Cradle of liberty, cradle of craft

Phillip Lloyd Powell & Paul Evans
Born in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Phillip Lloyd Powell began making furniture in high school and studied engineering at the Drexel Institute of Technology (now Drexel University). After military service in World War II, he settled in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where he became acquainted with George Nakashima (1905-1990). Powell ran a shop that sold his own furniture as well as antiques and contemporary designs by Knoll, Herman Miller, and Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). He began collaborating with Paul R. Evans in 1955, when Evans moved to New Hope. Evans had been born in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and studied sculpture and silversmithing at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan.

Screen by Powell and Paul R. Evans (1931-1987), c. 1955. Walnut, metal, silver and gold leaf; height 95 ¼, overall width 43 ½ inches. Courtesy of Todd Merrill Antiques.

Powell reportedly used wood that had been rejected by Nakashima to make furniture, and like both Nakashima and Esherick, he allowed the character of a specific piece of wood to influence the finished object's design. He viewed the design and manufacture of an object as profoundly interconnected, observing that as he worked, "I continue remodeling, add or cut to create an entire finished whole piece. It's a gradual process."6 He preferred walnut because it was easier to shape using a spoke shave, carving the wood like a sculptor. During his partnership with Evans, the latter frequently made fish-scale grilles or other metal elements that were incorporated into the finished object.

Sofa by Phillip Lloyd Powell (1919-2008), c. 1960s. Walnut and travertine; height 30 ½, length 12 feet, 5 inches, depth 27 inches. Courtesy of Todd Merrill Antiques, New York.

Powell and Evans had a two-man show at America House in New York in 1961, which led to a commission from Directional, a ten-year-old furniture company that sponsored a number of young designers. Evans created a line of bronze furniture that debuted at Directional in 1964 and was an immediate success. Powell, however, was dissatisfied with working for a corporation, preferring the counterculture approach of working alone on unique objects for individual clients. His collaboration with Evans ended in 1964. He later said, "I do not want to be in the business of making furniture. When I had eight employees, I realized I was in business. As a drop out, I did not want to be just a designer."7

Evans and Powell outside their showroom in NewHope, Pennsylvania, in a photograph of c. 1960. Courtesy of Dorsey Reading.

During his collaboration with Powell, Evans began working in metals on a larger scale, and by the early 1960s was producing case furniture with sculptured steel fronts. This transition coincided with the arrival in 1959 of Dorsey Reading, a machinist from Lambertville, New Jersey, who began as Evans's apprentice and became the principal fabricator of Evans's designs. Evans created several lines of furniture for Directional featuring bronze, aluminum, and steel surfaces with chrome, brass, and gold-plated details, mostly on wooden substrates. By the mid-1970s he employed almost ninety workmen who produced between three and four hundred pieces of furniture each week in factories first in Lambertville and subsequently in Plumsteadville, Pennsylvania. A 1975 brochure suggested that Evans's role in this process was similar to Samuel Yellin's half a century earlier: "Every piece is made by hand. One piece at a time. Every piece is finished by hand. One piece at a time. And every piece is supervised every step of the way by the artist who conceived it - Paul Evans."8 DLB

Faceted credenza by Evans for Directional, 1970s. Maple burl, brass, enameled fiberglass; height 32, width 82, depth 24 inches. Courtesy of SJAE Alexandre Collection, Los Angeles.

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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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