Whizzing past your eyeballs are flits of houses, trees, a body of water, a tunnel and a stop. Taking the monorail to the international terminal of the SFO stands a hallway length of proud glass cubed stands. In these glass boxes houses the SFO Museum. The organized thoughtfulness and curation is what ‘The Beat Museum’ at the edge of North Beach is lacking. The presentation was artfully designed to give the visitor a sense of enclosure without actually enclosing the space. They took what I usually overlook as an artist, ‘Arts and Crafts’ to a dignified and important level in the process of American aesthetic.
During the industrial age came a flurry of commercially manufactured and multiplied pieces of furniture and objects. Acute to this multiplication was the dying but still ever present Victorian maximalism with her coiled paisley leaves, opulent décor, over embellished almost everything. People were beginning to have access to goods that were usually out of their reach even if they were shoddily made and multiplied. A style maxim that became the West’s tribal pattern. As this industrialworld wide phenomenon spread through America a group of artists, artisans and creators spearheaded a stance back to goods and objects made by hand in conditions nourishing. The typical factory worker gained meagerly wages and lived in conditions so cramped they became the subject of Jacob Riis work. These rebels preached fare wages, viable living conditions and handmade. And they were good. They won awards.
The SFO Museum’s collection of Rookwood and Newcomb pots are beautiful to say the least. They are elegant standing tall with fields of flowers and landscapes dressed across them in hues of soft intimate blues. Much like other artistic movements that hold onto a context of visual forms to engage the viewer so too did the Arts and Crafts pioneers. There’s were of fauna, flora andlandscapes. Rookwood Pottery founded by Maria Longworth Nichols took the gold medal in the 1889 Paris Exhibition. No machine could reproduce with such elegance the never-endingdelight of these pots.
One of the pioneers to this movement that still stands today is the Shreve and co. founded in 1852 forging in silver and precious materials. The shapes of the bowls as leaves of petals overflowing the lip or a stem thinly holding a flat bloom of silver. The shapes were merely delightful and the knowledge that the material which the vessel was formed from elevated the experience to a hushed and humbled place. Only the dignified, kings and queens eat from such trappings. If the flatware was made in silver shaped to such form then one could only imagine the corresponding attendants of a dinner. Remarkable.
Textiles employed by Gustav Stickley reference the departure from the colloquial Victorian indulgence and birthing of Weber, minimalism and progress. A streamlined approach to aesthetic, an important juncture for the modern and even popular forms of art. Once you begin to weave the tapestry of art history together through such educational displays of forgotten pasts it is hard to imagine how far abstraction could have taken shape without this clearing of opulence. They like most heroes are silent stepping stones that progress the human spirit.
It was unheard of for a woman to take home more pay than a man but not in the Arts and Crafts movement. Women worked and were well paid for it. Dirk Van Erp’s copper creation, Lillian Palmer and the Paul Revere Pottery are showcased at the SFO Museum. They pushed woman forward in creative ways and although the movement climaxed at the beginning of World War I and quietly faded into the annals of history their affects stand proudly in display at the international terminal educating others of their artisanal quality of the handmade. An ideology from which all passengers of this life can benefit from.