LumberJocks

Charles Rohlfs Oak Desk, Stickley Ellis Table & Iconic Crafts, Nelson Atkins Art Gallery Kansas City

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 04-30-2012 05:23 PM 6077 reads 2 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Wow! I made it, I finally made it, and oh what a surprise to find a museum with Iconic Furniture pieces intermixed with a lot of European, Asian, Native American, Egyptian, and some strange Contemporary Stuff that someone else calls “art”.

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WARNING: If you are easily offended by my silly notions of what looks good and is well built, please don’t read any farther. I’m just giving my opinions, that is what “art” does, causes us to ponder, consider, meditate, think, nod, or shake our heads. It’s just my opinion…...
Good, or bad, if art doesn’t force our dull heads to think, it’s a waste of resources…

Ultimately, like a lot of my dribble, my goals are to cause the reader to think, ponder, consider their direction, meditate, question, inspire, challenge, and to give credit where artistic success has been identified in my style tastes. In my personal low-brow tour guide fashion, you’ll get a bunch of background before I get to my point…...

which is, wait for it…..

the Rohlfs!

and the Stickley/Ellis.

Why do this?
If you just want to look at photos, you’ll miss the point of my spending the time on this Blog.

If you want to cut to my point, and miss the setup, scroll down to the Rohlfs, but don’t miss the shy little Stickley/Ellis.

I was so moved by them, that I worked up the photos and the text just to share it, with the hope that someone else will be equally, or more, inspired than I was.

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Rodin’s Thinker seems perfect sitting here. The gallery has been added onto so many times over the years, that the monstrous entrance is no longer the “start” of the museum…..maybe that’s what the Thinker is meditating on.

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This is the type of art I just don’t understand. Take a badminton bird, copy it bigger, and place it front of a traditional and regal building and call it art. Seems that the architect that drew that original building would roll over in his grave if he saw this. I’m offended by the Bird, just doesn’t fit for me. Appears like what I remember being a high school boy, spending all day prepping your car for the big night, washing the tires, waxing the hood, running in to get a shower and get dressed for the big date. Running out to the car, starting the engine, looking in the mirror and realizing you have the biggest red pimple with a white center on the tip of your nose, the biggest that any hormone charged boy ever saw in the mirror. The night is ruined, you just know that you date will just laugh at the pimple…....the tire washing and hood waxing is for naught….....
I guess the Bird is art.
To each his own.

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We went to Kansas City this past Friday to take my daughter to see a doctor there at Children’s Mercy Hospital. She’s doing fine, needed some more input and help, it was a good appointment.

So, we made a two day event out of it, stayed in a hotel…..so that I could see the Nelson Atkins Art Gallery in downtown Kansas City. I’ve wanted to see this gallery for so many years, so many that I can’t remember how many.

Every time I’ve had the chance to go to the gallery while in KC, someone else has always redirected my plans. Living with a family means a lot of compromises, and I like making them happy, so it’s not all bad. Although, I’ve been known to “pout” awhile. I threw a pretty big “pout” on Friday night when my family insisted we skip the Mexican Food I wanted to get for the “Blue Koi” noodle and dumpling joint. At first I tried to make my point so I didn’t order and planned to just drink water. Then when everyone’s food came, it all smelled pretty good so I ordered some dumplings, you know just for them….to make them happy. Yea right. The dumplings were good, and so then I had to be humble and apologize for pouting, and I set my goals on inspiring everyone in the family to see the Nelson Atkins gallery on Saturday….oh, please, pretty please.

There’s no way to get to a Mexican Place, I have to wait for my Birthday for that, the one day of the year that I get to choose the food, so I focused my strategy planning on the “Nelson”.

I knew the ZOO would be the primary goal for everyone else, beautiful weather, a few clouds, not much wind. I like animals, mostly on dinner plates, but we’ve seen a lot of animals over the years at Zoos that I’ve endured for the sake of peace and harmony, and children’s education and enjoyment. So, I started planning Friday afternoon how to get my trip to the museum instead of the smelly Zoo.

I started by sitting at the hotel pool for 2.5 hours watching the kids play, always a way to get on their good side.

I received Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln” book for Christmas and so I decided to start that while watching the pool out of one eye. It’s not a bad book, made me cry quite a few times, it’s such a sad time in our history, and the courage and sacrifice and death and destruction is pretty hard on me to ponder, but hey, I cry every time at Ole’ Yeller getting shot, so I’m sort of a weenie about such things. I’m not finished with the book yet, and so I’m not ready to toss it, or recommend it yet.

The last KC trip caused me to endure the Hallmark art exploration thing for kids, and the children’s museum. Both fine for what they are, but they are not the “Nelson.”

This time, I focused….which really means trying to get someone else interested in the museum so that I could take everyone there.

I knew the Lego Museum was going to be open finally, and that would be the full-on assault if I could get them talked out of the Zoo. So, I just kept the Lego Grand Opening a secret until after the “Nelson”. After the “Nelson”, we headed down to the Lego Museum, only to reject the very long line of kids waiting to get in. My son threw quite a fit about that, then tried begging, breaking things, crying, he wanted to see the Legos. Since I had just the night before thrown my own “Fit” at the Blue Koi, I extend him grace, and promise the “next time.”

