47th Annual ARLIS/NA Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 26-30, 2019. (Dec Arts SIG meeting to be announced)
by Jennifer Cohlman Bracchi, Reference Librarian at the Cooper Hewitt Museum Library, New York City.
This photograph of a Rockefeller Center pendant light is one of almost 50,000 photographs and drawings in the Smithsonian Design Library’s Edward F. Caldwell Collection. Caldwell and Company was a premier designer and manufacturer of custom lighting fixtures and fine metalwork from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. This immense visual resource is one of the largest such archives of a single American lighting company.
The firm was founded in 1895 in New York City by Edward F. Caldwell and Victor F. von Lossberg, who met while working at the lighting firm Archer and Pancoast. Caldwell had achieved great success at Archer and Pancoast working on commissions for the architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, that included the New York State Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. He developed a lasting relationship with Stanford White resulting in Caldwell and Company securing numerous commissions, most notably the White House renovation in 1902. Many of their magnificent chandeliers, wall sconces, and torchieres continue to be prominent features throughout the White House including the East Room ballroom and State Dining Room. Their work still graces many of New York City’s best known public and private buildings, as well as others throughout the country and beyond. Working with many of the most renowned architects of their day including Warren and Wetmore, Carrere and Hastings, and Cass Gilbert, they designed fixtures for most of the grand Beaux-Arts mansions, such as the homes of Henry Clay Frick, John Jacob Astor, J. Pierpont Morgan, Frederick W. Vanderbilt, and Andrew Carnegie. Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, and the magnificent art deco chandeliers and wall sconces for Radio City Music Hall are among their public building commissions. Visitors to Cooper Hewitt will see a series of bronze and alabaster ceiling fixtures in the Great Hall that leads to a massive chandelier illuminating the grand staircase—these are all original 1901 Caldwell designs for Andrew Carnegie’s mansion.
The craftsmanship of Caldwell and Company also transferred to modernism, as seen in this cosmic ceiling fixture the firm designed in 1932 for the art deco icon, Rockefeller Center. Built from 1930 to 1939 by a team of top architects led by Raymond Hood, Rockefeller Center consisted of fourteen buildings within three city blocks, making a mini city within a city of skyscrapers a reality for the first time. This commission was one of the largest and most prestigious a lighting manufacturer could achieve, and Caldwell was the obvious choice for the job. Each piece was custom designed and manufactured in their foundry at 36–40 West 15th Street, where they employed over a thousand people during the height of their operations. At a time when American manufacturing was at its peak, Caldwell and Company were masters at pairing design and craftsmanship with new electrical technologies, establishing a golden age of art lighting. The Edward F. Caldwell Collection, part of the Smithsonian Design Library archive and available online, is a valuable resource for historic preservationists, architectural scholars, lighting designers, and collectors. Because these fixtures are often found unmarked, disassembled, incomplete, or separated from their original locations, this archive is often the only source for identifying a Caldwell fixture in its original state. Browsing the archive also reveals the wide variety of tastes and styles that were rapidly developing and changing during an incredible time of growth in America.
The Decorative Arts SIG will be meeting at the ARLIS/NA conference in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 27 from 12:30 to 1:20. Please mark your calendars and join us for our annual meeting where we will share events and accomplishments by members, discuss topics of interest and revisit the progress of ongoing projects. Some of the matters planned for discussion include:
- Decorative Arts bibliography as a shared and growing document
- Updates on the proposed digitization of Crockery and Glass
- Information sharing within the SIG (blog, Slack, Google Drive, what is the best platform or platforms?)
- Blog posts—who is interested in contributing?
- Interest in creating a resource list of libraries with significant holdings in the area of the Decorative Arts
- Brainstorming ideas for session proposals for 2020 in St. Louis
If you have other topics that you would like to add to the discussion, please let us know.
