The Blacker House is the largest property and most elaborate commission that architects Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene developed in their wooden bungalow style. Dissatisfied with the preliminary designs of architects Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey, Robert Roe Blacker and his second wife Nellie Celeste Canfield Blacker commissioned Greene & Greene to take over the design of their large residence in the exclusive Oak Knoll subdivision of Pasadena in 1906. By this time the Greenes had developed a strong relationship with cabinetmakers Peter and John Hall since their first collaboration in 1904. Robert Blacker had made his fortune in the lumber business, and was able to provide the Halls access to the finest quality of woods. Presented with a generous budget and the assurance of having superb craftsmen to reliably execute their designs, the Greenes were provided with the opportunity to push their talents to a new level, reflecting their fully refined personal style.
The Greenes positioned the 12,000 square-foot house in the southwest corner of the five-and-a-half acre property. They devoted great attention to retaining the natural rugged typography of the Oak Knoll Ranch by designing a naturalistic rock-edged pond surrounded by exotic plants in the center of the property. The positioning of the house allowed for sweeping views of the exterior landscape from nearly every room. To further integrate the landscape with the residence, many of the indigenous plants on the Blacker grounds were developed as decorative motifs throughout the interior.
While the dramatic exterior of the Blacker House is a masterwork of the Greene's distinct architectural vocabulary, the interiors and exquisitely crafted furnishings were taken to even greater heights. The interior scheme displays the Greene's fundamental principles of visual continuity and order, demonstrating a unified and almost seamless relationship with the structure. To add variation to the totality, each room was distinguished by unique motifs. The arm chair presently offered was part of the original furnishings of the living room. The lotus and lily, inspired from the exterior pond, were employed as the principal unifying devices of the room. Paneled in dark mahogany, the living room featured a gold-leaf sculptural frieze of lotuses surrounding the room and selectively accenting the ceiling, a broad fireplace surfaced with Grueby tiles, and six leaded-glass basket-form lanterns depicting lotuses and lilies.
The Blacker living room furniture is documented by a design drawing rendered by the architects, dated July 31, 1908. The design for this arm chair is shown in the lower left-hand corner of this drawing, en suite with a side chair and rocking chair incorporating the same back splat design. The large high-back arm chair rendered in the lower right-hand corner was struck out, suggesting the design was not accepted by the Blackers. Annotations were made to the original drawing by the Greenes' office that indicate the number of each form executed for the commission. Additionally, a detailed inventory was taken of the interior furnishings of the house in the mid 1940s. Both of these period sources document that three arm chairs (including the example presently offered), two side chairs and two rocking chairs were made en suite for the living room.
The living room arm chair embodies the Greenes' quest for symmetrical linear geometry, masterful joinery and sculptural presence in their furniture designs. The stylized root flowers inlaid in the back splat provide a subtle balance to the strong graphic composition of the chair back. The chair is fully articulated with ebony pegs and splines. While these ebony elements provide a practical means of concealing internal screws, they are exquisitely incorporated as decorative focal points, most notably in the sculptural arms. The corbel brackets flanking the front corners of the seat frame, and the recessed fluting on the lower portion of the leg posts—two unifying devices incorporated in other living room forms—demonstrate the keen attention devoted to nearly every element of the chair.
As was the fate of most of the Blacker furniture, this chair is believed to have been removed from the residence in the late 1940s following Nellie Blacker's death in 1946 and the subsequent sale of the house. It was re-discovered in the mid 1990s, and was shortly thereafter loaned to the Huntington, where it remained on public exhibition until this year. The second living room arm chair is now in the collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This chair was gifted to the museum by Max Palevsky, and was formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Anderson. The third living room arm chair remains in a private California collection. Evidenced by the lengthy bibliography of publications in which this chair form has appeared in recent decades, the design is widely recognized as a true icon of the Greene's mature high style. This offering presents the collecting community with a rare opportunity to acquire one of the Greene's quintessential masterworks from one of their most important historic commissions.
Mahogany with ebony pegs and splines, oak and exotic wood inlay, and later fabric upholstery
Greene & Greene
Greene & Greene and the American Arts & Crafts Movement, permanent exhibition, The Virginia Steele Scott Gallery of American Art, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA, 1996-2007
33 3/8 in. (84.8 cm) high
Timothy J. Anderson, Eudorah M. Moore and Robert W. Winter, eds., California Design 1910, Salt Lake City, 1974, p. 106
William R. Current, Greene & Greene: Architects in the Residential Style, Fort Worth, 1974, p. 57 (for the living room side chair)
Alan Marks, "Greene and Greene: A Study in Functional Design," Fine Woodworking, September 1978, p. 42
Randell L. Makinson, Greene & Greene: Furniture and Related Designs, Salt Lake City, 1979, pp. 58-59, 62, and 76
Wendy Kaplan, The Art that is Life: The Arts & Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920, Boston, 1987, pp. 50 and 403
Tod M. Volpe and Beth Cathers, Treasures of the American Arts and Crafts Movement: 1890-1920, New York, 1988, p. 64
Leslie Greene Bowman, American Arts & Crafts: Virtue in Design, Los Angeles, 1990, front cover and p. 50
Randell L. Makinson, Greene & Greene: The Passion and the Legacy, Salt Lake City, 1998, pp. 48 and 100-101
Charlotte and Peter Fiell, eds., 1000 Chairs, Cologne, 2000, p. 135
Randell L. Makinson and Thomas A. Heinz, Greene & Greene: The Blacker House, Salt Lake City, 2000, pp. 48, 76-77 and 79
Edward S. Cooke, Jr., "Scandinavian Modern Furniture in the Arts and Crafts Period: The Collaboration of the Greenes and the Halls," American Furniture, 1993, pp. 63-64
Wendy Kaplan, The Arts & Crafts Movement in Europe & America: Design for the Modern World, New York, 2004, pp. 268-269
Marvin Rand, Greene & Greene, Layton, UT, 2005, pp. 198-199 and 202 (mis-attributed to the Gamble House)
Darrell Peart, Greene & Greene: Design Elements for the Workshop, Fresno, CA, 2005, p. 43