I awoke Saturday morning, prepared for battle. We checked out of the Sheraton-Overland Park a beautifully run hotel. My only complaint was the extra $50 they charged to my card just in case I charged something to my room. It’s supposed to take a month to get it back off my card, just long enough for me to forget about it and double check that they credited me.

The hotel Lobby is pretty interesting, a huge wall table to offset the tall ceilings and a very tall painting of a Bull in a Thunderstorm….a Kansas sort of scene is pretty cool.

Personally, I realize that “decorators/designers” don’t think like I do, but I would have skipped the ugly pot of green plant material, the cheap looking blue pots, and those hideous too- shiny lamps so that the painting would show up better above the furniture piece….and I would have used Satin finish instead of gloss on the cabinet. But, even my own wife won’t let me decorate our home, so what do I know?

I take a moment to document the moment, and didn’t discover until reviewing the photos at home that the kids decided to “goof” the photo with silly faces. No wonder it turned out to be a long day…..

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First on the agenda is breakfast. I gave no argument to IHOP. I don’t care for that sort of place, but everyone else wanted to go, and the kids wanted to see if kids under 14 really have to Hop on one foot for the entire meal. That’s the lie I’ve used in the past to talk the kids out of IHOP. There were tickled to see that nobody was hopping for their meal, so we settled in for breakfast.

After breakfast the “Zoo” came up again, and it was gaining real momentum. I went for distraction….”Kids we are going to the Broccoli Museum, all about how broccoli is grown and how good it is for you…..” That was so bad sounding to the kids, that just about anything else sounded better. I quietly ring my hands, good one Mark.

The wife finally supported the Nelson idea, so I headed the GPS to downtown. We were sidelined and detoured for awhile due to a large group of people in tennis shoes and t-shirts walking for AIDS. But, we made it to the “Nelson.”

Upon entry, it’s just amazing looking, even coming in from the basement parking garage. Everyone seemed to be going along with my plan. The clincher…..it is FREE! That convinced the wife, but the parking was $5.00.

Inside the museum, we quickly made our way to some art. Some of it offensive. I really didn’t expect to educate my daughter on what naked men look like at the art museum, just didn’t think that far ahead. And then I learned that every room of art that has something of a naked body part shown is the first place my son wanted to run to, comment on the “parts”, do a bunch of snickering and laughing. Ugh, my plan is coming apart all for the sake of butt cheeks and naked other things. Really, couldn’t they put robes on those things on Saturday when the “kids” go to the museum.

The second room we entered had some Monet paintings. I like Monet, understand a little about the struggle he had being accepted in his time. The Masterpiece Monets are SO valuable, that the museum has a lady stationed in that room to keep the tourist from flashing photos. Photos are ok, just not with the flash. Flashing continued anyway by a few Chinese Tourists, followed by their apologies and shrugs, like they didn’t understand the rules, “Oh, so sorry.” They continued to flash in the next rooms.

I’m not much into paintings that I can not own nor paint, but I appreciate what they are, and their collectible value. I actually more fall in love with the Story of the Artist, not so much the work they did. If I like the story, I like the art, not the other way around.

I have a favorite, Birger Sandzen, a shared Kansas connection with my grandfather who taught college with him. This Sandzen painting was from his Rocky Mountain era. I like better the Kansas Tree-River-setting-Sun” themes that many of his paintings included…..but still it’s a Sandzen. My son spotted it first, running over to call out “A Sandzen!” So, I documented the moment….the daughter already starting “fade” in her interest in the gallery.

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Here’s a guy’s work I love, Remington. He painted for awhile in Kansas not too far from where I live in the Flint Hills.

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Ok, on through the gallery, divided by periods and styles, lots of boring paintings of people I don’t know, and to my great surprise, also period and iconic furniture pieces. Lots of wood carvings, wood sculpture. So many places feel that “wood” is not high-brow enough to be art. Not at the “Nelson”! My kind of place.

I spot a Van Gogh, easily recognizable by style, although I’ve never seen a picture of this painting before. The sign on the wall indicates that this is one of his later pieces. They also had a dark ugly portrait hanging beside this painting of a trouble looking little man, I think it might have been a self portrait, not sure. The kids say, “Oh, he’s scary” and we quickly move on to the next room.

Even if don’t so much like Van Gogh paintings, I like the “story” of the artist. Struggling his whole life to sell something, to be accepted, only to be driven to suicide. What a story, I can relate to the life long passion and struggles….I just hope to stop short of the ending.

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An interesting couch. I ponder the hours of work this piece took to carve. Still, doesn’t look like something I’d want to lay on to watch TV, and it wouldn’t fit in my house, and that fabric wouldn’t look good with grape juice and magic marker stains. I warned you that I was low-brow.

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As I moved through the gallery, I kept anticipating that maybe I’d see a Maloof, Krenov, Nakashima, Gustav Stickley (don’t care much for his brothers’ work), maybe even something really rare, a Charles Rohlfs.

