Still teaching its lessons

October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Photograph of the Swedenborgian Church by Laurie Passey

The Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco is a National Historic Landmark.

FIRST PERSON | TED BOSLEY

My earliest memories of the Swedenborgian Church are from about 1957. I would have been three years old. I remember the welcoming fire behind the hearth and the home-like atmosphere of the sanctuary. And there were the welcoming people, too: Rev. Othmar Tobisch and Mrs. Tobisch, and Jane Sugden — “Miss Jane,” as we called her — who taught my sister Kathy and me to sing. I recall especially the sound and feel of the rush-bottomed chairs that my little backside swam around in.

Our father died in 1959, so most of our childhood memories of the church are connected with our mother, Phyllis Bosley. The church became our home away from home. Kathy and I were there four or five times every week for one reason or another: children’s choir practice, adult choir practice, Thursday night supper or to help Miss Jane with a project.

I don’t recall exactly when I became interested in the church building as a potent physical object, but I do remember why. Sitting at the back of the church waiting for a wedding to conclude so I could blow out the candles and sweep up the rice (Mr. Tobisch paid 75 cents per wedding), I picked up a copy of the little pamphlet written in 1945 on the 50th anniversary of the first service. It described historic features of the church, practically all of which — and this is what captured my complete attention — remained decades later exactly as they were described. It seemed incredible that a place might be so loved as to be left unmolested for so long.

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Tonalism in the Holloway collection

March 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

From the Holloway collection: Piazzoni, Oldfield, Mathews, Redmond.

Tonalism in the back room: Piazzoni, Oldfield, Mathews, Redmond.

Jan Holloway writes, in Good Times, Hard Times: I became very interested in the California Tonalist painters — Arthur Mathews, early Granville Redmond, Charles Rollo Peters. The subdued limited palette and soft light were poetic to me.

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Audel Davis honored at Grove Park

March 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Audel Davis Coppersmith

A catalog of Audel Davis’s work accompanied the Grove Park exhibit

AUDEL DAVIS is the first living crafter to be honored with an exhibit in the Great Hall of the Grove Park Inn. The exhibit [from February 21 to 23, 2014] is also the first one-person showing of his work in a non-commercial setting. It is entirely fitting that Audel Davis be honored in this way, and in this place. He has a long affiliation with the Grove Park Inn Arts and Crafts Conference, having attended all but three of the 26 conferences. His deep commitment to the ideals of the movement, too, both aesthetically and philosophically, make this exhibit a supremely natural manifestation of the conference’s mission to educate and inspire those who revere the Arts and Crafts movement and its contemporary renaissance.

Those who know Audel personally will understand how his self-effacing nature initially rebelled against the idea of an exhibit honoring his work. A modest man of unfailing good humor and grace, Audel is not comfortable in the spotlight. But if you are also familiar with his work, which this exhibit seeks to elucidate, you will know that Audel Davis is completely deserving of the attention this exhibit brings to him.

Some years ago I was the very happy recipient of a pair of Audel’s candlesticks. They have become like members of our family, such is the warm and personal character that they express over years of closeness and familiarity, not unlike the people who are dear to me. The attributes of family and warmth are naturally a part of Audel’s work, and as you contemplate the objects in this exhibit you may also sense the traits that make his way of working copper to be so very much more than merely raised, planished, hammered and patinated sheets of metal.

— TED BOSLEY, Director
The Gamble House
Pasadena, California

Foreword to Audel Davis Coppersmith
Copyright 2014 by Roger Moss

Read more: “A coppersmith of skill and maturity

Warming up a special place

March 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Renovating the historic Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco

Renovating the historic Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco

MOST RENOVATIONS and facelifts aim to make things look a little younger and fresher. But that was not the case with the work just completed at the historic Swedenborgian Church at Washington and Lyon streets in San Francisco.

On February 16, the congregants entered through the garden and past a crackling fire in the massive fireplace, just as they always have, as they returned to their sanctuary after the first major renovation in the church’s 119-year history.

The restored dove window from the outside

The restored dove window

“It’s so toasty in here,” said office manager Dana Owens, who supervised the project. The fireplace was the primary source of heat until radiant heating was added during the renovation underneath the refinished wooden floorboards. Discreet lighting was tucked into the madrone trees and rafters that support the roof. The stained glass windows were restored and the thick, rounded wooden doors were refinished.

The Swedenborgian Church, built in 1894, is the birthplace of the Arts & Crafts movement in the United States. Its simple handmade maple chairs with tule rush seats were the inspiration for all Mission-style furniture that followed.

On March 16, the Swedenborgians will launch a monthly lecture series on the art and architecture of the unusual church, which is a National Historic Landmark.

