Critical seminar series proposal - Rethinking the landscape: History of art and design in Meriden (2015-16)

Culturally-interested Meriden high school students should be thoroughly informed about the art/design soil beneath their feet, before going off to college.

ADC staff
artdesigncafé - design | Design Meriden | 10 April 2016 | Updated 16 April 2016 | Original concept: 6 September 2015

Did you know that several, top-level Hollywood stars endorsed certain Meriden-made products in magazines in the 1940s? That a parlor room formerly in a grand mansion on Broad Street is exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York? That both Meriden-made silver and glass designs won prestigious awards in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Paris? That two of the world’s recognized leaders in collecting Modern art used to work in a company on the corner of Center Street and Pratt?

These are just four of many details in Meriden’s often hidden art and design history. For years, under-communicated— if communicated at all— to Meriden teenagers, the following special, experimental, cross-disciplinary seminar series proposal aims for area high school students (seniors, juniors) with art, design, and cultural heritage interests to learn more about the rich legacy of where they come from.

Proposed time frame: 7 Saturdays, 2 - 2 1/2 hours per seminar

[1] DEMOLISHED: The Jedediah Wilcox mansion and its legacy
Via key readings, including extensive newspaper clippings and online presentation by architectural historian Brian Cofrancesco, participants wade through the accounts to determine: was this outcome inevitable?

[2] Emily Hall Tremaine and Philip Johnson in Meriden
Did you know that one of the leading 20th century art collectors used to work at the Miller Company? That the c. 1948 Miller Company Collection of Abstract Art toured selected cities in the United States? That international architect Philip Johnson designed the Modernist facade on Center Street and consulted on product design? The question: is Emily Hall Tremaine the avant-garde mother of Meriden?

[3] Illuminating Meriden Flint Glass
In the late 1880s, the Meriden Flint Glass Company on Cambridge Street won recognition at the Paris Industrial Art Exposition, and the company gained a national reputation for excellence in glass design. Book author Diane Tobin offers a unique methodology to offer her view of both glass production and the neighborhood built around it. The question: is this area under-promoted?

[4] The Dallas Museum of Art on Meriden-produced Modernist silver
Did you know that to see the most thorough collection of Meriden-made Modernist silver, you need to get on a plane to Dallas? In 2006, Miami-resident Jewel Stern led an exhibition showing Meriden area-made silver presented at the top of the aesthetic game. Competitors include Providence and New York. Who wins?

[5] Marv Beloff’s account of the American Silver Museum: A critical discourse for Meriden?
Before Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, and Anonymous, there were pioneers aiming for transparency, including Meriden’s very own Marv Beloff. The seminar would include excerpts of his critical account of the 360-degree dynamics involving the then-developing Silver Museum. What do we learn from this presentation and assessment? What are its strengths and shortcomings? Does this, in any way, show a workable path forward?

[6-7] Formulating a research plan
Over the next two study sessions, students will select a historical Meriden design topic for research and develop extensive bibliographies of key and related material— aiming towards senior BA thesis level. A one-page description of the topic and the utilization of resources will be drafted and submitted for comments.

Combined with college preparation in format, specialist presenters referred to in the above seminars would be sought, some via video conference. If unavailable, then others with backgrounds in the subject specialism would be approached to lead the seminars— to empower a next generation of historical Meriden design researchers, book authors, article writers and leaders.