Metal Chairs of Summer

The Gentleman Savage

She smiles with her lips

Wet with rum

They’re tinted red

The war paint of choice

The gentleman watches them part

The savage sucks them dry

 

She senses with her ears

Adorned with pearls

They hear bongo drums and strings

And water crashing upon itself over rough, native stones

The gentleman speaks flowery words

The savage grunts his language of desire

 

She hunts with her eyes

Sparkling against the dried grass

They flash at the aesthetic delights

In their own shade of green

The gentleman studies their subtlest glint

The savage plants himself in their reflection

 

She prays with her mind

To the gods of virtue, and the gods of lust

The escape to paradise captivates her

But she lingers in anticipation in the dark

The gentleman brought her here

But the savage is near

Who will carry her home?

Who will capture her trust?

 

What’s so perfect about this metal chair, table, and umbrella combination—the entire image actually—is its utter imperfection. It is so crazy unauthentic! The table is pre-WWII and was originally all white as far as I can tell. The chairs, probably made by two different companies (Flanders and Warmack), definitely after the war, both came out of the factory in a shade of green. I’d date the umbrella to around 1960, and a previous owner cut off all its glorious, dangling fringe. Yet, I cobbled these pieces together, cleaned, sanded, repainted, and created something that never was before, in hopes of creating the aesthetic of kitschy, mid-century Tiki. And the more I delve into my research of what Tiki was, the more I believe I’ve done exactly that.

Pre-WWII metal table–maker unknown.

Ernest Gantt, who later renamed himself Donn Beach, sparked the mid-century Tiki craze during the depression. Donn collected items—flotsam, jetsam, nets, fish lamps, shells, etc.—in the late 1920s during his youthful travels to the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and beyond. After he ran out of money (his college fund to be precise), Donn returned to American and bootlegged for a bit. In 1933 he transplanted his accumulated treasures into a vacated tailor’s shop in Hollywood, establishing The Beachcomber Café, the birthplace of American Tiki. Interestingly, the soon-to-be hotspot for Hollywood elite (Chaplin, Crawford, Astaire, and Dietrich to name a few) contained not a single Tiki; California artists injected the namesake Polynesian idol into the movement years later.

 

 

A post-WWII Flanders or Warmack.

 

What Donn’s did have in the early days, and became most noted for, were his “Rhum Rhapsodies,”—secret-ingredient cocktails purely concocted in Donn’s imagination and his backroom bar.

The beauty of Donn’s tropical escape, which was more raw and earthy than the other black-tie, paradise-themed nightclubs of the day, is the unification of beach “trash,” newly invented rum drinks, a casual atmosphere, and an ancient theme, essentially, a version of paradise created solely in one man’s mind. Arguably, he crafted an authentic, desirous ideal from the most inauthentic ingredients. But everyone was too busy having a good time to care.

It’s said the American Tiki craze—the kitschy, alcohol infused, bamboo and palm, Hawaiian, orchestral tribal tune, mid-century escape—peeked around 1960 and died in the early ’70s. The coming-of-age baby boomers wanted their own scene.

I’d argue the raw, stripped-down, barebones desire of Tiki will never die. It can’t. It’s em

bedded deep in our DNA. The more humans evolve and progress the wider the inevitable gap from our instincts. We’ve created a complex world for the sake of complexity—to give our minds problems to solve because we’re no longer fighting to survive every minute of every day. And it’s exhausting. And stressful. And we need an escape from what was supposed to be paradise. But isn’t. Because the mortgage and the new transmission and the guy with no vocal filter in the cubical next door and the endless weekend soccer tournaments . . . these things are all overwhelming. Sometimes we want to push it all out-the-door and simply eat, drink, and mate. Do we need it? Yes. Does it sound savage? Of course. That is the promise of Tiki.

The vintage, Alice Hawaiian

dress, ceramic mug,

and patio umbrella

are the only authentic

Tiki objects in the image below.

