Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A harmonious environment: a photo essay of Breuer’s St. John’s Abbey, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota.

top: northeast view, north elevation, view from the east and west, interior stained glass. photographs by versluis 2012

Architect Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) gets the credit as the solitary creator of St. John’s Abbey but this beautiful worship space was definitely a team effort—the corner stone reads 1958. Both inside and out this building is a wonderful example of the cogent and sculptural orchestration of curves and straight lines made from molded reinforced concrete.

In the summer of 1969 a writer for Time magazine wrote about the passing of Walter Gropius. According to the writer Gropius believed, “Architecture had to be a collaborative process, with the architect as natural leader of a team including manufacturers of building materials, artists, scientists and sociologists.” [1]

Breuer would certainly concur with Gropius’ sentiment about architecture and in the case of St. John’s Abbey, theologians and engineers could be added to the list.

  1. “Art—Architecture.” Time 18 July 1969: 49-50. Print.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Fair for all the Senses—The Century of Progress International Exposition Chicago, 1933-34

A. Raymond Katz (Sándor), artist. Play, See, Hear, 1934. 
Image from anything could happen.

In the previous post we featured an illustration by A. Raymond Katz (Sándor) for the small book published in 1935 titled, Love Poems of an Artists Model and as a follow-up we’re showing a promotional poster Katz designed in 1934 for the Chicago World’s Fair—A Century of Progress. The 1933-34 International Exposition was an event set on Chicago’s lakefront in the heart of downtown. 

The poster’s dynamic composition, rhythmical patterns, and strong complementary colors indicates the influence of modern twentieth century art in Katz's painted montage that highlighted some of the popular attractions of the World’s Fair.

In 1934 the World’s Fair was back by popular demand due to the the success of the 1933 World’s Fair. Among the poster images is an exotic dancer and star nightclub attraction of he time, Sally Rand. Rand is shown wearing a safari helmet that suggests another famous act, Frank Buck’s Jungle Camp and “Old Morocco” on the Midway.

Katz packed a lot into the poster for the 1934 World's Fair which was held during the Great Depression. The Fair also featured the new such as Chicago Moderne architecture inspired by Art Deco and streamline styling, and included numerous state-of-the-art technology exhibits. Chicago became a futuristic symbol of a “Rainbow City” demonstrating the effect and power of photovoltaic cells that converted natural light into electricity.  

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Black Cat Press : Chicago—A. Raymond Katz

Love Poems of an Artists Model by Irene Browne, 1935, The Black Cat Press, Chicago. Letterpress. 4.75 inches x 6.75 inches. Introduction by C. J. Bulliet with illustrations by A. Raymond Katz. Pictured above is the cover and title pages.

This lovely little letterpress book was in the collection of the late artist Norman Matheis (1926-2009) and was given to me recently by Norm’s wife Shirley. Norm was a good friend and my painting professor in college. The book, which is hand-printed and hand-bound, comprises 52 pages. The typography is beautifully crafted and two wonderful surprises within the book are the one-color wood engravings by the artist A. Raymond Katz (Sándor). The publication’s colophon page provides this information:

The Love Poems of an Artists Model in this first edition is limited to 150 copies of which 75 have been signed for subscribers. Printed on L’Aiglon by George C. Domke from Linotype Granjon set by Rutherford B. Udell. The script typeface is Ludlow Mayfair Cursive. Design and Typography by Norman W. Forgue
Letterpress printing and metal type in recent years has developed a relatively small but ardent following and this book of poetry should cultivate interest for letterpress enthusiasts. Chicago designer and typographer Norman Forgue (1904-1985) founded Black Cat Press in 1932 and it disbanded in 1974.

Forgue was a printer who produced many important publications. This is what Rhodes Patterson writes in his essay about Chicago and Ludlow Typograph Company type designer Robert Hunter Middleton, “In a neat little book, Chicago Letter Founding, published by Black Cat Press in 1937, Middleton led off with a typical matter-of-fact disclaimer regarding such ambitions: ‘The art of letter founding has never excited the interest of Chicago historians, but enthusiasts of the Typographic Arts who delight in the boast that Chicago is the printing center of the nation might be willing to consider the manufacturing of typefaces as a worthy contribution to the city’s reputation.’”[1]

A nice correlation is that Ludlow’s Mayfair Cursive typeface was designed by Middleton in 1932 and was used by Forgue to produce the titles in this piece.

