Playful Design, Serious Message: Learning & Play in the 1970s

A selection of educational products from the 1970s, recently installed in MAM’s 20th- and 21st- Century Design Galleries, tells the story of two pressing issues in the United States during the period through the lens of design for children.

Kent Dickinson (American, active 1970s), manufactured by Odlot Game Company (United States, active 1970s), Metradoms: a Game of Metric Dominos, 1976. Plastic and paper. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Daniel Ostroff M2017.28. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Kent Dickinson (American, active 1970s), manufactured by Odlot Game Company (United States, active 1970s), Metradoms: a Game of Metric Dominos, 1976. Plastic and paper. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Daniel Ostroff M2017.28. Photo by John R. Glembin.

First, the issue of metric conversion is represented by the record album Songs of Metric Man and the game Metradoms: A Games of Metric Dominos (a recent addition to MAM’s Design Collection). Both aimed to teach children how to use the metric system in anticipation of “metrification,” or the adoption of metrics as the standard system of measurement in the United States. From our twenty-first-century perspective, this may not seem like a particularly divisive political issue, but in the 1970s, American were divided between those who perceived the shift from feet to meters as step towards greater economic and scientific cooperation with the rest of the world, and those who viewed the system as an unwelcome invasion of foreign customs.

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20th- and 21st-Century Design: New Acquisitions Now On View

Spring cleaning isn’t just for attics—the Museum’s Design Galleries were recently refreshed with a new coat of paint and numerous recent acquisitions. From turn-of-the-century silver to twenty-first-century furniture, these objects demonstrate the wide range of what we mean by “design” at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Josef Hoffmann (Austrian, 1870–1956), produced by Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna, Austria, 1903–1932), Basket, 1905. Silver and ivory. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Demmer Charitable Trust, M2017.56. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Josef Hoffmann (Austrian, 1870–1956), produced by Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna, Austria, 1903–1932), Basket, 1905. Silver and ivory. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Demmer Charitable Trust, M2017.56. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Among the newly-installed acquisitions, the earliest is a silver basket from 1905. This piece was designed by Josef Hoffmann at the Wiener Werkstätte, a workshop in Vienna that Hoffmann co-founded with fellow designer Koloman Moser in 1903.  The workshop sought to eliminate boundaries between art and design; it brought together artists, designers, and architects, who produced textiles, ceramics, metalwork, and more. This basket’s elegant gridwork is an excellent example of how Hoffmann created visual interest through an object’s structure, rather than by adding additional ornamentation.

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From the Collection–An Update on Meissen

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Two-Handled Urn, 1814-60. Porcelain with hand-painted overglaze decoration and gilding. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1962.248. Photo credit: John R. Glembin

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Dresden, Germany, established 1710), Two-Handled Urn, 1814-60. Porcelain with hand-painted overglaze decoration and gilding. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the René von Schleinitz Foundation, M1962.248. Photo credit: John R. Glembin

It’s always exciting when new research comes to light!

Just last month, while preparing for a lecture on Meissen in the Milwaukee Art museum collection, I discovered new information related to an object from an earlier post, the Meissen urn at left.

When last researching the urn in 2015, I was pretty sure that it was made by Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, the important German company, because it was marked on the bottom with crossed swords in blue. It has the snake handles popular on these types of vessels, particularly in the nineteenth century. The scene on the vase is the Greek myth of the Calydonian boar hunt.

At the time, I thought that maybe our urn was a Meissen porcelain blank painted by a skilled artist not associated with the factory–this was based upon finding another vase with the same boar hunt online that was only identified as “German”.

But the high quality of the painting on our urn made it such a showpiece, that I was convinced that there was more to find. So, when I was asked to give a lecture on Meissen in the collection, I thought I’d take another look.

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Introducing: Afrikando by Jaime Hayon

Jaime Hayon, designer, with Nason Moretti, producer, from left to right: Umi (Life), Saidah (Fortunate), Chausiki (Born at Night), Malawa (Blossoms), Sauda (Dark Beauty), Wambua (Rainy Season), and Abayomi (Brings Joy) from Afrikando, 2017. Milwaukee Art Museum, purchase with funds from the Jill and Jack Pelisek Endowment Fund, the Sanford J. Ettinger Memorial Fund, and by exchange, M2017.23.4-7. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Jaime Hayon, designer, with Nason Moretti, producer, from left to right: Umi (Life), Saidah (Fortunate), Chausiki (Born at Night), Malawa (Blossoms), Sauda (Dark Beauty), Wambua (Rainy Season), and Abayomi (Brings Joy) from Afrikando, 2017. Milwaukee Art Museum, purchase with funds from the Jill and Jack Pelisek Endowment Fund, the Sanford J. Ettinger Memorial Fund, and by exchange, M2017.23.4-7. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Among the many eye-catching objects in the exhibition Jaime Hayon: Technicolor, the delicate etching, dangling earrings, and dazzling glass surfaces of Afrikando are particularly alluring. This set of seven glass vessels is on view for the first time in the exhibition of work by Spanish artist-designer Jaime Hayon. Designed by Hayon expressly for the Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent Collection, Afrikando fuses the tradition of glassblowing with the designer’s delightfully fresh contemporary sensibility.

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Jaime Hayon: Technicolor

Installation view of Jaime Hayon: Technicolor, Milwaukee Art Museum, 2017. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Installation view of Jaime Hayon: Technicolor, Milwaukee Art Museum, 2017. Photo by John R. Glembin.

On view now through March 25th in the Bradley Family Gallery, Jaime Hayon: Technicolor brightens up wintertime in Milwaukee with a colorful splash of fun and fantasy. The energetic exhibition features work from two decades of the Spanish artist-designer’s career, including textiles, ceramics, glass, drawings, and playground equipment. These works represent a wide range of approaches to making, thinking, and viewing, while also remaining unified by a refreshing sense of playful whimsy.

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