Category: Defies Description

Laurel Potteries of California

In 1944, a formerly lucrative pottery factory, Joaquin Pottery, having suffered the effects of WWII, sold their factory to Nancy Ann Abbott, owner of Nancy Ann Dressed Dolls. “Story Book Dolls,” made of bisque pottery, were manufactured at the factory until around 1948, after which Abbott switched to hard plastics to create her dolls. No longer needing the pottery factory, it was sold and renamed Laurel Potteries of California. Laurel Potteries used an electromagnetic process to remove iron from their clay which was then used in flat plate and slip pottery pieces. By 1953, the factory doubled in size and their pottery lines could be found coast-to-coast in high-end department stores like Bloomingdales, Wannamakers, Macy’s and The May Company. During the 40s and 50s, Laurel Potteries produced several successful MCM dinnerware lines. California Life, California Seaside and Cerama-Stone were designed by in-house designer, Ted Scarpino; California Holiday was designed by award-winning potter Edith Heath; and California Living, which won the Museum of Modern Art’s “Good Design Award” in 1951, was designed by Caleb Jackson and Ted Scarpino. After two decades of steady growth, Laurel Potteries suffered a setback that crippled the once thriving business – lead poisoning. After two reports of poisoning connected to the Cerama-Stone line, and subsequent attempts to rework the glazes to prevent lead leakage, Laurel Potteries ceased operations and sold the plant to Sylvan Ceramics. Laurel Potteries pieces are still readily available and collectible.

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Column 1: Unknown pattern; “Cerama-Stone” pitcher;
Column 2: “Life” dinner plate; “Living” coffee pot;
Column 3 “Cerama-Stone” gravy boat; “Seaside” sugar/creamer; Laurel of California mark

Luis Barragan, Mexican Modernist

“Any work of Architecture that does not express serenity is a mistake.” -Luis Barragan

Regarded the “most prominent” Mexican architect, Mexican Modernist, Luis Barragan (b. 1903), was known for his colorful, modernist homes outside of Mexico City.  Barragan, one of nine siblings from a wealthy Mexican ranching family, was an aesthete from an early age.  In a local newspaper, he was quoted as saying that he would notice “the play of shadows on the walls…and how the look of things changed.”

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Luis Barragan

After graduating from the Escuelo Libre de Ingenieros in Guadalajara in 1923 with a Civil Engineering degree, Barragan traveled to Europe and lived in Morocco where he was exposed to Mediterranean and North African architecture.  He was also introduced to the writings of landscape architect, Ferdinand Mac, as well as meeting Le Corbusier, both of whom would be influential throughout his career.  But unlike Le Corbusier, who believed a house should be a “machine for living,” Barragan believed his homes should be a “refuge” and not a “cold piece of convenience.”  Barragan eschewed the trend of functionalism and minimalism, and devoted his life to creating “emotional architecture.”  A gifted landscape architect, he developed his own style using “natural siting,” taking great care to incorporate the natural features of the landscape into his buildings.

Barragan’s designs were also reflective of the Mexican climate and culture.  The harsh climate necessitated “structural simplicity” and “few materials.”  The intense sun and wind, as well as economic restrictions were major influences.  Barragan, instead, used this to his advantage.  The walls of the courtyards would block the winds and serve as canvases for sunlight and shadows.  Walls were placed so that sun would cast a variety of shapes onto the courtyards throughout the day.  Using hidden openings to capture sunlight, shafts of light would serve a dual purpose of art and lighting. 

In addition to being a gifted architect and landscape designer, Barragan was a talented furniture designer, although he only designed for individual projects.  

His work has been described as “poetic,” “mythical,” and “monastic.”  Barragan’s devotion to  Catholicism can be seen in his work.  He created homes, as well as religious spaces, that  reflected quietude and meditation.

