KNOLL INDEX OF DESIGNS
Herbert Matter [Designer], Knoll Associates: KNOLL INDEX OF DESIGNS. New York: Knoll Associates, Inc., with Hockaday Associates, 1950. First edition. Tall Octavo. Parallel wire binding. Decorated thick metallic silver wrappers. Multiple paper stocks. Photographic frontis. 80 pp. 160 black and white illustrations. 123 schematic diagrams. Elaborate graphic design with color-coded sections in blue/red/yellow throughout. Design by Herbert Matter. Wrappers lightly and inevitably worn with faint chipping at crown and heel. Former owner ink signature on Introductory text page 3. Page edges lightly sunned. An exceptional copy of this easily abused volume. A very good or better copy.
8.5 x 12 softcover book in decorated stiff metallic silver paper with spiral binding and 80 pages and 160 black and white illustrations and 123 schematic diagrams with blue/red/yellow highlights throughout. Catalogue designed by Herbert Matter, with design research by Harry Bertoia, Charles Niedringhaus and Murray Rothenberg. All furniture (chairs, tables, sofas, settees, chests, cabinets, beds, desks, office furniture) designs are identified by name and dimensions. I suspect this information could be useful to some people out there.
This scarce original volume is the document of record for Knoll and their designers, (circa 1950) and it needs to be seen to be truly appreciated. The book is a first-class production, from the crisp printing, sensitive typography, photo editing, rigid grid layouts, multiple paper stock selections, the spiral binding -- all elements come together under Matter's symphonic direction to produce a true design artifact for the ages. My highest recommendation.
Examining this Knoll catalogue, you get the distinct impression that Matter was engaging in some good old-fashioned payback towards Charles Eames and the Herman Miller Furniture Company. The sleek, metallic spiral-bound Knoll catalogue makes the 1950 Herman Miller Catalogue look and feel like a dusty Calvinist relic. I attribute this aesthetic beat-down to Matter's abrupt 1946 exit from the Eames office stable, along with Gregory Ain and Harry Bertoia. See John Neuhart, Marilyn Neuhart and Ray Eames: EAMES DESIGN: THE WORK OF THE OFFICE OF CHARLES AND RAY EAMES. NYC: Abrams 1989, page 69 for the understated, bloodless details.
Herbert Matter (1907 -1984) was born in Engelberg, a Swiss mountain village, where exposure to the treasure of one of the two finest medieval graphic art collections in Europe was unavoidable. In 1925, he attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Genf, but after two years, the allure of modernism beckoned him to Paris. There, the artist attended the Academie Moderne under the tutelage of Fernand Leger and Amedee Ozenfant.
In Europe during the late Twenties and early Thirties, a new language was born -- a combination of journalism, manipulated photography and the rebellion of the confines of the typesetters case, all in the service of selling everything from ideas to political and social ideologies.
Inspired by the work of El Lissitzky and Man Ray, Matter began to experiment with his Rollei camera as both a design tool and an expressive form -- a relationship that never ended. In 1929, his entry into graphic design was completed when he was hired as a designer/photographer for Deberny and Piegnot. There he learned the nuances of fine typography, while he assisted A. M. Cassandre and Le Corbusier. Matter's Paris years ended in 1932, when he was expelled from France for not having the proper papers. He returned to Swizerland where he created a series of iconic posters for the Swiss Tourist Office.
Matter came to America in 1936. He was offered roundtrip passage to the United States as payment for work with a Swiss ballet troupe. He spoke no English, yet traveled across the United States. When the tour was over, he decided to remain in New York. At the urging of a friend who worked at the Museum of Modern Art, Matter went to see Alexey Brodovitch, who had been collecting the Swiss travel posters (two of which were hanging on Brodovitch's studio wall). Matter soon began taking photographs for Harper's Bazaar and Saks Fifth Avenue. Later, he affiliated himself with a photographic studio, "Studio Associates," located near the Conde Nast offices, where he produced covers and inside spreads for Vogue.
During World War II, Matter produced multiple advertisements for the Container Corporation of America. In 1944, he became the design consultant at Knoll, molding its graphic identity for 12 years. As Alvin Eisenman, head of the Design Department at Yale and long-time friend, points out: "Herbert had a strong feeling for minute details, and this was exemplified by the distinguished typography he did for the Knoll catalogues."
For those of you wondering what the fuss is all about, here's a brief history of Knoll: Hans Knoll founded his eponymous company in New York in 1938, just one year after immigrating from Germany. He must already have had big dreams, for he posted a sign saying "Factory No. 1" outside the single second-story room he rented on East 72nd Street. Hans's father was the pioneering German manufacturer of modern furniture, Walter. Establishing the H.G. Knoll Furniture Company was Hans's declaration of independence.
Hans Knoll, born and raised in Stuttgart, had been educated in England and Switzerland during an era of aesthetic and social revolution. An admirer of the Bauhaus, he was familiar with its giants of design and architecture, including Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Stuttgart, one of the breeding grounds for the crop of new ideas generated in during the 1920s, hosted many exhibitions of the Deutscher Werkbund, a government organization that promoted German design and architecture. Such were the influences on young Hans Knoll. By the time he crossed the Atlantic at age 24, he had formulated the credo that would distinguish his company: Modern architects need modern furniture for their modern buildings.
Many of those modern architects had left Germany before Knoll. In 1933, the Nazis had shut down the Bauhaus, a hothouse of ideas that nurtured some of the 20th century's greatest architects, designers, and artists. Mies Van der Rohe, Breuer, and Gropius, among others, fled to the United States, transplanting the philosophies of architecture that have evolved into American design culture as we know it. In 1932, the year before the Nazis sparked the exodus of many of Germany's great young designers, George W. Booth established the Academy of Art at Cranbrook, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He selected Eliel Saarinen, a Finnish emigre and noted modern architect, as president. Cranbrook, as the academy came to be known, had much in common with the Bauhaus. Both were schools and residential communities for practicing artists, founded on the utopian ideal that aesthetic values would tame the chaos of industrial society. Each was committed to an underlying competence in craft and craftsmanship. Cranbrook's faculty and graduates, like those of the Bauhaus, had a major impact on 20th century art, design and architecture, and many later became associated with the Knoll company.
America's isolation from the modern movement began to dissipate in 1940 when two young American instructors from Cranbrook - Eero Saarinen, Eliel's son, and Charles Eames-won an international competition for furniture design conducted by New York's Museum of Modern Art. Since it was unprecedented for Americans to achieve honors in the field of furniture design, Eames and Saarinen and their furniture prototypes began to change the perception that only Europe produced superior designers. When the postwar building boom erupted in an explosion of homes and office buildings, it was the architects of the Bauhaus who were selected to design corporate America. In the second half of the 20th century the faculty and graduates of both the Bauhaus and Cranbrook helped set the standard for contemporary architecture and design around the world.
During the early 1940s, Knoll had begun to think about developing a base for manufacturing outside New York City. An excellent business manager, he began investigating eastern Pennsylvania because of its concentrated population of German-Americans and Pennsylvania Dutch. The community had a tradition of meticulous craftsmanship and a potential supply of healthy young laborers returning from the war who no longer wanted to farm. Knoll made his first major investment: a former planing mill in Pennsburg, near Quakertown.
During the war, Knoll had met and hired Florence Schust, a young space planner and designer who later helped Knoll achieve his vision of modern furniture and interiors for modern buildings. As a student at Cranbrook, Schust, had became friends with the Saarinen family and spent summers with them at their home in Hvitrask, Finland. She also toured Europe, visiting the great architectural sites. She later studied at the Architectural Association in London at the suggestion of the great Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, and spent two years there under the influence of Le Corbusier.
At the outbreak of the war, Schust returned to the U.S., apprenticing with Gropius and Breuer until she entered the Armour Institute (subsequently the Illinois Institute of Technology) to complete her degree. There, Mies van der Rohe, the head of the school of architecture, had a profound effect on her design approach. Schust moved to New York after graduation and worked in several architectural offices where, as the only female, she was assigned the few interiors projects that came along.
When Schust joined Knoll's company, she considered herself an interior designer with "opinions" about furniture-not, strictly speaking, a furniture designer. The two had a difficult time finding work involving contemporary design; when they did, production proved problematic because materials were limited by wartime shortages. Nevertheless, they persisted.
Knoll and Schust married in 1946. They also formalized their business partnership, which became Knoll Associates Inc. Florence's keen eye for design, Hans's knowledge of furniture manufacturing and marketing, and their limitless energy proved to be a winning combination. Florence played a critical role in the company's development. She championed the Bauhaus approach to furniture design: to offer objects that reflected design excellence, technological innovation and mass production. Together, the Knolls searched out and nurtured talented designers. They believed strongly that designers should be credited by name and paid royalties for their designs. Knoll continues that tradition today.
After the death of Hans Knoll in 1955, Florence Knoll took over as president and continued to exert her influence on all aspects of design, while leaving business matters to others. In 1958, she married Harry Hood Bassett, and began dividing her time between New York and Florida. In 1965, she resigned from the company, withdrawing from the industry completely but leaving the company in the hands of those she had trained and inspired.
A sample spread from this volume can be viewed here.
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