Friday, August 1, 2014

Bits and Pieces: Two "E"s--Eltinge and Elks, and more about Jean Nison

NISON TILE MURAL NEEDS A NEW HOME

(Photo courtesy of the American Craft Council Library)

Before discussing the Eltinge Theatre and The Lambertville (NJ) Elks Club, I have some news about Jean Nison's "Double Dragon" mural, which I wrote about last month (http://tilesinnewyork.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-ceramic-tiles-and-murals-of-jean.html). I was just told that the Tichenor residence in Long Beach, California has been repaired after a 2011 fire damaged the house and this mural, and the owners can no longer install the mural in the house. The salvaged 7' x 7' mural and about 300 field tiles with gold mixed with the glaze were given to Brian Kaiser to restore, and he has almost completed this. However, Brian lives in an historic house that contains many tile installations by Rufus Keeler, and the mural is too large for the house, and is not of the correct period.


The partially restored double dragon mural. (Photo courtesy of Brian Kaiser)

Thus, Brian needs to find a new home for this mural, and he's willing to discuss this with any interested parties. Brian can be reached at brian.kaiser'at'ymail.com.


Wall mural (left) created by Jean Nison for the Plant-Lover's Bathroom in the “Arts of Daily Living Exhibition” in Pomona, California in 1954. (Scanned from "The Bathroom–Our Refuge from Stress", House Beautiful, Vol. 97, No. 3, March 1955, p. 115. The October 1954 House Beautifulmagazine contains an article about the other rooms in this exhibition.)

Also, after the Nison article was posted, I received a call from one of Jean Nison's relatives who told me that the "Plant Lover's Bathroom" mural from the Pomona, California "Arts of Daily Living" exhibit in 1954 still exists! This tile mural has been stored in boxes in the relative's garage for many years because it was too large to be installed in her house.



The Theater That Moved: the Eltinge Threatre

In 1998 a theater was moved on tracks down 42nd Street toward Eighth Avenue. It was moved because the developer, Bruce Ratner, notorious for his handling of the new Brooklyn arena fiasco, decided it would not cost any more to move the theater as demolish it. At least something historical was preserved!


(The New York Times, March 3, 1998, p. 1)

“On Sunday, March 2, 1998, the Empire, an elegant Beaux Arts Style Broadway theater built in 1912 and weighing 7.4 million lbs., was floated on tracks up 42 St. near Seventh Ave. to a new location close to Eighth Ave. Few among those witnessing this strange migration realized that the theater was originally named The Eltinge Theatre in honor of Julian Eltinge [b. William J. Dalton, 1881, d. 1941], perhaps the greatest female impersonator of the American Stage. The theater has been remodeled as the AMC MoviePlex. On the original lobby ceiling a fresco of the Three Muses, all portraits of Julian Eltinge as a woman can still be seen[, though faded].” (http://www.thejulianeltingeproject.com/project.html)





“Because the Empire contained only 759 seats, which were spread over two balconies and an orchestra, the 42nd Street Redevelopment Project did not recommend that the Empire be saved. Only the facade would be incorporated into the plan. ...the Empire was destined to serve as the lobby of the AMC movie complex with the central elevators rising through the proscenium to the backstage area. In order to save the facade and gutted interior, the theater was put on rollers and moved two hundred feet down 42nd Street. The theater’s proscenium and mural were saved in part. Truely a desecration of art.”  (Ken Bloom, The Routledge Guide To Broadway, Taylor & Francis Group, New York, NY, 2007, p.67)


“On the ceiling of the lobby...is a mural of surprising artistry for a movie house. It depicts three muses in cascading gowns dancing about in a vaguely Greek setting. Hardly cinematic. More theatrical, and so it is. The mural was originally painted to sit above the proscenium of the Eltinge Theatre. ...If the women in the mural looks a bit odd to you, you've got a sharp eye. It's believed that all three are meant to depict the namesake of the Eltinge Theatre—Julian Eltinge, one of the greatest female impersonators of the 20th Century... ." (http://lostnewyorkcity.blogspot.com/2008/02/crossdresser-on-ceiling.htmlColor photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)

“Most of the patrons walking into the Empire [...Theater on 42nd Street] have no idea of its history. In the lobby, they are actually standing inside the shell of the Eltinge 42nd Street Theatre, which opened Sept. 11, 1912... . Renowned theater architect Thomas Lamb designed the Beaux Arts-style hall, [some of] whose features are still visible, including its ornate ceiling mural.

The steel and glass Multiplex tower rises from the interior of the original terra cotta building.

“By the Great Depression, though, the Eltinge had fallen on hard times and become a burlesque house. In 1937, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia used the city's obscenity laws to shut it down, and it became part of the Laffmovie theater. Renamed the Empire in the 1950s, the theater eventually had to rely on showing grindhouse and porn flicks -- staples of a deteriorating Times Square. 




“It closed in the mid-'80s, but later the revitalization of the area and success of the first multiplex in Manhattan gave AMC an idea. The circuit bought the Empire, moved it 200 feet west -- an impressive bit of engineering, given that it meant moving a 7.4 million-pound structure -- then built the multiplex around it, including a soaring glass-curtain wall that rises five levels above the original facade. The revamped multiplex opened for business a decade ago, in April 2001, and became the [‘center of the movie universe’] within a few years.” (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/first-peek-ever-inside-americas-181121) 




“The Eltinge 42nd Street was built by the producer manager Al Woods and named after his very successful client the female impersonator Julian Eltinge. Thomas Lamb designed a theatre with an individual exterior focused on a large paned window bordered by a carved-stone arch. The facade framing the arch was light colored and trimmed in multi-colored terracotta. The interior seating 880 had both Greek and Egyptian motifs with eight boxes and two balconies.”  (http://www.theaterprint.com/History-of-the-Theatres_ep_41.html#e)




















“[Thomas] Lamb [1871-1942] achieved recognition as one of the leading architects of the boom in movie theater construction of the 1910s and 1920s. Particularly associated with the Fox Theatres, Loew's Theatres and Keith-Albee chains of vaudeville and film theaters, Lamb was instrumental in establishing and developing the design and construction of the large, lavishly decorated theaters, known as "movie palaces", as showcases for the films of the emerging Hollywood studios. His first theater design was the City Theatre, built in New York in 1909 for film mogul William Fox. His designs for the 1914 Mark Strand Theatre, the 1916 Rialto Theatre and the 1917 Rivoli Theatre, all in New York's Times Square, set the template for what would become the American movie palace. ...Aside from movie theaters, Lamb is noted for designing (with Joseph Urban) New York's Ziegfeld Theatre, a legitimate theater, as well as the third Madison Square Garden (1925) and the Paramount Hotel in midtown Manhattan…[in addition to the Eltinge Theatre.]” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_W._Lamb) “Mr. Lamb...was the architect for several apartment hotels [in the city], for the ‘rooftop auto parking station’ at Fifty-third Street and Seventh Avenue, for the parking lot on the site of the old Hippodrome and for the bus terminal, restaurant and store building which extends from 237-247 West Fiftieth Street to West Fifty-first Street. Mr. Lamb won honorable mention in 1932 in a world-wide competition for designs for the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow.” (http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=FA0C14FD3F5D167B93C5AB1789D85F468485F9)




(From Wikipedia. Public domain photo)
“In the 1910s and 1920s, Julian Eltinge was one of the biggest stars of the day, the toast of the Broadway Stage and the Vaudeville Circuit, and an enormously popular and wealthy star of Silent Film. With music composed by Jerome Kern and other leading composers of the day, and lyrics often written by Eltinge himself, his theatrical farces were phenomenal critical and financial successes.” (http://www.thejulianeltingeproject.com/project.html) Eltinge moved to Los Angeles to be closer to the movie studios.

