April 2011 The Evolving Critic

Where do you get your ideas from?

This is my first #LETSBLOGOFF  Topic!

The things I’ve seen and continue to inspire me (yes, that includes sneakers)!

To say that one’s ideas are all original is a bit of an exaggeration. We cannot possibly deny the influence of others on our work and our creativity.

I get my ideas from walking the streets of a city. I’m inspired by architecture, urban decay, parks, flowers, sidewalk patterns, fashion and museums, you name it! I’m inspired by community organizers and grassroots activists who go the extra mile to create change for those who need it most. I’m inspired by people who are passionate about about a subject, an object, a person (no, I am NOT talking threesome here) or a place and will share that passion with others, regardless of who they are.

The city inspires me. Its museums open a world of infinite possibilities never thought possible. Its parks and squares re-energize my senses and ground my thoughts and feelings. Its neighborhoods allow me to appreciate the richness of our cultural diversity and differences in opinions. Its people emphasize my interest in fashion and its parallels with architecture and design.

There are so many things that inspire me about a city that I could write a book, but I much rather let you explore it on your own terms.

Where do you get your ideas from? What inspires you?

On March 23rd, 2011 as I was walking around the South End photographing murals for an upcoming “project,” I noticed this public art work. It is called LandWave and it is designed by Gillis-Smith/Kilkelly/Cormier led by landscape architect Shauna Gillies-Smith. I think the project is interesting especially given that a good chunk of Boston is built on land reclaimed from the sea, in fact, Boston was known as Shawmut Peninsula. The SHIFTboston blog dedicated a post to this land art work (with more recent images too).

Photograph courtesy of the artist / David Zwirner, New York. Paradox of Praxis, still from Paradox of Praxis 1, 1997, video, 5

Expecting to encounter sculpture in an exhibition titled Francis Alÿs:The Moment Where Sculpture Happens, is expecting to be disappointed When hearing the word sculpture, it is safe to assume that most of us immediately become concern with the technical and aesthetic qualities that are traditionally associated with sculpture. We question whether the sculpture is additive or subtractive, or whether it forms part of a building or it’s a relief panel. In the Francis Alÿs exhibition at the Davis Museum, a viewer’s notion of what sculpture is or should be, is challenged by both the artist and curator.

Born in 1959 in Antwerp, Belgium and having studied architecture and urbanism in Europe before settling in Mexico City’s historic quarters, Francis Alÿs’ work deal with the surrounding physical and social tensions of this dense Latin American city. There are no sculptures to be found in this exhibition at the Davis Museum or in the artist’s body of work, instead a viewer finds works consisting of performances and their video documentation, works; that capture the “moment” where the beginnings of sculpture are articulated.

In the video Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing), 1997 documents over eight hours edited to five minutes of Alÿs pushing an enormous block of ice around Mexico City, leaving only a small puddle at the end of the day. Paradox of Praxis 1 creates a three dimensional, sculpture like experience by documenting the action of pushing a block of ice. Throughout the performance, Alÿs casts shadows in his path and “pushes sculpture to transparent limits, finally consummated in the imagination.”

Francis Alÿs: The Moment Where Sculpture Happens features videos, slide projections, drawings and the recently acquired The Sign Painters Series Cityscape, a triptych depicting an urban scene stripped away from any recognizable landmarks. The exhibition primarily takes place in one small gallery with videos and slides projected on three walls. In addition to these, 15 drawings on vellum and 2 color transparencies of the historic quarters are displayed on a light table.

The exhibition at the Davis Museum marks the artist’s first solo exhibition in the New England region and anticipates a major career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City this May. Francis Alÿs: The Moment Where Sculpture Happens is on view at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College until June 5th, 2011.


Lorna Scott Fox, “Where Sculpture Happens” in Francis Alys: A Story of Deception (London, Tate Modern) 196.

Installed on the grounds of the Northwest Labs at Harvard University, Ai Weiwei’s Untitled is an extremely powerful, bone chilling reminder of life’s most excruciating moments. As one of China’s best known contemporary artists, the story of Ai Weiwei appears to have been excerpted from a novel. Having spent 20 years of his life in internal exile with his family, is only part of the Ai’s inspiring story. A story that continues to unfold to this day.

Ai Weiwei is one of three artists featured in the exhibition The Divine Comedy, curated by Sanford Kwinter of the Graduate School of Design. The exhibition seeks to explore the “emerging domain of experimental spatial practice where the concerns of art, design, and activism are powerfully converging today.”

