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Wright Chairs at the Met

WrightChair2 WrightChair1

The work of Frank Lloyd Wright is well represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s holdings. In addition to fixtures and furniture, an entire room has been re-created. The collection includes these two armchairs in oak. Both designs seem to favor form over function–neither looks especially comfortable, but the sloping back of the one on the left has a slight edge.

Mackintosh at the Met

Mackintosh Washstand

A washstand designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

While the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s holdings also include some textiles and a painting by Mackintosh, the main attraction for those interested in his furniture is this washstand. For those who might have encountered Kevin Rodel’s interpretation of the piece, the original is more subdued, lacking some of the flourishes of Rodel’s work. The case itself is overshadowed by the art glass and ceramic tile, the dark oak a backdrop for deep blues and greens. Look past the the glass and tile, and you’ll find subtle touches, like the cutouts forming the drawer handles and the grid shelf below the counter echoing in wood the glass and ceramic rectangles and squares of the backsplash and and counter.

Like the dry sink, the washstand has been supplanted by indoor plumbing–who needs a washstand when they have a private bath?–but I can’t help but think about repurposing this design to fit contemporary needs. Rodel reimagined it as a serving table, but it would also work as a sink base with little modification, either with the plumbing exposed below the open counter, or with cabinets enclosing the base.

Rohlfs at the Met

The Met's Gallery 743 features this desk chair designed by Charles Rohlfs and his wife, the novelist Anna Katharine Green.

The Met’s Gallery 743 features this desk chair designed by Charles Rohlfs and his wife, the novelist Anna Katharine Green.

Charles Rohlfs occupies a curious place in the Arts and Crafts movement. Although they share many elements of furniture by contemporary makers–material choice, finish, visual mass–his designs oftentimes seem to anticpate Art Noveau or recall the Victorian tradition of ornament, especially in their use of elaborate carvings. He came to furniture design late, first working as a stove designer and actor before setting up shop in Buffalo, New York in 1897. The 1901 Pan-American Exposition established his reputation as a designer, and he would go on to participate in the 1902 International Exposition of Decorative Art in Turin and become a member of the British Royal Society of Arts. Despite this success, he retired from furniture making and became active in Buffalo politics.

A single piece represents his work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s holdings, a desk chair he designed in collaboration with his wife, the crime novelist Anna Katharine Green. Balancing the slab construction and dark finish are a slender silhouette and signature Rohlfs fretwork (here inspired by the cellular structure of oak), making for an odd, almost ethereal interpretation of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic.

A detail of the Blacker table showing brackets and wood drawer pull.

A detail of the Blacker table showing brackets and wood drawer pull.

The holdings of the Metropolitan Museum’s Gallery 743 read like a greatest hits list of American Arts & Crafts makers, featuring pieces by Gustav Stickley, Dick Van Erp, William Lightfoot Pierce, Arthur Frank Mathews, Charles Rohlfs, and the Byrdcliffe Colony.

Included in the collection are a library table, dining chair, and lantern Charles and Henry Greene designed as part of a commission for the retired lumberman Robert Blacker. As with much of the furniture designed by the Greenes, these pieces were built in the shop of Peter Hall.   Emil Lange, formerly of Tiffany Studios, made the lantern’s glass panels. Continue reading