November 9, 2009 | Clifford Wallach is a widely recognized expert in the field of tramp art—a branch of folk art in which objects are constructed from chip carved wood. As an antiques dealer, scholar, and author of two books on the subject, Tramp Art: One Notch at a Time (1998) and most recently Tramp Art: Another Notch, Folk Art From the Heart (2009), Wallach has spearheaded research and appreciation for this lesser-known art form. Here he share some insights with us.
What is tramp art? And what are some of the misconceptions about it?
Tramp art is a woodworking style that uses small pieces of wood, primarily from discarded cigar boxes and shipping crates, whittled into layers of geometric shapes, the outside edges of which are notched or chip carved. Tramp art was madeby people, mostly men, who had no formal training in the arts. The earliest pieces date from the 1870s, and by the 1940s its popularity had waned. There is much discussion about where tramp art originated and the mystery continues. Once thought to have come to this country from Europe, such as Germany with its rich woodworking traditions, tramp art actually seems to have arisen wherever men smoked cigars and the raw materials, their empty cigar boxes, were available. One of the romantic myths about tramp art revolves around its name, which implies that its makers were tramps or hobos traveling around the country making pieces in exchange for food or board. Although the name was given to the art form when tramp art was first rediscovered in the late 1950s, the main practitioners were home-based, not transient.
Can you describe how it was made (materials, techniques, and embellishment)?
Tramp art was made by fashioning discarded materials into utilitarian or other objects using humble tools. In America the proliferation of tramp art went hand in hand with the revenue laws starting in the 1860s that required that all cigars be sold in wooden boxes of the same size, which could not be used for resale and had to be discarded. The manufactures of these boxes used fine woods such as mahogany or cedar. The artist would collect enough cigar boxes—or shipping crates—for his project and take them apart. He would then cut the wood, using primarily a common pocketknife or sometimes a file, into different shapes, such as hearts or stars; next he would chip carve the outside edges of each piece before assembling the layers into the finished form. One of the most common decorations on tramp art is the heart. As an intimate symbol often reserved for a friend or a lover, its use—which is often taken for granted—is a telling point for understanding the nature of tramp art.
October 29, 2009 | Selecting a single object from the myriad works on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's current exhibition Art of the Samurai (through January 10, 2010) presents a challenge. The exhibit, which Roberta Smith of the New York Times has called a "once-in-lifetime event for children, war buffs and connoisseurs of all ages, even garden-variety art lovers," includes more than two hundred masterworks—on loan from Japanese museums, shrines, and private collections, that include 34 National Treasures, 64 Important Cultural Properties, and six Important Art objects. It's the largest massing of such works ever to be displayed anywhere. Visitors to the exhibition are treated to a dynamic display that ranges from the tiny—an 18th-century copper and gold knife handle with guardian figures measuring only 1 3/8 inches long—to the magnificent—a 16th-century black-plated suit of armor with a massive deer-horn helmet.
Several cases are devoted to the art of the swordsmith—the minimalist unadorned steel blades, which date from the 5th to the 19th century, are often called the "spirit of the samurai." Counterbalancing them are fantastical helmets of the Edo period (1615-1868), ranging in form and design from a five-story pagoda to a praying mantis to a replica of Mount Fuji, each more impressive than the last. Nearly all of the works in the exhibit were made to be worn or carried and thus symbolize a special relationship to the owner and his body, so provenance is an important mark of distinction.
One such object is a breathtaking set of a saddle (kura) and pair of stirrups (abumi) from the collection of the Tokyo National Museum. Designated an Important Cultural Property, the set is believed to have been owned by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), whose name was recorded on an associated preparatory drawing. He was one of the most famous samurai in history, having risen from poverty to become one of the central daimyo (warlord) figures in the unification of Japan. The saddle (made from chestnut wood) and stirrups (iron with wooden inserts) were each decorated in the finest maki-e style of the Momoyama period. A reed motif is articulated in gold—with varying technical application of gold sheet, high-relief and thin lacquer—against a rich black lacquer background. Additionally, silver dewdrops have been applied to the reeds and gold edging around the saddle's pommel.
October 19, 2009 | Have you ever dreamed about spending a night inside the Eames Case Study House or a Charlotte Perriand-designed boudoir? The Boundary Hotel, which opened this past January in East London's Shoreditch neighborhood lets visitors do just that. Designed under the direction of Terence Conran and his studio, Conran & Partners, the Boundary was transformed from a Victorian-era warehouse into a boutique hotel with seventeen guest bedrooms, three restaurants (including one on the roof), a bakery, and specialty grocery store. Each of the hotel's rooms has been inspired by a particular designer or design movement—among them are the Eameses, Mies van der Rohe, Josef Hoffmann, Andrée Putman, Scandinavian design, the Bauhaus, and various young British designers including Conran and his wife—and incorporates reproductions of iconic furniture, textiles, and decorative accessories. The results are whimsical yet sophisticated interpretations of many of the 20th century's most beloved styles. While I'm partial to the modern chinoiserie suite designed by David Tang, the Eileen Gray room with its white leather Bibendum chair and "Blue Marine" headboard is a modernist's dream come true.
October 8, 2009 | Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textiles, which opens tomorrow at the Japan Society in New York, is an exhibition that will win many people over many—from the devoted connoisseur of fiber arts to those with an eye for graphic design to the Japanese art aficionado. In this display of one hundred works that span Serizawa Keisuke's (1895-1984) career—the first large-scale museum exhibition of his work in the United States—the full achievements of his art unfold.
There is an entire room of kimonos, some with bold abstracted designs and others that include playful thumbprint shapes and hand drawn elements; a room of strikingly graphic entrance curtains or wall hangings; small cases that display books with Serizawa-designed covers and albums of designs including those for ceramics and fans; traditional screens transformed with whimsical motifs and calligraphic characters; and framed works on paper or silk that document his love of nature and everyday objects. The works on display exemplify the natural affinity between Japanese aesthetics and mid-century modern design. At the same time, the intimate arrangement of the exhibition space and the warmth of the colors in the galleries reminds visitors that most of the objects were for domestic decoration and use.
Serizawa, who was named a Living National Treasure in 1956, came from a family of drapers and studied design at the Tokyo Technical College. In the 1920s he began to experiment with stencil-dying textiles, a technique that he observed in Okinawa. At this time, Serizawa became part of the circle of mingei (folk or people's crafts) artists led by Yanagi Muneyoshi that aimed to preserve Japanese craft traditions and to make beautiful everyday objects. But, breaking with tradition, Serizawa also incorporated other cultures in his work—particularly Korean—and avidly collected art and objects from around the world. Today more than 4,000 items he amassed including African masks, toys, and pottery can be seen at the Serizawa Keisuke Art Museum in Shizuoka City.
October 5, 2009 | Shirly M. Mueller is a passionate collector and scholar of Chinese export porcelain who has written numerous articles on the subject (see below). We recently spoke to Mueller, who is as a lender to the current exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center Dutch New York Between East and West: The World of Margrieta van Varick about her collection and what motivates this pursuit. For more on the exhibition see this article from our September 2009 issue.
How did you get interested in Chinese export porcelain?
In the early 1990s I was a neurologist, seeing patients and working 80 hours a week-I was never really relaxing. But then I found that when I read about Chinese porcelain I could relax, which led me to join the American Ceramic Circle, and I'm now on the board, but I remember going alone to the first meeting and not knowing anyone, just being driven by this desire to know more about porcelain. From there I began going to all kinds of conferences and even received some private tutor…» More
[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi» View All