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6 design books that celebrate a world of artefacts


This article is part of our last Special design report, which is to expand the possibilities of your home.

Craftsmen and designers, including Japanese temple builders, goldsmiths, and mid-century African-American modernists, are saved from obscurity (or simply beloved from afar) in six insightful new books.

Over 1000 brilliant Victorian ships appear in “Majolica Mania: Transatlantic Pottery in England and the United States, 1850-1915” (Yale University Press, $ 300, 972 pp.), the catalog of a traveling exhibition inaugurated this fall at the Bard Graduate Center in Manhattan and already online. Dozens of scholars have written essays on ceramic makers, from the venerable Wedgwood of central England to the oblivion James Carr of Manhattan. Companies have flooded the international markets with goods commonly known by the generic term “majolica”. The designs were as majestic as fountains and chimneys covered with dragons, and as frivolous as boots to hold toothpicks and jugs depicting baseball players. The authors have found ghosts on brick walls, urban and rural, factories with long shutters. The three-volume book also pays tribute to reformers who campaigned for legislation to protect workers, including children, exposed to toxic metal ingredients needed to induce vivid colors.

In “Women artists of the Wiener Werkstätte” (Birkhäuser, $ 54, 288 pp.), The catalog of an exhibition until October 3 at the MAK Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, 10 researchers celebrate nearly 200 unsung female contributors to the chaotic race of the Viennese studio. From the founding of the Wiener Werkstätte in 1903 to its bankruptcy in 1932, women worked in every material offered in its experimental luxury. They often focused on areas traditionally associated with their gender, such as textiles, ceramics, tailoring, jewelry, and toys. But there is little trace of stereotypical femininity in Hilda Jesser’s stocky wardrobes encrusted with grid and plaid patterns, Hedwig Schmidl’s curved panther in black pear and Emilie Simandl’s architectural reliefs with sawtooth patterns. A heartbreaking number of the women depicted in the book ended up being murdered by the Nazis, or managed to flee overseas in wartime but never regained their professional status, or had a fate researchers did not. can not yet trace.

“Paul R. Williams” (Angel City Press, $ 60, 208 pp.), By Marc Appleton, Stephen Gee and Bret Parsons, explores how racism shaped the career trajectory of Mr. Williams, one of the world’s best-known black architects. XXth century. The team of authors, based in Southern California, reproduced photos of the projects of Mr. Williams published between the years 1920 and 1950 in The Architectural Digest (yes, its title then had a “The”). He was orphaned at a young age, attended many schools sporadically, and often heard that black men were unlucky in architecture. His Los Angeles office ultimately designed thousands of buildings and interiors for homeowners, businesses, institutions, government agencies, and religious groups. The Architectural Digest has documented its evolution from Tudorbethan niches to modernist swoops. When new customers arrived and realized he was black, he once remembered, “I could see them freezing.” Clients as important as Frank Sinatra, wealthy in entertainment and oil, have divorced again and again by ordering architectural extravagance and fantasy (gossip is one of the many highlights of this book). Mr Williams’ team embedded zodiac signs in the mosaic floor of a swimming pool and closed off a dining room with a checkerboard of two-tone shutters. The book gives a vivid idea of ​​how new silver staked the Californian turf with the advice of a versatile architect, himself a foreigner in his profession.

Mr Williams also wrote textbooks on the design of the house, which Kristina Wilson, professor of art history at Clark University, analyzes closely in “Mid-Century Modernism and the American Body: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Power in Design” (Princeton University Press, $ 39.95, 254 p.). She cites her advice on arranging floor plans “so that one can move freely from room to room,” contrasting her approach with more restrictive and straightforward suggestions from taste makers like George Nelson. And she points out how many mid-century furniture and magazine ads used degrading images of women and people of color. (A particularly gruesome example is a 1952 ceramic martini pitcher depicting a black lawn jockey.) The book also highlights unfairly obscure black designers: Perry Fuller streamlined fiberglass cars and made reproductions of African masks, and Add Bates described the goals of his Modernist furniture as “Helping people to break away from the past and get rid of their old ideas.”

Destructive household habits can be easy to break, as British writer Sally Coulthard points out in “50 Ways to Help Save Bees” (The Countryman Press, $ 14.95, 128 pages). Doing nothing can do good; bees thrive in “any ‘messy’ areas” of backyard thickets and leaf litter, she writes. From any laptop, bee advocates can order honey from local farms and email government officials about pollinator protection policies. Low-maintenance plants, like sedum, ivy, and dandelions, can feed bees even from planters. For readers keen on more intensive crafts, Ms. Coulthard provides instructions for making bees from plastic bottles and ceramic mugs.

“When practice takes shape: carpentry tools from Japan” (Japan Society, free download, 34 pp.) This season’s most powerful ode to tactility. Cataloging an exhibition at the Japan Society in Manhattan until July 11, it explains how some woodworking techniques and equipment in Japan have changed little over the centuries. Sculptors turn raw logs into building pieces that fit together like puzzle pieces, without nails. They draw stencils and measurements directly on boards, sometimes using gourd-shaped inkwells. Traditional names for woodwork joints, such as “swan neck mortise” and “two stop tenon”, sound a bit like Jazz Age cocktails or dancing follies. The catalog features entire arches and roof overhangs assembled for the exhibition. It gives an impression of what visitors to the Japan Society experience: the intoxicating scent of evergreen pruned woods and the uplifting feeling that rebuilding is possible.



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