Palm Springs and Mid-Century Modernism

Mid-century modern room

As early as the 1920s, the Coachella Valley, and particularly Palm Springs, became known for the dry clear climate and mild warm winters which were so helpful to those recuperating from serious respiratory conditions. Wealthy people from all over the country, wishing to escape the winter snows and cold, soon began to value the area for relaxation and fun and as a place to enjoy the stark beauty and contrast of the scenic wonders the desert offered.

Soon the area became a get-away playground for the Hollywood elite and the stars created their own burgeoning movie colony here in the desert. Palm Springs became a safe retreat from the prying eyes of the “paparazzi” of those days. The stars could stroll down the main streets and enjoy themselves in the restaurants and watering holes in relative comfort confident in being fairly anonymous.

Even though numerous spas and resorts sprung up to accommodate the visitors, many of the “snowbirds” and movie stars began to build second homes. Because these homes were not the primary residences of the occupants, the owners felt that they had more freedom to take architectural risks in the designs. The uniqueness of the desert landscape and environment and the luminous, rich, clear and strong light required an architecture that was sophisticated and understated – one that would blend with the spectacular austereness and palette of the desert.

The desert was a blank canvas to the architect, open to creative and innovative approaches in new lines, angles, and textures that worked with the environment. It inspired artists to work with, blending and contrasting, the natural materials in abundance around them.

Dolly Faibyshev states in her book Palm Springs Mid-Century Modern, that Palm Springs has one of the largest concentrations of mid-century modern architecture in the country. Many of the most famous architects of the period were inspired by the desert environment. With commissions from film stars, private wealthy patrons, and corporations, architects of the caliber of Richard Neutra, Donald Wexler, John Lautner, Paul Williams, William Krisel, and A. Quincy Jones, among many other notables, were able to envision, design and play with new and innovative architectural features.

The style emphasized creating structures with broad generous windows and open floor plans, all to the intention of opening up interior spaces and bringing the outside in. The novel post and beam design eliminated the need for heavy and bulky support walls in favor of walls that seemed to be made of glass. The idea was one of “clean simplicity and integration with nature”. In mid-century designs, function did not follow form, it was as important as form.

The mid-century modern movement in the United States was an American reflection of the International Style and the Bauhas movements which had held sway in early 20th century modern architecture. In the 1940’s, the term was used to describe a dissatisfaction with the prevalent styles in modern architecture and a reaction to the lack of variety of Mies van der Rohe and LeCorbusier. Surface ornament and historical references began to re-emerge and influence decorative forms. The International Style’s architectural orthodoxy was challenged by these new approaches. Mid-century design was used in residential structures with the “goal of bringing modernism to post-war American communities.”

The deserts of Palm Springs offered architects and designers fertile and virtually untouched ground for their experimentation with and development of fresh and innovative forms of design. An outstanding example is the work of A. Quincy Jones, the architect and designer of the Walter Annenberg estate, Sunnylands.

mid-century modern chair, style of Bertoia

Palm Springs celebrates its heritage with Modernism Week, February 15-25, 2018, a very popular and always sold-out event. Fortunately, there is a Fall Preview from October 19-22, 2017. Although also a popular event, it gives a brief overview of the full two-weeks taking place in February. The Mission of Modernism Week is to celebrate and foster appreciation of mid-century architecture, design, art, fashion, and culture. A list of events and tours can be found on the site modernismweekly.com. Tickets can be purchased online and are for sale now. The online store also offers many books, prints, photographs and objects relating to the event and to all aspects of mid-century modernism.

As a personal property appraiser, it’s important to recognize mid-century modern furniture and decorative art.  Many of the important designers are highly collectible, and the values for those items have increased over the last several years.

In other events this month, a four-month long showcase of Latin-American and Latino Art entitled Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is being launched on September 17, 2017. Fifty museums in Southern California will offer free admission on that day. According to the website pacificstandardtime.org, the exhibit is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Led by the Getty, it is a collaborative effort from Arts institutions across Southern California. Further information can be found on the website as well as on laist.com.

SOURCES

Julius Shulman: Palm Springs; Michael Stern and Alan Hess, Rizzoli 2008

Desert Modernists: The Architects Who Envisioned Mid-Century Modern Palm Springs, published in collaboration with Modernism Week and Palm Springs Life 2017

Palm Springs Mid-Century Modern; Dolly Faibyshev, Schiffer Publishing, 2010

LA Times Article on Fall Preview: August 1, 2017

moderrnismweekly.com

pacificstandardtime.org

Mid-century modern furniture on 1stdibs

Links to mid-century modern in Palm Springs at Swank Modern Design

 

Modern Italian blown glass vase, style of Venini

Art Nouveau – Masters of Ornament

During the years 1890 to the beginning of the First World War, Art Nouveau, or the “new art” movement encompassed graphic arts, interior design, architecture, the use of technology and new scientific discoveries, as well as many of the decorative arts including textiles, jewelry, silver, ceramics and glassware, tile, ironwork, lighting, and the fine arts. It was considered a “total art style”, more of a movement than a style, which promoted the philosophy that art should be a way of life. In the words of William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” It was rooted in the Arts and Crafts movement of the mid to late 19th century which called for a closer union between the fine and decorative arts and away from the academic styles of the overly fussy and conservative Victorian tastes of the time.