The work Untitled comprises of 5,335 children backpacks, each symbolizing a child killed in the May 2008 Sichuan Province earthquake. Ai Weiwei organized a “Citizen’s Investigation” to cover 150 “tofu construction” schools in 74 towns and gathered the names of those children killed, names that were covered up by Chinese government authorities. Untitled becomes incredibly more profound with the accompanying sound piece Remembrance, a work that recites the names of the 5,335 children killed. It’s an overwhelmingly emotional piece, too emotional to even begin to comprehend the number of children’s lives taken away by the earthquake. Those who have an opportunity to experience Untitled are free to do so while the artist behind the work has suddenly disappeared. “I have to always to ask myself, ‘How long can I last?’ if I’m in extreme conditions such as jail” said Ai Weiwei in an interview with Dan Rather.

On April 3rdAi Weiwei was detained at the Beijing Airport and his papers and computer wereseized from his studio. He is believed to be in government detention camp.

Please join me, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, Tate Modern, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and other institutions and people who have already signedthe petition to release Ai Weiwei.

During the sixties and much of the seventies, people lived in a world that changed rapidly in a short amount of time. The politically awkward climate of the era was heightened by the assassinations of Robert and John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., the resignation of Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War, the fight for civil rights and other political and social conflicts. These forces ignited the creative spirit of American artists who further explored the turbulence of the times through the art that was being produced.

For those of a younger generation, it is through the New Hollywood and Experimental films made
during the sixties and seventies that the struggles, turmoil and recreational pleasures of the times are experienced and shared. The Black Films of Aldo Tambellini at Emerson College transport the viewer into a world where the villain was larger than a person, or a thing, it was an ideological villain that shaped the lives of every American citizen.

Born in Syracuse, NY in 1930, Aldo Tambellini pioneered the video art movement in the mid sixties by painting directly on film, which resulted in the production of the camera-less series The Black Films. Each of the films in the series is a journey from within, a journey that captivates our senses and stimulates our imagination.

If “to dislocate the senses of the viewer” was one of the goals behind Aldo Tambellini’s Black Films, the outcome has been a highly successful one. The abstracted forms and images in the films recall the palpability of Abstract Expressionism, in the sense that one sees an Abstract Expressionist painting and our immediate is to want to feel the texture. The work of Tambellini is a “primitive, sensory exploration of the medium, which ranges from total abstraction to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and black teenagers in Coney Island.”[1] Black for Tambellini is a color, a color he has developed a profound relationship with throughout his artistic career. In the introduction to the Black Gate “a newspaper dedicated to worldwide unity and interest,” Tambellini writes:

black is space black is sound black is color black is darkness black is anger black is void
black is

Among the most memorable films in the series are Black is and Black TV. Black is incorporates abstract forms alongside images of people marching, horses galloping and tanks, juxtaposed to the pulsating rhythms of African drums, heart beats and women and children chanting “black is beautiful.”Black TV is perhaps the most uncomfortable film to watch of all. The anguish and turmoil of the sixties and seventies is inscribed deep within our thoughts by the haunting facial close-ups and footage of Robert Kennedy speaking at the Ambassador Hotel. Throughout the length of the film, the trauma of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and the fight for civil rights is augmented by the alarming sounds of people experiencing distress and horror. Further adding to the trauma is the voice of radio host repeating the phrase “Senator Kennedy has been shot…Is that possible? Is that possible?” Black TV is painful, disorienting and heart wrenching, crafted to awaken every one of our senses.

Tambellini referred to the Black Films as “paintings in motion” and as I intensely watched each of the seven films, I was reminded of the Suprematist paintings of Lissitzky and Malevich or the Futurist works of Joseph Stella. The films in the installation at Emerson College are presented in an intimate setting and are accompanied by stills and ephemera from various screenings and events organized by Tambellini.


The Black Films of Aldo Tambellini are on view through April 22, 2011 at the Huret and Spector Gallery in the Tufte Performance and Production Center, 10 Boylston Place, 6th Floor, Boston, MA. For more information, please click here.

Aldo Tambellini: The Black Films are a prelude to the 2011 Boston Cyberarts Festival which is
New England’s premier resource for artists, arts organizations, educators, and corporations who are working at the forefront of art and technology. The festival starts on April 22 through May 8, 2011.

