Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sears and Roebuck Homes

Sears Modern Homes catalog from 1922. During the 1920s
sales ranged from 125 to 324 units per month.
If someone wants to build a new home in 2017, first they either pour through dozens of home planning magazines from which they may order blueprints, or they hire an architect, depending upon the depth of their pockets. The architect will draw up something truly unique, while purchasing plans from magazines or online will get you something usually quite conservative and conventional, though not necessarily cookie-cutter as to style and design. The difference is about half the price--sugar cookies or gourmet soufflé.
In the 1920s, "modern" meant central heating, electricity, asphalt shingle roofing, modern plumbing, porcelain fixtures and bathrooms (though they remained optional).
At a time when Sears and Roebuck is closing its retail outlets around the country about as fast as they can locate the door keys, it's thought provoking to realize that about 110 years ago, you could choose a "house kit," from their famous mail-order catalog, have it shipped to you in a railroad car, ready to be unloaded, trucked to your site, and nailed together by friends and family, or if so inclined, become the ultimate do-it-yourselfer. That's what Frank Nixon of Yorba Linda, California did in 1922, though just which company he ordered from remains uncertain. One thing for certain, it wasn't Sears or their perennial rival, Montgomery Ward. What he built is probably the most famous kit-built house in the world. His son, Richard, was born there, and is today buried nearby at the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library.
"The house my father built."
From 1908–1940, Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold between 70,000 and 75,000 homes through their mail-order Modern Homes program. Over that time Sears designed 447 different housing styles, from the elaborate multistory Ivanhoe, with its elegant French doors and art glass windows, to the simpler Goldenrod, which served as a quaint, three-room and no-bath cottage for summer vacationers. (An outhouse could be purchased separately for Goldenrod and similar cottage dwellers.) Customers could choose a house to suit their individual tastes and budgets.
More pricey than most Sears offerings, The Carlton offered
a nod toward Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie style homes.
More choices than
a Chinese menu.
Sears was by no means an innovative home designer. Instead, they were able followers of popular home designs but with the added ad-vantage of modifying houses and hardware ac-cording to buyer tastes. Their Carlton model (above) was not the norm. Individuals could even design their own homes then submit the blueprints to Sears. The company ran their own lumber mills. Once custom cut, they would then ship off the appropriate fitted materials, putting the home owner in full creative control. Thus, Modern Home cus-tomers had the freedom to build their own dream houses, while Sears helped them realize these dreams through quality custom design and fav-orable financing.
A Magnolia recently sold for $90,000.
The process of designing a Sears house began as soon as the Modern Homes catalog arrived at your doorstep. Over time, Modern Homes catalogs came to advertise three lines of homes, aimed for customers’ differing financial means: the top of the line Honor Bilt, their medium-priced Standard Built, and a low-cost Simplex Sectional. The largest and most expensive Sears model was the Magnolia (above). Only seven Magnolias are known to still exist. There are, however, "fake" Magnolias (below) which are virtually indistinguishable from Sears models.
During the height of Sears homebuilding venture, architects and
builders alike freely "borrowed" from (as in copied) one another.
To make matters more than a little complicated, there were at least eight other companies marketing pre-cut homes, including Aladdin, Bennett, Gordon-Van Tine, Harris Brothers, Lewis, Pacific Ready Cut Homes, Sterling, and Wardway Homes (Montgomery Ward). For instance, both Sears and Wardway offered a model each called The Lexington, (below). Sears was a standard colonial style while Wardway's Lexington was Dutch Colonia. However, Sears offered a nearly identical Dutch Colonial they called the Puritan.
Sears' version of the Lexington (above), Wardway's
version can be seen below.

The Sears version of the Dutch colonial style they
called the Puritan (below)
The Sears Dutch colonial Puritan. This home above
was probably built with the plan reversed.
It's not unlikely that you could drive through residential neighborhoods in most communities and see a dozen or more homes quite similar to those featured in Sears' mail-order catalogs from the 1920s. Few of them would be authentic Sears homes however. Some of them would be fairly attractive by modern tastes, some quite old-fashioned looking, and some we'd find downright ugly. Sears Alhambra (below) falls into the latter category. Fortunately few were built, still fewer remain, and no builders copied Sears homeliest home.

Alhambra's Moorish architecture was a total mismatch
for most American families and neighborhoods.
Catalogs such as Sears also offered several variations on churches, which were shipped in large sections for assembly. You wanted brick walls? Cedar shingles? You could order them. Fancy stained-glass? Plain windows for a cheaper budget? Just check the right box. I searched for Sears churches and could not find any references to authenticated examples, but there were plenty of illustrations involving barns, garages, outhouses, even chicken coops. I've heard it said of one of today's retail mega-stores, if you can't find it at Walmart, you don't need it. It would seem that line may have originated long ago with Sears.
Call in the neighbors, we got a barn to raise.

Sears' garages were all designed for
1920s vehicles. Virtually all of them
still in use have had to be enlarged.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Max Klinger

Work, Welfare, Beauty, 1919, Max Klinger
If I were to mention the name Max Klinger the first face to come to mind would be that of Jamie Farr who played Corporal Maxwell Klinger on the long-running TV series M*A*S*H (1972-83). But some 115 years earlier (1857), there was born another Max Klinger in Leipzig, Germany, who is now remembered as an outstanding painter, sculptor, printmaker, and writer. Don't worry about confusing the two, other than the same name, they had virtually nothing in common. Max Klinger the artist was a tall, portly man with a long beard. Max Klinger the Corporal was a weasely little Arab-American of Lebanese descent who was totally fictional, and partial to heels, hose, and hilarious hats.  
See, he looks nothing at all like Corporal Klinger.
Max Klinger, the artist, was one of the last great "artist princes" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He began his studies i\In 1874 at the Grand Ducal Baden Art School in Karlsruhe, then move the following year to the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin. Klinger completed his studies with the evaluation "exceptional" and a silver medal. At that time his role model as an artist was Adolph Menzel. Klinger first exhibited his work publically in 1878 at the 52nd Academy Exhibition in Berlin. A year later Max Klinger opened a studio in Berlin, where he soon became a member of the Berlin Artists' Association. In 1883 Klinger received his first large commission, the decoration of the vestibule of Julius Albers' villa. That same year Klinger acquired a Paris studio so as to devote himself to study Goya and Daumier in the Louvre.

