A Paul Evans Moment

Cranbrook Sightings #4
Sighter: Shoshana Resnikoff
Sighted: Paul Evans furniture
Location: New York City
Date: January 26, 2013

I love Cranbrook’s impressive history of 20th century art and design, but sometimes a girl needs to revisit her roots in the 18th century.  It was with that in mind that I went out to New York’s Americana Week at the end of January.  For fans of 18th and 19th century American decorative arts, Americana Week is like Woodstock.  Auction viewings followed by thrilling sales, museum exhibitions devoted to “brown furniture” or master craftspeople, and of course, the Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory, where dealers, collectors, and academics gather to see the historical treasures that have resurfaced in the past few years.

This year was my second time at the Winter Antiques Show and I was looking forward to connecting with old friends, both human and furniture (I’m looking at you, 18th century japanned high chests).   I figured I’d be leaving Cranbrook behind for the weekend, but what I stumbled upon instead was a Paul Evans Moment.

A Cranbrook Academy of Art student in 1952, Paul Evans crossed boundaries between modern design and historic craftsmanship when he went to work as a craftsman at the living history museum Old Sturbridge Village.  Evans created enormous, heavily-decorated furniture pieces that showcased his metalsmithing skills while blurring the lines between functional and sculptural in industrial design.

In fall of 2013 the James A. Michener Art Museum will be staging a retrospective of Evans’ work, after which Cranbrook will play host to the exhibition.  As the museum gets into the swing of exhibition planning for the coming year, Paul Evans is the talk of the office.  So while I’d totally expect a Paul Evans encounter at Cranbrook, running into him surrounded by Queen Anne chairs and 18th century samplers was a surprise.

After I got over my initial shock, however, it suddenly made sense to see Paul Evans at the Armory.  As we begin to take a longer historical look at the twentieth century, there is something meaningful about contextualizing Evans within the history of American craftspeople.   The Winter Antiques Show is all about examining and celebrating the objects made by talented artisans over the course of three centuries, and Evans’ work situates him right smack dab in the middle of that.  His tools may have been welding equipment rather than awls and hand saws, but Paul Evans is yet another story in this long tradition of people producing “stuff” that blurs distinctions between beauty and functionality and of creating art that can be used in the most immediate of ways.

I thought I was on vacation.

CRANBROOK SIGHTING #3
Sighter: Chad Alligood
Sighted: Daniel Libeskind’s World Trade Center site, 2003-
Location: New York City
Date:  January 3, 2013

Over the recent holiday, I spent a glorious week in New York City, where I had lived for three years before accepting my position at Cranbrook. During my stay, I caught up with good friends and former colleagues, revisited old stomping grounds, and reconnected with important burritos of my past (El Centro in Hell’s Kitchen). Of course, as a museum professional and art historian, I also reveled in the sheer breadth of art experiences available to denizens of Gotham. At Ann Hamilton’s installation at the Park Armory, I swung on a giant swing in the company of pigeons and robed monklike actors. At the divine Ferdinand Hodler show at Neue Galerie, I faced the artist’s unflinching, obsessive portraits of his dying lover and muse. And at the Rosemarie Trockel retrospective at the New Museum, I stood slack-jawed in a white-tiled room with a faux palm tree sprouting from the ceiling while motorized birds chirped and whirred, mocking me from a nearby cage.

Heady stuff. So heady, in fact, that I needed a moment of fresh air, and luckily, the New Museum’s Sky Room on the seventh floor offers stunning views of lower Manhattan from a narrow terrace on the south and east sides of the building:

I snapped this picture, undoubtedly like many of the other art tourists around me, with the intent of manipulating it later in Instagram, hopefully inspiring of deluge of “likes.” But as I reviewed the photograph from the comfort of my friend’s couch, I became curious about the Freedom Tower, the building under construction at the center of the photo. I fired up Wikipedia, and lo and behold: hundreds of miles and a holiday away from Cranbrook’s campus, the institution managed to elbow its way into the very center of my touristy snapshot.

Daniel Libeskind, the famed architect who won the competition to design the master plan to rebuild the World Trade Center site, served as the Artist-in-Residence in the Architecture department at Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1978-1985. (Other architects designed the individual buildings within the plan; David Childs of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill designed the Tower itself, though Libeskind chose its height of 1,776 feet.) Libeskind’s tenure at Cranbrook, which preceded the completion of his first building, might be understood as foundational to the development of his design ideas. While he was here, the architect worked closely with Katherine and Michael McCoy, the Artists-in-Residence in the Design department who pioneered the so-called “semantic” approach to design. Elements of this approach, which relies on metaphorical links as a method to solve design problems, extend throughout the architect’s most famous commissions—including the one at the heart of my photo.

Posted by Chad Alligood
2012-13 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow