Mid-Century Design is Still in Vogue

Tulip chair, style of Saarinen

The popularity of the television show, Madmen, had an important effect on the re-kindled popularity of mid-century modern furniture design.  In the show, the character, Peggy Olsen, can be seen sitting in her desk chair designed by Ray and Charles Eames.  The award-winning set designers were very knowledgeable and faithful in creating an aura of period authenticity for this very popular show.

This style of furniture has been around for over 75 years. We’ve seen it in offices, classrooms, waiting rooms, and restaurants. It is a style that never really went out.  It was always there, ready and willing to be observed and appreciated.  Now, according to HGTV, it is a growing design trend. Natalie Stungo says in her book, Charles and Ray Eames, it is “…because there is a freshness, a simplicity, a sense of naturalness that gives it instant appeal.”

According to the website, Curbed, in an article entitled “Why the World is Obsessed with Mid-Century Modern Design”, Laura Fenton states: “Today more than ever, the mid-century modern look is everywhere. …turn on the Daily Show and you’ll see guests sitting in classic Knoll office chairs. If you dine in a contemporary restaurant, there is a good chance you’ll be seated in a chair designed in the 1950’s whether it is an Eames, Bertoia, Cherner, or Saarinen.”

The term “mid-century modern” covers a wide range of design.  It includes architecture, furniture, and graphic design and roughly covers the period between the years of 1933-1965. The term was first used by writer and art historian, Carla Greenberg. She titled her 1984 book Mid-Century Modern, to describe “what has since become a global and iconic design movement”.

Madeline Morley, in an article for anothermag.com stated:  “…with its bubble shapes, neat proportions, and alluring sugar-coated colors – the mid-century has been aptly described as “furniture candy”.  The furniture is identified by it’s straight, clean lines and smooth curved angles with little or no ornamentation or upholstery.

Among the many famous furniture designers of the era, both American and European, Ray and Charles Eames stand out.  They were known as “the Fred and Ginger of the design world”.  Charles had the experience of engineering and building, and Ray contributed color, structure, and form to their designs.

The duo designed a few buildings and houses including a showroom for Herman Miller, the furniture manufacturer, but after 1945, furniture design became the main focus of their studio.

Eames style plywood lounge chair with ottoman

In 1946, the Museum of Modern Art in New York featured Charles in a one-man show showcasing his latest experimental designs in seating – dining and lounge chairs, and the office desk chair, which is now considered a 20th century classic. This design, the original and variations of it, was an instant success. By 1951, Herman Miller was selling 2000 chairs a month.

Charles stated that their philosophy was that good design should be available to everyone.  In his words: “…the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least.” Their furniture was priced to appeal to a mass audience.

The Eames’ experimented with a wide range of materials.  The simply designed molded fiberglass /plastic chairs, lightweight, stackable, and inexpensive can be seen in almost every classroom today and came in all sizes.  They designed chairs made from wire mesh, which architects likened to the Eiffel Tower.  Cast aluminum chairs were another successful innovation.

Charles and Ray Eames didn’t stop at furniture design.  They curated exhibitions, made films and coordinated multi-media events.  They enjoyed pointing out and highlighting the beauty of everyday things and ordinary objects because they believed that “…design should not be an elitist exercise.”

Charles Eames was described as “…without doubt the most creative and original designer of the 20th century…”

A number of Eames designs are no longer in production, but several of the most popular styles are still being manufactured.  An original Eames lounge chair is valued at around $6000. They are still being reproduced today for between $1600-1800.

Palm Springs Modernism Week

The Palm Springs area abounds in mid-century modern design.  Modernism Week, February 15-25, 2018, is the signature festival which highlights mid-century modern architecture, art, interior and landscape design and vintage culture in Greater Palm Springs.  An extensive article detailing lectures, tours and the events taking place can be found on the website palmspringslife.com.

Tickets for this informative, educational and entertaining week can be purchased on the website modernismweek.com.

The Palm Springs Art Museum has an impressive collection of mid-century furniture, art, and design in its permanent collection.

 Sources:

Charles and Ray Eames. Naomi Stungo. Carlton Books, 2000.

Modern Furniture Classics, A sourcebook of Styles, Designers and Manufacturers.  Miriam Stimson. Whitney Library of Design, 1987.

Palm Springs Modern. Adele Cygelman. Rizzoli, 1999.

blog.Froy.com Mid-Century Modern Design

curbed.com Why the World Is Obsessed With Mid-Century Modern Design

anothermag.com A Brief History of Modern Furniture Design

interiordesign.net1stdibs.com/MidCentury/Modern

 

 

 

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

Caring For Cut Glass

The American Cut Glass Association has a very informative website.   In addition to membership information there are tips on identifying cut glass, dating and patterns.

