‘Oscar Bluemner: My Finest Design’ will be hosted by Stetson University
the Homer and Dolly Hand Art Center at Stetson University will welcome soon “Oscar Bluemner: My best design. ” The title of the exhibition is derived from a message scribbled by Bluemner on one of more than 1,000 works of art that his daughter, Vera Bluemner Kouba, bequeathed to Stetson University 24 years ago.
The message is written on an architectural drawing Bluemner made while working and living in Chicago between 1895 and 1900. “My Finest Design” features the work of Bluemner’s early schooling and architectural career, and l influence of architecture which remained with Bluemner long after he left the field to pursue his career in painting.
Bluemner was born Frederick Julius Oskar Bluemner on June 21, 1867 in Prenzlau, a small town in the Brandenburg region of central Prussia. In 1871, Bluemner’s family moved to Hildesheim, where he received his first formal instruction in art.
Bluemner’s great-grandfather was a master craftsman, his grandfather an architect and his father a builder. It was no surprise when Bluemner chose to pursue architecture in school and then as a profession.
Bluemner arrived in the United States through New York Harbor on October 15, 1892. He indicated his profession as an “architect” and his intention as a “settler”. By January he had moved to Chicago, where he worked as an assistant architect and designer of prefabricated units on the grounds of the Colombian Exposition. He returned to New York in 1893 and ended up finding work in an architectural firm, before contracting malaria, forcing him to give up the post.
After recovering from the illness, Bluemner plans to leave the United States for Paris and a fresh start. However, he returned to Chicago in 1895, most likely to rekindle a friendship with Lina Schumm, whom he would marry two years later.
From 1895 to 1901, Bluemner married, gave birth to a son named Robert, and worked intensely on architectural projects. He obtained and maintained his professional license, exhibited regularly with the Chicago Architecture Club, designed several area homes, and competed for major public building projects. It was during this period that he created his “most beautiful design”.
Even when designing buildings and houses, Bluemner’s passion for painting often surfaced. Bluemner confided in his friend Arthur Heurtley and was advised by Heurtley: “I am immensely interested in what you are telling me about your life, its goals, its ideals and your efforts to achieve them. You are currently in a state of evolution and your soul seeks to express its idea of beauty in other forms than those limited to an architect. It is good that you recognize it and that you can follow the inclination of your genius.
Although Bluemner was productive and active, his career was not flourishing and he and his wife decided to move to New York. Back in New York, Bluemner found a job in an architectural firm. His most notable work was that of the Bronx Borough Courthouse in 1903. Bluemner sued after another architect took sole credit for the design.
In 1912, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bluemner, but by then he had abandoned architecture as a profession and was pursuing painting.
Of his architectural pursuits, Bluemner recalled in a later essay: “The price I paid for success as an architect was a total disillusionment. … In short, I will only say here that I look back without regret or blushing on the days when I carried all my things in an empty waistcoat pocket, my letters of introduction in an ashtray, my ideals to a Hester Street lender on. pledges and began at the bottom of the great American melting pot of men and things, namely: The struggle to rise again.
Although Bluemner gave up the tools of the architectural profession, his training and deep respect for architecture continued in his new profession.
Like Stetson University Roberta Smith Favis To put it, “Bluemner stopped designing buildings to be constructed in the real world, but man-made structures remained a dominant theme in the striking modernist paintings that occupied him for his later decades. “
Along with the plans Bluemner called “my best design,” the Hand Art Center is exhibiting an architectural drawing made by Bluemner’s grandfather in the 1860s. Bluemner wore this drawing all his life, even penniless, attending bread lines and sleeping in barns.
After her death, this drawing was passed on to her daughter, Vera, who donated it to Stetson University along with the entire Bluemner collection now housed at the Hand Art Center. This gift also included the remains of Oscar Bluemner’s personal art collection, consisting mostly of Japanese prints and a small series of prints.
Unsurprisingly, these engravings depict the facades of buildings across Europe, and their linework is very reminiscent of architectural drawings.
The final element of the exhibition features examples of paintings and drawings by Bluemner made at the height of his artistic career. In these works there is an apparent influence of architecture in both the composition of the work and the finished product.
According to Favis, “For the last quarter of a century of his life, Bluemner devoted himself to painting, using architectural elements as essential components of a new pictorial language… [and] as a painter, Bluemner has repeatedly demonstrated his training in architecture. Used to developing architectural projects through multiple plans and studies, he followed the same technique in the evolution of each major painting, creating many preliminary versions in black and white and in color. Many of his works still show traces of the grids he used to transfer an image from one scale or medium to another.
“Oscar Bluemner: My Finest Design” will be on display at the Homer and Dolly Hand Art Center at Stetson University from Wednesday August 18 through Thursday December 2.
All visitors to Stetson University will need to visit the Rinker Wellness Center before traveling to campus and will be required to comply with Stetson University’s COVID protocols.
A virtual version of the exhibition can be viewed on the Hand Art Center website at www.HandArtCenter.org/my-finest-design.