Not much is known about the poet Irene Browne. Clarence Joseph (“C.J.”) Bulliet, art critic for The Chicago Daily News wrote in the book’s introduction that Irene Browne came from a small Iowa town and ran away at age 15 to join the circus as an unsuccessful trapeze performer. However she eventually became the favorite artist’s model at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and for many Chicago artists and photographers. She started modeling perhaps sometime during the late 1920s and worked through the 30s, and presumably the 40s. Reviewing Browne’s poetry Bulliet explains, “Irene’s poetical musings were sometimes bitter and cynical—with a very young Puritan’s cynicism. …. But remember that when she wrote it, Irene was only recently a small town girl out in Iowa, and she was shuddering at her own sin in posing nude for artists and for art.”

In her first poem titled “Artist Model” Browne suggests that society scorns the nude model for indecency yet admires the artist’s work created from the pose.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Browne’s poem—
I am a model.
I flaunt my sins
In the faces of you
Who would turn your heads
At such so-called shame.
  1. Patterson, Rhodes. “A Summing Up.” RHM, Robert Hunter Middleton, The Man and His Letters. Ed. Bruce Beck and Bruce Young. Chicago: The Caxton Club, 1984. 75-76. Print.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Navajo Double Saddle Blanket with serrated diamond pattern

Navajo Double Saddle Blanket, c. 1920s, serrated diamond pattern in red, dark brown, cream and gray, 57 x 31. From the author’s collection.

A couple of years before my maternal grandfather, Henry Koster, married my grandmother in 1933 he and a friend took a road trip, first to Florida and then traveling cross-country to Arizona and New Mexico. My grandfather bought this Navajo weaving from a trader, perhaps in Newcomb, New Mexico.

Elmer Yazzie comments that, “The diamonds are a pattern influenced by a trader. Oftentimes, the traders controlled the weavers just as the [Christian] Church controlled the arts for many centuries. It does not have a meaning.”[1]

Southwest U.S.A. Indian art trader, Joe Tanner of Tanner’s Indian Arts in Gallup, New Mexico recognized this piece as a double saddle blanket and believes it dates from the late 1920s. [2] Unfortunately it was machine washed many years ago; however, it’s still beautiful. The piece was repaired and cleaned in 2007 by Persian Rug Cleaning of Los Angeles.

Navajo weaving specialist, Kate Peck Kent writes:
Most [saddle] cinches and many saddle blankets were made in a diamond twill weave. The Navajo typically made twill saddle blankets with two contrasting colors to create a vibrant optical effect. The most notable of these [twill-woven articles] were double and single saddle blankets, the closely battened, sturdy fabrics of rather coarse handspun yarns that took the place of the sheepskin saddle pads used in the Classic [early Spanish] period.[3]  
Growing up, my family used the thick twill-weave saddle blanket as a floor rug, which is what many Anglo-Americans who purchased saddle blankets did after the turn of the twentieth century.
  1. Yazzie, Elmer. “Navajo rug.” Message to the author. 30 Nov. 2006. Web. 
  2. Tanner, Joe. “Navajo rug.” Message to the author. 10 Dec. 2006. Web. 
  3. Kent, Kate Peck. Navajo Weaving, Three Centuries of Change. Santa Fe: The School of American Research Press, 1985. 79-80. Print.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Highlighting a print by John Page: elegant geometrical roof domes on barns and chicken coops

John Page, “Chicken House”, 1984, color intaglio, 35.5” x 23.5”, Image is courtesy of Roy R. Behrens. [1]

While doing research for another project I inadvertently found “Chicken House” by John Page (b. 1923) in the 1985 exhibition catalog “Iowa Printmakers’ Invitational Exhibition, Traveling Exhibition.” Under the auspices of the Iowa Arts Council, John Huseby organized and curated the show. Regarding Page, Huseby writes the following description in the exhibition catalog, “At the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, John Page, a former [Mauricio] Lasansky student, has been teaching printmaking for a number of years.”[2] John is now professor emeritus, having retired in 1988.