There are several free articles from past issues of their journal “The Hobstar”.  Among them are two articles by Vickie Matthews.

The Care and Cleaning of Cut Glass” has tips on handling, washing and displaying.  Since I’m located in an area prone to earthquakes, I especially like the suggestion of using a neutral wax or gel product sold at antique shops, hardware stores or on-line.   These products can be removed without harming the glass or signatures.

Packing and Shipping of Cut Glass” has tips on wrapping, boxing and using various shipping services.  Many of these tips can be used for transportation of glass, china or collectibles in general.

One of the best places to view cut glass in Southern California is the Historical Glass Museum in Redlands.   They have an entire room dedicated to American Cut Glass.  Located in a Victorian house, they have many other types of American made glass; the largest collection West of the Mississippi.  Check their website for upcoming lectures.

7 Best Practices for Gifting Art to Museums

Appraisals for Charitable Deductions in Southern California

 

Investment News has a good article titled “The Art of Legacy Planning – 7 Best Practices for Gifting Art to Museums”.  In the article they state that high net worth individuals spend an average of 17% of their wealth on art and antiques, a passion investment.   Part of managing this investment is planning for the future of the collection.  One option is to donate to a non-profit organization such as a museum.  To maximize the benefit from a donation these steps are suggested:

1. Create a plan with your client, legal counsel and an independent art adviser that includes the donor’s close family or other heirs as appropriate. Including family and/or heirs in the process can help clarify a donor’s intent, prevent future conflict and actively aid in preserving the donor’s legacy. The plan should include having the artwork professionally appraised by an accredited appraiser with relevant experience in the type of artwork being donated. The appraisal cannot be made earlier than 60 days before the donation. In cases where donors are concerned about whether the IRS may accept a valuation, such as when there are fluctuating markets for similar artwork, an IRS Statement of Value may be obtained for artwork valued at $50,000 or more to provide the donor with certainty.

2. Try to place artwork in museums that have missions and continuing collection interests that strongly align with your clients’ intent and contents of their collection. Clients often will know of strong prospects. But clients focused and passionate about their collection may not recognize how their collection will best fit with a museum’s broader collection, its goals and its limitations in space and other resources.

3. Consider art museum policies and practices for donors and “deaccessioning” (removing items from museum holdings, usually to sell them). Mr. Welch pointed out that “many museums want to retain the ability to improve their collections through the acquisition of better examples. In such a case, a gifted artwork might be deaccessioned and the proceeds used to acquire a superior work. When that happens, the donor’s name of the original gift typically appears in the newly acquired work’s credit line.”

4. Consider museums that are members of monitoring or regulating associations. For example, the Association of Art Museum Directors requires a written policy for “deaccession principles, procedures and processes”. They also require that “funds received from the disposal of a deaccessioned work shall not be used for operations or capital expenses. Such funds, including any earnings and appreciation thereon, may be used only for the acquisition of works in a manner consistent with the museum’s policy on the use of restricted acquisition funds. In order to account properly for their use, AAMD recommends that such funds, including any earnings and appreciation, be tracked separate from other acquisition funds.”

5. Check the health of organizational finances by looking at Form 990 tax filings and/or charity rating agencies like Charity Navigator. One quick test is to look at total assets and total liabilities. Stable charities — like stable businesses — generally have assets exceeding liabilities.

6. Consider supporting museum operating costs as part of a donor’s commitment to their gift of artwork. Financially supporting the museum is another way of helping to preserve a donor’s legacy and a logical step in a client’s charitable, financial and tax planning.

7. As you draft an agreement for the gift, consider including a “statement of intent” that clearly and personally outlines the desires and expectations of the donor for their donation. Sharing this statement with family (and/or other heirs) and the beneficiary museum can help clarify intent, expectations and address any concerns of heirs or the museum. A statement of intent can also clarify donor intent for future generations and may help prevent legal challenges. Donors who bequeath their art collections to museums share an intimate part of their lives. Advisers can help provide guidance that will preserve and protect their client’s wishes, smooth the process and help establish their client’s legacy for the benefit of future generations.

Source: Investment News The first item on the list includes having your artwork professionally appraised by an accredited appraiser.  Credentials for qualified personal property appraisers are earned with their professional appraisal societies.

About the Author: Kathi Jablonsky, ISA CAPP is a certified appraiser of personal property designated in Antiques and Residential Contents with the International Society of Appraisers. She is based in Southern California and serves the San Diego and Palm Desert regions.