Reinstalling the stained glass window above the altar

Reinstalling the stained glass dove window above the altar

Read more: “Arts & Crafts movement started here

‘One of America’s great craftsmen’

January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Audel Davis copperwork | Photograph by Russell Abraham

Audel Davis copperwork | Photograph by Russell Abraham

TUCKED AWAY on a quiet residential street in Berkeley, California, is the home and studio of Audel Davis, one of America’s great craftsmen. Think Maloof, Stocksdale, Nakashima — only Davis is a coppersmith and his genre is Arts and Crafts. When one hears the phrase, images of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Greene and Greene immediately come to mine, as well they should.

Read more: “A journey to the world of Arts & Crafts

The art of craft

November 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

SAN FRANCISCO was a hotbed of artisans and crafters in the early 20th century during the height of the Arts & Crafts movement, and hand-hammered copperwork was among the most prized of the crafts elevated to artwork.

Dirk van Erp, arguably the greatest coppersmith of the era, created a uniquely beautiful body of art copper. He also had a profound effect on many other art coppersmiths. A new book offers a windfall of new research about these artists, including more than 200 examples of their work and dozens of vintage photographs, many not previously exhibited or published.

Included in addition to Dirk van Erp are:

• Harry St John Dixon, brother of artist Maynard Dixon and van Erp’s first apprentice, who became the Bay Area’s other most celebrated coppersmith.

• D’Arcy Gaw, Dirk van Erp’s first partner in San Francisco.

• August Tiesselinck, Dirk van Erp’s nephew, whose technical skills and creative designs were especially admired.

• Dirk van Erp’s children, William and Agatha van Erp, both of whom became accomplished coppersmiths.

• Lillian Palmer, who moved from San Jose to San Francisco to found the Palmer Shop Cooperative, an early woman-run studio.

• Plus: Fred Brosi, Hans Jauchen & Old Mission Kopper Kraft, Armenac Hairenian and the other Harry Dixon, Harry L Dixon, among others.

REVIEW: “This book has class

A Frank Lloyd Wright mortuary

August 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

The mint and the mortuary — taxes and death — in San Francisco.

By ANDREW DUDLEY
haighteration.com

From an early age, Nicholas P. Daphne showed an interest in the funeral business.

Born in Greece in 1908, but raised in San Francisco, Daphne went to embalming school soon after graduating from Mission High School. He took apprenticeships at a few mortuaries around the city, and worked at the city coroner’s office. In 1938, he opened his first mortuary in the Mission.

During his early exposure to the business, Daphne was struck by how unnecessarily expensive — and gloomy — the funeral services tended to be. With his mortuaries, Daphne hoped to offer something different: funeral services that were not only “fair and low-priced,” as his wife would later describe them, but also, well, cheerful.

“I got the idea after we received so much comment from people in the last 10 years about the morbid atmosphere of most mortuaries,” Daphne told reporters at the time.

His next mortuary would be an attempt to fulfill that vision. First, he found a suitable plot of land — an area just west of San Francisco’s newly built U.S. Mint building, bounded by Church, Webster, Hermann and Duboce Streets. As Time Magazine described it at the time, the parcel was decidedly unremarkable: “His site was a rocky knoll off upper Market Street, its only building a battered shed decorated with an old election poster.”

But Daphne considered the location ideal — and deserving of an architect to match.

So some time in 1944, Daphne made a late-night phone call to 77-year-old, world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

“I’ve got the finest site, in the heart of San Francisco, and I want the finest mortuary in the world. So I figure, I need the finest architect in the world.”
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Dirk van Erp and the Swedenborgians

June 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

Swedenborgian minister Rev. Junchol Lee admires the unusual Dirk van Erp chandelier.

LUXURY WEEK arrives this month at Christie’s in New York, and the Rev. Joseph Worcester might be rolling in his grave at the news that his beloved Swedenborgian Church will be auctioning a historic lamp from the former parsonage next door. It is estimated to fetch from $40,000 to $60,000.

But he would be pleased the proceeds will be used to restore the church’s stained glass windows designed by Bruce Porter, a key player in Worcester’s circle of artists and writers who helped create the church and garden on the corner of Lyon and Washington Streets in San Francisco. Also to be restored are the church’s iconic square-legged chairs with rush-bottom seats — said to be designed by legendary architect Bernard Maybeck to Worcester’s specifications — which inspired the Mission-style furniture that followed.

