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A Meditation on Nature vs. Nurture on the Eve of the panel discussion When Margaret Met Moholy « MAD Blog
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A Meditation on Nature vs. Nurture on the Eve of the panel discussion When Margaret Met Moholy

It’s fascinating when you consider family histories to see how talents and interests often run through the generations. I’ve thought about this whenever I’ve considered the career of my father, Edgar Bartolucci, who is a retired industrial designer. Although I’m not a designer, I spent most of career as a design journalist and now run MAD’s department of public affairs. (My mother, interestingly, was a journalist, who later worked in pr.) So as an only child I managed, largely unintentionally, to combine aspects of both my parents’ talents and interests.

My father comes from a family of highly skilled craftsmen and builders, who hail from Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. Our ancestors learned their trades as woodworkers and iron mongers from their fathers or as apprentices to other local craftsmen. But when it was my Dad’s turn to learn a trade, he went to design school.

From 1941 through 1942, he studied at the Chicago School of Design with the great Bauhaus teacher and artist László Moholy-Nagy. My father had originally wanted to be a commercial artist, and had taken art classes at Pratt and Parsons. But a car accident permanently injured his hand, making it difficult for him to draw finely. So he decided to pursue industrial design instead. When he considered various schools, he was most intrigued the Chicago School of Design because he couldn’t make head or tail out its Bauhaus theories of integrating art, craft, and industry which its catalogue described. He figured if he couldn’t understand it, it was probably worth studying. Such an attitude is for me the mark not just of a curious and intrepid person, but of a designer. And the funny thing is that is what Moholy, as his students called him, thought too: “Design is not a profession, it’s an attitude” is one of his most quoted lines.

When my Dad was in Chicago, his favorite teacher was Edward Bielawski, who taught the wood workshop. Evidently, when Margaret De Patta attended the school shortly before my father, he had also been one of her favorite teachers too, because shortly after my father finished his studies, Bielawski moved to the Bay Area and ultimately married De Patta. Small world, isn’t it?

While my father knew nothing about the Bauhaus when he moved to Chicago, he certainly became as big a convert as De Patta, zealously promoting Modernist aesthetics and the notion that great design should be affordable to everyone—if he could start his career over, he’d surely become a star designer for IKEA as there is nothing he appreciates more than a good knockdown design. The chair that made him and a school buddy Jack Waldheim relatively famous as designers when still very young men was a knockdown design they started manufacturing a few years after the war ended.

Called the Barwa, it was a chaise lounge conceived to be as innovative in its design as it was salubrious in its effect. And its design was so new and different, it received full page stories in Life, Look, and The Saturday Evening Post, now defunct magazines which once were national must-reads. If you’re curious what happened to the chair, read my article about it in the upcoming fall issue of Modern magazine.

Promotional Copy for the Barwa

While I have no skills as an artist or maker, I do think I somehow inherited my father’s design sensibility. I’ve been told by designers that I think like they do, which I always find flattering because I consider them the world’s great problem solvers and inventors. I’d like to believe that I think like a Bauhaus designer, that something of Moholy’s teachings were also transmuted be it through DNA or dad declarations, as that would make it all the more appropriate that I ended up at the Museum of Arts and Design, which of course is the one museum in the world that explores the blur zone between art, craft, and design.

 

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  • Dan Barto

    Just do you know, I’m Armand’s Grandson. Excellent write up here! It’s great learning the history of the Bartolucci family, and this is TOO COOL!


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