MELBOURNE, FLORIDA.- The Brevard Museum of Art & Science presents today “The Conill-Mendoza Chase Collection,” on view through October 24, 2003 in Gallery I. What is Chase? A name given to a manufactured piece and the factory in Waterbury, Connecticut. The Chase Brass and Copper Company (1878 - 1965). During its first 50 years Chase produced copper tubing and sheets for industrial use, besides brass buttons for uniforms and other small objects. In 1930 Chase patented its logo, a centaur where the figure of a man points his bow and arrow straight ahead.
In 1931 the Museum of Modern Art In New York (MOMA), under the direction of Phillip Johnson, opened its doors with a stunning exhibition of Modern Decorative Arts. First prize went to Walter von Nessen, a German designer who had studied at the Bauhaus Schools under Professor Albert Reimann from Berlin. This timely event for Chase allowed President Frederic S. Chase and Director Rodney Chase to meet von Nessen, study his winning piece, see other drawings submitted and buy 10 designs to formally launch the company’s Specialty Line. Seventy years later Chase items are recognized among America’s foremost Art Deco designs in the Decorative Arts. The name Bauhaus is recognized today as the school of design that revolutionized modern style through art education, architecture and industrial design.
The Bauhaus Schools flourished in Germany under the directions of German architects Walter Gropius (who later chaired the Architecture Department at Harvard from 1938 to 1952) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; with cabinet making school director Marcel Breuer and art instructors Paul Klee, Laszlo Molholy Nagy and Wassily Kandinsky, among others. The Bauhaus Schools were unique in the all encompassing teaching of design, metal workshops, photography and store management. A few years later Hitler, who disliked the Bauhaus concept of cultivating innovative thinking, avant-garde designs and foreign students from Russia ordered the schools closed at Weimar and Dessau in 1932 and Berlin in 1933. Under pressure, the Weimar School had transferred to Dessau in 1925.
A decade later when the United States entered World War II Chase reverted all its production capacity to making brass shells for World War II. After the war, Chase never resumed its Specialty Line and focused on industrial tubing and sheet copper for industrial consumption. Not long after, Waterbury’s river was not sufficient to meet factory demands for power and the rising cost of electricity in the Northeast placed Chase at a disadvantage with other larger mills in Northern and Western areas. By 1965 Chase closed its doors and Waterbury, once called the copper capital of the world, became an industrial ghost town.
The Collection: The Conill-Mendoze Chase collections grew during the 1980s and 1990s when Enrique Conill-Mendoza worked under contract with the State Department and traveled to over 45 states with international visitors. An initial one year research at the US Patent Office, Design Patents section at Washington, DC and Virginia, seemed a good source to uncover design patents acquired by Chase during the 1930s.
During weekends, international visitors were escorted to museums, antique fairs, and stores in search of American antiques in general and Chase in particular. Such weekend activities turned out to be interesting and educational for our visitors, who not only enjoyed the events and learning about American culture and traditions, but quite successfully uncovered a few rare Chase pieces.
The Chase factory built its national showroom in New York City on the top floors of 10 E. 40th Street called the Chase Tower. The company sold wholesale mainly to department stores throughout the country. Each store sold those items selected by the store buyers, a system that led to different Chase items being sold to customers in different cities. Nowadays it would be practically impossible to duplicate such a collection . For one, Art Deco pieces are being sought after by a greater number of collectors and secondly, the cost of traveling the entire country over a period of 20 years has become too expensive to justify the trip. At 1,000 Chase pieces, counting color, shape and metal variations, this collection is considered the most complete Chase collection in the world.
About Walter von Nessen: In tandem with the production of lighting in his own studio (with the help of only one craftsman), Walter von Nessen also designed an extensive range of award-winning appliances and home product designs for the prestigious Chase Brass & Copper Company, and a diverse assortment of furniture and accessories which were subsequently featured in landmark exhibitions of the time.
At one of them - an exhibition of tubular metal furniture at the Metropolitan and Newark Museums in 1929 - von Nessen’s chair was displayed alongside one by Mies van der Rohe. The Third International Exhibition of Contemporary Industrial design sponsored by the American federation of Arts featured the designer’s adjustable ball-bearing lamp (1930). He was also represented at the Design & Industry Exhibition in 1932 with wall sconces, glassware, tables and other accessories. More recognition came at the Paris Exposition of 1937 where he was awarded a gold medal for his lighting exhibit.
It was the 1935 Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition of Contemporary American Industrial Art, however, that was regarded as a landmark in the swiftly changing directions of industrial design, and in fact was a formal recognition of the field of new materials and design. Manufacturers, designers and architects - von Nessen, Teague, Rhode, Deskey, Loewy, William Lescaze, Eliel Saarinen among them - showed their work. Since the criteria of usability and salability applied to everything in the exhibition, there was more integrity of design and less of the impractical and self-conscious use of materials displayed at a similar exhibition five years before.
About the Collector : I was born in London, England, in the Splendid Hotel near Buckingham Palace to my Cuban parents Jack Conill-Hidalgo and Silvia Mendoza. I was educated in Havana, Cuba with the La Salle Christian Brothers and later on in Le Rosey in Rolle, Switzerland and studied engineering at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
Guided by my grandmother Lily Hidalgo de Conill with whom I lived since the death of my mother when I was five, I collected stamps from the world over. These stamps were glued to post cards she had saved for half a century. Each post card had a history in itself as they came from different countries in Europe prior World War I and World War II. Later on as a young man I collected coins in Cuba and Spain.
Around 1980, I migrated to the United States from Spain. That year I visited my wife¹s cousin Thorvald Sanchez at his home in Palm Beach. In his small kitchen, I observed an upper shelf holding a dozen Deco Chrome Coffee Makers. One in particular, a sphere shaped sample caught my eye. Thorvald informed me it was by CHASE. What is Chase, I asked? With a brief explanation my curiosity was piqued. Thus started my long road in researching and collecting. Enrique Conill-Mendoza, 2002.