View from the garden. (Elmer Grey, “The Residence of Julian Eltinge, Esq. Los Angeles, California”, The Architectural Record, Vol. XLIX, No. II, February, 1921, p. 98)

Eltinge built a Spanish-style house in Los Angeles with some of the money he earned from his success on the theater stage. The Eltinge residence was designed by the architects Pierpont and Walter S. Davis. Although only ten minutes from downtown Los Angeles, the house is secluded and almost unapproachable by automobile. But, by “a fortunate arrangement of topography…[the view comprises] a beautiful inland lake, rolling hills beyond it with...little villas tucked away amongst them, and beyond those a range of mountains… .” (Elmer Grey, “The Residence of Julian Eltinge, Esq. Los Angeles, California”, The Architectural Record, Vol. XLIX, No. II, February, 1921, p. 100)

(Elmer Grey, p. 103)

Tiled fountain in the garden. (The Architectural Digest Southern California Edition, 1922, p. 30)

“F. Pierpont Davis (1884-1953) and Walter S. Davis (1887-1973)...were the sons of a Baltimore architect, Henry Davis.  F. Pierpont Davis studied with his father and came to Los Angeles to practice architecture in 1905. Walter S. Davis studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated in 1911. He received an MIT traveling fellowship and spent the year 1911-1912 traveling in Spain, France and Italy. At the end of his fellowship he came to Los Angeles to join his brother. They established a joint practice in 1915. Inspired by the Garden City concept, Walter S. Davis, along with his brother Henry, a landscape architect, H. Scott Gerity, and Loyale F. Wilson, wrote California Garden City Houses. The 1915 book articulated architectural concepts that would appear later in the work of the Davis brothers. The book contained plans to bungalow court housing, houses built around patios and called for the development of a new California architectural style based on the architecture of the Mediterranean world...”, [a style seen in Julian Eltinge’s residence]. 
(United States Department of the Interior National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Inventory—Nomination Form, El Greco Apartment, pp. 11-12)


By 2007 Eltinge’s secluded “Villa Capistrano” was only one of many houses on what used to be his property in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles, according to Wikimapia.org.


B.P.O.E., The Elks Building in 
Lambertville, New Jersey

A few months ago I stopped in Lambertville, New Jersey on the way home from Fonthill and the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Years ago Suzanne Perrault of the Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville told me that the former Elks building had art tiles on its interior walls. It did!


The Elks Building at 6 Bridge Street in 2013. (Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)

“The first settlement of the area that is now the City of Lambertville occurred in 1724. The area was no more than a tiny collection of farm houses throughout the 18th century. In the early 19th century, however, Lambertville's site on the Old York Road-the main road between Philadelphia and New York City-gave impetus to further development. In 1812 a bridge was built across the Delaware River and a stone tavern and inn (now greatly enlarged and known as the Lambertville House) was built. The opening of the D[elaware] & R[aritan] Canal in 1834 and of the railroad in 1851 started an industrial boom in Lambertville which included two paper mills, a rubber mill, a wheel and spoke factory, a ceramics factory, machine shops, a brewery, and several saw and flour mills. Also of great importance were the railroad shops where locomotives, freight cars and passenger cars were built.  This prosperity is amply reflected today in the architecture of Lambertville, which boasts one of the country's premier collections of Victorian architecture. Nearly the entire city, comprised of about 1800 structures, is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.” (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission, Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park Master Plan, Second Edition, May, 1989, p. 72)

"The historic [business] district reflects the commercial nature of the downtown in the nineteenth century. A large portion of the building stock is either residential or industrial. ...Water power from the Delaware River and smaller creeks made the area a good location for mills. The majority of mills in Lambertville were sawmills, but there was also a large flour and flax mill… .” (Sarah K. Montgomery, New Hope, Pennsylvania and Lambertville, New Jersey: Two Approaches to Cultural Tourism, A Thesis in Historic Preservation Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Historic Preservation, 2004, p. 71

“In 1843, one of the most successful mill operations was constructed at the site of the former River’s Edge restaurant, now the Lambert Lane Townhouses. William Hall constructed this flour and flax mill… . It was later expanded and changed hands several times before it burned down in 1939.” (Lambertville City Planning Board, Historic Preservation Master Plan Element, 2001, p. 6)

(Lambertville City Planning Board, Historic Preservation Master Plan Element, 2001, p. 18)

“The building at 6 Bridge Street was constructed in 1830 by Jacob Chamberlin for William Hall who owned the saw and flax mill on Lambert Lane; there is no record of the architect.  In 1892 it was sold and operated as a saloon and hotel and later purchased by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for use as a lodge.  The Elks Lodge [No.] 1070 has since relocated to a building on Wilson Street in Lambertville.” (Email from Fred Eisinger, James Marshall House Museum, Lambertville Historical Society to Michael Padwee dated 7/16/13, titled “ Re: B.P.O.E. building on Bridge Street”)

The entrance to the Elks Building on Bridge Street.


The Providential Tile Works*

This has been identified as possibly the Providential Tile Works in the 1890s. (http://glover320.blogspot.com/2008/01/no-date-no-identification.html; One comment about this photo states, "This photo is in the pottery display at the Trenton City Museum in Ellarslie Mansion on the second floor. The description says 'The Providential Tile Works c. 1880'", and identifies the photo as coming from the Trenton Free Public Library, Trentoniana collection. Mr. Glover sent me a better copy of the photo which is marked "ca. 1898".)
The Providential Tile Works was located on Enterprise Avenue near Cherry Street in East Trenton, New Jersey.  Providential was founded in c.1885 by Joseph Kirkham, James Robinson and Louis Whitehead.  They remained partners until 1891 when Kirkham was bought out by the other two. (Sigafoose, Dick, American Art Pottery, Collector Books, Paducah, KY, 1998, p. 163) Then, about 1900 Whitehead bought out Robinson and took over the business. (“Jas. H. Robinson Dies of Peritonitis”, Trenton Evening Times, September 24, 1909, p. 11)  In 1912 Whitehead died, and his wife, who had been the renowned concert singer, Emma Thurston, decided to run the company.   Providential lasted only about a year more and then passed into receivership in 1913. (Sigafoose, p. 163 At this time everything in the plant was sold, including tiles and molds. (Trenton Evening Times, June 5, 1913, p. 7, column 8) 