Also, check out the rest of the Decorative Arts SIG website to see the latest blog post from Elizabeth Broman of Cooper Hewitt, or to access the minutes from last year’s SIG meeting.
by Elizabeth Broman
Reference Librarian, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library
This extremely rare 1940 trade catalog from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum Library, Katalog farforu fa︠i︡ansu i maĭoliky, represents the production of not any one company, but is the output of 10 state owned ceramics factories all over the Ukraine in small towns and villages after industry was nationalized in 1918.
This is a primary source document for the decorative arts and studying the material culture and political history of the Ukraine and the former Soviet Union.
We tend to be more familiar with the graphic arts of Communist Russia as vehicles for propaganda – especially posters. The decorative arts, especially of utilitarian objects like the tableware featured in this catalog, were important vehicles for disseminating political concepts of the new social order and Soviet nationalism to the masses in everyday life.
The Stalinist era of the 1930’s combined “peasant” or folk art motifs and patterns with propagandist symbols, emphasizing social and communal values while depicting positive images of workers and peasants.
In Plate XI, there are many examples of propaganda and folk art used together. Cup 79 commemorates May 1st as International Workers’ Day, an annual celebration of the revolution of 1918. Cup 80 features a hammer and sickle, symbols of the industrial proletariat and the peasantry; together with the floral folk art motifs the design they symbolize the unity between industrial and agricultural workers. Cup 84 depicts a silhouette of Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861), a poet and painter who became a Ukrainian hero for his writings, which indicted his country’s oppression by Tsarist Russia. Cups 82 and 83 are decorated with fighter planes and parachutes, portraying the military might and wartime spirit of the Soviet Union.
Several of the designs come directly from traditional Ukrainian geometric folk patterns used in embroidery and textiles.
by Rebecca Hopman, Outreach Librarian, Rakow Research library
When glass artist Mel George teaches a class, she takes her surroundings into account. She tries “to give the students special experiences that the individual places can offer.” So, soon after George and her students arrived at The Studio of The Corning Museum of Glass, they set off to explore the Rakow Research Library.
During a tour of the special collections, the class had a chance to see the Library’s oldest item, the nearly 900-year-old Mappae clavicula (loosely translated, a little key to the world of medieval techniques). George was delighted with the manuscript, and assigned her students the task of creating contemporary interpretations of books, or “visual poems.” They visited again to examine books in the collection with glass covers and insets, then set to work. Their final pieces, inspired by the Library’s collection and their own identities as artists, demonstrate how libraries can inspire people in unexpected ways.
The Rakow Library collects information on glass and glassmaking. A cornerstone of the Museum’s campus, the Library is open to everyone, and offers guests a chance to learn more about all aspects of glass, including history, art, and science. The shelves are full of the expected as well as the surprising, often leading visitors like Mel George and her students in new directions.
Curious and Curiouser: Surprising Finds from the Rakow Library offers visitors a taste of what they can find if they venture up the Library’s glass staircase to the reading room. From a patent for preserving the dead in glass to a trilogy of romance novels chronicling the generations of a fictional glassmaking family, the exhibition unites many disparate materials from the Library and glass collections through themes of curiosity and inspiration.
CURIOSITIES FROM THE COLLECTION
Glass has been used for many purposes throughout history, some more surprising than others. In the early encyclopedia De proprietatibus rerum (On the properties of things), author Bartholomaeus Anglicus recommends crushing glass to a fine powder to clean teeth. Those with kidney stones could also mix the powder with their wine for relief. However, if the powder was not crushed finely enough, it would “sunder the guts” and kill them instead.
Glass was also the primary material used to make artificial eyes for hundreds of years. Skilled glassworkers could make a living making and selling eyes for taxidermy and as prosthetics. Catalogs and advertisements offered a wide variety of human, animal, and doll eyes for sale. Human eyes came in every color imaginable with optional red veins. Customers could even select “daytime” and “nighttime” eyes, with different dilations, for a more realistic look. Animal eyes were also for sale, and customers could buy anything from eyes for fish and insects to eyes for tigers or sheep.
