Wednesday, December 10, 2014

LaGrange, Tennessee

Immanuel Episcopal Church,
LaGrange, Tennessee, in a mid-1970s view.
Image by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
About fifty miles east of Memphis is a charming community that I have known all my life since it was on the way to my father's hometown.  However, my first views were limited to the buildings along the highway that I could see from the backseat at 70 miles an hour.
A map of LaGrange, Tennessee, 1862.
U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
But by the time I was old enough to chauffeur my parents, I took advantage of the rule of The Driver's Perogative and would cruise slowly through the town and even detour to some of the side streets of LaGrange.

Historic view of LaGrange, Tennessee.
Via lagrangetn.com
It is an area where early habitation has been documented.  A few artifacts have been found dating back about 15,000 years when the land was still covered by the Pleistocene glacier.  Many more artifacts have been found to show occupation during the Archaic Period that followed.  The Chickasaw Nation, formed around the mid-1500s, was centered in towns in north Mississippi, and used what is now west Tennessee as hunting grounds.  A trading post called Itey Uch La which meant "cluster of pines" occupied the site located on a high bluff above the Wolf River until the controversial purchase of the area in 1818 that relocated the Chickasaws to the West.  The town of LaGrange, located in Fayette County, was named in honor of the home of the French hero of the Revolutionary War, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.  The town was surveyed in 1822 and laid out with 225 lots.  A post office was established in 1828 and the town was chartered in 1829.

Woodlawn Plantation, LaGrange, TN
was built in 1832 just past the eastern border of the town.
It served as General Sherman's headquarters in 1862.
Photo via hardemancountytn.com
Also known as LaBelle Village, the town of over 2,000 occupants enjoyed prosperity before the Civil War.  But over a three year period of occupation by as many as 30,000 Union troops almost devastated the town.  Some of the houses were conscripted for official use and as many as 40 were partially dismantled for salvaged materials for the occupying troops.  Economic depression prevented much building after the war, and a fire destroyed most of the west side of Main Street in 1873.  The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 also contributed to the lack of growth.  The Cyclone (tornado) of 1900 wiped out most of the remaining commercial buildings which were never replaced, resulting in a lack of businesses.  There are a couple of churches and a collection of handsome houses however.

Immanuel Episcopal Church
LaGrange, Tennessee.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
The most significant architectural survivor is Immanuel Episcopal Church.  Organized in 1832 after a 52 year old widow, Mrs. Mary Hayes Willis Gloster, rode horseback with her son-in-law to Franklin, Tennessee, to seek help from her godson, Reverend James Hervey Otey, later to become the first Bishop of Tennessee, as there were no churches in the area of LaGrange. 

The floor plan of Immanuel Episcopal Church.
HABS drawing.
Built by slaves, the cornerstone was laid May 9, 1840, and consecrated for worship in 1843.  Although no architect was credited, it is a handsome building, especially considering the relative isolation.  (The railroad passing through the town, linking Charleston and Memphis, the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, was completed in  1857.  See an earlier post of The Devoted Classicist for the nearby town of Holly Springs, Mississippi which prospered from a link to the railroad at the adjacent town of Grand Junction).  The church is said to be a closely inspired by the Gloster family's former Immanuel Church in Warrenton, North Carolina.

The front elevation of Immanuel Episcopal Church,
LaGrange, Tennessee.  HABS drawing.
The front of the church is austere, with only the double doors flanked by shallow niches, more like blind windows.  There was to be a belfry, and the original hand-hewn structural framing shows this intention, but it was never built.

The roof framing of Immanuel Episcopal Church.
HABS drawing.
There was a campaign in the nineteen-teens that raised money to add a belfry tower, but it was decided to donate the funds, instead, to support charitable efforts related to the Great War (World War I).  In the 1970s, an abstract bell tower was built adjacent but separate from the building.

