Don’s Modernist Mexican Butaque Chair interpretation


continued from part # 5

As described in my previous post series about the Mexican Butaque, we have seen several samples and interpretations of these emblematic chairs coming from different regions and designers in Mexico. Considering all the information and research data that I have gathered in the past years, it is without a doubt that William Spratling is the true Father of the Mexican 20th Century Butaque chair rebirth, not Clara Porset, as many have tried to argue. Clara Porset as well as many other designers from that same period of time basically followed Spratling. Using his designs as an “inspiration” or just plagiarized and mass-reproduced the chair in cheaper woods with minimal changes.

When Don S. Shoemaker arrived to Mexico this small charming chair also called his attention, but our master had his own ideas… He envisioned the Butaque chair from a modernist point of view: the design had to be organic and it had to be made with dark and heavy tropical woods. On this basis, instead of using the typical arch that conform the legs of a butaque chair, he presented us with a beautiful organic composition of his chair legs. Moreover, he gave the flair of a sling chair using softer black leather instead of the traditional “vaqueta” leather that his predecessors had been employing. And of course, he did not attach it to the lateral body of the chair, and instead of using the round head rivets for this purpose on the top and low rail he developed a system that today is his trademark of fixing the leather to the hardwood: his iconic leather “sunflowers”.

Bronze rivet (19th Century) and Don’s leather rivet (1960’s)

The Sling “Sloucher” Chair was one of Don’s very first chair projects. The result: a very unique interpretation of a modernist Mexican Butaque! By 1960 he introduced the chair as we know it today:

Sling "Sloucher" Chair by Don S. Shoemaker (1960's)

The Sling “Sloucher” Chair is Don’s flagship, these chairs were an essential part of his SEÑAL, S.A. furniture catalog together with the Sling “Swinger” Chair and the Sling “Suspension” Stool.

Sling Casuals Catalog page (1960’s)

As we have seen, the exotic Mexican Butaque Chair has a long history in furniture design; Don’s modernist Butaque was the last evolution of this graceful chair, no other designer in Mexico has succeeded in the attempt to create a new form for the last 50 years.

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

The revival of the Butaque Chair in Mexican 20th Century Furniture Design – Part 5

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continued from part #4

The perfect finale for the Porset-Barragán-Sordo Madaleno butaque chair designs chapter is Mexican muralist, painter and designer Xavier Guerrero. Guerrero was Clara Porset’s silent partner, the quiet husband who was behind many of Clara Porset’s iconic furniture designs, including some of her best known butaca chair designs, as presented at the recent Xavier Guerrero Exhibit – Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo in Mexico City:

Butaca Chairs designed by Xavier Guerrero for Clara Porset

Prominent Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta started his career in the shadow of Mexican modernist José Villagrán; however, by his mid-career he had become far more prolific than any other Mexican architect, landing work as far afield as London, Australia, Japan and Qatar. Legorreta’s architecture has been described as Mexican minimalism and Mexican modernism; his mature style combined many of the aspects of the International Style with elements derived from the climate, colors, and architectural history of Mexico.

Whereas Barragán will be remembered as a designer of domestic spaces and housing developments, like El Pedregal de San Angel in Mexico City, Legorreta will be remembered as a master of large public spaces, from Pershing Square in Los Angeles (1993) to the Managua Cathedral (1994) in Nicaragua, and a long list of many other well-known international projects, placing Mexican architecture on the world map.

Among his best-known works in Mexico is the deep pink and yellow-fronted Camino Real hotel in Mexico City, which was designed to attract visitors to the 1968 Summer Olympic Games. Among the most famous private homes he designed were one for his friend and fellow Mexican, Hollywood actor Ricardo Montalbán, in the Hollywood Hills, and another for Chicago philanthropist Cindy Pritzker, a renowned supporter of architects. Legorreta’s interior designs frequently included Butaca Chairs and Benches, here we have some of them furnishing the entrance and lobby of the Camino Real hotel in Mexico City:

Butaca Chair designed by Ricardo Legorreta (1968)

 Butaca Bench designed by Ricardo Legorreta (1968)

Large Butaca Bench designed by Ricardo Legorreta (1968)

 Another noteworthy Mexican architect is Manuel Parra. Parra´s work is completely atypical compared to that of the other Mexican architects from his generation. Parra’s work spans from the 1930’s through the 1990’s and consists of many “casas” he built in Mexico City, primarily in Coyoacán and San Angel. His creations display a collection of fragments from a multitude of origins. He was a pioneer in the recycling of construction and demolition debris, he employed materials such as brick, tiles, wood, local volcanic rock, iron and, preferably, the remains of demolished Colonial buildings. These eclectic combinations became the fingerprints of his designs.

