Document 40: MANUAL ARTS AND THE MODERN ART MOVEMENT

This document is, frankly, a mystery to me, and deserves more investigation. It is interesting, nonetheless, because it shows a group of professional teachers, already struggling to locate a goal that defines their educational role more cogently. Now, confronted with a revolution in design, they are evidently puzzled about how to respond.

The drawings immediately  below poignantly show distinctions between traditional and modern furniture design. Perhaps most remarkable about these illustrations is that they come from Paul T Frankl's 1928 New Dimensions: The Decorative Arts of Today in Words and Pictures. A paean to his mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frankl's treatise of "words and pictures" is one of several early explorations of "modern"  that emerged in the latter half of the 1920s decade. It is this fwind of fresh ideas about design that  the Industrial Arts instructors are reacting to in the article, Document 40, reprinted below.

I will keep looking for more information on the modern, especially its immediate impact upon concepts of furniture projects confronted by amateur woodworkers of the era.

In the meantime Document 40 will remain as an aid to understanding the implications of modern art the woodworking movement.


paul frankl new dimensions 1928

Industrial Education Magazine January  1929 pages 254-255

DESIGN GUILD

 MEMBERS OF THE GUILD: 

Harry E. Wood, Director of Vocational Education and Manual Training, Indianapolis, Indiana. 

Harold R. Wise, Supervisor of Supplies and Equipment, Department of Manual Arts, Boston, Mass. 

Albert F. Weigmann, West Intermediate School, Davenport, Iowa. 

William H. Varnum, Associate Professor of Drawing and Design, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. 

William E. Roberts, Supervisor of Manual Arts, Cleveland, Ohio. 

L. Day Perry, Lane Technical High School, Chicago, Illinois. 

Armand J. LaBerge, Bryant Junior High School, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

F. C. Hughes, High School, Spokane, Washington. 

Charles L. Dacey, Wilson Avenue School, Newark, N. J. 

Charles B. Bennett, The Manual Arts Press, Peoria, Illinois. 

MANUAL ARTS AND THE MODERN ART MOVEMENT

 Dear Spica:


[on defining spica: bright or brightest star]

Your suggestion that the Craft Guilders attempt something in design in the Modern Art manner appealed to me particularly, for I was so fortunate as to spend a long summer vacation on the coast of Maine in association with one whose life is given to the study of art problems, and who had recently acquired a large amount of material illustrative of the Modern Art Movement. A corner of the cottage living-room became a design and drafting nook, and the kitchen, with its primitive dining-table, a workshop. Here things were created in paper and wood and paint, with a deal of satisfaction and much en­lightenment to the workers, and with some polite commendation, tempered by skepticism from the colonists. 

How shall we approach the problem of Modern Art in its relation to manual arts? Would it help to analyze some of the characteristic features of this movement? Let us try such an enumeration, without particular thought of order or completeness, and perhaps illustrate by some simple examples. 

First. There can be no doubt that the keynote of the Modern Art Movement is simplicity and straightforwardness. The word simplicity may be just a little misleading, for when it comes to application it is not as simple as it looks. One realizes this in the number of hours it takes to satisfy himself in the solution of a simple problem. 

Second. This movement emphasizes and glorifies the straight line, and perhaps the circle. In this respect Modern Art is a relative term. Egypt did the same thing centuries ago, and the Modern Art has much of the spirit of the art of the Pharaohs. The statement gives us something of a shock for we have been trained to exalt the free curves, the "infinite curves," the "curves of beauty," "curves of force," and so forth, and to use them in copies or modifications of period styles. Rhythms in curves must give place to rhythms in straight lines and proportions. 

Third. With the exaltation of the straight line comes the very definite problem of proportion. The study of the rectangle in its harmonious proportions and relations in large surfaces becomes vastly important. The Craftsman Movement, with its emphasis upon the straight line and proportion, brought much to manual arts woodwork. I am wondering if it has not been a step in the direction of Modern Art. Certainly the attempted revival of the period styles has not completely satis­fied
 

Fourth. Finishing becomes an entirely different problem, simple in theory and difficult in execution. In the new art  materials are frankly what they are. Woods are chosen for their natural beauties, and finishes are used to preserve this beauty with as little change as possible. Elaborate finishes of fillers, stains, and varnishes are not permissible. If enamels are to be used, then enamel becomes the material, and it is treated for beauty of color and fineness of finish.
manual arts and the modern art movement 

Fifth. Color is a vastly important factor. Here again we abandon, largely, traditions of the past. Instead of har­monies in shades of colors, we seek harmonious, even if daring, contrasts in colors of equal intensity. Woods are combined for beautiful contrasts. These are not random shots, but sanctioned choices in values and proportions. 

Sixth. Lights and shadows play a very important part in the new art. They become important factors in design as well as in placing and lighting. 

