Paul Evans, to which I must confess some astonishment, has emerged as America’s most highly valued Modernist furniture designer. Another New Hope master, along with George Nakashima and Phil Powell, Evans produced about 5,000 studio pieces of furniture, many of which were bench made one-off’s, fabricated in and around the Lambertville/New Hope artist’s colony, and about 20,000 factory pieces for the Directional furniture company which was then based in New York City.
Price confusion is to be expected, with Evans’ various periods and lines spanning three decades of production from about 1955 until his untimely death in 1987. We’ll revisit Evan’s work periodically but, for this initial instalment, I thought it best to focus on his massive, mostly brutal, case pieces. While to the casual eye they might appear similar, there are variations and nuance that can add tremendous interest (and value).
Good - Wavy front
Like all of Evans’ major case pieces, this Wavy Front credenza seems to be the avor of the month if prices currently paid for this line are any indication. Welded steel doors mounted on heavy, wooden carcasses, the background colors tend to vivid reds and golds. Like nearly all of Evan’s horizontal cabinets, the top is finished with inset slabs of locally mined slate. There is less work involved with this design, as we’ll see, which accounts for their lower, original sale price of about $400. According to Dorsey Reading, perhaps about forty Wavy Front pieces were produced at Evans’ studio.
Better - Sculpture Front
With rare exceptions, Evans’ Sculpture Front line is considered his premier offering. Every piece, in spite of a design vocabulary that is often repeated from example to example, is bench made. Evans was said to have sketched each panel in pencil, on a napkin, which he handed to his main fabricator Dorsey Reading (whose initials are often found on a hidden, interior corner). Complicated, intense, and similar in theme, each version of this form (he made about 75 Sculpture Front pieces of various shapes and sizes in all) shows variation in pattern, color, brightness, and size. Since “brutal” is the aesthetic, bigger is usually better.
Best - One off
While most of Evans’ furniture is a variation on a specific theme, we are ultimately dealing with the offspring of a creative, artistic mind. “Bench made” means exactly that and, accordingly, there are unique interpretations that venture into the realm of the extraordinary. This cabinet, designed at the behest of a new client who “didn’t like his other work”, is a hybrid between both a Wavy Front and a Sculpture Front and, for good measure, turned on its side into a standing cabinet. Bodacious, brutal, and beautiful, this vertical case piece is considered the pinnacle of Evans’ production and holds the world record for the artist’s work.
www.ragoarts.com Credits – RAGO Arts
To celebrate the release of her film “Collecting Paul Evans”, NYC’s leading art advisor discusses the life and work of the furniture designer/maker.
The Allure of Paul Evans
It is hard to believe, but if you wanted to know anything about furniture designer/maker Paul Evans (1931-87), or about the metal art furniture that he created in the 60s and 70s up until five years ago, there was nowhere you could find any piece of information. There was no single book, no publication, no archives, which Evans happened to destroy, no articles. Nothing. Hard to believe, I am saying, because Evans was recently hailed as the world’s most collectible American designer by the NYT, and his pieces have come to fetch astronomical figures, being constantly sought-after by art and design collectors worldwide.
In fact, it was not in the museum arena or in the academia that Evans was rediscovered, but rather in the marketplace, attracting collectors, interior designers and architects, who consequently turned his name prolific again after decades of neglect. It all began in 2009, when the design collection of famed party planner and chic tastemaker Robert Isabell was offered for sale. His love for Paul Evans’ furniture was then revealed when images of his stylish West Village town house were published.
Evans’ beginning was not as global and not as glamor as we may think. He was born in Newtown Pennsylvania, and went to study metalsmithing at the School for American Craftsman at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the academic institution that came to train makers during the postwar years. When moving back to Pennsylvania in 1955, he settled in Bucks County and began collaborating with self-taught furniture designer Phillip Lloyd Powell, who owned a small shop in the picturesque town, a pilgrimage site at that time for artists, critics, design lovers, and tourists.