According to his obituary, Mr. Robinson was responsible for starting a decorating department at the Providential plant.  In about 1885 Isaac Broome, the master designer at the Trent Tile Company, came to work at the Providential Tile Works. (“Trenton Foremost In Pottery Ranks Says Isaac Broom”, Trenton Times, February 11, 1905, p. 1) It is thought that Broome could have brought some of his tile molds, as well as his artistic skills, with him.  In about 1890 Thomas Scott Callowhill replaced Broome as an artist and modeler at Providential.  Callowhill “was an Englishman who had gained considerable experience working at the Royal Worcester, Doulton, and Lambeth Potteries in England.  Callowhill’s two sons, Hubert and Ronald, were also hired as decorators... .” (Norman Karlson, American Art Tile, 1876-1941, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, NY, 1997, p. 44) In 1899 Providential hired another well-known ceramicist, Fred Wilde, to manage its plant.  (Trenton Times, October 25, 1899, p. 1)  Wilde had a varied career in art tile works in New York and New Jersey as a talented ceramicist, but he did not stay long at Providential.

The art tiles manufactured by Providential “were glazed tiles, plain and in relief.  Early on, some relief tiles had the raised designs painted different colors, or tints, with some good results.  Underglaze decoration was also produced for a while, but both styles were abandoned as being unsuitable for the American market.  Tiles were made for mantels, hearths, and wall decoration, in relief and intaglio.  From 1900 to 1910, beautiful relief designs, in white glaze decorated in gold, were very popular.” (Sigafoose, p. 163) “The Company never grew to be a very large one, as it confined itself to high-class ware... .  They did not make floor tile, and their greatest output was probably around 500,000 square feet.” (Everett Townshend, “Development of the Tile Industry in the United States” in the American Ceramic Society,  Ceramic Abstracts and The Bulletin, Vol. 22, No. 5, May 15, 1943, p. 133)

*(Adapted from my article, “The Providential Tile Works” in Trenton Potteries, The Newsletter of the Potteries of Trenton Society, Vol. 5, Issue 3, September 2004, pp.1+)

The markings and key patterns on the backs of two 6” Providential tiles. The first is a distinctive Providential raised grid pattern. The 4"x6" detached tiles on the Elks building walls have key patterns with three recessed "bars", similar to the three center "bars" in the second illustration.
The B.P.O.E. Building on Bridge Street has been repurposed into an antiques store for many years. Since the building was sold in 1892 and operated as a saloon and hotel before the Elks bought it, and Providential was operating from 1886 to 1913, the tiles in the entryway were probably installed in that period. Although I have come across a few other buildings with Providential tiles in the entryways, none had installations of pictorial art tiles, nor were they as extensively tiled. Although a tiled entryway to a building might not be a spectacular historic installation, it is the only existing art tile installation made by Providential that I have found.

Three 6” x 18” art tile panels. 18th century musicians.


The entryway is tiled up to the ceiling on both sides of the doors.


The floor is tiled with faux-mosaic patterned tiles. Herman Mueller patented this process in about 1896. The Mosaic Tile Company and the American Encaustic Tiling Company, both of Zanesville, Ohio, made this type of tile.














*****

I would like to thank Suzanne Perrault for suggesting I take a look at the tiles in the B.P.O.E. building in Lambertville.


*****

NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE ABOUT POTTERY AND GLASS SITES

Eve Kahn, the New York Times "Antiques" columnist, has written an article about glass and pottery sites where shards have been collected, "Fragments of History That Fit in a Pocket". Susan and I took her to some sites in Brooklyn--the International Tile Company (1883-91), the Volkmar Pottery (1895), the Faience Manufacturing Company, and others--but alack and alas, there were no shards to be found. Ms. Kahn's article is well worth reading and was published on August 1. The article mentions both of us and this blog. Just search the New York Times website for "Eve Kahn" or the title of the article, or click on : http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/01/arts/design/collectors-find-historical-value-in-broken-glass.html?ref=design. Ms. Kahn's "Antiques" columns are also excellent and can be found in the Times' "Art and Design" section on Fridays.



Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Ceramic Tiles and Murals of Jean Nison


"Jean Nison, 1953" (Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library,  Johan Hagemeyer (1884-1962), Photographer; http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft5c600792/?docId=ft5c600792&layout=printable-details

A few months ago California tile preservationist Brian Kaiser contacted me and asked if I knew of Jean Nison and her tile commissions. Brian had recently saved one of Nison's murals from certain destruction--a double dragon mural in the bathroom of the Tichenor House in Long Beach, California--and was in the process of restoring it. 


Part of Jean Nison’s double dragon tile mural, c. 1953, rescued by Brian Kaiser. Note her use of “bubbling” in the glazes of the tiles. This effect was obtained by the mixing of gold and other metals with the glaze and dripping or painting it onto the tile before a low-temperature firing. (Photo courtesy of Brian Kaiser)

The Tichenor House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1904-1905 by the architects Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene for Adelaide Tichenor, a civic leader and philanthropist who founded the Ebell Club in her home and established an orthopedic clinic that bears her name.

“[The] Tichenor House was one of only three homes constructed in Long Beach by the renowned architectural team of Charles and Henry Greene.... . The Greene brothers refined the familiar low-profile, wide-porch Craftsman bungalow with their skilled use of wood craftsmanship, and the influence of their early study of Japanese art and architecture. From its crooked clinker brick and timbered wood exterior to the hand-painted silk wallpaper and huge slate fireplace in the second-story sitting room, the Tichenor House provides an excellent example of the Greene brothers' ability to blend Oriental themes in an occidental house.


The full double dragon mural in the master bathroom. (Photo courtesy of the American Craft Council Library)

“The house was extensively remodeled [...by architect Adrian Wilson and his associate, Alden Becker, in 1953] with many modern changes to the interior,” (http://articles.latimes.com/1991-05-05/news/hl-2211_1_tichenor-houseincluding the addition of Nison’s tile mural. “Wilson took part of the upstairs balcony, and converted it into a Master Bath for the Master Bedroom. [...The owners, Dr. and Mrs. William Casselberry] hired [Nison], to create a very rare, one-of a kind ceramic tile [mural] for that room, ...a fantastic mural forming the wall behind the bathtub. It was composed of some organic-style tile covered with Gold Blisters, and had two very large dragons [...pictured on the tiles]. The mural was about 7 feet by 7 feet in size. Jean's signature is in the lower right hand corner of the mural.” (http://www.justanswer.com/antiques/7ehtb-ra-jpm.html)

In December of 2011 a fire started in the rear of the house and was extinguished in about twenty minutes.   (http://www.presstelegram.com/technology/20111212/fire-strikes-historic-tichenor-house)  

“The fire in the [bath]room must have been very intense, because the tile was covered with soot that was burned onto the surface of the tile face. The tile also had a crackle glaze, which has many very tiny cracks over the entire surface. This was intentional, and reflects the style of the tile. Unfortunately, the soot permeated the crackle glaze... .” (http://www.justanswer.com/antiques/7ehtb-ra-jpm.html)

Kaiser became involved after the insurance adjuster said the bathroom was totaled and should be demolished. The owner of the house contacted the Tile Heritage Foundation, and through them, Kaiser, who successfully saved the mural in the two weeks allowed to him before the bathroom was demolished.

