edited by Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 5/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Ceramics: Ethics & Scandal
By Rosalie Wise Sharp
Toronto: RWD Books, distributed by Antique Collectors' Club, $85
290 pages, 470 illustrations (389 color)
On the jacket of this book, a catalog of the author's collection, we see a glazed earthenware figurine of a red-jacketed officer lying with his head in the mouth of a lion. Inside, we learn not only that the figurine, a Staffordshire piece 34 centimeters long, was made around 1820 but also that the officer in question is Lieutenant Munro, son of Sir Hector Munro, a British commander in India. We furthermore read that the rather benign-looking lion is about to drag the lieutenant into the jungle.
A Bow porcelain bust prompts the story of the Bow factory's founder, Thomas Frye. When he died in 1762, an obituary noted that "his Constitution was near destroyed" by his work among the furnaces. Similarly, a salt-glaze stoneware teapot, circa 1745-60, provokes an explanation of its small size (the cost of tea being four times that of coffee), a description of the breakfasting habits of the Duchess of Devonshire and Beau Brummell, and a recipe for buns.
Clearly much more than a catalog of ceramics from the 18th and 19th centuries, the book offers informatively discursive entertainment that constantly reminds us of design's dependence on—and enrichment by—both users and context.
Ornament: A Modern Perspective
By James Trilling
Seattle: University of Washington Press, $45
288 pages, 92 illustrations (10 color)
Questions of ornament—how much and what kind—lurk near the heart of all design, whether of music, fashion, ceramics, graphics, or interiors. And these questions lurk most surreptitiously in the case of modernism, which has often fancied itself as having banished ornament altogether. Also author of the 2001 Language of Ornament, a valuable but more conventional survey, James Trilling focuses here on the nature of that banishment and, now that the ban has been relaxed, on our need to relearn a vocabulary that once came naturally. "Less than a hundred years ago, anyone who cared about art cared about ornament," Trilling writes. "Today we scarcely know what it is…. Not since the artists and connoisseurs of 15th-century Italy set out to rediscover classical antiquity has a culture been so completely on its own in relation to the past."
Trilling prepares us to consider the present predicament by providing information about ornament: what it is, how it should be seen, and how its symbolism should be understood. He reminds us of the decorative strains in Matisse's painting, of Turkish and Scottish textiles, of Boulle cabinetry. Distinctions are made among ornament, motif, convention, and pattern. Ornament's evolution and com- municative function merit entire chapters.
Finally, after the more polemical text on today's efforts to get reacquainted with ornament, Trilling offers a brief epilogue considering the conflict between ornament and puritanism. He draws a single conclusion: "Ornament makes people happy." (The italics are Trilling's.) Happiness is a less abstract, more attractive goal than the appropriateness, morality, honesty, and progress proposed by most aestheticians of the past two centuries. Though simple happiness can wither when faced with the pious rigor of some modernism or the smart-aleck irony of most postmodernism, history still suggests that ornament does make people happy. This thoughtful book proposes that we, as designers, can be agents for such tonic results.
What They're Reading...
Principal of her namesake New York design firm and Interior Design Hall of Fame member
By Bo Niles
Published in 1997—but perhaps timeless—this survey begins with a foreword by Wendy Moonan, then divides the 32 chosen projects into two categories. The "Architectural" category includes interiors by Thad Hayes, Orlando Diaz-Azcuy Designs, and Parsons + Fernandez-Casteleiro Architects. In the "Classical" camp are Powell/Kleinschmidt, Drysdale, Janet Schirn Design Group, and Shelton, Mindel & Associates as well as Diaz-Azcuy again. Laura Bohn, rereading the book, characterizes the installations as "residential, on the warm side, elegant and bold."