Monday, November 3, 2008

Stage 26 (center): the set containing the Ruhlmann dressing table is located on the first floor along the southern (back) wall of the building.

View of the interior showing the set and dressing table. The bed is placed along the eastern wall; the table is on the southern wall.

In 1937 Metro Goldwyn Mayer was one of the largest and most successful studios in Hollywood. However, the massive studio was actually located in Culver City, California, about seven miles southwest of Hollywood proper. Situated on the northwest corner of Washington Boulevard and Overland Avenue, the studio encompassed over 40 acres of buildings and lots in its heyday. Stage 26 is the building illustrated here, in which Jean Harlow's last movie was being filmed until her untimely death ended production. The front of the building is a brick facade of a three story building with only a ground level inside; this allowed for different genres of films to be shot inside since it was somewhat of a generic shell of a structure. From 1935 to 1937 there was a surge of new construction and renovation occurring at MGM, and this was one of the only locations available to shoot in. The origins of the studio date back to 1915 when Triangle Pictures called it home. In 1924, MGM bought the company and proceeded to build one of the most powerful studios in Hollywood, renown for their bright Technicolor films complete with high priced sets, ornate fixtures, expensive wardrobes, and "more stars than the heavens". With such a boom in business, it is no wonder MGM hired a talented designer to dress the Art Deco set of Cafe Society. Authenticity was not an element to be disregarded, and therefore the sets were lavishly detailed down to placing the right textiles and furniture pieces within. The Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann dressing table was the perfect addition to the bedroom for Jean Harlow's enigmatic debutante character. In a film intended to exploit the riches and splendor of the wealthy during the Great Depression, it is apropos that such a fine piece of furniture be incorporated into the film.


Author's note: this is entirely fictional, meant for illustrative purposes only.

Similar to: Prince Gong's mansion. Like the rambling hills, valleys, mountains, and caves of the Prince's estate, the studio is made of many components within a large tract of acreage. The studio has a variety of buildings, landscape sets, and storage facilities similar to the living quarters, gardens, and workplaces of the Prince's mansion.

Contrasts with: Farm House 1900-2000. The ancestral Farm House belonging to the Stanford family, handed down generation after generation, is a stark contrast to the quickly erected and as easily torn down movie set
for Cafe Society. While the house is intended to be a permanent, steadfast structure that will incur improvements and maintenance over many decades, the movie set is wholeheartedly temporary, with little thought about its ability to be sustained for more than a few months. The interiors are also polar opposites, with the simplistic style of the Farm house suggesting a comforting, family-style setting, while the film set is decidedly luxurious and heavily themed in the Art Deco style.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

inspiration: West Side Story (1961)

"be cool, boy!" was a really cool assignment: view the film West Side Story and create a graphic inspired by the movie. Let me say that you don't have to twist my arm to watch a Natalie Wood movie, and WSS is one of the few in her repertoire that I had not seen until this weekend. Of course the movie is fabulous, and has an artful quality that identifies the imagery of Manhattan in 1961 to a T. Inspired not only by the movie, but by one of it's graphic art contributors, the great Saul Bass, I have posted the final version of my representation. What fun!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A space for Ruhlmann's dressing table

On the set of Cafe Society [1937]

Jean Harlow's last film,
Cafe Society, was left incomplete due to her untimely death at the age of 26. The footage that remains exhibits a beautiful Art Deco environment epitomizing the luxury of the age. The set for the bedroom in particular emphasized Art Deco's instantly recognizable features: sweeping curves, ornate wallpapers, and pools of shimmering fabrics. Most noticeable about this bedroom is the curvilinear form exaggerated by the stepped moulding on the ceiling. A floor-to-ceiling tufted satin panel creates an elegant divider between rooms. Lush carpet adds to the luxuriousness of the space that film goers during the Great Depression would associate with the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood Art Deco style. Near the satin-draped bed is Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann's quintessentially Deco dressing table. In contrast to the silvery-blue color scheme of the room's textiles, the rich woods and ebony surface of the dressing table anchor the small niche between two windows. With an eye for detail, the designer included bedside tables with ebony inlaid surfaces flanking both sides of the bed to echo the ebony of the dressing table. Since the set only required a minimal amount of walls to convey a sense of being in a real room, only a few furniture pieces were used. It is apparent that quality and attention to detail were not overlooked even for a movie set. The style of Hollywood's Golden Age has been captured as an equally exquisite moment in Art Deco design that is forever preserved on film.