The artist, the table and chairs.

 

A shout out to Don Storer at Midcenturymetalchairs.com for his ongoing research assistance.

Continue to follow The Metal Lawn Chair of the Month at AVintageChick.com

C R Kennedy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cate, Martin. Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki. Ten Speed Press, Publisher. 2016.

May – Metal Chair of the Month

“The Columbine”

I found you in the garden

Weeping tears of crimson red

I asked if your heart was breaking

But with the wind, my futile words fled

 

So I sat with you in the garden

My eyes tracing slender, verticle veins

Five delicate spires in regal red

A crown for your perennial reign

 

I left you in the garden

Undisturbed, for your fate is not mine

Because beauty is not always a labor of man

More often it’s of Mother Nature’s love, and time

*  *  *

I’ve often pondered how to artistically recraft this chair, but no ideas or visions ever came to mind. The cracks in the final layer of cream paint along the verticle grooves of the seatback always intrigued me, as if they held importance. Beyond revealing what is probably the original, decades-old coating of deep, red paint, those cracks said, “Hold off on recreating. Wait for a revelation.” I waited a year and a half. It wasn’t until the crimson columbine bloomed in my garden this spring that the inherent beauty of the chair blossomed in my head. The five, slender design grooves, hinting at the red majesty of the past, mirror the five, delicate, verticle petals of one of my favorite mid-spring flowers—the columbine.

Name: The Columbine

Artistic Restoration: None as yet

Manufacturer: Cleveland Welding

Product name: Restmaster

Period: 1938 until at least WWII. Uncertain when production ended.

 

 

The artist, the chair.

 

 

A shout out to Don Storer at Midcenturymetalchairs.com for his ongoing research assistance.

Continue to follow The Metal Lawn Chair of the Month at AVintageChick.com

C R Kennedy

 

 

 

 

April – Metal Chair of the Month

“The Brunswick”

My bowling game has its ups and downs. The last time I visited my local alley, I did something incredible and unusual for me; I bowled two strikes in a row. This feat was followed up by a move not so unusual for me—a gutter ball. Not only is this occurrence over-the-top embarrassing, but when you factor in the intricacy regarding how to score the game, this fail yields the worst possible outcome. It’s a missed, one-time opportunity to add a significant amount of points backward. But it’s also a testament to the wide swings—the sharp peaks and valleys—for the occasional, just-in-it-for-kicks, “fun times with fam and friends” bowler like me.

During the middle of the last century, the Brunswick Corporation, the leading manufacturer of bowling equipment, experienced those same peaks and valleys. In the 1950s—following the wave of post-war optimism—bowling centers sprung up everywhere. This expansion played off a strong economy, improved leisure time, suburbanization, and the introduction of the automatic pinsetter. Between 1955 and 1965, the number of bowling alleys nearly doubled, from 6,600 to 12,000. Considering they’d been producing bowling equipment for taverns since the 1880s, perhaps it was finally Brunswick’s time to shine. To rule. To firmly affix their crown on the leisure industry.

1950’s Brunswick lanes featuring their sharp, modern logo crown

This entertainment explosion neatly coincided with the mid-century modern design and architectural escalation. The Brunswick company had the keen business sense to marry these two trends, crafting bowling alleys with clean, streamlined, brightly colored plastic and metal seating, scoring tables, ball returns, and pin-setter facings. Their fortitude took the aesthetic one step further, styling the iconic Brunswick crown logo on their products with crisp angles and perfect symmetry, in shiny metallic and bright mid-century palettes. According to their 1960s advertising film, graduated shades of coral, gold, green, blue, white, and tangerine could be mixed in any combination to create a proper atmosphere for recreation.