Being something of a musician himself, Klinger had an enduring respect and fascination for Beethoven, which manifested itself in his work.
While living in Paris as a student, Klinger focused on the project of creating a monument in honor of Ludwig von Beethoven. He claimed he had the first ideas for a sculpture while playing the piano. Thus, the first version of the later monument was born. Klinger then realized his idea in gypsum and colored it vividly. During the decades before 1900, Max Klinger used this model to design a large-format sculpture. He unveiled it for the first time in public at the exhibition of the Vienna Secession in 1902. Max Klinger also depicted Beethoven as a bare-breasted Olympic deity. In doing so, the sculptor alluded to the ancient way of depicting gods. The large coat that is wrapped around the composer's lower body and the sandals he wears were designed according to traditions of the ancient world. Beethoven sits on a richly decorated throne. At his feet rests an eagle, Jupiter's heraldic animal. Beethoven's hands are fisted, his facial expression seems concentrated and energetic.
The second etched image in the glove series Klinger titled, Action. A lost glove is found on an ice rink.
Klinger is best remembered for the ten etchings in the cycle "Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove" (above). The 1881 Glove cycle had been exhibited in the form of ink drawings at the Berliner Kunstverein as early as 1878, when Klinger was 21. There is a remarkable sense of whirling terror in these images, although they are quite static, sharp and fixed. The are based upon a series of dreams. Certainly, pictures by an artist such as Beardsley might convey hallucinatory smell of absinth or hashish, but they don't move. This and other Klinger works anticipate both the fetish theory of Freud and the psychedelic pictorial universe that emerged 90 years later.
The Plague, from the suite "Vom Tode II,"
1898-1909, Max Klinger
As a painter, Klinger believed that color images required a realism more freed from commentary, while etchings were more fit to express feelings and fantasies. In total Klinger made 16 serials, containing altogether 325 engravings. Among the most famous is, for instance, "Vom Tode", divided into two parts, the latter of which contains the nightmarish vision The Plague (above). Klinger's virtuosity is often emphasized along with his skill with not just one but a mix of several techniques. His style is realistic and fantastic to such an extent that his etchings and engravings appealed to both symbolists and surrealists. He came to influence artists as different as Edvard Munch and Max Ernst. Giorgio de Chirico admired Klinger for his special sensibility, as being one "who sees clearly into the past, into the present, and into himself."
Christ and the Sinful Women, 1884, Max Klinger
Elsa Asenijeff, 1900,
 Max Klinger
The Dresden Paintings Gallery became the first museum to buy one of his pictures (Pietà) when he was appointed professor at the Royal Academy of the Graphic Arts in Leipzig and was made a member of the newly founded Vienna Secession. The idea of the "Gesamtkunstwerk" (total work of art) formed Klinger's aesthetic preoccupation with literature, sculpture, painting and draw-ing as well as his interest in music. The graphic arts also figure prominently in the work of this versatile and extremely prolific artist. Max Klinger promoted the artistic dialogue of his day by founding the Villa Ro-mana and the Association of Annual Leipzig Exhibitions. The numerous distinctions the sculptor was awarded (being made a Knight of the Pour le mérite order, and an honorary member of the Stockholm Academy) not only attest to his success but also indicate the major role he played in introducing Modern Art to Germany. For the most part of his life Klinger was officially a bachelor, still he had a relationship for twenty years with author Elsa Asenijeff (left), whom he met when he was 41 years old. Max Klinger did not marry until one year before he died in July, 1920.

Crucifixion of Christ, 1890, Max Klinger


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ronald Bladen

The X, painted aluminum, 1967, edition of 3, Ronald Bladen.
When most artists think of Minimalist art, they picture huge canvases with nothing but highly simplified existential content (that is to say the work itself exists purely as content). Very few non-artists even think of such art if, indeed, they would actually consider it art in the first place. And nearly always, artists' contemplation of Minimalism extends not much beyond painting. Actually Minimalism was full-blown movement dating from the late 1960s through much of the 1970s, and it encompassed not just painting but architecture, music, poetry, graphic design and drama. It also included sculpture, and quite prominently that of the New York artist, Ronald Bladen.
Gallery-scale sculpture by Ronald Bladen.
Kama Sutra, 1977,
Ronald Bladen
Bladen’s signature effect is to give massive black forms an air of light, speed, and weightlessness. Sharp angles cut through the air, unzipping the space. Beams spread open. Geometric shapes intertwine but do not lock. Bladen attempted to create drama out of a minimal visual experience as demonstrated by his Kama Sutra (left) dating from 1977. Ronald Bladen has often been identified as one of the “fathers of Minimalism,” yet he came late to sculpture. During the 1950’s, prior to his turning to sculpture, Bladen created a number of paintings that in manner and form were directly related to the work of the Abstract Expres-sionists, much on the order of his Upside Down (below) dating from the late 1950s. His paint-ings involved gritty concretions protruding, sometimes as much as four inches, amid stucco or froth-like expanses. His paintings were strikingly different from his cool, reduc-tionist sculpture which followed, yet there continued to exist a soulful continuity through-out Bladen’s artistic production.
Upside Down, 1956-59, Ronald Bladen
Charles Ronald Wells Bladen was born in 1918, the son of British immigrants to the Canadian city of Vancouver. His father, Kenneth Bladen, was an expert in landscape gardening. His mother, Muriel Beatrice Tylecote, had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and, as an active socialist, had taken part in the suffragette movement. Both parents wholeheartedly supported their son’s artistic interests. During the 1920s, Bladen's family moved several times to various cities in the U.S. before returning to Canada in 1936 to live in Victoria British Columbia.

