Aschermanns

Notably, he provided a detailed color guide with each illustration, specifying how the rooms were to be painted and decorated, down to the color of the flowers and plants. In one space he mixes black and white, a favorite color scheme of Hoffmann’s, with accents of “rich crimson (not deep red).”5 This interest in color, and insistence on its precise application, would become a distinguishing characteristic of his work.

At the time he was creating the illustrations, Aschermann was also at work establishing his own design studio and shop, which he opened with businessman Samuel J. MacMahan on Fifth Avenue in New York. In 1908 and 1909 he advertised in both Architectural Record and The Craftsman (see Fig. 13). His simple idea, “Harmony in design and color,” presents his manifesto to fashion interiors that were integrated works of art. From the start, he wrote to

Hoffmann, he hoped to carry over the Viennese aesthetic to the United States: “I would so much like to have some of your students here. It would be so much easier…to work with someone…who has the same direction.”6 He also began to import fabrics from the Wiener Werkstätte to use in his own work and to sell. Aschermann, though, was committed to forging a style suited to American tastes and ideals, and from the outset he sought ways to adapt the Viennese idiom to American reality.

Around this time he met a new collaborator, Gladys Goodwin, a young artist from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who had come to New York to study. In the fall of 1910 or 1911, they married and became partners in both life and design.7 All the work they subsequently produced was credited to “E.H. and G.G. Aschermann,” or simply “The Aschermann Studio,” unusual at a time when women designers were rarely recognized.

Though they worked together closely, Edward and Gladys had divergent ideas and styles. Two bookplates designed for use in their personal library offer a hint of these differences. Edward’s is governed by the geometry of the line and the square, with the block lettering favored by the Wiener Werkstätte (Fig. 12); Gladys’s relies on stylized natural forms more typical of earlier Jugendstil design (Fig. 11).

The Aschermanns were most prolific between 1911 and 1915. Their first major work was their own apartment at 120 East Thirty-first Street, which they opened to visitors as a showcase of their abilities and aesthetic. In an article they characterized it as “the first really ‘modern’ home…furnished and decorated here in New York….[It] shows that color and simplicity are not only interesting but livable and highly suitable to our modern American indoors.”8 Reviewing the apartment, the New York Times observed: “Mr. Ascherman, a pupil of Prof. Hoffman[n]…understands how to use black and white to tie together a design that without one or the other would be loose and disconnected.”9 The unnamed reporter also noted the Aschermanns’ attempt to forge a harmonious environment: “At the present moment Vienna understands that the furnishings of a room belong with the architecture, and that nothing in it from a footstool to a piece of table glass is unimportant to the general effect.”

Then in 1914 the Times noted that the Aschermanns had revised their design and exhibited their apartment again, apparently in response to charges that their first interiors had been too radical and modern (see Fig. 2). Their intention, the reporter observed, was “to show that the ‘Cubist’ decorations exhibited by them last year can be modified and arranged to suit conservative American tastes. The entire apartment is furnished and decorated in the modern European style, with intensely strong colors used on a background of black and white in most cases.”10
Of greatest interest to the reporter was the pink and blue nursery, “the triumphant crowning touch, and the two decorators declare that if the baby had not been such a good baby they never could have done it. It seems that he sat on the floor and cooed Wiener Werkstaette baby talk while his parents designed and cut out an entire blue circus.”

Unfortunately, no color photographs of the apartment survive. But a 1915 article in the Craftsman describes it as “a place of exceptional originality and charm, in which every nook and corner, every bit of woodwork, furniture and fabric…is rich in color and interesting in design.”11 The truth of this statement is evident when one examines some of the surviving objects. A chair from the music and sitting room gives a hint of the overall effect (Fig. 5). Its still brilliant yellow echoed the color of the piano in the same room, and the blue stripes and stylized baskets of flowers were repeated on the walls. The caption to a photograph of the room (Fig. 4) provides a detailed description of the color scheme: “Walls, ceiling and furniture, bright yellow; carpet, red-violet with coloured border; Furniture-covering, blue-green silk velvet; Draperies, yellow with silk appliqué; Decorations on ceiling, walls, and furniture, blue-green with coloured flowers.”12

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[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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