Making the Christmas Tree Modern

Making the Christmas Tree Modern

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and concentric circles of light and shadow danced in a modernist tableau, all over the ceiling.” Wait, what? If you’re accustomed to old-fashioned fragrant evergreen trees, sticky with sap and heavily laden with ornaments and string lights, the spare glow and futuristic lines of the modern Christmas tree will knock your proverbial stockings off. The first thing you might notice about these trees is that they look “Modern” with a capital M—as in postwar, midcentury design. Yet they’re not vintage, and they weren’t manufactured until fairly recently. While these novel trees were designed by engineer and builder Lawrence Stoecker in the 1960s, they were not produced until Stoecker’s grandson Matt Bliss launched The Modern Christmas Tree in 2011.

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Designing Disneyland

Designing Disneyland

In the mid-1950s, when Walt Disney’s long-planned, eponymous California theme park was taking shape, he found himself butting heads with a member of the his construction crew. “One of the contractors on the job tried to substitute plastic for wrought iron, and Walt insisted on authenticity,” says Chris Nichols, whose new book Walt Disney’s Disneyland (Taschen, $60) lavishly illustrates the creative process of the park’s creation, from drawing board to ribbon-cutting. “Imagineer John Hench said that if the design elements were not authentic, guests would have a harder time suspending disbelief and placing themselves in the story,” Nichols tells AD PRO. That, in a nutshell, is what sets Disneyland apart from the scores of other amusement parks, fairs, and attractions that both presaged and followed its 1955 debut: No other park of its kind was designed with so much emphasis on the idea of transporting visitors, both physically and narratively, into another world, as though a teacup ride might actually sweep one down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland.

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Stephanie Syjuco

Stephanie Syjuco

What does it mean to be American? How do we look? What does it mean to look as though we belong? Nearly every endeavor Stephanie Syjuco undertakes is motivated by a question, and depends on the viewer to provide part of the answer, or to ask a question of themselves. Her work questions everything from notions of identity, to broader cultural and economic concerns, such as, what is the value of labor? Why are logos important to consumers? What makes an object counterfeit? She is fascinated by systems, so her work usually involves multiples in various forms, from off-the-rack clothing to crocheted knock-offs of luxury accessories and ersatz pieces of currency. Her projects tend to capture the friction that occurs where a standardized entity meets an individual (or many millions of individuals). Every person who views or interacts with one of Syjuco’s projects will experience it differently, depending on their own role in the larger global networks of fashion, consumerism, money, and labor. Running through each of her projects is an emphasis on context, and how we see things differently when the backdrop changes.

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Philadelphia Spotlights Design That Solves Problems and Builds Community

Philadelphia Spotlights Design That Solves Problems and Builds Community

The term “design fair” may call to mind a particular mise-en-scène: a constellation of temporary gallery displays full of limited-edition works by boldface-name designers, glossy catalogs, perhaps a few celebrity sightings, and the clink of Champagne glasses at an invitation-only vernissage. That may do for New York and Miami, but in the City of Brotherly Love, each October, the design festival belongs to the entire city: DesignPhiladelphia, organized by the Center for Architecture and Design, which this year packed more than 120 events into 11 days running October 3–13. Its programming emphasizes innovation, business-civic partnerships, and adaptive reuse. This year's theme, “Design Purpose,” sought to showcase emerging designers who are thinking globally and prototyping their ideas locally. Now in its 14th year, DesignPhiladelphia hit a new level of chic this season with dazzling light installations by Klip Collective, a keynote talk by graphic design legend Paula Scher of Pentagram, and tours of the city’s many distinct design- and antiques-rich neighborhoods.

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Lofty Ambitions

Lofty Ambitions

In the heart of Philadelphia’s Callowhill neighborhood, on the fourth floor of a former industrial building that overlooks the new Rail Park, a world of treasures awaits. Down a hallway lined with smart Harvey Probber chairs upholstered in a fabric from David Adjaye for Knoll Textiles, the light-filled offices of design firm Fisher Grey (fishergrey.com) look move-in ready. Partners Joshua Thibault and Gregg Krantz relocated to this spacious loft about 18 months ago.

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About Face

About Face

Jaws dropped in February, 2018 when the official portraits of former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The Obamas’ selection of the artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald represented a number of firsts: the painters were the first African- Americans commissioned to create official presidential portraits, and the first to take a non-traditional aesthetic approach to the task. (Most official presidential portraits are sober, realistic likenesses with few artistic flourishes.) But there was another “first” about the Obama paintings when they were first revealed, unfolding on cable news and online: people all over the world were talking about the meaning of portraiture. Observers lavished praise on the paintings and singled them out for criticism, adopted them as lock screen images on their smartphones, photoshopped themselves into the graphic gown that Michelle wears in her painting, or into the lush field of greenery that surrounds Barack in his. Were they “accurate”? Were they dignified? Did they reflect appropriately the office? Did they send the right message? It’s hard to remember when an official portrait triggered this kind of conversation in the artworld, much less on Twitter.