When Nison obtained the commission for this mural, she had been involved with ceramics for only about five years. In an article published in American Artist magazine in 1954 Nison states that she was mostly self-taught as a ceramic artist: “I began experimenting by myself; I am too undisciplined to work in a class, too impatient to carry out the step-by-step routine [class] assignments... . I preferred to go it alone, believing that this way offered a greater chance of striking out on a more original road. I knew I would have to learn what not to do the hard way, but that is the way I took! ...Gradually I came to know what effects and what ends I was after, what kind of subject matter and what technical effects I preferred. I devoted myself to the study of decoration and its appropriate application to ceramics... . I tried to purge my drawing of every nonessential. I wanted to capture on tile the richness of enamel with drawings as simple and dramatic as possible. Animals and mythological subjects interested me especially.” (Jean Nison, “Ceramic Tiles”, American Artist, Vol. 18, No. 6, Summer 1954, p. 60)

(Photo from Jean Nison, “Ceramic Tiles”,  American Artist, Vol. 18, No. 6, Summer 1954, p. 61)

Nison experimented with glazes, bubbling effects, and paints. “My first experiments were with glazes—usually mixtures—in an attempt to get a variety of color with underglaze and yet not be limited to the monotony of a glazed white background. After some time I was able to work out the problem. The underglaze colors were modified, but not muddied, by a colored, transparent glaze over the drawing, and a new textural effect which is still peculiar to my tiles. This gives a three-dimensional quality to the drawing, enriches the color and causes irregular bubbles on the surface.” (Jean Nison, “Fantasies in Tile”, Craft Horizons, Vol. 13, No. 3, May-June, 1953, p.37)  

According to Robert Pinart*, Jean Nison's first husband, she fired her tiles twice. She purchased biscuit tile blanks from different sources, painted her background and main designs on the blanks, and fired the tiles in a kiln in Fred Farr's** studio in Greenwich Village. She would then mix her gold and other metallic glazes until they were a very viscous liquid, and thickly apply the liquid onto the tiles with a brush. Nison would then fire the tiles a second time at a very low temperature. Mr Pinart said if a mistake was made and the firing temperature was too high, the gold would burn off. 

*[In the course of doing research for this article, I was able to locate and, on May 8 and May 24, 2014, interview Jean Nison's first husband, Robert Pinart, an internationally renowned stained glass artist. His remembrances of Ms. Nison are included in this article.]

**[Fred Farr (1914-1973) was a sculptor, ceramic artist and modernist jewelry-maker. In the 1950s he was a ceramics instructor at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. Fred Farr exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and in many other museums and galleries in the United States, Haiti and South America. He was represented by the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in New York. (“The Brooklyn Museum Art School, Courses in Ceramics” pamphlet, Fall Term, September 1951)  Robert Pinart said that Fred Farr and Jean Nison were friends, and he allowed Nison to use his kiln for her tile work. Farr also used animal motifs on his ceramics, bronze sculptures and drawings.]

According to Kaiser, Nison used very thin, very brittle, talc-body tile for her murals. “One of the most striking features of the tile, is the fact that Ms. Nison had a very unique element to her style. Her basic field tiles have a very ‘Organic’ appearance, with splotches of color dropped on the tile in a completely random manner. In addition, she used large quantities of Gold, which were so thick, that it created bulges or ‘blisters’ on the surface of the tile. This gave the tile a very pronounced texture, and they were not really flat at all. Dr. Jamison[, the current owner of the Tichenor House,] believes that the Gold was 24kt Gold. The Gold would have to be tested to confirm that. I also do not know how much the Gold would be diluted in the glaze, so it could be easily applied.” (http://www.justanswer.com/antiques/7ehtb-ra-jpm.html)   Gold is very toxic to use, as well as expensive. Nison’s glazes in this mural also contained lead, which cannot be used today because of its toxicity. In a telephone conversation, Robert Pinart mentioned that Ms. Nison obtained her bubbling effect partially by firing the glazed tiles at different low temperatures, like his own stained glass creations. (Telephone conversation with the author, 4-30-2014)  Mr. Pinart said the expense of the gold did not matter to Nison. It was always the effect that mattered to her.


(Photo from Jean Nison, “Ceramic Tiles”, American Artist, Vol. 18, No. 6, Summer 1954, p. 61)

According to Robert Pinart, Nison's first exhibition was in 1952 at America House. "America House was a retail sales outlet founded by Mrs. Vanderbilt Webb in New York in 1940. It was open for thirty years, beginning on East Fifty-fourth Street moving to Madison Avenue at Fifty-second Street three years later; and finally in 1960 to 44 West Fifty-third Street where it closed January 31, 1971." (http://digital.craftcouncil.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15785coll5/id/3654)

In late 1952, during the depths of the Cold War, “to refute the impression fairly widely held abroad that our culture is a purely mechanistic one,” the State Department “arranged a series of exhibits for ‘export’ overseas to demonstrate facets of our cultural life. One of these, a collection of handicrafts by contemporary American craftsmen, ...will be sent to Turkey, Greece and India.” (Betty Pepis, “Handcrafts of the United States”, The New York Times, October 12, 1952)   Jean Nison’s ceramic tiles were among the crafts to be sent abroad, and this is the first mention of her ceramics in the press that I was able to find. 

Jean Nison also met Robert Pinart in 1952. She was a salesperson in a French bookstore in Rockefeller Center, and he was purchasing a book about architecture. Mr. Pinart said he was fairly new to the United States at the time and was working for Rambusch Studios. He was very impressed by Nison's command of the French language, and her wide range of knowledge in many subjects that also interested him.


(Jean Nison, "Fantasies in Tile", Craft Horizons, Vol. 13, No. 3, May-June 1953, p. 37)

Nison’s subject matter at first focused on animals, but she began working with abstract shapes when she obtained a commission for Lever House in Manhattan. According to Nison, she visited decorators, left tiles with them and hoped they would call her. This was how, she believed, Raymond Lowey Associates, the industrial design firm, asked her to make a wall decoration for Lever House, at that time the headquarters of Lever Brothers Corporation (now Unilever). I contacted the curator of the Lever House Art Collection, Mr. Richard Marshall, but he had no information about the fate of Nison's tile installation. Unilever Corporation moved out of the building in the 1980s, and may have taken the tiles with them. A request to Unilever for information, however, went unanswered.


