Monday, January 04, 2010

Finding Your Guardian Architect

Do you have a guardian architect? Everyone should have one.

My architectural ambitions are on a decidedly small scale -- at least as far as the physical dimensions if not the design and execution. Like food, architecture is one addiction we always need and cannot abstain from as we might chemicals or gambling.

Late in his life, my father started designing wood boxes such as the one on the left. They pleased me at the time but have come to be more cherished in the years since he left since he was completely self taught in making the splices, deciding on the lines, the finishes. More than a few of them remind me of mud mosques rising from the desert in Mali, testaments of individual imagination and not one particular school of design.

Over the years I have collected a number of boxes from India -- some acquired there and, more recently and oddly at Borderlands Bookstore, home of Ripley the hairless cat. While their volumes of sci fi, occult and fantasy have never grabbed my fancy the boxes have.

More than once I've commented that I am probably the only person who has bought them not for drug storage.

Over the past six months I've been delving deeper into the legacy of the boxes or assemblages of Joseph Cornell, not brave enough yet to make my own and wanting to define exactly not just what will go in them but why things will go in them. I've slowly been procuring little items, from ceramic, metal and glass objects to the perfect extractions from nature, driven by not just Cornell but also the 16th and 17th century cabinets of curiosity.

How all of this weaves back to architecture is that lately I've been making little paper boxes in homage to favorite architects. While much of his work is too ornate for me, I love many of the patterns of Owen Jones and recently made the little boxes using some of his wallpaper designs to fashion tiny hatboxes, just big enough to fit those little Japanese kewpies into. Jones may have been a Victorian, but he did adhere to "the grammar of ornament".
It might seem ironic then that my guardian architect is Louis Sullivan whose work and life move me on a deep level. Though credited with being the father of the American skyscraper, it is often said that his work anticipates modernism without actually creating it. That is because he was quite fond of ornamentation. Yet I would not say that his work is ornate. To my mind Sullivan was a modernist but not afraid to be passionate, and his ornamentation echoes and harmonizes with nature not against it.

So tonight I made what I anticipate will be a growing series of Sullivan boxes, this one pulling elements of his "jewel box banks" that grace many small Midwest towns and filigrees from some of his Chicago work. It wouldn't be complete without a likeness of the master architect himself. I wonder if I am the first person to develop a line of 19th century architect action figures.

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At 4:12 PM, Blogger rich bachelor said...

Ooh! Ooh! I dibs Pietro Belluschi!

But good work, Your Dad. I can see the quality very clearly...and yeah, at least one of those looked like the perfect accessory for those who enjoy The Devil's Cabbage.

At 5:56 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Rich - Yes, Pietro Belluschi would be on my list too likely. I once made the faux pas of telling a rich Catholic donor that our St. Mary's Cathedral was Our Lady of the Maytag Agitator. She was not amused.

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