During the 1600s and 1700s, artists like Martin Engelbrecht and Nicolas de Larmessin printed engravings of tradespeople wearing the tools and products of their trade. The Rakow Library’s prints collection includes a number of these images, which illustrate male and female glassmakers and peddlers clothed in bottles, leaded glass windows, molds, bellows, and more. These fanciful designs showed people the items associated with glassmaking.
INSPIRED BY THE COLLECTION
Like all libraries, the Rakow Library is an incubator where all types of creativity can flourish. Mel George and her students found their inspiration in the rare books collection; glass artist Josh Simpson found his in the archives. Simpson was looking for information on iridescent glass, and came across a series of notebooks written by Arthur and Leslie Nash in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A father and son team who worked for Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Nashes chronicled their projects, the glass recipes they created, and the glassmaking equipment they invented or improved. Beyond the bare details, they wrote of their triumphs and struggles, documenting what it was like to work at Tiffany Studios in Corona, New York.
Simpson soaked in the stories, finding similarities with his own frustrations and victories as an artist. He felt an emotional connection with the Nashes, realizing that he was part of a long chain of creators navigating their way through the artistic process. He hasn’t attempted to recreate their recipe for iridescent glass or make an object inspired by their work. But he does carry their stories with him, forming a bond with a duo whose legacy lives on in Tiffany glass. Simpson chronicles his recipes and experiments in his own series of notebooks. Perhaps someday their pages will speak to another artist in the same way the Nashes’ spoke to him.
Greg Merkel, a scientist and glass collector, was inspired by a similar set of notebooks in a different way. He collects pieces designed by artist Frederick Carder for Steuben Glass in Corning, New York. Carder was a prolific designer who left behind many notebooks filled with recipes for colors and types of glass. However, it can be difficult to pair a written recipe with a finished piece of glass.
Merkel, who is interested in both the beauty and chemical composition of Carder’s glass, decided to research the creation and development of each color, and definitively match pieces of glass to their corresponding recipes. As part of this work, he created a database of the recipes from the notebooks in the Rakow Library. He then used XRF (X-ray fluorescence) technology to scan pieces of glass for their composition. By doing so, he is able to connect the glass to a particular recipe. His work has led to the correct identification of many pieces of Carder’s glass, and benefits those who study and collect them.
These are just a few of the stories in Curious and Curiouser: Surprising Finds from the Rakow Library. Come see the rest, and find your own inspiration on the Library’s shelves.
Published on May 17, 2017 at https://www.cmog.org/article/curious-and-curiouser-surprising-finds-rakow-library
The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY
June 23, 2018 to January 7, 2019
Today, we think of architects as people who design buildings, construct skylines, and help create the visual identities of our cities and towns. But to a progressive group of European and American architects in the 20th century, the term “architect” applied not just to people who designed buildings, but to people who designed all aspects of interior decoration. They believed their role was to seamlessly integrate a modern aesthetic into all aspects of daily life. For these architects, furniture, ceramics, textiles, and glass, played an essential role in completing their new artistic vision.
Glass of the Architects: Vienna, 1900–1937 explores the notion of architect as designer and presents a captivating period of glass design and production in Austria. Emerging from a confluence of individuals, ideas, and cultures, the design of Austrian glass from 1900 to 1937 embodied a newfound spirit of modernity. More than 150 objects, including the re-installation of Josef Hoffmann’s Dressing Room for a Star (first displayed at the 1937 International Exposition in Paris), bring to life this invigorating period for glass.
Glass of the Architects: Vienna, 1900–1937 is a cooperation of the MAK and LE STANZE DEL VETRO. At the MAK and LE STANZE DEL VETRO, the exhibition was curated by Rainald Franz, MAK Curator, Glass and Ceramics Collection.
Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY|
April 8, 2017 to February 17, 2019
From advertisements for glass eyes to patents for preserving the dead in glass; from glasshouse dollars to drawings by world-famous artists such as Thomas Benton, Salvador Dalí, Eric Gill, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, and Georgia O’Keeffe: these rarely seen wonders are some of the curious and surprising objects from The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.