Mark Webber, Independent Film, http://www.aldotambellini.com/film.html

A short walk from the Reservoir Stop on the Riverside Line or Cleveland Circle stop on the MBTA, and located inside a gorgeously restored and rehabilitated Richardsonian Romanesque Pumping Station building, is Metropolitan Boston’s newest museum, the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum which opened on Sunday March 27th, 2011.

Designed by Arthur Vinal “Boston’s last city architect,” and built in 1886-87 and expanded in 1897-98, the High Service Pumping Station was the city’s response to the increased demand for clean water resources, which by 1800’s, like many other cities of its size in America, was rapidly experiencing population growth deeming it unfit to live in. The Great Fire of 1872 pushed city officials to locate other clean water resources outside the city to provide a steady and clean water supply for its citizens. As a result of this “push,” the Metropolitan Waterworks was born, breathing new life to Boston and its citizens.

The museum, primarily located in the Great Engines Hall of the High Service Pumping Station contains three massive pumps that will capture the attention of young and old. Through interactive exhibits and displays of tools and instruments, visitors learn of the social, architectural, and public health history of pumping station and its role in the City of Boston. The engines at the museum, once formed part of the largest reservoir water pumping system in the world!

The Great Engine Hall houses the Leavitt Engine, capable of pumping 20 million gallons of water a day is now considered a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The other two engines are the Worthington Engine, the only horizontal and smallest of all them is capable of pumping 15 million gallons of water a day and the Allis Engine, a massive engine which extends three stories above the operating floor and two stories below it. The engines are in the same location they have been since the High Service Pumping Station began operating.

I spent more than an hour “getting to know” the people behind the extraordinary architectural and engineering marvels of the Metropolitan Waterworks. Paying careful attention to (almost) every breathtaking detail of the three massive engines, I walked away with a deeper appreciation for the engineering works of 19th century Boston. Although steam pumping ended in 1976, the engines at the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum allow us to experience an aspect of 19th century life in Boston rarely discussed outside academic circles.

The Metropolitan Waterworks Museum offers guided tours highlighting the history of the landscape and other features of the history of the Chestnut Hill/Reservoir area. Please check the museum’s website or call for more information.

Review: Flowers and Festivals: Four Seasons in Japanese Prints

Decorative Paper with Design of Chrysanthemums.Unknown Artist. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

The use of trees, flowers and festivals as subjects in Japanese prints of the Edo period (1615-1867) more than any other subject matter, reflected the realities, ambitions, aspirations, and tastes of the time. The pleasures of festivals, grand events, and entertainment, as well as the expansive landscapes depicted in woodblock prints, allowed people to “escape” the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Edo (modern day Tokyo). Flowers and Festivals: Four Seasons in Japanese Prints (January 22 through August 28, 2011) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston celebrates the popular subjects of flowers and festivals as they appear in this medium.

Plum Garden of Kameido Hiroshige I, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Denman Waldo Ross Collection

Ukiyo-e or “images of the floating world” woodblock prints depict commoners, specifically those living in urban centers and the red light district. Prints served as advertisements highlighting the latest trends in travel, the women of the red light district, local cuisine and other hedonistic pursuits. In their own time, these prints were not meant to be great works of art, but rather, items that anyone could own and dispose of at their own discretion.

In Buddhism, the term ukiyo-e was used to describe the impermanence of the world humans lived in, the ever changing nature of everything that is around us. In the Edo period, this term took on a life of its own and referred to the world of the pleasure district “a quarter of the city which houses courtesans, their attendants, and the theaters, where Kabuki plays and Bunraku performances were presented” (Penelope Mason,  History of Japanese Art, 278).

Maple Leaves at Kaian-Ji Temple in Tokyo, from the series Thirty Six Selected Flowers Utagawa Hiroshige II. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Bequest of Mrs. Arthur Croft—The Gardner Brewer Collection

Changes in the four seasons, small or drastic did not go unnoticed for printmakers in Edo. Works by the artists in the exhibition capture the subtleties of the transition between seasons, from the delicate structure of plum blossoms to the bright golden color of maple leaves in autumn. Starting clockwise, we embark on a delightful journey, with a print of a warbler perched on a red plum branch alongside prints of plum and cherry trees in full bloom. The changes in the seasons unfold before our eyes as one wanders from print to print.

