Modern Shine


Today on Museum Bites we’re stepping back in time to the Modernist era (1880s-1940s). The sleek and simple designs on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) highlight modernist function and fun. Join me as we indulge in the modernist’s stylish spin on everyday objects. We’ll sip tea, crush ice, snack on caviar and strum a few twangy wangy tunes. We begin at tea time…

Ornamental indulgence was considered a frivolous waste of effort. They [modernists] thought function should always dictate form.
~ Modernism: Design in a Nutshell (2013), The Open University

Tea Kettle on Floor Stand (c1906), Minneapolis Institute of Art, Photo by cjverb (2018)
Tea Kettle on Floor Stand (c1906), MIA, Photo by cjverb (2018)

Brassy:  This flashy brass tea kettle and accompanying floor stand (c1906) was designed by German-American architect, Jan Eisenlöffel (1886-1969). Sleek and shiny, this brewing combo was a fancy and functional addition to tea time. The kettle’s ample size and accompanying stand meant never having to miss those all-important mealtime conversations. The warming burner guaranteed a steaming cup of brew and the cleverly splayed feet—Eisenlöffel’s signature style—provided a solid base for the hot and hefty pot. Click on Museum Bites: Tea Time to learn more about the history of tea.

Ice Gun (c1935), MIA, Photo by cjverb (2018)
Ice Gun (c1935), MIA, Photo by cjverb (2018)

Icy:  This sleek, cherry red Ice Gun (1935) designed and manufactured by the Opco Company is a whimsical example of modernist function and fun. Buck Rogers-style ray guns were all the rage in the 1930s and this little number didn’t disappoint. A blast from the Ice Gun entertained and refreshed the thirsty cocktail culture of the 1930s. The user loaded ice cubes into the compartment on top, pulled the silver spring-loaded plunger, pressed the trigger, and presto! crushed ice jettisoned out of the opening in the bottom. Guests may experience some splashing but were no doubt delighted by the Ice Gun’s playful style and clever engineering. If you’d like to geek out on ray guns click on this entertaining clip featuring Adam Savage of Myth Busters fame.

Fun Sci-fi Fact: Sci-fi hero, Buck Rogers was created by Philip Nowlan and cartoonist Dick Calkins. The Buck Rogers in the Year 2429 A.D. cartoon strip was the first to introduce the general public to rockets, robots, and ray guns.

Less is more.
~ Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), modernist architect

Caviar Stand (c1905), Minneapolis Institute of Art, Photo by cjverb (2018)
Caviar Stand (c1905), MIA, Photo by cjverb (2018)

Fishy: While enjoying a freshly ice-gunned cocktail, the posh modernist set can also dish up a snack from this dazzling Caviar Server (1905) designed by French artisan, Jules August Habert-Dys. Like the Ice Gun, this alien-looking vessel has a sci-fi vibe. Its silver exterior is reminiscent of the Russian satellite, Sputnik I of Space Age fame. The gold-lined interior and receptacle for ice not only beg for another blast from the ice gun but also preserves caviar’s yummy fish-egg flavor. Unlike Eisenlöffel’s sturdy four-legged base, Habert-Dys’s Caviar Server is perched on stiletto-like heels. Regardless, it’s a fun and festive addition to any party, big or small.

Sputnik, Nasa-Imagery, Pixabay-300px
Sputnik, Nasa-Imagery, Pixabay

Fun Spacy Fact: The Space Age was kicked off by the launch of Sputnik I on Oct. 4, 1957. This Soviet satellite was the first human-made object to be sent into space

Fun Fishy Fact: According to several foodie sources, caviar pairs well with vodka, not champagne. Bottoms up comrade!

New Yorker Electric Guitar (c1937), Minneapolis Institute of Art, Photo by cjverb (2018)
New Yorker Electric Guitar (c1937), MIA, Photo by cjverb (2018)

Twangy:  Our final piece of functional art is the New Yorker Electric Guitar (c1937) manufactured by the National Guitar Company. This slender, seven-string beauty is made of lacquered wood, Bakelite, and chrome-plating. A dial for volume and a tone control switch that rocks back and forth between “Chimes” and “Hawaiian” adds some kick to the twangy-wangy sound. The earliest versions of the electric guitar, like the New Yorker, were lap guitars. Popular among blues, jazz and country musicians in the 1930s and 1940s, it wasn’t until the 1950s when rock and roll enthusiasts jumped on the electric guitar bandwagon. Click on this link for a New Yorker Electric Guitar demo.

Fun Guitar Fact: Frustrated with being drowned out by crowd noise and his fellow musicians, George Beauchamp went on a quest to develop a guitar with an amplified sound. In 1931, he and electrical engineer, Adolph Rickenbacker created the Rickenbacker Electro A-22, the world’s first electric guitar. It was made of aluminum and nicknamed the Frying Pan because of its metal, pie pan-like appearance.

That wraps up our brief look at fun and functional modernist art. Next week, we’ll conclude our tour through the Minneapolis Institute of Art with an eclectic mix of favorites. Until then, have a fantastic week!

Kitchen Appliance (c1912-1930), Photo Courtesy of the US Library of Congress, WikiMedia Commons-100 Cover Photo: Kitchen Appliance (c1912-1930), Courtesy of the US Library of Congress, WikiMedia Commons


Art Daily: Jules Auguste Habert Dys

Boomer Magazine: The First Electric Guitar

Britannica: Buck Rogers

Britannica: Caviar

Britannica: Modernism


Felton, Eric (2007) How’s Your Drink? Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well

Food & Wine: How to Eat Caviar

Geni: Johannes Wigbold Eisenloeffel

Industry Buzz: History of the Ice Gun

Joseph Pashka: New Yorker Electric Guitar

Minneapolis Institute of Art

Musee D’Orsay

Museum Bites: Tea Time


Open University-Modernism: Design in a Nutshell (2013)

PBS: 8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Electric Guitar


Tested (2016): Adam Save Meets Sci-Fi Ray Gun Replicas


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