Seventh. There are new and difficult problems of con­struction to be met if our products are to have beauty and permanence. At first thought simplicity of design would sug­gest simplicity of construction, but this is not true. This seeming simplicity but complicates matters. Large surfaces demand new types of materials and vexing problems of joints, corners, edges, moldings, and end-grain must be met.

 
Eighth. There is another difficulty presented by the new art in relation to our manual arts work. The thing we make must not only be of good design, construction, and finish, gut it must have a proper setting. The type of work we are dis­cussing will be manifestly out of place surrounded by period modifications, or worse, in the average home. The room is the unit of design, and what goes into it must be in harmony with walls, floor, ceiling, openings, and draperies. This con­sideration should set limitations to our excursions into the fields of the Modern Art Movement. There is unquestionably much of value that we may learn and apply in our work, but we must take care that our thinking be in larger terms than the mere detail of the moment.
 

Ninth. In designing for the new art, it is evident that one must have courage. Be brave!; be bold!; but temper bravery and daring with caution, judgment, and knowledge. 

And now, what do our illustrations tell us? The drawings of the pedestal and the lamp are stripped of the details of con­struction, so that the elements of design may be more clearly apparent. The photographs were made with long exposures by lamp light in order that there might be a study of light and shade effects. This was a fascinating experience in itself. The first efforts were discarded as unsatisfactory in results even if rich in experiences. 

Note the extreme simplicity—one might say severity—of the design, and yet a surprising amount of time was consumed in getting a satisfactory combination of elements. Sketches and drawings were made and re-made, and final readjustments were made in the process of construction. 

None but straight lines are used and yet the rhythms of lines are pleasing.

The ratios in the divisions of the base and cap elements, the relative heights and widths of the uprights of the lamp, and the proportions of the rectangular surfaces, all demand careful consideration. The placing of the  manual arts and the modern art movement 2

uprights of the lamps upon the base was an interesting study. The distance from the edge is different on all four sides, the attempt being to give the effect of central location from every point of view.

The finish in both instances is gray enamel in three coats, sanded between coats, and rubbed down. Interest is added by a coat of oriental red upon the narrow horizontal surfaces of the bases, and at the bottom of the cap of the pedestal.
 

Something of the interest of light-and-shadow effects is shown in the photographs but not to the same degree as in the proper placing and lighting of the objects themselves.     

The projects were so simple that no serious difficulties were experienced in construction, but well-seasoned materials must be used even in as simple pieces as these, if they are to be durable. All exposed surfaces should be treated for pro­tection against atmospheric condition. 


 manual arts and the modern art moveement 3

 

Both of the designs are, of course, capable of many varia­tions and interpretations. By changing proportions, the ped­estal may readily become a taboret, a seat, a stand, or a cabinet. By adding shades to the lamp, an entirely new study is presented.

Have we struck at least a note in the Modern Art Move­ment within the range of manual arts activities? Let the fraternity criticize and suggest.

Very sincerely yours,

CAPELLA

[on defining capella: The name Capella means 'little she goat' in Latin, as in Roman mythology the star represented the goat Amalthea that suckled Jupiter. It was this goat whose horn, after accidentally being broken off by Jupiter, was transformed into the Cornucopia, or "horn of plenty", which would be filled with whatever its owner desired.]

 

To The Grand Bedel:

[on defining "Bedel": The bedel (from medieval Latin pedellus or bidellus, occasionally bidellus generalis, from OHG bital, pital, "the one who invites, calls") was, and is to some extent still, an administrative official at universities in several European countries, and often had a policiary function at the time when universities had their own jurisdiction over students. ...]

Your Highness will be interested in the following, which is quoted from a letter just received from Professor Charles R. Richards, now an official of the General Education Board, representing industrial art.


"True modernism, it seems to me, should be exactly the spirit in which school problems in industrial arts should be conceived, for its fundamental principles are the age-old prin­ciples of good design with particular emphasis upon the needs of our own day. The real qualities at the heart of the move­ment are a direct and effective meeting of functional require­ments, straightforward construction that respects the nature of the material involved, subordination of painted and plastic ornament, and chief reliance on fineness of form and expres­sion of the structural material for decorative effect. These are surely attributes that should fit the requirements of school work to the highest degree. In Europe the schools are the vigorous exponents of the movement, particularly in France, Germany, Austria, and Holland."

 
 

Professor Richards hopes our Guild will save industrial arts workers from "the grievous error of imagining that this movement means queerness and freakishness."

The APPARITOR
[on defining Apparitor: Apparitor, or apparator, (Latin for "a servant of a public official", from apparere, "to attend in public") was an attendant who executed the orders of a Roman magistrate. The term has hence referred to a beadle in a university, a pursuivant or herald; particularly.]