But—in complete correlation with my bowling game and the iconic Brunswick crown—subsequent to the steep inclining trend of bowling alleys popping up, there was a decline. After about ten years of rapid suburbanization, planners and investors had simply overbuilt. The market was saturated, and the urban bowling centers began to close because fewer people were there to bowl—folks had flocked to the suburbs. So, the number of open alleys actually began to shrink. Although Brunswick lanes will probably continue to be around for a long time, their heyday peak will forever be sharply planted in mid-century modern flavors, styles, and lines.

When I first saw this Arvin metal lawn chair, its perforated back and seat formation resonated with me as crowns. I saw the chair as a princess. But as I applied bright, mid-century paint colors, it felt more like a bowling alley, the chair’s back “crown” so similar to the crisp, 1950’s and 60’s Brunswick crown. I was no longer going to a ball—I was taking my ball and hitting the lanes!

*  *  *

 

Name: The Brunswick

Artistic Restoration: Fall 2017

Manufacturer: Arvin

Period: 1950s

 

 

The artist, the chair

 

 

A shout out to Don Storer at Midcenturymetalchairs.com for his ongoing research assistance.

Continue to follow The Metal Lawn Chair of the Month at AVintageChick.com

C R Kennedy

 

 

 

 

March – Metal Chair of the Month

Perennial of Spring

You are not your reflection

The mirror tells its own tale

A deceitful attempt to capture your attention

And hold it, distracting you from your inner elegance which it cannot display

 

Resist the seduction of the flower

The slightest embrace will crush it

Its beauty is short-lived, fleeting

The perennial of spring folds in spring, no other season accommodates its being

“Echo and Narcissus,” a painting by John William Waterhouse, 1903

 

Oh, dear Narcissus, look away…

Gaze upon my face instead

See your loveliness in my eyes

Where you will flourish eternally,

          reprieved from the heat of the sun,

shielded from falling leaves,

ensconced against the bitter cold of night

C R Kennedy

The daffodil, of the genus Narcissus

In classical mythology, Ovid tells the tale of Narcissus, the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. Narcissus was warned by his parents that he would live a long life only if he did not look at himself. Although many nymphs and women fell in love with him, he rejected them all. The mountain nymph Echo, who had been cursed by the goddess Juno to only repeat the last words she heard, was devastated by Narcissus’ rejection. She withdrew from life and faded away until she was no more than a literal echo. Nemesis (as an aspect of Aphrodite), the goddess of revenge, learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. Not realizing it was only an image, he fell in love with it, and when he determined that love could not be reciprocated, he committed suicide. A Narcissus flower grew on the spot where he died.

*   *   *

 

Name: Narcissus and Reflection

Artistic Restoration: Summer 2015

Manufacturer: Shott – Balcrank

Period: 1940s – 1960s

 

The artist, the chairs.

 

A shout out to Don Storer at Midcenturymetalchairs.com for his ongoing research assistance.

Continue to follow The Metal Lawn Chair of the Month at AVintageChick.com

C R Kennedy

February – Metal Lawn Chair of the Month

Sweetheart Chair

 

I remember the nights

On the porch

With my Sweetheart

Warm summer breezes

Crisp autumn chills

While we sat

Content

 

Separation…

I’d transformed to a level of refinement

Not intended for the winter

Too pristine for the cold…snow…ice

But my Sweetheart remained rugged

 

He endured, I hibernated

He watched, I slept

He stayed on the porch, for years, hanging with the generic, the dull, the riffraff…

I hobnobbed in luxury with elitists, the bright, the shiny, the privileged…

 

But on the day for sweethearts, I remember my Sweetheart,

And the distance, though not far, is laid out with seemingly impenetrable walls

For, though identical beneath the surface, and in style,

Experience has separated us…and class and attitude and mantras…

Shallow labels that keep Sweethearts in their place

And not side-by-side, lingering in the night, on the porch

There’s a rumor floating around the metal lawn chair community that this chair was once called “Sweetheart Chair” in an advertisement. The evidence, however, is currently lost in the deep, dark, depths of the Internet. Or maybe in a yellowing magazine in the cobwebby archives of a library. But I like the name. Not simply because it’s February—the month for sweethearts—or because this chair of mine is finished. And pink. No, it’s because this particular chair has a sweetheart.