(Jean Nison, "Fantasies in Tile", Craft Horizons, Vol. 13, No. 3, May-June 1953, p. 36+)

A 1953 Craft Horizons article has a poor image of Nison’s tiled fireplace surround in the Lever Brothers boardroom. Nison described the tiles as having four different abstract designs, which were chosen by Raymond Lowey Associates and/or Lever Brothers out of about a thousand she submitted. According to Nison, the four designs or icons selected were “vital and modern” and showed a “beauty of tonal relationship and shape.” It is our loss that the original fireplace surround probably no longer exists, and color photos also do not seem to exist.


Another photo of the Lever Brothers tile installation in Lever House. (Image in the artist’s file in, and courtesy of, the American Crafts Council Library)

Nison explained the process by which she created multiple tile murals: “For a composition involving several tiles I first make a pencil drawing on paper and transfer it onto an assembled group of tiles. Although I visualize the color scheme I want, I do not try to color the sketch. This really would be rather purposeless since what happens in...glazing can not be anticipated. 


Jean Nison working with her glazes in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy of the American Craft Council Library)


“The colors are worked into the design in underglaze or in mixtures of several glazes and underglaze in an effort to achieve certain desired effects of color and texture. Actual glazes are much richer in color than mere underglaze colors... . Because of the difficulty of approximating ceramic colors and textures on paper, in sketches submitted for a client’s approval I always work out a section or a miniature version of the design in actual ceramics.” (Jean Nison, “Ceramic Tiles”, American Artist, Vol. 18, No. 6, Summer 1954, pp. 61, 84-85.)



A tile panel with a "medieval feeling". (Jean Nison, "Fantasies in Tile", Craft Horizons, Vol. 13, No. 3, May-June 1953, p. 36+)

Although Jean Nison painted some tiles with scenes “as far removed from the Twentieth Century as possible,” she was also part of the Mid-century Modern movement. In 1953 an article in The New York Times discussed modern ceramic tile designers such as Alexandra Kasuba, Harris Strong, Werner Prins and Jean Nison: “The development of a variety of decorating styles has accompanied the revival of tile design, with the result that collections of such objects resemble an art gallery.” The Times reported that Nison used a tile mural of classic figures standing in a grove of trees as the center of a table made by Zarch Sourian. The tile glazes were pale blues touched with bronze color. The thick, textured clear glaze used on top imparts a misty look. (“For the Home: Tiles Enhance Variety of Objects”, The New York Times, February 25, 1953)



One of Nison’s multi-tile panels with abstract animal designs from this period is shown above. It was described as a “plaque consisting of twenty five [sic] ceramic tiles encased in a bronze band. Tiles are in hues of cobalt, brown, and light blue with designs in gold drippings.” (http://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/wall-decorations/decorative-art/fabulous-tile-plaque-encased-bronze-signed-nison/id-f_197133/)   Below is a close-up view:


The bubbling of the gold-infused glaze is evident.

Pinart said that Nison worked on commissions obtained through a man named "Lippincott", later identified as J. Gordon Lippincott of the Lippincott and Margulies design firm. The archivist of the current Lippincott firm, Erika Rosenberg, suggested I contact Jonathan Lippincott, J. Gordon Lippincott's grandson, who had some of his grandfather's papers. Mr. Lippincott discovered that his grandfather hired Jean Nison to create tile work that was permanently installed in the Lippincott house in Scarsdale (built in 1951-52), but there were no records of other Nison commissions for Lippincott & Margulies in the family papers. 


The Lippincott House in Scarsdale. (Photo from "They Designed Their House to Enrich Their Family Life", House Beautiful, Vol. 95, September 1953, pp. 138-145)

House Beautiful featured this house in the September 1953 issue, and a recent report by the Village of Scarsdale states that "Although Scarsdale does not have the concentration of Modern houses by famous architects found in places such as New Canaan, Connecticut, there are a number of excellent examples of Mid-century Modernism in the village. […A] few Modern houses were...built [in the Fox Meadow section of Scarsdale], most importantly the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. Gordon Lippincott…designed in 1950 by Ray S. Johnson and J. Stein… . Lippincott, a partner in the firm of Lippincott & Margulies, was one of the leading industrial designers of the mid-twentieth century… ." (Li-Saltzman Architects and Andrew Dolkart, "Reconnaissance Level Cul;tural Resource Survey Report", Village of Scarsdale, New York, July 12, 2012, pp. 3-18, 7-17)


(Photo: "They Designed Their House to Enrich Their Family Life", House Beautiful, Vol. 95, September 1953, pp. 138-145)

Nison’s contribution was three tile installations--a rooster above the kitchen stove, a built-in tile table and a tile mural of bulls at the house entrance according to Dalia and Merrill Berman, who were, and still are, the second owners of this Modernist house. The rooster panel can be seen in one of the photos from the House Beautiful article (above) and in the contemporary photo below. 


The roosters tiles are set in the kitchen’s exhaust hood over the cooking range and form a  30” X 12” mural. (Phototographer: Itai Taubenfeld; photo courtesy of Merrill and Dalia Berman)
The bulls are embedded in the entrance hall’s floor and are 18” X 24”.


(Phototographer: Itai Taubenfeld; photo courtesy of Merrill and Dalia Berman)

The tiles below are part of the built-in kitchen table: 31” X 40”.  The Bermans assume the table is also the work of Jean Nison.  Legend has it that the tiles for the table did not emerge from the firing as expected but were loved by the Lippincotts as they were. (Email from Dalia Berman to Michael Padwee, June 18, 2014)


Part of the built-in tile table. (Phototographer: Itai Taubenfeld; photo courtesy of Merrill and Dalia Berman)

Many tiles manufactured by the Mosaic Tile Company of Zanesville, Ohio were used on floors and walls throughout the house in order to promote a “care-free” quality of life for the family.


An ad from a 1955 House Beautiful magazine showing the Mosaic Tile Company's tile work throughout the house. Nison’s tile kitchen table can be seen in the top right photo.

Jonathan Lippincott said that Nison's tile panels went with his grandparents' artistic aesthetic: they enjoyed traveling in Mexico, Central and South America and collected masks and other local crafts; also, when the house was sold some non-permanent tile panels, such as "The Toreador" made by Nison, were retained by the family.



A 12" x 24", 8-tile “Toreador” panel in the possession of the Lippincott family. Nison’s signature is in the lower right corner. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Lippincott and the Lippincott family)



The "Arts of Daily Living" Exhibition


Wall mural (left) created by Jean Nison for the Plant-Lover's Bathroom in the “Arts of Daily Living Exhibition” in Pomona, California in 1954. (Scanned from "The Bathroom–Our Refuge from Stress", House Beautiful, Vol. 97, No. 3, March 1955, p. 115. The October 1954 House Beautiful magazine contains an article about the other rooms in this exhibition.)
In 1954 one of her murals was featured in the “Arts of Daily Living Exhibition” in Pomona, California. The objects in the rooms, and the rooms themselves in this exhibition were considered the epitome in personal comfort that the post-war middle class should be aspiring to.


A close-up of Nison's mural. 

