Silly Saturday: The Truth About Hello Kitty & Other Popular Animated Charaters
Originally introduced in 1974 by the Japanese toy company Sanrio1, Hello Kitty has burgeoned from a cute whimsical graphic to an international marketing powerhouse. Hello Kitty has just celebrated its 40th anniversary and now adorns everything from pencil cases to automatic weapons.
New Yorker contributor, Colin Stokes has some fun investigating the identities of Hello Kitty a few other animated characters you may recognize. Here’s part of Stokes’ take on Mickey Mouse:
Mickey Mouse is not a mouse. If you look very closely at him, you can see that he wears gloves. Mice do not have the capability, nor the desire, to put gloves on their hands.
The Dallas Museum of Art is currently running an exhibit of sculptural jewelry by Twentieth Century jewelry design pioneer Art Smith. The show features Smith’s work along with several of his contemporaries, artists who were influenced by the biomorphic forms employed by sculptors such as Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Calder.
According to Uncreated, the Dallas Museum of Art’s blog, The DMA “this year we will not only feature the work of Art Smith but also, … make plans for future exhibitions of jewelry and other design arts.”
The exhibition, From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith runs now through December 7, 2014 at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Web site calls Albert Paley, “one of the world’s most distinguished metalsmiths.” During his more than 50 year career Paley has worked at all scales from jewelry to large public installations and in a varied range of metals: steel, brass, iron, copper, gold to name a few.1
In 1995, Paley was awarded awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Architects, the AIA’s highest award to a non-architect. He is the only metalsmith to have received that award.1
With ever-rising gas prices and greater concerns about our environment, electric and hy-brid motor vehicles are gaining popularity. We may think of these automobiles as a recent development but, earlier this year, Design News posted an interesting slideshow of the history of electric cars which were designed in the late Nineteenth Century and throughout the Twentieth.
Thomas Edison (left) and an electric automobile that used one of his nickel-iron batteries (c. 1910). Source.
Pictured here we see that even American inventor Thomas Edison had designed a version of an electric car. In a 1911 interview with the New York Times, Edison stated that the vehicle’s battery “is simple, light, easy to take care of, and far more efficient than the old lead battery. It has none of the disadvantages of the latter, which resulted in bringing electric transportation into such disfavor abroad.”
Closed for 25 Years Staten Island's Paramount Theatre Survives
Nick Carr of ScoutingNY.com takes a fascinatingly beautiful, yet eerie photo tour of Staten Island’s Paramount Theatre. According to Carr, the Paramount, which opened in 1930, was Staten Island’s most elaborate movie theater and even served at one time as a nightclub and concert venue for many of New York City’s rock bands. The building, however, has been closed and has sat vacant for the past twenty-five years.
Frank Lloyd Wright, Arthur B. Heurtley House (1902), Oak Park IL. Photo Credit: Bill Bowen Copyright 2014.
The Arthur B. Huertley House is one of the finest examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’sPrairie homes. Built, in 1092 for banker Arthur B. Huertley and his family, the home features a “broad chimney, low-hipped roof, deep overhangs, concrete base and tapered walls”1. Wright used two colors of brick in contrasting horizontal bands to emphasize the building’s horizontal lines and convey a sense of hugging the land.
Like Wright’s earlier William G. Fricke House (1901), the Heurtley House features a prow shaped porch pictured in the above photo flanked by two enormous planters.
All Wright Walk 2014: Peter A. Beachy House (1906)
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed this residence for Peter and Susan Emma Beachy immediately after returning from his first visit to Japan; this enormous house reflects the Japanese influence (though Wright himself rarely if ever admitted to being influenced by anything or anyone). Another home featured on the All Wright 2014, the Hills-DeCaro House (1906) also exhibits Japanese influence.1
The current owners are superb, ideal and sensitive stewards of the remarkable Beachy House.
Frank Lloyd Wright, Peter A. Beachy House (1906).
Below is a detail shot of the Beachy House exterior.
