Looking Back, Moving Forward: Addressing Architecture’s “Woman Question” Then and Now

Forty years ago the book Women in American Architecture: A Historic and Contemporary Perspective took shape under the editorial hand of Susana Torre. While the work arose out of an exhibition meant to expose the undervalued contributions of women to the built environment, it evolved into a discursive response to a series of dogged and complex questions concerning the roles of women in society, the exclusions of educational and professional culture, and the ideological underpinnings of “tradition.” (Torre’s papers are held by the International Archive of Women in Architecture here at Virginia Tech and the collection contains a wealth of research material related to her work on this exhibition and book project.)

Yet after two-fifths of a century have passed, a few questions linger: Have women made appreciable gains within the profession? Did Women in American Architecture’s 1977 publication herald a sea change in the attitudes of practitioners and architectural culture writ large? The answer may effectively be found in a book published just last year called Where Are the Women Architects? by Despina Stratigakos: while significant advances have been made, yes, equity (in pay, recognition, representation, etc.) has yet to be achieved. Indeed, in an interview with The Architectural League just four years ago, Torre commented that she had hoped sexism in the field would have become an artifact of the past: “I would have hoped that by now this topic would have become entirely passe…that it would be a quaint reminder of another time.”

In certain respects, women are still battling a culture that lionizes the “exceptional one:” a culture that valorizes individualism–the “lone genius”–while erasing female collaboration and one that lauds exceptional women to justify the marginalization of other women architects (paraphrase of Torre’s words). The “lone genius” archetype is partially a product of the narrative structure of many architectural histories (I’m looking at you, monograph). Stratigakos re-examines this emphasis on “stardom” and its underlying assumption “that the best architecture is created by mavericks.” Alongside assumptions that persist in mainstream treatment of architecture, Stratigakos looks at the bare fact that young women still confront woefully high professional attrition rates and a lack of visibility in educational curricula, the analog historical record, in online content, and among online content creators.

Digitization and Representation: Strategies For Winning Over Hearts and Minds?

Part and parcel of rectifying gender imbalance involves the activist approach of “consciousness-raising,” which partially entails the documentation and recovery of a cultural past that is often unrecognized or invalidated in historical works. The IAWA, founded in 1985, was itself borne out of Milka Bliznakov’s frustration that the historical record for architecture remained so lopsided: as many women grew old or died, evidence of their work was quietly being relegated to the ash heap of history. In some ways the digital era has presented new challenges regarding historical incompleteness.

In recent years, the internet has played a profound role in shaping cultural memory and, in some cases, reproducing bias–where ample content can be found and accessed so easily, many people erroneously believe that most information resources have been made available online and, following from this assumption, (mis-)perceive an absence of online content as a positive demonstration of triviality or non-existence. As Ricky Erway and Jennifer Schaffner noted in their digitization report “Shifting Gears,” “in a world where it is increasingly felt that if it’s not online it doesn’t exist, we need to make sure that our users are exposed to the wealth of information in special collections.” The current CLIR grant-funded project to digitize the IAWA’s holdings is underway and one of its express goals is to combat the notion that women architects didn’t exist or didn’t contribute much to the built environment. For those of us working on the project, it’s our belief that the work of changing hearts and minds can begin with something as (seemingly) simple as visibility. Check back in another forty years.

 

 

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The Coade, Hard Facts…about Artificial Stone

Working with the History of Food & Drink Collection for the last few years has helped me build up an interest in advertising. Since 2011, we’ve been acquiring materials for our Culinary Pamphlet Collection, which contains hundreds of pamphlets, booklets, and cards/card sets. Much of the collection consists of small recipes books that consumers would either have sent away for or received free, full of recipes that use a product or products and aimed at encouraging future purchasing. In 2013, we started building the Culinary Ephemera Collection, which contains things like labels, broadsides, trade cards, puzzles, menus, and postcards. There are lots of great bites of culinary ephemera–just the kind of items you’ll find me blogging about on “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” It’s through food and food advertising history that I first got into trade cards, but that’s not the only place you’ll find them.

Which brings us to Coade’s Lithodipyra or Artificial Manufactory Trade Card:

Ms2015-045_tradeCard_jpg

This collection is among what we call our “1-folder collections.” The entire collection, in this case, consists of the single trade card, probably printed around 1784. But, there’s a great deal of history to even a single small piece of paper. (In other words, don’t let the size of a collection fool you!)

The image is believed to have been one carved above the door at the factory. The woman whose belt is labeled “Ignea Vis” (or, “Firey Force”) appears to be overpowering a winged figure, who has both a tail and a trumpet, but we have no other clue to who or what he represents. The text reads:
Coade’s Lithodipyra or Artificial Stone Manufactory For all kind of Statues, Capitals, Vases, Tombs, Coats of Arms & Architectural ornaments &c &c; particularly expressed in Catalogues, & Books of Prints of 800 Articles & upwards, Sold at ye Manufactory near Kings Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall Lambeth, opposite Whitehall Stairs, London
The Latin above the three women reads, “nec edax abolere vestusas.” This is most likely the second half of the second of two lines from Ovid’s Metamorphosis: Iamque opus exegi, quod nec Iovis ira nec ignis/nec poterit ferrum nec edax abolere vetustas. Of, if you prefer: “And now my work is done, which neither the anger of Jupiter, nor fire,/nor sword, nor the gnawing tooth of time shall ever be able to destroy.” It seems an obvious advertising suggestion at the timelessness of the artificial stone manufactured by the company. Which brings us to Coade’s Lithodipyra or Artificial Stone Manufactory.

 

Coade’s was a company run by Eleanor Coade (1733-1821). Her first business was as a linen-draper, but she eventually shifted to making artificial stone, referred to as “Coade stone.” (Seeing a woman run any sort of business at time is only one of the reasons the trade card is such a stand-out item!) She ran the company from 1769 until her death in 1821, at which point her last business partner, William Croggon, continued the business until 1833. Coade produced stone for famous architects of the time, including John Nash. Nash’s works using the stone included the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace in the 1820s. Other sites using the stone were St. George’s Chapel, Windsor and the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

 

You can see the finding aid for the collection online. It offers a little more context to the trade card (designed by sculptor John Bacon, who studied at the Royal Academy). A trade card often seems like a simple thing, without much to do, other than advertise a company–but that isn’t usually the case. There’s a great deal of thought as to what goes into the design, what effect it might have, and what its real intention is. Certainly, Bacon probably thinking of this as a work of art, nor was Coade expecting it to last 231 and find its way to our collections, but it really is a work of art and it still has value over two centuries later. What that value is…well, art is in the eye of the beholder, just like research value. It’s up to you and me to figure out what this small, but not insignificant collection can mean.

That Exceptional One, Mary Brown Channel

Architecture has often been, and in many ways still is, a male dominated profession. Early female pioneers in architecture were deemed “that exceptional one” based on a quote from Pietro Belluschi, FAIA stating “If [a woman] insisted on becoming an architect, I would try to dissuade her. If then, she was still determined, I would give her my blessing – she could be that exceptional one.” Virginia’s exceptional one was Mary Brown Channel.

hand drawn colored architectural drawing
Proposed Reredos for St. John’s Church. Ms2007-030 Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection.

Born December 8, 1907 to William Ambrose Brown and Mary Ramsay Brown of Portsmouth, VA, Channel attended Randolph-Macon’s Woman’s College earning a bachelor of Mathematics in 1929. She wanted to follow her brother to the University of Virginia to study architecture, but women were not accepted into the University’s graduate programs at the time. She instead applied and was accepted to Cornell University’s School of Architecture.

Graduating second in her class in 1933, she was the first woman to win the Baird Prize Competition Medal. The Baird Prize was a six day design competition held by Cornell for architecture students in their junior and senior years. Channel was awarded the second prize medal for her design of a “monumental aeration fountain for the city reservoir.”

