30 July 2010

Hector Guimard: The Curve Bends Toward Abstraction

"Line in Guimard, just as in the Japanese guides, is a living incarnation of natural laws. Thus, in an old Japanese manual, there is a catalogue of eighteen different types of line, with such descriptions as ‘floating silk threads’ ropes’ water lines’ or ‘bent metal wire.’ This latter was particularly subtly used by Guimard, who had an inborn sense of the inner tension of line.” - Dore Ashton in Le Monde, 22 May 1970:

French architect Hector Guimard (1867-1942) realized the decorative possibilities of glazed lava, a substance made from mixing pulverized lava with clay when he built a villa for Louis Coillot, (1898-1900) a ceramics manufacturer in Lille who monopolised the distribution of the material. Guimard sided the entire facade of Maison Coilliot in lava stone.
Guimard also used glazed lava to great effect in the nameplate for Castel Henriette (built 1899 - demolished 1969), as well as for his famous signs for the Paris Metro. He designed the graphics for his signs, and here we can see him introduce geometric elements that tend toward asbtraction. The outline of the letters and their rhythm give added emphasis and harmonize the pinks and yellows he used.
In a twist of fate, a largely forgotten Guimard died in New York City in 1942, after fleeing Paris to ensure the safety of his Jewish wife.
Images: Musee d'Orsay, Paris, photographer: Rene-Gabriel Ojeda.

29 July 2010

Meander: Arthur Wesley Dow

Nowhere is there greater beauty of line than in their curving creeks and irregular pools.” - Charles Downing Lay, Tidal Marshes, 1911, Landscape Architecture.

It seems to me that a meandering stream is an objective correlative to the feelings we associate with summer. A meandering walk on a warm day is fine match for body and soul. Marsh creeks meander through the works of Massachusetts native Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922). One of Dow's favorite spots along the Ipswich River was nicknamed 'The Dragon'. You can see one version of it in the background of the woodcut Rain In May and it is the subject of Study Of A Marsh (above).

Nature is often the starting point for design and the meander is a fine example. Rhythmic, ornamental patterns used in art and architecture are known as the Meander, named after the Meander River in southwestern Turkey. Its twists and turns include U-shaped oxbow lakes formed where the river changes doubles back on itself. The first mention that I know of for the Meander River occurs in Homer's Iliad, circa 8th century BCE.  And what defines Homeric style if not the long-drawn, winding simile? In the 8th book of Metamorphoses (circa 8 CE), Ovid compares the labyrinth on the island of Crete to the Meander River in Asia Minor.  The Greek Fret, a series of square protrusions resembling the notches of a key, originated as an architectural element, and is an early instance of the meander in art. Later the design was adapted by the Romans, along with other plunder, for use in mosaic tiles. A Medieval version of the meander was the Twisted Ribbon pattern, the rectilinear elements softened with curves. A few years ago, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design in New York hosted The Continuing Curve, an exhibition that looked for the roots of Art Nouveau and its current revivals in the Roccoco period. I enjoyed it, but the seduction of meandering has a much longer history.

1. Arthur Wesley Dow - Bend Of A River, 1898, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
2. Arthur Wesley Dow - Study Of A Marsh In A Color Scheme From Hiroshige, undated, Historic New England.org
3. Arthur Wesley Dow - cover for Modern Art, 1895, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
4. Arthur Wesley Dow - Rain In May, 1907, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC.

19 July 2010

Therese Bonney: Design Was Her Beat

The French call them Les Annees Folles - the 'Crazy Years' and I think the French got it right. The years between the two world wars were heady years for designers of everything. The official name of the 1925 World's Fair held in Paris paid tribute through its official name Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, but it was the 'discovery' of Art Deco design that people remembered.
The fair had been postponed from 1914, because of war's outbreak and the French were eager to reassert their preeminence as the world's arbiter of taste. And if post-war prosperity made it possible to shop freely, the designers and department stores of Paris were ready their with pavilions, each more dazzling than the last. The pavilion of the designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann (above) competed for attention with Lalique's Crystal Tower, the department stores Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, and in what may have been a marketing first - the Louvre.
American expatriate Therese Bonney covered the exhibition for her design photo service - a busman's holiday considering how many of her friends had works on display. It may be that the success of the Exposition inspired her to write guidebooks on the decorative arts, furniture, and shopping in Paris (1929). It did lead to her commission artists to design a line of wallpapers for sale: Edward Steichen, John Held, Jr., and Raoul Dufy.
As she often did, Bonney may have been wearing clothes by Sonia Delaunay, a Russian emigre who designed for private clients, when she strolled the fairgrounds. If she did, she would attracted attention; Delaunay's self-designed textiles that she began marketing in 1923 were a wearable version of the Orphism that she and her husband, Robert, had introduced around 1911.
The Irish architect Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was in the process of settling in France and, like Robert Mallet-Stevens, whose work we've seen through Bonney's photos, her furniture was sleek and made up with ingenuity what it lacked in ornament. Her bureau with drawers that pivot is as linear as the green and white armchair by Mallet-Stevens, a type of furniture that appealed strongly to Bonney's modernist aesthetic.

