Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part # 4

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William Spratling was an American-born silversmith and artist, best-known for his influence on 20th century Mexican silver design. He established a model for the artistic development and growth of the silver industry in Taxco and deserves the title “Father of Contemporary Mexican Silver”.

Spratling visited Mexico for the first time in 1926. He returned for summers over the next several years, and in 1929, he finally moved to Mexico. He quickly integrated himself into the Mexican art scene and became a friend and a strong proponent of the work of muralist Diego Rivera, for whom he organized an exhibition at the MoMA in New York. Using money received from commissions he organized for Rivera, Spratling purchased a home in Taxco, southwest of Mexico City. In 1931, the US Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow, suggested to Spratling that the city of Taxco had been the site of silver mines for centuries, but had never been considered a location where jewelry and objects of silver were designed and made. Subsequently, Spratling hired an experienced goldsmith from Iguala who moved to Taxco and created silver jewelry of Spratling’s design. Other craftsmen joined Spratling’s shop and produced tin ware, copper items, textiles and furniture – all designed by Spratling. These earliest designs were based on pre-Columbian motifs as well as simple themes utilizing rope borders, strap designs and other such basic ideas. He often adopted the stylized animal motifs found in Mexican pottery and incorporated native materials such as amethyst and rosewood into his designs. The workshop grew far beyond Spratling’s expectations… By 1940 Spratling employed 300 artisans and Taxco had become a major tourist destination for those seeking silverwork. He began to export silver items to U.S. department stores including Neiman Marcus, Macy’s and Saks. Ironically, the 1940’s boom in Taxco silver production ultimately led to the downfall of Spratling’s company “Spratling y Artesanos”, which by 1946 went out of business. In 1951 Spratling founded a new company—William Spratling, S.A. and continued to work throughout the 1950’s and ’60’s. His designs were also produced by the Conquistador Company in Mexico City for a couple of years.

When talking about Spratling´s highly appreciated furniture designs, Marilyn Monroe was among the celebrities that purchased his furniture pieces. Spratling’s silver designs have always been copied but now, perhaps because of the higher prices Spratling’s name commands I have seen an increasing number of William Spratling attributed furniture pieces.

Don S. Shoemaker is in my opinion the most remarkable representative of Mexico Modernism furniture design. Don and his wife Barbara settled down in Santa Maria Guido, Morelia in 1951. Don began producing wooden items, including jewelry pieces, hand carved bowls and decorative accessories, as well as some early rustic furniture designs made from hardwoods grown in the local mountains. The first couple of years were less than easy and in 1955 the Shoemakers were forced to leave the country; their small enterprise became a cooperative which soon after was closed. Their life project continued when the Mexican government invited them to return to Morelia and the furniture workshop SEÑAL, S.A. was founded.

Don left us an unrivaled aesthetic legacy through his furniture designs; he developed his very own identity and style which remained evolving throughout his whole career maintaining the principles of high quality hand-craftsmanship and the intensive use of native Mexican exotic woods. His organic forms were unmatchable by any other furniture designer of his time. During his more than 3 decades of dedicated work Don designed a significant number of iconic furniture masterpieces, all produced in hardwoods, which he favored for their inherent strength, durability and magnificent beauty:

•Organic designs: the most unique “Scissor” Sling chair (an armchair with folding braces), his “Sloucher” and “Swinger” Sling chairs.

•Rectilinear designs: the “Parsons Line” including suites for every room.

•Coffee table designs: the “Cuerno”, “Sling” and “Descanso” coffee tables.

•Dining room set designs: the “Sling” dining room set, cabinets and sideboards.

•Lounge and living room designs: the “Descanso” set and the “Pernos” Lounge set.

•Progressive designs: the famous stack-laminated “Diamond” desk and tables.

Below are some pictures from my personal Don S. Shoemaker collection, a look into the Shoemaker mood when you have a home completely furnished by our master:

Don´s heir, George R. Shoemaker, takes over the company in 1990, after Don passed away. However the decision was taken to liquidate the company SEÑAL, S.A. and George formed a new firm with the name “ARRENDADORA SHOEMAKER”. George continued reproducing Don´s designs under this new label; he improved some of Don´s furniture lines and he developed some own new furniture designs. One of George´s masterpieces are his iconic Bar Sets produced in cueramo, he only made a limited edition of 5 of them. However, I will not present at this time any pictures of this magnificent Bar Set to avoid future forgeries.

