Saturday, January 3, 2015


Gregory's EARTH ton-size monumental
Waylande Desantis Gregory may not be a household name but Gregory’s legacy reminds us that he was one of the most innovative and prolific leading figures in twentieth-century American ceramics and helped to shape Art Deco design in the United States. His groundbreaking techniques enabled him to create monumental ceramic sculpture such as FIRE; a ton size glazed ceramic part of a twelve piece fountain Gregory executed for the 1939 New York World’s Fair in monumental proportions. He was a remarkable visionary and by the 1930s the artist’s career mirrored the changing focus of American ceramics.                                                
PRIME MEDIUM; CERAMICS   became Gregory’s primary medium and from 1928 to 1932, he was the chief design and lead sculptor at Cowan Pottery in Rocky River, Ohio.  Gregory created some of the Pottery’s finest works including three limited edition sculptures relating to dance: Salome, Nautch Dancer and Burlesque Dancer. The last two works were based on the dancing of Gilda Grey, a well-known entertainer from Ziegfeld Follies who inspired these sculptures.  In 1931, Gregory became artist-in-residence of ceramics at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Although he worked at Cranbrook for only eighteen months, Gregory produced many of his finest works there including Kansas Madonna and Girl withOlive.                                                                                                     
PORCELAIN FIGURES Gregory’s oeuvre included small porcelain figurines, candle sticks, plates and numerous decorative ware. Unlike his large sculptures, Gregory’s porcelains were molded with lush glazes. His is speckled porcelain, Cranbrook deer of 1932 relates to his earlier Art Deco style dear sculptures produced at Cowan.  Gregory’s creativity was prolific and everyday events, even sports served to inspire the artist. When he lived in Metuchen, New Jersey he was inspired by the polo games at Schley field in nearby Far Hills, New Jersey and one of his most popular figures and one of the most ultra Art Deco themes resulted in the, “Polo Player,” which  was translated into motifs for table ware and other household items as well. Zebras, another popular Art Deco theme, also invaded the subject matter in his world but the smaller porcelain sculptures were his greatest contribution to Art Deco genre. The capstone of his success; most of the leading department stores in American carried his porcelains.                                                                                                         
WORLD’S FAIR COMMISSION Commissions  poured in and one of his finest hours was the commission for the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair to produce “The Fountain of the Atom.” It was comprised of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water, surrounded by eight electrons, four male and four female. He described the electrons as “elemental little savages of boundless electric energy, dancing to the rhythm of sculptured bolts of lightning-like fashion in brilliant colored glazes, their buoyant shaped bodies of richly modeled terracotta clays in warm colors.”
PROMISING FUTURE  As early as fourteen, Gregory showed promise when he made a bust of the school principal in only six sittings, as well as a ceramic statue called “The Spirit of Athletics,” After high school her moved to Kansas City to attend the Art Institute and immediately began to receive commissions for sculptural decoration of municipal buildings and parks. He attracted the attention of Lorado Taft, a sculptor who already had a reputation as a mentor to other American sculptors. Taft invited Gregory to be his assistant and to join him at the Art Institute of Chicago. The experience with Lorado Taft led Gregory to begin thinking of ceramic sculpture on a monumental scale. Rejecting Taft’s academic style he eventually branched out on his own.

Verdura in 1930
Duke Fulco di Verdura, the legendary Marquis of Murata la Cerda was an influential jewelry designer who left his indelible mark of genius on the history of remarkable men.  Verdura was born in 1898 into a world of beauty and elegance and spent a charmed childhood in the family’s bougainvillea-covered estate, Villa Niscemi in Palermo, Italy surrounded by beautiful Sicilian and Italian palaces. 
The Early Years: In this lush background, in his European-Sicilian-Italian-Baroque family, Verdura thrived and his fertile imagination took flight inspired by the noble gardens and the small private zoo which housed two baboons and camel, named , Momo.  Nothing could have been foretold that in this extravagant setting Verdura’s vivid imagination that he would be nurtured with such vivid imagery.
