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Review by Ellen E. Roberts
A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene

Edward R. Bosley and Anne E. Mallek, eds. A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene. London and New York: Merrell, in association with the Gamble House/USC, 2008. 272 pp.; numerous color and bw illus., bibliography, index. $75.00.

The catalogue A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene, edited by Edward R. Bosley and Anne E. Mallek, accompanied an exhibition of Charles and Henry Greene’s designs marking the centennial of their David and Mary Gamble house in Pasadena, California. In the book, eleven scholarly essays take a variety of approaches toward the Greenes’ work, investigating, for example, its inspirations, its individual components, and its historiography. Despite a somewhat peculiar structure and an occasional tendency toward description rather than critical analysis, the catalogue is a significant addition to the literature on these designers.

In the first essay, “The Beauty of a House: Charles Greene, the Morris Movement, and James Culbertson,” Mallek uses the Culbertson house in Pasadena, which the Greenes worked on intermittently from 1902 to 1915, as a case study to examine their relation to William Morris and the English arts and crafts movement. She stresses Charles Greene and Culbertson’s shared Anglophilia and admiration for the romantic aspects of English arts and crafts, simultaneously demonstrating the client’s important role in the creation of Greene and Greene’s houses. The second essay, by Virginia Greene Hales and Bruce Smith, summarizes the brothers’ biographies, drawing on the special knowledge Hales has as a grandchild of Henry Greene. Hales and Smith argue that Charles was the more artistically oriented, while Henry was the more practical; nevertheless, Henry had a central role in the firm’s creations, necessitated in part by the sheer number of commissions the brothers had when their architectural practice was at its height.

Bruce Smith’s “Sunlight and Elsewhere: Finding California in the Work of Greene and Greene” focuses on the Greenes’ efforts to develop a new Californian style of architecture between 1895 and 1904. In this period, Pasadena was still quite rustic, and Americans viewed all of California in romantic terms, as an alternative place. As a result, as the Greenes sought to design buildings appropriate for the state, they chose models that were considered exotic, such as those from the Japanese and Spanish mission traditions, using them to create architecture for Southern California’s sunny climate. The Greenes’ buildings became, in turn, one of the ways the region defined itself.

In “The Forest, the Copper Mine, and the Sea: The Alchemical and Social Materiality of Greene and Greene,” Margaretta M. Lovell notes the Greenes’ careful specifications for a remarkable variety of materials in their work, in order to appeal to the senses of touch, hearing, and smell as well as sight. She argues persuasively that this use of materials reveals the Greenes’ simultaneous modernity and antimodernity. On the one hand, they incorporated materials from many different international sources into their designs, combining, for example, African ebony with local Californian abalone and American and African copper, materials they likely saw on display at world’s fairs. Such wide-ranging elements indicate the Greenes’ participation in the modern, capitalist economy. On the other hand, the Greenes used materials to distinguish the masters’ and servants’ areas of the house, installing, for example, oak floors in the masters’ quarters and maple or fir in the servants’. These architectural differences upheld traditional power structures, revealing the Greenes’ antimodernity.

The next three essays examine individual components of the Greenes’ houses. Edward S. Cooke Jr.’s contribution, “An International Studio: The Furniture Collaborations of the Greenes and the Halls,” traces the development of the Greenes’ furniture aesthetic. Their first furniture was heavily influenced by Gustav Stickley, whereas their later pieces synthesized elements drawn from neoclassical, traditional Chinese, and contemporary German sources. This change in the Greenes’ furniture occurred after 1906 and was made possible by their partnership with Peter and John Hall, who had the mastery of construction techniques necessary to execute the Greenes’ ideas successfully. The Halls were especially attentive to details of joinery and wood expansion, concerns that were characteristic of contemporary Scandinavian design and thus demonstrate the influence of the Scandinavian craftspeople working in their shop. Cooke’s detailed discussion of such aspects of construction, including X-ray analysis of a Blacker house chair, is particularly helpful.

In the next essay, “‘The Spell of Japan’: Japonism and the Metalwork of Greene and Greene,” Nina Gray surveys the Greenes’ metalwork, moving from exterior elements such as strapwork and lanterns to interior furniture and fireplace accoutrements. Like Cooke, she asserts that Greene and Greene’s mature designs in metal were only achievable because they found talented craftspeople who were capable of executing them successfully, in this case George Burkhard and Rudolph Lensch of the Art Metal Company. Gray describes the Japanesque aspects of the Greenes’ metalwork, focusing in particular on its relation to traditional Japanese sword guards, or tsuba. Nevertheless, as several of the other catalogue essays demonstrate, Japanism influenced all the Greenes’ creations, not just their metalwork, so Gray’s essay title seems misleading.

Julie L. Sloan then treats the brothers’ stained glass in her essay, “‘A Glimmer of Vivid Light’: The Stained Glass of Greene and Greene.” Like Cooke and Gray, she argues that the Greenes’ innovative glass designs after 1906 were viable only because they partnered with master craftspeople, in this case, the glaziers Harry Sturdy and Emil Lange. Sloan effectively contextualizes the Greenes’ glass within contemporary practice in this medium, while also discussing the technical developments—such as the use of copper foil and iridized glass—that made the Greenes’ mature productions possible.

