A Visit to the Hirshhorn Museum – Part 1

Hirshhorn Museum – Photo by C. Hamsher – 2007

Greetings from Washington, DC!

The Modern Lady and I are in the Nation’s Capitol on work with a little pleasure mixed in. Part of the pleasure today was a trip to the Hirshhorn Museum.  Always the highlight of any trip to DC, and this was our first stop this time, the Hirshhorn holds some of the true classics of modern art.

Flowers – Andy Warhol – 1964

Over the coming days I’ll be writing and posting more photos from our visit. For now you can enjoy the amazing pieces by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol which were the first two works we saw after entering the Hirshhorn.

Modern Painting with Clef – Roy Lichtenstein – 1967


High-Style, Low-Brow Art

“Gravel Art” Mosaic – artist unknown – circa 1957

The mid-20th Century in America brought about many changes – social, political, and economic. The American middle-class flourished and began buying, among other things, art that was being mass produced.

Some call it kitschy, some call it crass, I just love most of it.

Take the “gravel art” piece shown above. These were made from kits which came complete with gravel, string (for the border edges between colors), glue and a design pre-printed on a board. Like the paint-by-number kits of the day these came in a wide variety of designs. The one shown above – hip, cool and oh, just so mid-century – is one of the nicest we have ever seen and the best executed. Truly a work of art.

Mass produced prints also provided many in mid-America with access to art as they had never had before. Once again, designs varied, but images began shifting from the traditional and religious prints which were so popular before the War to more modern works.

Vladimir Tretchikoff was one of the most commercially successful artists. Chinese Girl, shown below, is regarded as one of the top selling art prints of all time.

Chinese Girl– Vladimir Tretchikoff – 1950

Tretchikoff was said to be second only to Picasso in popularity and his prints sold widely throughout the world.

Vladimir Tretchikoff died just a little over year ago in Cape Town. The New York Times obituary tells the wonderful story of “The King of Kitsch”.

Zulu Maiden– Vladimir Tretchikoff – 1952

There are many other great examples of this type of art – everything from Picasso and Rothko prints to paint-by-numbers kits and paintings from Sears and Roebuck. Everyone needed some art for their new home in the suburbs and there were artists and manufacturers ready to provide art to the new middle-class in America.

As Andy Warhol said, “An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have.”

While I certainly appreciate and collect fine art there will always be place in my heart, and in my home, for little of this high-stlye, low-brow art.


Bravo for Blenko Bravo!

Blenko Glass’ new Bravo!  line by The Bayliss Design Team – 2007

I am a collector of Blenko Glass. My love of Blenko, particularly the pieces coming from Winslow Anderson and Wayne Husted, is ultimately what attracted me to the broader world of mid-century modern design.

I remember as a kid growing up in Huntington my family venturing to Milton a few times a year to the Blenko factory and outlet store. I have often wished I could travel back in time to grab some of the wonderful designs I was around then. Or, even better, that my family had held onto the pieces they had acquired in the early ’60’s.

Blenko produced during the 1980’s and 90’s, for the most part, didn’t light me up the same way the pieces from Blenko’s earlier lines did. They were nice, often very creative, but more often than not did not have the same modern flair as the pieces produced in the 50’s and 60’s.

This year Blenko introduced three new lines designed by The Bayliss Design Team. I will examine each over the next week or so here but want to begin with the Bravo! line.

Bravo! is marvelous!

The sleek lines of this very cohesive collection is reminiscent of the Scandinavian design roots of Blenko glass first explored by Winslow Anderson in the early 1950’s and further expanded upon by Wayne Husted.

The pieces are light, airy and natural.  The graceful lines are punctuated by a slight indentation in the body of each piece and the individual designs are as functional as they are gorgeous. Pouring liquids from the pitchers in this line is a joy – something some previous forms from Blenko didn’t do so well even when designed to do just that.

Then there are the colors – Sunshine, Dreamcicle, Clover, Electric Blue and Vineyeard. These are among the sexiest colors ever produced by Blenko and are all perfect for this mid-century inspired line.

Many of the classic Blenko pieces of the 50’s and 60’s have become highly sought after and garner prices that reflect the demand.  I fully expect the Bravo! line to follow the same path in the future. I’m buying mine now.


