Marguerita Mergentime - Forgotten Designs

Marguerita Mergentime, 1930s. © Mergentime Family Archives

Marguerita Mergentime, 1930s. © Mergentime Family Archives

When Virginia Bayer began looking through her late mothers belongings she came across the incredible design legacy of Marguerita, her maternal grandmother….

Molly, Virginia’s mother who died in 2008 was the eldest daughter of Marguerita Mergentime. Virginia knew a little about her grandmother, stories from her childhood of an unknown female figure, one who had died before she had been born. She knew the colours of her grandmothers placemats and tablecloths that were a feature of her family apartment when growing up and she had been told that Marguerita had designed the carpets and wall coverings for Radio City Music Hall.

"Food Quiz" tablecloth and table setting. 1939

"Food Quiz" tablecloth and table setting. 1939

But in 2008, whilst looking through her things she realised that Mergentime’s story went much further than this. She find newspaper cuttings displaying her work, designs that were sold in Macy’s and Lord & Taylor and features in magazines such as Vogue, The New Yorker and House Beautiful.

Marguerita Mergentime’s Two-Timing tablecloth featured in House Beautiful, February 1935.

Marguerita Mergentime’s Two-Timing tablecloth featured in House Beautiful, February 1935.

The results of these finds is a beautiful book, Marguerita Mergentime: American Textiles, Modern Ideas released by West Madison Press in 2017.

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Mergentime was a proud American, the colours of the print adorning the front of the book testament to this, further echoed in the colours of much of her work.

Mergentime was a pioneer, a tastemaker of her time whose work adorned the American home of the 1950s.

Marguerita was born Marguerita Straus on 3 March 1894 in New York City. She graduated from the Ethical Culture School and continued with art studies through classes at Teachers College from 1923-27.

Unable to find the table linens she desired she decided in the late 1920s and early 1930s she decided she would remedy this problem by becoming a textile designer herself. She educated herself researching in museums, and studying the arts with designers such as Ilonka Karasz.

In 1929 she was commissioned by Donald Deskey to create the interior fabric - Lilies in the Air - which covers the walls in the Ladies Lounge and the carpet for the Grand Lounge in Radio City Music Hall.

Marguerita Mergentime, Lilies in the Air sample of design for Radio City Music Hall, ca. 1932. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

Marguerita Mergentime, Lilies in the Air sample of design for Radio City Music Hall, ca. 1932. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

In 1939 Mergentime designed a souvenir tablecloth for the New York World’s Fair and a hanging for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

Marguerita Mergentime, New York World’s Fair tablecloth, 1939. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

Marguerita Mergentime, New York World’s Fair tablecloth, 1939. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

This book aims to put a light back onto the work of Mergentime. Her legacy has been, up until now perhaps a little lost. Maybe because Mergentime was a woman. Maybe because her designs are principally ones for the home, and she has not been as recognised as those follow colleagues of her from the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (AUDC) which she became a member of in 1929: Frank Lloyd Wright, Egmont Arens, Donald Deskey, Norman Bel Geddes, Eliel Saarinen, and Russel Wright.

for a woman whose designs were ubiquitous in her day, whose spirit breathes through our kitchenware and tablecloths, the appreciation feels far too delayed, and she is known by too few.
Marguerita Mergentime, Wish Fulfillment cocktail napkin from a set of eight, 1939. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

Marguerita Mergentime, Wish Fulfillment cocktail napkin from a set of eight, 1939. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

She resides permanently in the collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Museum at FIT, and the Allentown Art Museum and justly so. We know that this new book will also make a handsome addition to our collection and provide much colour and design inspiration for our own future projects.

Marguerita Mergentime, Americana hanging, 1939. Brooklyn Museum, gift of Charles B. Mergentime, 43.70.38. ©Brooklyn Museum

Marguerita Mergentime, Americana hanging, 1939. Brooklyn Museum, gift of Charles B. Mergentime, 43.70.38. ©Brooklyn Museum

“Are you allergic to meaningless, uninspired patterns in printed cloths?” Mergentime once asked.

We know we aren’t…. Are you?

[ABOVE IMAGE: Textile samples (Six swatches of printed silk indicating different colorways) Printed, Woven silk. late 1930s.MOMA collection, Margueriita Mergentime]

Marguerita Mergentime, Food for Thought tablecloth, 1936. Museum of Modern Art, 967.2016. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

Marguerita Mergentime, Food for Thought tablecloth, 1936. Museum of Modern Art, 967.2016. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

Bauhaus turns 100

The life at the Weimar Bauhaus: members of the Bauhaus and guests, around 1922 Photographic paper (with silver halide salts in gelatin) Print: 11.1 x 8.4 cm © Bauhaus-Archive Berlin

The life at the Weimar Bauhaus: members of the Bauhaus and guests, around 1922 Photographic paper (with silver halide salts in gelatin) Print: 11.1 x 8.4 cm © Bauhaus-Archive Berlin

While the ripples of the Bauhaus school reached far and wide after its closing in 1933 - to places such as the renowned Black Mountain College in California, Harvard Graduate School of Design, the White City in Tel Aviv and the International Style of Architecture, the Bauhaus school in its original form was in fact a very short-lived entity. Started in 1919 under the directorship of Walter Gropius it was closed in 1933, a mere 14 years later by the newly appointed National Socialist party in Germany.

Typography by  Herbert Bayer  above the entrance to the workshop block of the Bauhaus, Dessau, 2005

Typography by Herbert Bayer above the entrance to the workshop block of the Bauhaus, Dessau, 2005

The Bauhaus came out of the energy of Germany post World War I and was influenced in it creation by individuals such as the 19th century William Morris and the absence of distinction between form and function. Beginning life as a means of reuniting creativity and manufacturing, it fashioned itself into a kind of craftsmen’s guild, with echoes of the Renaissance guild system of the 15th century.

William Morris in his 50s.

William Morris in his 50s.

A 20th century reinvention, focusing on the importance of functionality over every other consideration, as a primary starting place.

Whilst most closely associated with architecture and product design it covered a whole spectrum of applied subjects some better known in their legacy than others - pottery, metalwork, photography, fine art, graphic design to name but a few.

Coffee and Tea set design by Marianne Brandt

Coffee and Tea set design by Marianne Brandt

Walter Gropius, a trained architect, founded the Bauhaus school in Weimar in response to the industrialisation of the time and became the school’s first director. In the same year, 1919, Marcel Breuer joined as one of the first and one of the youngest students.

Walter Gropius

Walter Gropius

The Bauhaus held three homes in its lifetime. The first building was in Weimar, followed by a move to Dessau in 1923 with Gropius designing the studio building and dormitories.

Bauhaus Studio building, Dessau. Photographs are courtesy of the  Bauhaus Dessau Foundation  and are by  Yvonne Tenschert

Bauhaus Studio building, Dessau. Photographs are courtesy of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation and are by Yvonne Tenschert

It was in this same year that Lászlö Moholy-Nagy began teaching. The final moved was to an abandoned telephone factory in Berlin in 1932, under pressure from the Nazi party.

my most extreme work… the least artistic, the most logical, the least ‘cozy’ and the most mechanical.
— Marcel Breuer talking about his Wassily Chair/ B3

Marcel Breuer returned to the Bauhaus in 1925 and designed an early version of the bent metal Club chair (model B3). It was a revolutionary take on a classic club chair which the artist himself described as “my most extreme work… the least artistic, the most logical, the least ‘cozy’ and the most mechanical.” It met all the requirements of the school’s design philosophy - easily mass produced, lightweight and easily moved.

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As the art historian Seamus Payne notes, Breuer’s was “the first ever chair to feature a bent-steel frame…it marked the beginning of a new era in modern furniture with a design that maintains a progressive look even today.”

In 1930 van der Rohe took over as the then (though no one would have have known this) last Director of the Bauhaus and in the same year he designed the Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic, and with it defined the Functionalist style.

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Look at your writing table, this shabby writing table. Do you like it? I would throw it out the window. That is what we at the Bauhaus want to do. We want to have good objects so that we do not have to throw them out of the window.
— Mies van der Rohe arguing with Alfred Rosenberg about the Nazi' closing of The Bauhaus

On the morning of 11 April 1933, Mies van der Rohe arrived at the Bauhaus to find the building cordoned off by police and surrounded by crowds.

“Stop!’ he shouted at the officers.

“What’s the idea? This is my school! It belongs to me!”

“Not any more” said an officer.

The next day Mies went to see Alfred Rosenberg, the conservative minister of culture.

“The Bauhaus has a certain idea,” said Mies, “but this idea has nothing to do with politics. Look at your writing table, this shabby writing table. Do you like it? I would throw it out the window. That is what we at the Bauhaus want to do. We want to have good objects so that we do not have to throw them out of the window.” Rosenberg was an architect himself. “Then we will understand each other,” said Mies.

“What do you expect me to do?” asked Rosenberg. “The Bauhaus is supported by forces fighting our forces.”

“For any cultural effort,” replied Mies, “one needs peace, and I would like to know whether we will have that peace.” The Bauhaus remained shut.

Photo credit: Werner Blaser 

Photo credit: Werner Blaser 

His final effort was that of a man who believed deeply in his school and the work that they were doing. Every other day he went to the Gestapo headquarters to attempt to talk to the man in charge. after three months of this, on July 21, with the bauhaus on the brink of bankruptcy he got his audience and was told by the Gestapo that they would allow the re-opening of the Bauhaus if the curriculum was changed to meet “the demands of the new State” and if two of its leftwing teachers, Ludwig Hilberseimer and the painter Vasili Kandinsky were replaced. Mies gathered his colleagues, opened Champagne and closed the school himself.

Wassily Kandinsky: Bilder einer Ausstellung (Pictures at an Exhibition), Stage design for scene XVI: The great gate of Kiev, ca. 1930, Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung, University of Cologne

Wassily Kandinsky: Bilder einer Ausstellung (Pictures at an Exhibition), Stage design for scene XVI: The great gate of Kiev, ca. 1930, Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung, University of Cologne

POST BAUHAUS YEARS…

László Moholy-Nagy

László Moholy-Nagy

László Moholy-Nagy moves to the Netherlands initially before moving to London in 1935 living in the Isokon Building with Walter Gropius for 10 months. He eventually moved to Chicago to become director of the New Bauhaus in 1937 and later open the School of Design.

Isokon Building, Lawn Road Flats, Hampstead, London, NW3

Isokon Building, Lawn Road Flats, Hampstead, London, NW3

Walter Gropius managed to escape Germany in 1934 with the help of English architect Maxwell Fry. He went to Italy under the pretext of making a propaganda film and from there, he escaped to London. He then moved to the US, becoming Chairman of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and founded The Architects’ Collaborative in 1946.

In 1936 Marcel Breuer also moves to London, designing Sea Lane House in West Sussex and starting work with Jack Pritchard on Isokon furniture designs.

Sea Lane house, West Sussex - exterior

Sea Lane house, West Sussex - exterior

Sea Lane House, West Sussex - interior

Sea Lane House, West Sussex - interior

In 1939 Mies van der Rohe had started designing the IIT Campus in Chicago, though not completed until 1958. He spent the rest of his 31 years here, with his last project seeing him return to Berlin for the Berlin National Gallery, opened in 1968.

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Musical Heritage Treasures Herald Spring

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Eliská and her team were excited by a number of emails popping into our inbox over the last couple of weeks. 

George Michael had a different taste in buying art which was so exciting at the time and still now, he was interested in the ‘emerging artists’ of his time
— Eliská

Christie’s have announced two notable sales in the past few weeks which Eliska and her team are incredibly excited about.

It’s important to me that I should be free to express myself...
— George Michael

The George Michael Collection begins on 8 March (notably also International Women’s Day!) with the online auction and culminates with the London Evening Auction on March 14th, the proceeds of which will go towards furthering the philanthropic work that was so important to him during his lifetime.

Damien Hirst,  The Incomplete Truth, 2006.

Damien Hirst, The Incomplete Truth, 2006.

Whilst the catalogue is yet to be published, some highlights that have been released to whet our appetites include Bridget Riley’s Songbird, 1982 and Damien Hirst’s The Incomplete Truth, 2006.

Bridget Riley,  Songbird, 1982

Bridget Riley, Songbird, 1982

The catalogue itself promises to be a collectors piece, a two volume publication which would be a handsome edition to any coffee table and a collector’s item itself, we are sure, in years to come.

The George Michael Collection, whilst on view at Christie’s, New York (this exhibition ended on 11 February)

The George Michael Collection, whilst on view at Christie’s, New York (this exhibition ended on 11 February)

Christie’s Rockefeller Centre, New York

Christie’s Rockefeller Centre, New York

On 20 June as Spring gives way to Summer, David Gilmour will put up for auction more than 120 guitars from his personal collection. This impressive grouping is hosted in New York and will include, as a highlight THE BLACK STRAT.

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‘Many of the guitars in this sale are guitars that have given me a tune’
— David Gilmour

Gilmour’s 1969 Black Fender Stratocaster, known simply as THE BLACK STRAT was purchased by the Pink Floyd musician in 1970 at Manny’s and has been the instrument most easily identifiable to the artist. For the well discerned ear it is this guitar that was used on masterpieces such as The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973 and The Wall, 1979, including Gilmour’s famed solo on Comfortably Numb.

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Make life an art - rather than art from life
— David Gilmour

Eliská readily admits her obsession with beautiful guitar riffs and we are all hoping to pop down to Christie’s King Street to see for ourselves, for perhaps the last time, these beautiful objects, whilst on their exhibition tour, before they part into the hands of some very lucky collectors and fans, worldwide.

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and The Avant Garde at Barbican, London

Featuring the biggest names in Modern Art, a new exhibition at the Barbican-  Modern Couples explores creative relationships, across painting, sculpture, photography, design and literature.

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde showcases the creative output of over 40 artist couples active in the first half of the 20th century. Drawing on loans from private and public collections worldwide, this major interdisciplinary show features the work of painters, sculptors, photographers, architects, designers, writers, musicians and performers, shown alongside personal photographs, love letters, gifts and rare archival material. Among the highlights are legendary duos such as: Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp; Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin; Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson; Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera; Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso; Lee Miller and Man Ray; Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko; Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West; as well as pairings such as Emilie Flöge and Gustav Klimt, Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí, Romaine Brooks and Natalie Clifford-Barney and Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt, Claude Cahun and Marcelle Moore,  Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, and Nancy Cunard and Henry Crowder, Maria Martins and Marcel Duchamp.

The exhibition seeks to define and explore the relationship between art, society and politics. By focusing on intimate relationships in all their forms – obsessional, conventional, mythic, platonic, fleeting, life-long – it also reveals the way in which creative individuals came together, transgressing the constraints of their time, reshaping art, redefining gender stereotypes and forging news ways of living and loving. Importantly, the exhibition also challenges the idea that the history of art was a singular line of solitary, predominantly male geniuses.

A great example is Cahun’s and Moore’s lifelong relationship. They were already lovers before Cahun’s father married Moore’s mother, making them stepsisters. They created art collaboratively from the 1920s onwards, most strikingly in the form of photos of Cahun, an ambiguously gendered, compelling and strange iconic figure. The couple resisted convention even to the point of death, arranging to be buried together under a headstone marked with two stars of David. Cahun was Jewish but unreligious while Moore wasn’t Jewish at all. It was the Fifties and the gesture was of solidarity with those oppressed by the Nazis in the last two decades. 

The show’s catalogue talks of desire linked to revolution. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were married for 30 years. They were unfaithful to each other, but the Communist ideal they shared and the aim that stemmed from it to create art not for a cultured elite but for the people, is the important factor. They were ideological collaborators.  

Another fascinating insight is found in the display of Nancy Cunard and Henry Crowder’s relationship. Cunard inherited a fortune from her father Sir Bache Cunard, an heir to the Cunard Line shipping businesses. Crowder was a jazz pianist. He was African-American and with his moral support, as well as active engagement as musician and writer, Cunard used culture to fight racism and colonialism. Their affair lasted seven years. After Crowder’s death in 1955 Cunard wrote that it was really him that inspired her sense of art’s purpose. Her own death 10 years later, was terrible: ravaged by alcoholism, weighing only four stone, mad and desolate, she died in the Hôpital Cochin, in Paris, which featured in the essay How the Poor Die by  George Orwell . In the 1920s and 1930s, though, she was a magnificent cultural leader and class warrior. Poet, collector and publisher, she launched the career of Samuel Beckett by bringing out his first book of poetry, Whoroscope. Crowder set the type and designed the cover. Cunard encouraged him to put poetry by black writers to music. In 1934 she published her influential book, Negro Anthology, documenting black culture.

Modern Couples really makes a case for itself with its representation of Cunard’s and Crowder’s joint story, by showing how each was a very great artist indeed in the sense we’re now getting used to, where many things can count as art.

art inspiration: Congolese contemporary painter Eddy Ilunga Kamuanga

Eddy Ilunga Kamuanga's paintings emerge out of a materially rich visual world of patterns and textures. Kamuanga’s persevering vision is characteristic of the vibrant intellectual community that continues to flourish in Central Africa. Often as bystanders to the political and social turmoil to which they are subjected, in a place where lives are too often derailed by urban delinquency and crime, Kinois artists are increasingly compelled to produce art that gives voice to their inner desires and hopes for the future.

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Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1991, Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga studied painting at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa. While the strict, almost 19th-century style of formal figuration that has been taught at the Académie since its colonial-era founding allowed the artist to develop sophisticated painterly skills, ultimately, he found its program conceptually stifling, and abandoned his studies there, in 2011. Though there was little in place supporting that decision, he quickly aligned himself with other artists to establish M’Pongo, a group studio where a diverse set of young artists shared ideas and exhibited together to generate their own vibrant scene, which tapped into the high-energy creativity of contemporary Kinshasa.

In his work, Kamuanga Ilunga explores the seismic shifts in the economic, political and social identity of the DRC that have taken place since colonialism. Increasingly globalised, yet still devoutly Christian, much of the country completely rejects its multi-ethnic indigenous heritage. The artist’s own mother, a modern woman who supported and raised her large family alone, didn’t want him undertake a research trip to visit people from her own ethnic grouping, considering them pagan, backwards and even dangerous! It is this loss of their traditional cultures that his listless figures seem to mourn, their bright fabrics hanging limply from their bodies, their hands clutching ritual objects whose functions seem less and less apparent. Today’s DRC is the world’s largest exporter of coltan, a raw material used in computer chips and mobile phones, and we see this ubiquitous marker of global modernity creeping across their skins. The monumental quality of the works makes the figures both heroic and elegiac. Yet, even as the Congolese fabrics painted as European drapery recount the developing story of the DR Congo of today the inter-dimensional ambiguity, between solidity and flatness, suggests an underlying anguish and emptiness.

For his latest project, Kamuanga uses the history of the Kongo Kingdom to reveal the legacy of its leaders and examines the impact this has had on contemporary Congolese society. These new works feature objects such as porcelain used by early Portuguese traders as well as pottery, such as Toby jugs, which later entered the trade routes in the Kongo Kingdom for the trade of slaves. In this body of works, Eddy pays tribute to the slaves and ancestors who resisted this human trafficking by presenting a vision of the socio-political landscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kamuanga Ilunga’s work has been exhibited across Africa, notably at Dak’Art; Biennale OFF Senegal in 2014, and made its London debut at the Saatchi Gallery’s Panagaea II in 2015. 

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