Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Other Arts and Crafts Designer

QUESTION: I have a Mission chair that has been in my family for decades. I never paid much attention to it. But recently when I was cleaning it, I turned it over and noticed a label under the arm of the chair which reads, "Limberts Arts and Crafts Furniture/Trademark/Made in Grand Rapids and Holland.” I know that Grand Rapids is in Michigan, but did this company also make furniture in the Netherlands? And just who is Limbert?

ANSWER: Charles Limbert made what you call “Mission” furniture in Grand Rapids and Holland, Michigan. In fact, his furniture wasn’t constructed in the Mission Oak style, which actually was a style of Arts and Crafts furniture that developed just before the turn-of-the-20th century.  This wasn’t as much of a style as what manufacturers called furniture made of oak that featured simple horizontal and vertical lines and flat panels that accentuate the grain of the wood. It was supposed to emulate furniture of the Spanish missions in California and Texas. What Charles Limbert made was furniture in the pure Arts and Crafts style.

The Arts and Crafts Movement in America originated in mid-19th-century England where the teachings of John Ruskin and William Morris popularized social reform. The movement began as a revolt against the Industrial Revolution and the dehumanization of the workers being replaced by machines. Americans learned about this movement through Gustav Stickley's magazine The Craftsman. Hand craftsmanship and a return to simplicity became hallmarks of the movement. These ideals applied not only to the lifestyle of the follower, but also to furniture and accessories in the home.

Hailed as the beginning of Modernism in the United States, Arts and Crafts interiors were in direct contrast to the preceding Victorian period of ornate decorative arts. Rectilinear forms of quartersawn oak replaced ornately carved rosewood and mahogany Victorian furniture. Mortise and tenon joints, butterfly keys, and the grain of the wood, itself, became the ornamentation on Arts and Crafts pieces.

While Gustav Stickley is best known as the leader of Arts and Crafts Movement in America, other designers also achieved recognition for their contribution to Arts and Crafts design. One of them was Charles Limbert. His company produced high quality Arts and Crafts furniture, but didn’t attempt to influence consumers about the idealized harmony of the Arts and Crafts lifestyle.

In the early 1880s, Charles Linbert began his furniture manufacturing career at the John A. Colby and Co.. in Chicago. He learned all sides of the furniture business— design, production, and marketing. An 1889 partnership with Philip Klingman established the Limbert and Klingman Chair in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Limbert and Klingman manufactured period reproduction chairs for only two years. In 1894, Limbert formed the C.P. Limbert and Company to produce Arts and Crafts furniture.

By 1906, the company had grown and moved to Holland, Michigan. Limbert called his line of furniture "Holland Dutch Arts and Crafts," most likely in reference to the local Dutch population.

Limbert's early furniture shows influences ranging from Japanese to Gothic. Some of his early china cabinets and bookcases have doors with stained glass in an Art Nouveau style.

His peak of design achievement came during 1904 to 1906 when he introduced many of his cut-out designs. Many of his de-signs were internationally inspired by the Vienna Secessionist School and designers such as Scotsman Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Austrian Josef Hoffmann. Limbert employed designers such as Hungarian architect Paul Horti and father and son Austrian designers, Louis and William J. Gohlke.

Limbert promoted his furniture as being "essentially the result of hand labor, with machinery being used where it can be employed to the advantage of the finished article." Like Stickley, he didn’t let machinery control production and emphasized the contribution of skilled craftsmen in his furniture promotions.

He constructed his furniture of quartersawn white oak, with well-executed doweled joints, keyed tenons and splined tabletops. Long, tapering corbels under arms characterize Limbert chairs. Unfortunately, Limbert didn’t extend his wood working quality to the hardware used on his pieces, most of which came from the Grand Rapids Brass Company.

Compared with Stickley's work, Limbert's designs were typically less severe and more visually interesting, usually achieved through the use of cut-outs and other elements inspired by the as English Arts and Crafts Movement and Dutch folk furniture.

His pieces were among the original furnishings of the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park. Today, several wash stands remain in the Old House section of the Inn.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

That's a Crock!

QUESTION: Some time ago I purchased an old crock at an antique show in my area. I believe it holds two gallons and has two hearts and the number “2" painted in blue on the front. The name Sarah Good is incised above the hearts. Can you tell me how old this crock is and what is the significance of the heart design?

ANSWER: Heart decoration was somewhat rare among crocks. Though your crock has a name incised in it isn’t unusual,  that the name is female is. This indicates that this crock may have been a wedding gift, specially made for Sarah Good. After all, a crock in the early to mid-19th century was a piece of kitchen equipment much as a set of canisters is today.

Potters made crocks of American stoneware, which they covered in an alkaline or salt glaze and often decorated using cobalt oxide to produce bright blue designs. Though people often use the term "crock" to describe this type of pottery, the word "crock" wasn’t used at the time these vessels were popular.