Among the most fascinating prints on view are those by Suzuki Harunobu, known for being one of the first artists to create polychrome prints and Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797-1858), Utagawa Hiroshige II (Shegenobu, 1826-1869) Kitagawa Utamaro I, Torii Kiyonaga and Hokusai among others.

Suzuki Harunobu’s prints are richly textured and highly sophisticated due to their incredible colors and details. Throughout his artistic career, Harunobu attempted to depict well known beautiful women of his time, but since ukiyo-e artists were not allowed to depict respectable, well known ladies, most were subject to censorship. This explains the shift from depicting women to prints that  emphasized the landscapes of Edo and its surrounding towns. A pioneer in landscape prints, Katsushika Hokusai laid the ground work for what eventually became a phenomenon among commoners; the purchasing of prints as travel mementos.

Peonies at Hundred Flower Garden in Tokyo 1866, Utagawa Hiroshige II. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

Memorable woodblock prints in the exhibition include Hiroshige’s Plum Garden of Kameido 1856-58, later copied by Van Gogh in Flowering Plum Tree and Hiroshige’s II Peonies at Hundred Flower Garden in Tokyo, 1866 from the series Thirty-six Selected Flowers. The Museum of Fine Arts has the finest, oldest and largest collection of Japanese art outside of Japan. The prints in Flowers and Festivals: Four Seasons in Japanese Prints are just a few dozen out of thousands in the museum’s vast holding.

October 2010 The Evolving Critic

I was inspired to highlight 31 buildings in Boston in 31 days after the architecture blog A Daily Dose of Architecture . Not only was I going to highlight 31 buildings, but 31 of Bostonian’s favorite buildings. This is the series.

Grand Finale – These two buildings were written in by people who visited my blog during the open poll. Because people feel an emotional connection with these buildings, it is only natural that I include them in the 31 in 31 of your Favorite Buildings in Boston Series.

About these two buildings: 

Ferdinand Building, Dudley Square, Roxbury, MA 02119

I’ve blogged about this building in Dudley Square before, and if you like you can read my post here.  The Ferdinand Building obviously means the world to the people of Roxbury and it is no surprise to see it in this list. Anyone who has taken a bus out of or into Dudley Square, has witnessed the sad state of decay that this sector of Roxbury has been going through. The last time I blogged about the state of decay in Downtown Crossing, I managed to upset some people, and to this day, that post is one of the most viewed on The Evolving Critic.

Mayor Menino, can we do something about the Ferdinand Building and Dudley Square in general? Can we revitalize the area and inject capital the same way you’re planning on doing with Downtown Crossing? Broken promises, always lead to broken dreams and I do hope that if you plan on getting re-elected, look back to your “Moving Boston Forward” slogan and reconsider the degree to which you have applied it, in particular to many of Boston’s decaying neighborhoods.

Stuff Magazine featured the Ferdinand Building on the cover of their “One Night in Boston” edition. You think that would have been enough to get the ball rolling with Dudley Square?

Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115

Guy Lowell, 1907-1909, Additions: Hugh Stubbins and Associates, 1966-1970; The Architects Collaborative, 1976; I.M Pei, 1981, Foster & Partners with Childs Bertman Tseckares, 2008; Tenshin-En Japanese Garden: Kinsaku Nakane with Halvorson Design Group Partnership, 1988.

I think it’s safe to assume that people are referring to the main building of the Museum of Fine Arts, since I doubt that the Art of the Americas wing opening in a few weeks has already carved out a space among the most favorite or beloved buildings in Boston. I love the Museum of Fine Arts and do visit as much as I can, I’m excited for this new wing which promises to transform the way American art has been looked at for centuries.

Photo: Museum of Fine Arts

Harrison Gray Otis House, 141 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02114

Charles Bulfinch, 1795-1796

I was inspired to highlight 31 buildings in Boston in 31 days after the architecture blog A Daily Dose of Architecture . Not only was I going to highlight 31 buildings, but 31 of Bostonian’s favorite buildings. This is the series.

About the Harrison Gray Otis House:

Designed by Charles Bulfinch for Harrison Gray Otis, a Massachusetts senator and third mayor of Boston, the first Harrison Gray Otis House is one of the finest and grandest Federalist houses in the city. The interior was restored to its original state using computer based paint analysis which revealed bright colors in the Adamesque tradition. The house is owned by Historic New England and is open to the public for viewing.

Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey

The Ray and Maria Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences, 32 Vassar Stree, Cambridge, MA

Gehry Partners LLP with Cannon Design, 2004, Landscape: Olin Partnership, 2004

I was inspired to highlight 31 buildings in Boston in 31 days after the architecture blog A Daily Dose of Architecture . Not only was I going to highlight 31 buildings, but 31 of Bostonian’s favorite buildings. This is the series.

About the Ray and Maria Stata Center:

The Stata Center was also considered by the Boston Herald as one of the buildings designed in the last decade that placed Boston on the architectural world map. Designed by Gehry Partners with Cannon Design, the building’s warped metallic surfaces, irregular angles and multicolored façade are all typical Frank Gehry traits.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stata Center

Old South Meeting House, Washington Street at Milk Street, Boston, MA 02108

Joshua Blanchard, builder, 1729

I was inspired to highlight 31 buildings in Boston in 31 days after the architecture blog A Daily Dose of Architecture . Not only was I going to highlight 31 buildings, but 31 of Bostonian’s favorite buildings. This is the series.

About the Old South Meeting Church:

The Old South Meeting House in Downtown Crossing is Boston’s second oldest church after Old North Church in the North End. The Old South Meeting House is said to be one of the first buildings in the city to be saved from the wrecking ball, prior to being saved by ardent preservationists, the Meeting House narrowly escaped the Boston fire of 1872 which burned to the ground many of Downtown Boston’s commercial buildings. It is one of the most historically significant buildings in Boston based on Christopher Wren’s designs.

Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey

King’s Chapel, 58 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02108

Peter Harrison, 1749-1754

I was inspired to highlight 31 buildings in Boston in 31 days after the architecture blog A Daily Dose of Architecture . Not only was I going to highlight 31 buildings, but 31 of Bostonian’s favorite buildings. This is the series.

About King’s Chapel:

King’s Chapel is another building that everyone who goes on the Freedom Trail stops in to see its stark white interior. Based on James Gibbs’ St. Martin in the Fields in London, King’s Chapel is one of the city’s finest Georgian Style buildings.

Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey

Kresge Auditorium, Building W 16, West of Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA

Eero Saarinen, 1954-1955

I was inspired to highlight 31 buildings in Boston in 31 days after the architecture blog A Daily Dose of Architecture . Not only was I going to highlight 31 buildings, but 31 of Bostonian’s favorite buildings. This is the series. 

About Kresge Auditorium:

Another Saarinen structure makes the list! Kresge auditorium is a masterpiece of Modern architecture and the state could not have a more elegant structure than Saarinen’s auditorium. The entire weight of the building rests of three points, not only making it an engineering marvel, but also one of the city’s most futuristic looking buildings. The building is situated across from the MIT Chapel also by Saarinen, both are worth a visit.

Truly spectacular.

The Opera House,539 Washington Street, Boston, MA  02108

Thomas Lamb, 1928

I was inspired to highlight 31 buildings in Boston in 31 days after the architecture blog A Daily Dose of Architecture . Not only was I going to highlight 31 buildings, but 31 of Bostonian’s favorite buildings. This is the series.

About The Opera House:

The Opera House is considered to be one of Boston’s grandest theaters and recently underwent a massive restoration which brought it back to its most glorious nights. The Theatre District in Boston has been the focus of massive revitalization efforts over the years, re-injecting life into this once dilapidated neighborhood of Boston. Most of the theatres are in the process of being restored to their original grandeur thanks in part to investors like Suffolk University and Emerson College.

Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey

In Harmony with the Architecture: The Furniture of H.H. Richardson

H. H. Richardson (1838-1886), by Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849-1914. Oil on canvas, 1886. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. On extended loan from Mrs. Henry H. Richardson III. L/NPG.1.99

Henry Hobson Richardson, one of the most influential architects of the 19th century changed the course of American architecture with the introduction of an architectural vocabulary known today as the Richardsonian Romanesque. This new vocabulary was rapidly copied and imitated during the latter part of the Nineteenth and well into the first part of the Twentieth Century in America, Canada and Northern European countries. H.H Richardson as a designer did not limit his genius to creating architectural masterpieces, indeed “no feature was too small, no object too simple to engage his thought[i]” as his contemporary and biographer Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer notes.