I turned into a room, I think it was French work, marquetry everywhere. I’m not a marquetry guy, but any furniture builder can truly appreciate the painstakingly difficult work needed for a piece like this. Wow. I didn’t get the maker’s name, too much in shock I guess.

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Again, not my taste, but what a wonderful piece of craftsmanship, truly noteworthy work.
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A couple rooms of Asian work, I think it was Chinese furniture, comes into view. Expertly crafted, wow, the joinery is amazing, and yet combines into a rather boring piece for my tastes. Still, I had to respect the craftsmanship. There is a big section of the museum dedicated to Japanese furniture, but I just didn’t have time to go through that part.

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I found this little carved chair. I really like it. I ponder the artist, sitting on a dirt floor, carving this with tools he probably forged himself. Truly a great chair, well positioned piece in a collection like this….eventhough it’s not American!

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I don’t remember exactly at what point it happened in the tour, but as I watched the family excitement starting to fade over a couple of hours, (all of the snickering about naked people was starting to get tiring), I knew I had to make some quick decisions about what to “skip” since I knew my time at the “Nelson” was drawing to a close.

My daughter had resorted to laying on the sitting bench in each gallery room with a wet paper towel on her forehead, moaning quietly….yes we have our own Drama Queen. She did have a miraculous recovery once the decision to head back to the parking garage was announced…..

I rounded up everyone and said, ”...let’s get to the American Art level,” as I figured that was my best chance of seeing some wood that I would like.

I saw an Eames (yawn), looks like an old College Dorm room chair. Why this piece, Eames did better work than this? Most would pass by this at a garage sale…..but the real picker knows this is a valuable gem to own because others collect them.

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here’s a chair I think I would have passed on at a garage sale. I was so uninterested in it that I didn’t even stop to see who’s chair it was. Must be important for some reason to be in the “Nelson” so I took a photo.

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And then I stumble upon an ugly little Frank Lloyd Wright chair out of plywood. I ponder it, wondering how FLW got any more commissions for furniture after this one. Then, I remember that Maloof started with Plywood furniture made from scraps he found along the railroad, built for his own family to sit on to eat dinner. That ply furniture got him in a magazine, and well the rest is history, but he did leave ply for solid wood. But, I remember the era, back when plywood was really starting to take off. So, the FLW chair is still ugly, but I understand that it had it’s time and place, and FLW fans will surely appreciate it.

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I move on, and then what I consider a much more interesting FLW chair appears out of Oak. Now, this one is “cool” looking to me. I didn’t like the yellow fabric on the cushions, but I’m sure it fit the original spot it was designed for. I notice how little “care” any of the other museum attenders give the furniture pieces. Pass them by, looking at paintings, and more paintings. Even this little FLW chair doesn’t gather anyone’s attention other than mine.

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And then I spot an unassuming little bookcase designed by the Greene & Greene brothers. I hardly noticed the Tiffany lamp sitting on the bookcase (like it needed that ugly “crab” lamp to be displayed on it.”) I’m actually left a little offended, that the G&G piece couldn’t have been “art” by itself, somehow needing that crab lamp to sit on it to make it interesting. You know what I mean. It’s a cool lamp, maybe it should have it’s own white gallery stand, not a G&G piece under it.

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OK, The POINT of all this dribble…..

Furniture is often so under-appreciated as art. And honestly, for good reason really, as a lot of it is crap, made from inferior materials, designed by autocad-robots fresh out of some design school, repeating the same things over and over throughout 200 years with only slight variations stolen from someone else, manufactured by computers, assembled in sweat shops, finishes designed to hide the wood grain and species (while calling it walnut or cherry)... especially in today’s world. (wow, my old English Comp teacher would sure have flagged that sentence as a run-on)

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Scene Opens: Fade from Black…..
Location: Big Furniture Retailer Corporate Office….Designer’s Floor

Setup: Conrad the Big Boss comes into the cubicle area in a huff, see’s Bob is tossing pencils in the ceiling tile, Chip is searching his I-Phone, Corrie is painting her nails, while flipping through the Ikea catalog.

Conrad: “Ok troops, shape up, the charts are all on display in the break room, things are down, really down….we need some big new stuff! Get busy, if you need me I’ll be at the Club, or at the massage, and I’ve got dinner with Bigger Mucky-Muck Boss tonight, and I need something to tell him. And for Gosh shakes, everyone is Green now in the big Markets, so whatever you do, don’t use real wood, my land that stuff is too expensive and unpredictable anyway, think plastic, metal, chrome, MDF, do something special for Me…...Now get busy, make some real magic for Me!”

Scene Shift: All three look at each other, Bob sighs, Chip shrugs, Corrie messes up a nail.

Bob: “I guess we need some new ideas.”
Chip: “Yea, but where? We need to get out of this office, do some research for a change….”
Corrie: “We don’t have time for that, where’s that new Pottery Barn catalog you had…...”
Bob: “Eureka! You’re right! It doesn’t matter what it’s made from, or what it looks like, Marketing can convince everyone to buy it, and if not they’ll discount it far enough to clear out the merchandise. Here’s the catalog…..Chip fire up that cad program, I’m inspired now…...”

