots]” series and the Domino ring (sold by J. Tostrup for 30 years). Her designs at J. Tostrup resulted in the coveted Swedish Lunning Prize in 1952.

Although she was born into a privileged family, she rebelled against elitism and longed to create designs of “everyday beauty” that could be afforded by all. Perhaps no coincidence, as Norway was experiencing “the golden age of social democracy.” In 1954, Kittelsen began a collaboration with Cathrineholm that allowed her to realize that egalitarian dream.

At Cathrineholm, Kittelsen’s talents as a functional enamel artist were immediately recognized and she garnered critical acclaim and won the coveted Grand Prix award at the 1954 Triennale di Milano for a vibrant blue enameled plate. Kittelsen would go on to revolutionize large scale manufacturing while at Cathrineholm and introduce the Stripes, Saturn and Cathedral collections. Her “Sensation Casserole” would sell 150K units in 1964 alone. Her award-winning designs brought her great success throughout her association with Cathrineholm. Her enamel series would be sold worldwide, and her work would be exhibited at galleries throughout the United States and Canada. In 1972, Kittelsen would be awarded, perhaps, one of her greatest honors, the Jakob prize awarded by the Norwegian Society of Arts and Crafts, an award honoring and bearing the name of her father, Jakob Tostrup Prytz.

Kittelsen, who was said to be “one of the 20th century’s most original and technically talented designers in Scandinavia,” died in 2010 at the age of 93. In her obituary, she was memorialized as “The Queen of Scandinavian Design.”

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Column 1: Grete Prytz Kittelsen; Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet for J. Tostrup, 1953; Column 2: Stripes for Cathrineholm; Enamel on Sterling Silver “Domino” Ring for J. Tostrup, 1952; Sterling Silver Coffee Service for J. Tostrup; Column 3: “Sensasjonskasserollen [Sensation Casserole] for Cathrineholm, 1962; Saturn for Cathrineholm, 1954; Sterling Silver Collar for J. Tostrup, 1952

Evelyn Ackerman, Mid Century Modern Tapestries

“…you did that, and you were pretty damn good. ” –Jerome Ackerman

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Evelyn Ackerman (1924-2012) was a prolific designer and a master of many mediums but perhaps is most well-known for her tapestry work. Evelyn, and her husband, Jerome, were prolific designers of ceramics, tapestries, wood carvings and more, and became part of the fabric of midcentury modernism and California design. Evelyn’s tapestries are part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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Tapestry for ERA Industries, 1968; “Labrynth,” 1970; Tapestry for ERA Industries, 1969

Henning Koppel, Danish Silversmith

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 6.41.26 PMHenning Koppel (1918-1981) studied at both the Danish Royal Academy of Arts (1936-1937) and Academie Rancon (France) (1938). He originally aspired to be a great sculptor, but circumstances directed him toward a more financially rewarding decorative arts career. The award-winning silver designer for Georg Jensen, Inc. eventually redirected his talents to porcelain and joined Bing and Grondahl in 1961. Koppel’s signature “pregnant curve” wasn’t fully appreciated by the public, but it won him many awards including the 1951 Triannale Gold Award for the pitcher above left. Koppel also contributed to the design catalogs of Holmegaard and Louis Poulsen & Co (lamps).

HENNING KOPPEL COLLAGE
Row 1:  HK Sterling Pitcher for Georg Jensen, 1952; “The Pregnant Duck” Sterling Pitcher, Design No. 992 for Georg Jensen, 1951 (Photo: Bukowski’s); Row 2: Sterling Silver Necklace With Lapis, Design No. 130B for Georg Jensen, 1950

Neal Small, “Prince of Plastics”

Self-taught designer and early plastics pioneer, Neal Small (b. 1937) was known as the “Prince of Plastics” in his Chelsea neighbor where he opened up shop in the 1960s.

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Before he left plastic industrial design to concentrate on a quiet life in the woods of Maine, Small created a number of innovative and iconic designs, including the “Origami” magazine holder and the Model 5031 acrylic coffee table. The 5031 coffee table, crafted from a single sheet of acrylic, was lauded as one of the purest modern forms of the time. Small still resides in Maine, and if you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of him driving around town in his black Subaru…that just happens to be adorned with black rats. Plastic ones, of course.

NEAL SMALLS COLLAGE

Tapio Wirkkala, Finnish Master of Many Mediums

Finnish industrial designer, Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985), was a master in the many mediums he used for his designs in glassware, tableware, cutlery, jewelry, art glass, furniture and more.

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Tapio Wirkkala

An artist and sculptor at heart, Wirkkala’s work took a necessary, practical approach after the war and turned to industrial design. A recluse that preferred the isolation of the woodlands of Lapland, Wirkkala’s main inspiration was nature and the frozen landscape of his homeland. He translated that love of home into some of his most well-known designs such as the iconic Ultima Thule (Ultima Thule is a mythological distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world”) and Aslak (a Finnish boy’s name meaning “supporter of Thorgest,” a 9th century Viking chief) glassware for Iittala.

Wirkkala also created an extensive collection of porcelain and stoneware for Rosenthal Ag starting in 1956, a career which produced eight tableware services and over 200 porcelain decorative objects, and colorful, blown glass for Venini.

And while Wirkkala is known for some of the most beautiful, modernist housewares of the mid-century, he’s also known for many utilitarian masterpieces. A plastic ketchup bottle (Paulig Company), an incandescent light bulb (Airam), the Finnish markka banknotes (1955-1981), and the Finlandia “Frozen Ice” vodka bottle (1970-2000).

A modest man, Wirkkala was “a maestro without a maestro’s affections.”

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Row 1: “Avena” vase for Iitala, 1970; “Alpina” vase for Iitala, 1966; “Ultima Thule” glass for Iitala, 1968; “Kalvolan Kanto” vase for Iittala, 1948; Row 2: Model 9020 coffee table for Akso, est. 1958; silver pendant, 1957 (photo credit: Wright 20).