Art and industry

Photography by Alan Kolc

We may thank the Industrial Revolution for many things, not the least of which may be the contrarian William Morris and his reform move­ment followers who prized man over machine and fostered our endur­ing admiration for handicraft, at the heart of modern antiquarianism.

The legacy of Morris inclines us to think of makers and manufacturers as occupying hostile camps, the makers having the moral edge in a conflict that will be won, in the economic sense, by the manufacturers. In truth, the imaginative flourish that produces an automobile where before there was only a wagon is much like the spark that yields words on a page or brushstrokes on canvas.

In suburban Philadelphia, art and industry are joined in a residence commissioned in 1901. The house represents the union of William Lightfoot Price, the Philadelphia architect who created a utopian arts and crafts community in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania, but earned his living designing resort hotels and houses for the carriage trade, and his client Louis Semple Clarke, an inventor and engineer who founded what became the Autocar Company.

Like its sponsorship, the gabled, slate-roofed house is a hybrid (Fig. 3). Its foundation of native Wissahickon schist, soft enough to record the pas­sage of time and glinting in the sun, is capped by half-timbering and stucco meant to evoke, in a vague sense, the charms of old Europe. Architectural historian George E. Thomas, author of the mono­graph William L. Price: Arts and Crafts to Modern Design (2000), counts the residence among the most successful historicist designs by Price, whose pre­mature death curtailed his modernist inclinations.

A century after its completion, the house, suffering benign neglect at the hands of successive owners, was showing its age. The exterior woodwork was rotting and chimneys were crumbling. The piping was sclerotic. In 2008 a couple who had ventured around the world before returning to the husband's home state acquired the house and began a meticulous restoration of the faded beauty, a showcase for their growing collection of American art. "We walked in and thought, at last, a place for our Tiffany glass. It traveled with us to London and Tokyo but we were seldom able to display it. This house is built for it," the wife says.

The couple moved into a nearby rental as the eighteen-month renovation got underway. Referring to Price's original plans and period photographs, some supplied by a Clarke granddaughter, the project team led by Archer and Buchanan Architec­ture delivered award-winning results.

Will Price's signature is everywhere in the house, from leaded windows deco­rated with jousting knights on horseback (see Figs. 2, 6) to decorative carving, pos­sibly by John Maene, the Rose Valley shop foreman, on the interior woodwork. The photographs the couple consulted so often suggest that Clarke admired Price's work but absorbed little of the progressive ideals un­derpinning it. Far from furnishing his home en suite with furniture, pottery, and metalwork handmade by the Rose Valley crafts­men, Clarke decorated with a miscellany more typical of his time. He lived with Tiffany glass and Craftsman furniture by Gustav Stickley, prompting the current owners to purchase a hexagonal library table of about 1905 still bearing Stickley's paper label.1

Original to the house is a Rose Valley oak trestle table (see Fig. 4) that closely resembles one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Designed by Price and bearing the distinctive Rose Valley brand, a five-petaled rose superimposed by a V and enclosed in a buckled belt inscribed "rose valley shops," both tables have mortise-and-tenon joinery and are hand-carved with Gothic tracery and figural mortise pins.

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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