Scene Fades black….very black.

(See, my engineering classmates in College told me that the Play-writing class wouldn’t benefit me….all I wanted was an easy “A” after all. Boy, I had to work hard for that “A”.)

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On, with the point….
But, WHEN furniture is appreciated as art, the person that “draws” up the design is the one rewarded with prestige and dinner parties, while the “maker” goes home quietly with his empty lunch box to the family waiting at home, no applause, no awards, no appreciation.

As a culture, I wish we gave more credit to those that can actually “make” something, especially if they also designed it. It’s one of the reasons I love Maloof, just one of the reasons, there are many other reasons to love what he did as well.

I think the “Nelson’s” collection of iconic wood furniture is missing a few “links”, but I think they’ve tried really hard to prove a point. That point is furniture building is important, and a few examples of stellar and pivotal pieces should be included along with all of the painters and clay modelers in art history. But, adding a Gary Knox Bennett chair would be cool, a Maloof Settee (everyone has a rocker), A Krenov Case, a Nakashima Table…..there are others, you get my point.

I’m contemplating all of this through rooms of portraits from Europe, and I turned groggily into another room, the kids and wife standing in front of me starting to beg me about leaving….

then, I see in the darkness of the room something that makes my heart skip…...could it be a real Charles Rohlfs?

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Nothing else is like it, it must be a Rohlfs, and I shoved the kids aside (gently) and moved straight for IT.

Really, truly, it is a Charles Rohlfs piece, and it’s a unique one.

A really weird little desk.
It’s so, so…..well, like nothing else, it’s a Rohlfs.

The mind that could come up with something so original, and still build it with his own hands, is baffling, alarming, inspirational, intimidating, exciting all in one.

Expertly crafted, not like the crap of today with power nailers, pocket screws and biscuits, and wood grain running in the wrong directions. Not only is this piece 112 years old, it still looks perfect, the boards haven’t split, the hinges work, the piece is just immaculate. It’s apparent that this piece has lived in a collector’s home, not a home with children who would surely have knocked off the finials in a wrestling match or tossing a football indoors, like what happens at our house. This piece looks as if it has lived in a museum, it is so well preserved.

I start to ponder it’s condition….how could it have survived so well? Well built, solid design, traditional joinery, seasoned wood, any woodworking teacher would be proud of the workmanship.

See, I told you so…..there are reasons for doing what I’ve told you to do in class…..”, I can hear the teacher say in the back of my mind. (My dad, Mr. Heikes, and Marc Adams have been my teachers)

Pondering the Design.
So strange, non-symmetrical details, its a design that seems unpolluted by the common realities of, ”oh I hope that I can sell this?”

Also, it’s a design that just screams, ”get out of my shop, I’ll make it look like I want it to look, go!” as I imagine how a commissioner might have been tossed out of the Rohlfs Studio if he didn’t like what was coming together.

And this piece is obviously not designed with the compromises that come when thousands of copies will be duplicated over and over, so that automatic machines can cut the parts so that the low-skill workers in the assembly line can put it together while they watch the clock to ring “it’s break time”, or “go home”.

Nope!

Rohlfs’ pieces are all built to make a statement….and that statement IS NOTI had to compromise…”.
The statement is that, “I did it my way….”
It’s like he’s saying, ”If you don’t like it, so what, I could care less….

I guess that’s why I’m drawn to it, and to him.

I’m drawn to a lot of work where someone has designed and built something original themselves, something without words that speaks, ”Nope, I’m not compromising for anything, I dreamed it, so I built it…..

From woodworking to hand stitched quilts, I love a piece when it screams ”I’m unique, notice me, no compromises here!

That is a rare thing, you agree?

We embrace this crazy-ideal with our movie actors, and music lip-singers, and all sorts of things in our culture, BUT NOT in our functional artists, we don’t leave much of a place for them….
Sorry, I’m headed to Ikea, there’s a big sale….

We spend our money on other things when we have it. I’m no different, but I just don’t have much to spend, and a lot of us don’t. Therefore the industry of Studio Functional Art must survive on the handful of collectors that appreciate something like a Rohlfs piece.

Finding those builders today, after the “Big Recession”, is getting tougher, as many have had to give up, or take a second job, and all of that reduces the volume of work that is original and pushes the boundaries of what’s “proper” for today, and tomorrow.

And, Rohlfs’ works are NOT just brainless beauties created for the runway, held together for a minute or two with hot glue and staples, hoping for big orders from department stores. Nope, not only unique, and meant for one-of-kind thinkers, this little Rohlfs Oak Desk is truly well crafted with traditional joinery.

The design doesn’t fit into any category completely. It’s part old English medieval, a little English Arts and Crafts, some Craftsman, a little “crazy”, a lot of Art Nouveau before it was cool.

Check out the detail in the carvings and personal touches, think about Charles’ carving tool carefully shearing away just the right number of chips to give the side carving a bit of a “pizazz”. Did you catch that chip carving used for texturing? My camera had a hard time capturing, but it really is something to see, if only I could have “touched” it.

Oh, those details, make it all so…..well, Rohlfs.

Nothing else is like it.