Unfortunately, George´s health declines extremely fast and production activity goes to almost zero. George passes away and the workshop finally closes in the early 2000’s. Many George R. Shoemaker furniture pieces are copied and sold as “Don S. Shoemaker originals” not recognizing George´s talent and contribution to his Dad´s work. He was a great designer by his own right. He had a restless mind and he also experimented in Art Nouveau, Art Deco and even English XIX Century styles.

Po Shun Leong is an artist, former architect, sculptor and furniture maker. Of Chinese origin, Leong was born in London and lived in Mexico for 15 years. He arrived in Mexico in 1964. For several years, he practiced architecture, designing a series of large furniture stores, residences and commercial exhibitions. He developed many furniture designs and was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Knoll International Furniture Competition, 2 Gold Medal Awards for fiberglass furniture in the IMCE, (Mexican Export Competition) and two 1st prizes in the low cost furniture competition.

In the early 1980’s the Leong family immigrated to Southern California. He set up a studio in his garage to produce prototypes and taught himself woodworking. He became known since the late 1980’s for his highly intricate and inspiring one-of-a-kind wood boxes that have been enthusiastically acquired and are in many museum collections. Po Shun has created at least a 1000 boxes and one-of-a-kind furniture objects. Lately he has been experimenting with bent plywood forms to produce affordable furniture.

I already published some posts on Po Shun Leong’s stay in Mexico, and his friendship with Don S. Shoemaker (see Don S. Shoemaker and Po Shun Leong Parts 1 & 2 and Mexican Design exhibition at the MAM in 1975 – Part #3).

…to be continued in part # 5

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

Linear designs – The Diamond Line

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Many of my readers have asked me to write about Don´s “Diamond Line” designs. You may recall that I already published a post on the renowned diamond desk, which became a legend as one of Mexico´s most prominent newscasters, Jacobo Zabludovsky used to broadcast the daily news sitting on his diamond desk. I also called on your attention to the brand new unlabeled diamond desk copies that I have found on sale at auctions and galleries. (Check my posts “AAD – Appearances are deceptive” and “New Don S. Shoemaker copies – the diamond desk”).

The “Diamond Line” or sometimes referred as to the “Z Line” was the result from Don´s experiments during the decade of the 1970´s with linear designs, these furniture pieces were superbly crafted in laminated exotic woods, some of which I will introduce to you below.

Diamond Line dining or conference table. This spectacular stack-laminated table could be used for a dining room set or a conference room.

Matching dining/conference table ZigZag chairs. This is Don´s reinterpretation from the De Stijl, the famous cantilevered zigzag chair designed by Garrit Rietveld. The pictures below show samples of ZigZag chairs from different periods, although I have to point out that the traditional Shoemaker black leather upholstery that comes attached to seat and back is missing on two of them.

Don´s ZigZag Chair

Don Shoemaker´s Zig Zag Chair with black leather upholstery

• George Shoemaker´s ZigZag Chair

Diamond side table. Very stylish, the perfect complement for a Diamond dining room set. As seen in a Mexico City gallery.

Of course, there are more geometric designs to show from this line, but I will keep some of them for a future occasion!

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

A discarded prototype from George´s workshop

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George spent a lot of time experimenting with different concepts to further enhance his father´s furniture lines and produce new designs. He was an imaginative designer by his own right and he developed several prototypes, some of them would make it to production, others were discarded.

This was back in the 1990’s and my husband and I spent many hours together with George discussing the amazingly rapid technology changes that we were facing and how these could influence furniture design trends. George had been enthusiastic for some time about the idea to design a VHS storage case. However, when his raw model was almost finished he radically changed his mind after he realized: “VHS technology is not going to last forever….the key of success to my house signature is and will continue to be based on timeless designs“. So, he quickly discarded this sample and stored it away. A few weeks later when we met again he described to us with a great sense of humor the outcome of the “VHS affair”.

Surprisingly this particular discarded prototype has recently been seen in a gallery pretending to be a Don S. Shoemaker “bookcase” from the 1960’s. The pictures below clearly show that the shelves are missing and there are some rather strange dents to accommodate the “books”…

The tropical woods surface of this furniture piece is not even finished…


The upper half of a Don S. Shoemaker label is taped to the back of the “bookcase”…

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

The George R. Shoemaker heritage – Small cabinets

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During one of George´s visits to our home he saw our brand new (at that time) Bang & Olufsen BeoSound 9000 (nowadays in the MoMa) and he decided to play some CD´s of his selection. My God! He opened the cabinet in which we stored the CD´s and it was a complete mess. Of course, they were in a perfect order according to my husband but anyway instantly he decided that he was going to design something to keep them in the proper order and “in style”.