A budding young artist by the age of ten.
By the age of ten, Bladen was drawing intensively, making copies of works by Botticelli, Titian, Picasso, and Matisse, as well as creating imaginative freehand illustrations of Greek mythology. His talent was furthered in junior high and high school art courses, in addition to private art classes under the painter, Max Maynard. A sample of his childhood work can be seen in his watercolor self-portrait (above). It was the first and only self-portrait he ever completed. Bladen was also enthusiastic about sports, a passionate dancer, and baseball and tennis player.

Bladen worked on two scales, creating larger pieces for outdoor
installation and the same item on a smaller scale for gallery display.
Starting in 1937, Bladen began his studies at the Vancouver School of Art. Upon graduating in 1939, he moved to San Francisco to continue his studies until 1943 at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), by attending evening classes until 1945. His art studies through the war years were the result of his being declared unfit for military service in 1941, whereupon he was obliged to work as a ship’s welder at the naval dockyards in Sausalito, California. For many years, this activity enabled him to earn his living as a toolmaker. These skills and aesthetic experience were to become important later in constructing his sculptures. Bladen remained in the United States after the war. He lived in San Francisco until 1956 and then moved to New York.

An early Bladen work in progress.
Ronald Bladen had his first solo exhibition in 1946 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. About the same time he was awarded a scholarship by the San Francisco art Association whish enabled him to undertake an eight week journey to Mexico and New Orleans as well as a stay several months in New York. In 1955, Bladen separated from his wife of four years, Barbara Gross. Later he got to know the poet, Michael McClure, whereupon he moved back to San Francisco into McClure’s communal household with Joanna McClure, James and Beverly Harmon, Price Dunn, and Larry Jordan. At the same time a friendship arose with the writers, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller, along with the painter, Al Held, who advised him to move to New York.

Black Tower, Ronald Bladen
In New York, Bladen continued to work mainly as a painter in the style of Abstract Expressionism with intensively colored patches of organic formations integrated into landscape-like surface forms, that were similar in color. During the 1960s, Bladen progressively restricted his painting activities, occupying himself with collages made of folded paper and his first painted plywood reliefs. As in previous years, to earn his living, as a toolmaker. In 1962, Bladen exhibited his painted plywood reliefs for the first time at the Brata Gallery and the Green Gallery in New York. The following year he made his first free-standing, colored sculptures from plywood boards with metal struts. From this time on the Bladen dedicated himself exclusively to sculpture.

Raiko, Ronald Bladen
The artist showed his first sculpture, White Z, at a 1964 exhibition at Park Place Gallery in New York. There he got to know the sculptures of Connie Reyes, who later became his companion. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts. From 1956 on, Bladen enjoyed the growing attention of the New York art scene. He was subsequently best known for his austere sculptures, developed from geometric forms, at many prominent exhibitions. He was influenced by European Constructivism, American Hard-Edge Painting, and sculptors such as Isamu Noguchi and David Smith. In turn, Bladen had a stimulating effect on a circle of younger artists including Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Lawrence Weiner, who repeatedly referred to him as the ‘father figure’ of Minimal Art.

The Light Year, 1979, Ronald Bladen
Despite his international success as a sculptor, numerous prestigious awards, and his years as a highly esteemed teacher, Ronald Bladen was a heavy smoker and drinker for most of his adult life. He died of cancer in February of 1988 at the age of seventy.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Westminster Palace

Westminster Palace is, in fact, listed as one of the queen's seven residences, though she seldom, if ever, spends the night there.
At least everyone in London
has the correct time.
I began thinking I would write about London's iconic symbol known as Big Ben, then found out the name technically referred to nothing more than a damned big bell--not very interesting. Then I decided I'd write about the tower and the enormous clock parched on top only to find out the clock had no name and the tower was actually called the Elizabeth Tower, so designated in in 2012 to com-memorate the Diamond Jubilee of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. Interesting, but not very. Finally, my eyes moved to the base of the tower to encompass the huge expanse of The Palace of Westminster, which is, in fact, owned my the monarchy but loaned to Parliament as a place to get together and pass laws. It didn't take long to realize that Westminster Palace (as it's interchangeably called) was, in fact, very interesting.

When we think of a "palace" we naturally conjure up an ornate royal residence where a king and queen and their family reside, tended by dozens, of servants. We think of a lot of carved stone, rooms of massive size with gardens, courts, a throne room, long, spacious corridors, a chapel, enormous dining rooms, towers, and a whole host of other royal structures. By those standards, Westminster is, indeed, quite a palace...except for one thing. It's been around five-hundred years since any king or queen slept under its roof. Today, the only high official sleeping at Westminster Palace might be a bleary-eyed Member of Parliament who has dozed off in the midst of a particularly boring speech.

The House of Commons once met for a time in the Painted Chamber (named for the murals on the walls).
The Queen of England still has a bedchamber (above) in the palace. There are, by my count, seven dining rooms of various size (but only one kitchen). The palace contains over 1,100 rooms organized symmetrically around several open courtyards. The palace has a floor area of 1,210,680 sq.ft. (112,476 m2). Part of the palace's area of 8 acres (3.24 hectares) was reclaimed from the Thames, which is the setting of its nearly 980 foot-long (300-metre) façade called the River Front. The first king of England to sleep at the palace (such as it was) would have been King Canute, around 1016. Nothing of that era survives, but the magnificent Westminster Hall comes close, having been built around 1097. Westminster Hall is something of a party room used by royalty when they want to celebrate something, such as George IV's Coronation Banquet in 1821 seen in the painting just below.

Claude Monet did at least two Impressionist paintings of Westminster Palace during a short sojourn to London. England's J.M.W. Turner depicted the catastrophic 1835 Burning of the Houses of Parliament, which had long before taken over the palace as their own.
Perhaps one of the reasons British monarchs have long been reticent to call Westminster Palace home is the tendency for the place to burn down every few centuries. The first time was in in 1512. From then on, only the houses of Parliament dared take up residence there, worried that the stone structure's timber roof allowed even small fires to quickly spread out of control. As well they should, for in 1834 and even bigger fire all but leveled the place. Only, by something approaching a miracle of primitive firefighting did Westminster hall and the detached Jewel Tower survive. Turner's painting (above) gives some indication of the scale of the conflagration.

For orientation purposes, the Thames River runs along the west front of the palace (top of diagram).
Sir Charles Barry
So complete was the devastation the government called in a 19th-century ver-sion of a wrecking crew and demolished the burned out structure. Then, following an 1841 competition, they called upon at-chitect, Sir Charles Barry (right) to design and sup-ervise the building of a totally new and larger palace in a "Vertical Gothic" style specifically designed to house the British Parliament. His plans and design bear only a passing resemblance to that which they replaced. Barry was assisted by Augustus Pugin (only 20 years old at the time), a leading authority on Gothic arch-itecture and style. He designed the interior of the Palace. Construction started in 1840 and lasted for 30 years, suffering great delays and cost overruns, as well as the death of both leading architects. Work on the interior decoration of the palace con-tinued intermittently well into the 20th-century. Major conservation work has been carried out since then to reverse the effects of London's air pollution. Extensive repairs were again needed after German bombs destroyed the House of Commons Chamber in 1941 during the Second World War.

Westminster Palace before the 1834 fire--an architectural hodge-podge of old and new construction made still more unsightly by mismatch styles and aging materials.
From the clean lines of Commons Chamber, to St Stephen’s Hall, the original site of the House of Parliament from the mid 16th-century until the Great Fire of 1834 Westminster Palace is history, art, and democratic ideals written in wood, stone, and glass displaying the unique and curious nature of the English people. Moving from the austere green of the House of Commons to the gaudy red and gold décor of the House of Lords, we catch a glimpse of a very class-conscious society, an "us" and "them" mentality where wealth and birthright outweigh the meritocracy which Americans take for granted.

