Maira Kalman's painting of a square of wool tapestry containing an almost frontal bust of a woman with dark hair knotted at the back, gazing to her left, on a red ground. Broad frame imitating gold set with cabochons and rectangular faceted jewels in blue, green, red and white. The woman is wearing a pink garment with perhaps a mantle of sky blue on her right shoulder; she wears a white band in her hair, which is mingled dark blue and brown wefts.
We Begin With a Portrait
The phone rings. In 2011 I was invited by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City to curate an exhibit based on their collection. Like a shopper in some great, mad department store that housed many centuries’ worth of objects, I browsed and inspected their archives for a year or so. The...
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...
A Model fit for a Pope
When I first saw this model, it immediately struck me as a work of stunning craftsmanship and design that showed the appreciation of a maker of one era for the design of another. With the elegant proportions featured by architect Andrea Palladio (1508-80), who was also from the Veneto, as well as other late Renaissance...
1952-52-7-b lo res
Exotic Landscapes from the Golden Age
This handsome nineteenth century French paper features a block printed pattern of white and gray on a powder-blue background. Rococo Revival scrollwork frames two alternating landscape vignettes of far off and exotic destinations, and the whole pattern repeats vertically. Once scene show idyllic islands topped with classical columned temples. Wind-blown trees, flying gulls and a...