Side chair for the Woburn Public Library, 1878, Designed by: Henry Hobson Richardson, American, 1838–1886 Manufactured by: A. H. Davenport & Company, active 1841–1973, Boston, Massachusetts, United States, Oak, leather. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Woburn Public Library, 1961. Accession number: 61.237

Richardson as an architect became intimately involved in every aspect of his buildings, from the interior detailing of the woodwork, to the built-in and free standing furniture. H.H. Richardson once said “I’ll plan anything a man wants from a cathedral to a chicken coop[ii].” Richardson was influenced by a variety of sources including medieval furniture, 17th and 18th century American furniture, the Queen Anne, William and Mary and Chippendale Style, also Eastlake Style furniture and the English Arts and Crafts Movement. Richardson owned a copy of Talbert’s Gothic Forms Applied to Furniture, one of the many pattern books highly popular with architects, designers, and craftsmen of his time[iii]. As an architect, Richardson had a collection of photographs which represented a wide range of styles, from the Gothic to the Renaissance, Baroque, Islamic, Asian, Egyptian, Mexican and Pre-Historic structures[iv].

The furniture of H.H. Richardson was “integral with the interior woodwork of the buildings.[v]” As an architect and furniture designer, H.H. Richardson collaborated with the best designers and craftsmen of his times including Francis H. Bacon, Charles Coolidge, and Stanford White, a partner in the firm of McKim, Mead and White, architects of the Boston Public Library. The prestigious furniture makers and carvers at A.H. Davenport and Company[vi] who later in 1916 merged with Irving and Casson executed most of Richardson’s furniture commissions including the Court of Appeals in Albany, New York, the Crane Library in Quincy, the Billings Library in Burlington, Vermont and the Converse Libraries in Malden[vii].

The Woburn Public Library, taken by John Michael Garcia.Armchair for the Woburn Pubilc Library, 1878 Designed by: Henry Hobson Richardson, American, 1838–1886, Possibly manufactured by: A. H. Davenport & Company, active 1841–1973. Boston, Massachusetts, United States Overall: 85.4 x 74.9 x 71.1 cm (33 5/8 x 29 1/2 x 28 in.) Oak, leather. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Woburn Public Library, 1961. Accession number: 61.236

Richardson’s furniture designs follow the individualistic character of his buildings and at the Woburn Public Library, one of his most ornate, the furniture emphasizes the “simplicity and unity of design, structural integrity and honesty expressed in the use of materials.”  The furniture is as massive and robust as the buildings. The structural integrity of both the chair and the building is emphasized in the chair through the joinery and in the building through the vertical and horizontal lines.  John Ruskin in his book Seven Lamps of Architecture[viii] advocated for a simplicity and unity of design which is expressed in both the architecture and furniture of the Woburn Library. With a desire to bring back the “craftsmanship of a bygone era,[ix]” the furniture of the Woburn Library is medieval in inspiration in the sense that their scale is massive like medieval furniture which was made out of stone. The spindles recall the turned furniture of seventeenth century New England and shows characteristics of William Morris earlier furniture designs as well anticipate the furniture designed in the American Arts and Crafts Movement[x].

Detail of Woburn Public Library Table

Most of the furniture of the Woburn Library was put together without the use of nails or screws, mortise and tenon joints are not only used to construct the furniture, but also to serve as the ornaments themselves. The same could be said for other Richardson designed furniture.

H.H. Richardson sought inspiration in the past in order to design timeless pieces of furniture which took on the characteristics of his buildings. His chairs and benches are as massive as the architecture, and as inviting and comfortable as his interiors are. By the time of his premature death at the age of 48 (died in 1886) Richardson had fully developed a complete vocabulary in furniture which anticipated the Modern movement. In the words of Richard Randall, Jr. who organized the first and only exhibition of Richardson’s furniture at the Museum of Fine Arts in 1962, “the variety seen in the existing examples, the drawings and photographs reveal the sanity, power and urbanity of the designs, and place Richardson among the masters of 19th century furniture design.[xi]

*** If you’d like to see the sources of the citations, please send me an email.  While conducting research in 2008-2009, I came to the realization that most of the furniture Richardson designed remains with us today and in great condition. The same cannot be said of his contemporary, the Philadelphia architect Frank Furness who also designed furniture for his buildings, but very little of it remains (shame! shame! shame!).  For the sake of clarity and length, I’ve decided to limit this post to just a certain pieces at the Woburn Public Library.