Artists, researchers, authors, and glass enthusiasts of all kinds use the Rakow Library’s holdings to learn more about glass, which often leads to voyages of discovery in unexpected directions. Discover how the rare collections and curiosities in the Rakow Library have inspired others and how they can inspire you.
For more information: https://www.cmog.org/article/curious-and-curiouser-surprising-finds-rakow-library
Prominent art librarian and scholar Sally Sims Stokes spent the better part of a decade on the research adventure of a lifetime. The serendipitous discovery of a microfilm frame in 2004 during what should have been a brief project for the City of Las Vegas led Stokes into the fascinating history of decorative tiles in the White House. Following hours spent interviewing primary sources, tracking down hidden collections, and calling on the support of fellow ARLISians, Stokes recently celebrated the culmination of her research with an article entitled “Documenting the History of the White House Library Fireplace Tiles 1944-1962″ in the Spring 2017 issue of Art Documentation (vol. 36, no. 1).
A unique addition to Stokes Art Documentation article is a supplement with rich color photographs and text detailing not only the tiles, but also ephemera important to the research. For example, the supplement examines the crate in which the tiles were at one point shipped to Eleanor Roosevelt.
We caught up with Stokes to ask her a few questions about the discoveries made and lessons learned as she traced the mystery behind the White House library tiles and their importance to presidential history.
How did you first become interested in the White House tiles?
Thank you for asking! You will find a partial answer to this question in the article, but I’ll offer some additional details.
As I explain in the article, I was in the process of conducting research for the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, for a historic structure report on the ca. 1932 federal courthouse and post office (LVPO). This was in 2004. The building would eventually undergo adaptive reuse, and would open in 2012 as the Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement.
At the National Archives in College Park, Maryland (NARA II), I had discovered a microfilm frame taken from a glass plate negative of a conjectural rendering of the LVPO. I was able to make out a signature, “Hartgroves ’30,” which I soon learned stood for “William J. Hartgroves, 1930.”
The City hoped that I might be able to find the name of at least one individual involved in designing the LVPO for the federal government. No records I examined at NARA II led me to a specific architect’s name, and nor did they persuade me that this renderer, William J. Hartgroves, who was a trained architect, had any design role in the LVPO project. I did decide to try to track down any children he might have had, and did find his son, William D. “Bill” Hartgroves, through a Google search. The City asked me to follow up with Bill Hartgroves. From Silver Spring, Maryland, where I live, I went out to Charlestown, West Virginia to interview him.
Bill Hartgroves, who is now deceased, had a great deal of memorabilia, and other examples of his late father’s work, in his home in Charlestown, and he was happy to show me his collection and share his knowledge. He didn’t have any information on the LVPO or his father’s part in that project. It was from Bill, however, that I learned that his father had designed tiles for the White House Library.
At the time, I was immersed in White House history, because I was also working on a grant-funded project to document the experiences of White House workers – cooks, butlers, maids, florists, calligraphers, groundskeepers. I had been in the White House library, but had never come across a reference to the tiles, which of course were no longer there by the time of my first tour of the building in the early 2000s.
So it was a combination of factors that made the topic of the tiles especially appealing to me: The mystery; the human connection with the Hartgroves family; my interest in historic buildings and their preservation, documentation, and adaptive reuse; and especially the fact that I was attuned to White House history at that particular stage of my career.
You encountered many twists and turns and even solved a few mysteries in the course of your decade-long research. What was the most memorable part of this process?
There were so many! The most memorable parts of my research projects revolve around two key points: the personal relationships I develop with colleagues and informants, even when those occur through written and phone correspondence, rather than through in-person meetings; and the eye-popping Eureka! moments that occur throughout, and that keep the excitement going.
But I will name a few memorable parts:
- The discovery of the Hartgroves rendering.
