CAA Panel: Design History/Design Heritage

CAA Panel: Design History/Design Heritage

With Professor Rebecca Houze (Northern Illinois University, USA), I am delighted to be convening a panel for the 2019 College Art Association conference in New York City. The conference takes place at the Hilton Midtown, Manhattan 13th-16th February 2019 and our panel is scheduled for 8.30-10 am on Saturday 16th. We are delighted to be included in the programme, not least because of the 900 panel proposals submitted, ours was one of only 300 accepted. Our panel has attracted a great deal of excellent proposals: we received more than 30 proposals and could only accept four of these as presentations in our slot.

Our panel examines the relationship between design history and heritage studies. At their intersection are questions of ownership and identity. How are sites and artefacts of cultural heritage claimed, defined, or constructed and to whom do they belong? How do we study intangible heritage, which is not located in objects or places, but rather in a worldview or a way of life? Whether tangible or intangible, heritage denotes something we inherit, a birth right provided to us through our inclusion in a given group, be it familial, national, ethnic, or by another marker of identity, such as the shared “world” heritage designated by UNESCO. Diverse, wide-ranging examples of designed heritage include maps, guidebooks, illustrated encyclopaedias; archives, databanks, digital resources; museums and exhibitions; architecture and landscape; furnishings, dress, and other aspects of material culture; performances, pageants, and rituals. Related to these topics are also activities that address heritage, for example, through legislation and international charters; preservation and conservation; cultural appropriation, looting, and repatriation. Definitions of heritage are tied to different, and competing, political agenda and ideologies. While some approaches to heritage are influenced by an academic Marxist-inspired “history from below,” of public engagement, public history, and social and cultural history, others derive from the heritage “industry,” a sub-branch of the tourist industry. In examining the interfaces of design and heritage therefore, this panel showcases studies of design heritage from diverse points of view, methodological approaches, time periods, and cultural contexts.

New York City from the top of the Rockefeller Center, near to the CAA venue, Hilton Midtown, with Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building (middle).

‘Poets of Wood: Dürer, Goethe, and Modern German Design’ - Freyja T. Hartzell, Bard Graduate Center

“Once we had poets of words, but now we have poets of wood.”  

With this statement, cultural critic Friedrich Naumann summarized his impressions of modern furniture at Dresden’s Third German Applied Arts Exhibition of 1906. Naumann’s words situate modern German design as the natural and inevitable evolution of age-old Germanic culture.  This paper examines the relevance of two of Germany’s cultural colossi – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Albrecht Dürer – for the nation’s industrial design in the first decade of the twentieth century.  

At the 1906 exhibition, the image of Dürer represented not simply a golden age of German culture, but also an aesthetic approach that emphasized authenticity, idiosyncrasy, and even imperfection in lieu of universal harmonies.  According to nineteenth-century art historian Gustav Waagen, it was not despite but because of these peculiarities that Dürer embodied the “true German spirit.”

But how could these German particularities survive the standardization and mechanical reproduction of modern industrial design?  The answer lay with the director of Dresden’s German Workshops, Karl Schmidt, whom Naumann pronounced the “Goethe of Wood.” Goethe’s Biedermeier home in Weimar, a site of cultural pilgrimage, was filled with sparsely constructed furniture flaunting wood’s endearing imperfections: rings, knots, and grain.  For Schmidt and his principal designer, Munich artist Richard Riemerschmid, wood itself was the secret to preserving German heritage in modern furniture.  In Riemerschmid’s displays at Dresden in 1906, Naumann decreed, “the German forest” had “moved into the German living room.”      

‘Designing Identities at the Franco-Moroccan Exposition’ - Ashley V. Miller, UC Berkeley

