Art Nouveau, Deco, and late Victorian are fascinating design philosophies with their own distinct interpretation of beauty. Art Nouveau takes its ques from nature with intricate, interwoven organic forms. The design philosophy of the elves in the recent Lord of the Rings movies was based on Art Nouveau, and arguably the best interpretation of this style was seen in the beautiful structures of the elf city of Rivendell. Just as in the movie, Art Nouveau architecture complements nature. The bridge shown below crosses Amicalola Falls (in Dawsonville, Georgia). If this bridge had been built in the Art Nouveau style like the Rivendell structures, it would have blended into the scenery and augmented the already beautiful waterfall. This style has its place in the pocket of makers who are striving to blend technology with nature.
Art Deco on the other hand is angular and somewhat “industrial”. Gotham City in the fictional Batman world is typically portrayed to great effect in the Art Deco style. Unfortunately, I have very few Art Deco items however my Atwater Kent speaker project shown below is a good example of the 1920’s American interpretation of this style. Makers should use Deco when striving for a factory/industrial look. Of the three styles, Deco is my least favorite however, like the Atwater Kent speaker, certain items in this style sit well adjacent to the other design styles.
Late Victorian, my favorite style (in moderation), is characterized by complex organized patterns, some floral and some angular, sometimes spiced with rich color. Victorian is easily viewed as busy, complicated, and excessive. The 1891 pocket watch interior shown below is characteristic of late Victorian era design. (Click the picture to truly see all of the detail.) It’s ironic to me that watches of this era are typically more beautiful on the inside than the outside.
Just imagine the cost of making a modern day pocket watch like this. Yet, I paid less for this antique watch than I would have for many of the wrist watches sold today. Another good example of this style is the 1895 Miller’s Patent plow plane shown below. Plow planes were the showpieces of any woodworker’s tools. However, when wooden plow planes gave way to metal ones, they lost their adornments. The Miller’s Patent plow is one of the few metal plow planes that was made in an ornate style.
I purchased this plane from the Marietta Hardware store when it was closing down and the owners were selling off many of the back room antiques. However, you don’t have purchase antiques or be a maker to live some of this style. There are many products are made in the neo-Victorian style that can be easily incorporated into everyday life: watches, ink pens, jewelry, and even phone cases are commonly available.
When combined with modern technology (especially electronics), this design revival and its offshoots is often called steampunk. Some of the steampunk computer and keyboard mods are impressive to say the least. The steampunk movement is growing, and there are now many steampunk groups around the United States. A quick search of Google and Amazon illustrates the popularity of this movement.
The revival of Neo-Victorian mixed with sci-fi has shown up in movies like Treasure Planet. This movie is one of the hidden gems of cinema, and the Blu-ray version includes a presentation by the designers about the movie design philosophy. Neo-Victorian has shown up in recent video games as well. The iPad games The Room and The Room II are challengingly complicated puzzle adventures equaled only by the extraordinarily rich visual experience. Mixing Victorian with Art Deco, the Bioshock game series is also visually rich and has won design awards (Would you kindly take a look?). I have no doubt that we will see more vintage designs tapped in the near future.
As a maker, I try to apply a design style, typically Victorian, to my projects. However, I view this application as art applied as a final layer on the canvas of a perfected object. That object can be a tool, watch, piece of furniture, etc. The key is that the object perform its intended design goal regardless of ornamentation otherwise it’s just lipstick on a pig. As I add to this blog, you will see designs prototyped, “perfected“, and finally Victorianized. Keep making, and I’ll check in next week.