The east side of Immanuel Episcopal Church
showing the 1970s bell tower adjacent.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
The sides of the church are more attractive than the front, however.  The hand-made brick laid in Flemish bond provide a handsome background for stucco-covered, simple pilasters, long gothick ogee-head windows and louvered shutters.  (The existing window sash date from a 1968 restoration; they are similar to, but not an exact match of, the original).
A comparison of replacement vs. original
window sash at Immanuel Episcopal Church.
HABS photo.
Inside, the sanctuary measures 50'-4" x 36'-3" with the original 20'-2" ceiling height restored after the removal of a late 19th century vaulted wood ceiling.  A balcony spans the front end of the space, one of the few slave galleries ever built in this region.

East-West Section through Immanuel Episcopal Church.
HABS drawing.
The interior of Immanuel Episcopal Church
looking towards the front.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
The North-South section through the church
showing the original window sash.
HABS drawing.
At the other end, the original mahogany cross which had been removed for safe-keeping during the Civil War, has been returned to its intended location above the alter.  The original cruets are placed on a shelf adjacent.

View to the alter from the gallery.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
Another view of the alter of
Immanuel Episcopal Church.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
During the Yankee occupation, the church was used first as a hospital, then as a warehouse.  The pews were removed and, according to written accounts, the wood was used for coffins.  The wainscot was burned as firewood.  The replacements are said to approximate the design of the original.  The flooring of pine boards 7 1/4" to 7 1/2" wide is original.

Replacement pews, wainscot and windows
approximate the original designs.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
The Vestry was replaced after the Civil War.  A half-bath was added in the 1968 restoration.  Central heating and air-conditioning was added at that time as well.

In September, I had the opportunity to visit Immanuel Episcopal Church with three sisters from St. Mary's Convent, an Episcopal Benedictine monastery for women in Sewanee, Tennessee, and a contingent from St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, Memphis.  It was part of an annual observance each year honoring Constance and Her Companions, the Martyrs of Memphis.  We were given a history of the church by its most gracious warden, Nora Whitmer, the source for much of this information.

Cedar Hall, LaGrange, Tennessee.
Front (South) Elevation.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
Afterwards, we were fortunate to be invited to visit the warden's home, Cedar Hall, surely the most charming in a village of lovely homes.  The small cottage dating from about 1831 was sensitively enlarged with additions flanking either side of the original, plus an extension to the rear that also provided a wrap-around porch.

The East side of Cedar Hall, LaGrange,
showing the additions.
Photo by John Tackett/The Devoted Classicist.
For those considering an outing, there are currently no commercial establishments in LaGrange.  However, a no-frills meal can be had at Junction Café about 8 miles to the east on Highway 57 W in Grand Junction.  Unfortunately, their specialty, BBQ, was not available at the time of our visit, but comes highly recommended.  For more information on LaGrange, visit the town's website, a reference used for this essay.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Frances Elkins: Chic Chaises

The 'loop' chair attributed to Frances Elkins.
Two pairs sold at auction in 2009 for $5,938 each pair.
Sotheby's photo via The Magazine Antiques.
As mentioned in the previous post of The Devoted Classicist, here, the "loop" chairs from the collection of Bunny Mellon purchased from Mallet had provided inspiration for the noted twentieth-century decorator Frances Elkins to design her own version.  
Frances Elkins' inspiration:
the 1760s chairs as they appeared in
MALLET MILLENIUM: FINE ANTIQUE
FURNITURE AND WORKS OF ART,
Image via The Magazine Antiques.
Francis Elkins was the sister of noted architect David Adler, but a noted interior decorator in her own right.  Although she completed stylish projects on her own, Elkins' most recognized commissions might be those fifteen collaborations with her brother where the architecture and interior design blended with ideal harmony. 

Frances Elkins' chairs in the Living Room
of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Wheeler, Lake Forest, Illinois.
Ezra Stoller photo, 1934, via The Magazine Antiques.
The work of Frances Elkins came to be appreciated by a new generation with the monograph of David Adler that was published in 1970.  The Living Porch of the Muttontown, Long Island, New York home of Evelyn Marshall Field was published in the August, 1936 issue of "Vogue."  But it was not until Stephen Salny's much-admired book FRANCES ELKINS: INTERIOR DESIGN was published in 2005 that revived interest really took off.

