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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The case of the missing mural

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Study for The Commonwealth | Arthur Mathews

Arthur Mathews — the leading artistic figure in San Francisco at the end of the 19th century — was prolific, even in his creation of murals for public spaces. In addition to a 12-panel mural tracing the history of California for the State Capitol in Sacramento, Mathews in 1924 designed The Commonwealth to appear above the bench in the barrel-vaulted courtroom of the California Supreme Court in San Francisco.

In the 1950s the courtroom was given a more up-to-date dropped ceiling and the mural was removed. Then after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the courtroom was remodeled once again and the original barrel vault was restored to its original glory. But the Mathews mural could not be found. In a new article, San Francisco lawyer Ray McDevitt tells the story.

Read more: “The Commonwealth: A Lost Art

Where are the paintings?

February 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Youth | Arthur Mathews | Oakland Museum

The remaking of the Oakland Museum’s art department continues to spark considerable discussion. What was previously a chronological hanging of California art has given way to a more multidisciplinary approach. This exchange of correspondence between artist Jeff Bellerose and chief curator Philip Linhares offers two prevailing viewpoints.

On 2/7/11 5:03 PM, “jeff bellerose” wrote:

Dear Mr. Linhares:

I was given your email by one of the art guides at the Oakland Museum and I wanted to write to you concerning my visit to your museum. I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of the Oakland Museum, but it is difficult to express my profound disappointment at the new renovation.

The history floor, to start nicely, is very well done — interactive and intriguing and a fine design to try and include and involve kids and adults in the recreation of historical moments. However, the art floor, which has always been my primary reason for visiting, was lacking in, well, art. Where are the paintings?
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