Channel returned to Portsmouth, VA after graduation and began her career with the Norfolk architecture firm Rudolph, Cooke and Van Leeuwen. She drew no salary for her two years but gained valuable experience working with the team that designed the main post office in Norfolk as well as several other civic and organizational buildings. In 1935, Channel was one of three candidates in a class of five to pass Virginia Examining Board’s licensing exam becoming Virginia’s first licensed female architect.

Watercolor church front
Proposed Front for Episcopal Church, Blackstone, VA. Ms2007-030 Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection

Following her licensure she opened her own practice in Portsmouth, VA. In October, 1941 she married local businessman Warren Henry Channel. After the birth of her first child she limited her practice to residences and churches. Channel retained her license until 1990 and was actively drawing plans into her eighties.

She designed structures throughout southeastern Virginia. Some of her projects include the Lafayette Square Arch housing the main entrance of the demolished American National Bank, the old Virginia Power Company Building on High Street, Channel Furniture Store in Greenbrier, numerous houses, church additions, and renovations.

Watercolor architectural drawing
Virginia Electric Power, Portsmouth, VA. Ms2007-030 Mary Brown Channel Architectural Collection.

She was recognized in October, 1987, at an occasion honoring Portsmouth’s local and statewide notables. Channel died in 2006.

WANTED: Researchers interested in women’s contributions to the built environment

Want an opportunity to win $2500 and take a road trip to Virginia Tech Special Collections? (Airlines, cruise ships, or a brief walk across the Drillfield are other forms of acceptable transportation.)

Photo: Milka Bliznakov in a car
Milka Bliznakov, IAWA founder

Well, you are in luck because proposals are now being accepted for the annual Milka Bliznakov Research Prize sponsored by the International Archive of Women in Architecture Center, Virginia Tech.

The Board of Advisors of the International Archive of Women in Architecture Center (IAWA) presents this Annual Prize of $2500 (with an additional $500 available for travel) in honor of IAWA founder Milka Bliznakov.

The Prize is open to architects, scholars, professionals, students, and independent researchers with research projects that would benefit from access to the IAWA’s collections.

More details and submission guidelines can be found here. The proposal must be submitted by May 1st, 2014. The winner will be announced by June 15th, 2014.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin, and the IAWA

At a time when women could find little work or credibility in the field of architecture Frank Lloyd Wright unhesitatingly employed and mentored women accepting them into his Taliesin Fellowship as peers. Over the years more than 100 women architects, designers, and artisans worked with Wright. The IAWA has architectural collections from three of these women: Eleanore Pettersen (1941-1943); A. Jane Duncombe (1948-1949); and Lois Davisdon Gottlieb (1948-1949).

Taliesin

Longtime proponents of “Learn by Doing,” Frank Lloyd Wright and his third-wife Olgivanna Wright envisioned a self-sufficient school and community where architecture and the arts would flourish. Therefore, when they established the Taliesin Fellows at Wright’s summer home, Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1932 they put into place a system that would emphasize painting, sculpture, music, drama, and dance “in their places as divisions of architecture” as well as requiring that the apprentices be responsible for the entire work of feeding and caring for the student body.

Apprentices at Taliesin worked in the gardens and fields, did laundry, cooking, and cleaning while simultaneously working on the construction, daily operations, and maintenance of the school. Taliesin quickly developed into an architectural laboratory producing some of the nation’s best design work and attracting talented artists and creative thinkers from around the word.

Under Wright’s direction apprentices created renderings, made models, did the engineering and produced construction drawings. They supervised construction on projects like the Johnson Wax Headquarters (Racine, WI), Fallingwater (Bear Run, PA), and the first Usonian houses. In the winter of 1935, the entire Fellowship moved to Arizona, where they eventually established Taliesin West in Scottsdale (1937) after spending the first two winters in temporary quarters.  The 1935 migration inaugurated the tradition of seasonally moving the school between Wisconsin and Arizona.

Wright passed away in 1959 and upon his passing the ownership of the Taliesin estate in Spring Green, as well as Taliesin West, passed into the hands of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The Foundation continues the educational mission of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship has evolved into the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

Apprentices

Eleanore Pettersen (1913-2003); apprentice at Taliesin from 1941-1943.

