Last week, Elizabeth Williams, the Curator of Decorative Arts & Design at the RISD Museum visited my design studio to look at a wide range of objects that I am now offering to her department at the Museum.
Some five years ago I was invited to join the Board of the RISD Museum. As a student at the Rhode Island School of Design I loved, enjoyed and learned a great deal about the history of the Fine and the Decorative Arts at the Museum, so I was happy to offer help and assistance in any way that I could, and was thrilled to have a reason to visit Providence 3-4 times per year.
Over the last 5-10 years I have accumulated lots of objects – of various scales, materials and time periods – that are of specific interest to me. In the course of my professional life I regularly ‘shop’ and buy items at auction, and have been a very active participant on eBay (another form of auction) for over 14 years. Many of these items I have purchased for my personal use and pleasure; some I include in design projects; and others have been accumulating in closed cabinets in my office ‘for the Museum’. I think Elizabeth was surprised to find dozens of items for her review and consideration.
This grouping of ceramic and porcelain objects are English Aesthetic Movement (1860-1900); some most certainly designed by Christopher Dresser.
“…mid to late Victorian aesthetes believed that art should serve no moral or narrative purpose. Art’s only concern should be beauty. And beauty, by turns, should be something deeper than just a visual condition: a code to live by, something one breathed, like air. One didn’t just surround oneself by beautiful things, one aimed to live beautifully…”
At first glance objects that fall under this stylistic term might be dismissed and disparagingly considered “Victorian dreck”, however, there are many aspects, layers and manifestations of the Aesthetic Movement in objects, decoration, lighting, furniture, textiles, etc. One of the things I have enjoyed discovering is the intense approach to decoration that considered nature as a source for motifs stylized into almost geometric design, that included influences from Asia and North Africa.
And while some of the finest items of this era were indeed hand-crafted, there was also an integration of opportunities for mass production that created remarkable results for a broader market – a direct result of the ‘Industrial Revolution’. I have found it a rich and fascinating area of personal ‘study’.
These curiously elegant items were manufactured by Coalport c.1870 believed to be a pattern called ‘Bark’. I love the applied and gilded horn-like handles – they remind me of some of the designs by contemporary French designer Philippe Starck from the 1980’s.
Both items above are designed by Christopher Dresser – on the left this refined vase likely made by Linthorpe, and on the right we see another side to Dresser, a golden ‘smooshed’ Ewer likely manufactured by Linthorpe, for me there is a correlation between this mishappen form and the work of the legendary American ceramicist George Ohr (often called ‘The Mad Potter from Biloxi’) working at the same time in the American South.
Unusual Minton porcelain Aesthetic Movement place card holder from England, with an integrated small bud vase.
Top left is a bright yellow English Aesthetic Movement ‘flower frog’; an item placed at the bottom of a vase to insert flowers into to allow for greater control and to help create a fuller appearance to a floral arrangement. I think it is a sensational object on its own. The two plates are potentially American Art Moderne.
This finely crafted glass vase is clearly from Vienna or Germany during the Secessionist era that officially started 1897. Shown here quite large, the actual dimensions it is only 6-1/2″ high.
This image shows almost in silhouette small scale bronze vases by the Swedish Designer Just Anderson (pronounced ‘Yoost’), and are paired with a few items designed by contemporary artist and designer Ted Meuhling.
Bavarian Art Deco porcelain cup, saucer and plate in an explosive Art Deco / Constructivust pattern made by Zeh Scherzer 1930.
I moved to New York City right after graduating from RISD and over time have given a few random items to the Museum. However, about ten years ago my interest returned to RISD and especially the museum – developing a personal connection with the talented and committed curators and staff who oversee the Muesum’s collection; engaging with other Board members; and having the incredible opportunity to see behind the scenes has served enrich my experience, deepen my own commitment which ultimately makes for a deeply satisfying relationship.
‘Smoke’ Drinking Glass 1964, designed by Joe Colombo and manufactured by Arnolfo di Cambio, Italy. The asymmetrical drinking glass collection was designed to allow a user to hold a glass and a cigarette in one hand.
One aspect of my involvement in the Museum has been a steady stream of gifts from me to their collection. In this post I am focusing on some of the items that I am offering right now. I look forward to sharing much more about my experiences, as well as previous and future gifts in future posts.
I never imagined that giving treasures away could be so meaningful and satisfying.
Photos: Gross & Daley