Designs were inspired by all things in nature, employing flowers, vines, and other flora and fauna. Intertwining curvilinear forms, asymmetrical and dynamic, flowing one into another, always striving for harmony. It was described in 1894 as “sudden, violent curves generated by the crack of a whip “. Through exhibitions in Europe and the U.S. in the late 19th-early 20th century, Japanese woodblock prints became popular and were an important influence in Art Nouveau designs with their many references to the world of nature.

Art Nouveau designs have a distinctive appearance, instantly recognizable.  The artisans of the Arts and Crafts movement frowned upon the use of the machine as an aid in creating their art forms. Their ideal was to create a more humane and just society through their artistic endeavors. The artists of this “new style” enthusiastically adopted new materials and new technology in developing innovative, imaginative, and fanciful designs, particularly in jewelry, glass, and the new medium of cast iron, which was artistically utilized in architectural interiors and exteriors. It was truly “art for art’s sake” and beauty, grace, and harmony were the desired results.

In the United States, Art Nouveau is often referred to as “Tiffany style”, although there were several other well-known and highly regarded American design studios. Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) and his studio were most famous for their lamps. He experimented with the processes of coloring glass, and in 1894 patented favrile glass, which used metallic oxides to color the interior of molten glass giving it an iridescent effect. Among Tiffany’s most notable designs was the dragonfly. Gossamer-winged dragonflies, mysterious and ethereal, are admired in many cultures. They are a symbol of agility and purity because they are always found hovering and darting about near water. To the Chinese, they symbolize harmony and prosperity. Dragonfly lampshades became one of the Studio’s most popular designs, and were produced in many colors and styles. The most valuable and most highly prized by collectors have a matching base inset with mosaic glass. Tiffany lamps can be worth anywhere from 4000 to several hundred thousand dollars.

On June 6th, 2017, Sotheby’s will feature the estate of Carol Ferranti: Masterworks by Tiffany Studios.  On June 16th, James D. Julia, Inc. will be featuring lighting from Tiffany studios in their upcoming auction of Rare Lamps, Glass, and Jewelry. Among other designs, a dragonfly lamp and a remarkable wisteria leaded-glass window will be highlights.  Another resource, Liveauctioneers, is an excellent free website to view realized prices from various auction houses.

In my travels last year, I was fortunate to go to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum in Salamanca, Spain.  Among their collections are wonderful examples of glass by Loetz, Galle’, Daum and Lalique.

The ideal of this movement can be summed up in the words of Christopher Dresser, a botanist, and a strong influence on American Art Nouveau design: “…nothing is too mundane to be transformed into a thing of beauty”  if it was from nature.

REFERENCES

 American Art Nouveau. Diane Chalmers Johnson.  Harry N. Abrams Inc., NY 1979

The Art of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Donald L. Stover. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco 1981

Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Alastair Duncan. Harry N Abrams, Inc. NY 1992

Art Nouveau and Art Deco Jewelry: An Identification and Value Guide. Lillian Baker

 Essentials of Art History. George M. Cohen, PhD.  Research and Education Association

INTERNET RESEARCH

Art Design and Visual Thinking

Antique Reporter

Nature and Art Nouveau

The Aesthetic Movement

Art Nouveau – Wikipedia

50th Anniversary of American Studio Glass

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the American studio glass movement.  To celebrate this occasion, over 165 museums, universities and arts organizations throughout the U.S. are presenting exhibitions or programs relating to contemporary glass.  The movement began at the  Toledo Museum of Art:

In 1962, the Studio Glass Movement was born in a garage on the Museum grounds. Harvey Littleton, a pottery instructor, received the support of then-director Otto Wittmann to conduct a workshop to explore ways artists might create works from molten glass in their own studios, rather than in factories. A prototype “studio” furnace was built in the TMA garage, but for the first three days of the workshop all attempts to fuse molten glass failed. Finally, Dominick Labino, then vice president and director of research at Johns Manville Fiber Glass, showed up with advice on furnace construction, and with glass marbles that melted. Harvey Leafgreen, a retired glassblower from Libbey Glass, was then able to demonstrate his craft. Later that summer, many participants returned for a second workshop.

As an appraiser specializing in art glass, I am always looking for opportunities to view art glass and gain education.  Last Fall I attended the Sculpture Objects and Functional Art (SOFA) Show in Chicago.  I enjoyed the opportunity to view contemporary art glass and meet many artists, including Lino Tagliapietra.

The Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass (of which I am a member)  has a calendar of events and celebrations for 2012 at http://contempglass.org/2012-celebration/events.    While you’re at the website, check out “A Visual History of Glass” and “Featured Glass Art Videos”.

Pile Up by Harvey Littleton
Pile Up Harvey K. Littleton (American, b. 1922) United States, Spruce Pine, North Carolina, 1979 Kiln-formed glass, cut glass base

The Glass Art Society is having their annual conference from June 13-16, 2012 in Toledo, Ohio, the birthplace of studio glass.

The Corning Museum of Glass is having their annual seminar on glass October 18-20 titled “Celebrating 50 Years of American Studio Glass” in conjunction with exhibits featuring Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino, founders of the studio glass movement.

If you have a chance, I encourage you to attend some of the programs and special exhibits celebrating the studio glass movement this year.  It is a rare opportunity to view such a large amount and wide variety of contemporary art glass.

Gold and Green Implied Movement by Harvey Littleton
Gold and Green Implied Movement Harvey K. Littleton (American, b. 1922) United States, Spruce Pine, North Carolina, 1987 Hot-worked barium/potassium glass with multiple cased overlays of colorless and Kugler colors, cut Assembled (six elements)

 

Images used with permission, courtesy of the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass.