5 More Retro-Fabulous Pieces from SLAM's 'St. Louis Modern'

By Krystin Arneson
In Culture

The other week, we brought you five super-cool pieces as a sneak peek of the Saint Louis Art Museum’s “St. Louis Modern” exhibition. We can’t get enough of this modern madness, so we’re back with five more pieces, plus their backstories—and if you’re haven’t yet caught the exhibit, they’re even more gorgeous in person.

Walter Dorwin Teague, American, 1883–1960; Bluebird Sparton Radio, c. 1935; mirrored glass, chrome, wood, electrical components; 13 1/2 x 13 1/2 x 8 in. | Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis

Walter Dorwin Teague, American, 1883–1960; Bluebird Sparton Radio, c. 1935; mirrored glass, chrome, wood, electrical components; 13 1/2 x 13 1/2 x 8 in. | Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis

Radio was in its golden age in the 1930s and was given a burst of color and futuristic shape with Walter Teague’s 1935 design—a year that forms the starting point of the bulk of the exhibition (and happens to be the year the Arch began construction). Modernity was tied to the machine in the 1930s—a 1934 “Machine Art” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC displayed porcelain, kitchenware and furnishings alongside machine parts perched on pedestals, symbolically elevated to the ranks of great sculpture. The spirit shines through here in the “speed likes,” chrome accents, glass face and shape.

Frederick Wallace Dunn, American, 1905–1984; Coffee Table, c.1938; painted wood, pewter, leather, brass tacks; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of William C. Sherman in memory of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Sherman 221:1980 © Frederick Dunn | Courtesy of Saint Louis Art Museum

Frederick Wallace Dunn, American, 1905–1984; Coffee Table, c.1938; painted wood, pewter, leather, brass tacks; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of William C. Sherman in memory of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Sherman 221:1980 © Frederick Dunn | Courtesy of Saint Louis Art Museum

The Paint and Putter Club was a group of friends during the mid- to late-’30s—architects, artists and others—who would meet to paint and chat. Thomas Sherman, a music critic, and his wife, Chloe Sherman, associate editor of a city arts and ideas bimonthly, were two of the club’s members. This was during the time when architects would work to design not only the exterior and interior but also the furnishings in a client’s home. The Shermans called on another club member, Frederick Wallace Dunn, to design this coffee table for their classic-modern home. This was the segue into modern design but look back to motifs of antiquity, such as Greek key patterns, classical busts and circular windows. Victor Proetz—featured in the previous installment—also designed furniture for the Sherman home.

David Painter of Barnes & Reinecke Industrial Designers and Engineers, Ice Crusher, 1948. Black-enameled-and-chrome-plated metal and polystyrene, 10 ⅜ x 3 1/2 x 3 ½ in., made by Dazy Corporation, St. Louis. Missouri History Museum, St. Louis | Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum

David Painter of Barnes & Reinecke Industrial Designers and Engineers, Ice Crusher, 1948. Black-enameled-and-chrome-plated metal and polystyrene, 10 ⅜ x 3 1/2 x 3 ½ in., made by Dazy Corporation, St. Louis. Missouri History Museum, St. Louis | Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum

Even ice crushers weren’t exempt from the Good Design movement, and “STL Modern” isn’t the first show for this wonder: SLAM hosted a one-month exhibition in 1948 called “Good Design is Your Business” that exposed 25,000 St. Louisans to a comprehensive showcase of modern design—and this ice crusher was there. The exhibition served to also educate industrial designers and persuade businesses that good design was good for the bottom line. Industrial designer David Painter’s household object featured Chevrolet-like fins—a hallmark of modern design—and machine-like aesthetics. “Every component of the design is ultimately the product of a functional demand,” the exhibition catalogue praised. “Form follows function” was by now a key tenet of good modern design.

Pipsan Saarinen Swanson; Saratoga; Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum; Gift of Letts Industries, Inc., CAM 1991.3; Photograph by R. H. Hensleigh and Tim Thayer, courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum. | photo courtesy of the Saint Louis Art Museum

Pipsan Saarinen Swanson; Saratoga; Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum; Gift of Letts Industries, Inc., CAM 1991.3 | photograph by R. H. Hensleigh and Tim Thayer, courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum

Textiles played a huge role in the modern design movement, as did the Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan, which attracted a lot of talent from STL. Eliel Saarinen, a Finnish professor of architecture taught there and invited a St. Louisan named Charles Eames to study architecture there. Eames, then with his first wife, would later become head of the industrial design department and marry his colleague Ray Kaiser to form a design dream team. On the Saarinen side, Eliel’s son Eero took courses on furniture design and sculpture at Cranbrook, while his sister, Pipsan Saarinen Swanson, wove—she would later marry one of her father’s star students and start Swanson and Associates (which would win acclaim in furniture design).

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Pipsan Saarinen Swanson; Spelunking; Collection of Cranbrook Art Museum, CAM 2000.3; Gift of Robert Saarinen Swanson and Ronald Saarinen Swanson | photograph by R. H. Hensleigh and Tim Thayer, courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum

Handmade textiles declined in popularity in the late ’50s, but it wasn’t too long until the St. Louis studio movement created a resurgence of local fiber art.

“St. Louis Modern” runs at SLAM until Jan. 31, 2016.

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