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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Byrdcliffe Colony Chest

Zulma Steele (American, 1881–1979) designer, Chest, ca. 1904. Produced at Byrdcliffe Colony, Woodstock, New York. Poplar and original copper hardware. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection L1993.5.1. Photo by Efraim Lev-er.

In honor of women’s history month, here is one of the Museum collection’s most striking objects from the Arts & Crafts Movement–an object that happens to have been designed by a woman.

This poplar wood chest was made at the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony near Woodstock, New York and features a relief panel designed by Zulma Steele. Steele–a talented painter, potter, and designer–arrived at the idyllic community of craftsmen at age 22 in 1903 and became a lifelong resident. She was one of many women drawn to the community in search of an independent artistic career instead of the traditional, subservient role of wife that was prevalent among her contemporaries.

Categories
Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Ettore Sottsass’ “Carlton” Bookcase

Ettore Sottsass, "Carlton" Bookcase/Room Divider, 1981. Milwaukee Art Museum, Centennial Gift of Gilbert and J. Dorothy Palay. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Postmodern design is a difficult thing to pin down or describe concisely. It refers to all manner of playful, ornamented, subversive, and/or heady things. The aesthetic is often likened to 1980s popular objects like Swatch wristwatches, but the designer’s meaning often runs much deeper.

For instance, Ettore Sottsass’s Carlton bookcase (1981) doesn’t immediately convey its rich meaning. When we first see it standing boldly outside the 20th-century Design gallery at the Museum, we see that it is brightly colored. We think it seems impractical for book storage. We might find the stick figure silly. Why is this a design classic? Why is it so important that the Museum keeps it on view?

Maybe because Carlton breaks a lot of rules? It is shockingly unconventional for a bookcase.

Categories
Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Elderkin Great Chair

A treasure you’ll find at the Milwaukee Art Museum: One of the oldest known pieces of American furniture to survive. Let me say that again: At the Museum is one of the oldest known pieces of American furniture.

This dramatic chair was made sometime in the mid-1600s in Connecticut or Massachusetts. Of course, at the time of its construction, its maker would have identified himself and the style of this chair as English. And yes, three-legged chairs of this type were not uncommon in England, but on the faraway shores of New England, this Great Chair was a great novelty.