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From Rouge to Rage

From Rouge to Rage

Round about January 2016, we became very interested in the colour pink. And we weren’t alone: the streets were full of pink pussyhats, placards, and other forms of protest gear, all mobilised in response to Donald Trump’s inauguration. This politicisation was all the more striking because a particularly inoffensive version of the hue – originally marketed as rose gold, but now universally known as “millennial pink” – had dominated recent fashion cycles. As design historians, we were fascinated by how the colour could take on drastically different meanings, all of which were nonetheless totally legible to the general public. So, we looked into it.

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Craft in the Abstract

Craft in the Abstract

Visit the American Craft Council’s digital collection of Craft Horizons, peruse them in chronological order, and you’ll find that the design trajectory across its four decades in print is immediately apparent. Start with the first few issues, which were published during World War II and look like bulletins from a government agency or humanitarian organization. Soon, photography is introduced – but only in black and white, and the covers retain their austere, imposing logo, a stylized eagle with its wings spread wide. Scroll a bit further into the late 1940s, and suddenly Renaissance paintings and Mughal miniatures bloom in full color. Then, in the spring of 1950, something very different appears for the first time on the cover: abstraction. A red, white, and black stencil by the Spanish avant-garde painter Joan Miró. It has all the curves and swagger of a piece of studio jewelry by Art Smith; a Renaissance painting it was not.

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Encountering Alice Kagawa Parrott

Encountering Alice Kagawa Parrott

When artists are gone, we usually have two ways of getting to know them visually: through their work, and through photographs or film documenting them or their studio. Alice Kagawa Parrott, a fiber artist, ceramist, and ACC Fellow, died in 2009, at 80. Though there is something irksome about accomplished artists – particularly women artist who were active in the middle of the 20th century – being “rediscovered” by style-seekers on the internet, Parrott’s work is indeed enjoying a well-deserved resurgence of interest, with articles appearing in the past several years on the Gravel & Gold collective’s blog and Esoteric Survey. Her color sense and the pastoral beauty of her home and studio are enormously appealing and feel quite contemporary: She clearly loved magenta, and her indoor-outdoor workspace looks chic, unpretentious, and dreamlike. Her work was recently featured in the Museum of Arts and Design’s 2015 exhibition “Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and Today.” Yet even in the studio craft world, Parrott’s name is less recognizable than that of Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, Ruth Asawa, or Toshiko Takaezu, her friend from Cranbrook in the early 1950s.

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Levi's Denim Art Contest

Levi's Denim Art Contest

Jeans are a kind of uniform and a category of clothing unto themselves. In a pinch, they offer a face-saving way to punt the bottom half of an ensemble, acting as an always-cool stand-in for something more well thought through. Titans of Silicon Valley regularly turn up in jeans to give talks and make major new product announcements. Jeans are different from pants as a broad category because they mean something distinctive, much in the way that high heels are a category apart from shoes.

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Power Object: Rose B. Simpson’s Maria

Power Object: Rose B. Simpson’s Maria

Every inch of Maria is matte black, except for the lines and curves of the shiny, geometric design that animates its surface. It looks as though these glossy areas were carefully burnished to make them visually pop against their flat background. The abstract shapes are inspired by the work of Maria Martinez and echo Pueblo motifs of a vast and dramatic natural landscape dating back centuries. As for horsepower, you’d have to ask the artist, Rose B. Simpson. (1)

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Keeping up with the Eamses

Keeping up with the Eamses

In her 1963 manifesto of emergent feminism, The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan identifies the middle class housewife as the “chief customer” of American business, and theorized that it was women’s unmet need for intellectual stimulation, not avarice or keeping-up-with-the- Joneses, that was driving their eager consumerism. She dismisses domestic labor as a non-occupation, a routine of make-work that diverts women from meaningful engagement with the world. Friedan’s point of view assumes that the care of home and family exists in a kind of bizarro world of non-professional work, in which women’s intellect was all but wasted.

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Wendell Castle, a Legend of the Furniture and Design Worlds, Dies at 85

Wendell Castle, a Legend of the Furniture and Design Worlds, Dies at 85

Since the morning of Sunday, January 21, design Instagram has been awash in images of sinuous objects that defy easy categorization. A silver chair looks as though it could be the tongue of a colossal human figure; a massive white seat resembles nothing so much as a gigantic, gleaming back tooth. Candy-colored neon lamps sit on bases that resemble sturdy elephant’s feet. In some of these images, a slight, silver-haired, bespectacled man looks at the camera, seated on a wild creation with three legs, or at the edge of a sculptural object comprised of curvaceous cones and scoops. Happily reclined, as though he had made himself at home in a craggy, natural rock formation that was never meant for human comfort, Wendell Castle often had the look of a friendly genius who didn’t quite know what all the fuss was about.

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Fake Fur: An Essay

Fake Fur: An Essay

Stuffed animals beckon to us constantly: from retail kiosks, amusement park prize shelves, and toy stores, eventually finding their “forever homes” in countless childhood bedrooms around the world. They elicit deep sentimental attachment, and even love. Unlike pets, there is theoretically no limit to their lifespans. With us from the first moments of our lives through the scrapes and dramas of youth, they are witness to every secret embarrassment, comfort us through every lonely worry. One of the most famous narratives involving a stuffed toy, the story of The Velveteen Rabbit, is so poignant that it can move adults to tears. Cloaked in fake fur, stuffed animals carry real emotional heft, and occupy a singular place in the history of play. But we don’t usually live with them forever. Because stuffed toys are associated primarily with childhood, their presence in other walks of life—like contemporary art—jolts us with conflicting impressions of something very innocent paired with something much more grown-up. This may be because, like fairy tales, stuffed animals’ own history is surprisingly dark.

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Steampunk Meets Contemporary Luxury in Amuneal's Creations

Steampunk Meets Contemporary Luxury in Amuneal's Creations

Situated on a busy industrial corridor of Philadelphia’s Frankford neighborhood, Amuneal’s 60,000-square-foot fabrication space looks every bit an artisanal design mecca. Furniture and shelving are meticulously crafted from metal and wood every square inch of which has been treated by hand to achieve just the right surface texture and color. Finished pieces are packed with installation instructions and diagrams that are almost works of art in their own right.

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Ceramic Excellence for Archie Bray

Ceramic Excellence for Archie Bray

This catalog from Archie Bray Foundation features writing on five different Bray fellows of contemporary ceramic arts. Each year the Bray invites a writer into their realm to survey their rich creative community, spend time with the artists, and create a body of writing guided by their experience. Their 2017 writer-in-residence is Sarah Archer.  All of the writing in this catalog was produced by Archer.

This year’s fellows include Ling Chun, Nicholas Danielson, En Iwamura, MyungJin Kim, and Noah Riedel.

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Exposing Time

Exposing Time

Museum visitors all seem to be dedicated photographers these days, navigating galleries as they capture vivid design details and immersive art installations with their smartphones, then sharing their images instantly. To view art and to experience a museum through a smartphone camera’s viewfinder is so commonplace now as to be unremarkable. Such a picture is not so much a portrait of a particular work of art as it is proof—shared with a wide social network—of the photographer’s own encounter with it. What we now think of as “old- fashioned” photography defies the instant gratification and endless reproducibility of a smartphone image. The recent and unintentional specialness of analog image-making may explain its renaissance in current artistic practice. Even the camera obscura—a tool that was used as a drawing aid for centuries before photography was invented—has found an exceptionally patient champion in the person of Vera Lutter, a contemporary pioneer of the ultra-long exposure image.

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Open-Source Activism

Open-Source Activism

Two social movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, organized labor and women’s suffrage, both emerged just as photography was coming into its own as a documentary form, and banners appear in many images of their marches and protests. They affect the way we see these events in the most literal sense, visually populating scenes of history with their words. Black-and-white images from the turn of the 20th century capture women in fine Edwardian dress and impressive hats, carrying the banners they made to champion the causes of votes for women. In one example from 1917 by the photographers Harris and Ewing in the collection of the Library of Congress, an unidentified young women in a fur collar holds a banner that reads: “RESISTANCE TO TYRANNY IS OBEDIENCE TO GOD.” Another image, circa 1910, shows a group of suffragettes holding umbrellas on which they’ve painted messages entreating observers to join them at a planned march in Washington, DC, “rain or shine.” It’s not difficult to imagine these pared-down expressions as tweets.

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Inside Philadelphia’s New Museum of the American Revolution

Inside Philadelphia’s New Museum of the American Revolution

Philadelphia’s Old City is thick with American history. Within a short walking distance, visitors can see the Liberty Bell, stand inside Independence Hall and behold the ruins of the original President’s House, where George Washington and John Adams both lived in the 1790s. For good measure, there are always a few historic interpreters in 18th-century costume inviting tour groups to step lively over the cobblestones.

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