Parra was also a movie set designer, painter, sculptor, potter, and he designed furniture. Parra´s architectural work represents the Mexicanismo movement at its best, and his furniture designs would always include butaque chairs; essential pieces of furniture in his interior designs for the houses he built or refurbished.

Manuel Parra would only commit to build a house for somebody he liked. The legend says, that he built over 800 residences during his career, including Haciendas in the State of Morelos, gorgeous private homes in San Angel, Coyoacán, San Jerónimo, Chimalistac, Las Lomas and El Pedregal in Mexico City; in resorts like Acapulco, Colonial cities like León and San Miguel de Allende in Central Mexico, and in many other parts of Mexico, as well as in southern U.S.A.

Butaque Chair designed by Manuel Parra

 Butaque with armrests by Manuel Parra (1960’s)

Then, the last push of the Mexican Butaque Chair fever came with Mexican painter, graphic designer and artisan Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo, who deserves to be mentioned for his iconic “Rangelino” Butaca designs: Rangel Hidalgo lived and worked most of his life at his family’s property called the Nogueras Hacienda in Comala, Colima. His best known work involved the designing of Christmas cards for UNICEF and the New York Graphic Society in the 1960’s, but he is also well-known for his furniture designs and promotion of traditional handcrafts.

In 1970, Rangel and one of his brothers obtained federal funding and founded the School of Artisans in Comala, where he taught design, painting and furniture making. Over 7 years, the school taught about 300 local artisans adding classes such as wood working, iron working, leather working, gold leaf application and furniture finishing. When he died, he bequeathed the Hacienda to the University of Colima, which converted it into the Centro Universitario de Estudios e Investigación, an Ecological Park and the Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo Museum. The name Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo is clearly identified with his style, now called ‘Rangelino’.

Many Mexican embassies and presidential homes are proud to showcase Rangel Hidalgo´s furniture and artwork. Here some perfect samples of his “butacas” with the typical “Rangelino” hand painted head supports:

Butaca Rocking Chair by Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo (1960’s)

Pair of Butaca Chairs by Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo (1970’s)

Butaca Chair with armrests by Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo

to be continued in part # 6

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

The revival of the Butaque Chair in Mexican 20th Century Furniture Design – Part 4

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continued from part # 3

American designer William Spratling frequented prominent artists and personalities that were active within the Mexicanismo movement during that time, and many of them decorated their homes with his furniture. As a result of the success of William Spratling’s furniture designs, the Butaque fever started in Mexico and following the saying of silversmiths “the tin is the poor man´s silver”, in the 1940’s Clara Porset decided to introduce industrial low-cost series of butaques with only minimal changes to Spratling’s designs produced since the early 1930’s at his Taller de las Delicias. The conflict between Spratling and Porset became well known, and as a consequence, they never talked to each other again. Porset also approppriated an old art-crafted typical caned butaque of Veracruz and the famous Miguelito armchair from Jalisco, of course in cheap woods like pine, etc. Someone coined the saying: “A Porset is the poor man’s Spratling butaque”.

Low cost Butaque Chair designed by Clara Porset (1949)

Armless Butaque version designed by Clara Porset (1956)

Armless Butaque Chair by Clara Porset (1960´s)

Clara Porset´s Living room with a variety of Butacas

Pair of Miguelito Armchairs designed by Clara Porset (ca. 1947 + 1950’s)

Now we will witness how the fever of the butaque chair was propagated:

Everybody knew each other in the Mexican architectural and design world and one thing lead to another: Clara Porset collaborated on many projects with prominent Mexican architect Luis Barragán and by the mid 1940’s Barragán presented “La Butaca” designs in his furnishing proposals. At this moment the butaque fever reached its peak and the cloning virus was more vicious than ever; please check on the pictures of the typical Jalisco Miguelito chairs and the identical butaques produced by Barragán and Clara Porset; miraculously, one particular chair created by Clara Porset for Barragán looks identical to the caned Butaque chairs from Veracruz from the early 20th Century. (See my posts: Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part #1 & Part #5 + ¿What is the difference between a Mexican Campeche Chair and a Butaque? – Part #2)

I would like to remark however, that some of Luis Barragan’s and Clara Porset’s dining room chairs remind me of William Spratling’s designs as well, but we will talk about those appropriations in future posts.