It was a decade later that Evans had first achieved his mature visual language. With the colorful sculptured front screens and cabinets, where he shaped the metal in his own signature way, departing completely from the traditional metalsmithing in which he was trained at the school. He invented a new type of furniture crafted like never seen before. He was weaving their facades in intricate collages of bronze, steel, brass, enamel, and gold leaf, creating design, which was radical, personal, and dynamic.
In the 60s, ambitious Evans devoted his life to expanding his growing business, and in 1964 he entered into a new business relationship with Directional Furniture, the prominent modern manufacturer based in North Carolina. With showrooms across the country and an extensive marketing program, this collaboration had brought his name to the national spotlight.
But the engagement with Directional came to end Evans’ link to craft world, bringing him into the heart of the world of industrial furniture. He reinvented himself in an ambitious prolific career, and transformed his studio in New Hope into a prototype shop, establishing a second
workshop as a production facility.
A constant introduction of new lines by Directional throughout the fifteen-year collaboration came to maintain Evans’ name in the world of American furniture. Some of these lines enjoyed a particular commercial success. One of them was Argente, crafted in black and white welded aluminum and steel, featuring cubic forms etched in a variety of patterns. Evans’ innovative treatment of aluminum enabled him to achieve surfaces that looked as rich and deep as sterling silver. In 1969, he introduced another blockbuster, the Sculpted Bronze line. Known also as Goop, it was composed of furniture pieces that look as if they are crafted of bronze, though they are made of plywood coated in epoxy resin, textured, and sprayed on with bronze and silver deposit.
In 1971, Directional introduced Evans’ blockbuster streamlined Cityscape series, the most successful and widely received of all of his collections. Reflecting and named after the urban skyline, which he loved viewing when traveling to Manhattan, Cityscape was more architectural, sleek, and glowing than anything he had done before. Featuring smooth reflective shining surfaces, these glamorous pieces of furniture couldn’t have been more different than the early massive textured work. Cityscape was modular, based on repetition of geometrical plates in steel, chrome, and brass welded together, a great representation of the Age of Disco. Evans developed nine lines in the series of Cityscape, ranging from Cityscape II, which consisted of faceted surfaces, broken into planes and angles like cubistic collages through introducing wood veneer in Cityscape III, streamlined forms, and other variations.
By the late seventies Paul Evans’ Directional lines proved too costly and complex to maintain, and the relationship with the company was terminated. In 1979, he opened his own showroom in the design district of New York City, where he presented furniture, which was not that different than what one would typically find in the neighborhood shops. In 1987, at the age of 55, he retired, but died of a heart attack the following day, living less than one day in retirement.
With the increasing interest in Paul Evans’ legacy and the art furniture that he created, several projects have come to shed light on the story of his life and career. The first, “Paul Evans: Designer & Sculptor” by Jeffrey Head was published in 2013; the ambitious retrospective and the catalog attached to it “Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism” opened at the James A. Michener Art Museum in 2014; and finally, the film I have created “Collecting Paul Evans,” a part of the series of Collecting Design, supported by Rago Arts and the New York School of Interior Design will air on YouTube this month.
Daniella Ohad received her Ph.D. degree from the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture. For the past two decades, she has been committed to education in design history, theory, and the decorative arts. She has been a faculty member at the Department of Architecture, Interior Design, and Lighting of Parsons the New School for Design since 2000, and has taught at Pratt Institute, Bard College, and Bezalel Academy of Art and Design Jerusalem. Mrs. Ohad has been teaching, conducting, and curating public lectures, as well as speaking in conferences and publishing in scientific journals and popular magazines. As an art advisor, she has assembled distinctive private collections of 20th-century furniture and decorative arts. Ms. Ohad takes part in the museums arena as a member of several acquisition committees of major museums in New York City.
Watch: Collecting Paul Evans
Credits – RAGO Arts