Garden versions of the 'loop' chair in iron.
" . . from a home on Green Bay Road, Lake Forest, IL."
Formerly offered (sold) by Antiques on Old Plank Road.
Image via 1st Dibs.
Descriptions of the early versions of the chairs made for Elkins state they had a dipped or saddle seat like the antique models she undoubtedly had seen published in A HISTORY OFENGLISH FURNITURE . . or DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH FURNITURE . .  (These were the chairs that eventually ended up in the collection of Bunny Mellon, sold at auction last week).  Elkins' early versions also had a caned seat, also adding to visual lightness.  Later versions of the chair have been made, and continue to made today by various sources with adaptations to make them feasible for a more standardized fabrication and more sturdy for everyday use.

The late Albert Hadley's Dining/Sitting Room
in Naples, FL, photographed by Fernando Benoechea.
"Albert Hadley in Naples, Florida"
More can be read about Frances Elkins' chair, dubbed the "It" chair by "The Magazine Antiques," in a January, 2009, article by Shax Reigler and another in February, 2009; the second article mentions that the antique chairs from the collection of Mr. & Mrs. Ronald Tree were copied by Frederick Victoria & Son.  Also, an essay on the subject appeared in the blog of  Emily Evans Eerdmans.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bunny Mellon: Chic Chaises

A detail of Bunny Mellon's chairs,
Lot 1301, Sale N09247.
Sotheby's, New York.
The Devoted Classicist has long wanted to present a series of posts about great chairs and their stylish owners, so here goes, starting with a remarkable set of seven black-japanned, parcel-gilt decorated dining chairs from the 1760s together with one armchair of a later date.  Although quite familiar to those interested in the decorative arts, the chairs have been brought into the spotlight as Lot 1301 in the auction of the estate of Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, November 21 to 23, 2014, Sotheby's New York.

Bunny Mellon's set of 'loop' chairs.
Lot 1301, Sale NO9247.
Sotheby's, NY.
Estimated: $60,000 to $80,000.
Sold: $181,000 (with buyer's premium).
In the provenance listed in the catalog, Sotheby's failed to mention a former owner whose name would have added even more prestige: Nancy Lancaster one of the great decorators of the twentieth-century and business partner of John Fowler in the legendary firm Colefax & Fowler.


The chairs as they appeared in
DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH FURNITURE.
Image via Emily Evans Eerdmans

As documented in an article by Shax Riegler in the January, 2009 issue of "The Magazine Antiques," the chairs were formerly owned by noted collector Frank Green, and illustrated in A HISTORY OF ENGLISH FURNITURE by Percy MacQuoid, first published in four volumes from 1904 to 1908.  (The chairs also appeared in the DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH FURNITURE, FROM THE MIDDLE AGES TO THE LATE GEORGIAN PERIOD.) 

A chair from the same set appears when
"Country Life" magazine publishes photos
of the home of founder Edward Burgess Hudson
at 15 Queen's Gate, London.
Image via Country Life Picture Library.
By the early 1920s, the chairs were owned by Edward Burgess Hudson, founder of "Country Life," the magazine where MacQuoid was employed as a columnist.  Hudson died in 1936 and sometime in the mid-1930s, the chairs were acquired by his London neighbors on Queen Anne's Gate, Ronald and Nancy Tree.

The Yellow Bedroom at Ditchley Park
showing one of the side chairs.
Watercolor by Alexandre Serebriakoff.
After their divorce, Mrs. Tree became better known as Nancy Lancaster after her next marriage, with the chairs remaining at their grand country house Ditchley Park.  Two wonderful sets of watercolors were commissioned from Alexandre Serebriakoff as a record of Nancy and Ronald's decorating, and the chairs can be seen in the Yellow Bedroom and the Writing Room.

The Writing Room at Ditchley Park
showing the antique armchair.
Watercolor by Alexandre Serebriakoff.
With the sale of Ditchley Park, the chairs went to the Manhattan townhouse of Ronald and his second wife Marietta Tree.  Presumably they remained in New York until the auction following Ronald Tree's death as they appear on the cover of the October, 1976 Sotheby Parke Bernet auction catalog.