And, strangely, not many of us have tried to copy Rohlfs in the past 112 years.
Holy Moly, Stickley has been done to “death” by all of us, Maloof has so many copiers you can’t throw a chisel without one of us screaming “ouch!”

But why didn’t Rohlfs’ work make a bigger impact, change the world, move to common-place in our culture?

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Well, first off, there is not much of it that exists.

Prolific artists are what Galleries want. Enough work to make lots of collectors happy, but few enough to keep them bidding up the prices.

Rohlfs just wasn’t that prolific in today’s sense. He couldn’t be. He started his career as a furniture builder late, the acting job just didn’t work out, so he tried furniture, gave it his best for 10 years and quit. A guy can’t get a lot of pieces built in only ten years, especially since he waited long enough that I’m sure his feet were hurting everyday, know what I mean?

I would guess this one Desk probably took him 500 hours to do, at least it would have taken me that long to go from tree to finished piece. That’s only 4 pieces a year if you work the hours of a factory worker…..so maybe he put out 8 or a dozen a year. I’m not sure either, and something I want to learn more about as I study this character.

So, a normal woodworker can’t do many pieces like this in a year, nor in a career.
But combine that with “craziness”, an out of work flamboyant actor as your calling card, add a few artist rants, and upset customers…..the production is limited, you get my point.

Collectors, rightly, want to have a book of auction values of copied pieces so that they know what it’s worth for their investment portfolio. Just watch the PBS Antique Roadshow and see how cheap wonderful old furniture is compared to a moth-holed baseball uniform, or a Grateful Dead concert flier, a factory made Gibson, or an old faded Beatles Album.

It’s like our culture is completely upside-down on what it values at times, compared to what it should value, and Who it should value. Have you noticed that also?

Still, its who we are, me included.

But, I’m a little different, I’d rather look at a Rohlfs than a torn football jersey from a long ago game, or a music album that was produced by the millions. At least for what I like to view, the artist actually “touched” it.

Lovers of Rohlfs’ work must have orginally collected it for it’s weirdness, uniqueness…they must have “gotten it”.

Their reward?

The market values…..worth many times what a Stickley piece is worth today.

Those first buyers didn’t get rewarded for the value for sure, but their descendents did. The PBS Antique Roadshow told a story of a family that found an ugly little chair in the attic, nobody really wanted it, too strange for any of their houses, but one of the sisters agreed to take it. It had a broken foot, and nobody in the family knew anything about the chair, or how it got into the attic, so the sister brought it to the Roadshow and discovered their $100,000 Rohlfs….even with the broken foot.

Suddenly, the little chair is viewed differently, now they love it. Here is another Lumberjock who loves Rohlfs and recreated that Roadhshow chair for all of us to enjoy

I think that family on the Roadshow might be like a lot of people that discover Rohlfs work, and I don’t think that is the reason he built it. They love it, want it, because it’s “valuable”.

But, I’m just guessing, being a strange little puppy myself, that Rohlfs didn’t create it with that goal.
I like it because of who he was, what his pieces say to me, and if his work is worth a lot, so be it.

I love that story. It’s like finding a bald cell phone salesman who transforms into a recording star on American Idol….only better.

Rohlfs shop was a true artisan-shop. As different from Stickley and his brothers as you can get, who purported craft work in countless articles, while hiring factory workers, contracting out the design work, and sending out salesmen with briefcases of sketches to fetch orders by the hordes. They were business men, Rohlfs was an artist. At least that’s my opinion.

It’s not that I’m against the Stickley work, please don’t get offended, they have their importance and I like their work as well, and I appreciate the ideals Gustav wrote about. But, none of the Stickley brothers’ work is anything like a Rohlfs, in any sense, other than at times they shared the same wood species, and lived at the same time.

Rholfs’ work is as much a piece of functional art as it gets, and Stickley’s work is just more….well…uh….hmmm….well crafted and factory looking (there I said it, don’t hate me please).

The Desk.

Strange looking yes, but the “ideal” is what draws my heart close to it….and maybe to him. He’s reported to have been a strange little puppy, hard to deal with, odd in all sense of the word, working alone or with a helper or two, depressed at times, melancholy, and utterly unappreciated in his day, and he knew it.

Not much is written “about” him, although a couple of books with photos of his creations have been written for collectors to ponder.

Oh, I’d love to meet this weird fellow that can create something so interesting…...

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I study it…The Desk.

Had it not been Named on the display card, I wouldn’t have been for sure what it was.
Isn’t that just one more thing to make it special?

My wife says, ”....what is it?”
I respond, squatted down close to the floor looking at the carvings, “Well, I’m not sure, a music stand, maybe a book stand….let’s look at the display card…..It’s a desk?”
Way cool.

I’d love to “open” and see whats inside, but “don’t touch”.
Oh, I HATE RULES.

I ponder, “Why do the pierced carvings in the lower section have fabric behind them, making them look like old 1940’s radio speakers?”

It’s a mystery, and it makes the whole piece better yet….the unknown.

Like a hormone raging boy in high school, I’d love to open up the front of this prom dress….look behind the coverings, but that’s forbidden….don’t touch. Ugh@!