Upsala-Ekeby Plaque by Mari Simmulson

Maiden by a Tree – Mari Simmulson for Upsala-Ekeby (Sweden) – 7″ x 5″ – circa 1955

Our find-of-the-week is this absolutely stunning pottery plaque by Mari Simmulson.

Mari Simmulson was a potter and artist originally from Estonia. Educated in Tallin and Munich she started her career at AB Gustavsbergs Fabriker in 1945. Between 1949 to 1972 she worked at Upsala-Ekeby and became a Swedish citizen in 1952. An extremely creative artist, her work has been featured in public art displays in Sweden and Copenhagen and is represented in museum collections all throughout Europe.

Mari Simmulson at work in her studio at Upsula-Ekeby in the early 1950’s

Upsala-Ekeby was founded at the turn of the 20th Century in Uppsala Sweden. The company produced artistic ceramics from 1920 until 1973 when it was bought and closed down. In addition to Mari Simmulson other important artists worked at Upsala Ekeby including Anna-Lisa Thomson, Ingrid Atterberg, and Vicke Lindstrand.


Mid-Century Innuendo by La Gardo Tackett

“Egghead” Condom Holders designed by La Gardo Tackett for Schmid – 1959

One of the more interesting collectibles coming from the 1950’s are La Gardo Tackett’s sculptural heads made by Schmid International.

These playful fellows with the not-so-subtle innuendo had a serious purpose as well as being decorative.

They were made and marketed (primarily through Playboy Magazine) as condom holders.

These porcelain heads are hollow with a cork underneath which kept the contents, um, under-wraps.

La Gardo Tackett operated a studio in Southern California and produced exceptional architectural pottery pieces during the 1950’s. His work received rave reviews from designers and architects at the Brussels World Fair in 1958.

Sought after by collectors today because of their simplistic, sculptural design and tongue-in-cheek humor these “Eggheads” are getting harder and harder to find. For obvious reasons they were never in great supply.


The Art of Felix Krasyk

Portrait of a Miner – Felix Krasyk – watercolor on paper – 1957

In 1950 Felix Krasyk left Charleston, WV to move to New York. One of the first things he experienced in his new environment was an exhibit of works by Picasso. Krasyk was deeply moved by what he saw.

While in New York he worked by day at B. Altman & Company and spent his evenings painting.

He was in New York for nine years until his parents needed his care and he returned back to West Virginia. His paintings were stored away and he went to work as an interior designer for Woodrum’s Department Store.

Now jump ahead to 2006. A friend of Felix’s told the curator of the gallery at the University of Charleston about his 1950’s work and a show was arranged.  The show was a critical success.

His work was moved to our gallery and pieces began selling rapidly. Felix, at 80 years old and suffering from macular degeneration, began to produce artwork again for the first time in 50 years.

His new work has been recieved equally as well by critics, art collectors and the media. He was recently featured in a profile in Charleston Magazine and on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Outlook show.

Felix Krasyk Profile on West Virginia Public Television Outlook – September 27, 2007

Mrs. Wassenberg and Esprie – Felix Krasyk – oil on canvas – 1954

NYC 9/11/2001 – Felix Krasyk – collage & oil spray on artboard – 2007

You can find out more about this exceptional artist and his work by visiting his website.


West Virginia Modernism – Robert E. Martens – Part 2

The United Carbon Building (now called Boulevard Tower) opened with a public ceremony on October 17, 1941 and was described by the Charleston Gazette as a “streamlined landmark of a greater Charleston.”  

Designed by Walter Martens, with assistance from Eliel Saarinien, it is a steel-framed building sheathed in a smooth, unornamented shell of gold-colored brick, black steel and glass. The base of the building is faced with black granite, alberene stone and bronze trim, with a principal entrance portico on the corner. The building was commissioned in 1939 as the national headquarters for the United Carbon Company, which occupied the ninth through the twelfth floors until 1950.

The offices of the United Carbon Company were originally furnished with wall hangings and window curtains designed and woven by Loja Saarinen, wife of Eliel Saarinen and instructor at the Cranbrook Academy. This project’s connection to Cranbrook was facilitated by Robert Martens, Walter’s son, who attended the school during the United Carbon Building‘s design.