Barragan was an intensely private man so little is known about his personal life.  Anecdotes point to a kind, but somewhat eccentric man.  He was a generous gift-giver and he supported and encouraged fellow artists by commissioning works for his projects and personal home.  He wore English sport coats and ascots, and was known to cancel lunch plans “if the light was not right.”  

In 1980, Luis Barragan won the “nobel prize of architecture,” the Pritzker, “for his commitment to architecture as a sublime act of the poetic imagination.”

Luis Barragan died from complications due to Parkinson’s Disease in 1988.  

“Solitude.  Only in intimate communion with solitude may man find himself.  Solitude is good company and my architecture is not for those who fear or shun it.” -Luis Barragan

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Frederick Kiesler, Modernist Visionary

ml_Frederick Kiesler_200Frederick Kiesler (1890–1965) was a polarizing figure that stirred conventional thought and caused consternation with his outlandish ideas of curved walls and biomorphic furniture featured in his 1942 interior design for Peggy Guggenheim’s “Art of This Century” gallery. Kiesler arrived in New York in 1926 from his homeland of Ukraine, bringing with him avant-garde ideas learned as the youngest member of de Stijl. Kiesler was a multi-disciplined artist that believed “form does not follow function. Function follows vision. Vision follows reality.” Called “the greatest non-building architect of our time,” Kiesler’s unbuilt visions of a home that connected to its inhabitants through solar energy, sensory lighting and large screens splashed with art seem prescient of today’s interactive and electronic home innovations. Deemed a charlatan by some and a visionary by others, Kiesler’s evocative ideas continue to be thought-provoking.

KEISLER COLLAGE
Column 1:  Frederick Kiesler; Marcel DuChamp, mixed media, 1947 (Photo:  MoMA); Column 2:  Multi-use Chair, 1942 (Photo:  MoMA); Nesting Coffee Table 1935-38 (Photo: MoMA); “Horse Galaxy,” Mixed media installation, 1954 (Photo: Jason McCoy Gallery, New York); Column 3: Dying Horse, bronze, 1963 (Photo: Jason McCoy Gallery, New York); Totem for All Religions, Wood and Rope, 1947 (Photo: MoMA)

V’Soske, American Rug Makers

“This is a company that has been the voice of the architect on the floor in the 20th century, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Philip Johnson,” said architect, Lee F. Mindel. V’Soske Inc., a bespoke carpet company, was established in Manhattan in the mid-1920s by Stanislav V’Soske.

Upon V’Soske’s death in 1983, The New York Times referred to him as the “dean of American rug design.” A trained portrait painter, he became interested in rug manufacturing in the early 1920s, and subsequently founded the world-class carpet company. Being constrained by dated manufacturing techniques and materials, Stanislav “Stan” V’Soske, along with his brothers, Bronyck and Aloyzy, invented the modern hand-tufting technique of rug making, methods to vary the surface and heights of carpeting in tufted, incised or modeled patterns, as well as materials used to make their rugs.VSOSKE COLLAGE JPG.jpg Using these revolutionary techniques, V’Soske, Inc. designed and created rugs that have decorated The Green Room in The White House, The Museum of Modern Art, which commissioned some of his work for its permanent collection, as well as Phillip Johnson’s “Glass House.” V’Soske, Inc. has created textile masterpieces by collaborating with world-renowned artists such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Phillip Johnson, Stuart Davis and Arshile Gorky.

The company is still family owned and continues to be a preeminent American rug maker.

Charles & Ray Eames, Toys

“It makes me feel guilty that anyone should have such a good time doing what they are supposed to do.” –Charles Eames

While Charles and Ray Eames took their craft seriously, they approached it through playful experimentation. “Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are the preludes to serious ideas.” And it was that approach that resulted in a portfolio of toys and furnishings that blurred lines. Construction toys that encouraged architectural creativity in young minds, and colorful adult furnishings that were whimsical yet purposeful. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of the Eames credo is the application of their experimental, cutting-edge technology of molded plywood for the creation of a child’s chair in the shape of an elephant. While the production of the Elephant Chair was too complex to create a viable commercial product, it ultimately became one of the most charming and “unforgettable” contributions to the American MCM tapestry.