The zebra print chaise lounge was designed by Pierre Legrain (1888-1929), whose career was cut cruelly short, for a hotel at Neuilly-sur-Seine. What appears to be an asymmetrical dark arm at one side is actually a clever holder for magazines.

In the playful designs of Swiss-born Jean Dunand (1887-1942) we see abstraction and representation combined during a heady time of experimentation. Considered the greatest lacquer artist in the Art Deco style, Dunand, worked in a variety a media. It may be a legacy of the Nabi movement that the French were less zeaouls at patrolling the boundaries between the fine arts and the applied.

1. Photograph of the Ruhlmann Pavilion at the Exposition, 1925, French Ministry of Culture.
2. Raoul Dufy - The Tennis Party, fabric design, 1925, Art Institute of c.
3. Raoul Dufy - Seashell Vase, 1925, National Museum of Ceramics, Sveres, France.
4. Jean Despres - Silver Bowl, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
5. Sonia Delaunay - Chevron fabric design, 1920s, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
6. Sonia Delaunay - Red and black fabric design, 1920s, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
7. Eileen Gray - Pivot Bureau, 1927, Pompidou Center, Paris.
8. Robert Mallet-Stevens - armchair, 1923, Pompidou Center, Paris.
9. Pierre Legrain - chaise lounge, 1925, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
10. Jean Dunand - bowl, 1920, from Marcilhac, 1991, Editions de l'Amatuer, Paris.
11. Jean Dunand - Dancers and Musicians, c. 1924, from Marcilhac, 1991, Editions de l'Amateurs, Paris.

15 July 2010

How She Became Therese Bonney ...

A girl from a working class family in upstate New York falls in love with all things French.  As a result she changes her name and when she grows up she changes her life to fit the name. here is how a smart, plucky girl  made from herself a person (a term I borrow from Anzia Yezierska)..
Thérèse Bonney was born Mabel Therese Bonney in Syracuse, N.Y. on July 15, 1894; she died of heart failure at the American Hospital in Paris in 1978.
Bonney‘s family had lived in New York State for several generations. Her mother, Addie Robey, was a bookkeeper and her father, Anthony Leroy Bonney, was an electrician. Her sister Louise was five years older, born in 1889.  The two sisters shared a vision of the importance of design in modern life: Louise became an industrial designer and Therese became a photographer and an interpreter and curator of modern aesthetics.
The Bonney family moved to California  around 1903,  first to Sacramento and then  Oakland. The parents  sacrificed to educate their daughters; Therese also tutored students at her Oakland High school in French and Spanish to earn money.  She graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1916 and promptly moved back east alone, attending graduate school first at Radcliffe College and then at Columbia University. The attractions of New York City for a francophile were obvious. Along with halving the distance to Paris, Bonney obtained her first position with the Theatre du Vieux Columbier, on tour in North America. When Louise joined her sister, the two opened a French theater bookshop while Therese doubled as the official English translator of Sarah Bernhardt’s repertory.

At the earliest possible moment, just months after war in Europe ended, Bonney was en route to France as a representative of the American Association of Colleges to set up a student exchange program. After earning her doctorate at the Sorbonne (the youngest person and only the fourth woman), Bonney became a correspondent for newspapers in the U.S., Britain, and France, taking up photography to provide her own illustrations. From 1923-1928, she served as Paris fashion editor for the New York Times. The studio apartment of graphic artist Jean Carlu was an early example of her work, displaying her ability to encapsulate several trends in one shot.

Her signature achievement was the creation of the Bonney Service (1923), the first American illustrated press service, specializing in design and architecture, eventually supplying 350+ photos a month for publication in more than 20 countries. When Bonney had to hire additional photographers, rumors began to circulate that she couldn't do her own work. She was also criticized for promoting her own work. “I am not an expatriate; I am the dean of the American press corps in Paris” was how she explained her unprecedented position.

