Myths and Legends about the Clara Porset Archive

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Most recently a symposium took place at the Americas Society in New York together with the exhibition Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978. To my utmost surprise, one of the speakers (Mrs. Ana Elena Mallet) stated that the Clara Porset Archive which is safeguarded by the CIDI (Centro de Investigaciones de Diseño Industrial – Industrial Design Research Center) at the UNAM (Universidad Autónoma de México), does not have an inventory or is even catalogued and that every time she goes through it, she discovers something new! The comment in my opinion was very unfortunate and rather ungrateful to Mexico’s prestigious Industrial Design Research Center, and I feel the need to publish some pictures that I recently took myself of the Clara Porset Archive in its current state at the CIDI/UNAM, clearly including inventory codes, perfectly catalogued and securely stored.

The Clara Porset Library at the CIDI/UNAM

Interior view of the Clara Porset Library and Archive at the CIDI

Clara Porset Archive map storage cabinet

Clara Porset furniture design sketches

Inventoried Clara Porset sketches

Clara Porset Archive cataloguing work

File storage cabinets keeping Clara Porset’s personal library

The Clara Porset Library is well-organized thanks to the continued work and dedication of its Clara Porset Archive curators at the CIDI: CIDI Director M.D.I. Enrique Ricalde Gamboa and D.I. Jorge A. Vadillo López. Below I have included a picture of both them at the CIDI offices together with the true +30 years Clara Porset expert in Mexico´s Industrial Design scenario, Dr. Oscar Salinas Flores, who actually was one of Clara Porset’s devoted students and who has published two books about Clara Porset and several textbooks about Industrial Design in Mexico.

DI Jorge A. Vadillo, MDI Enrique Ricalde and Dr. Oscar Salinas at the CIDI main offices (from left to right)

The CIDI team and the UNAM have made great efforts to keep the Clara Porset Archive in good shape; of course, there are always new technologies that could make the Clara Porset Archive easier to review for researchers, but that might take some time and additional resources.

I hope, this clarifies several misleading and out-of-place comments concerning the Clara Porset Archive and who our CLARA PORSET EXPERTS really are!

P.S.: Clara Porset experts is boldfaced, because Mrs. Mallet, Mr. Rivas and Mr. Castañeda, who were involved in the above mentioned symposium and made reference of Clara Porset’s life and work, none of them realized that Clara Porset was not born in the year 1932 as stated in the list of designers featured at the exhibition on the opening page of

Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and …

That´s what I call soi-disant expertise!!

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.
@donshoemaker.com

The revival of the Butaque Chair in Mexican 20th Century Furniture Design – Part 4

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continued from part # 3

American designer William Spratling frequented prominent artists and personalities that were active within the Mexicanismo movement during that time, and many of them decorated their homes with his furniture. As a result of William Spratling’s furniture designs success, the Butaque fever started in Mexico, and following the saying of silversmiths “the tin is the poor man´s silver”, in the 1940’s Clara Porset decided to introduce industrial low-cost series of butaques with only minimal changes to Spratling’s designs produced since the early 1930’s at his Taller de las Delicias. The conflict between Spratling and Porset became well known, and as a consequence, they never talked to each other again. Porset also approppriated an old art-crafted typical caned butaque of Veracruz and the famous Miguelito armchair from Jalisco, of course in cheap woods like pine, etc. Someone coined the saying: “A Porset is the poor man’s Spratling butaque”.

Low cost Butaque Chair designed by Clara Porset (1949)

Armless Butaque version designed by Clara Porset (1956)

Armless Butaque Chair by Clara Porset (1960´s)

Clara Porset´s Living room with a variety of Butacas

Pair of Miguelito Armchairs designed by Clara Porset (ca. 1947 + 1950’s)

Now we will witness how the fever of the butaque chair was propagated:

Everybody knew each other in the Mexican architectural and design world and one thing lead to another: Clara Porset collaborated on many projects with prominent Mexican architect Luis Barragán and by the mid 1940’s Barragán presented “La Butaca” designs in his furnishing proposals. At this moment the butaque fever reached its peak and the cloning virus was more vicious than ever; please check on the pictures of the typical Jalisco Miguelito chairs and the identical butaques produced by Barragán and Clara Porset; miraculously, one particular chair created by Clara Porset for Barragán looks identical to the caned Butaque chairs from Veracruz from the early 20th Century. (See my posts: Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part #1 & Part #5 + ¿What is the difference between a Mexican Campeche Chair and a Butaque? – Part #2)

I would like to remark however, that some of Luis Barragan’s and Clara Porset’s dining room chairs remind me of William Spratling’s designs as well, but we will talk about those appropriations in future posts.

Butaca Chair designed by Luis Barragán (1945)

Caned Butaque Chair from Veracruz (early 20th Century)

A Luis Barragán Miguelito Armchair

A typical Butaca from Jalisco (Miguelito Chair)

Pair of Miguelito Armchairs by Luis Barragán

I also have to mention Mexican architect and urban planner Juan Sordo Madaleno, active during that same period of time. Architecturally, he settled initially by the Bauhaus style and influence of Le Corbusier. Notable examples of Sordo Madaleno’s work are his own house (1952), the Cinema Paris (1954), with its surprising structure and composition, and the Seguros Anáhuac Building (1958). He significantly influenced the design of hotels in Mexico and he was among the pioneers to introduce a new type of large-scale commercial center, such as the Plaza Satélite (1971) in Mexico City. Juan Sordo Madaleno collaborated with Luis Barragán, Serrano and Ricardo Legorreta, among others, and he worked with Clara Porset on several projects like the Club Campestre Churubusco in Mexico City.