The dignified home at 2121 Lyon Street was built for parishioner Gertrude Bowers in 1894 at the same time the church was being built next door. It was intended as a parsonage, but Rev. Worcester preferred to stay in his simple wood-shingled home at the top of Russian Hill. In 1900 the residence was bought by acclaimed artist William Keith, another key member of Worcester’s circle. Keith also bought the lot beside the church on Washington Street, which is now the Swedenborgian Parish House.

In 1910, shortly before Keith’s death, he sold the residence to Isabel Baldwin, who in 1921 sold it to the Eloesser family. It remained in that family until Nina Eloesser died in December 2010. The family had arranged for the house to be deeded — at long last — directly to the Swedenborgian Church.

The church has just begun to renovate 2121 Lyon Street. But before the work could begin, the distinctive copper and mica chandelier had to be removed from the dining room. It was thought to be from the San Francisco studio of Dirk van Erp, one of the most celebrated craftsmen of what came to be known as the Arts & Crafts movement.

The Swedenborgian chandelier

Collectors and the major auction houses came calling when news of the rare and unseen van Erp chandelier began to circulate. Church officials decided to put the lamp up for auction at Christie’s in New York alongside a thicket of Tiffany lamps, many from the collection of the Eddie Rickenbacker saloon in San Francisco.

Christie’s is promoting the lamp as “property from the Swedenborgian Church,” circa 1910, “originally in the home of the painter William Keith, a friend of Dirk van Erp, until his passing in 1911.” Technically that’s more or less true, but after connoisseurs arched their eyebrows, Christie’s revised its online description to make clear that the lamp comes from property owned by the Swedenborgian Church, not from the church itself.

Likewise, while William Keith owned 2121 Lyon, it was never his home. He lived across the bay in Berkeley. Keith probably knew nothing of the lamp since he sold the house in 1910, the same year van Erp opened his studio in San Francisco.

And no one can prove definitively the lamp is by van Erp. It does not bear his distinctive windmill mark, nor was van Erp known to make chandeliers. But the lamp bears all the hallmarks of his studio’s work, and specifically that of his nephew and chief assistant August Tiesselinck, who did make chandeliers, and for a time had his own copper shop on Sacramento Street near Fillmore.

It seems likely the chandelier was added to 2121 Lyon after the Eloessers bought the residence in 1921. Van Erp continued to operate his copper shop through the 1920s, and the Eloessers also had two copper and mica table lamps marked with the van Erp windmill. In addition, van Erp created hand-hammered copper desk sets featuring the monograms of both Herbert and Nina Eloesser.

None of that diminishes the uniqueness or the desirability of the lamp. Arts & Crafts collectors and enthusiasts will be watching closely on June 14 during Luxury Week at Christie’s.

— THOMAS REYNOLDS

The Aesthetes pay a visit

March 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

ART HISTORY | JEROME TARSHIS

To the serious collector of ironies, the Aesthetic Movement of 19th century England has much to offer. Surely one of the most ironic things is that the business community may well have become aware of a need for something new and different sooner than most English artists did. Putting it in a nutshell, England’s traditional hostility toward what was merely artistic had begun to hurt the bottom line. During the 18th century beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in England, the lowering of prices made possible by machine production gave English products an enormous competitive advantage. But then time passed, foreigners began to catch up, and competition was no longer based on price alone.

By the second quarter of the 19th century, it had become clear that French producers were — not literally, perish the thought — eating England’s lunch. What England needed was at least a saving remnant of artists and designers who didn’t mind being like the French or Spaniards or Italians in having a taste for merely beautiful things. Although regrettably associated with loose morals, un-English taste could bring in money.

Enter, in a somewhat disorderly queue, the Aesthetes, whose hits and misses are handsomely displayed in “The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860-1900,” a traveling exhibition that opened February 18 at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.
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California’s old master

December 4, 2011 § 3 Comments

Murals by William Keith hang in the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco.
Photograph by Jim Karageorge

ART HISTORY | CHARLES KEELER

A great personality was evident to all who came in contact with William Keith. A rather thick-set Scot of medium height, with a head of true nobility — a broad face, wide forehead, kindly gray eyes, ample, well-shaped nose, a moustache and small beard hiding his lips, and a mass of tousled grizzly gray hair surmounting his Jovian head — such was the impression one got of him at first meeting. He generally wore a suit of fine checked gray, more often with the careless abandon of an artist than with the neatly pressed creases of a business or professional man.

To his intimate friends he was always gracious, although they sometimes found him in an exuberant mood and again utterly dejected and despondent. It all depended on whether his work was progressing satisfactorily or not. When he had dashed off an inspired masterpiece he was jubilant and triumphant, but when he had laboriously slaved over something that just would not come out as he intended, he was in the black depths of despair.

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