So now I am delighted to show the result of this serendipity moment. George designed for us two small CD cabinets in solid cocobolo wood with two doors and he kept for himself another model with only one door.

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved

@donshoemaker.com

Most underwhelming attribution to Don S. Shoemaker – part 9

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When attributing a piece of furniture to Don S. Shoemaker becomes grotesque:

-Who is to blame?

  • The consignor (particular? dealer?) that attributes a piece to a well-known designer, obviously with the hope of a good (profit? scamp?)
  • Furniture designs belonging to someone else, whose fine work in cueramo, cocobolo, granadilla, etc. are now being unscrupulously used with the purpose to deceive and shown in an auction catalog under Don S. Shoemaker´s name.
  • The auction house that clearly showed their ignorance or maybe it was greed? Or maybe they were acting in good faith? Finally it looks like a pretty grotesque scamp.
  • I saved this attributed dining room set including a rectangular table with 8 matching chairs (found at an auction) for a moment in which I think I am starting to solve the riddle involving attributions…
  • This set was produced using quality tropical woods, however, this model never existed during the SEÑAL, S.A. production days.
  • This dining room model was called “Silhouette”, and it belonged to George R. Shoemaker design lines! The original ARRENDADORA SHOEMAKER studio label was removed to deceive.

Silhouette Sideboard designed by George R. Shoemaker, falsely attributed to Don S. Shoemaker

The Silhoutte Dining Set by George R. Shoemaker

Always remember: if a furniture piece is produced in rosewood, granadilla or cocobolo, make yourself a favor: do not think it is attributable to Don S. Shoemaker only for this reason!!!

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved

@donshoemaker.com

The George R. Shoemaker heritage – identifying his designs

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George did not mastermind a large quantity of furniture pieces during the time he directed the destiny of  ARRENDADORA SHOEMAKER, but his designs were very appreciated by the Shoemakeristis. Many George R. Shoemaker furniture pieces are copied and sold as “Don S. Shoemaker originals” not recognizing George´s talent and contribution to his Dad´s work. He was a great designer by his own right. He had a restless mind and he also experimented in Art NouveauArt Deco and even English XIX Century styles.

  • Back in the early 1990´s George R. Shoemaker complemented the Sling living lounge set originally created by his father with a Sling two-seater. The Sling line now included a two-seater variant produced in rosewood. The armrests were of exactly the same size as the ones on the Sling Swinger chair, the black leather upholstery came with individual leather padded backseats (the picture below shows a Sling settee produced by ARRENDADORA SHOEMAKER in the 1990’s).

Don S. Shoemaker Sling three-seater

  • Below a George R. Shoemaker Sling round table. His characteristic improvement to the edge of the round table makes his furniture production recognizable at first glance. George made these edges of solid wood to prevent the parquetry from chipping.

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved

@donshoemaker.com

The George R. Shoemaker heritage – ARRENDADORA SHOEMAKER

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Special credit should be awarded to Don´s beloved son George, who, after Don passed away in 1990, took over and directed with great dedication the company under the label “ARRENDADORA SHOEMAKER“, producing many of his own designs and furniture pieces under this brand name until his early death in 2005.

Many of George´s designs were unique and of great creativity. I would like to stress on the fact that George deserves his own chapter in this website. Unfairly, most George R. Shoemaker designs are being copied and sold as “Don S. Shoemaker originals”.

I will share with you some of George´s furniture designs that I have documented, which date back to his time in the 1990´s:

This round table was part of an impressive dining room set designed by George R. Shoemaker in rosewood (cueramo). One of George´s improvements to point at  is the finish of his round table edge: he made these of solid wood to prevent the parquetry from chipping.  It is very common to get a dent on the edge of the round table parquetry design of his Dad. The parquetry on George´s table top surface was very different compared to the shiny finish on the table top from his father.

This fabulous dining room set was combined with 8 chairs made in solid cueramo with black leather upholstery, this chair style was one of the favorite Don S. Shoemaker designs for the more conservative dining  room sets and was reproduced by George in a way we can only call it perfect!

The enlarged cabinet shown below was part of that same dining room set, and is also a further development of George on his Dad´s original design, a very dramatic piece of furniture. The complete set looks absolutely incredible!


Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved

@donshoemaker.com