Ann Scheid, in “Independent Women, Widows, and Heiresses: Greene and Greene’s Women Clients,” analyzes the social background of the Greenes’ female clients, most of whom were midwestern progressives, the daughters of men who had made their fortunes in industry in western Pennsylvania and Ohio. These women were educated and independent, and their strong ideas about how their houses should look affected the Greenes’ designs. Thus, like Mallek’s essay, Scheid’s discussion demonstrates that Greene and Greene houses were collaborative affairs, with the clients playing important roles in shaping the form that the buildings ultimately took.

Next, Alan Crawford addresses “Charles Greene and Englishness.” Charles Greene had been exposed to English arts and crafts design through his travels in England and his reading of design periodicals such as International Studio. Nevertheless, as Crawford argues persuasively, Greene’s designs were less influenced by these realities than by his romantic, nineteenth-century-based picturesque idea of England and by the stereotyped English house form that was recognizable to his American clients.

David C. Streatfield then surveys “Divergent Threads in the Garden Art of Greene and Greene.” The Greenes believed that gardens should be integrally related both to the house and to the surrounding landscape. As a result, they worked to develop their own appropriately Californian picturesque garden aesthetic, inspired by such apparently contradictory traditions as Spanish mission, English Tudor, Italian formal, and Japanese. Streatfield demonstrates that the Greenes’ work in this area was collaborative as well: since they knew little about horticulture, it is likely that they described the effects they wanted to nurseryman George Chisholm, who chose the plants best suited to execute their designs.

In the final essay, “Out of the Woods: Greene and Greene and the Modern American House,” Edward R. Bosley addresses the changing reception of Greene and Greene’s work in the first half of the twentieth century. Although the popularity of the International Style after World War I made the Greenes’ regionalist, handcrafted designs seem antimodern, by the 1930s this attitude was beginning to change. Pioneering Greene and Greene scholars such as Jean Murray Bangs ensured that the brothers’ architectural plans and drawings were saved and their designs published in such leading periodicals as House Beautiful. As a result, by the early 1950s the Greenes’ work was seen as protomodernist rather than antimodernist, and it influenced later twentieth-century design.

Each of the catalogue authors, then, offers helpful insights into the Greenes’ work. Nevertheless, there are aspects of the overall publication that hinder the reader’s understanding of their arguments. First, the book’s structure is somewhat idiosyncratic. Hales and Smith’s chapter on the ­Greenes’ biographical background is not first but second in the book, with the result that the reader must attempt to follow the first essay—Mallek’s on the Culbertson house—with no sense of the brothers’ family background, relation to each other, architectural training, or overall career trajectories. Mallek’s essay also overlaps significantly with Crawford’s, which strangely appears much later in the catalogue. Both authors address the English influence on the Greenes’ work, but in fact, as various writers argue throughout the catalogue, the English strand was only one of a number of significant influences on Greene and Greene. Japanism, the German concept of Gesamtkunstwerk (the environment as a total work of art), contemporary Scandinavian design practice, and the Spanish mission and Native American architectural traditions of Southern California also inspired these architects. With no essays on these other aspects, the book falsely suggests that the English influence on the Greenes was the most important. Moreover, since no author offers a comprehensive treatment of these other strands, the background information on each is repeated in different essays unnecessarily; Mallek, Smith, and Gray, for example, all summarize the history of Japanism.

The catalogue also does not include enough comparative illustrations, a lack that significantly deters the authors’ efforts to describe the many different influences on the Greenes’ work and their relation to their contemporaries. Although more photographs might involve added expense and some sacrificing of the book’s dramatic design, these compromises would give the reader much-needed concrete visual examples against which to judge the Greenes’ buildings. Without such comparative material, the authors’ points seem vague and unsubstantiated. The reader also misses an object list of the exhibition for which this publication served as a catalogue. This omission is especially regrettable given the challenges of creating a show on architecture, a medium that by its very nature is not easily exhibited in a museum context. Curators of design from all eras and regions would benefit from knowing which objects were chosen to make the Greenes’ buildings accessible to a museum audience.

Despite these drawbacks, the book’s emphasis on the collaborative nature of the Greenes’ work advances scholarship on these architects and, indeed, on design in general. The catalogue essays work together to debunk two related myths: first, that the Greenes’ remarkable designs were the achievement of the more artistic Charles alone; and second, that the brothers themselves were solely responsible for them. In reality, Charles and Henry Greene worked with each other and with their clients and craftspeople to create their houses.

The catalogue’s most successful essays are those, like Lovell’s and Crawford’s, that acknowledge the contradictions inherent in the Greenes’ work and move beyond mere description and promotion of the Greenes’ role in architectural history to critical analysis. Bosley writes in his introduction that the catalogue’s text is not “the last word on Greene and Greene, but rather the next in a continuing discussion leading to a fuller recognition of their legacy” (p. 13). This book certainly persuades the reader of the importance of studying Greene and Greene. It is to be hoped that future scholars will move beyond this need to legitimize their work to ever more nuanced investigations of its complex nature.

 

Ellen E. Roberts
The Art Institute of Chicago

American Furniture 2010

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