Don’s Modernist Mexican Butaque Chair interpretation

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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.

@donshoemaker.com

Collecting Don´s wooden sculptures

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Collecting Don´s sculptures in wood can be very exciting and entertaining. Through the years I accumulated quite a few pieces and I enjoy very much having them around. Don inspired himself from Mexican folklore and designed remarkable pieces that would represent bats, scorpions and other symbolic animals from the Mexican Pre-Hispanic period. These works of art were made with different kinds of woods from the region, sometimes inlaid with colored stones, sometimes just nicely carved.

 Don´s box designs from the “Animal” Series were also quite unique. Some time ago, in one of my posts I already showed you the “Owl” box; here we have a nice sample of his “Hippopotamus” box:

 Don´s imagination and creativity was also inspired by organic forms, female curves and hands:

All of the above pictured pieces carry the decal studio label. There are of course many other interesting works that I could present from Don´s sculptural creations, however, I have only selected a few examples to prevent forgers from trying to copycat his designs.

 

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

@donshoemaker.com

 

Mexican Design exhibition at the MAM in 1975 – Part #3

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…../3

Po Shun Leong´s story (Part #3) on his acquaintance with Don S. Shoemaker in Mexico since the 1960’s and how this friendship impacted his career.

So, how did Po Shun Leong come to Mexico? Here is his humorous narrating:

“It was a serendipitous accident. Actually I was not sure where the country was, as it was not part of the former British Empire. We were mostly taught about the British colonies then. My (high) school in England was run by Quakers. They were involved in many social projects. After college the American Friends Service Committee asked me to volunteer in constructing a community building for the Passamaquoddy Indians in Maine. I replied “Send me anywhere else but Maine.” So they sent me to Mexico to live in a remote village in Tlaxcala on the side of “La Malinche” mountain. There was no water, electricity or road. I lived for a year with the volunteers, helping to build a 110 meter deep well by hand, a library, a bridge, veterinary services. The local priest called us communists in his church sermon and the police did a raid in search of drugs, but none of us smoked or consumed alcohol and the villagers supported our presence and taught us some Nahuatl. I became padrino to several children. This experience was THE introduction to Mexico.

I worked in the Cultural section of the Olympics. I was assisting Susana Esponda, Director from the Festival de “Pintura Infantil”. Children from participating countries came to Mexico to paint large murals that were exhibited along el Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. Pedro Ramirez Vazquez took a close interest in this event. We used to practice painting methods and display in the patio of the architect’s home in El Pedregal with guidance from the muralist Jose Chavez Morado.”

And here are some interesting images from the Exhibition of Contemporary Furniture that Po Shun Leong helped to install with Prof. Alfonso Soto Soria in the Museo de Arte Moderno (MAM) back in 1975 whilst living in Mexico.

Side by side Po Shun Leong and Don S. Shoemaker presented some of their furniture pieces at this 1975 “Exposición de Diseño Mexicano” in the Museo de Arte Moderno (MAM), Mexico City. Here you can see Don S. Shoemaker´s wood furniture and some of Po Shun Leong´s contemporary fiber-glass chairs:

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

@donshoemaker.com

Treasures for your dinner service from Don´s Gift Line

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There always was this magical atmosphere in Don´s studio/home, it felt like being a child in a big toy store every time we visited him. To resist his delightful Gift Line collection was virtually impossible, no matter how, the discovery of a new piece or gadget that could match with something I already had at home came in the way. The following 1980’s vintage Gift Line catalog page with Don´s image on it brings great memories back to life!

I recently described in my posts “Home Bar Essentials” and “Accessories for every occasion” some of Don´s tropical woods trays, chopping and cheese boards, coasters, salt & pepper shakers, etc. This time I want to point out on his gourmet designs which were particularly charming and definitively making the difference when decorating your dinner table. Here two of my favorites…

For many years I have enjoyed serving my meals with these Don S. Shoemaker Pyrex holders produced in solid cueramo tropical wood:

We love Mexican cuisine but we also enjoy very much Asian food, chopsticks are a must for fine tableware. This set of 6 chopsticks with chopstick rests were made in solid cocobolo tropical wood, the set is absolutely gorgeous:

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

@donshoemaker.com

 

For the most demanding clientele – Don´s Sling dining room set

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Many of my readers have asked me about Don´s dining room sets with combining cupboards and cabinets. For this week I have decided to write about the Sling dining room set, the favorite among Don´s devoted customers:

The Sling dining room was the most exclusive dining room set within Don´s repertoire. The complete set consisted of a rectangular dining table with parquetry top handcrafted in cueramo hardwood, 8 or more Sling dining chairs (with and without armrests) in solid rosewood and a matching cabinet available in three sizes. The dining table´s shape has the unmistakable “Shoemaker” style:

The leather upholstery of these Sling dining chairs could be ordered in different colors as displayed in the vintage catalog page above, however, most Shoemakeristis preferred the traditional black leather…

The shape of the Sling cabinet remained always the same, but depending on the size of the dining room or the amount of different things that you wanted to display, the cupboard started with a 2-door display cabinet, the next version had on one side a 2-door display cabinet and shelves on the other side, and finally the largest model had a 2-door display, open shelves and a small compartment with door in the middle and another vertical display row on the opposite side. The separate sideboard had 1 drawer with 2 doors for the smallest version, 2 drawers with 4 doors for the medium size and 3 drawers with 6 doors for the large model. I have included a picture on the large Sling cabinet, a very impressive piece of furniture in your Don S. Shoemaker dining room.

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

@donshoemaker.com

Game table design from the late 1950’s

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When Don and his wife Barbara settled down in Santa Maria de Guido in the early 1950´s they started making wooden buttons and bowls. Within a short period of time Don became very familiar with all the exotic hardwoods grown in the southern mountains of the State of Michoacan and the “hot country”, “la tierra caliente” for the locals (the mountains close to the ocean) and he created his first chair then followed by other furniture designs that with time became his distinctive style.

Don experimented with different tropical woods species in his early furniture designs; he once mentioned that over 150 varieties of woods had come through his woodworking factory. Today I will share with you one of Don´s early table designs from the late 1950’s and its evolution in the 1960’s.

This Don S. Shoemaker game table from the late 1950’s is made in granadilla tropical wood with a leather table top. The design looks rather simple at first sight, but in reality the table´s assembly work  is very elaborate since wooden dowels hold it together. Also pay attention to the elegant continue line of the table stretchers.

In the 1960’s Don decided to use different materials and the design matured. Now the game table was produced in rosewood and the table top was made in marble. George R. Shoemaker continued reproducing the same game table in the 1990’s, but he updated the design by replacing the marble table top with parquetry.

This recently detected forgery lacks completely the subtle refinement of the original design. Pay attention to the table´s top support (very small) and the table stretchers, which look like borrowed from another table…

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

@donshoemaker.com

The unique Sling Swinger Chair

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I received several requests from my readers to write about Don´s famous Sling Swinger chair, so here it is:

The “Sling Casuals” furniture collection together with the “Elephant Lounge Set” limited edition (which I already described in a separate post) from the 1960’s are Don S. Shoemaker´s most accomplished organic design achievements. Although, the output of the “Sling  Line” lasted during three decades, the “Elephant Lounge” remained an exclusive special edition of only 5 sets. The Sling “Swinger” chair and the Sling “Sloucher” chair are well known to collectors and galleries.

The Sling Swinger chair is of timeless elegance, the perfect integration of form, function and exotic woods. The production of these harmoniously sculpted chairs in solid tropical woods was only possible thanks to the highly sophisticated manufacturing equipment and special tools that Don had at his workshop. Shoemaker´s favorite tropical woods used for the production of these attractive swinging chairs were granadilla, cueramo and cocobolo, combined with black or brown leather upholstery. Besides the wide arms model a second version was available with narrow arms, an alternative for smaller living spaces. Below a  Sling Swinger chair from my personal collection in heavy solid cocobolo tropical wood:

Another unique feature about Don´s furniture designs as I have already noted before is that he excelled in developing systems for link and joint, he tried to avoid no matter what the use of screws and nails in his work. These chairs are assembled to perfection, easily dismountable for an uncomplicated transport to any place in the world. A different Sling Swinger chair from my private collection is shown here, this time in solid granadilla tropical wood:

And finally, here is a picture of one of my Sling Swinger chairs with its matching ottoman with black leather upholstery. The classic combination. Both pieces bear the Don S. Shoemaker decal studio label.

 

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

@donshoemaker.com

Descanso Line – “Descanso” Coffee Table and Lamp Tables

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When going through the literature on American furniture designers from the Mid-Century I found interesting similarities between the lives of Don S. Shoemaker and Wharton Esherick, known as the “Dean of American Craftsmen”. Both started their artistic careers as painters, both were designer-craftsmen pursuing their own unique visions striving towards perfection in craftsmanship in a time when this was already considered to be a relic of the past. Both chose to establish their studio/home in remote areas, Wharton in the Pennsylvania hills, Don in a small uphill village overlooking the city of Morelia. Despite an isolated existence both  were always up to date on what was going on in the world and absorbed influences from emerging movements into their designs. As Wharton Esherick did, Don also developed over the years a following of devoted customers who became addicted to his work, returning year after year for another piece.

During the late 1950’s and the 1960’s we saw the upraising of Brazilian furniture designers Sergio Rodrigues with his “Poltrona Mole” and Jean Gillon with his “Jangadá”. Don´s “Descanso Set”(*) was highly estimated by his Brazilian counterparts, as long as he was an absolute perfectionist and went even further by adding to his “Descanso Line” a matching Descanso Coffee Table and a pair of Lamp or Side Tables:

(*) Also check my post on the “Descanso Set” from 2010

The Descanso Coffee Table with its two Lamp/Side Tables was produced with parquetry top in solid cueramo hardwood, Zebra wood or for the more demanding tastes in cocobolo. The cocobolo Coffee Table depicted here belongs to my personal collection and I use it together with a cocobolo “Descanso” Lounge Chair and Ottoman.

Another interesting feature about these Coffee Tables and Lamp and/or Side Tables is that the table top is detachable. I have included a close up on the table´s legs for you, a delightful design.

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

@donshoemaker.com

From the “Sling” Line – A stylish dining room set

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Very few furniture designers achieved that magical combination of style, strength and practicality. The distinctive Shoemaker style has its very own trademark: timeless, clean and simple and yet with a strong sense of solidity; Don´s sculptural furniture designs made with the finest tropical woods combined with thick black leather still proudly furnish selected wealthy Mexican villas, haciendas as well as elegant weekend homes after more than 40 years. It is very unlikely that you will get bored or tired of Don´s furniture pieces, most of the Shoemaker collectors that I know around the world have kept their pieces for over 2 generations and would not consider selling them!

Let´s review today the “Sling” round dining table with its combining “Sling” dining chairs in solid rosewood and black leather upholstery, a set that Don designed in the 1960’s. The round dining table was produced in tropical woods (“cueramo” and other local rosewood species) with a marquetry top  and 2 different sizes to choose from for either 4 or 6 Sling dining chairs. The design was also meant to be multipurpose and the set was offered within the “Executive Line” with the tag: Club conference table with chairs for smaller office meetings.

The Sling dining chair design is very unique. Pay special attention to the underside finish.

This table was available not only as shown in the vintage catalog above, for an extra cost you could buy it with solid tropical wood panels as the one pictured below from my private collection. This particular round dining table has a perfectly polished parquetry top made in a rosewood species extinct over 30 years ago.

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

@donshoemaker.com

Chairs – The iconic “Sling” folding chairs

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Don S. Shoemaker did not follow the same path as the other famous designers of his era like Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, etc. Don developed his very own style, completely independent, classic and timeless.

The “Sling” folding chair design dates back to the 1960´s, produced in solid tropical woods (rosewood and cocobolo) with black leather upholstery and a seat adjustable to three different positions. These chairs were available in 2 versions:

  • The Scissor “Sling” dining chair
  • The Scissor “Sling” parlor chair

Don´s Scissor “Sling” chairs are easily recognizable: the chair folds to a straight position and it has folding armrests, a feature almost impossible to find in any other chair design. In the book “1000 Chairs” by Charlotte & Peter Fiell, ed. TASCHEN 2005 I could not find an armchair with folding braces.

The Scissor “Sling” dining chair had a straight back for a comfortable seating at a “Sling” dinner table and the Scissor “Sling” parlor chair was designed in a lower position for a more relaxed environment.

Below is a picture of a Scissor “Sling” dining chair in cocobolo tropical wood from my personal collection. Pay attention to the straight back.

The pictures below are also from my personal collection and show a Scissor “Sling” parlor chair produced in rosewood. Notice the difference between the two models, this version has a lower more relaxed back.

Pay attention to the folding armrest, a very unique feature created by the master. The armrest articulation allows the user to fold up the armrest and leave the table in angle, an action almost impossible to perform in an armrest chair.

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved

@donshoemaker.com

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