Myths and Legends about the Clara Porset Archive

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Most recently a symposium took place at the Americas Society in New York together with the exhibition Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978. To my utmost surprise, one of the speakers (Mrs. Ana Elena Mallet) stated that the Clara Porset Archive which is safeguarded by the CIDI (Centro de Investigaciones de Diseño Industrial –Industrial Design Research Center) at the UNAM (Universidad Autónoma de México), does not have an inventory or is even catalogued and that every time she goes through it, she discovers something new! The comment in my opinion was very unfortunate and rather ungrateful to Mexico’s prestigious Industrial Design Research Center, and I feel the need to publish some pictures that I recently took myself of the Clara Porset Archive in its current state at the CIDI/UNAM, clearly including inventory codes, perfectly catalogued and securely stored.

The Clara Porset Library at the CIDI/UNAM

Interior view of the Clara Porset Library and Archive at the CIDI

Clara Porset Archive map storage cabinet

Clara Porset furniture design sketches

Inventoried Clara Porset sketches

Clara Porset Archive cataloguing work

File storage cabinets keeping Clara Porset’s personal library

The Clara Porset Library is well-organized thanks to the continued work and dedication of its Clara Porset Archive curators at the CIDI: CIDI Director M.D.I. Enrique Ricalde Gamboa and D.I. Jorge A. Vadillo López. Below I have included a picture of both them at the CIDI offices together with the true +30 years Clara Porset expert in Mexico´s Industrial Design scenario, Dr. Oscar Salinas Flores, who actually was one of Clara Porset’s devoted students and who has published two books about Clara Porset and several textbooks about Industrial Design in Mexico.

DI Jorge A. Vadillo, MDI Enrique Ricalde and Dr. Oscar Salinas at the CIDI main offices (from left to right)

The CIDI team and the UNAM have made great efforts to keep the Clara Porset Archive in good shape; of course, there are always new technologies that could make the Clara Porset Archive easier to review for researchers, but that might take some time and additional resources.

I hope, this clarifies several misleading and out-of-place comments concerning the Clara Porset Archive and who our CLARA PORSET EXPERTS really are!

P.S.: Clara Porset experts is written in boldface, because Mrs. Mallet, Mr. Rivas and Mr. Castañeda, who were involved in the above mentioned symposium and made reference of Clara Porset’s life and work, none of them realized that Clara Porset was not born in the year 1932 as stated in the list of designers featured at the exhibition on the opening page of

Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and …

That´s what I call soi-disant expertise!!

 

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.
@donshoemaker.com

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.

@donshoemaker.com

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.

@donshoemaker.com

 

Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part # 5

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Cuban-born furniture and interior designer Clara Porset is best known for her modern designs inspired by the local traditions of Mexico, her adopted homeland. Her many design interpretations on the “butaque”, a low, graceful type of chair, part of Mexico´s popular culture, was her trademark. In a similar vein, an ancient Mesoamerican sculpture inspired the look of her “Totonaca” chair, considered a landmark of Mexican furniture design.

Totonaca Lounge designed by Clara Porset (1958)

Allegedly, Porset won one of the four prizes for Latin America in MoMA’s 1941 “Organic Design for Home Furnishing” contest, but actually Xavier Guerrero (her husband) received the prize in New York. She was committed to fine craftsmanship, but she was equally a strong believer that well-designed furnishings could be made affordable. In the 1950’s she signed a contract to develop 2 collections of furniture for the office, along with numerous other designs for prestigious furniture manufacturer IRGSA (Industrias Ruíz Galindo, S.A.). These collections were highly successful and mass-produced for many years. Among her most applauded achievements is the outdoor furniture she designed and showed at the 1952 “Arte en la Vida Diaria” exhibition at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Later, IRGSA manufactured them for the Pierre Marqués Hotel in Acapulco, in 1957. Her work was widely produced by DM NACIONAL, DOMUS, S.A., Ruíz y Govea, etc. On the other hand, among other design flops were the low cost furniture designs for Mexico City’s first large-scale public housing project (Centro Urbano Miguel Alemán), where she furnished less than 10% of the units. Unfortunately, some of the chairs sold to the Pierre Marqués Hotel were also removed pretty fast for a lack of ergonomics (you needed help/pulled to stand up). Also she collaborated with some of the most representative Mexican architects of her time, including Luis Barragán, Max Cetto, Enrique Yáñez and Mario Pani among others.

Arte en la Vida Diaria Exhibition, Palacio de Bellas Artes (1952)

Edmond J. Spence was an American designer who made a career out of translating international modern styles for the U.S. market. Spence designed a successful blonde wood line made in Sweden and imported by Walpole Furniture of Massachusetts, and another furniture line called “Continental-American Collection“, which was manufactured back in 1953 by the Mexican furniture company Industria Mueblera, S.A., with the brand label “Industria Mueblera of Mexico – Ageless Furniture Edmond J. Spence Design”.

Spence’s design brilliance comes in with his ability to interpret the most important aspects of Mexican design but in a fancy Mid-Century Modern way. Below I have put together some samples from his “Continental-American Collection”:

American born Michael van Beuren was a former student at the influential Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany during 1931-1932, even though he did not graduate. He moved to Mexico in 1937 and having difficulty to practice his profession as an architect without an official title, he dedicated himself to the design of furniture. In 1938 he started to design furniture together with his colleague from the Bauhaus time, German designer Klaus Grabe, for a small company they called Grabe van Beuren y Cía. In 1941 the MoMA organized the “Organic Design for Home Furnishings,” a competition which opened to design teams from Latin America. One of the winning entries in the contest was a Chaise Longue designed by the team Klaus Grabe, Michael van Beuren and Morley Webb. The winning submissions earned the prize of having their designs industrialized and sold by the Bloomingdale’s department store. Grabe soon left Mexico to settle in New York where he ran Klaus Grabe Inc. and pursued his quest for modern low-cost furniture.

Van Beuren founded DOMUS – his first furniture brand – and probably his best known in Mexico. In 1950 Fredderick T. van Beuren, Michael´s brother took over the workshop production envisioning the company´s growth potential to become a mass producing furniture factory. At that time the company dropped its name DOMUS to become Van Beuren S.A. de C.V. By the mid-50’s Van Beuren, S.A. de C.V. was already mass producing complete furniture lines and models. Clara Porset manufactured her designs for the US market through Michael van Beuren´s Company.

British architect Philip Guilmant, who had arrived in Mexico in 1954, joined the Van Beuren team in 1957. He greatly contributed to the success of the company with the design of 2 very well-known furniture lines: the Danish Collection (1957) and the simple and economic Pine Line (1958). By that time, the company was producing around 50 chairs per week… The Van Beuren brothers helped re-shape interior design across Mexico with mass produced industrial and affordable furnishings that found their way into countless homes and offices. Besides DOMUS, Van Beuren produced other furniture lines that were also very successful like Calpini (1951) and Decapóls (1961); the last one became very popular when marketed at the El Puerto de Liverpool department store chain. Production lines extended as well to other store chains like Salinas y Rocha and El Palacio de Hierro. However, in 1973 Michael Van Beuren sold the brand and factory to Singer.

…to be continued in part # 6

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

@donshoemaker.com