By 1900, the Arts and Crafts movement was taking root in southeastern Pennsylvania with its adherents celebrating the handcrafted object and emphasizing the importance of art and craft as a path to a better life. During the early decades of the twentieth century, Bucks County became a center for the production of hand-carved frames produced by Frederick W. Harer and Bernard Badura, handcrafted wooden and wrought-iron furnishings by Morgan Colt, and stained glass by George Sotter. Woodworker George Nakashima settled in New Hope in the 1940s, where he established a studio and a reputation as a leading member of the first generation of American studio furniture makers while he produced furniture forms that respected the natural forms of the tree and showcased the wood’s natural properties. Reacting against post-World War II factory-made furniture, such Bucks County craftsmen as Phillip Lloyd Powell, Paul Evans, and Robert Whitley began producing unique custom-designed functional furniture that blurred the traditional boundaries between craft, sculpture, and design. By the 1960s, Phillip Lloyd Powell was creating carved and sculpted furniture featuring his signature deep-carved technique that followed the grain of the wood and highlighted its irregularities. Paul Evans was combining his experience as a silversmith with his interest in utilizing new technology and materials to create distinctive metal furniture with sculpted high relief abstract forms. As early as the 1970s, craftsman and sculptor Mark Sfirri began experimenting with multiaxis turnings to produce furniture and, subsequently, eccentrically turned wall sculptures.
Since 1993, museum visitors have experienced the atmosphere of a traditional Japanese-style room in the George Nakashima Memorial Reading Room with furnishings and room environment designed by Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, daughter of George Nakashima. Intelligent Design, the Michener’s long-term installation of studio craft, highlights regional studio craft from its earliest beginnings to the diversity of expression today. The exhibition features work from the studio shops of such makers and designers as Frederick Harer, Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, Phillip Lloyd Powell, Paul Evans, David Ellsworth, Mark Sfirri and Robert Dodge, Toshiko Takaezu, Robert Winokur, and Matthias Pliessnig.
Hankin and Betz galleries
The Arts and Crafts and modernist studio craft movements in southeastern Pennsylvania produced a diverse body of work, and makers of contemporary studio craft continue to explore fresh ideas and new designs. Whether a mosaic tile, an abstract form in wood, a wall sculpture, or a ceramic vessel, as nonverbal forms of human expression, these works not only reflect cultural values but can function to transform the particulars of our everyday lives. The creative energy, broad technical repertoire, and innovative designs of these artists are subjects of the Michener Art Museum’s installation of work by studio craft artists of the Delaware Valley.
Intelligent Design, highlights regional studio craft from its earliest beginnings to the diversity of expression today. The exhibition features work from the studio shops of such makers and designers as Frederick Harer, Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, Phillip Lloyd Powell, Paul Evans, David Ellsworth, Mark Sfirri and Robert Dodge, Toshiko Takaezu, Robert Winokur, and Matthias Pliessnig.
The Powell Door
Paton | Smith | Della Penna-Fernberger Galleries
The Michener Art Museum acquired Powell’s elaborately carved and painted pine door through a Rago Auction in 2009, with funds provided by Sharon B. and Sydney F. Martin. The door has become one of the permanent entrances to the museum’s Martin Wing, and the Paton | Smith | Della Penna-Fernberger Galleries.
In 1966, Philadelphia-born designer, sculptor and craftsperson Phillip Powell began to travel extensively to Spain, Portugal, England, Sicily, and Morocco, where he was inspired by carvings and decorative elements. Powell loved the intricately carved doors in Morocco.
These travels were just some of the inspirations that led Powell to create this work, one of the earliest doors for one of his residences located on Route 202 right outside New Hope.
Inspiration comes at very strange times. Out of the blue.
—Phillip Lloyd Powell (1919-2008)
At the time of the Michener Art Museum’s purchase of the door in 2009, Powell’s deep chip-carving technique was evident in the work’s multilayered bands of geometric carvings, but layers of blue and green latex overpainting had compromised its original crisp carving. A hint of a bright reddish-orange underlayer of paint was visible in several areas where the surface paint had abraded. Former workshop employees, New Hope residents, and Powell family members remembered the door on Powell’s house as being originally painted in shades of red and reddish orange, with carvings in different colors.
Furniture conservator Behrooz Salimnejad worked with a cross-sectional microscopic analysis of the door’s paint layers. Taking paint samples from different areas of the door, Salimnejad analyzed them under a microscope with visible and UV lights. The microscopy revealed that the original finish consisted of five shades of vermilion, bright red, reddish orange, orange, and warm yellow in distinct carved areas of the door. Salimnejad carefully removed the top layers of latex paint to reveal the door’s original paint colors and crisp carvings.