“In the Fine Arts Building of the 1954 L.A. County Fair, Millard Sheets, director of exhibitions—an accomplished painter, influential chair of Scripps College’s art department, designer of dozens of bank mosaics, and all around art impresario—collaborated closely with the staff of House Beautiful magazine to produce an extraordinary installation of 22 architect-designed model rooms.” (Thea M. Page, “EXHIBITIONS | When the L.A. County Fair Was Totally Mod”; http://huntingtonblogs.org/2011/11/jeremy-adamson-lecture/)   



Nison’s contribution was the tile wall mural in the “Plant Lover’s Bathroom” designed by the architect John deKoven Hill.* Again, there is no further record of this mural except the photo and a brief article in House Beautiful magazine (March 1955) which states that a “Glamorous diffusion of light and the curious, subaqueous quality of Jean Nison’s ceramic tile mural create the illusion of other-world-ness, hence seclusion.”

House Beautiful says of this exhibit that the rooms "are filled with things of grace and meaning, possessed with the function of beauty as well as the beauty of function. They show the best in today's living, as the best is actually being enjoyed in many homes across the country… . [The] 22 rooms of the exhibition are distinctly of our world and time; they are the product of our people; they have whatever quality we have." ("Here is the New American Beauty", House Beautiful, Vol. 96, No. 10, October 1954, p. 191) "The 22 rooms…were created to show the best in today's living. They are intended to express the philosophy that true culture begins at home, and that as your interests grow and widen your home acquires beauty by reflecting your own expanding life.  ("Rooms for a Lively Life", House Beautiful, Vol. 96, No. 10, October 1954, p. 168) 

*[John deKoven Hill was the architectural editor for House Beautiful at the time and designed most of the room exhibits in the show. (http://www.oac.cdlib.org/view?style=oac4;view=dsc;docId=kt6k4034m6;query=John%20deKoven%20Hill;dsc.position=
10001;#hitNum3)

Jean Nison also exhibited her ceramics at the Architectural League of New York from November 20-December 4, 1954. The Architectural League of New York rented its Pine Room exhibit space to local artists, and Nison exhibited twenty panels of her tile work there. (“Architectural League of New York records, 1880s-1974, bulk 1927-1968", Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Box 67, Folder 14.)





In April 1955 Nison’s tiles were featured in the second of a series of monthly exhibits of contemporary craftsmen in the Brooklyn Museum Gallery Shop. The exhibit notice stated that Ms. Nison exhibited at the Architectural League of New York, America House Gallery in New York, Gumps in San Francisco, and the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. (Notice and image in the artist’s file of the American Craft Council Library, 1224 Marshall Street NE, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55413) 

In 1957 Nison was chosen to participate in a 1957-58 exhibit, “The Patron Church”, at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now the Museum of Art and Design) in Manhattan. This was “an exhibition of over 200 ceremonial objects in nearly all media of the arts and crafts.” (Robert Bradbury, “The Patron Church”, Craft Horizons, December 1957)   In this exhibit “emphasis will be placed on the position of the church as an important patron of architects, artists and craftsmen who are prominent in the field of modern design. Featured in the display will be outstanding examples of contemporary Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religious architecture, which will be shown in scale models, photo murals and color transparencies. ...Accompanying the architecture many examples of original work...by leading artists and craftsmen will be displayed.” (“Church Art and Architecture at Crafts Museum”, press release from the Museum of Contemporary Crafts dated September 12, 1957)


A photo of part of a multi-tile mural by Jean Nison from the ACC Member Files, Digital File No. D014-038. Image based on the exhibition "The Patron Church" held at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City from October 11, 1957 through January 5, 1958. (Note the bubbling effect from gold and silver, mixed with glaze and painted onto the tiles.)

Nison was represented by two ceramic tile pieces.
(The Patron Church: Catalog of an exhibition held October 11, 1957 through January 5, 1958 at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City, Tibbs, Thomas S. and Laurer, Robert A., contributors, 1957, p. 20)  The first was a tile mural titled “Station of the Cross”. The photo above, located in the artists’ digital records of the American Crafts Council, may be a symbolic representation of a Station, or the Stations, of the Cross, with a Greek Alpha appended to it, and may be one of tile murals Nison exhibited. 


Alpha and Omega”, Jean Nison, Egyptian, 1957, Glazed ceramic, wood. 19 3/4 x 19 3/4 x 1 1/4 in. (50.2 x 50.2 x 3.2 cm), Gift of the artist, through the American Craft Council, 1958.
PHOTO: ED WATKINS, NYC 2008. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY)
The other ceramic tile panel of Nison’s in this exhibit was a nine-tile mural, titled "Four Christian Symbols" or “Alpha and Omega”, which referred to Revelations 22:13 in the New Testament where Jesus states, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (http://biblehub.com/revelation/22-13.htm) “The letters Alpha and Omega in juxtaposition are often used as a Christian visual symbol. The letters were shown hanging from the arms of the cross in Early Christian art... . This phrase is interpreted by many Christians to mean that Jesus has existed for all eternity. The phrase 'alpha and omega' may signify that God is eternal.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_and_Omega) The chi and rho letters above the alpha and omega represent Jesus Christ and come from the Greek word "ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ"  which means Christ. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrismon)  This mural is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Arts and Design. (http://collections.madmuseum.org/code/emuseum.asp?emu_action=searchrequest&newsearch=1&moduleid=1&profile=objects&currentrecord=1&style=single&rawsearch=id/,/is/,/7/,/false/,/tru)

When this exhibition ended, Nison exhibited some of her ceramic tiles--probably those above--at an art symposium, "Art and Christian Life", at St. Joseph’s College for Women in Brooklyn, New York in February, 1958. (“St. Joseph’s Alumnae Sponsor Art Symposium”, Alumnagram, St. Joseph’s College for Women, Vol. 9, No. 2, Winter 1958, p.4) 


Undated poster (c.1960 or later) from the artist’s file in the American Craft Council Library, 1224 Marshall Street NE, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55413.

Although Craft Horizons stated that Jean Nison participated in another exhibition of religious arts in 1958 at the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, there was no mention of her as an exhibitor in the exhibition catalog.
(“Religious Art of the Western World”, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, March 23-May 25, 1958; http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth183401/m1/3/)   Of the exhibition Craft Horizons wrote: "...two years in the making, ‘Religious Art of the Western World’, presented some of the most interesting and valuable ecclesiastical objects from medieval times to the 20th century...at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts... . Among the contemporary craftsmen included were: Robert Sowers, Mariska Karasz, Anni Albers, Jan Yoors, Allan Porter, Talbot Studios, Robert Pinart, Jean Nison, Jean de Marco, Janet de Coux, Ludwig Wolpert, Karl Drerup, Henry Lee Willet, Jack Larsen.” (Craft Horizons, Vol. 18, No. 4, July-August 1958, p. 47)  Although the Dallas Museum of Art’s digital records of exhibiting artists (http://www.dm-art.org/research/archives), also did not list Nison as an exhibitor, Dallas Museum of Art Digital Archivist, Hillary Bober, did locate a listing for Jean Nison and her contribution to this exhibition. (“Religious Art of the Western World, Catalogue list of all objects in exhibition...”: “JEAN NISON, American. 476. Pair of tile plaques, ceramic. Designs of Christian symbols.”) Unfortunately, the Dallas Museum did not have a pictorial record of Nison’s work.