Thinking about the eccentric, crazy, artist who could not only design it, but create it, something so under-appreciated in our culture today….and in his era as well.

Imagining his mirror sharp chisel carefully swiping away little curls as he textures the sides of the desk.
Wow. I’m moved.

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I can’t get a decent photograph at all with the “no flash” gallery policy. Frustrating, I try to get details, never being able to keep the camera steady enough not to blur the slow shutter due to the low light. Why did I not think to bring my tripod?

I think, “Hey can’t someone throw open a curtain, this is a Rohlfs here!”

How he moves the furniture from what everyone else would have done in that time (Stickley, Morris, Ellis) to what he does, is just amazing to me. The chip carved surface, the Finials in a sort of art nouveau. Finally, the room empties, flash, flash, flash and some of the carved details finally show up without a blurring.

I feel ashamed, like I’ve shrunk out the back door to the alley of somewhere I shouldn’t have been. The security camera glares at me. I risked being tossed out for some flashes? It was worth it.

I feel both excited, and ashamed, inspired and overwhelmed…like I’ve done something bad that I enjoyed.
Just as any good art ought to cause in me, I can’t get the experience out of my head.

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Now, I do realize that most people wouldn’t want a piece like this in their home. Most people wouldn’t understand it. They wouldn’t understand how unique it was at it’s time, and still today. But, if they knew it’s value to a collector, they’d all want one, even if they didn’t like it…..we are all like that you know. Most of us.

How many things are like that?
How many of your things are like that?
For me, not many, and I aim to change that, I’ve been inspired again.
I know a piece is “good” when I still ponder it even a few days later, after seeing “the Desk”.

——————————————-

I’m not really finished with the Rohlfs Desk yet, I’d look at it for another hour if I could, but my family is starting to whimper and beg, “let’s go Dad…....honey, c’mon…”

I think I should kick myself, no tripod, no sketch book, no tape measure, no Pentel P205 which is always clipped to my shirt….almost always, but not that day.

How could I have come so unprepared to the “Nelson”? But, how could I have known that I would stumble so unexpectedly upon….....The Desk.

Next Time….Next Time….I will be back to see her, and I will be more prepared, bring all of my gear, skip the rest and make a line straight to her…..The Desk…...next time.

I swallow hard, and say my goodbyes, like I’m lingering on that door step at the end of the night, needing…hoping, for just a kiss on the cheek, ....but I’m not worthy.

“I’ll be back soon”, I whisper to her….the Desk.

Then, like it was hidden from me, as I leave the Desk, I notice in the same room, sitting against the wall under some painting (like it needed something above it to make it worthy for display) is a plain little table.

So demure compared to a Flashy Rohlfs Desk, that it sits quietly, shyly in the corner.

She’s like an 8th grade introverted girl at her first dance, knowing she’s in the presence of the cheerleaders. Quietly she sits and waits for someone to notice her.
Her parents told her she looked beautiful in that dress, only at the dance the cheerleaders get all of the attention. The Cheerleaders have all of the right low cuts and high cuts in their dresses to get all the boys blushing, as they circle around. Not our shy girl, she just sits in the corner and waits for the right guy.

I’ll be her date, I go to take a closer look.
I’m smitten.

It looks so “Stickley”, maybe it is I hope, so I investigate closer as I walk up, and immediately recognize the work of the Ellis genius.
The rounded edge top (just on the sides), the smaller legs, the thin “feet”.

Knowing Ellis, I hunker down in anticipation of finding the “gem”, the tell tale inlay that I know must be there.

Stuck on the sides of the legs, near the top, as if it was a set of beautiful tattoos in a secret place, hidden from everyone but her husband….I find her inlays.

Beautiful little turns of pewter lines in a Nouveau look, a little color added in the center, they are gorgeous.

Most designers and furniture builders, me included, would have turned the legs so the inlays would face a room. We want the inlays to be noticed first. Not Ellis, tucked sweetly on the side, missed by a quick passerby. Those that dwell upon her….the little shy table….take a moment and inspect her sides, then you see the delicate nouveau inlays, as if only her husband gets to see those decorating lines.

I can learn from that, I’m always “in your face” best side forward, screaming for attention. Ellis was a genius, and I’m not, and it shows in his work, and in mine…..I’m left ashamed, embarrassed at my work….and inspired.

Wow, what work, she’s a gem for sure, yet hidden in the shadow by the “Statement” of the Desk in the center of the room.

I feel sort of sorry for her, she deserves her own single stand in the middle of the room.
I’m moved by her.
I’m ready to defend her honor, she deserves better…....

This table is designed by Harvey Ellis, built by the Gustav Stickley factory. Smaller in proportion, decorated in inlays and colors, thinner lines, something Craftsman style, yet different…..the Ellis touch, so much more he had yet to do, his design time cut short by death….rats, would have been interesting to see where he could have gone next. Of all the Stickley pieces made, by any of the brothers, Ellis’ pieces are my favorites.

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A quiet and polite group of Chinese tourists come through, all with little tiny cameras taking pictures of everything that didn’t move. Not reading the cards, just “Click”, “click”, “Click” as they move quickly from one piece to another.