Cover of the 1976 auction catalog
showing two of the side chairs.
Image via Emily Evans Eerdmans.
The "Antiques" article stated that the chairs were bought by the London antiques dealer Mallet and appeared in both MALLET'S GREAT ENGLISH FURNITURE and MALLET MILLENNIUM: FINE ANTIQUE FURNITURE AND WORKS OF ART.  In the 2009 article, Mallet's revealed that they had made the second arm chair and that the chairs were in a private American collection.

A Mellon arm chair, Lot 1301,
as it was displayed in the pre-sale exhibition.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Spitzmiller
The light graceful curves were made feasible through an innovative use of laminated beechwood.  The lacquered (or japanned) chinoiserie finish adds to the fanciful design but also conceals the layered construction.  However, the go-to craftsman for remarkable new ceramic lamps, Christopher Spitzmiller, said the chairs had a bit of "give" to the touch, making them more of an art object rather than chairs that were actually sat in for regular use.  Also noteworthy is the dipped or "saddle" seat, a characteristic found in other examples of the mid-1760s.

Views of the pre-sale exhibition at Sotheby's
showing the display of the eight chairs of Lot 1301.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Spitzmiller.
There is another chapter to come in the story of these chairs, of course, now that there is a new owner.  But, in addition, these chairs inspired a 20th century interpretation popularized by Frances Adler Elkins.  That will be another post of The Devoted Classicist.

And Furthermore
 
The Devoted Classicist has been a fan of the late Rachel "Bunny" Mellon since her contributions to the gardens at the White House.  Starting with the Rose Garden in 1961 and then the East Garden, dedicated as the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden in 1965, the heiress (Listerine) who married into an even larger fortune attracted attention in the community of those appreciating the mix of the formal and informal in residential garden design.  In the early 1990s, an Attingham classmate who was a foundation employee working from the Brick House gave me some insight into the then-relatively-private Mellons and their 4,000 acre estate (now about 2,000 acres listed for sale with 40 structures for $70 million) Oak Spring Farm near Upperville, Virginia. 

Auction catalogs can be an invaluable resource for studying (both fine and) the decorative arts.  However, interior views shown in catalogs are routinely rearranged to give a better representation of the lots offered; too seldom are they an accurate record of the original setting.  Nor can the descriptions be counted on as 100% accurate, even in the most prestigious and expensive catalogs.

Despite declarations from self-appointed tastemakers and arbiters of style/design that traditional decoration is passé, there has been a media frenzy surrounding Interiors, the three day auction of the furnishings from the estate of the late Mrs. Mellon with proceeds to benefit the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation, a horticultural foundation which will continue to operate the library at Oak Spring.  While it is true that spare, neutral, do-it-yourself schemes still remain the most popular trend in interior design, clearly there is still interest in antiques and decoration among those in-the-know.  This successful sale is a reminder that one should follow one's own taste and not what is the so-called current fashion.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

In With The Old

Bookplates are just one of the topics
covered in the book.
Image from The Peak of Chic blog
"Classic design never goes out of style.."  Those are the first words in the Introduction to IN WITH THE OLD: CLASSIC DECOR FROM A TO Z by Jennifer Boles.  And that is certainly the motto of The Devoted Classicist.
Image from The Peak of Chic blog.
Starting with acrylic furniture and going though woven zebra rugs, Jennifer takes the most chic and classic home furnishings from the 1940s through the 1970s and shows how they are effectively being reused today with such admirable results.
Jennifer Boles
Image via the Albany Herald newspaper.
A not-to-be-missed event for all those in the Memphis area will have Jennifer Boles making a presentation on the enduring qualities of classic décor followed by a sale and signing of her terrific book on Saturday, October 11, 2014, at Brooks Museum of Art, 2:00 pm.  As an educational program of Decorative Arts Trust, the talk is open to the public and free with regular museum admission.

Jennifer is one of the relatively few fellow Bloggers that I have had the opportunity to both meet and attend a presentation; she was a guest of D.A.T. several years ago as the moderator for a panel discussion and I can vouch that she is indeed The Peak of Chic.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Harold R. Simmons, Jr.

 
The life of Harold Simmons, one of the great influences in my career, was celebrated today in East Hampton, New York.  He passed away peacefully in his home on August 12, 2014, after the challenges of hip cancer.

Peter van Hattum (left) and Harold Simmons (right)
at The Hampton Designer Show House,
11 May, 2004
Photo via Patrick McMullen.
Harold was formerly the Senior Vice-President at Parish-Hadley Associates in New York City where he worked for 21 years.  Among his many responsibilities, Harold headed the Design Studio which numbered as many as seven architects during my time there in the 1980s.  Each of us was responsible for one or more of the architectural projects underway, often of tremendous scope for clients such as Rockefeller and Getty, but always under the direction of Harold Simmons.
Hertenhof (Deer Court), Harold and Peter's home
that Harold designed and had built in East Hampton.
2009 photo via Black Tie Magazine.
Harold's knowledge in the fields of interior design and architecture was vast and of the highest level of taste, that combination being a relative rarity in the profession.  And there was never hesitation to share that knowledge.  The list of items to be considered was a long one, from the plan of the furniture to the balance of the lighting to the physical allowances for window treatments, and on and on.  But Harold Simmons knew all the answers and taught that same level of competency to his staff.

Peter van Hattum, Joan Worth, and Harold Simmons
at a charity event reception held at Hertenhof, 2009.
Photo via Black Tie Magazine.
Harold R. Simmons, Jr., was known as "Young Harold" in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi, because his father had the same name, Harold R. Simmons.  After graduating from Ole Miss, Harold worked for one year at the celebrated Memphis design firm owned by Kenneth Kimbrough and his partner Robert Bedford who insisted that he should get a degree from Parsons School of Design in New York if he wanted to be a design professional.  (Bobby Bedford, now in his mid-90s, is a cherished friend of mine because of the connection with Harold).

The Mausoleum of Emperor Diocletian, Spalato,
as drawn as a conjectural restoration by
Robert Adam, 1764.
After graduating from Parsons in 1965 and specializing in Interior Architecture, Harold first worked for the architectural firm of Alfred Easton Poor.  In 1966, he joined the decorating firm then known as Mrs. Henry Parish, 2nd, as the personal assistant to Albert Hadley.  Harold once told me that, on his first day on the job, he went with Mr. Hadley to an enormous apartment that was to be extensively renovated; Mr. Hadley began marking big "X"-es on the walls to be demolished, noting new locations for electric outlets on the walls, etc., all instructions soon to be lost when the construction process began.  Harold brought a level of order and professionalism to the office, contributing much to making it one of the most respected full-service design firms in the 1980s. 

View of the tomb of Caius Cestius by Piranesi.
After leaving Parish-Hadley in 1987, Harold joined his long-time partner Peter van Hattum (whom he had met his first week in New York in 1962) to found the firm Van Hattum and Simmons.  Their work included embassies in South America and numerous fine residences in New York, Washington, DC, and London, among other locations.  Also, their work was highly regarded in numerous Kips Bay Decorator Show Houses and Southampton Decorator Show Houses.  Harold and Peter were married in 2012.

The combination of charm, wit, and talent is far too rare, so it is especially sad to lose someone like Harold.  Memorial gifts may be made in honor of Harold Simmons to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach, New York 11978.  My deepest sympathy goes to Peter, another remarkable individual, and their family.

HAROLD R. SIMMONS, JR.
1939 to 2014
REQUIESCAT IN PACE

Friday, August 15, 2014

Jonathan Myles-Lea Residential Portraits

A bird's eye view of Dream Acres
painted by Jonathan Myles-Lea
for Country Life magazine.
Image via Arabella Lennox-Boyd
The Devoted Classicist first learned of the exceptional talents of contemporary artist Jonathan Myles-Lea when his remarkable composite views of Daylesford came to light during the research for the blog essay that was the Carole and Anthony Bamford part of the series about that quintessential country house. 