EAMES TOYS COLLAGE
Row 1:  Eames Plywood Elephant Prototype, 1945; House of Cards, 1952 (Photo: Eamesoffice)
Row 2:  Eames Masks, 1950 (Photo: Eamesoffice); Eames Giraffe Mask, 1950; Eames Storage, 1949

Dora Jung, Finnish Textile Artist

“Jung did not want to give any artistic responsibility to the loom.”  –Päivi Fernström

Dora Jung (b.1906) was a nationally-recognized Finnish weaver and textile artist. As a child, her father gave her a loom to keep her occupied during frequent illnesses. This early introduction was the catalyst for her lifelong passion of weaving and textile artistry. In 1932, Jung graduated from the School of Arts and Crafts in Helsinki and immediately established Dora Jung Textil, which she operated out of an extra room in her parents’ house, using the family bathtub to dye yarn. In 1933, Jung brought home her first award from the Triennale de Milano Esposizione.

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Dora Jung, 1979

Not one to shy away from difficult techniques, Jung chose the complicated damask weave for her projects, but being an artist at heart, she moved away from the traditional, symmetrical patterns of subdued colors that damask was known for, and wove asymmetrical patterns and abstract imagery in atypical colors. Jung approached her weaving as a painter would a canvas. She applied “rule of three” principles to her projects; a technique typically used in photography or landscape painting. Her weaving method became widely known as the Dora Jung Technique.

Jung was known to be devoted to her craft, so during the 1940s, when linen yarn was reserved for the military, she used wound paper yarn for projects. During this time she collaborated with the Finnish textile company Oy Tampella Ab making household products, such as lampshades and draperies. This collaboration would continue until the 1970s.

In 1951, Jung won her second Triennale de Milano Esposizione award — the top honor of Grand Prix for her Kyyhkysiä’ (Doves) tapestry; in 1954, a second Grand Prix,, and again in 1957 for her iconic tablecloth, Viivaleikki (Play of Lines). That same year, Jung had her first major exhibition in Finland at Artek, the Aalto’s design studio in Helsinki.

From the 1950s onward, Jung received worldwide recognition and accolades, including Sweden’s 1961 Prince Eugen Award and the 1963 Danish Cotil Prize. In 1969, Jung worked with FinnAir to design a line of linens that would be paired with dinnerware designed by Tapio Wirkkala for first-class passengers on the new transatlantic flights to New York. Dora Jung’s work is included in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

Dora Jung died in Helsinki in 1980.

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Column 1: Viivojen Leikki (Play of Lines) Tablecloth, 1957; “Clay Flasks” Tapestry 1956 (Photo: Bukowski’s); “Anemone” table cloth for Tampella, 1961 (still available at Lapuan Kankurit);
Column 2: Sample tapestry for the Finlandia Line cruise ships, 1960

 

 

Dame Jane Drew, Tropical Modernist

“She ate life with a fork and spoon.” –Walter Gropius

Jane Drew (b. 1911) was an English “Tropical Modernist” architect best known for her many international projects, including the development of Chandigarh, the capitol of Punjab, India. She is considered one of the most prolific international  architects of the 20th century.

Born Iris Estelle Radcliffe Drew, Dame “Jane” Drew was encouraged by her mother, a teacher, to pursue her appreciation for the arts. Her father, an inventor of medical instruments, was a humanist that felt patenting his inventions would be against public interest. This introduction to humanism would influence Drew throughout her career.

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Jane Drew

After developing an interest in architecture in her late teens, Drew was accepted into the Architectural Association School of Architecture, the only architecture school open to women in the United Kingdom and the first school to teach modernist ideas. In 1933, Drew became one of the founding members of the Modern Architectural ReSearch Group (MARS), an organization formed for architects interested in the modernist movement.

