Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mystery, Ingenuity and Bent Plywood (Gerald Summers' Armchair)






"As a designer of great creativity, Gerald Summers remains an enigma, yet the chair he designed is recognized as a major achievement in the development of the shell aesthetic.  As the first chair to be raised from a single sheet of plywood, its construction involved absolutely no assembly process.  This economical means of manufacture allied with the light weight of the product, which made it inexpensive to ship, fails to explain why great numbers of this chair were not produced in the 1930s." [1]





Gerald Summers (1899-1967)
Great Britain
Armchair, designed c. 1934
Manufactured by Makers of Simple Furniture, Ltd., London
Laminated birch
29 3/8 X 23 7/8 x 345 7/7 inches.
Collection: Victoria & Albert Museum, London 






"The production process actually required no heat or steam, it relied on thin pliable veneers being glued together and then held in place in a mould for eight hours. What’s also quite fascinating is that there was no wastage, the whole chair is made from one single piece of bent plywood from which all the component parts – seat, arms, feet – are constructed. This makes it groundbreaking for the time coupled with the fact that it uses moulds to create curved surfaces, something not really explored before. Thanks to this direction the shape of the chair is beautiful in its structure, the strength coming from 17 rectangular veneers, all stacked on top of each other with the grain of each running at right angles to the next. A striking exceptional form.


Obviously once I delved a bit deeper into Gerald Summers’ life, which there isn’t much information on anyway, it was intriguing to hear about his company “The Makers of Simple Furniture” which he started with his wife Majorie Amy Butcher in 1932. From the looks of it the workshop in London didn’t last long but through the 30′s they produced innovative designs which mainly focused on plywood and malleable materials. It makes sense why there are only about 120 of these chairs in the world since they only had a small production facility, it obviously took a lot of hard work and dedication to make one of these. They really are a work of art." [2]





NOTE:  Surveying Gerald Summers' beautiful furniture (all the other examples I found are also exceptional) while trying to find a comfortable sitting position in my deteriorating Staples-surplus fake Herman Miller office chair this morning, I was transported again back to earlier days of Modernism, imbued with the spirit of many-avenued adventure and the  core dual drivers of scientific optimism and theistic/atheistic mystery. All that fun seems to have dissipated in post-Modernism's vogue-ish (in the sense of Madonna's song title) neologisms and garble.  (Performativity anyone?)


I am intrigued to learn that Gerald Summers "remains an enigma" and intend to find out more about him and The Makers of Simple Furniture.  His portrait below spikes interest and instills confidence. 




Gerald Summers (1899-1967)

5 comments:

  1. Very interesting! What are the sources that you used? I would love to learn more about this! :)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hi. This is an old post and I'm glad you found it. I'm also surprised that I omitted citing the source material. One of the sources is a book I have at our house in Pennsylvania, which I'll try to remember to post here on Monday or Tuesday. The other is:

      http://the189.com/design/gerald-summers-bent-plywood-armchair/

      Summers really is amazing.

      Please visit again if you have the time. I've taken a break from posting regularly -- for about 4 years I posted daily -- but intend to resume some time soon. Thanks for your note.

      Curtis Roberts

      Delete
  2. Very interesting! What are the sources that you used? I would love to learn more about this! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. As the first chair to be raised from a single sheet of plywood, its construction involved absolutely no assembly process. This economical means ... plywoodchair.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for writing. I will check out plywoodchair! Merry Christmas and happy New Year to you. Curtis

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