She used that position to disseminate what she considered the best modern design. Consider the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945) whose work was equally influential during the interwar years as that of Le Corbusier. Founder of La gazette des 7 Arts in 1924, his total design work in the rue Mallet-Stevens, including a villa for the design duo of Jan and Joel Martel.compares more than favorably with the bleak urbanism of Le Corbusier. Unfortunately, for his posthumous reputation, Mallet-Stevens ordered that his papers be burned after his death while his rival promoted the myth of Le Corbusier, the prophet of modern design. (That's Joel Martel photographed in front of Villa Martel. The cat remains anonymous.)
In her spare time, Bonney wrote guidebooks to shopping, restaurants, and the decorative arts of Paris, evn beating Julia Child by decades with her book French Cooking for American Kitchens. About her native country, Bonney wrote: “our furniture and our homes are of the past.” She was well-placed to know: Paris in the inter-war years incubated almost every significant design trend of the 20th century.

A tireless promoter of modern design, Bonney arranged an exhibition of Modern French Decorative Art at Lord & Taylor in New York (1928) and several traveling exhibitions that appeared at the Metropolitan Museum and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

A successful career in New York enabled Louise to bring her widowed mother to the city. Louise became one of a precious few women appointed to the Board of Design for the 1939 World’s Fair. All three Bonney women were involved with planning the fair from 1935 on. Meanwhile, Therese was an official of the 1937 Paris World’s Fair.
In Finland to cover preparations for the 1938 Winter Olympics when the Russians invaded, Bonney stayed on for two years, going on to cover the Nazi invasion and the Battle of France. Her exhibition Those to Whom Wars Are Done appeared at the Library of Congress in 1940, followed by War Comes to the People at the Museum of Modern Art. For her heroic efforts, the French government awarded Bonney the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’Honneur. Bonney never married and she kept her personal life private.

Image credits: Bonney donated 4,000 photographic prints to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in the late 1930s, a unique documentation of a design era. Many prints are also in the collection of the Bancroft Library at the University of California.
The photograph of Therese Bonney was taken by Lee Miller in 1942.
The photographer of Louise Bonney is Therese Bonney.

How Therese Bonney Shaped Modern Design

In the Parisian salon (c. 1925) at left we see the interior design by Pierre-Paul Montagnac, with a rug by Ivan DaSylva Bruns. Its sleek lines, its tactfully placed lacquer and chinoiserie, its luxurious sense of space and light express the Art Deco aesthetic in its most refined and modernist aspects.

More than we realize, our version of modern design's history has been influenced by the photography of Therese Bonney. The designers whose works she championed were an impressive group, Eileen Gray, none accomplished more than Bonney herself.

Among architects, she recognized early that Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945) was the equal of Le Corbusier; his total design of Rue Mallet-Stevens in the 16th arrondissement of Paris compares favorably with bleak urbanism of Corbusier's 'Radiant City'. But while Corbusier manufactured the myth of himself as a modern design prophet, Mallet-Stevens ordered that his archives be destroyed upon his death. His wishes were honored but Bonney's record of his work continues to speak for his achievements and inspires younger designers like Jacqueline Salmon (b. 1943).

Mallet-Stevens, as architect, collaborated with designer Elise Djo-Bourgeois (1898-1937) on one of the 20th century's iconic homes - the Villa Noailles at Hyeres for Vicomte Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles in 1925. The couple, especially the Vicomtesse who included both American Quakers and the Marquis de Sade among her ancestors, were important patrons of the arts, especially the Surrealists.
Bonney's working methods included photographing from the street, the “true democratic museum” as architect Rene Herbst called it. Before Brassai, she realized that certain designs could be best understood at night. The bottle of booze that is the light-draped Hotel de Ville looks all too familiar these days, but we are still riveted by the new (in 1925) Citroen showroom in the rue Marbeuf, suggesting either an automat or a parking garage.

The characteristic Art Deco lettering on the soap truck, done by graphic designer Jean Carlu dates from 1930, as does the escalator at the department store Au Printemps. At the time Bonney shot several buildings, deliberately focusing on the signage, notably the Andre Balmann fleuriste and the newspaper offices of La Semaine.