Butaca Chair designed by Luis Barragán (1945)

Caned Butaque Chair from the state of Veracruz (early 20th Century)

A Luis Barragán Miguelito Armchair

A typical Butaca from Jalisco (Miguelito Chair)

Pair of Miguelito Armchairs by Luis Barragán

I also have to mention Mexican architect and urban planner Juan Sordo Madaleno, active during that same period of time. Architecturally, he settled initially by the Bauhaus style and influence of Le Corbusier. Notable examples of Sordo Madaleno’s work are his own house (1952), the Cinema Paris (1954), with its surprising structure and composition, and the Seguros Anáhuac Building (1958). He significantly influenced the design of hotels in Mexico and he was among the pioneers to introduce a new type of large-scale commercial center, such as the Plaza Satélite (1971) in Mexico City. Juan Sordo Madaleno collaborated with Luis Barragán, Serrano and Ricardo Legorreta, among others, and he worked with Clara Porset on several projects like the Club Campestre Churubusco in Mexico City.

Here are some interior views of Sordo Madaleno’s house in Mexico City, including Butaca chair models designed by him – very similar to those presented by Luis Barragán and Clara Porset:

Butaca Bench by Juan Sordo Madaleno (1950’s)

Miguelito Chair by Juan Sordo Madaleno (1950’s)

A Luis Barragán Miguelito Armchair

to be continued in part # 5

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


The revival of the Butaque Chair in Mexican 20th Century Furniture Design – Part 3

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The comeback of “El Butaque” in Mexican 20th century furniture design came with American designer William Spratling, “Father of Mexican Contemporary Silver”. Spratling was not only well known for his creations in silver, but also for his emblematic furniture designs… All of Spratling’s furniture pieces were handmade by local carpenters under his direction, and they represent the essence of pure Mexican craftsmanship. Bill redesigned the butaque chair in a unique “ranchero style” and started to produce his iconic “butaquitos” at his firm Spratling y Artesanos in Taxco in the 1930’s. (See my post: Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part # 4). Both, larger and smaller butaque chairs were produced, with and without armrests:

A William Spratling Butaque (ca. 1940´s)

Butaque Chair designed by William Spratling (ca. 1940’s)

Butaquito designed by William Spratling

Pair of William Spratling Butaques

Hectór Aguilar began his career as the shop manager for William Spratling’s Taller de las Delicias in 1936. Aguilar then left Las Delicias in 1939 taking a number of silversmiths with him to found the Taller Borda, with the financial support from his wife and several friends. By 1948 he formed a new company, Talleres Borda, S.A. de C.V. which quickly became one of the premier retailer silver outlets in Taxco. Taller Borda sold a full line of sterling jewelry, hollowware, flatware and furniture pieces, all produced at the Aguilar workshops. The firm prospered for many years until its closure in 1962. Below I have included a butaca armchair produced by the Héctor Aguilar workshops:

Butaca Chair designed by Héctor Aguilar

Another outstanding Mexican artisan and designer who started his career in Taxco, at Casa Grande, is Antonio Frausto. He became famous for his highly successful Mexican Colonial designs made in juniper, pine and exotic wood species from the state of Guerrero. Frausto designed complete furniture sets for the interiors of Mexican Modernism architects Francisco Artigas, Manuel Parra and Max Cetto, just to name a few. His emblematic Mexican Colonial furniture pieces can be found at Haciendas and Ranches of Mexican Presidents, politicians, celebrities and wealthy businessmen; even today, you may recognize Don Antonio’s furniture designs at prestigious Mexican Colonial hotels and restaurants. His workshop, Artesanos de México, S.A. produced furniture lines including all sorts of cabinets with attractive ironworks, office furniture, dining and living room sets, bedrooms, chairs, tables and benches. My favorites, Don Antonio´s “bargueños” are without a doubt his personal trademark, but these will be described in another post dedicated to furniture from the “Mexicanismo” movement.

Since the 1950’s Don Antonio’s workshop produced a complete variety of “butacas” in juniper wood and “vaqueta” leather. Regrettably, most of his furniture production does not carry any label or signature; his creations are very often mistaken for designs attributed to William Spratling, Francisco Artigas, Luis Barragán or even Clara Porset.


A Butaca Armchair from the Artesanos de México catalog (1967)

Butaca Armchair designed by Antonio Frausto (1960’s)

Butaca Armchair designed by Antonio Frausto (1960’s)

Small Butaca Chair by Antonio Frausto (1960's)

to be continued in part # 4

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

What is the difference between a Mexican Campeche Chair and a Butaque? – Part 2

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Furniture commonly used in the 16th Century Mexico was Spanish in style, but adapted by native craftsmen, it acquired distinctive characteristics. Popular at the beginning of the Colonial era were the bargueños, chests, beds, benches, chairs, tables, trunks, boxes, and carved frames. In the history of Mexican marquetry furniture, outstanding pieces were produced in Mexico City, Puebla, Tlaxcala, Oaxaca, Campeche and Durango. The first inventory listings with mention of such furniture are from the early 17th Century.