Written material for this exhibition--possibly a press release from the Dallas Museum of Art--states that the "exhibit will not be an outline or history of religions, but will attempt to use art objects as symbols of the religious spirit. The main intention of the exhibition is to indicate the relationship between art and religion of the past and the present, and to explore the possibilities of a closer, more fruitful union for the immediate future." (http://files.dma.org/multimedia/document/145355466815371_original.pdf, p. 2)






Nison/Pinart mural competition entry. The New York City Housing Authority Photo # 02.003.27988, (http://www.laguardiawagnerarchive.lagcc.cuny.edu/ImageDetail.aspx), from the La Guardia and Wagner Archives, La Guardia Community College/The City University of New York.

In October 1958, a competition, sponsored by the Henry Street Settlement, was held to select a mural to be installed in the community center at La Guardia Houses on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A $300 second prize went to Robert Pinart and Jean Nison...for their entry.
(http://www.laguardiawagnerarchive.lagcc.cuny.edu/ImageDetail.aspx Pinart, who would become an internationally renowned stained glass artist, and Nison were married at this time and worked together on at least two projects. (“Mural Selected for East Side Houses”, The New York Times, October 23, 1958. Also, Pinart’s personal portfolio has his address as 119 E. 28th Street, New York City, the same as Ms. Nison’s address; http://antiquessupplycenter.com/pinart-stained-glass)
  
Robert Pinart explained that the competition was to fill a flat wall space that had no back-lighting with a mural. Thus, the mural would have been all ceramic or ceramic mosaic, rather than glass, had they won the competition. Pinart said he thought the design on the left side of the mural was more his than Nison's, and the design on the right side of the mural was more Jean's. The colors of the mural would have been beige and ochre with a deep, dark background. (Telephone conversation with the author, 4-30-2014 and interview on 5-8-2014) The size of the winning mural by Elemer Polony was 28’ long x 5.5’ high, and it is assumed that the Nison-Pinart mural would also have been in that size range. [It should be noted that Jean Nison and Robert Pinart were both represented in the same museum exhibitions--"The Patron Church" and "Religious Art of the Western World"--but this may have been the first time they collaborated on a specific work.]




Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, 401 Grizzly Peak Blvd., Berkeley, CA. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Sometime in 1959/60 Jean Nison and Robert Pinart obtained commissions to design the tiles for the altar and baptismal font, and for four stained glass windows, in the Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Berkeley, California. 


Jean Nison’s tiled altar in the Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church. (http://www.sothb.org/) Printed material from the Church states that "The free standing altar was designed to use the frontal ceramic tiles planned and executed by Jean Nison. The curious bubbly glazes of Miss Nison's tiles is unique and characteristic and is a result of her study and experimentation to create an effect of other-worldliness and a new effect in the diffusion of light."

The church’s website states, “...the current sanctuary was designed by Carleton A. Steiner, [an architect who also designed the First United Methodist Church in Sunnyvale, CA in 1954,]...and dedicated on May 24, 1960. ...Robert Pinart created the stained glass windows representing the biblical themes and Jean Nison designed the ceramic tiles on the altar and baptismal font.” (http://www.sothb.org/who_we_are/history.php)


One of Robert Pinart's stained/slab glass windows. Printed material from the Church states "The four slab-glass windows were especially designed (including the color) and executed by Robert Pinart… . These windows tell the story of the redemption in the Old Testament. [This window] portrays the two tablets of the Ten Commandments of God which Moses delivered to the people of Israel."

The tiles in the church installation seem very similar to those Nison designed for the religious exhibitions at the Museum of American Crafts and the Dallas Museum of Art, and Nison may have obtained the commission as a consequence of this. 

  



The church, however, could not locate any information about how Nison and Pinart obtained their commissions. Nison's sister lived in Berkeley, and she may have had something to do with this commission. (Jean Nison had a close relationship with her sister, Alice Simon, and designed tile murals for her sister's house in Berkeley, according to Pinart.) Another connection to Robert Pinart was that the Rambusch Studios in New York designed the altar appointments. Pinart worked for Rambusch Studios in the early 1950s where his work received critical acclaim.


The Baptismal Font at the Shepherd of the Hills Church. According to printed material supplied by the Shepherd of the Hills Church, "The baptismal font matches the altar with artistic use of concrete and Miss Nison's tiles. Thus the font and altar outwardly signify the inner spiritual relationship between the two sacraments."

Previously, Nison discussed the working relationship between ceramic artists and architects. Nison wrote that tiles “...are especially suited to modern design and the artist is fortunate who can discover the architect who shares his belief in the appropriateness of his colorful product in contemporary building. Given an opportunity to function in such an important way the ceramic artist will...have the satisfaction of placing a really integrated design with the architect... .” (Jean Nison, “Ceramic Tiles”, American Artist, Vol. 18, No. 6, Summer 1954, p. 85) 

Robert Pinart said that Nison spent a good deal of time "on the road" trying to sell their work to architects. She would literally knock on architects' doors to talk to them about her ceramic, and his stained glass, work. (Telephone conversation, 4-30-2014) This was essentially the same method she used with interior designers. Pinart also said Jean was a good critic of his work, and helped him with his art. In addition, she unselfishly promoted his work to architects to the detriment of her own work. Pinart gave her credit for bringing him together with the architect Percival Goodman. Pinart and Goodman worked on a number of commissions together.


In September 1960 the American Craft Council reported that Jean Nison would participate in an architectural and crafts exhibit at the American Institute of Architects convention at Sun Valley, Idaho in October. West coast artist and Director of the ACC Craft Research Service, Sam Richardson, was in charge of the exhibit… . (“Craft Research Service”, ACC Outlook, Vol. 1, No. 7, September 1960, p. 3)  There was nothing in Jean Nison’s file in the American Craft Council Library, however, about this exhibit.




Part of the mural Jean Nison designed for Roosevelt Hospital, New York, NY. (Photo courtesy of the American Craft Council Library)
Also, at about this time, Nison received a commission to design a tile mural for Roosevelt Hospital in New York City through the offices of Elizabeth Draper, Inc., a high-end interior designer. This mural most certainly no longer exists as the current building at 1000 Tenth Avenue, Manhattan, a “13-story Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed facility was built in 1990. The original hospital was on the same block but faced Ninth Avenue. Much of the original hospital, including the emergency room, was torn down to make way for two 49-story apartment buildings [on the block]." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Luke%27s-Roosevelt_Hospital_Center#Mount_Sinai_Roosevelt)  

We know very little about the life of Jean Nison. She seems to have left almost no record of her early life and upbringing, except what she tells us in her 1953 Craft Horizons article, and from a search of public records. Nison wrote that she was born in Egypt and received her early education in France. Her mother was a sculptor, and her maternal grandfather was Ernest Lawson, a landscape painter in the late 19th and first third of the 20th century. Ernest Lawson (1873-1939) painted many landscapes of the Inwood section of Manhattan (http://myinwood.net/artist-ernest-lawson/),  and he was known as one of “The Eight”, painters whose works were rejected by the National Academy of Design and went on to exhibit on their own at the renowned Macbeth Gallery, as well as in the iconic Armory Show of 1913. 

