COMING INTO style, along with practical leather furniture, brass and glass tables, is another catagory of household furnishings that might be called Funny Furniture, or perhaps Fauna Furniture. The Washington area, if not exactly a Funhouse full of Funny Furniture, has at least a fair amount to show - some in places you wouldn't expect.
In Glen Echo, in a remarkable house with a tower bedroom with one wall only 18 inches high, Jane MacKenzie makes lions, tigers, alligators and, zebras - sometimes put to work as stools and coffe tables. She's showing how she tames wood to produce these animals from 1 to 5 p.m. this afternoon at the Bumper Car Barn in Glen Echo Park.
In Glen Echo Park Gallery, Jake Barrow will be showing his creations that include a star and moon bed with blinking blue lights - nothing like the Max Ernst bed that once sat in the Vice President's residence, circa Nelson Rockefeller. His show begins Sept. 6.
In Alexandria, Peter Danko, a founding father of funny furniture in Washington - he's the one who did a desk with the underside shaped like a cow - has recently opened a showroom for his work in the Pond Gallery at 917 King Street.
A current exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art documents "Eaglemania - Furor Over the National Emblem in Maryland Arts, 1782-1861."
The Hirshhorn Museum, Nov. 17 through Jan. 15, will exhibit 50 animal themes expressed in paintings, sculptures and graphics from its permanent collection, as a part of a nine-country tribute to the World Wildlife Fund. Works included are by Antoine Louis Barye, Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, George Grosz, Claes Oldenberg and others. Other animal art will be exhibited at the same time at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and the National Zoo.
Jane MacKenzie, a few years ago, found a rocking horse in an antique shop. It was awful, covered with layers and layers of silver paint. The horse only cost $6 but she figures the Stripeeze probably cost $45.
MacKenzie had always had a fondness for representing animals. For her master's thesis at George Washington University she painted a series of animal pictures. But finding the hobby horse was the spark.
In the dead of winter, there was MacKenzie in her raccoon coat and mittens at work on the front porch outside her efficency apartment, trying to hide her tools under her coat lest the landlord know she was the one disturbing the peace.
By day she worked as a commercial artist. "It's an uncertain life. They let you go on no notice. The boss says, 'Yesterday there was work. Today there isn't.' So making the animals seemed a way to earn a little bit of money in between. But after a while I realized that while the animals were selling as fast as I could make them, I wasn't making them fast. And I certainly wasn't making enough to live off using those itty bitty handtools."
Several things happened to shake her up. One was a "nothing" job she didn't like. Two was an automobile accident in which she went through the windshield and a piece of the glass lodged in her eye, leaving her with double vision in one eye and a small sum of insurance money. Three was finding the cottage in Glen Echo, once rented by a girl friend who was going away for a year.
So last June, she moved to Glen Echo and went home to Connecticut for a month to work in the metal-working machine shop owned by her father and grandfather. "The tools were a lot bigger and heavier than I needed, but they gave me some idea of what I would have to have. I set up my basic patterns and prototypes up there, and covered all his nice oily machines with my sawdust. I cam back to Washington with piles of wood from Connecticut, spent $1,500 of my insurance money on electric woodworking tools, everything from a bandsaw to an electric screw driver, and went to work in the backroom of the cottage."
MacKenzie not only makes her menagerie, she lives with it. In the dining room, an alligator (lift up his back and there's a cache) holds plants on his back on one side of the room. On the other a zebra rocks below a wall of friend Brockie Stevenson's drawings. A group of walruses, one of her thesis paintings, meanders across a wall. Another well-known animal sculptor, Slaithong Schmutzhart, made the bird flying over the dining table (the table was made from a heavy piece of lucite rescued from a teller's window in a bank being torn down).
In the living room, a large-eyed alligator tries to pretend he's a coffe table but you have to watch him because he rocks. The ram with grass horns and tail doens't pretend to be anything but a rocking ram. A tiger on one side of the room with an ashtray on his back snarls at the lion on the other side who's wearing a plant. Both have fierce rop manes.
On the the cabinets under the window is a whole circus train of animals, but so far MacKenzie hasn't tried to market them, on the assumption that nobody could afford to pay her as much as they cost her in time. And there's the antique rocking horse, too, the one that started it all. Two paintings show another beginning: the fish skeleton she painted in Brockie Stevenson's class, and the bull with the bullseye background, inspired by a Marimekko pillow.
MacKenzie's animals are much in demand at children's rooms of local museums. The NoYes Library in Kensington bought three, and seven libraries have borrowed them, including currently the Little Falls Mall Library. Patricia's shop on Massachusetts Avenue has sold them.Barbara Fendrick Gallery included two in the American Table show. And currently MacKenzie is working toward a show at Jeane-Antone Gallery in Annapolis.
In good weather, Mackenzie puts the whole zoo out to graze on her front lawn, across from the Glen Echo post office, attracting quite a crowd of adults and children who want to try them out.
"When I first made the lion, I thought of them as children's playthings," said MacKenzie. "But I've found that most are bought by young married couples who want to have something individual and personal in their apartments that doesn't cost too much.Some women have bought them for their husband's libraries or even offices."
