From Spires to Stiles: Translating Gothic Revival Architecture into Decorative Arts in 19th Century America
David Scott Parker, David Scott Parker Associates
This program is free to members of the Victorian Alliance of San Francisco who generously cosponsored this event with funds from the Micki Ryan Memorial Education Fund.
West (rear) elevation and plan of Lyndhurst for George Merritt, Tarrytown, NY, by Alexander Jackson Davis, New York, NY, 1865. Watercolor, ink and graphite on paper. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund
Cloven-foot side chair, designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, manufacture attributed to Burns & Brothers, New York, NY, ca. 1857. Collection of David Scott Parker
Pair of window benches, probably New York, NY, ca. 1845–1850. Carved and pierced rosewood with brass and iron casters, and burgundy horsehair upholstery. Collection of David Scott Parker
The newly minted United States desperately needed direction and identity in the early 19th century. Andrew Jackson Downing (1815–1852), a landscape designer, editor of The Horticulturist magazine (1846–1852), architectural theorist, author and arbiter of taste, helped fill that gap in America’s consciousness. He insisted that only “fitting, tasteful, and significant dwelling[s]” could establish the societal culture and order necessary to unify and improve the young nation. This “proper style,” as it came to be known, was Gothic Revival, an adaptation of medieval ecclesiastical and feudal designs, evocative of the romanticized nobility that early Americans, both middle-class and wealthy trendsetters, strove to emulate.
Downing ignited America’s interest in the Gothic style, although it was his friend and collaborator, architect Alexander Jackson Davis (1803–1892), whose ingenious Gothic designs captivated the nation and ushered in a new era of imaginative architecture and decorative arts. They collaborated on Cottage Residences (1842), a bestselling pattern book. Its numerous editions popularized the relationship between domestic virtues, morality, health and good citizenship that were fostered by Gothic homes, with Gothic furnishings, located in a country or suburban, setting.
Before Davis and Downing, Gothic had been reserved for edifices of wealth and worship. The style’s papist English lineage was also unwelcome to the largely Protestant nation which had only recently won its freedom from the British monarchy, perceived to be Anglo-Catholic. Although the Gothicism of Davis and Downing was undeniably rooted in English precedent, it soon transcended its religious connotations.
Elaborately traced, arched and narrow Gothic cathedral windows were adapted to line secular spaces in asymmetrical residences, including Knoll (1838), now Lyndhurst, in Tarrytown, New York. Similar designs graced the pierced splats of Davis’ furniture. Spires, once intended to grace the highest points of cathedrals as symbols of Catholic authority, topped the stiles of Gothic chairs. Davis and Downing translated ecclesiastical and imposing architecture, windows and spires, to furniture splats and stiles. They domesticated Gothicism and made it available to fashionable, well-to-do members of the community.
Downing’s name has been most closely associated with the style because he died tragically in 1852, at the peak of Gothicism, when his crowning achievements were still fresh in the public’s mind. Although Davis created the most iconic Gothic architectural designs and decorative arts, he faded into obscurity as the “only proper style” fell from favor at the onset of the Civil War. David Parker, an active participant, as well as a collector, in the recent resurgence of interest in Gothic Revival architecture and decorative arts, will show us some of Davis’ and Downing’s architectural and artistic masterpieces in the “proper style.”
David Scott Parker earned a bachelor’s degree, with a concentration in architecture and architectural history, from the University of Virginia, and a master’s degree in architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. David Scott Parker Architects, since its founding in 1989, has specialized in residential design and historic preservation. His award-winning firm is respected for its innovative combinations of traditional forms, vernacular styles and individual expression to create, or preserve, beautiful spaces which function well in the modern world. Preservation projects include the Bell House (1746), smithy (1750) and tannery (1761) at Historic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; the Lockwood- Mathews Mansion (1864–1868) in Norwalk, Connecticut; and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank (1875, 1906) in New York. Mr. Parker’s firm is currently involved in restoring the Mark Twain House (1873) in Hartford, Connecticut. A private residence, the Loeb’s 1882 brownstone in New York, has been restored as a superlative monument to the Aesthetic Movement.
David Scott Parker has contributed “Aesthetic Era Anew” to Antiques & the Fine Arts (January 2013). His projects have appeared in Bricks and Brownstones: The New York Row House, 1783–1929 (2003) by Charles Lockwood; Scalamandre: Luxurious Home Interiors (2004) by Brian Coleman; Spectacular Homes of Metro New York (2006) by Brian Carabet; and The Intimate Garden (2007) by Brian Coleman.