   It was the era of magnificent costume parties, staged like grand operas, and Verdura, the keen observer of the circus-like events and formal dinner parties, shaped his appreciation for extravagance and beauty.  Many other youngsters in such a setting might have developed a rebellious personality, but not Verdura, he embraced it all and with every frivolity his imagination soared.
Becoming a Duke:  By the way, it is interesting to note that the aristocratic Sicilian gained the title of Duke, when his father died in August 1923. Verdura was the last to bear the now-defunct , Sicilian title of Duke of Verdura. With his most enduring role as jeweler he would leave a brilliant legacy of design excellence.  Then, too, he had a noble cousin, the prominent Sicilian Prince, the writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the famous novel, and later the film, The Leopard.
However, despite the noble title early on Verdura was limited financially and he realized that he would have to find a profession to fill the coffers to match his lifestyle and stature in society. A Duke without means wasn’t possible for Verdura, who became a bon vivant with a sharp eye for beauty.
The famous Maltese Cross Cuffs
Verdura the Jeweler:  At a meeting in 1919 he met Linda and Cole Porter, who became two of  the early backers of his work as a jewelry designer. Fortuitously several years later at a party hosted by the Porters in their palazzo in Venice, he was introduced to Coco Chanel.  At first she hired him as a textile designer, and it was under Coco’s observation that Verdura’s talent was recognized and she persuaded him to start reworking some of the jewelry she had been given by ex-lovers including the Duke of Westminster and Russian Grand Duke Dimitri.  Voila!!! He was hired as a Chanel jewelry designer.   In addition to designing some of Chanel's iconic pieces, particularly her famous Maltese cross cuffs, he became her friend and social escort of choice. Lest we forget, Chanel was the first couture designer to show her fashions along with costume jewelry pieces that replicated fine jewelry. The cuffs, for example, were copied many times.
Verdura Bon Vivant: Verdura was among the social intelligentsia of the time and spent the late 1920s charming and being entertained and became a regular among the entourage of Picasso, Hemingway, the Rothschild’s, Josephine Baker and many others.  Verdura’s richly-inspired childhood nurtured an adult “infant terrible,” and with his sparkling conversations, wild imagination and a bon vivant's appetite for fun he was one of the most sought after party guests, and host of the thirties.
American Verdura:  In 1934, Verdura traveled to the United States with Baron Nicholas de Gunzburg and the pair drove to Hollywood where Verdura reconnected with the Porters, who introduced Verdura round
town.  It was inevitable and soon stars like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich became loyal customers, even wearing g some of his iconic jewelry pieces, perched on the shoulder of a suit, a broach on an elegant gown or pinned on a hat worn by the glamorous sirens in the movies of the era. New York also beckoned and there he met Diana Vreeland, the legendary fashion magazine editor, who introduced him to Paul Flato and “Verdura for Flato” designs became “must haves” for society’s “ladies who lunch” or were otherwise engaged on the fund-raising circuit.  Many of Fulco’s innovative and charming  jewelry pieces were also created for personal friends like socialites Millicent Rogers,  Slim Kieth, Liz Whitney Tippet and, of course, Linda Porter. Interesting to note Babe Paley became his muse paving the way for high society success.
The Final Curtain: In 1941, Fulco was moving in another direction and collaborated with Salvador Dali for a series of jewelry designs that reflect the surrealist’s oeuvre. Verdura also designed the famous “Night and Day” cufflinks for Cole Porter who in return immortalized Verdura in the show, “Let’s Face It!”
   The Duke Fulco di Verdura had scaled the heights of success and society and sold his business in 1973 and retired to London, England where he continued to sketch and paint until his death in 1978. In 2014 Verdura  celebrated its 75th anniversary with a magnificent exhibition “The Power of Style,”  in a gallery space adjacent to Verdura’s flagship store at 745 Fifth Avenue.