Lockwood de Forest: Furnishing the Gilded Age with a Passion for India

Roberta Mayer, Bucks County Community College

Tuesday, August 2, 2011Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Front parlor of Lockwood de Forest house

Front parlor of Lockwood de Forest house, 7 East Tenth Street, New York, NY. Photographed ca. 1900.

Lockwood de Forest house, 7 East Tenth Street, New York, NY

Lockwood de Forest house, 7 East Tenth Street, New York, NY. Photograph by John Arthur

From the early 1880s until 1908, Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932) promoted the East Indian style in the United States. He furnished many Gilded age mansions from New York to San Francisco. The House Beautiful, in 1900, described de Forest’s New York City home as the “most Indian house in America.”

Lockwood de Forest began his artistic journey as a landscape painter at age 19 in Rome, under the private tutelage of noted Hudson River School painter (and distant cousin) Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900). De Forest became familiar with the exotic architecture, and furnishings, of Church’s “Persian” villa in Hudson, New York. De Forest also traveled through Egypt as a young man, and particularly enjoyed navigating the bazaars in search of foreign goods. He began his professional career as an artistic decorator in partnership with Louis Comfort Tiffany’s (1848-1933) Associated Artists. De Forest’s first assignment was to acquire inventory, and his itinerary fortuitously included India as a key destination.

During his travels, de Forest learned about the late 19th century East Indian Craft Revival, a movement that was supported by British proponents of the Arts and Crafts movement as well as the Raj, the British colonial government in India. John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911), director of the art school in Lahore (as well as Rudyard Kipling‘s father), helped Lockwood de Forest develop an appreciation for Indian artistry. When de Forest returned from his travels in 1882, the joint business venture with Tiffany was discontinued (although they continued to share clients). De Forest’s impressive roster of fashionable clients included Andrew Carnegie, Potter Palmer and Mark Twain.

De Forest then changed his focus to marketing the Indian style, showcasing the work of the mistri of Ahmedabad, a sub-caste of highly skilled wood carvers. He successfully combined his appreciation of Indian handicrafts with entrepreneurship. When the fad for the Indian style waned, de Forest returned to painting in 1908. However, he continued to design Indianate homes, of which the most notable is the 1919 dean’s residence at Bryn Mawr College. De Forest wintered in Santa Barbara, and moved there in 1922.

Few speakers have the diverse educational background — and multiple degrees — of Dr. Mayer. She obtained a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, both from Rutgers, respectively in chemical engineering and toxicology. Her next, but non-science, degree from Rutgers was a bachelor’s degree in art history, followed the next year by Winterthur’s summer institute. The University of Delaware awarded her a master’s degree, then a doctorate, in art history. An ironic connection between Dr. Mayer’s scientific and artistic careers is that, more than a decade before she received Winterthur training, she worked as a process engineer for E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company.

Clues to Dr. Mayer’s research interests come from her serving as a member of the board for the Victorian Society in America (2001-2006) and her scholarly works. She wrote Lockwood de Forest: Furnishing the Golden Age with a Passion for India (2008) and Stella Elkins Tyler: A Legacy Born of Bronze (2004). Dr. Mayer also contributed “Decorative Glass in Tiffany’s Domestic Interiors, 1878-1900” to Tiffany Glass: A Passion for Colour (2009) and “ ‘Against the Grain?’: Perspectives on Women and Wood Carving in Cincinnati, 1873-1926” to Cincinnati Art-Carved Furniture and Interiors (2003), edited by Jennifer Howe. (Jennifer Howe spoke to the Forum about “ ‘They took to their tools like ducks to water’: the Cincinnati Women Woodcarvers of the Aesthetic Movement” in September, 2009.)

Roberta Mayer and Martin Eidelberg edited Opulence in an Age of Industry: Turn-of-the-Century Decorative Arts from the Collection of Sigmund Freedman (1993). (Dr. Martin Eidelberg from Rutgers University spoke to the Forum about “The Art Nouveau Movement and the United States in March of 2001.) Her contributions to Nineteenth Century are “Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Early Pressed-Glass Tiles” (2009); “Family Ties: Thomas Eakins and the Sartains” (2005); and “Gilded Aspirations, Tarnished Dreams: The Hartford Home of Sam and Livy Clemens” (2001).

Dr. Mayer has taught art history and the history of American furniture at the Bucks County Community College since 1999. Lest you think that she is cloistered in an academic setting just to research and write scholarly works, Roberta Mayer was named the 2010 Pennsylvania Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation.

7:15pm mini-exhibit

Share Lockwood de Forest’s passion for the exotic by bringing Middle Eastern — and Far Eastern — objects and images. Expect eclecticism to prevail, from tabouret tables to hookahs.

8:00pm

Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.