Historicism and Retro: The Question of Timelessness in Design (2)

Saturday 10th Sept, 9.30-11.00, Room CG09

Chair: Professor Kjetil Fallan, University of Oslo

How do we understand the passage of time in relation to notions of ‘retro’ designed objects? Or in relation to ‘revivals’ of the design of previous periods?  How should we understand nostalgia?  Where are the boundaries between the authentic, the antique, the artificial and the a-historical? This is part two of two panel theme.

Freaks of Fancy, Revisited: Nineteenth-century Ornamented Typography in the Twenty-first Century
Arden Stern, Assistant Professor, Humanities and Sciences, ArtCenter College of Design, California

E: astern2@artcenter.edu T: @ArdenStern

Designers and design historians alike have debated and theorised design’s engagements with past forms, yielding a robust literature on revivalism across design discourse. This literature has focused primarily on three phenomena: handcraft revivalisms of the late nineteenth century, mid- and late-twentieth-century aesthetic revivals of modernist avant-gardes, and the postmodern pop-historical appropriations of the late twentieth century. Few critics and scholars have analysed aesthetic revivals of the nineteenth-century commercial graphics not associated with modernism, which have made notable reappearances in the mainstream graphic design of the United States and elsewhere since the turn of the twenty-first century.

These nineteenth-century ornamented types and compositional strategies originally emerged and flourished in the context of the industrialisation of the printing trades, and as such were disparaged by craft reformists like William Morris and other fine printers like Theodore Low De Vinne. Such typographic forms were for the most part marginalised by modern graphic designers throughout the nineteenth century, notable exceptions including the neo-Victorian typography and illustration of New York’s Push Pin Studios. However, the turn of the twenty-first century saw the launch of online collections of digitised letterpress fonts, the publication and republication of several volumes on topics related to nineteenth-century typography and printing, and increased attention to and corporate mimicry of heritage letterpress printing.

This paper builds upon and also interrogates existing scholarly frameworks for revivalism through an analysis of twenty-first-century mobilisations of nineteenth-century ornamented typography in American graphic design. In particular, the paper reconsiders postmodern frameworks of historicist appropriation, including discourses of Neo-Victorianism and retro culture, in conversation with media archaeology and recent scholarship on craft. The analysis focuses upon two genres of neo-nineteenth-century typographic revivals: heritage letterpress fetishism, and revivalist authentications of digital design practice. While the former is nostalgic, with nineteenth-century typographic materials representing an imagined return to authentic handcraft, the latter is future facing, engaging antiquated styles to confer legitimacy upon the new. Key examples include the Adobe Rosewood font, which is a digital version of the Clarendon Ornamented typeface released by the William Page foundry in 1859, and also an ongoing RAM truck advertising campaign that showcases digitised nineteenth-century ornamented metal types.

This paper argues that to build graphical associations between contemporary multinational capitalism and industrial print culture, and thus to decipher digital design culture through pre-digital design forms and practices, constructs purposeful continuities between past and present by aligning nineteenth- and twenty-first-century modes of production. These alignments, balanced precariously on fraught cultural divisions between handmade/machine-made and authentic/artificial, are resolutely ahistorical, yet speak volumes about the dynamics of information capitalism, de-industrialisation, and recession in recent US history. As such, contemporary graphic design engagements with nineteenth-century ornamented typography present provocative possibilities regarding not only how historical forms are mobilised in the context of the current political and economic moment, but also how typography can be harnessed to redraw the boundaries of historical periods and reconstruct the flow of time.

42134488_tredwayTimeless and Tasteful Tableware: Historicism and the Contemporary Table at Tiffany & Co. 1955-80
Tom Tredway, Assistant Professor, Department of Design, California State University
E: tom.tredway@csulb.edu

“We work also to achieve a quality of timelessness in our design.”

George O’Brien, Vice-President and
Design Director, Tiffany & Co., 1973

Walter Hoving, an experienced and innovative merchandiser with deep knowledge of the history of the decorative arts and design, purchased a controlling interest in Tiffany & Co. in 1955 and turned to Van Day Truex, the former president of the Parsons School of Design and a widely respected authority on design, as his Design Director and primary aesthetic advisor. This paper explores Hoving’s design philosophy and the complex and sophisticated relationship between taste, timelessness, historicism and contemporary life in Tiffany & Co. tableware created under Truex’s direction.

