Betz and Hankin Galleries
By 1900, the Arts and Crafts movement took root in southeastern Pennsylvania with its adherents celebrating the handcrafted object and emphasizing the importance of art and craft as a path to a fulfilling life. During the early decades of the twentieth century, Bucks County became a center for the production of hand-carved frames by Frederick W. Harer (1879-1948) and Bernard Badura (1896-1986), wooden and wrought-iron furnishings by Morgan Colt (1876-1926), and stained glass by George Sotter (1879-1953). Woodworker George Nakashima (1905-1990) settled in New Hope, Pennsylvania, in the 1940s, where he established a studio and a reputation as a leading member of the first generation of American studio furniture makers. Nakashima produced furniture that respected the tree’s natural forms and revealed the wood’s inherent properties. Reacting against post-World War II factory-made furniture, Bucks County craftsmen produced unique, custom-designed, functional furniture that blurred the traditional boundaries between craft, sculpture, and design. Phillip Lloyd Powell (1919-2008) created furniture featuring his signature deep-carving technique that followed the grain of the wood and highlighted its irregularities. Paul Evans (1931-1987) combined 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. Starting in the 1970s, Mark Sfirri (b. 1952) experimented with multi-axis woodturning to produce furniture and, subsequently, eccentrically turned wall sculptures.
The Michener’s permanent collection highlights regional studio craft from its earliest beginnings to the diversity of expression today. The collection features work from the studio shops of such makers and designers as Frederick Harer, Wharton Esherick (1887-1970), George Nakashima, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall (b. 1942), Phillip Lloyd Powell, Paul Evans, David Ellsworth (b. 1944), Mark Sfirri, Robert Dodge (b. 1939), Toshiko Takaezu (1922-2011), Robert Whitley (b. 1924), and Matthias Pliessnig (b. 1978). Whether, a desk, n abstract form in wood, a wall sculpture, or a ceramic vessel, these works not only reflect cultural values but also function to transform the experience of our everyday lives. The creative energy, broad technical repertoire, and innovative designs of these artists are evident in the Michener Art Museum’s studio craft installation.
The Powell Door
In 1966, Philadelphia-born designer, sculptor and craftsman Phillip Lloyd Powell (1919-2008) traveled extensively through Spain, Portugal, England, Sicily, and Morocco, where he was inspired by the carvings and decorative elements he encountered. Powell particularly loved the intricately carved doors in Morocco, which inspired this brightly-colored, carved doorway made for one of his residences located outside New Hope, Pennsylvania.
When the Michener Art Museum acquired 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 having been 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 colors—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 distinctive carvings.