Copyright 2011 Ben S. Pollock
Catherine Wallack, a University of Arkansas interior design professor, deserves praise for curating a comprehensive exhibit of furniture produced by the Fulbright family’s wood business and designed by Edward Durell Stone. Wallack is credited with putting together the show, but University Relations leaves unsaid who’s responsible for honoring him after years of convenient memory loss.
The record snow storms kept me from seeing the exhibit until last weekend. It closes today. I would’ve walked uphill on roads of ice if if the mess had continued, rather than risk missing it.
Expected was the cool 1950s furniture — chair, footstool, sofa, chaise longue, bench, coffee table, screen. The pieces properly fit in the era of Eames and Le Corbusier. The seating and screen were woven by the area’s Gibson family of split-white oak weavers. Terry Gibson gave a demonstration at the gallery Feb. 8, just as the last snowstorm began. (Conflicts prevented me from seeing it and the Jan. 27 lecture by Hicks Stone, a son of Durell Stone.)
The local pieces are clear and sunny, not the black leather and the stained, molded plywood of the contemporaries. Eames pieces are comfortable and durable, and Le Corbusier’s certainly are sturdy if not always ergonomic. Durell Stone’s chaise would be great in my house, but I’m not sure about his others. We were not allowed to sit much less touch the pieces. My practical knowledge comes from the wood-wove rocker that my sister lent over two decades ago. I’ve had the seat replaced once, and in the last year the new one is showing stress, but maybe that’s what cushions or blankets are for, to mask breaks and prevent splinters to the thighs.
The Edward Durell Stone pieces were manufactured by Fulbright Industries, the family business of late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright (1905-1995), run in its last decades by his progressive mother, Roberta Fulbright, Bill always being in public service, including UA chancellor. Sen. Fulbright and Stone were contemporaries growing up in Fayetteville. Stone studied at UA then moved on to Harvard and MIT.
The wall cards and a couple of farm relics proved the origin of Stone’s plan. The felloe is a short length of curved wood that put together with other fellies becomes the outer rim of a wagon wheel. Side by side, fellies top the Durell Stone footstool. The primitive plow handle forms the legs and bottom supports of the chair, sofa and chaise. if Le Corbusier was inspired by the Industrial Revolution, Durell Stone paid homage to the hardscrabble family farm.
Privy to Bauhaus
It’s this last bit of art history for which Wallack should be commended in directing our attention. She could’ve stayed with a Bauhaus narrative and kept us Arkies proud of yet another native son. Meanwhile, there’s the Fine Arts building itself, and the unlamented, razed Carlson Terrace apartments. Continue reading