Lockwood de Forest: Furnishing the Gilded Age with a Passion for India, is the first major study of this artist, collector, and business man (1850-1932). De Forest was trained as a painter by the American landscape artist Frederic E. Church. His interest in travel, the Middle East, and decorative art led De Forest to become an early business partner of Louis Comfort Tiffany—and from there to become a professional artistic decorator who specialized in East Indian arts and crafts during what is now called the Gilded Age.
The author is Roberta Mayer, who was awarded her Ph.D. in art history, with a specialty in American art history and a minor in the decorative arts, by the University of Delaware. Her book is the first major study of Lockwood de Forest.
In 1879, de Forest married Meta Kemble, a granddaughter of Alfred V. du Pont. The couple visited India on their honeymoon, a nearly two year trip during which he purchased jewelry and decorative objects for the firm of Tiffany and de Forest.
When the de Forests returned to New York City in 1882, Tiffany and de Forest dissolved their professional relationship, and de Forest established his own business. He set up workshops in Ahmadabad, India, to design furniture and carve lacy teak pieces that could be assembled in many different ways and used as decorative elements in the homes of those who could afford them. ''He was absolutely convinced he was preserving ancient craft traditions that would have otherwise died off,'' says Mayer.
She writes that by 1887 de Forest “was listed in Wilson’s Business Directory of New York City as an ‘artistic decorator, a profession which first emerged in the 1880s.” Much of his work involved designing and decorating Indian-style houses in the East, Midwest and West. Among his clients were Chicago hotelier Potter Palmer, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and Mark Twain. His later commissions include Thomas Library and the Deanery at Bryn Mawr College. Mayer’s book is richly illustrated with photographs of de Forests’ New York City showrooms and rooms and homes he was commissioned to design.
Weighing in at seven pounds, Carol A. Grissom’s Zinc Sculpture in America 1850-1950, is a true compendium--“the first authoritative and complete treatment” of zinc sculpture, according to Wayne Craven, University of Delaware Professor Emeritus of Art History. Prof. Craven explains that “Bronze castings were usually for the higher forms of the fine arts, while zinc was used for a much wider variety of imagery . . . for the casting of both fine arts statuary and ‘folk’ or vernacular sculptures.”
Because zinc was less expensive than marble or bronze, even the smallest towns could afford life-size statues to give prominence to the, town square, courthouse, local cemetery or other public space.
Among the more popular subjects for zinc art were historical figures, including Ben Franklin, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses S. Grant; military figures, regional or folk heroes; gods and goddesses; figures of justice; and animals. Grissom’s book includes 554 illustrations, 354 in color. The statues she discusses are organized by type. Prof. Craven praises Grissom for bringing “a remarkable combination of skills to the subject, remarkable in that her scholarship combines a sensitive reading of the artistry of her subject with a solid scientific knowledge of it involving such matters as chemistry and mathematics” and for having “a wonderful ability to make the complicated technological process of metal casting understandable to the lay reader, and that is no small accomplishment.”
Despite their popularity, many of the zinc statues erected outdoors have deteriorated after a century or more of exposure to the elements. The author’s extensive research—she has been collecting information for over thirty years, much of it previously unavailable in print—her experience in conserving zinc statues, and her participation in many preservation projects ensure that anyone seeking to repair damage, replace missing parts, determine suitable protective treatments, or locate a qualified conservator will find this book invaluable.Carol A. Grissom is Senior Objects Conservator in the Smithsonian Museum’s Conservation Institute.