It is difficult to believe that Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hills-DeCaro House (1906) was originally a Stick-style house that Wright was commissioned to remodel by Nathan Moore who the property next door. It is even more difficult to believe that most of the existing structure was rebuilt in the late 1970’s after a devastating fire destroyed all but the first floor of the home. The home is jointly named for the home’s original owners the Hills and for the DeCaros who restored the home close to Wright’s original vision.
Frank Lloyd Wright, Hills-DeCaro House (1906, restored 1977-78), Oak Park, IL.
With steeply pitched roofs and flared eaves, the home is an example of Japanese influence on Wright’s architecture after his 1905 trip there. The Peter A. Beachy House also exhibits this Eastern style.
Hills-DeCaro House exterior detail of roof and eaves.
Early in her career Isabel Roberts worked as a draftsman in Wright’s Oak Studio. According to the brochure that accompanied the All Wright Walk, Wright designed the structure a home for Miss Roberts, her mother and an unmarried sister. Miss Roberts later moved to Florida and established her own architectural firm there.
In 1927 new owners made changes to the home’s exterior. They hired as the project’s architect, William Drummond whose own home can be seen in the background of this photo.
The home changed owners again and in 1955 the current owners “persuaded Wright himself to remodel the interior.”1 Wright updated the flooring and woodwork and added a dramatic stepped ceiling consistent with the style of the interiors of architect’s 1950s Usonian buildings.
Left Frank Lloyd Wright, Isabel Roberts House (1908), River Forest, IL. Right: William E. Drummond House (1909)
Frank Lloyd Wright, Isabel Roberts House (1908), River Forest, IL.
It has been seventy-five years since illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans, children’s book Madeline was published. The series of books follows the adventures of a mischievous Parisian schoolgirl and has been favorite reading for several generations of readers, this writer included.
Ludwig Bemelmans, Cover Illustration for Madeline (1939). Image source.
In addition to his children’s books, Ludwig Bemelmans created cover illustrations for the leading American magazines of the Twentieth Century, designed sets for a Broadway play and is renowned for his murals in The Carlyle Hotel in New York.
Mary Blair, the Disney Artist You've Probably Never Heard Of
The Huffington Post recently ran an article on Disney art director, Mary Blair, whose most recognizable contribution to Disney is the design of the “It’s a Small World" ride. One of her concept illustrations is shown below.
Blair’s background in modern art and watercolors influenced her work on such productions as “Peter Pan,” “Cinderella,” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Disney’s animated productions during the mid-Twentieth century all bear her influence.
While teak was Hans Wegner’s medium of choice, he did execute a few chair designs in bent plywood. His 1963 Shell Chair, also popularly referred to as “The Smiling Chair” is perhaps his most stunning bent plywood design.1
The Shell Chair was originally produced in a limited run in 1963, but never really took off. The design was shelved until 1997 when the chair saw a resurgence in popularity and remains in production today.2
Danish Designer Hans Wegner was admired the work of Pablo Picasso and drew inspiration for his Ox Chair from Picasso’s surrealist paintings of the 1930s. Like Wegner’s Shell Chair which was introduced in the early 1960s, the chair was not successful upon it’s first introduction. The chair, considered too difficult to manufacture during the period, was pulled from production.
In the mid-1980s, furniture-making technology had advanced to the point where the Ox Chair could be produced at a reasonable cost. The chair was reintroduced to the market in 1985 and remains popular today.
Hans J. Wenger, sitting in his Ox Chair (circa 1960). Photographer unknown. Source.
Unlike Hans Wegner’s earlier works, The Wishbone Chair (1949) and the Peacock Chair (1947), the Round Chair did not draw as directly from past furniture types. The Round chair, or “Round One” as Wegner always referred to it, was uniquely modern and uniquely Danish.
Most Americans’ introduction to the Round Chair occurred during the televised Kennedy/Nixon Debates in 1960. According to the chair’s manufacturer, PP Møbler the piece “was chosen mainly for its comfort and genuine quality.” After the debates Americans began to refer to the Round Chair as simply “The Chair.”
Senator John F. Kennedy sitting in Wegner’s Round Chair while preparing for a debate against Richard M. Nixon, 1960. Source
Hans J. Wegner, Wishbone Chair with cane seat (1949). Source.