- The meeting with Bill Hartgroves that spurred my interest in the tiles, and that ultimately helped me forge a bond with the Hartgroves family.
- The period in which I immersed myself in library materials concerning the history of screen printing on ceramic tile, and the gratifying input from ARLISians who suggested sources and facilitated ILLs of material not ordinarily available for loan.
- Working with Michelle Frauenberger at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum to understand (1) the tiles as elements of decorative arts history and presidential history and (2) curatorial and registrarial considerations around the acquisition, storage, and documentation (in the sense of descriptive metadata) of the tiles.
- The expansion of the project to explore the role of Edwin Bateman Morris, and the resulting friendship formed with his grandchildren.
- The realization that the results of this research could be useful to people in the decorative arts, presidential history, and art information fields, among others.
What implications do you think your experience tracing the history of the White House tiles could have for research in the decorative arts field?
A key implication is that the interdisciplinary nature of this research can potentially be applied in other investigations into the decorative arts. For example, as suggested in my response to your previous question, I also had to consider political history, architectural history, and the history of tile manufacture in order to develop the full picture of what these decorative objects, the tiles, mean as cultural products.
Another implication is the crossover between the fine and decorative arts, given that the medium William Hartgroves employed to create the tiles was drawing, and that silk screen was used as a means to apply the images to the tiles.
The significance of turning up and exploring “hidden collections” also has implications for research in the decorative arts field. Those of us who have worked with linked data and controlled vocabularies know that the long-range goal of someday achieving reliably consistent linked metadata across collections is an exciting prospect to consider, but that research such as this still relies on detective skills. The researcher has to ask the right questions of real human beings while at the same time constantly honing his or her electronic search skills. Information professionals have to keep pushing forward with digitization projects that enhance discoverability.
The inclusion of a supplement like the one found in your article is not particularly common for Art Documentation. What made you want to share this information as a supplement?
It was Art Documentation editor Judy Dyki’s idea, and I was really happy that she suggested making this additional information available to the ARLIS/NA membership. Judy placed no particular restriction on format or content, and I appreciated her trusting me to come up with an appropriate contribution. It was great fun to pull this material together.
Creating the supplement allowed me to share images of all the tiles; to compare descriptive metadata of a tile in the Ohio History Connection and the corresponding tile in the FDR Library and Museum; and, as you indicate, to include ephemera such as the photo of the shipping crate in the process of being pried open. My intention was to enrich the reader’s experience, and I hope I succeeded.
What do you hope readers take away from this work?
I hope they will take away, first, that ARLIS, its members, its publications, its SIGs, and its listserv are invaluable tools for information professionals and researchers in the decorative arts.
Second, to revisit Question 3, I hope readers will bear in mind that searching for hidden collections remains a challenge – but one that many of us really thrive on meeting. It is hard to imagine a day when, even though the effort to achieve this state has produced a remarkable ability to locate material never before available, we will have a system of linked open data that will lead us to the storage closet in the basement of an informant’s apartment building in the exurbs of Washington, D.C. to solve a mystery concerning decorative objects installed in the White House in the 1940s. We’ll probably be relying on persistence, and joy in the task, for a long time to come!
Third, I hope readers will never underestimate where one piece of evidence can lead. Remain alert and open to the possibility that such evidence could lead you in unexpected directions. The microfilm frame capturing the Hartgroves rendering of the LVPO was the surprising key to a long and rewarding research journey into a study of decorative tiles in the White House.
For information on accessing Stokes’ article and supplemental materials, please visit the Art Documentation homepage on the ARLIS/NA website.
The Decorative Arts SIG hosted a meeting at the 2017 ARLIS/NA Conference in New Orleans. Topics discussed include: collaborative projects, 2018 conference session proposals, the SIG website and leadership. Meeting minutes are now available here. If you’d like to join the SIG Google Group to receive announcements on forthcoming events and activities, please email Jessica Shaykett, SIG co-coordinator, at jshaykett(at)craftcouncil(dot)org