Hoving felt the high standards of the European aristocratic system of cultured patrons, inventive artistic advisors, and highly innovative craftspeople collaborating to create exquisite objects of taste had been lost in an industrial mass-market system driven by the lowest common denominator of mass taste, fads, and the pursuit of sales above all else. Hoving sought to recreate this lost aristocratic system to the greatest extent possible in a contemporary corporate context. He advocated for all corporate executives to be better educated in the history of art and design as well as aesthetics in order to develop their design judgement, which he found sorely wanting. Executives with this training would then have the confidence in their own taste to place design policy in the hands of a high level, well-rounded designer knowledgeable about the history of design and aesthetics and able to guide other designers as well as manufacturers in articulating the company’s point of view.

Timelessness and a deep appreciation for history were both important components of the Tiffany & Co. point of view. Hoving strove for aesthetic consistency over seasonal changes in style, was largely unconcerned with the passage of time, the latest fashions, or trends, and favoured design executives who seamlessly incorporated the past into the present. Tiffany & Co. also hosted important exhibitions of antique design, regularly presented public lectures on the history of jewellery, and frequently invited society hostesses and interior designers to combine Tiffany & Co. stock with their own personal antiques and heirlooms to create table settings for the public that effortlessly blended the old and the new. Truex’s approach to the design of silver, china, and crystal for Tiffany & Co. combined early modern design principles and forms with a slightly conservative modern sensibility, all filtered through a lens of elite taste. It combined elements of historicism, modernism, and the vernacular to create a varied but cohesive point of view that often reinterpreted seventeeth- and eighteenth-century ideas of luxury, elegance, taste and wit for a contemporary audience that aspired to the Tiffany & Co. lifestyle.

Tiffany archivist Annamarie Sandecki at work at Tiffany's flagship store on New York Fifth Avenue.

“In Bracelets, or Brooches, Some Richly Ornamented with Diamonds”; 150 Years of Women’s Watches from Tiffany & Co.
Annamarie Sandecki, Archivist, Tiffany and Co. Archives
E: Annamarie.sandecki@tiffany.com

Unlike the pocket- or wrist-watch worn by men, from 1847 until 1997 the shape or form of women’s watches has fluctuated wildly. Influenced by fashion and social mores, women’s timepieces shrank or grew, were worn prominently or hidden away, and were simply or lavishly decorated. Utilising the Archives of the American luxury goods retailer Tiffany & Co., this paper will explore two topics: the design arc – from chatelaine to lapel to chain to wrist – of American women’s timepieces, and women’s 150-year evolving relationship with their personal timekeeping devices.

By examining traditional business records (design sketches, advertisements, catalogues, press releases, sales records) as well as etiquette manuals and fashion periodicals, this paper will examine what factors influenced the design, purchase and ownership of American women’s watches.

Further Reading

Stern, A (2014) ‘Domesticating the Global: Sign Writing and Visual Culture in Lusaka, Zambia.’ Design & Culture, 6.3.

Stern, A (2012) ‘Arial: An Apologia.’ Theorizing Visual Studies: Writing Through the Discipline, Elkins, J, McGuire, K, Burns, M, Chester, A, and Kuennen, J (eds), New York: Routledge.

Tredway, T (2013) ‘Europe and North America 1945-2000,’ with Kirkham, P, Larsen, CA, Lichtman, SA and Whalen, C, in: History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400-2000, Kirkham, P and Weber, S (eds), Yale University Press.

Tredway, T (2013) ‘Inside Out: Elsa Schiaparelli, Interiors, and Autobiography,’, in: Biography, Identity and the Modern Interior, Sparke, P and Massey, A (eds), Farnham: Ashgate.

Tredway, T (2013) ‘Zsolnay Porcelain Manufactory,’ and ‘Design Within Reach: Granit Collection,’ in: Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, Design, and Beauty, Kirkham, P, Moore, P and Wolfframm, P, Chronicle Books.

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