Objects of Desire: Jon’s Pick
Decorative Arts & Design / Uncategorized /
That mailbox. Oh man, that mailbox! If you’ve seen the mailbox that came hanging by my front door when we bought our house in Pittsburgh, you’d understand. Black-painted steel, with a bent newspaper rack and weird plastic emblem, I had to chip the former owner’s name and two sets of house numbers off of it with a razor blade. And it’s still there, three years later, because I haven’t found the right replacement. I hadn’t encountered “my” mailbox yet. Until the opening of Inventing the Modern World, anyway.
Designed by Paul Hankar for the 1897 Exposition Internationale de Bruxelles, it was designed to showcase materials drawn from Belgium’s colony in the Congo, in this case, mahogany, rosewood, and ivory, along with wrought iron and steel. Belgium’s activities in the Congo were terrible and exploitative. Here, however, we see African influence into Art Nouveau. It pushes all of my buttons. Brussels is one of my favorite cities to wander in—with curvy, organic wrought iron forms from this period on seemingly every balcony of every building. On Hankar’s mailbox, the ivory inlay and wrought iron has a similar feel, but the whole thing is very stately. Much more so than my banged-up, peeling steel shoebox.
Paul Hankar, designer, Belgian, 1859–1901. Mailbox, ca. 1897. Mahogany and rosewood with ivory, wrought iron and steel. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust (by exchange), 2011.41.
It will never be mine, alas. I couldn’t afford it, and could you imagine what would happen in the winter?
Inventing the Modern World closes this Sunday, February 24!