Bonney supported the work of other talented women through her photographs, and even modeled clothing designed by Sonia Delaunay. Indeed, designer Madeleine Vionnet was her closest friend, after sister Louise. Her canny juxtaposition of Austrian artist Hilda Polsterer at work in her studio on a mural for a fashionable dining room was typical. She also photographed the painter Tamara de Lempicka touching up a portrait of her husband Tadeusz. Possibly this type of photo was inspired by the rumors that Bonney affixed her name to the work of others.
In effect, Bonney became an early image maker. Paolo Garretto, the Italian caricaturist strikes a serious pose as his creations wink or roll their eyes, as if to say that they know him better and we are part of the joke.
Therese Booney must have been captivating as well as hard-working, because the people she photographed often became her friends. Many artists painted her during the 1920s and 1930s: Robert Delaunay, Alicia Halicka, Raoul Dufy - three times, and Georges Roualt, six times. After World War II, when Dufy became ill, Bonney arranged for medical treatment in the United States that prolonged the artist's life.

Note: I am indebted to L'Invention du Chic: Therese Bonney et le Paris Moderne by Lisa Schlansker Kolosek, Norma - Thames & Hudson, 2002, for biographical cinformation about Bonney.

12 July 2010

Plum Island

Dear Readers - Today marks the beginning of the fourth year for this website. Originally, I intended it to be a place to try out ideas that I might use in my freelance writing. I was surprised when the site began to attract attention - quite the opposite sequence of events that most of us who sell our work encounter. As some of you may have noticed, I am a relentless reviser/editor; the Internet gives free rein to these tendencies. So, to mark three years I revisit the first post, Plum Island, a place from my childhood. And thanks to you who have shared your thoughts here. - JAL.

“Eastward, the ocean spreads inimitably. At a small distance from the shore, Plumb-island, a wild and fantastical sand-beach, reaching quite to Ipswich, ten or twelve miles, is thrown up by the joint power of winds and waves into the thousand wanton figures of a snowdrift.” - Timothy Dwight

I do not know of any country which is wild and so diverse within so small a compass. This little piece of land, small when you measure it in square miles, is unlike any other place; nor have I found anyone who has seen anything like it.” – Arthur Wesley Dow

"The sea was meant to be looked at from the shore as the mountains from the plain." - James Russell Lowell, c. 1850.

"The impression made by this landscape cannot be realized without the experience. It was a compound of wildness, gloom and solitude. I feel myself transported to the borders of Nubia." - Timothy Dwight, President of Yale and inveterate traveler of New England back roads, in 1802.

"Salt marshes set about with round-topped hills, barberry hedges along old shore walls that climb over the upland pastures, grassy spaces patterned with salvia and bayberry, wild apple trees in the thickets, wide fields of daisies and frost flowers, shore lines of goldenrod and scarlet lilies, dark marsh islands, far and near, reflected in the creek and salt pond, haystacks crowding into the horizon's perspective, a blue line of sea beyond the distant sand hills, such is the familiar (Ipswich) landscape, varied by season and sky and tide." - Arthur Wesley Dow, introduction to a book of poems that he illustrated, By Salt Marshes, written by Everett Stanley Hubbard, 1908.

Dow lived at Ipswich, where many of the students at his summer art school (1891-1906) undoubtedly found their way to Plum Island, for recreation and inspiration. B. J. O. Nordfeldt (1878-1955) was one, a Swedish-born printer/painter who joined Dow for summers at the shore. His woodcut The Long Wave (c.1903-1907) may appear to be an idealized image of morning on the island, but it conveys accurately the unceasing energy of the ocean, just as surely as the works Dow, Heade, and others convey the quiet, meandering world of the nearby marshes.

Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) an inlander from Pennsylvania visited Newburyport for the first time in 1862, becoming a marsh convert for life. Heade arrived just as the practice of salt water farming by thrifty Yankees was on the wane. In any case, Heade's paintings capture the rare, never to be forgotten, chartreuse of spartina grass in spring, nodding in the breeze, clouds scudding overhead in waves of shadow. 
"In spring they lie one broad expanse of green,/ O'er which the light winds run with glimmering feet./Here, yellower stripes track out the creek unseen,/ There, darker growths o'er hidden ditches meet." - James Russell Lowell
In Indian-Summer Reverie, Lowell wrote pityingly “who sees in them but levels brown and bare” is “Vain to him the gift of sight/ Who cannot in their various incomes share.” New Englanders reserve the word creek for the meandering waters of the salt marshes; all other small bodies of moving water are brooks. Every April, just as the townspeople had to repair the highways, they had to set out beach grass, planted in rows three feet apart.
Agawam, the Indians called the place of lowland marshes, meadows, and salty mists that are the back-story of the daily Atlantic tides. For a child, Agawam issues a siren call to enter its hidden byways, yet it is rather safe as wild nature goes.

