lovely design world on view
Essential beauty. Form following function. These are words Chicagoans who knew Henry Glass use to describe the modernist industrial designer's work. Those who didn't meet the designer before he died in August 2003 at the age of 92 can experience his legacy in a new show, "The World of Henry Glass: Mid-Century Modernist," through April 10 at ArchiTech.
Drawings, models and prototypes give evidence to Glass' legacy of innovation in designing things with which consumers interact such as reclining chairs, colorful children's furniture, hotel lobbies and design studios.
"There are other great industrial designers but he had a much longer, much more varied, much more important career that touched more people than they ever would realize, because he designed everything," says David Jameson, owner of ArchiTech.
ArchiTech's survey of Glass' work shows he applied his innovative drive to everything from watches and coffee services to wrought iron furniture with hairpin legs and chairs using a new conveyor belt reclining mechanism which afforded a sleeker, less bulky look. Along with models, prototypes and actual objects manufactured from Glass designs, the exhibition also includes some 50 designs for such things as a two-seater car or an upright piano that was manufactured by Steinway, and drawings for a hotel in St. Thomas that was, to Glass' life-long frustration, never built.
Jameson has featured Glass' work in the past and had been planning a late-2004 show featuring work of the man he describes as a "dear friend" and one of the country's greatest industrial designers. However, after acquiring the entire body of more than 70 years' work found in Glass' Northfield studio, Jameson decided to accelerate his opening. Glass' work will also be part of an upcoming architecture and design exhibit planned at the Art Institute in 2005, but Jameson's show is more of a career retrospective.
"I want to be able to tell a bit of the story about Henry," Jameson says.
It's the story of an immigrant who fled Vienna in 1938 and worked in New York for a few years under Gilbert Rohde and Russel Wright, before moving to Chicago to begin designing creative, functional furniture.
"He could just look at things and instantly tell whether it was well-designed and how it could be improved," says Vicki Matranga, a design historian and design programs coordinator at the International Housewares Association, who knew Glass for 12 years before his death. "He wasn't cool and he wasn't superficial. He was very to the core of what was a valuable product."
Jameson describes Glass as a practical artisan in the Renaissance tradition. "He didn't create art that was only self-expressive," Jameson says. "He was able to create works that were incredibly ingenious and at the same time graphically realize them in a superb rendering."
As the Glass works illustrate, industrial design appeals to both sides of the brain, Jameson says. Industrial designers are always finding original ways to combine science and art. "They're walking down the street inventing a new way of applying a principle to an object, inventing a new way to reconfigure an object to do something new . . . coming up with a new use for an object. They're the absolute apex of practical artisanship. They never stop inventing an object or a product."
Exclamation points after suggestions for materials or methods of collapsing his furniture speak to the enthusiasm Glass had for his work.
It was collapsible furniture that Glass kept coming back to. In the 1940s he was designing compact furniture that could be taken apart and put together easily in military housing. Later he developed a collapsible accordion-styled camping trailer for an aluminum company. "If he could have figured out a way to extrude a piece of furniture from a tube of toothpaste he would have done it and still tried to work a miracle to make it better than that," Jameson says.
Asked what she might expect to find in common among Glass designs, Matranga replies, "it would be honest materials. It would be an honest approach to what was comfortable and efficient. It wouldn't be gimmicky and it wouldn't be flashy. It would be comfortable and it would be beautiful."
World of Henry Glass: Mid-Century Modernist
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