A detail of the painting of Daylesford,
the Bamford estate, showing the main house
by S.P. Cockerell, the Orangery by Sanderson Miller,
the Gardener's Cottage and the large Kitchen Garden.
Image rights are the property of Jonathan Myles-Lea

Myles-Lea has been described as the successor to painter John Constable and the extraordinary muralist Rex Whistler.  While this is certainly understandable, Jonathan Myles-Lea's delightful paintings remind me of my favorite house portraits by the seventeenth-century master Johannes Kip and the twentieth-century genius Felix Kelly.

Jonathan Myles-Lea.
Photo by Juan F. Bastos.

Jonathan has a Bachelors Degree in The History of Art & Architecture from the University of London, which was undoubtedly a factor in his portraits of historic homes and gardens.  Friendships with artist Francis Bacon, art expert (and jazz singer) George Melly, and portraitist Lucien Freud led to advice that influenced his work as well.

Pen and Ink.
The Rectory at Litton Cheney: in-progress.
Image rights are the property of Jonathan Myles-Lea
This series of images for The Rectory at Litton Cheney is a 'straight-on' rather than aerial view, but shows the steps Myles-Lea goes through to produce the layers that give the finished results.

Sepia.
The Rectory at Litton Cheney: in-progress.
Image rights are the property of Jonathan Myles-Lea.
The Rectory in Dorset was the home of noted English engraver Reynolds Stone from 1953 until 1979.

The completed oil paintng, 30" x 60".
The Rectory at Litton Cheney.
Image rights are the property of Jonathan Myles-Lea.
In 1991, he painted a friend's house in North Wales, Plas Teg, that has led to over 60 commissions in ten countries.  In the United States, paintings have been commissioned by Evelyn Lauder, Norman Lear, and Oprah Winfrey.  In Great Britain, clients in addition to Lord and Lady Bamford include David Armstrong-Jones, Lord Linley; The Cliveden Estate, and Lady Victoria Leatham at Burghley House.  A friendship with one of Britain's greatest garden designers, Sir Roy Strong, led to a 1994 commission of his garden, The Laskett; Strong was credited with introductions to potential clients that led to more commissions.

The Laskett.
The garden of Sir Roy Strong and his late wife
Julia Trevelyn Oman in Herefordshire is the largest
formal garden in England planted after 1945.
Image rights are the property of Jonathan Myles-Lea.
In 2007, Prince Charles commissioned the pen and ink drawing of his country house, Highgrove, that appears on the cover of a limited-edition, leather-bound book written by the Prince of Wales and Bunny Guiness.  In addition to the aerial view, there are various garden features forming a border.  Myles-Lea also designed a crest for this map that included items to represent the Prince's hobbies: polo-sticks, apples, an artist's palette, gardening tools, and a basket of eggs.  Jonathan Myles-Lea's map also appears on other merchandise available in the Highgrove shop in addition to the book HIGHGROVE: A GARDEN CELEBRATED.

Highgrove.
Image rights are the property of Jonathan Myles-Lea
Country Life magazine commissioned an aerial view in 2009 of the fantasy 10 acre country estate, Dream Acres, that was designed by Arabella Lennox-Boyd and Jonathan Self for a series of articles for the weekly publication.  "For the painting of Dream Acres, I used the sweep of the main drive to lead the eye to the house, and then on to the stream at the end of the lawn.  I wanted to make the composition as dynamic as possible so that the viewer's eye travels through the picture -- as if they were taking a stroll through the garden."  It was the first time in the long history of the magazine that an illustration had been used for a cover.

The April 29, 2009, cover of Country Life
featuring Jonathan Myles-Lea's view of
the fantasy country estate, Dream Acres.
The artist's personal archives, consisting of several thousand compositional drawings, sketches, letters, and photos are in the process of being acquired by The Bodleian Library at The University of Oxford.  A book is in the works, expected to be published in January, 2015.

The back and front cover of the new book on
Jonathan Myles-Lea.
Jonathan Myles-Lea, with studios both in England and in the United States, may be commissioned to paint a portrait of your own beloved home and garden.  For details and particulars, contact the artist directly through his website.