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Buffalo’s Own Charles Rohlfs Is On the Road

first major exhibition of furniture and decorative art by
influential Buffalo craftsman, artist and designer Charles Rohlfs began
its 5 venue national tour at the Milwaukee Art Museum in June. The Milwaukee
Art Museum
 along with the Chipstone
, and the American Decorative Art
1900 Foundation
 partnered to put the show
together.  It is based on Rohlfs family archives and newly discovered
period sources, and it includes over 40 pieces from 10 museums and several
private collections. The exhibition’s tour finishes at the Metropolitan Museum
of Art in the fall of 2010.  The show will NOT be coming to Buffalo.

Rohlfs’ style was related to Art Nouveau along with other historic precedents
from around the world that gave it a strange otherworldliness. His work was of
the craftsman period but wasn’t in the Arts and Craft style.  Rohlfs was
known to have more that a few derisive words for his Western New York
contemporary and influential Arts and Crafts master, Elbert Hubbard.  His
work was his own style and was truly unique.  Though his work did
influence the Arts and Crafts movement, he thought of his furniture pieces, as
works of art in the way art is a personal expression of its creator. A chair
recently presented on PBS’s Antique Road Show appraised between $80,000 and
$120,000 indicates the growing importance of his work.  Rohlfs is not
widely known, but you can bet that his prominence will become much greater in
the near future.

Rohlfs lived from 1853-1936. He was the son of a cabinetmaker in Brooklyn. He
trained in drafting and design at the Cooper Union in New York City. I believe
he worked for a stove maker when he came to Buffalo, where he married famous
mystery novelist Anna Katharine Green. They lived in Allentown, in one of the
neighborhood’s most distinctive houses–designed by Rohlfs of course. 

exhibition will be at the Dallas Museum of Art
 through January 3, 2010. It will then
travel to the Carnegie Museum of Art
 in Pittsburgh from January 30,
2010-April 25, 2010, followed by the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and
Botanical Gardens
 from May 22, 2010-September 6,
2010 and ending its tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
 in New York City for a stay,
from October 19, 2010-January 23, 2011).

If you
can’t get to any of these venues you can still purchase the exhibit catalogue
titled The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs
, by Joseph Cunningham, with a foreword
by Bruce Barnes and an introduction by Sarah Fayen. The book is the most
comprehensive publication on the artist to date, and includes a complete set of
unpublished illustrations of over seventy works. 

Burchfield Penny Art Center would have been a natural stop for this show. I am
not sure how they missed this one.  They have a strong collection of local
artists’ work, including a large collection of Hubbard’s work.  It would
then be natural for them to also concentrate on the work of Rohlfs.  I
looked around the Internet but could not find anything about their Rohlfs
collection except for the fact that they have Rohlfs’ candlesticks (Still, I am sure they must have more
Rohlfs pieces if you want to see his work in person.) You can see more
about his house here
 Also here are a few more images of Rohlfs work including an amazing
picture of his Buffalo Living room, filled with his own designs.


Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

View All Articles by David Steele
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