Pettersen studio and home in Saddle River, NJ.
From Ms2003-018 Eleanore Pettersen Architectural Collection. Pettersen in her studio and home a renovated 200-year-old barn in Saddle River, NJ.

Pettersen was one of the first women licensed as an architect in the state of New Jersey in 1950, and was the first woman in New Jersey to open her own architectural office. She primarily designed residences. Among her clients were President Richard Nixon and jazz artist George Benson. She became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1991.

Pettersen on Wright: “I am a tactile person and must really enter into the process of a given field. In this case, the process is construction. In 1941, such an aspiration seemed impossible for a woman. Being an apprentice afforded me the opportunity to participate in the building process – concrete, wood, electrical work, etc. This experience I have carried with me my whole life. It was the foundation of my architecture career. Mr. Wright was my architectural father and from him came my desire for excellence and architectural integrity.”

Pettersen on Taliesin: “It was a beautiful life. We had time for everything, time to be creative. We made our own music and entertainment, had our own dress parties. The only thing was that it was so insular; you didn’t see anyone from the outside. It was like living on the moon. When I left, my bloodstream ran differently.”

Thurkauf House, Amador City, CA
From Ms2002-004 A. Jane Duncombe Architectural Collection. The west elevation of the Thurkauf House, Amador City, CA designed by A. Jane Duncombe (1987).

A. Jane Duncombe (1925-); apprentice at Taliesin from 1948-1949. A. Jane Duncombe graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago’s School of Industrial Design where she studied under Marya Lilien. Lilien was the first woman to receive an architectural degree in Poland and was a Charter Apprentice at Taliesin. Lilien told Duncombe early in her studies, “You must be an architect, you have it!” Duncombe teamed up with fellow Taliesin apprentice Lois Davidson Gottlieb to form the design team Duncombe-Davidson, based in Sausalito. During their partnership (1951-1956) they designed residences in Marin County starting with the Val Goeschen house, a one-room unit with 576 square feet, in Inverness, CA. Duncombe continued to practice in the San Francisco Bay area for forty years where she completed a broad range of projects.

Duncombe on Taliesin: “The impact of Taliesin was Taliesin itself. I am convinced that having lived in those incredible buildings was the ‘teaching’ that was necessary. For the first time I was aware of the ‘wonder’ possible in buildings. It changed the way I look at everything and I know it is essential to all of us who work with land, light, space, and materials.”

Lois Davisdon Gottlieb (1926- ); apprentice at Taliesin from 1948-1949.

Woman at loom
From A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright by Lois Davidson Gottlieb (2001). Caption reads: “Lois Davidson weaving at the loom (Davidson was my maiden name before I married in 1955.)”

Gottlieb is a residential designer based in San Francisco, CA. After her partnership with A. Jane Duncombe (see above) she worked as a freelance designer on over 100 projects in the Bay Area and in Riverside, CA, as well as in Washington, Idaho, and Virginia.  She also published several books including, Environment and Design in Housing (a book based on her lectures for a course of the same name published in 1966) and A Way of Life: An Apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright (which was based on the traveling exhibit of her photos taken while at Taliesin in the late 1940s).

Gottlieb on Wright: “The first time I saw a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright it was as if I suddenly heard a Beethoven Symphony, never having listened to music before. It was the Hanna house on the Stanford campus. During my last quarter as a student there my architecture class went on a tour of the house. Stunned by the experience I had to do something about it.”

Gottlieb on Taliesin: “Mrs. Wright informed me, the first time that we met, that at Taliesin everything was done from scratch. We sleep in sleeping bags, weave our own cloth, grow our own food, and play live music. Fortunately, I knew how to play the piano and weave. True to my word I made new pillows for the living room.”

WANTED: Researchers interested in women’s contributions to the built environment

Want an opportunity to win $2500 and take a road trip to Virginia Tech Special Collections? (Airlines, cruise ships, or a brief walk across the Drillfield are other forms of acceptable transportation.)

