The Deanery and 'All-Over Design'
Lockwood de Forest was an important American designer, importer, and painter working in New York in the late 19th century. Though long eclipsed by his better-known business partner, Louis Comfort Tiffany, de Forest made significant contributions to American decorative arts. His deep interest in Indian craft traditions and establishment of the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company in 1881 brought Indian art into American homes in new ways. The densely carved furniture and richly ornamented interiors that de Forest designed for elites such as Frederic Church, Andrew Carnegie, Mary Garrett, and M. Carey Thomas of Bryn Mawr College exemplify the height of artistic cosmopolitanism in the Gilded Age.
The current exhibition in the Rare Book Room, “All-Over Design”: Lockwood de Forest between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr, features the first-ever comprehensive exhibition of furniture and decorative arts designed by de Forest for the Deanery at Bryn Mawr College. Reflecting my thesis research interest in cultural encounters in American design history, this exhibition investigates the complex relationship between de Forest’s work in Ahmedabad, India, and the interiors created for this American college.
Bryn Mawr holds a large collection of de Forest works, including 13 carved and painted chairs, four large sofas, tabourets and tables, stamped brass beds, a rare swing seat hung from figurative chains, and hundreds of delicate pierced brass stencils. Moreover, original de Forest-designed staircases, paneling, and stenciled ceilings survive in Bryn Mawr’s magnificent Great Hall, where Indian decoration melds with Collegiate Gothic architecture explicitly modeled after Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
The exhibition tracks the global history of de Forest’s furniture and examines how and why an Indian aesthetic came to occupy the central spaces of an American women’s college. Under the advisement of Curator/Academic Liaison of Art and Artifacts Carrie Robbins, I chose to present the furniture as a period room–style vignette for its “All-Over” effect and as a deconstruction of this museological recreation to isolate its formal content and connect it to its historical sources. This project not only extends the visibility of these important decorative arts materials to scholars in the field but also supports the development of emerging scholars by providing docent training for undergraduate interns and extensive programming.
“All-Over Design”: Lockwood de Forest between Ahmedabad and Bryn Mawr runs through March 1, 2020. It will be accompanied by weekly programs as part of the Friday Finds series at noon on Fridays.
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