In 1961 Jean Nison was a member of the group “Artist-Craftsmen of New York” and either lived in 119 East 28th Street, Manhattan, or had her studio there, or both. Later, she moved to Spring Street in Greenwich Village.


Searching through public records, we find that Jean Nison and her mother Margaret arrived on the S.S. Roma from Cannes, France on December 23rd, 1933.




The passenger list also states that Margaret Nison was born in Asheville, North Carolina on September 5, 1895, and Jean was born on March 30, 1922. Margaret’s home address was listed as 119 East 19th Street, New York, New York. (New York, New York Passenger Lists, 1909, 1925-1957 > vol 11692-11963, Dec 22, 1934 > Image 378 of 847)  An article in a recent Our Afghans about Margaret Nison states: “A sculptor, Margaret's own story is fascinating and interesting. She was born in Paris, the daughter of one of America's foremost landscape artists, Ernest A. Lawson. He was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada [in about 1873,] moving to the United States in 1887. He became a member of 'The Eight' a controversial group of eight artists...who, although mounting only one exhibition together (1908), started an entire 'stream' of development in American art. Lawson had earlier married his art teacher Ella Holman. Margaret was born while he was studying in Paris at the Acadamie Julian... . In 1940, Margaret Nison (by this time a divorcee) was living in Santa Fe, renting a property with her 72 year old mother Ella Lawson. It is almost certain that Nison was living there to enable [her] involvement with 'El Delirio', the retreat for American artists and sculptors set up by the sisters, Amelia and Elizabeth White. [Margaret] continued with her sculpting for the rest of her life. She married again and died as Mrs Margaret Lawson Bensco in April 1989 in Berkeley, California where she had lived for many years... . ...Margaret Nison was resident in New York in 1935, having recently moved there from the country (meaning Connecticut). [...She] started her New Mexico Afghan Hound kennels in the early 1930's[...but] even before we get to New Mexico, we can see that Ms. Nison was significantly active in Connecticut as a breeder, exhibitor.” (http://www.afghanhoundtimes.com/nison.htm) 

Margaret tells some of her own history in a 1976 interview for the Archives of American Art. Margaret’s first husband and Jean's father, Charles Nison, worked for the International Red Cross, which may explain the reported birth of Jean in Egypt in 1922. Margaret separated from her husband in about 1926-27 and moved to Paris where Jean, and presumably her older sister, Alice, received their early education. In the taped interview Margaret refers to herself as “not making the grade” as a sculptor, but she had high praise for the artistic talents of her daughter, Jean.  (“Tape Recorded Interview with Margaret Blasco, Daughter of Painter Ernest Lawson, Berkeley, California, by Paul Karlstrom”. Transcript read in the Archives of American Art Library, 300 Park Avenue South, Room 300, New York, NY. (http://www.aaa.si.edu))


Robert Pinart said that Margaret was an excellent sculptor of animals, an animalier; she was able to catch animal movement very realistically.


Jean Nison and Robert Pinart, c. 1956. (Photo courtesy of Robert Pinart and his Facebook page,  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Robert-Pinart/187323068030153)


Jean Nison was first married to architectural stained glass artist Robert Pinart (b. 1927) in 1956, and then to Gordon Cuyler (1908-1983). Cuyler was a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and, after the war, became the assistant to the head administrative officer of the New York Zoological Society. He retired in 1972. (“Obituaries”, Town Topics (Princeton, NJ), Vol. 37, No. 50, February 16, 1983, p. 27)


(Craft Horizons, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, May-June 1964, p. 49)

It is apparent that Jean Nison ended her ceramic career in the mid-1960s. Her last mention in Craft Horizons was a photo of one of her tiles in the 1964 May-June issue as part of a compendium of American crafts and craftspersons at that time. (Rose Slivka, “The American Craftsman/1964”, Craft Horizons, Vol. 24, No. 3, May-June 1964, pp. 10+)


A single tile on a Wheeling Tile Company (Wheeling, WV) blank showing an animal shape with gold bubbles. (Author’s collection)

However, Mr. Pinart told the author that Ms. Nison became involved in other projects--a house she purchased in Portugal, and her house in Greenwich Village being two of them--that took up a great deal of her time. (Telephone conversation, 4-30-2014 and interview, 5-8-2014) 

Fame can be ephemeral--even to innovative ceramic tile makers who were thought to have important contributions to make in the world of design--especially if your largest known creations are attached to buildings that catch fire, or are demolished to make way for a more modern structure. Jean Nison wasn’t a prolific architectural ceramist. Some of her murals were on thin, delicate tiles that might not withstand a salvaging process, and others, such as the "Arts of Daily Living” mural, were not meant to be permanent installations; others may still exist, but were just lost to time. Nison's work, however, did fall into a broad definition of "mid-century modern" design with its organic look, almost abstract animal-like and other designs, and her "blistering" glaze effects. 


*****

I would like to thank the following individuals and institutions that helped with the reseach for this article: Brian Kaiser for his preservation efforts, and for bringing Jean Nison to my attention; the Tile Heritage Foundation for reporting on the preservation efforts; Ellen Holdorf, Registrar, Samantha De Tillio, Curatorial Assistant and Collections Committee Manager, and Ronald Labaco, Marcia Docter Curator, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY; Richard D. Marshall, Art and Exhibition Curator, Lever House Art Collection; Dr. Richard Sturm, administrative director of the New York program of New Brunswick Theological Seminary at St. John's University, Queens (ret.); Simon Glynn; Hillary Bober, Digital Archivist, Dallas Museum of Art, and the Dallas Museum of Art; Jessica Shaykett, Librarian, American Craft Council Library; Pastor Kim Swenson of the Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, Berkeley, CA; Joy Goodwin, Archives Specialist, Archives of American Art, New York, NY; Elizabeth Botten, Reference Services, Archives of American Art, Washington, DC; Erika Rosenberg, Archivist at Lippincott; Jonathan Lippincott, grandson of J. Gordon Lippincott; Dalia and Merrill Berman and Itai Taubenfeld for the photos of the Lippincott House; Mark Liebowitz of Wilmark Stained Glass Studios, where Robert Pinart created many of his religious stained glass commissions over the years; and especially to Robert Pinart for his input and for his generous sharing of Nison's history. (As a result of meeting Robert Pinart and with his permission, we are planning to write an article about his architectural stained glass in the metropolitan New York area.)



(Photo from Jean Nison, “Ceramic Tiles”, American Artist, Vol. 18, No. 6, Summer 1954, p. 60)