Metropolitan Museum of Art

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with a gang of Wikimedians and led by the wonderful Wikimedians in Residence at the Met, Neil and Richard. It was the day before we were all to catch the Adirondack (Amtrak #69) to New York, and it was raining, and I was completely jet-lagged from the trip from Australia the day before.

But it was wonderful!

After an initial (whirlwind) tour by Richard, our group of a dozen or so organically decided that we’d really quite like a bit of alone time, and went our separate ways around the hundreds (literally!) of gallery rooms in the museum.

I found George Washington of greenback fame:

I'm in the States now I guess

But reasonably quickly gave up on being a good art-looker and hid myself in the cafeteria with an overly-salty soup and some dry crackers… I’d been up since 3 already, and wasn’t sure I’d make it through the rest of the afternoon without crying.

However, after lunch I found the Frank Lloyd Wright room and the American Arts and Crafts items; and what a joy it was.

The American Wing

Frank Lloyd Wright room

I remember Greene & Greene vaguely from my days at art school, but seeing their armchair (1992.127) and library table (1981.316) was a breath of fresh air, and a reminder of the joy of truth to materials. These were pieces in which one could see the reality of the work. Ebony through-tenons in a table-top? That’s a beautiful idea!

Greene & Greene table with tenons

Then Gustave Stickley in the next room: his library table (1976.389.1) with a leather-clad top, screwed down with steel butterfly lugs (to the outside of the rails), and sidways-pegged tenons to the six legs. The inside bottom rails didn’t intersect, but are stacked on one another; such obviousness!

Library Table MET DP209329

Stickley’s sideboard: the doors are solid boards, jointed only with butterfly through tenons and seemingly no other bracing (they don’t need any). This stuff is about design, not so much for the Common Person, but for the Common Craftsperson. Design that makes things easy to make, honest in their representation of the abilities of the materials, and from those things to exhibit a raw and accessible beauty.

After that I returned to the open storage area, where large numbers of items from the collection are displayed in shelved glass-fronted cases, with as many items squeezed in as possible. It’s not the most flattering way to see some things, but then most of it was overly-ornamented 19th century stuff that I had little interest in. The good stuff, the simple and wooden furniture, was if anything enhanced by being often up higher than eye level (we could see underneath it with ease).

One piece caught my eye, and a visit to the weird huge touch-screens taught me that it was actually another Stickley piece (well, built by him; designed by Harvey Ellis). A small writing desk, 1981.440.1:

Desk MET 234742

This simplicity of construction gives an easier path between the designer and the maker (ideally, the two should be the same person). These ideas were explored more in Stickley’s journal The Craftsman (1901–16); I shall see if we can add these to Wikisource.

The Met has uploaded a huge number of images to Wikimedia Commons, and so as I went around I tried not to take a million photos—there are so many better ones already on the web, and freely usable. But I had to take some, either as aide-mémoires or because it seemed unlikely that the professional photographers would have paid close enough attention to the things that I am interested in. So I’ll upload at least a few new ones to Commons; the rest of mine can stay on Flickr.

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