By the turn of the 18th Century a great number of marquetry furniture was being made throughout Mexico, geometric figures and vegetable forms being the most characteristic motifs. Diverse woods of the various regions were used: balsam, Mexican cherry, mahogany, maple, cedar, orangewood, lemonwood, sapote, pine, mulberry, palisander, granadilla and poplar, among others. Much of Campeche´s artisans work was also decorated with shell inlay and many of their famed writing desks were exported to South America. On the other hand, their famous marquetry inlaid “Campeche” chairs went to the US and the Caribbean.

Campeche Chair (1810-1825)

A 19th Century Mexican Campeche Chair as seen in the early 1900’s

Mexican Campeche Chair (19th Century)

Mexican Butaque (19th Century)

Today, we may still find a great variety of “Butaques” in Mexico. The “Sillas de Campeche” made in the state of Campeche were known for their beautiful marquetry decoration, while at Haciendas, ranches and Colonial residences in Jalisco, the chair is called “Miguelito” chair. This version however, even if it is similar to a “Silla de Campeche”, the design is more simple and austere. In Tehuantepec, they are made entirely of wood, with cross-slats giving shape to the back and seat. Butaques from the state of Veracruz had caned-seats, making them ideal for the hot and humid climate; and those from the Yucatán Peninsula are made with cowhide or deerskin, sometimes decorated across the top with elegant low-relief carvings.

Mexican Campeche Chairs (1960’s)

A Butaca from Jalisco (Miguelito Chair)

Wooden Butaque Chair from Tehuantepec

Caned Butaque Chair from Veracruz (early 20th Century)

A Yucatán Butaque Chair

Butaque Rocking Chair from Yucatán

to be continued in part # 3

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

What is the difference between a Campeche and a Butaque Chair?– Part 1

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Samples of the emblematic “Butaque” chairs can be found in many regions of Mexico, the U.S., the Caribbean, and other countries that were on the galleon trade routes such as the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). In American and European furniture and decorative arts literature the term “Campeche” (or the anglicized ‘campeachy’) is used to describe these exotic types of chairs. Most sources claim that these low chairs were named for the Bay of Campeche (Gulf of Mexico) and the port city of Campeche on the Yucatán Peninsula, where they were exported to American and European ports and other destinations in the Caribbean. Another version argues that the chair’s “Campeche” name derives from the mahogany known as blood wood or logwood (Haemotoxylon campechianum) used in its construction, which came from the Mexican state of Campeche.

Spanish colonists introduced the “Campeche” chair (also known as the “Butaca”) to Louisiana where they became extremely popular amongst the French Creole aristocracy who called them “Boutac chairs” and introduced them into their Plantation Houses in the Bayous and along the Mississippi River. This peculiar leather-seated chair made from ox-hide or mule-hide stretched on a mahogany wood frame, was ideal for lounging in a tropical climate and unlike upholstered furniture, it was free from insects. Early 19th-Century inward foreign cargo manifests in the collection of the National Archives and Records in Fort Worth, Texas, document the shipment of “Spanish chairs”, “Boutaque chairs”, and “arm-chairs” from coastal towns of the Yucatán—Campeche, Veracruz, Sisal and Tabasco—to the port of New Orleans from about 1800 to 1825. Thomas Jefferson appears to have popularized the chair when he served as President, and he continued to use it during his retirement at Monticello. Jefferson favored the “Campeachy” chair form for its classical associations and the comfortable posture it offered, referring to it as “that easy kind of chair.”

The chairs feature an X-form leg and stretcher, one leg of which extends up to form a curved stile for the back, the other forming the seat rail, between these extensions is attach a leather ‘sling’ – often goatskin – which forms the seat and back – the equivalent of a contemporary lounge chair.

Some historic documents indicate that the Mexican “Butaques” brought the form to Havana, Cuba, where it is also called a “Campeche”. Many examples found in the island are known as “Planter’s chairs”, “Havana chairs” or “Smoker’s chairs”. In Jamaica they are known as “Spanish chairs”, in the French colonies such as Martinique and Guadeloupe, they were called “Lazy Man’s chair” or simply “Lazy chairs” (later to be echoed in the Philippines with the term ‘Silla Perezosa’ or “Lazy chair”). Nowadays, these chairs can be found in many countries within Latin America, Spain, the Canary Islands, and in locations that were situated along 18th-Century Spanish trade routes in Asia.

to be continued in Part # 2

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