I stand up to take a photo of the wall card beside the Stickley/Ellis table so that I can document the story behind the piece.
One of the Chinese ladies asks me very politely, “This a famous painting?”
She thought I was photographing the wall title about the painting above the Stickley table.

Honestly, I didn’t even look at the painting, don’t know who it was by, or what was painted, just didn’t impact me in the least, slightly offended that whoever placed it there thought the Stickley/Ellis needed something more above it. Ugh, can’t we just love the old girl on her own terms?

I reply to the Chinese lady, “No, this little table is a very iconic American Piece, so I’m photographing it.”
“OH,” she says, and quickly snaps a photo and moves on around the room.

I bend down and study the inlay again brought to Stickley’s work by the genius Harvey Ellis. It’s so dark I can’t photograph it, rats!

“Dad, come on, let’s go…......”, I hear from the hallway.

I am forced to move on, by forces I can’t control…....

Yes, forced to move just as our Country was forced…. a decade of sand storms, drought, joblessness… The Great Depression, then the Big War again. Yes, our society was forced to move on, leaving Stickley/Ellis for many years, before deciding that those plain and humble oak pieces were worth owning and collecting. Early collectors have been rewarded by consistent increases in the value of Stickley’s genius. I hope they understand what they have, not just the value…....

Moving on….

——————————————-

I didn’t like much about this chair except the criss-cross rawhide stitching holding on the leather seat and back. I’ve wanted to stitch like that before, seemed too….well…..how do I say it…..counter cultural. I was pleased to gain some courage from this chair…in the Nelson. Maybe I can gather the courage as well.

No time to study, not sure who it was by, everyone in my Party begging for the exits now…..

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A Folding Game Table. I would have liked to see this with the top open….don’t touch!

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As we move through the museum, transitioning through the rooms into the contemporary period, something is definitely missing in the “collection” of art. The stuff that is there is bronze and stone, some of it can be sat upon, but completely uninspiring to me. As we moved through, I kept hoping for a Bennett, or a Maloof, or a Krenov, surely a Nakashima piece. Nope.

I did find an Ingmar Relling chair and ottoman, pretty cool, still uninspiring, nothing like a Rohlfs. Looks factory made, although very fine quality. Something you’d listen to music in while having a drink alone. Looks very “Mad Men”.

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I pass a hideously ugly Warhol piece. What were people thinking? I just don’t get it, although I think the guy was interesting. Wish this would have been a Marilyn Monroe piece instead, even a soup can would have been more interesting to me.

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Then a John Chamberlain…..What? Looks like a trailer headed to the scrap yard dropped something. Where are we headed people if this is “art”? I frantically search for “wood” as we move on through the collection.

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then something I really liked, a Louise Nevelson piece. I’ve been trying to pound my brain to figure out what to do with all of the odd shaped scraps my studio creates…..maybe she’s onto something. I like it.

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I stumble upon a “chair” made of bronze conveyor belting by Ron Arad…..I love it. It is not practical for my house for sure, but what a stunning piece of functional art. I can see why it’s in the “collection”, well done Nelson folks! Even if I had been able to dream up this idea and successfully build the chair, I would have cut the belting at the bottom of the chair front legs, and not thought about running it down a step and into a roll. I’m inspired, and left ashamed that my own work is so lacking in originality…...

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There are many other notable things I saw and photographed. Lots of interesting ivory carved pieces, so delicate I can’t imagine how they were created or preserved. Some wonderful Native American wood items from all over the Country. More than I can put in this Blog, maybe another time I’ll add something about the Egyptian, and other pieces I was able to see and photograph with no flash.

Very cool, were a set of three sculpted walking canes. Truly, so well done, I’m ashamed of my own musings at carving walking sticks. All the hours I’ve spent carving walking canes, I can truly appreciate the hours spent on these three by Charles Edenshaw.

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Here is an artifact out of an old church. The carver’s work is just amazing, even if you don’t “get” the content of his art. I’m a Christian, so this was a very moving piece to me.

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Carved Ivory Box, I think this was an artifact from a church, but I don’t remember now.
But, it is beautifully carved. Having worked and carved ivory myself and tried inlay work, I can truly appreciate the artist’s ability on this piece.

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————————————

Wow, check out this old carved chest. I can’t remember if it is German or English. Seems like it ought to be German, but I’m not sure.

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I mention to my wife that this carving would make a great casket lid…..she responds, “seems like a big waste of time for something that is buried.” She’s right, but there’s that “compromise” I was talking about in the Rohlfs section above.

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Just ponder a little as a woodworker, how you would go about creating this Egyptian piece in wood. I’m not sure I could do it.

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A Mummy Casket. Not difficult woodworking, but I thought the artwork was interesting…..

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The Native American section at the Gallery is quite big. I took just a few representative photos of the type of quality carving work that was done, and is on display…..

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This is a Beaver Chair…..
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Check out the quality of this armor, with the dimple engraving….

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This is carved ivory, from one piece, pierced through carving, every face has details, all the fingers, toes, so incredible I can’t really comprehend the workmanship on this, I’ve seen nothing carved like it before. Wow!