The aerial photograph of Plum Island (at top) looks north toward the mouth of the Merrimack River. Out of range of this picture just southeast is the Plum Island Airfield, one of the oldest in continuous operation in the United States, the location of the first experimental flights in the northeastern states in 1910. On the north side of the river is Salisbury Beach, one of many in Essex County.
Functionally, Plum Island is a barrier island on the Atlantic coast in northern Massachusetts; it stretches eleven miles south from Newburyport to the mouth of the Parker River, and is bounded on the west by a tidal estuary, Plum Island Sound.
Newburyport, where I lived, was incorporated in 1634, Ipswich at about the same time. The northern part of Plum Island has been a popular vacation spot since the 19th century; one of the first summer hotels in the country opened there in 1807. Numerous small cottages with salt-scored clapboards sit in rows along the beach. In this summer place where the rules of decorum ar relaxed, sand is casually tracked inside on the feet of children and adults alike and even the admonition to eat all vegetables before anything else can be waived here. In my photo, you can see a line of birds perched on the roof-peak, sentinels on the flyway. To their east is the long shore; to their west the dunes and bogs sloping to the inland marsh.

For early residents, the shore offered an abundant harvest. The littoral, that now-you-see-it, now-you-don't area between high and low tides, is home to cranberry bogs that root in the peat layer below the water, their deep red berries visible to the alert picker. Hay grows in salt marshes, to be harvested by the plucky in low-riding boats, called gundalows, made for towing the harvest to the nearest solid ground. (Notice how the haystack in the picture at right sits on stilts. These are staddles, used to elevate the hay for drying.)

Marsh-haying has a long history in the area, beginning at Plymouth Settlement. Hay fed the livestock and made a good roofing material, so collecting it was vital work for the community. Even today, if you look carefully, you can still see traces on the ground of long-abandoned farm fields, visible in the marshes at low tide. Saltwater farming became a casualty of real estate speculation around 1900, but images of the muffin-shaped haystacks live on in the works of artists and early photographers.
Beach cottages sprouted on the north end of Plum Island, close to Newburyport. Contained there, the larger part of the island remains as nature remakes it, year by year. Even though it was only a couple of miles from home, I remember the excitement of packing up to go stay in this foreign place.
The island is named for the sturdy blue beach plum (Prunus maritima) that roots in the rills traced by the wind on the sand. Those who have tasted beach plum jam may have savored the sweetest plums in the world. While cranberry production has been largely commercialized, Cornell University is currently working with beach plum growers through its sustainable agriculture program. Visitors still bear away jars of homemade beach plum jam in triumph.
Larger than rills are guzzles, low spots on the beach where the sea flows into the marshes when the tide is high or during a storm. These shallow channels through the sandbar are only visible at low tide.
Most of Plum Island's 4,600 acres remain undisturbed, preserved as the Parker National Wildlife Refuge. A resting place for sea and shore birds on the Great Atlantic Flyway that stretches from the Canadian Maritime to the eastern Caribbean, more than 270 species stop here and 25,000 ducks have been counted here at one time at the height of the migration season. What they make of human beach-goers, with their paraphernalia of chairs, umbrellas, and coolers, has yet to be revealed.
1. Daniel Reinhardt - aerial photograph of Plum Island, 2006.

2. Arthur Wesley Dow - Moonrise , c. 1895-1898, Terra Museum of Art.
3. B. J. O. Nordfeldt - The Long Wave, 19096, New York Public Library.4. Arthur Wesley Dow - In The Salt Marshes, woodcut, c.1895-1898, Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco.
5. Arthur Wesley Dow - The Dragon, cyanotope, c. 1904, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

6. Martin Johnson Heade - Newbury Marshes At Sunset, 1862, Memorial Gallery of Art, Rochester, NY.
7. Early 20th century postcard of Plum Island Lighthouse. c. 1911.
8. Jane Librizzi - photograph of cottage on Plum Island, July, 1980.
9. Circa 1910 postcard - General Store Of Geo. S. Houghton & Bird's Eye View of Plum Island.

10. Early 20th century postcard - Staddles of Hay, Newburyport Marshes.
11. Early 20th century postcard - Ye Olden Times, Salisbury, Mass.