Lockwood de Forest

February 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

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O is away on a research outing in Aligarh, so I’m home alone. I figured I’d muster up all my courage and venture out into Delhi all by my only lonely. It’s not really all that adventurous, I had planned to see the textile collection at the Sanskriti museum and grab some golgappas and milky gilded sweet things at Evergreen sweets. But alas, I am in bed with Delhi belly—not a terrible bout of it, but an inconvenience nonetheless.

By the way… I was wondering if eating too much of that silver stuff on Indian sweets is potentially bad for you. Apparently alcoholics particularly fond of Goldschlager have died of gold poisoning, when they were autopsied their colons were lined with gold—there’s something very Joris-K Huysmans about that.

ANYWAY, so I spent my time in bed thinking about Lockwood de Forest. I had done some research on him for a lecture I gave on American orientalism—and he is a fascinating figure. The image above is the smoking room of the Vanderbilt mansion on 5th & 58th. The mansion is long gone, but one can still see some of ‘his’ work at the Lockwood de Forest house at 7 East 10th Street and at the Park Avenue Armory in the Veterans room, executed by the Associated Artists—a cooperative firm that he formed with Louis C. Tiffany. L de Forest also did Carnegie’s bedroom in the Carnegie house (now the Cooper-Hewitt museum), though I’m unsure if those furnishings and wall panels are still there.

Lockwood de Forest and his good friend and fellow painter Frederick Edwin Church (whose grand home on the Hudson, Olana will be the subject of another entry) travelled all over the Near East together indulging in the decorative arts and attempting to capture a quality of light that both men had become obsessed with. However, it was on de Forest’s honeymoon with his new wife Meta Kemble in 1880 that kindled his intense love of Indian wood carving. Upset that ornate wood carving, it seemed was a thing of the past in Bombay, he headed to Ahmedabad where he heard the practice was alive and well. When he arrived he was amazed at the teak carvings that adorned so many of the city’s houses, though it seemed, even here the practice was dying out. Indeed, he is often credited for preserving the vanishing art of carving teakwood and rosewood into beautiful and elaborate screens. To make a long story short, he turned his obsession into a business, opening up a workshop there in the state of Gujarat. Entire interiors like the one seen above in the Vanderbilt mansion were carved in Ahmedabad and shipped to the United States. It should come as no surprise, I suppose that the captains of industry have an obsession with the intricate and hand made. His furniture was displayed and the Colonial and Indian exhibition and at the Columbia World’s Fair. Note to self: look this up.

de Forest and his brother in law Robert Weeks (who served for seventeen years as the President of the Met) donated a large portion of the Met’s India collection including a huge assemblage of teak carving lifted from a Jain assembly hall—a magnificent piece of spolia permanently installed in the Indian wing.

It seems to me that Lockwood de Forest lived many lives. Below is an image of Mt. San Jacinto, not far from where I grew up in Riverside, California. My clearest memory of San Jacinto was of going to a track meet out there in high school. Chalk lines were laid out on the field for what I was told was a favorite pass time for townies—cow pie bingo. But I digress, it seems that Lockwood de Forest fell in love with the light of the Californian desert as well, moving to Santa Barbara in 1915. His home at 1815 Laguna Street is still there, a projecting teakwood balconette carved with elephants, no doubt shipped from Ahmedabad peeks from around the corner of its pastel pink though otherwise spartan street façade, you can just about make it out in the google street view.  

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