Philip and Kelvin LaVerne: historical yet modern designs
NEW YORK – While Philip and Kelvin LaVerne didn’t invent “functional art,” they certainly perfected the genre, ensuring long-term traction in the marketplace. They created furniture as bold artistic statements yet fully functional pieces.
From their New York City studio on Wooster Street and a later showroom on East 57th Street, the father-son designers worked in pewter, silver and bronze to make signed, limited-edition pieces. The pair worked together from the mid-1950s until Philip’s death in 1987, after which Kelvin pursued his passion in sculpture.
Philip LaVerne was born in 1907 in New York City and studied under Ashcan School painter John Sloan at the Art Students League of New York. Kelvin was born in 1936, also in New York City, and majored in metal sculpting and furniture design at the Parsons School of Design.
The LaVernes’ construction methods were innovative yet well rooted in history. They found inspiration in classical motifs from Egyptian, Greek and Chinese imagery. Their patinated furniture achieved its signature acid-etched finish by being buried underground in the designers’ proprietary mix of soil and chemicals, allowing the pieces to oxide naturally. The pieces have a timeless appeal and are well suited for both modernist and traditional interiors. In 1960s advertisements, Philip created the tag line, “It’s not just functional and not just art, it’s an investment.” Though best known for their sculptural furniture, their oeuvre also included fine art and sculpture.
“Philip and Kelvin LaVerne employed centuries-old bronze-casting methods to create furniture and decorative art with sophisticated forms in classical/traditional motifs. Though created in the mid-20th century, LaVerne furniture conveys a feeling of historical relevance and, simultaneously, some modern sensibilities,” said Wade Terwilliger, president of Palm Beach Modern Auctions.
Decades after their making, LaVerne pieces are still desirable. “While any cabinet or table serves a purpose, LaVerne furniture possesses the same qualities we seek in art through the sculptural forms and the narrative of the etched designs — characteristics much sought after by today’s buyers,” said Terwilliger.
Among the most desirable forms are the cabinets and console tables created in very small editions. The “Chan Li” cabinet has gone as high as $47,500 at auction. “Custom dining tables and console tables also hit highs at auction including an ‘Etruscan’dining table which we sold in 2015 for $26,000 ($32,500 with 25% buyer’s premium),” Terwilliger said, noting that coffee tables are fairly abundant with the exception of the “Eternal Forest” pattern, which has sometimes sold above $20,000.
“Scarcity only adds to the desirability, as many of the forms were produced in limited editions. As a result, the market for their works continues to increase.”
View more Philip and Kelvin LaVerne furniture and decorative art on LiveAuctioneers.
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