On the outside corner of the portico stands a bronze statue of a man bearing the inscription, “From the Fullness of the Earth.” Along with the figure are bronze plaques representing various industries which were also sculpted by Robert E. Martens.

Robert Martens explained to the Charleston Daily Mail on October 17, 1941 that the figure “represents a workman, not definitely a laborer, nor a chemist, nor an office man. A figure of vision but also a man who by sweat and toil is taking the ingredients from the earth and processing them into useful finished products.”

Still a landmark today, The United Carbon Building was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1994.


United Carbon Man – Robert E. Martens – Bronze – 1941

“From the Fullness of the Earth”

Chemistry Plaque – Robert E. Martens – Bronze – 1941

The United Carbon Building (now Boulevard Tower) – Martens and Son-Architects – 1941

United Carbon Man standing guard today. 


West Virginia Modernism – Robert E. Martens – Part 1

REM Monogram – Robert E. Martens – Cast Aluminum – 1954

Robert E. Martens was born in Illinois in 1919 but lived most of his life in Charleston, West Virginia.  He studied architectural design at Cranbrook Academy of Art under the guidance of Eliel Saarinen and sculpturing under the direction of Carl Milles. Later he also studied in the Department of Agriculture at Yale University.  While overseas during WWII the sculptures he created caught the eye of Lt. J.F. Saarade of the Free French Forces who opened his studio in Oran Algiers for Martens to work.

Robert E. Martens shown working on Portrait of Major Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager – 1955

Martens returned home to Charleston after the war and began working with his father in Martens and Son, Architects.  Martens felt strongly that sculpture played an important role in enriching an environment.  In 1952 Martens wrote in West Virginia State Magazine:

“Today we are approaching a three dimensional presentation, whether in movies, in sound recordings, or in building ornament”

Martens incorporated this theory into practice in utilizing decorative sculptures in the United Carbon Building (now Boulevard Tower) in Charleston; the atomic symbol for the Science Hall Building at West Virginia Institute of Technology; and, at numerous churches in the state.

In April of 1955 Woodrums of Charleston presented an exhibition of sculpture by Robert E. Martens.Here are some highlights from the catalog of that show.

Woodrums of Charleston Exhibition catalog cover – April 28 – May 12, 1955

Torso – Robert E. Martens – Cast Stone – 1937

Portrait of Joan – Robert E. Martens – Bronze – 1938

Kind Spirit – A Portrait – Robert E. Martens – Cast Stone – 1953

Next – The United Carbon Building and the sculpture of Robert E. Martens.


Holiday ArtWalk Schedule Announced

The Downtown Charleston ArtWalks for the holiday season will be held on Friday, November 23rd (the day after Thanksgiving) and Thursday, December 20th from 5 – 8pm.

The ArtWalk showcases the best of Charleston’s thriving art scene and provides a great night out with family and friends.

The holday ArtWalks are planned to help you enjoy the season, fabulous art and get unique and stylish gifts for the special people on your list.

Sure beats a trip out Corrider G. 

Don’t miss out on the fun – put this on your calendar today!


So, I’m really just a modern guy.

As I begin this blog I thought it might be a good idea to share a bit about myself.

I am an avid collector of 20th Century modern design and art.  My wife and I are the owners of The Purple Moon in Charleston, WV – the state’s only mid-century modern gallery.  The shop is an extension of our obsession – we are collectors first and dealers second.  We love the thrill of the hunt in finding great, vintage mid-century modern housewares and furnishings. We then equally enjoy matching those items up with someone who will treasure the piece forever and make it part of their everyday life.

Style is personal and in our gallery we help people realize their style.

This blog is not intended as a commercial for our business.  Our purpose here is to share and learn about the fabulous design sensibility which grew during the beginning of the atomic age.  Obviously, we won’t cry if you stop by our shop either in person or online – but will be just as happy if you leave a comment here about you latest flea market find.

We’ll be sharing great finds, discussing designers and makers, and generally doing what we love to do – immersing ourselves in mid-century design.

We do travel and shop a lot and go to many auctions, antique shops, malls and flea markets. We’ll share our experiences from those visits here to help you in your own quest to build your collection. Feel free to leave comments about your latest adventure.

Thanks for stopping by.  We hope you’ll come back.