Behind these vintage chairs hides a story of disappointment
A reminder of the notorious side of the furniture industry will be presented in October at the 21st León Exchange 2021 online auction. Six Norman Cherner chairs go under the hammer from the collection of vintage furniture dealer Mr. Chair.
Emblematic for its renowned setting, the Cherner chair was considered the pinnacle of style from its inception. The story of this acclaimed creation begins with ingenuity, but is quickly followed by deception and betrayal and, ultimately, justice.
Despite its deceptively appearing wooden frame, the Cherner chair is actually the result of many unique manufacturing techniques. Not only is it built on exceptional design and craftsmanship principles, but the chair itself has a fascinating history. It was once at the center of a controversy that would end up showing its builder in a less than flattering light.
A story of deception
In the 1950s, George Nelson of the Herman Miller Company was working on the production of lightweight plywood chairs. Created by Nelson’s office in 1952 and produced by a Massachusetts-based Plycraft company, the first “Bretzel” chair saw the light of day. Unfortunately, the chair being considered fragile and expensive, Herman Miller decided to stop production in 1957.
Plycraft would then acquire the materials and learn the techniques of building plywood furniture, essentially refusing to let the already existing components go to waste. Nelson recommended architect and designer Norman Cherner to design a more durable and affordable pretzel-style chair that would conveniently use Plycraft’s existing equipment.
Paul Goldman, owner of Plycraft, hired Cherner. But after the latter had submitted his project to Goldman, he was informed that the project had been rejected.
A few years later, Cherner walked into a Manhattan furniture store to find his chair on display for sale, except it had a different name: Bernardo. It turns out that Plycraft continued to produce his design but created a fictitious designer name. Cherner sued Plycraft in 1961 and won. He got royalties and his well-deserved credit, and Plycraft’s owner Goldman eventually admitted that “Bernardo” was a fictional character.
Immortalized by Rockwell
After winning the lawsuit for her design, Cherner finally had her name tied to her signature piece. Luck was definitely on his side when in 1961 – the same year as the trial – renowned painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell, whose works strongly represent American culture, immortalized Cherner’s distinctive chair on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. . The painting, titled “The Artist at Work,” consolidated the Cherner chair as a sixties style icon.
The molded plywood shell of the Cherner chair from the first production was 7 ply on the outer edge, with 15 at the top of the piece. The legs were constructed from laminated wood, further using the use of layers, with each layer maneuvering in the same direction, unifying each unit.
Her graceful arm was twisted back, steamed into a crisp shape. Remarkably, this segment was made entirely from solid wood, instead of plies like the other parts. Before being bent, the arm extends almost six feet long. The result is a flowing ribbon-like silhouette that enhances the chair’s sculptural anatomy.
These early chairs evoke a subtle asymmetry, as manufacturing involved a manual spinner to cut each shell manually. Comparable to a work of art, the balanced composition of a Cherner is very pleasing to the eyes of its viewer. It exudes silent strength and exquisite overall aesthetics. This involves arranging both the positive elements and the negative space so that one design area complements another. All its elements (medium, composition and execution) are correlated in a homogeneous whole.
Cherner’s design is made with an eye for masterful discipline, noble style, and superior craftsmanship. He innovated a revolutionary chair thanks to the pliable experimental material of plywood, which allowed the creation of artistic seamless shapes. His Cherner chair is considerably a contemporary masterpiece with its anthropomorphic form and enduring presence in the contemporary design landscape.
For Mr. Chair’s Torto and Meryll Canga, the Cherner collection they are auctioning – six chairs in all – is an extraordinary and extremely important find. The rarity of Cherner chairs in particular is well known, as is the limited number of those bearing the controversial name of “Bernardo”. The parts, said the couple, are in their original, undamaged, unrestored condition. The provenance of this collection are the children of the original owner.
Norman Cherner, like most modernists, believed in the potential of modern design to surpass trends and survive eras. Its place in the history of modern design remains assured thanks to the revolutionary chair that bears its name.
[The León Exchange 21st Online Auction 2021 is happening this October 15-17. For more information, visit Leon Gallery online https://leon-gallery.com/auctions/León-Exchange-21st-Online-Auction-2021. To discover more vintage mid-century modern furniture and accessories, follow @mrchairph on Instagram or visit www.mrchairph.com for more information.]