On the prowl in this locale since 22 June 2008:

Website counter

16 January 2009

Book Review: A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene

I love books, especially art books and reviewing the book A New and Native Beauty: The art and Craft of Greene & Greene is both a pleasure and a disappointment. The book is almost too lovely.

The book accompanies the Huntington Library's exhibit of the same title that closed on 26 January 2009 in Pasadena to travel on to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. (March 13– June 7, 2009), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (July 14–Oct. 18, 2009).

The Huntington Library exhibit was one of several that helped commemorate the centennial of the Gamble House, a work of Charles and Henry Greene that is one of the jewels of Pasadena's crown. Most of the other exhibits closed on 4 January 2009. All showed different aspects of the Gamble House and led me to finally visit this National Historic Landmark.

I wish I had read the many essays collected in this book before I had seen any of them. Living in Pasadena, I'll have the opportunity to visit the Gamble House again as well as the permanent exhibit at the Huntington Library in its Dorothy Collins Brown Wing of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. For those who aren't lucky enough to live in Pasadena, the books many photographs will give you an idea of how beautiful the Gamble House is and the exhibit will leave you wistfully wishing we hadn't allowed the Bandini House to be destroyed, like many architectural treasures.

The title of the book and the exhibit comes from the 1952 citation the Greenes were given by the American Institute of Architects although they had ceased being partners by that time. The Greenes were honored as "formulators of a new and native architecture" and Greene & Greene, who were based in Pasadena, strongly influenced California's architectural heritage and the American Arts and Crafts movement.

Edited by Edward R. Bosley, James N. Gamble Director of the Gamble House (University of Southern California, School of Architecture) and Anne E. Mallek, curator of the Gamble House, this book includes a brief forward by Frank Gehry and 11 essays.

The Greenes were influenced by the Morris Movement ("The Beauty of a House: Charles Greene, the Morris Movement and James Culbertson" by Mallek), Japonism (The Spell of Japan: Japonism and the Metalwork of Greene and Greene" by Nina Gray) even though neither ever traveled to Japan, and the very sunny nature that attracted winter birds to Pasadena ("Sunlight and Elsewhere: Finding California in the Work of Greene and Greene" by Bruce Smith.

Charles was married to an English woman and the influence of England can also be seen in their work ("Charles Greene and Englishness" by Alan Crawford). The Morris Movement was named for the Englishman William Morris but by the time of the Gamble House's construction the English Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was only two years away from being declared dead. Morris' successor in England, Robert Ashbee watched his own business enterprise die in 1907 yet on the West Coast of America, the Arts and Crafts Movement was still viable. Yet the concept or public perception of the English house was also a part of Greene & Greene's work.

The English manor house required servants and the English aristocracy had cultivated a culture of its own. None of the women who commissioned the Greenes were from an aristocratic background. According to Ann Scheid in her essay "Independent Women, Widows and Heiresses: Greene and Greene's Women Clients," they are often better educated than their fathers and even their husbands. What happens when a woman makes decisions in the making of a house? They make life easier for themselves.

Unlike many architects, the Greenes offered a full package. They designed the furniture by working with furniture makers ("An International Studio: The Furniture Collaborations of the Greens and the Halls" by Edward S. Cooke, Jr.) and they designed stained glass windows ("A Glimmer of Vivid Light: The Stained Glass of Greene and Greene" by Julie L. Sloan." One of the Japanese influences was the appreciation of natural wood and the book includes an essay on this including "Out of the Woods" by Edward R. Bosley. The Gamble House docent who gave the tour I was on said Pasadena received the Gamble House as a gift after the owners heard the prospective buyers wanted to cover all the lovely wood with paint! Sometimes bad taste is a good thing.

If you missed the Greene & Greene exhibits in Pasadena, get this book for an idea of what you missed and make an appointment to see the Gamble House. If you live in Boton or Washington, D.C., get this book before you see the exhibit and you won't be disappointed although you might wish you had known about the centennial celebration. I wish I had read this book before instead of after seeing all the exhibit and even between seeing each one.

No comments: