Monday, June 18, 2012

Hepplewhite-Ferris-Rietveld (18-24 June)

George Hepplewhite, British furniture maker, death 21 June 1786
Ferris Wheel, opens at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, anniversary 21 June 1893
Gerrit Rietveld, Dutch architect & furniture designer, birthday 24 June 1888

After our introduction to Chippendale last week let us continue discussing the “Big Three” of English cabinet makers: George Hepplewhite.  Again, although no known pieces actually made buy him or his firm are in existence, he took the inspiration of Chippendale to write his own design book, The Cabinet Maker & Upholsterers Guide.  Where Chippendale sought to create a guide that was all-encompassing for the designs of the age, Hepplewhite developed a singular style which was characterized by light, curved pieces and the distinctive shield back.  What is even more amazing is that these constructions were all achieved without carving; everything was pieced together and then painted and/or inlayed.  With all this innovation, if it were not for his book published by his widow after his death and death certificate there would be no evidence that he existed at all. 

Although there is much debate over who actually invented what has become known as the Farris Wheel, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. designed his record breaking wheel for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  This tipped off yet another race for the tallest and largest contraption spawned by the Industrial Revolution.  These types of amusement constructions have been in existence since the 17th century and were made out of wood, reaching only a few stories high. 

Subsequent giant wheels were completed in London, Paris and Japan.  Today the tallest resides in Singapore at an amazing 541 feet high.  As exciting as open air wheels are to reach into the sky I’m happy that these new monsters are fully enclosed and much safer that Mr. Farris’. 

As a member of the De Stijl movement, Gerrit Rietveld was essential to the establishment of the modern design movement.  His famous wooden Red & Blue Chair was originally designed to be mass produced but with the embrace of new material technologies, the movement leaned more toward tubular steel and plastic constructions.  The goal was to simplify construction to base form and today it can still be referenced for this achievement; the ideal angle of the back to the seat and the comfortable height of the arms can be seen in many pieces since. 
With Piet Mondrian as inspiration, Rietveld created a three dimensional version of a Mondrian painting with the Reitveld Schroder House.  What was so innovative about this house wasn’t the concept of bringing a painting to life, it was the advent of moveable sliding walls that could be rearranged or removed completely to serve the changing functionality of the space.  This served the inhabitant as needs throughout the day changed from sleeping to cooking to working.  As a result, Rietveld broke with the De Stijl and explored more functionalist styles in architecture and design.    


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