Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Jayson Parker - Library Table
The Herter brothers’ rosewood and mother of pearl library table was designed in 1882 for William Henry Vanderbilt, for whom they also designed and decorated a mansion on 5th avenue in Manhattan. The table itself was encompassed within the mansion and centrally located as a hierarchical landmark within the library. However, the presence of this table is not limited to its location. The Metropolitan Museum of Art explains that the sole purpose of the table was not to be functional, (though it had the ability to), but rather was to be the embodiment of power and prestige as a piece of sculpture to Vanderbilt himself (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1). In class, we have discussed the fact that, throughout history, people have been alluding to and pulling design elements from the past and incorporating them into design today. The library tables’ lion-paw shaped feet, overall shape, and stylized palmettes are all elements reminiscent of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, the wreaths enclosing a star in each corner of the tabletop parallel designs from the Napoleanic era. It can be clearly seen that this table served as a powerful symbol for Mr. Vanderbilt during his time, as well as a symbol that draws heavily on the past.
A similar artifact, a center table, was also designed by the Herter Brothers in the late 1800’s. As with the library table, the center table is very ornate with carved, ebonized, inlaid and gilded maple as well as gilded bronze fittings. Some may say that this table could have easily had just as prominent a place as the library table had, since the Herter brothers often designed for prominent clients within the U.S. including the White House.
Contrary to the library table is the lava lamp. Though not primarily used for illumination the lava lamp was a symbol of modernity fundamentally used for decoration. It was also associated with the drug culture of the 1960’s because of its aesthetic similarities to hallucinations commonly associated with certain drugs. In light of this information one can see that the lava lamp served an entirely different purpose than that of the library table. The table symbolized power and prestige for one man, while the ubiquity of the lava lamp represents a culture that is self-destructing.
Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “American Decorative Arts.” 2008. Sept. 21, 2008.