Danish furniture designer Hans J. Wegner’s Wishbone Chair was one of a series of chair designs inspired by Chinese court chairs from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).1 The Wishbone Chairwas one of the last of the “China” series and perhaps Wegner’s most famous chair design.
"The chair does not exist. The good chair is a task one is never completely done with." — Hans J. Wegner
This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Danish Furniture designer, Hans J. Wegner. During his prolific career Wegner designed over 500 chairs, many being the most popular and recognizable mid-century furniture.
Hans J. Wegner with models of his chairs, 1997. Photo credit: Associated Press. Source.
In honor of Wegner’s cennteniary, the Designmuseum Danmark is running an exhibition, Just One Good Chair, highlighting the designer’s work. For those of use unable to attend the exhibition, we’ll be spotlighting one of Wegner’s iconic chair designs each day this week.
It may be difficult to believe but when the twenty-story Majestic Theatre opened its doors in 1906 it was Chicago’s tallest building. According the a post on designslinger.com, the building designed by architect Edmund R. Krause “was also the first public auditorium built in the city following the horrific Iroquois Theatre fire that claimed the lives of over 700 matinee attendees in 1903.”
The structure originally served as a Vaudeville theatre and office space, but as Vaudeville’s popularity waned in the late 1920s the Majestic converted to a movie house. According to designslinger the building underwent another metamorphosis in 2005 when it was sold to the Nederlander Organization. The theatre underwent renovation, was renamed “Bank of America Theatre,” and is home once again tolive theatre productions. The office space portion of the building, which was sitting virtually vacant at the time of the sale, was converted into hotel rooms.
Norman Bel Geddes was one of the leading designers of the first half of the twentieth century, yet he is largely forgotten today. The designer’s fame seems to have been eclipsed by that of his daughter, actress Barbara Bel Geddes.1
Perhaps the most prestigious and best-remembered of Bel Geddes’s projects was the General Motors Pavilion, “Futurama,” designed for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Bel Geddes began his career as a theatrical designer, so it is fitting that “Futurama” like most of the designer’s work, was ephemeral and exists now only in photographs or on film.1 Why should Bel Geddes be remembered? Is his work still considered relevant today?
Bel Geddes’s Set Design & Marriage
The designer was born Norman Melancton Geddes in Adrian, MI in 1893, and he changed his last name in 1916 when he married writer Helen Belle Sneider. The new surname was a combination of her middle name “Belle” and his last name. Bel Geddes “studied briefly at Cleveland Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago”2 but never graduated from either institution.
Prairie Mod recently posted that several Richard Neutra buildings on the Orange Coast College campus in Costa Mesa, CA are threatened with demolition. The buildings slated to be thrown down are the planetarium and the mathematics building.
According to an article in Coast Report Online, a student Web site, additional confusion concerning the future of the structures lies in whether Neutra was the actual architect. The article goes on to say that Neutra may have supervised the plans, but Neutra’s partner “Robert Alexander may have been the actual architect.”
Environmental and engineering surveys of the buildings are scheduled before the decision process can continue. Design and Desire will follow the developments.
Recently our friends at Art Deco Architecture posted this stunning image of the Niagara Mohawk Building is located in my hometown, Syracuse, NY. I used to pass this building every day on my way to work at another, although less impressive, Art Deco structure, the State Tower Building.
Melvin L. King, Niagara Mohawk Building (1932). Photographer unknown. Source
As soon as the snow melts (if it ever does), I’ll get out and take more photos of this Art Deco masterwork to add to Design and Desire. And to our friends at Art Deco Architecture, if you do get the opportunity to visit Syracuse, NY, please don’t hesitate to look me up!
An article on the Washington Post Web site discusses the challenges facing the rennovation: “how to update it for more contemporary library functions while respecting the essentials of Mies’s architectural vocabulary, and how to expand it for other uses — possibly residential or office space.” Essentially, can Mies’s minimalist modernist design survive a post-modern overhaul?