Similar to: The Peacock Sconce in a space. Also nestled between two windows, the peacock sconce hints at Art Nouveau styling. It is rich in detail, just like Ruhlmann's dressing table. The space in which the sconce was placed is similar to the movie set, as it does not have an overabundance of furniture. The two spaces seem to have just enough artifacts in them to let the objects become the focal points.

Contrasts with: National Gallery featuring Calder's sculptural mobile. The wide expanse of space required to house Calder's mobile is in stark contrast with the set design where the dressing table was placed. The rectilinear forms of the Gallery are quite dissimilar to the curving lines of the Art Deco style room; also the Gallery has multiple levels for viewing the mobile. The movie set is quite two-dimensional in feeling.

Jean Harlow filmography at:

dressing table found at:

bedroom inspiration found at:

author's note: Jean Harlow did not ever film or collaborate with a movie titled "Cafe Society".
This article is a fictional story for illustrative purposes only.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

IAR 222 Artifact Study: 20th Century Dressing Table

History of the Dressing Table:
Originating in 17th century France, the dressing table evolved from a small table that housed grooming items into a specialized piece of furniture that remained popular for nearly 300 years. The need for such a piece was created by the cosmetic items women wrapped in a small cloth (which the French called a "toilette") and placed on a dresser or table. An increase in prosperity for the middle classes as a result of the Industrial Revolution brought about a desire to imitate the styles of nobility. One of these emerging aspects was an improvement in grooming for both men and women. Apart from a bed and storage piece for clothes, the most desired piece of furniture for a bedroom during the 18th and 19th centuries was a dressing table. Having a beautifully crafted place for one's brushes, powders, perfumes and trinkets was not only a statement of economic status, but an exhibition and emphasis on vanity.

Components and commonalities among various tables:
Most dressing tables (of all generations) are made of wood; crafting with wood allows for greater variation in the color, texture, and finish of a piece. Wood is also a well suited material for the mechanics of a dresser or table, since drawers and openings can be easily integrated and shaped to the cabinet maker's specifications. The addition of a mirror, often able to be tilted or to swivel, aids in practicality of the furniture's main function, to help one dress. Exotic woods and stone were often employed to embellish the vanity's aesthetic.

Ruhlmann's contribution
Emile Jacques Ruhlmann (b.1879, d.1933) designed an exquisite Art Deco dressing table in Paris, c. 1919-1923. This table follows many of the forms seen in 19th century tables. Made of oak, it has several exotic hardwoods incorporated as well: Andaman padouk, purpleheart, and mahogany. The tabletop has an ebony and ivory inlay that Ruhlmann intentionally placed to mimic the toilette or linen cloth that the trinkets would be laid upon. A striking contrast to the deep rich wood tones, the ebony slab adds a sleek, rectilinear detail that emphasizes the horizontal surface. The fluted cistern-like support seems to suggest a nod to classicism, and it's cylindrical form relates effortlessly to the round mirror above it. Equally thoughtful in detail are the silvered bronze fittings and mirror frame that echo the silver luster of the mirror. Suited for use by either gender, this dressing table is an exquisitely refined example of artistry in furniture making.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

postcard to Jenny Paige

earth/recycling image resource:

After last week's theory hour, I was left most impressed by the fact that some smaller UNC campuses do not have recycling programs. I was shocked to hear that something that seems so simple and part of my daily life was not implemented at some of our sister universities. It seems like a relatively inexpensive way to promote sustainability and doesn't require going an extra mile for students. What feels so naturally to us at UNCG (dropping your recyclables into a designated bin) may not be so ordinary for others statewide. Let's take the initiative to make the change for the better of our environment and simply RECYCLE!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

postcards to Tommy

Our assignment following last Wednesday's theory hour was to present a handmade postcard to Tommy that expressed something we would like to know more about after hearing the lecture. For some reason, the no-Friday classes proposal seemed to stick in my head.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

week one, year two

The first week as a second year student in IARC could be summed up in one single yet effective word: HEADACHE. I realize that at the beginning of each semester it takes me a little while to adjust, and to figure out how to manage the course load and more importantly, how to find time to do the overwhelming amount of homework. I decided the best way to do that was for my entire family to get sick, and I would follow suit. As you can imagine, that didn't work out so well!

Regarding the classes this year, I am hopeful for the design history class since we are learning about a time period I am more familiar with. For the first time in that class I was able to fully appreciate the Roth book since it correlated to events and names I've studied before. I don't know what to expect with studio, except long days and longer projects. Wednesdays are going to be VERY long, but I have Excedrin for that! Most pressing is the format of working in groups. So far it has been chaotic and not much different than I expected.
Oh how I miss the days of individual projects!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


our first studio assignment of the semester: wayfinding.