In 1915, as violent conflict raged across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, the first colonial administration of the French Protectorate of Morocco (1912-1957) transformed the Port of Casablanca into a spectacle of French and Moroccan commerce, architecture, and art.  Alongside exhibitions of Morocco’s regional artistic products, the Franco-Moroccan Exposition presented sumptuous displays of French luxury goods ranging from crystal glassware to player pianos.  Although seemingly at odds with the economic and political turmoil of World War I, the exposition’s surprising emphasis on designed objects—including French manufactured goods, Moroccan crafts, and the architecture of the pavilions themselves—reveals the fundamental role of cultural consumption in defining new identities and cross-national relationships at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Convinced that French investment in Morocco’s commercial economy would effectively counter German propaganda in North Africa, the French organizers of the fair sought to translate between the conditions of the modern international marketplace and “traditional” cultural tastes in Morocco.  At the same time, elite Moroccan visitors to the exposition fashioned their own public personas at the intersection of these seemingly disparate worlds, as both cosmopolitan consumers in the global market and notable patrons of Morocco’s historical craft traditions.  Existing literature memorializes the Franco-Exposition for its role in exposing the “moribund” state of Morocco’s crafts to the French Protectorate administration, thus inspiring its subsequent heritage preservation initiatives.  I argue instead that it was the politics of identity, as revealed in the cross-national consumption of design at the exposition, that more profoundly influenced notions of “heritage” in colonial Morocco.

‘Spectacular Enchantment: The Design and Heritage of the Public Wintergardens at the Auckland Domain’ - Jacqueline June Naismith, Massey University, New Zealand

The Auckland Domain Wintergardens (Gummer and Ford 1919-31), have, since their opening, been a popular visitor destination enjoyed by locals and tourists and since the 1980s, an officially designated heritage site. The Wintergardens complex materialized an early 20thcentury vision for the Auckland Domain as an urban park, enabling opportunities for both botanical and social display.  The completed complex consisted of two glasshouses (a Cool House and a Palm House) a native Fernery, and a courtyard and pool of classical design. The distinctive vaulted forms of the glasshouses inscribed a language of late Victorian conservatory architecture, influenced by British exemplars, into the volcanic terrain of the Auckland Domain/Pukekawa site.  

The heritage values of the Wintergardens have been recognised in terms of architectural design, garden/botanical history, education and public leisure and supported the awarding of a Category 1 Heritage New Zealand listing. A programme of preservation and restoration undertaken in 2003/4, and earthquake strengthening in 2017 has retained the integrity of the original design and architectural programme with minimal intervention. The complex has therefore retained its original conception as botanical display space for public leisure, witnessing, as does a landscape, multiple cycles of plant nurture and growth over a 90+ year building life.

Utilising contemporary and historical sources the paper identifies the discourses, aesthetics, materials and technologies that have shaped and structured the Wintergardens complex.  It considers how heritage values now engage with a contemporary experience of the site as destination, attraction and place of connection between botanical and human species. It situates this within the heritage frameworks of care and restoration that have enabled these early 20thcentury structures to continue to bring the past into the present and assert 21st century relevance.

‘Mining Southeastern Ohio: The Production of Regional Identities’ - Samuel Dodd, Ohio University

In this paper, Dodd will chart the culturally rich conditions of an otherwise resource-poor region within the American post-industrial landscape: Southeastern Ohio. Once a vital corridor bridging Appalachia with what is now called the Rust Belt, the region contains historic sites associated with Native American mound-building, European settlement, the Underground Railroad, and the manufacture of coal, ceramics, iron, and other extractive industries. Drawing from the disciplines of cultural landscape studies, new materialism, and design history, Dodd explores how regional heritage is made material and immaterial through an ongoing aggregation of fragmented cultural sources. To support his argument, he analyzes three examples of Ohio’s designed heritage: 1) The Winding Road, a sightseeing landscape advertised as the “compilation of active, authentic experiences and products” in the region; 2) the Perdreau Research Collection, a file cabinet in the Multicultural Genealogical Society in Chesterhill containing archival materials related to the region’s (largely erased) African American history; and 3) Shawnee, Ohio (2016), a “sound collage” by the artist Brian Harnetty combining music, photos, and video to showcase aural portraits of residents from a historical coal-mining town. As these examples demonstrate, Southeastern Ohio is comprised of complex, and sometimes competing, spatial imaginations, the fragments of which are stored in archives, databases, historical societies, artworks and monuments, and public memory. As with the natural resources that continue to be extracted from the region, the care and stewardship of these cultural repositories depend on who is doing the mining. 

We are looking forward to an excellent panel, and useful and enjoyable discussions, against the backdrop of February in New York City.

Central Park in the February Snow.


DHeritage is recruiting!

DHeritage is recruiting!

ResDev19 Researcher Development Conference

ResDev19 Researcher Development Conference