Possible New Life for Julia Morgan's Pasadena YWCA
Very interesting news has come to us via Pasadena Weekly. California architect Julia Morgan’s 1921 YWCA Building in Pasadena, CA is under consideration for adaptive reuse. According to the article on the Pasadena Weekly Web site, “[T]he Pasadena City Council reviewed development plans for the long-vacant YWCA building, which is expected to be converted into a boutique hotel.”
Today most of us can barely afford one home, but back in the prosperous days of the Twentieth Century many members of the rising middle class had expendable income to spend on “leisure homes.” In a 2009 post, grain edit shared illustrations from a booklet published by the Douglas Fir Plywood Association entitled, “Second Homes for Leisure Living.” he brochure is a collection of 16 mid century modern cabin plans by various architects including George Matsumoto, Frederick Liebhardt, David George and Henrik Bull.
Not only has the basic form of the initials “WB” encased in a shield changed over the decades, but according to Co.Design, “Filmmakers have always been encouraged to tailor it to suit the individual tone of their films.”
Our friend David Thompson of the Art Deco Buildings blog shared some terrific photos of his trip to Greenbelt, Maryland earlier this year. According to Thompson:
In 1936, Greenbelt … was built in Maryland between Washington DC and Baltimore. It was a bold experiment in co-operative living with all the town’s businesses and even the newspaper co-cooperatively owned by the residents. The homogeneous houses and flats where built around a city center that included shops, a theater and an elementary school.
Editor’s note: This post originally ran in January 25, 2011.
“Everything is sculpture. Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture.” — Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was one of the Twentieth Century’s most important and influential sculptors. He “believed that through sculpture and architecture, one could better understand the struggle with nature”(1). Noguchi’s father was a Japanese poet and his mother, an American writer. Although the artist was born in Los Angeles (2), he spent much of his childhood in Japan. He returned to the United States as a teenager in order to attend boarding school (3,4). Noguchi would remain an “internationalist, [and travel] extensively throughout his life”(3).
As a young man, Noguchi began studying medicine at Columbia University. During this period he was also enrolled in sculpture classes and soon “realized that art, not medicine, was his true calling”(1). “When he was only twenty Noguchi had his first exhibition in New York City”(5). In 1927, “he received a Guggenheim Fellowship…that allowed him at age twenty-three to apprentice under Constantin Brancusi”(5). Brancusi’s influence is evident in Noguchi’s work throughout his prolific career.
Two years later, Noguchi was to meet another individual who would have a profound effect upon his life, “the visionary architect, futurist, and poet”(5), Buckminster Fuller. Fuller’s “utopian outlook greatly influenced Noguchi”(5) and the two became life-long friends. Fuller’s ideas, no doubt, had an impact on Noguchi’s “increased social awareness”(5) that led the sculptor to establish “Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the patriotism of Japanese-Americans”(3) in 1942. That same year, Noguchi endured “a voluntary stay in a Japanese interment camp for several months”(5). After the War, the artist returned to Japan to explore “the wrenching issues raised during the previous years. His ideas and feelings are reflected in his work of the time”(3).
Dancer and choreographer Martha Graham is another figure who greatly influenced Noguchi’s career. “As early as 1935”(3) he designed sets for her company and collaborated with other “dancers/choreographers Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, and George Balanchine [as well as] composer John Cage”(3). According to scholar Nancy Grove, with work such as this “Noguchi challenged Modernist prohibitions against commerce and genre-crossing”(2).
Noguchi would blur the line between pure art and functional design with his iconic creation Radio Nurse for Zenith Radio Corporation in 1937 (2). In the 1940s George Nelson, design director for Herman Miller, wrote an article called “How to Make a Table” using one of Noguchi’s designs as an illustration for the piece. This design eventually “became his famous ‘coffee table,’ originally introduced in 1947 and reissued in 1984”(6). Noguchi’s 1951 Akari Lamps of “paper, bamboo, and metal”(2) borrowed their structure from traditional Japanese shoji lamps, yet these lamps’ “asymmetrical shapes”(4) were inspired by Brancusi’s work (4).
