I have always loved artistic metalwork—and the brawnier, the better. While in New York, I made note of (and photographed) two different types of sculptural foundry work, both artistic, which I admire and like. First, there's the "high end, fine art" type, usually crafted as a precious, one-off piece and sometimes used to adorn architectural exteriors or interiors. The second type of casting—and potentially just as impressive—are those metal architectural elements which are beautifully modeled and then reproduced by the dozens, hundreds or thousands.
The stainless steel bas relief sculpture, shown above, is to be found at 50 Rockefeller Plaza (near the site of the Center's Christmas tree). It is a great example of important, bespoke fine art metalwork. It was commissioned from the American artist and furniture maker Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) to hang over the doorway of the Associated Press (which once occupied the building). Entitled "News" (1940), it shows five able and energetic reporters hustling to collect the latest scoop. It was the first heroically-sized sculpture to be cast in stainless steel. Noguchi is best known for his wood working and avant-garde Mid-Century furniture design; this is the only piece he ever executed in stainless steel.
Another type of wonderful metalwork is that which is beautifully designed and modeled—but with the intention of being mass-produced in great quantitates. This type of production began in the Victorian Industrial Age, when the newest (and economical) production methods were combined with old-world taste and design talent. Many "aesthetic reformers" harnessed the modern technology "to bring great taste to the masses." Dozens of these cast iron railing balusters (shown above) line the "moat" which surrounds the Dakota Apartment building (built in the early 1880's) on Central Park West. They are a wonderful example of something which has been exquisitely designed, beautifully modeled (as an original sculpture) and then well reproduced (en masse) using great craftsmanship. Although the original model (sculpted by a model maker) must have taken time and money, once a mould is produced, they can be produced in great quantity—thus amortizing the original set-up cost over many individual units (and years of usage).
When it comes to mass produced metalwork, I am a big believer in manufacturers paying more upfront for a well-designed original—especially for an object that may last for hundreds of (or a thousand) years. And I lament that more designers and builders don't employ this strategy today. Think of the possibilities: light posts, manhole covers, air vents, switch plates, gutter grates, mail slots, stair rails, support columns, house fences and their gates. Even big box DIY stores could sell better, heavier and more beautiful components that would outlast the life of the homeowner.
These balusters—a human face and pair of intertwined dragons—were beautiful when they were made 140 years ago and they will be beautiful in another 140 years.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248