Author: Sarah D. Coffin

geometric foliate patterns in green and blue
Tiles of Old Revisited
Decorative tiles from many parts of the Middle East and Asia became very desirable collectibles starting in the 1870s when the enthusiasm for Islamic design pervaded much of the aesthetic movement decorative arts. While the Western purchaser of this tile from the Ottoman Empire is unknown, Lockwood de Forest and Frederic Church were among the...
paisley-form pierced brass foil with punched decoration
A Glittering Design by Lockwood de Forest
This brass foil decoration in what we know as a paisley form represents an example of the designs created by Lockwood de Forest, the foremost exponent of Indian design in America during the last quarter of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. De Forest went to India in 1881 on his honeymoon to see first-hand...
Black cast iron radiator (b) in the form of a podium surmounted by an arch forming a niche for a standing draped figure (a) of a woman- the goddess Hebe- holding a Greek drinking goblet in either hand (d,e). A composite entablature is surmounted by a Doric cornice crowned by a semi-circular tympanum. The podium base is decorated with bas-reliefs of columns alternating with Greek vases surrounded by drapery at the lower level and repeated scene of a griffin and man pouring liquid into a bowl in the upper level. The arch itself is decorated with bas-reliefs of rosettes and scrolls on two supporting pilasters with fluted capitals. The tympanum has a bas-relief of an eagle clutching a staff from which springs ribbons bearing "Stratton" and Seymour". Stars decorate tympanum, following the semi-circular curve. Radiator stands on four detachable scrolled legs (f/i). The fender (c) is comprised of grille work formed by scrolls, acanthus leaves and rosettes. Flat circular flue key (j) with stylized foliate handle fits on pipe behind tympanum.
The Warmth of the Hostess Coming From the Radiator
The whole idea that a radiator could be as large or as decorative as this one seems extraordinary to most twenty-first century viewers. However, if one thinks about it, Joris Laarman created the Heatwave radiator in 2007, formed of rococo-like scrolls in a newer medium, poly-concrete, to decorate a wall. To correctly appreciate the context...
depicting the temple in its semi-ruined state as visible in the 18th and early nineteenth centuries, showing the circular section building with columns ringing a central core, supporting an upper moulding
Cork for more than Wine–The Temple of Vesta, Tivoli
The Temple of Vesta in Tivoli is one of the most illustrated and visited of the ruins of antiquity. It featured heavily in paintings and engravings as well as being the subject of model making. One important example, is a cork model a recent addition to the models collection at Cooper Hewitt, made in either...
the circular building with rusticated lower tier supporting set back upper tier with double columns between window bays, alternating blind and paned windows, surmounted by a domed top with finials around and a spire above, all replicating the Radcliffe Camera building in Oxford England.
An Epicenter of Learning: The Radcliffe Camera
Anyone who has seen Inspector Morse or Lewis pursue the latest murder in the academic city of Oxford, England, will recognize this beacon of academia rising up amidst the Gothic colleges of Oxford University. Centrally located it is an important architectural landmark, designed in baroque style with Palladian elements to be the university’s Radcliffe Science...
Double-revolution staircase model with curved double staircase with baluster railings, joining on a central landing from which a reverse single staircase rises at right angles, leading to a balcony;
Descending the Stairs in a Grand Manner
This model, like some of the others in the Cooper Hewitt collection, is from the compagnonnage tradition in France that taught design through drawing and model making. The degree of complexity of the curved and bentwood framing of the staircase itself, combined with the second level that reverses itself rising to a balcony, make this...
with central column around which a bombe spiral staircase rotates terminating in a similarly curved inverted cone form standing area of the pulpit surmounted by a carved scroll canopy attached above to the column, all resting a rectangular geometrically inlaid marquetry floor-base
A Staircase to Heaven?
There are many types of staircase models in the Thaw collection, much of which was donated in 2007 to Cooper Hewitt, to coincide with an exhibition Made to Scale: Staircase Masterpieces The Eugene and Clare Thaw Gift that I was lucky enough to curate after studying their significance for the acquisition. Joan K. Davidson, whose...
Staircase Model, Curved Double-level with busts of François-Marie Arouet, called Voltaire (1694-1778) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
France, early 19th century
Veneered mahogany, ebony, pear or maple wood, on mahogany, solid mahogany; solid oak with veneered border (base)  
Gift of Eugene V and Clare Thaw, 2007-45-12
Philosophers don’t condescend
I fell in love with this model the first time I saw it, and every time I see it I still smile. With its sophisticated use of materials, including that of Sèvres busts, and the humor of juxtaposing the two great French philosophers of the eighteenth century, Voltaire and Rousseau, it displays itself as a...
Spiral staircase model with curved stringboards, on a circular base on bun feet.
The Perfect Spiral
This seemingly simple model is actually one of the most accomplished of the staircase models produced in the compagnonnage tradition in France during the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. This meritocratic system of craftsmanship outside the traditional guilds started in the middle ages but reached its zenith after the French revolution when royal patronage...