Monday, September 26, 2011

Wilson Chao - Blogs

Blog #1: Gustav Stickley

The furniture of Gustav Stickley have a certain simplistic beauty.

Stickley wanted to reduce furniture to their simplest form using vertical and horizontal members in a post-an-lintel system. He wanted to enhance his work without sacrificing any structural integrity. So, he looked back to Gothic architecture, where flying buttresses were used both as a structural form and also as ornamental. Stickley despised surface decorations and see them as “a parasite and never fails to absorb the strength of the organism upon which it feeds.” With this view, Stickley looked for methods to reveal existing structural elements as ornamental. As seen in some of his furniture, he extended the tenons all the way through, revealing them. As a result, the joinery is revealed and is both used ornamentally and functionally established as what Stickley called “structural style.”

The furniture are made from oak, either red oak or white oak. This can not be certain is because of the finish applied to the furniture. Stickley wanted the finishing to get “the best possible results from the wood itself as well as the most pleasing effect in completing the color scheme of a room, and never the purpose of imitating a more costly wood in the finish of cheaper one.” He wanted to show the unique beauty in the wood and to show that beauty to the best advantage.

Sickley had a deep rooted nationalistic fervor. This was a key factor in the formulation of his aesthetic philosophy. He saw that America turned to Europe for its art. The result of this were reproductions, art transplanted to an environment unsuited for their nourishment and understanding. The furniture transplanted from Europe does not show the spirit of the American people. While other shops in the early 1900s were filled with reproductions, Stickley set out “to design furniture that would reflect the needs of the American people, not the historical whims of European aristocracy. This was needed because it arose from the democratic form of government and the practical, working-class identity of most Americans. As a result, his furniture would be created for “...the real Americans, deserving, the dignity of this name, since they must always provide the brawn and sinew of the nation...the great mass of American people hav[ing] moderate incomes with an unusual degree of mental cultivation...”

Stickley chose oak as the primary material for his furniture because it was abundant in American forests. As a result, this served as an expression of the natural environment of the people in whom the furniture is made for. He used the wood to its full advantage and he respected it. He saw that it should never be abused or forced into unnatural states.

To this day, Craftsman furniture is still beautiful. It stood up to the test of time.

Bavaro, Joseph J., and Thomas L. Mossman. The Furniture of Gustav Stickley: History, Techniques, Projects. Fresno, CA: Linden Pub., 1996. Print.

Blog #2: Greene and Greene

Greene & Greene and the Arts and Crafts Movement
The Arts and Crafts Movement was a reaction to the mass production of the Victorian age and the choice to follow John Ruskin's call for a return to hand craftsmanship and nature. “Ruskin saw industrialization as a disease in society and believed that the worker's salvation from the monotony of being a mere aide to a machine was a return to a skilled production by hand, apparent in the historical example of medieval design”.1 This was taken up passionately by William Morris from Britain. "The British Movement veered off towards the example of 'honest' medieval-style construction, with pegged mortise joints and through dovetails to show how a piece was made."2 This resulted in going back to plain surfaces and the use of local materials. The British movement emphasized on hand craftsmanship and away from the factory aesthetic. On the other hand, in the United States, Gustav Stickley's philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement was slightly different. What was different was that Stickley thought that skilled hand crafts can be combined with the use of machinery can be combined to make beautiful works of art. These attributes of the Arts and Crafts movement not only applied to furniture, but to architecture as well. These attributes are obvious in the Blacker House and the Gamble house designed by Charles Greene & Henry Greene in their personal philosophy, the design of both of those homes, and the Japanese influence as an extension of the movement. 

Living in and designing during the Arts and Crafts movement affected the philosophy in which Greene and Greene designed their buildings. Charles Greene suggested three things that every prospective builder should know. The first is that “good work costs much more than poor imitation or factory product.”3 This goes hand in hand with the Arts and Crafts movement's call against the factory aesthetic and back to skilled craftsmanship. The second thing builders should know is “no house however expensive can be a success unless you, the owners, give the matter time and thought enough to know what you want for it.”3 Beautiful architecture takes time to make. The third and final one is “you must employ some one who is broad enough to understand and sympathize with you and your needs and yet has the ability to put them into shape from the artist's point of view.”3 The products resulting from these three philosophies are beautiful homes. In 1912, Henry Greene said “the idea was to eliminate everything unnecessary, to make the whole as direct and simple as possible, but always with the beautiful in mind as the first goal...”4 They stripped the decoration to show the beauty of the materials that they used.

Designing buildings during the Arts and Crafts movement, it was only natural that the Blacker House and the Gamble House have elements of Japanese influence. Greene and Greene “drew from both China and Japan, although their idealized vision of Japan was more of an influence.”5 In traditional Japanese temples, wood is used in its natural form, without any decoration. The wood is also visible, showing how they give structure to the building. These things are visible in both the Blacker House and the Gamble House. In the Blacker House (fig 1), the wooden post-and-beam supports give structure to the covered terrace on the left and the porte cochere to the right are visible. The wooden supports for the roof extend out, making them visible and as simple decoration on the exterior of the house. The visible supports are on the terrace for the Gamble House (fig 2).

The Arts and Crafts movement and traditional Japanese architecture highly influenced the design of the Gamble House and the Blacker House. Aside from the post-and-beam system that give support to the terrace in both houses, there are many other things on the exterior that show the influences mentioned earlier. The entrance to the Blacker House shows the simple beauty of natural wood, without decoration. The reason for this is that “there is in wood something that stimulates the imagination, its petalous sheen, sinuous grain, delicate shading that age may give to even commonest kind.”6 The pattern in the wood panels above the entrance are beautiful. The way the wood was finished, brought out the pattern of the wood. The delicate lines in the woods became visible. This is the same as on the Gamble House entrance way. In both of these houses, there is a sharp contrast in color between the windows and the doors against the exterior. The door frame and the window frames look like natural wood while the shingles lining the exterior look weatherized. It looks like Greene and Greene wanted to have an obvious separation of the exterior and the interior. The windows and the doors are the gate ways to the interior, where almost everything is finished in the same way. The interiors of both the Gamble House and the Blacker House are very similar, since they were built at around the same time. The staircases in these houses are similar. There are exposed mortise and tenon joints, with protruding pegs made of ebony. Any exposed edge throughout the houses were rounded over, making it softer and looking more like hand worked pieces. The rounding helps in giving flow, as in your eyes never stops at any abrupt edge. Throughout the houses, where ever wood was used, it was used in its natural form. There are no surface decoration, the inherit beauty of the woods brought out by the finish.

The Blacker House and the Gamble House have stood up to the test of time. They show the beauty in simplicity. These houses show the obvious attributes of the Arts and Crafts movement. The houses go away from the factory aesthetic and back to quality craftsmanship. Built over a century ago, these houses are still very beautiful.

Fig 1
Fig 2
 Fig 3

1 Jeffery, Michael. Arts and Crafts Style. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications 8
2 Andrews, John. Arts and Crafts Furniture. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors' Club 9
3 Smith, Bruce, and Alexander Vertikoff. Greene & Greene: Masterworks. 28
4 Smith, Bruce, and Alexander Vertikoff. Greene & Greene: Masterworks. 27
5 Smith, Bruce, and Alexander Vertikoff. Greene & Greene: Masterworks. 17
6 Bosley, Edward R. Greene & Greene. London: Phaidon 106


Shannon Wright said...

Good post, Wilson. I'm glad you picked someone that relates to the project you're working on right now.

Shannon Wright said...

Hi Wilson. I'll give you credit for two blogs, for this excellent post on Greene and Greene. I love the buffet with the breadboard ends, in the last picture.

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