Stoneware is a type of pottery that’s  fired to about 1200°C to 1315°C. While it originated in the Rhineland area of Germany in the 15tth century, it became the dominant piece of houseware in America between 1780 and 1890. People relied on American Stoneware as not only a durable, decorative piece of houseware but as a safer alternative to lead-glazed earthenware. The invention of refrigeration caused its decline.

Americans began producing salt-glazed stoneware circa 1720 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Yorktown, Virginia. By the 1770s, the art of salt-glazed stoneware production had spread to many centers throughout the United States, most notably Manhattan, New York. The Remmey and Crolius families of potters would, by the turn of the 19th century, set the standard for expertly crafted and beautiful stoneware. By 1820, potters in nearly every American city produced stoneware, with those from Baltimore, Maryland, standing out for their excellent craftsmanship.

While salt-glazing is the typical glaze technique seen on American Stoneware, potters employed other glazing methods. They often dipped vessels in Albany Slip, a mixture made from a clay peculiar to the Upper Hudson Region of New York, and when fired, produced a dark brown glaze. They sometimes used this slip as a glaze to coat the inside surface of salt-glazed ware.

While decorated ware was usually adorned using cobalt oxide, American Stoneware potters used other decorative techniques. Incising, a method in which a design of flowering plants, birds, or some other decoration was cut into the leather-hard clay using a stylus, produced detailed, recessed images on the vessels. Potters usually highlighted these in cobalt. They also impressed designs into the leather-hard clay using wooden stamps. Potters occasionally substituted manganese or iron oxide for cobalt oxide to produce brown, instead of blue, decorations on their pieces.

In the last half of the 19th century, potters in New England and New York state began producing stoneware with elaborate figural designs such as deer, dogs, birds, houses, people, historical scenes and other fanciful motifs including elephants and "bathing beauties."

Most stoneware jugs had some sort of decoration on them which covered only a small area. Unlike other pottery, they weren’t decorated all over. Birds and flowers were commonly painted using cobalt-oxide glaze or incised into the surface with a stylus.

More elaborate designs featured chickens standing by a water trough or sprigs of greenery artfully handpainted with cobalt slip. Sometimes the location of the potter appeared on the side of the jar or on its base.

A crock’s decoration can often be a clue to where it was made. A two-gallon jug with a cobalt design of a sailing ship with flag atop the middle of three fasts, a light-house to the right and a group of rocks to te left, indicates that it most likely came from New England.

Potters signed a good bit of their work using their maker’s mark or sometimes incised their signatures in the surface of the jar. Many pieces can be attributed to particular makers based on the cobalt decoration, clay body, form, and such. They marked the gallon capacity of the vessels using numeral stamps or incised or cobalt oxide numbers or hash marks applied freehand.

For the last several years, stoneware prices have been climbing ever higher, especially for the high-end wares. Most stoneware crocks sell for four to six figures, depending on their maker and condition.

Collectors continue to pay premium prices for stoneware decorated with elaborate and unique motifs. Attributed to David Parr Sr. of Baltimore, a circa-1830 six-gallon jar with a cobalt design of a flower basket that covered the entire front of the vessel sold for $13,750 at auction. The back of the jar featured a flowering plant rising' from a mound of earth. The vessel had rim and base chips, as well as several cracks and still sold for a high amount.

The same auction contained a one-gallon stoneware jug showing a house, tree and fence which sold for $10,175. Stamped J. & E. Norton/Bennington, Vermont, buyers liked this circa-1855 jug not only for its cobalt decoration, but also for its small size. Salt-glazed pieces sell for especially high prices. A salt-glazed water cooler brought $10,500 at auction.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Vintage I Do

QUESTION: I have in my possession my great-grandmother’s wedding dress and accessories. They have been passed down from mother to daughter since my great-grandmother left them to her daughter. They’re in remarkably good shape, considering that they date from the1890s or perhaps earlier. I’d like to know more about how to care for them and since I have no daughters of my own, where I might donate such vintage clothing. Can you offer me any suggestions?

ANSWER: Vintage clothing has undergone somewhat of a Renaissance. As more and more people got interested in history and antiques through shows like the Antiques Roadshow, naturally attention turned to what people wore back then. Also, the proliferation of consignment shops selling vintage clothing has brought more people in touch with well-preserved older items.

Before looking at where you can learn more about the dress and accessories you have, you should understand the difference between old clothes, vintage clothes, and vintage costumes.

Old clothes are just that. Usually, they’re items that people recycle to charities so that less fortunate people can benefit from them. They can take in any time period, but are usually more recent in age. Vintage clothes, on the other hand, are items in good condition from particular periods of history, such as the 1890s, the 1920s, or the 1950s. And vintage costumes are sets of clothes in a style typical of a particular country or historical period. While vintage clothing can be purchased and worn and accessorized to complement today’s fashion styles, vintage costumes are special and can only be worn on special occasions like fancy dress events or in film or the theater.