In the 1960s Noguchi and architect Louis Kahn collaborated on a design for a playground (3). “The Adele Levy Memorial Playground, intended to occupy eight acres of New York City’s Riverside Park”(7) was one of a series of “playscapes” the sculptor designed in which “the standard swing, slide, and climbing structure”(7) was replaced by “an array of geometric shapes”(7) that children could climb and play upon. Sadly, the project was eventually rejected by city officials and never realized.
“Noguchi died in 1988;…half his ashes are buried in the Noguchi Museum garden, the rest at his compound in Japan. In life as in death, Noguchi honored both his Japanese and American heritage”(4). For more insight on Isamu Noguchi’s his life and work and the remarkable people who shaped the artist’s career, visit “On Becoming an Artist: Isamu Noguchi and His Contemporaries, 1922–1960.” The exhibition runs now through April 24, 2011 at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York.
After the Second World War, Italy emerged from the War’s rubble and its fashion industry rivaled that of Paris in its innovation and luxury. An exhibition opening in April 2014 at the V&A Museum in London, The Glamour of Italian Fashion: 1945-2014, examines this transition.
According to the New York Times article, the Industrial Trust Building ”became known as the ‘Superman building,’ in the mistaken belief that it had appeared in an establishing shot for the Adventures of Superman television series of the 1950s.
The Industrial Trust Building made Providence’s WLNE-TV’s list of Most Endangered Properties in Providence. The building’s current owners, High Rock Development, hope to convert it into luxury apartments. So far their plans have stalled, and the future of the skyscraper is uncertain.
Thank you to Facebook friend Dave Higgins for bringing this hilarious post from Patrick Smith of BuzzFeed.com to our attention. Often designers and editors catch these graphic faux pas before going into production, but sometimes they don’t. These layout failures might make you wince, but there’s a good chance they’ll make you laugh.
Design and Desire in the Twentieth Century is again indebted to one of our favorite bloggers, Amy at Aqua-Velvet, for introducing us to the modernist paintings and textile designs of Elise Cavanna. In addition to having been an accomplished visual artist, the striking, six foot tall Ms. Cavanna had a successful career in theatre and film. She is perhaps best known for her comedic work opposite W.C. Fields during the 1930s.
“Everyone who plays a game puts a little of themselves into the experience and takes away something that is wholly unique.”
– Unattributed quote from placard in the Art of the Video Game Exhibition
Technology Becomes an Art Form
Thirty years ago, my Aesthetics professor at Syracuse University, Larry Bakke, explained that every technology eventually becomes an art form. For instance, one hundred years ago most people thought that motion pictures were a fad, a toy. People who worked in the film industry during that era were looked down upon. The same held true for the days of early television. Now there are museums, archives, books and college courses devoted to film and television history. Thirty years ago when I was an undergraduate art student Space Invaders and Pac Man were just popular video games, not much more. Time spent playing these video games was considered wasted time.
“One of the first major exhibitions to explore the 40-year evolution of video games,”1 The Art of Video Games is currently running through January 19, 2014 at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. The video game has evolved into an art form whose time has come.
Color Coded Game System Kiosks
The Art of Video Games exhibit, curated by Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels,2 is one of an exceptionally welll organized show. Video games are organized by gaming systems and a kiosk is dedicated to each system. The video game development is divided into five eras, beginning with the Atari and Coleco systems of the late 1970s up to today’s Wii, xBox and PlayStation systems. Each era is assigned a color; the kiosks are color coded by era and presented chronologically from earliest to most recent.
Each kiosk contains a sample game system controller and short videos that demonstrate and explain four of the most popular games for each system. The games represented in each kiosk are categorized by game type: Action, Target, Adventure or Tactics.
A few kiosks in the exhibit allow visitors to sample playing several of the most popular games of the past 40 years, including Pac Man, Myst and the Secret of Monkey Island. Unfortunately some kiosks were placed close to screens showing video interviews with game designers, and load sounds emanating from game play made it rather difficult to hear the interviews.
Last September Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap paid a visit to the Exmore Diner in Exmore Virginia. According to Mod Betty’s post, “the Exmore Diner is the only vintage diner on Virginia’s eastern shore. The diner, which opened in 1954, features pink, black and yellow tile work as well as a “swell neon clock.”