The tigers, lions and alligators sell for $150. The ram is $175 and the zebra $190.
Jake Barrow, who also works at Glen Echo, doesn't take commissions anymore, though after he graduated in art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill he worked as a cabinetmaker and a house remodeler with his brother Harry. Currently he's working fulltime for the National Park Service on an interesting project: restoring the Red Cross warehouse which became Clara Barton's last home. The house is a splendid remnant of the turn-of-the century rustic Arts and Crafts movement.
In his month-long Glen Echo show he is displaying the star and moon and sun bead, a commission for a Georgetown couple.
Asked if the bed has any relationship to Rockefeller's moon and sun bed, Barrow said: "I am a great admirer of Max Ernst," but I really hadn't seen even pictures of his." Barrow's king-sized (of course) headboard has two great scrolls with the star and moon set into a great middle arch. Below are seven blue blinking lights. The two Barrow night tables (on wheels) are perfectly straight forward. The anonymous Georgetown couple also owns a Barrow crossword puzzle table, rather roughly crafted, but with a set of springs that keep wooden letters always at hand. Also in the show are his blackboards, with neo-Victorian frames.
A chair and a desk of a simple but curving design are valued at about $650.
Peter Danko has sold at least two versions of his leather sofa supported by a wooden snake that works like a spring. But the third one, perhaps because it dangles a price tag of $6,000, is still at his Alexandria showroom. Not everything he makes is that high - the lamps begin at $225. Currently Danko, the man who made anthropormorphic furniture used in several local store displays as well as in private homes, is now working on a great marvel of a sleek molded chair to sell, he hopes, at $80. "I've always been fascinated by the side chair, along with a lot of other people. I think I've got it now. You can't believe how simple yet elegant this one is to make."
It isn't that fauna furniture has ever really been out of style as you can see in the Baltimore Museum of Art show that runs through Oct. 2. And far from being thought funny, it can be very dignified and formal indeed, though a great deal more fun than simpler geometric forms.
The United States adopted the bald eagle as the national trademark in 1782.And immediately everyone had to show off their patriotism by buying ojects perched on by eagles.
The highly skilled craftsmen of Baltimore, one of the great pockets of federal design, produced their own bird, characteristically with a crest and a long neck. The Maryland eagle flew or clutched in its boney claws everything from silver to shields.
The Baltimore exhibit was put together by the 1977 summer interns, Carla Clay, Lisa Koenigsberg and Karen Laing. They found, in the museum's collections and private houses some 40-odd pieces.
A tall case clock with a tufted eagle was made in 1791. A huntboard with a serpentine front was worked in 1790 by Miles White Jr. A card table of the 1790s has an eagle set into a shield. A silver teapot with an eagle finial comes from the silversmithry of George Aiken. A fierce, predatory eagle once kept a beady eye out as figurehead on a Chesapeake Bay tugboat, in the second half of the 19th century. A pair of argonal lamps, circa 1835-40, were made of bronze by R. and A. Campbell of Baltimore with tiny eagles, as if an after thought, perched on either side.
The show includes foreign manufacturers as well, anxious to capture the Maryland trade: the Chinese tea caddy and plate and the Liverpool pitcher with eagle decorations; the Manchester fabric with the common device of the motto ribbon proclaiming "E Pluribus Unum" in the eagle's mouth; the French clock which also has George Washington for good measure; and the English cartel clock made by Thomas Wagstaffe with its eagle rampant.
John Adams incorporated an eagle into his own personal field, including his passport, long before it was the country's symbol.Thomas Barton finally designed the seal with the eagle after three committees had met on the subject.
And of course, if you want to take funny furniture further back than that, there are the dragons of Chinese furniture, the Sphinx of Egyptian, the alligators of African, and on and on.
For those interested in learning how, the Glen Echo Park fall classes begin the end of this month, under the auspices of the National Park Service. Jake Barrow's brother Henry will teach two woodworking classes beginning Sept. 19 and 20. Fee is $91, wood and hardware extra. Glen Echo is also offering classes in ceramics, stained glass, metal working, fibers and other arts and crafts subjects. For specific information call 492-6282 at Glen Echo. Nov. 4-6 the American Crafts Council Northeast Regional Advisory Board will hold mini-workshops at Glen Echo. For information call Carolyn Hecker 232-6792.
Smithsonian Associates offers several classes along these lines. Berthold Schmutzhart, a sculptor and associate professor at the Corcoran School of Art, is one of the best-known teachers in Washington. He will be teaching a class in wooden furniture making beginning Oct. 17 and a class in stone carving using serpentine, a soft stone used by Eskimos, beginning Oct. 16. Fee is $52 for eight woodworking classes plus $5 for tools, and $41 plus $15 for materials for the sculpture class. The emphasis is on projects that don't require a lot of expensive machinery. David Adamusko will teach furniture restoration beginning Oct. 12. Fee $52. Noel Putnam will teach a one-day workshop in blacksmithery Oct. 1, 1 to 4 p.m. at the Smithsonian's Silver Hill facility. Other classes include fabric dyeing techniques and stained-glass work. For information on Smithsonian Associates classes and workshops, call 381-5157.