A Reflection on American Design History

June 22, 2012

The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design

The Columbia Museum of Art announces that the exhibition, The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design, will be on view from April 28 through August 26, 2012. 

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). Manufactured by Steelcase Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Johnson Wax Company Chair, c. 1938. Enameled steel, original loop pile upholstery, brass. 35” x 18” x 20 1/2”

“This is the first comprehensive exhibition of American chair design in the history of the Museum, and we are delighted to have it on view,” Karen Brosius, executive director, said. “This is such a rare opportunity to see iconic American chairs in a variety of styles.”

Most chairs encountered throughout the day define themselves fairly simply—a place at the family table, a comfortable spot with a great view of the river, a seat of corporate power. When looking at the 44 chairs in The Art of Seating, however, there is much more to see than simple pieces of furniture. These works of art have compelling stories to tell about our national history, the evolution of American design, and incredible artistry and craftsmanship.

The Art of Seating provides audiences with a unique opportunity to see chair types that usually reside in private homes, withheld from public display. The American Chair Collection, the center of this exhibition, is a comprehensive private collection of iconic and historic chairs reaching back from the mid-1800s to pieces from today’s studio movement. The exhibition provides an opportunity to see readily recognizable pieces alongside those rarely seen by the public.

Designed and manufactured by Kenneth Smythe (born 1937), Oakland, California. Synergistic Synthesis XVII Sub B1 Chair, 2003. Finn birch laminate, Formica colorcore, latigo leather, Sunbrella acrylic, top grain leather, foam rubber, steel, maple dowels. 32” x 32” x 32”

Presenting Sponsors for the Columbia presentation are BMW of Columbia, Verve Ford Boyd Interiors, Hannah and Ron Rogers, and Columbia Marriott. The supporting sponsor is the Pierrine and Hootie Johnson Fund of the Central Carolina Community Foundation.

Curated by Ben Thompson, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, The Art of Seating takes the viewer into the design studio through patent drawings, documented upholstery, artist renderings and multimedia presentations. Selections from the Jacobsen Collection of American Art offer a stylistic journey in furniture with showstoppers by John Henry Belter, George Hunzinger, the Herter Brothers, the Stickley Brothers, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Isamu Noguchi, Frank Gehry, and others waiting to be discovered. The exhibition also features contemporary and historic designs by some of the biggest manufacturers, such as Knoll, Herman Miller, and Steelcase.

Designed by Charles Eames (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1988). Manufactured by Evans Products Company for Herman Miller Furniture Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. LCW (Lounge Chair Wood), c. 1954. Molded birch plywood, rubber. 26” x 22” x 24”

Perhaps the most illustrious piece of history in this collection is that of the House of Representatives Chamber Arm Chair from 1857. Designed by Thomas U. Walter, Architect of the Capitol from 1851 to 1865, the House of Representatives chairs were created to be used in the halls of Congress and were showcased in portraits of political leaders such as Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. A later design by David Wolcott

Kendall, deemed by his peers as “The Dean of American Furniture Design,” was presented to William McKinley during his term in the White House and has become known as the “McKinley” armchair.

The Art of Seating is developed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, in collaboration with the Jacobsen Collection of American Art, and is organized for tour by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C.

Designed by Warren McArthur (1885-1961). Manufactured by Warren McArthur Corporation, Rome, New York. Sling Seat Lounge Chair, c. 1935. Anodized aluminum, rubber, upholstery. 31 ¾” x 22” x 31”

Designed by Thomas Ustick Walter (1804-1887). Manufactured by Hammitt Desk Manufacturing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. House of Representatives Chamber Arm Chair, 1857. Carved oak, pine, reproduction horsehair upholstery. 37 1/2 “ x24” x20”

The American Chair Collection started as a way to provide further context to the Thomas H. and Diane D. Jacobsen Collection of American Art—paintings, sculpture, silver and furniture that were acquired during the early 1990s. The creation of the chair collection began with the purchase of an Egyptian Revival Side Chair and has since blossomed to the more than 40 works on display in this exhibition.

For additional information visit columbiamuseum.org or call 803.799.2810.

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