Here are some interior views of Sordo Madaleno’s house in Mexico City, including Butaca chair models designed by him – very similar to those presented by Luis Barragán and Clara Porset:

Butaca Bench by Juan Sordo Madaleno (1950’s)

Miguelito Chair by Juan Sordo Madaleno (1950’s)

A Luis Barragán Miguelito Armchair

to be continued in part # 5

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part # 5

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Cuban-born furniture and interior designer Clara Porset is best known for her modern designs inspired by the local traditions of Mexico, her adopted homeland. Her many design interpretations on the “butaque”, a low, graceful type of chair, part of Mexico´s popular culture, was her trademark. In a similar vein, an ancient Mesoamerican sculpture inspired the look of her “Totonaca” chair, considered a landmark of Mexican furniture design.

Totonaca Lounge designed by Clara Porset (1958)

Allegedly, Porset won one of the four prizes for Latin America in MoMA’s 1941 “Organic Design for Home Furnishing” contest, but actually Xavier Guerrero (her husband) received the prize in New York. She was committed to fine craftsmanship, but she was equally a strong believer that well-designed furnishings could be made affordable. In the 1950’s she signed a contract to develop 2 collections of furniture for the office, along with numerous other designs for prestigious furniture manufacturer IRGSA (Industrias Ruíz Galindo, S.A.). These collections were highly successful and mass-produced for many years. Among her most applauded achievements is the outdoor furniture she designed and showed at the 1952 “Arte en la Vida Diaria” exhibition at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Later, IRGSA manufactured them for the Pierre Marqués Hotel in Acapulco, in 1957. Her work was produced by DM NACIONAL, DOMUS, S.A., Ruíz y Govea, etc. On the other hand, among other design flops were the low cost furniture designs for Mexico City’s first large-scale public housing project (Centro Urbano Miguel Alemán), where she furnished less than 10% of the units. Unfortunately, some of the chairs sold to the Pierre Marqués Hotel were also removed pretty fast for a lack of ergonomics (you needed help/pulled to stand up). Also she collaborated with some of the most representative Mexican architects of her time, including Luis Barragán, Max Cetto, Enrique Yánez and Mario Pani among others.

Arte en la Vida Diaria Exhibition, Palacio de Bellas Artes (1952)

Clara Porset Armchair

Edmond J. Spence was an American designer who made a career out of translating international modern styles for the U.S. market. Spence designed a successful blonde wood line made in Sweden and imported by Walpole Furniture of Massachusetts, and another furniture line called “Continental-American Collection“, which was manufactured back in 1953 by the Mexican furniture company Industria Mueblera, S.A., with the brand label “Industria Mueblera of Mexico – Ageless Furniture Edmond J. Spence Design”.

Spence’s design brilliance comes in with his ability to interpret the most important aspects of Mexican design but in a fancy Mid-Century Modern way. Below I have put together some samples from his “Continental-American Collection”:

American born Michael van Beuren was a former student at the influential Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany during 1931-1932, even though he did not graduate. He moved to Mexico in 1937 and having difficulty to practice his profession as an architect without an official title, he dedicated himself to the design of furniture. In 1938 he started to design furniture together with his colleague from the Bauhaus time, German designer Klaus Grabe, for a small company they called Grabe van Beuren y Cía. In 1941 the MoMA organized the “Organic Design for Home Furnishings,” a competition which opened to design teams from Latin America. One of the winning entries in the contest was a Chaise Longue designed by the team Klaus Grabe, Michael van Beuren and Morley Webb. The winning submissions earned the prize of having their designs industrialized and sold by the Bloomingdale’s department store. Grabe soon left Mexico to settle in New York where he ran Klaus Grabe Inc. and pursued his quest for modern low-cost furniture.

Van Beuren founded DOMUS – his first furniture brand – and probably his best known in Mexico. In 1950 Fredderick T. van Beuren, Michael´s brother took over the workshop production envisioning the company´s growth potential to become a mass producing furniture factory. At that time the company dropped its name DOMUS to become Van Beuren S.A. de C.V. By the mid-50’s Van Beuren, S.A. de C.V. was already mass producing complete furniture lines and models. Clara Porset manufactured her designs for the US market through Michael van Beuren´s company.

British architect Philip Guilmant, who had arrived in Mexico in 1954, joined the Van Beuren team in 1957. He greatly contributed to the success of the company with the design of 2 very well-known furniture lines: the Danish Collection (1957) and the simple and economic Pine Line (1958). By that time, the company was producing around 50 chairs per week… The Van Beuren brothers helped re-shape interior design across Mexico with mass produced industrial and affordable furnishings that found their way into countless homes and offices. Besides Domus, Van Beuren produced other furniture lines that were also very successful like Calpini (1951) and Decapóls (1961); the last one became very popular when marketed at the El Puerto de Liverpool department store chain. Production lines extended as well to other store chains like Salinas y Rocha and El Palacio de Hierro. However, in 1973 Michael Van Beuren sold the brand and factory to Singer.

…to be continued in part # 6

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

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