I found this metal lawn chair in a flea market, all alone. This market was the same place I found most of my chairs in the early days, and at reasonable prices. However, this chair was double the price of anything I’d ever seen there. Problem was, I was pretty green in those days and had never seen anything like it. Unique. Lovely. Feminine. She spoke to me. “Save, me,” she said. With all the makings of a damsel in distress, she sat outside in the chilly spring air, amongst the junk, next to a busy road, at the filthy flea market. So, I slayed the dragon (coughed up the cash), threw her over my steed (squeezed her into my Taurus), and carried her away to my castle (my quaint Cape Cod).

That same day, in her rusty and weathered condition, I decided to show her off. There were many suggestions regarding how to redress her, interpretations of her authentic style, and a few admirers already asking for a spot on her dance card. Yes, a photograph friend wanted to buy her “as is” to be used as a prop. But this Eliza Doolittle was no prop… She was meant to be enjoyed and loved, not admired from afar.

The resonating comments claimed the scrolls on her seat back (filigree) resembled seahorses, and the waves along the top mirrored a clam shell. After considering these remarks, my community of metal lawn chair fans thought pink was the obvious color choice—like a pink sea shell. With my eccentric, mid-century brain flooded with images of “surf” and “pink,” it took a leap to this:

Yeah. A 1940s/50s pink and “Ming Green” bathroom.

The passionate chore of sanding away rust and smoothing layers of paint filled my summer afternoons and evenings. But I spent my mornings commuting to my accounting job. On one of those mornings, I spied a potential companion for my Sweetheart Chair. He sat on a driveway next to the garage door, just off the busy street I traveled twice a day. Surrounded by a handful of white, plastic chairs and decked in primer gray, this Sweetheart Chair didn’t fit his environment. Several times I considered stopping at the house, offering the owners up to $50 for the chair. But I was a little worried I’d make them angry—insult them somehow. And a little worried they’d think I was crazy—who does that sort of thing? So, I hesitated. Everyday the chair stared me down as I drove by, and everyday something about it just didn’t feel right.

August rolled around, and I found myself in Wisconsin, Milwaukee to be specific. Just walking down the street… Literally! Out of nowhere, I bumped into him, perched outside a storefront, out of place and out of time. A little worn, a little bent-out-of-shape, the chair remained young for his age. Most important, this Sweetheart was without a mate. Did he have any idea a future beauty resided in Kansas, dreaming of a partner? Maybe so, because he was priced to move—the least expensive metal lawn chair I’ve ever found. No dragon to slay this time, I tossed my coins on the counter, loaded him up, and proceeded to cart him across four state borders.

They sat side-by-side on the back porch for awhile, only separated when I took her into the grass to continue prepping and painting her. But winter came. And she was too pretty to leave exposed to the elements. I brought her inside so she could hang with the other pristine chairs in the warm, dry basement. He remained on the porch, with the pedestrian and unfinished chairs. And I forgot they were apart, until today. But uniting the two requires one of them to change. I don’t know how this story will end.

What does it feel like to yearn for your Sweetheart? I know the sadness well. It’s an old friend, who lingers on my porch, long into the night.

 * * *

The artist, the chair.

Name: Sweetheart Chair

Artistic Restoration: Summer 2016

Manufacturer: Sun Radiator Company or Bunting

Period: Pre WWII 1940s

 

 

A shout out to Don Storer at Midcenturymetalchairs.com for his continued research assistance.