After completing her architectural studies in 1934, Drew married James Allison, and together they opened their first architectural practice. Their marriage, and practice, ended by 1940 due to Allison’s “narrow social outlook,” so Drew accepted a position with the British Commercial Gas Corporation (BCGC), since the war made architecture jobs difficult to find. In her new job, Drew studied modern products such as enamel and Formica and and how these products could be employed in domestic settings. Drew also designed ergonomic kitchens and products, and is credited with formulating the standard height for ovens still used today.

In 1942, Drew married fellow architect and MARS member, Maxwell Fry; a marriage that satisfied Drew’s thirst for adventure. Shortly after they married, Fry, who worked with the British colonial authorities, was posted in Ghana. During his absence, Drew set up her own all-female practice. Having known the difficulties of securing work in the male-dominated architectural field, Drew made it a point to hire only women. In addition to Drew’s architectural practice, she took government work designing fake factories to be used as decoys during German bombing missions. Perhaps it is this work that spawned the rumor that Drew was an MI6 agent. A rumor that Drew neither confirmed or denied.

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Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry

In 1944, Drew joined her husband, Maxwell Fry, in Ghana as assistant town-planning adviser. This move would launch an international career that spanned the globe. Over the next several years, Drew and Fry would, together and individually, build housing, hospitals and schools in “tropical” climates, including Ghana, Nigeria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Kuwait and Singapore. But perhaps, Drew’s greatest contribution to Tropical Modernism, is Chandigarh, India.

In 1951, familiar with Drew’s work in colonial West Africa, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, approached Drew with a request that she assist in establishing a new capitol in Punjab, India to replace the former capitol that was lost during the partitioning of India and Pakistan in 1947. The new capitol, Chandigarh, would be home to thousands of Pakistani refugees and Nehru’s goal was to create a modern “model city.” Drew, due to prior commitments, enlisted the help of Le Corbusier, whom she knew through Congres International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM). Over the next three years, based on Le Corbusier’s layout, Drew, Fry and Le Corbusier’s cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, would design and build a new capitol city complete with housing for 15 income levels, schools, clinics, parks, open air theaters and swimming facilities.

It was in these developing countries that Drew was able to combine her passion for architecture with her deep commitment to humanitarianism and social justice. Drew would spend long periods studying each country’s climate, ecology, culture and traditions before designing a project, always making sure to incorporate local colors and references into each project. She was a gifted linguist and learned to speak to the locals in their native languages. She insisted on hiring local architects where needed and campaigned for fair wages and privileges, when she was sometimes paid less than her male counterparts, simply because she was a woman.

Jane Drew was also an ardent feminist. Once, while being introduced at a lecture, the speaker incorrectly referred to her as “Mrs. Maxwell Fry,” at which point she quietly corrected the speaker and he then told the audience that “[he was] sorry. Mrs. Fry can’t be with us tonight. Instead Miss Jane Drew has kindly accepted to replace her.” But prior to her death, she used her married name to the surprise of a hospital receptionist that was well aware of her insistence that her given name be used at all times.

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63 Gloucester Place, London, c. 1960. Photo from: The Architecture of Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew: Twentieth Century Architecture, Pioneer Modernism and the Tropics by Iain Jackson

63 Gloucester Place was the home and office of Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry for over 60 years. Drew, an assertive, business-driven, rain-maker for the firm, could be polarizing to some, but generous, supportive and kind to others, housing young architects and friends in need from all over the world.

Although Fry was awarded the 1964 Royal Institute of British Architects Royal Gold Medal (awarded by the Monarch in recognition of lifetime achievements in international architecture), for projects in which Jane Drew worked side-by-side, Drew was never honored with this recognition. Dame Jane Drew died of cancer in 1996 at the age of 85.

“Architecture should provide a space in which human beings can flourish both physically and spiritually.” – Jane Drew

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Row 1: Dame Jane Drew; University of Ibadan, Nigeria; Row 2: Secondary school, Chandigarh, India; Concrete screen, Higher Secondary School, Chandigarh, India