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———————————————————————
From the category of “Why didn’t I think of this first?”
Contemporary Sculpture piece

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From the Category of “Why, no ask Why Not?”
Contemporary Bronze. I’m not sure if this furniture or a sculpture, or what it means, or if it has any meaning.

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Bronze Contemporary Piece. Everyone was worn out, so I didn’t stop to get the name on this piece, but I liked it.
I think it is a bench.

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Well, that’s about it for what I prepared for this blog.
thanks for skimming along and looking at the photos with me,
Mark DeCou
www.decoustudio.com

(This story, text, photos are protected by copyright 2012, all rights preserved and reserved by the author M.A. DeCou, no unauthorized use of this material in whole, or p

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com



23 comments so far

View Bertha's profile

Bertha

12951 posts in 1380 days


#1 posted 04-30-2012 05:41 PM

Thank you so much for sharing this!!! I know it was a tremendous amount of work. At least it’s immortalized here now. That marquetry’s got my head spinning!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View cathyb's profile

cathyb

757 posts in 1931 days


#2 posted 04-30-2012 06:41 PM

Wow Mark that was pretty amazing. My favorite exhibit, without reservation, was the one of those walking sticks. They are fabulous. What a great experience for you. I bet you couldn’t wait to get back home and into the shop.
Thanks so much for sharing.

-- cathyb, Hawaii, www.cathyswoodworking.com

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1281 posts in 2424 days


#3 posted 04-30-2012 06:41 PM

You had a great trip to the museum.Thanks much for sharing. I travel to Brazil and have visited many museums. Unfortunately, the ones with outstanding furniture and wooden artifacts would not allow taking photos. I did however get a private tour of a wood museum that is one of the most amazing museums with wood I have ever seen. Took lots of photos.

You are one very fortunate person to be able to see those piece live.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View GrandpaLen's profile

GrandpaLen

1562 posts in 959 days


#4 posted 04-30-2012 09:08 PM

There are some truely incredible pieces on display there.

Thanks for sharing. – Len

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View Karson's profile

Karson

34891 posts in 3087 days


#5 posted 04-30-2012 09:09 PM

Mark: I driven by the museum many times but have never entered it’s door.

Thanks for the tour.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1996 posts in 3092 days


#6 posted 04-30-2012 09:53 PM

Hey Karson, park on the street, and it’s all Free, worth a trip with your family, especially your son will enjoy it. The special exhibit on the World’s Fair was $8/head, so we didn’t see that.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View eddie's profile

eddie

7392 posts in 1301 days


#7 posted 05-01-2012 12:36 AM

thanks for the tour mark really enjoyed it ,the French marquetry just hard to imanage that that kind of master piece could be made by hand. before i retired had to travel to many city’s and always hit the museums friends would laugh at me ,being from Louisiana wanting to see them instead of hitting the nite clubs .looks like the kids really enjoyed it too they will remember it their whole life.

-- Jesus Is Alright with me

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1996 posts in 3092 days


#8 posted 05-01-2012 12:44 AM

Thanks Eddie. I lived in Red Stick there in LA for a few years, working for the Man at the refinery.
Don’t miss much, except the food and I would enjoy another tour of the New Orleans antique stores. I’d have a whole different perspective now after doing woodworking for the past 15 years.

“Jesus is just alright with me….....” also

M

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View HalDougherty's profile

HalDougherty

1820 posts in 1924 days


#9 posted 05-01-2012 01:56 AM

Mark,

Thanks for taking us on the tour with your family. I’m easy to please I can spend an afternoon looking at rough slabs of wood at a lumber yard or sawmill and be very entertained.

-- Hal, Tennessee http://www.first285.com

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1996 posts in 3092 days


#10 posted 05-01-2012 02:11 AM

Hey Hal, I think for some of the stuff, rough slabs would have been better art.
thanks for following along,
M

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View lightweightladylefty's profile

lightweightladylefty

2671 posts in 2399 days


#11 posted 05-01-2012 06:10 AM

Mark,

. . . and I was going to get to bed at a decent hour tonight! I should never have clicked on your blog. LOL I probably spent as much time reading and looking as you spent at the museum! Thanks for the education.

L/W

-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View DocSavage45's profile

DocSavage45

5100 posts in 1529 days


#12 posted 05-01-2012 07:18 AM

Mark,

Started to read your blog. Got to come back to it. I enjoy your digressions. :-0

Gotta go to bed

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View scott shangraw's profile

scott shangraw

513 posts in 2756 days


#13 posted 05-01-2012 02:08 PM

Great Story and pics Mark.Thanks for sharing.

-- Scott NM,http://www.shangrilawoodworks.com

View ctregan's profile

ctregan

7 posts in 903 days


#14 posted 05-01-2012 04:52 PM

Thanks for sharing your experience! I hope this encourages more woodworkers, to visit art museums.
You are lucky to have a place like this in your backyard.

View SASmith               's profile

SASmith

1606 posts in 1674 days


#15 posted 05-01-2012 10:37 PM

Thanks for the tour.

-- Scott Smith, Southern Illinois

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