Continue to follow The Metal Lawn Chair of the Month at AVintageChick.com

C R Kennedy

 

January – Metal Lawn Chair of the Month

IMG_1666 (3)

January’s Chair – “The Empire State Building”

1925 Paris Exposition Internationale - Le Pavillon Des Galeries with a rich Art Deco facade.

1925 Paris Exposition Internationale – Le Pavillon Des Galeries with a rich Art Deco facade.

Parisian by birth, Art Deco burst onto the scene at the 1925 Exposition Internationale. He grew strong and tall, influenced by African culture, Picasso, and Bauhaus. Ridged, bold, fierce, angular…he soared to new heights, forged new industrial frontiers, and cast away the clutter of the past. Yet the architectural and design gods realized Art Deco needed a companion, so they stole an element from his being, softened it, rounded it…crafted it feminine.

Streamline Moderne possessed the sophistication of Art Deco, and the intellect, but she danced with curves and seduced with movement. Long, slender lines. Aerodynamic grace. She was truly the face that launched a thousand ships.

Gulf Filling Station in glorious Streamline Moderne.

Their youthful days were long and industrious, their nights a jazzy, café society romp. But the tides turned, and they came-of-age in the harshest of realities. The two intertwined and clung tight during the depression and the war, abandoned by their gods, sudden slaves to efficiency, practicality, and necessity.

When the dust settled and peace reigned, when breaths could sustain…linger…expand…they bore a love child, and cradled him in freedom and enthusiasm and American capitalism. He grew to be clean-lined, futuristic, and all-kinds-of “matic.” He thrived in optimism, lit the night sky with starbursts, and took the name Mid-Century Modern. And the gods were pleased.

* * *

When I found the chair. Dull, flat white paint and bits of rust.

When I found the chair. Dull, flat white paint and bits of rust.

This metal lawn chair was made by the Arvin Furniture Company in the 1940s. When I acquired it, the chair had been repainted from its factory finish in a flat, dull white. But the groves in the metal—the long, arched, lean lines—spoke to me instantly. They said, “Art Deco.” They said, “Empire State Building.” Later, the subtle lines on the side announced themselves as “Streamline Moderne,” and I realized my Empire State Building chair was fluid, not only a testament of the greatness of its own era, but a foreshadowing of exciting things to come.

* * *

 

Name:                                     “Empire State Building” Chair

Artistic Restoration:         Summer 2016

Manufacturer:                      Arvin Furniture Company

Product name:                     Style 27 Chair

Period:                                    1940s

The artist, the chair

The artist, the chair.

 

 

Continue to follow The Metal Lawn Chair of the Month at A Vintage Chick.com

C R Kennedy

 

 

Sources:

Chandler, Arthur. “The Art Deco Expositon”. Web. N.p.,n.d. 7 Jan 2018.

http://www.arthurchandler.com/1925-art-deco-exposition/

 

 

The Metal Lawn Chair: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

Carey&Maria metal chairs

Not being one for swimming pools or baseball, my thoughts of mild weather turn more toward gardening around my 1953 Cape Cod home and enjoying cool drinks, warm friends, or quiet moments alone outdoors. This season I’ve indulged a bit and colored my exterior world with a modern American icon, the metal lawn chair.

The stamped metal lawn chair arrived on the scene in the late 1930s as a purely American style of outdoor seating. I had always assumed after the U.S. entered World War II in 1941 all steel production shut down to retool for war productions, i.e., making bombs, ammunition, planes, etc. However, civilians needed some minimal level of comfort and economy, and metal chair fabrication carried on through the duration and amazingly continued into the 1990s. Over all those decades of production and restyling, these chairs picked-up such names and nicknames as the Tulip, Clamshell, Bayou, Restro, and Shellback.

When WWII ended Americans longed to return to family life. Builders threw up simple tract houses for veterans and their families, which fortunately sat on small but useable lots. These new homes were often in a modern ranch design, a perfect complement to the clean-lined, sleek, and colorful lawn chair.