The houses of the elected and the selected.
Since I've now covered the important stuff residing on the banks of the Thames, I guess I should get back to my original intention, a few words on the 315 foot tall clock tower which so perfectly represents the stubborn will of Westminster Palace and those who govern from within it's gothic confines. The tower itself was completed in 1859, though it's four-faced clock is actually five years older than that. The architect was the same Augustus Pugin who designed the interior of the palace. The real Big Ben (the bell, that is) was to have been even larger - weighing 16 tons, however the first casting 1856 cracked in use. The bell was recast into it's current 13 ton form. For a time the tower was the tallest in the world, and today remains the world's largest free-standing clock in the world.

The new Westminster Palace with its iconic
clock tower and bell, ca, 1859.

Nearby Westminster Abbey,
just across the street and round
the block from the palace.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

1990s Art

The 1990s--the birth of GIF art, though the X-Men,
created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, date from the 1960s.
It seems hard to believe now, but the art of the 1990s goes back as much as 27 years ago. My, how time flies when you're having fun...or, as Kermit the Frog once said "Time's fun when you're having flies" Speaking of time, Kermit is now old enough for Social Security (62). For me, the 1990s were memorable in that it was the decade which brought us the home computer. We got our first one in 1995 (below). It was a Packard Bell Legend 814CD with a 100MHz Pentium Processor, 8MB, of memory, a 1.2GB 4x NEC CD-ROM Drive, and two Floppy Drives (5.25 disk and the "new" 3.5 disk). Notice, it did not contain a modem. Though the Internet had been around since 1969, dial-up access in the 1990s was both slow and expensive (CompuServe was five cents per minute). I think we paid about $700 for the computer, monitor, and accompanying software (about $1,100 today).

It was not very artist friendly.
Despite a whole bucket of bugs and numerous limitations, digital art began to take hold as the decade progressed. Computers grew friendlier and more powerful by leaps and bounds. Apple prodded Microsoft to forego MS-DOS in favor of Windows, which progressed from 3.1 to Windows 95, Windows 98, and finally, in 2000, Windows ME (Millennial Edition). Some of those operating systems are still in use today. With each new permutation came radical improvements in the capabilities for producing digital art, either from photos or from the "scratch" of the artist's imagination.

Fractal Art--beautiful, but the computer does all the work.
As might be expected, older artists turned technophobic while Millennials embraced the digital revolution. Nerds ruled, and their favored art was fractal, based upon mathematic algorithms ideal for even the relative low-power processors of the day (above). Among the artist who embraced fractal art were Desmond Paul Henry, Hamid Naderi Yeganeh and musician Bruno Degazio. Fractal art is not simply computerized art, lacking in rules, unpredictable, nor something that any person with access to a computer can do well. Instead, fractal art is expressive, creative, and requires input, effort, and intelligence.

Bob Ross, the mighty painter of friendly little trees retired in 1994 after a TV run of seven years.
The Bob Ross Dress
It would be false to relegate an entire decade of art to that which accompanied the advent of low-cost computers and their software. Although painting was starting to decline as a viable form of creative communication, its multi-media challengers, TV, motion pictures, and in its nascent form, digital art, were waiting in the wings. TV had its Bob Ross and Ben Alexander, both of whom retired in 1994. CGI-technology, made its debut in films such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, Independence Day, and Titanic. Disney con-tributed the first totally computer animated feature length film, Toy Story in 1995. This they followed with such forgettable epics as Hercules, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and finally Fantasia 2000 (all of which lost money).

Plus dozens of sequels, prequels, and horror films
enough to fill (and sink) the Titanic.
I'm confident there must have been some, but in perusing hundreds of traditional paintings on canvas from the 1990s I didn't recognize a single one as being memorable. That means that few, if any, such work has left a lasting impression on the world of art. In a Postmodern world paintings on canvas are so, for lack of a better term, "modern." That's not to say that artists from other decades didn't continue to produce. They did, but their art had changed little, if at all, from that which the produced decades before which made them famous. So, inasmuch as my own work would seem to be as memorable as any other produced in the 1990s, I'm including Tantalizing (below) dating from 1998 as being representative of the painters art from that era.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Tantalizing, 1998, Jim Lane

The typical American family
of the 1990s.