Photo: Milka Bliznakov in a car
Milka Bliznakov, IAWA founder

Well, you are in luck because proposals are now being accepted for the 13th Annual Milka Bliznakov Research Prize sponsored by the International Archive of Women in Architecture Center, Virginia Tech.

The Board of Advisors of the International Archive of Women in Architecture Center (IAWA) presents this Annual Prize of $2500 (with an additional $500 available for travel) in honor of IAWA founder Milka Bliznakov.

The Prize is open to architects, scholars, professionals, students, and independent researchers with research projects that would benefit from access to the IAWA’s collections.

More details and submission guidelines can be found here. The proposal must be submitted by May 1st, 2013. The winner will be announced by June 15th, 2013.

Love, Life & Work: Advice and Art for the Ages

Title Pages from Love, Life & Work by Elbert Hubbard (East Aurora, NY: The Roycrofters, 1906.)
Title Pages from Love, Life & Work by Elbert Hubbard (East Aurora, NY: The Roycrofters, 1906.)

At the turn of the 20th century, America was in the throes of a remarkable transformation. The great agrarian society was quickly becoming a mechanically driven economy. Some, however, spoke out against the advances of industrialization, arguing that mass production subjugated workers to machines and that no machine could match the quality of craftsmanship that came from an artist’s hand. It was this reaction that gave rise to the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Elbert Green Hubbard (June 19, 1856 – May 7, 1915) was an American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher. Raised in Illinois, he met early success as a traveling salesman with a soap company but dropped out of this lucrative career to become a writer and soon discovered the idealized world of Arts and Crafts. Hubbard is most famous for founding the Roycroft artisan community in East Aurora, New York, an influential exponent of Arts and Crafts in the United States.

During his lifetime, Hubbard became well known throughout the nation as a writer, a philosopher and a lecturer. His eccentric and flamboyant style and seemingly non-conformist ideology endeared him to many readers. He was both a reflection of and a reaction to his times, taking center stage in American thought and becoming an icon of popular culture. Hubbard described himself as an anarchist and a socialist. He believed in social, economic, domestic, political, mental and spiritual freedom and his philosophies are clearly evident in his publication: Love, Life &  Work; Being a Book of Opinions Reasonably Good-Natvred Concerning How to Attain the Highest Happiness for One’s Self with the Least Possible Harm to Others, a copy of which is held in Special Collections.

Although the text of this novella is readily available in ebook format, there is something special about examining the physical work. Virginia Tech is home to a first edition, published in 1906, bound in soft leather with the title embossed on the cover and representative of the simplified  illustration style and handcrafted appearance that characterized the era.

Bookmaking played an important role in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Like other decorative arts, there was a rising concern over the detrimental effects of mass production on book design. Hubbard and his fellow Roycrofters sought to rectify this through their own private press, which emphasized high quality hand production: handmade papers, heavy inking, original typefaces, and designs that looked back to medieval illuminated manuscripts and incunabula and often included elaborate wood engravings.

The text itself is a compilation of thirty short essays on a variety of topics ranging from “Mental Attitude” to “Love and Faith” and although Hubbard makes many references to contemporary issues and personalities, a vast majority of his advice is still relevant in modern times. The following are just a few of the bits of wisdom and insight that Hubbard shares with readers:

“Character is the result of two things, mental attitude, and the way we spend our time. It is what we think and what we do that make us what we are.”

“The world bestows its big prizes, both in money and honors, for but one thing. And that is Initiative. What is Initiative? I’ll tell you: It is doing the right thing without being told.”

“To do your work well to-day, is the certain preparation for something better to-morrow. The past has gone from us forever; the future we cannot reach; the present alone is ours. Each day’s work is a preparation for the next day’s duties. Live in the present–the Day is here, the time is Now.”

Members of the Virginia Tech community are invited to come visit us at Special Collections to examine Love, Life & Work, other influential texts by Elbert Hubbard, and additional examples of Arts and Crafts style printing and illustration.