Another phenomena imbued vitality into the chairs. The highway expansion beginning in the 1920s coupled with the building boom of the post-war 1950s gave rise to an exploding number of motor lodges which had recently been dubbed “motels”. The mid-century bustling economy, the American love affair with the automobile, and a refocus on family life thrust Americans onto the road for weekend getaways and vacations. The metal lawn chair infused itself into this culture as a warm “welcome” outside the front door of motel rooms and a colorful escape beside the motel pool. Thus the name “motel chair” also attached itself to this distinctive American paragon.

Large discount store marketing schemes are partially to blame for the near death of these chairs, as manufacturing temporarily halted in America in the mid 1990s. Imports filled the lessened demand until new American companies took up the reigns only a few years later. So, to this day, new chairs, gliders and tables in a multitude of colors can be purchased at your local hardware, discount, or internet store.

Being a vintage chick, I pick mine up at flea markets, off craigslist, and recently out of my mom’s barn, with my prices ranging from free to $40. This is the more cumbersome acquisition route, as, once the chairs are found, they require a second investment of time, elbow grease, and several cans of spray paint to reach a sleek and modern condition. Alternatively, leaving the chairs in their weathered state can add a warm, traditional look to your yard. Since March I’ve obtained seven vintage metal lawn chairs, all in moderate to good shape but still requiring a bit of rust removal, dent straightening, surface sanding, and a fresh color that’s more to my current liking.

20150311_141411 (2)

Durability and longevity are not an issue with these chairs as they are well designed and made of steel. I had to beat one with a hammer to get a slight dent to budge. Over time rust can creep up, but the problem is manageable with a little sandpaper and spray paint—a cheap fix. If properly maintained, these chairs will be useable for decades, as, according to my estimations, one of my chairs is about seventy years old and in magnificent shape.

Versatility is perhaps my favorite metal lawn chair characteristic. While they were designed for the yard (their tubular base doesn’t leave divots in the lawn), they obviously can be placed on the patio, deck, by the pool, on the front porch, or even inside the house—why not?

I love that I can repaint them every year or two if I want, to match that season’s mood or to compliment the more interesting cushions I find. But frankly they are comfortable without cushions—and honestly more beautiful. As an artist, these chairs give me incredible flexibility and fun to impress my guests. As a sensible homeowner, they provide piece of mind that I’ve wisely invested in something that will be around forever and will never go out of style—seriously…they’ve been making the same chair designs since the 1930s!

finished chairs

The minuscule amount of internet information available on these chairs is shocking. I couldn’t find a single Wikipedia entry. Not one book at my library. The variety of names tagging the chairs made this search even more difficult. I was stuck on “metal patio chair”, which I have since learned isn’t the most accurate.

I floundered until I stumbled across a book that was published last summer. I promptly ordered it and was delighted. Not only is it loaded with history and information about the chairs, their designers and producers, and a slice of American business and manufacturing history since the 1930s, it also includes the added bonus of pictures of a variety of chairs and gliders fabricated over time, and a beautiful assortment of chairs, gliders, tables, and coolers being produced today in an array of colors.

Leaves me thinking this piece of the American landscape will continue into perpetuity. The book is A History of the Metal Lawn Chair …What We Know Now, by Skip Torrans. His family-owned business, Torrans Manufacturing Company, produces and distributes these chairs, and his passion and hard work have brought us the rich history that would have surely been lost with the passing of another generation.

Some of my earliest memories involve our elderly neighbor lady, Mrs. Mallory. She’d perch herself in her green metal lawn chair on the front porch of her bungalow in the evenings and watch our gang of neighborhood kids play. My cape cod has no front porch, but my metal chairs are currently sprinkled about the back porch, patio, and lawn. I often perch myself in one of them, enjoying my own children, watching birds, chatting with neighbors, writing in the fresh air, or simply imagining the long history of people that did all those same things in that very same chair.

Sources:

Torrans, Skip. A History of the Metal Lawn Chair…What We Know Now. 23 House Publishing. 2014.