One of the best places to learn about vintage clothing is at your local historical society. Often the organization will have a museum in which all sorts of historical objects are on display. Some have extensive vintage clothing and costume collections, but unfortunately, most have limited gallery space, so much of the clothing doesn’t get displayed. Many colleges also have costume collections, depending on the courses they offer. These are often unknown to the public, again because of the lack of exhibition space, staff, money, or interest.

The vintage clothing and costumes are usually donated by area residents. They bring in grandmother's or great-aunt Sarah’s clothes that they discovered when cleaning out her house after she died. The items run the gamut in type and condition. Sometimes they have an interesting story or provenance. Aunt Sarah may have even pinned a note to certain items.

These donations may then sit in the institution’s attic waiting for someone to resurrect and restore them. They present opportunities for a hands-on learning experience with costumes. Volunteering at your local historical society will enable you to to gain access to reference materials and vintage costumes. You can also view, close-up, exquisite workmanship and fabrics not available to the average person.

Even though museum visitors rate costume exhibits as one of the most popular attractions, sadly, some museums have little interest in displaying their costume holdings. At one Massachusetts historic site a visiting costume conservator was horrified to find a gown made by premier Parisian designer Worth stored in a shower stall. The director's reaction to her protests was "Why should I care about a woman's dress?"

While this attitude is common and a reason more costumes aren't on display, it opens the door for those who do care. The advantage of volunteering at an unenlightened institution is that a volunteer working on costumes might have a freer hand there than at an institution where the curator considers every thread sacred.

A few museums organize groups and programs centered around their costumes. These often include special seminars and teas, access to archives and the costume collection, and a newsletter.

These are ideal places to learn how to preserve your vintage wedding items. You’ll learn to wear white cotton gloves, what cleaning methods are best, and about different fabric types and safe storage methods, plus the names of suppliers of conservation supplies, such as acid-free boxes and tissue paper.

If you don't want to get involved in volunteering or groups, but want a close-up look at period clothing, some museums will set up appointments with their curators to see their collections.

And before blindly donating your items, be sure to ask how they’ll be cared for and if they’ll ever be displayed.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Schlock Clocks

QUESTION: I have a clock made by United Metal Goods Manufacturing Company, Inc., in Brooklyn, New York, in the shape of a pirate ship. Can you tell me who made my clock and when? It has three chrome masts, each with three sails, a ship’s wheel containing the clock dial mounted on the front, and a light imbedded in each end. 

ANSWER: Your ship clock is an Art Deco stylized version of a pirate ship, made in the mid-1930s. United Metal Goods Manufacturing Company produced unique and decorative timepieces as well as staple clocks and timepieces, mostly electric with reliable electric motors produced by the Westinghouse Corporation.

The foundation of most of these clocks was a remarkable electric motor and gearing designed by Anthony William Haydon between 1931 and 1939. His power system allowed these clocks to also perform other functions, such as twirling a cowboy's lariat or moving a figure in a graceful Hula. United Metal Goods made an astounding variety of animated clocks by using the Haydon patents.

braham Levy founded the United Clock Company in Brooklyn, New York in 1905. He remained president of the company until his death in 1961.In August of 1968, United bought the inventory, equipment, and tools of the Sessions Clock Company of Forestville, Connecticut, and for a short time marked clocks made at the Sessions factory “Sessions-United.” Eventually, United expanded its operations and became United Metal Goods Manufacturing Company.

The clocks that United Clock Company produced became known as "Carnival” clocks because carnival owners gave them as the "big" prizes at carnival games. Most of the time, however, players were never able to win these clocks because carnival owners often rigged the games. They eventually earned the monicker “schlock” clocks for their tasteless design.

United cast many of its clocks from spelter, a zinc alloy, including its ships clocks. The company offered its clocks in a variety of styles including the banjo clock, leaf sculpture clock, wagon wheel clock, and the traditional wall clock. Mantel clocks included a carriage and horses clock, Statue of Liberty clock, scales of justice clock, and an animated light-up fireplace clock. United also made other styles of clocks for the home including trophy bowling clocks, ship clocks, teddy bear clocks, and train clocks. They even produced pocket watch clocks that hung on the wall or from the ceiling.

These often tasteless clocks became a necessary decorative accessory for mantels in the homes of prosperous young couples in the 1930s and 1940s. The tradition of a ship model on the mantel comes from New England, where older families made much of their wealth in whaling. In that case, the ship model represented a constant reminder of the source of the family wealth. It was natural that the ship model eventually merged with the mantel clock.

As people moved to apartments in the cities, space for the tall clock vanished, leading to the popularity of mantel clocks. Often, manufacturers combined these clocks with figurative elements such as dogs, horses, goddesses, or whatever, limited only by imagination and their bad taste. United Metal Goods produced a long line of cheap, tasteless clocks that have since become cultural icons.