Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Irving Harper (2013)

George Nelson Clock reproduction by Verichron, 2013

Every so often it is good to have the rug pulled out from under you. The experience sharpens your senses, wakes you up, and makes you question the firm ground that all too often is taken for granted.

Online ad, Modernica, 2013

My Mid-20th Century Design Road to Damascus was a flight to Spain with a long layover in JFK. It was 1998, Trans World Airlines was still operating, and the fates conspired to leave me with a few hours on my hands in Terminal 5. Almost needless to say, I was floored by the building. My appreciation of modernism as a design aesthetic became a primary interest and the name Eero Saarinen was elevated to hero status in my estimation. Move forward 5 years and I am now sharing the flat where I currently live in San Francisco with the now Missus. We purchase a pair of pendant lamps for our living room spaces from a local favorite, Inside. Our choice? Modernica's reproduction of the Howard Miller cigar bubble lamps designed by George Nelson. So here was my first legitimate design purchase. An iconic item by a name designer. So all things being equal, Nelson's stature is elevated in my little black Moleskine.

Print ads, Howard Miller Clock Company, 1956

And it grows. And it grows. My wife buys me a Vitra-produced Nelson reproduction clock as a gift. I find an oversize jack for my bookshelf. Our flatware is replaced with a set of vintage Hall Leisure designed by the Nelson and Associates. George Nelson becomes a touchstone in my mind's eye as I become more and more engrossed in this aspect of living.

Debut of the Herman Miller logo, 1947, logo by Irving Harper for George Nelson Design

Perhaps the only thing worse than being late to the party is being late to the party as well as being oblivious. The latter is how I felt when I first read about Irving Harper a few weeks ago. Who is Irving Harper? Only the most significant Mid-Century Modernist that you have (perhaps likely) never heard of! As it turns out Harper was THE man at George Nelson and Associates responsible for everything from the iconic Herman Miller logo to the now legendary Howard Miller "Nelson" clocks which hang on the wall of nearly every discerning modernist worth their salt. And, yes, even those lamps hanging in my living room are now attributed to Harper. Sure, I knew that George often took credit for the work of this firm. Of course he did, that is the way it had been done for decades if not centuries with the name on the masthead usually taking credit for the entire output. What is astonishing is just how many of these iconic works sprung from Irving Harper's obviously fertile, creative mind. The wonderful coda to this story is that Harper is still alive and finally getting the attention and notoriety he so clearly deserves.

For further reading, I highly recommend this article as well as this one


Jill Smith said...

Great info and loved the second article you linked to. His art is so amazing. I can't even imagine having the freedom of the amount of time it had to take to create all the paper works. Interesting life he has lived.

Nick Rossi said...

Thanks as always Jill. Yes, "discover" Harper for the first time myself really has done a number on my head AND has proven to be a big inspiration. What a creative mind!