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"Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design" on view at the Royal Alberta Museum
Designed by Harry Bertoia (1915-1978), Manufactured by Knoll Associates, New York City, NY. Large Diamond Lounge Chair, ca. 1952. Photo by Michael Koryta and Andrew VanStyn, Director of Acquisitions, Conservation and Photography.

By: Cathy Roy

EDMONTON.- Most chairs encountered throughout the day define themselves fairly simply—a place at the family table, a comfortable spot with a great view of the river, a seat of corporate power. These chairs, however, have compelling stories to tell about artistry, craftsmanship and the evolution of American design.

This exhibition of 43 chairs and one footstool, from the Jacobsen Collection of American Art, showcases American craftsmanship and design as embodied in a utilitarian object. Using materials as diverse as steer horns, cast iron, molded birch plywood and silk damask, Americans designed chairs that spoke to the eras in which they were created. The Centripetal Spring Arm Chair, for example, represents the spirit of innovation and mechanization that characterized the nineteenth century. The chair seat floats on eight iron springs, allowing the seated individual to change position easily. This exhibition, which runs until October 6, 2013, shows how even ordinary objects can be beautiful, functional, and represent the spirit of their times.

The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design explores the rich tradition of chair making in the United States, placing it in the context not only of design trends, but of larger social and cultural developments. The 43 chairs that form the core of this exhibition certainly were designed with function in mind. But each also has a story to tell about who created it and what its design says about America’s national history. As close neighbours, Canadian designers and consumers are influenced by the American market. While the exhibition is drawn from an American collection, we can see relationships with our own products and homes.

The Rocking Arm Chair, designed around 1840 by a Shaker community member in New Lebanon, New York, speaks to the stylistic simplicity of early nineteenth-century design. The House of Representatives Chamber Arm Chair, 1857, embodies a growing nation. The federal shield on the crest rail, the oak bows representing strength, and the chair’s overall form speak to the Romans and the origins of republicanism. Twentieth and twenty-first century chairs by Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Eames and Ray Eames, and Laurie Beckerman reflect international design trends as well as modern American manufacturing techniques, craftsmanship and materials.

The materials used are as diverse as silk damask, steel and steer horn. There are chairs with three, four, or no legs, chairs that tilt and chairs designed to be sturdy. Some speak to the particular and exotic, while others speak to the needs of a growing consumer society. The large range of styles and materials offer a vivid timeline of changes in American society and design and, by extension, our own.


Of course Canadians have always had their own designers.

The furniture industry in Ontario dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. It manufactured furniture using Canadian workers and Canadian lumber. The industry thrived until the 1970s.

Canadian design trends mirrored international trends, although modernism was slow to take hold. This may be because we did not adopt the modern flat-roofed house design—a snow-load concern!

Our biggest connection to this chair exhibition is likely as consumers – the Americans were excellent at accessible design (which has universal appeal) and efficient use of modern materials. The modern furniture of the 1950s on informs Canadian design aesthetics to this day.

Examples of modern chair design in the Western Canadian History collection prove that Albertans paid attention to international trends and bought American products.

Today's News

August 28, 2013

Exhibition of landscape etchings by Rembrandt opens at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt

Christie's presents the September Sale of South Asian Modern & Contemporary Art

Christie's to offer one of the most important collections of Modern Indian works

New Britain Museum of American Art receives donation of $1M and 165 paintings

History, literature and collectibles up for auction this autumn at Whyte's in Dublin

Iconic Dick Van Dyke colorful striped jacket from "Mary Poppins" up for auction

Biography claims new J.D. Salinger books to be published between 2015 and 2020

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough presents free E-book on future of museums

Swiss lawyer Edgar Paltzer uses $500,000 artwork by Charles-Francois Daubigny to post bail

"Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design" on view at the Royal Alberta Museum

The Montclair Art Museum to celebrate 100th anniversary; Plans include transformation of the museum grounds

Krannert Art Museum opens five exhibitions exploring ways of communicating in a complex world

Private Goes Public: The first public exhibition by the Private Art Dealers Association announced

Clymer Museum names TJ Norris as new Curator and Director of Marketing

Special Vega Sicilia, classic Bordeaux and stunning vintages of California Cabernet on offer at Bonhams

Shanghai 'roasts' the giant Rubber Duck

Jacynthe Carrier and Jon Rafman open exhibitions at galerie antoine ertaskiran

More than 1,400 muscle cars and classics headed for downtown Dallas

Tampa Museum of Art looks south to its regional neighbors to explore the art of the modern era

AIMIA / AGO Photography Prize announces 2013 short list

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