A wonderful pair: L: Hen House, Engraving, 8", 1976, Allamakee Co. Iowa; R: Hen House, Engraving with watercolor, 8", 1976

John mentions that the main motivation for “Chicken House” was an old abandoned hen house that, as he says, “I found in northeast Iowa, off a gravel road near the schoolhouse we owned in section sixteen in Allamakee County. It was rather weathered and weed-surrounded. It was surprisingly small (one had to stoop to go inside), and I later found it was a Sears catalog kit especially for farm wives to raise chickens for their eggs.” [3] Page developed his hen house studies by recording the building in the condition and environment as he found it (see above, engraving and engraving with watercolor). More than documentary, with these images he seems to bring out the lyrical and poetic “ruins” which is perhaps a play on the Roman ruins engraving/etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. As if referencing Piranesi, Page imaginatively gauges the elements in the scene in order to suggest the golden rectangle geometry that seems to be implied in the compositional center and structure of the print.

Viewing the engraved images as studies John provides this insight into “Chicken House”:

Looking more creatively, I saw how the horizontal drip-line of the dome was just the half point of the face and that a circle beginning with the dome could be made to complete (partly the shadow line), the dome and face making a complete circle. The chimney pipe could have reference to the Golden Rectangle. I was doing a lot with that proportion in other work, and that tends to project to what you see. You will notice that the rooster’s head is right at the focus of the whirling squares. You will also notice that “proper perspective” is not seen on the width of the windows as they recede or on the shingles on the dome. I rather like the way the aquatint leafy green part came out and the continuation of the square motif on the upper sections. [4] 
It’s interesting that John liked the “continuation of the square motif.” Perhaps it is a metaphor that he appreciated finding the chicken coop near property on “square” section sixteen in Allamakee County, Iowa. From these images it’s apparent that John can draw very well and are indicative of his artist sketchbook habit.

Tonsfeldt’s Round Barn, 1918, Le Mars, Iowa. Photograph by versluis, 2012

Discovering John Page’s print, “Chicken House” was a wonderful reminder of the unusual and unique beauty of round barn architecture. Shown above is the Tonsfeldt’s Round Barn in Le Mars, Iowa and it’s an especially well preserved example of early twentieth century round barn architecture found in Iowa. Interestingly, the barn has a center silo that provides both feed storage and a supporting column for the structure.

In 1916-18 H. A. (Peter) Tonsfeldt was being progressive when he envisioned his iconic round barn. He wanted the efficiency of round barn technology and beauty of a classical, Renaissance style cathedral dome to display his prized polled Hereford bull and purebred cattle. Apparently it took two years for Zack Eyres and his Le Mars, Iowa Construction Company to build the 5200 sq. ft., 82x68 feet (25x20.7meters) round wooden barn. The barn, completed in 1918, still exudes fine craft and exceptional quality. Herman and Clara Lang purchased Tonsfeldt’s farm in 1928. After Clara’s death, the farm was sold and the new owner’s donated the barn to the Plymouth County Fair Board and in 1981 the barn was moved to the fairgrounds in Le Mars.[5]
  1. Image taken from “John Page – A Retrospective Exhibition in Three Parts” (catalog), University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, 1992.
  2. Huseby, John. Iowa Printmakers. Des Moines: Iowa Arts Council, 1985. n.p. Print. 
  3. Page, John. “Chicken House color intaglio.” Message to the author. 5 July 2012. Web.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Horlyk, Earl. “Repairing Le Mars' historic Round Barn.” Daily Sentinel. Ed. Tom Stangl. Le Mars Daily Sentinel, 15 Oct. 2007. Web. 3 July 2012. <http://www.lemarssentinel.com/story/1284479.html>.

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