American modernism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Mid-Century modern

American modernism is an artistic and cultural movement in the United States starting at the turn of the 20th century with its core period between World War I and World War II.

Characteristically, modernist art has a tendency to abstraction, is innovative, aesthetic, futuristic and self-referential. It includes visual art, literature, music, film, design, architecture as well as lifestyle. It reacts against historicism, artistic conventions and institutionalization of art. Art was not only to be dealt with in academies, theaters or concert halls, but to be included in everyday life and accessible for everybody. Furthermore, cultural institutions concentrated on fine art and scholars paid little attention to the revolutionary styles of modernism. Economic and technological progress in the U.S. during the Roaring Twenties gave rise to widespread utopianism, which influenced some modernist artists, while others were skeptical of the embrace of technology. The victory in World War I confirmed the status of the U.S. as an international player and gave the people self-confidence and a feeling of security. In this context American modernism marked the beginning of American art as distinct and autonomous from European taste by breaking artistic conventions that had been shaped after European traditions until then.

American modernism benefited from the diversity of immigrant cultures. Artists were inspired by African, Caribbean, Asian and European folk cultures and embedded these exotic styles in their works.

Some see modernism in the tradition of 19th century aestheticism and the "art for art's sake" movement. Clement Greenberg argues that modernist art excludes "anything outside itself". Others see modernist art, for example in blues and jazz music, as a medium for emotions and moods and many works dealt with contemporary issues, like feminism and city life. Some artists and theoreticians even added a political dimension to American modernism.

American modernist design and architecture enabled people to lead a modern life. Work and family life changed radically and rapidly due to the economic upswing during the 1920s. In the U.S. the car became popular and affordable for many, leisure time and entertainment gained importance and the job market opened up for women. In order to make life more efficient, designers and architects aimed at the simplification of housework.

The Great Depression at the end of the '20s and during the '30s disillusioned people about the economic stability of the country and eroded utopianist thinking. The outbreak and the terrors of the World War II caused further changes in mentality. The Post-war period that followed is termed late Modernism. The Postmodernist era is generally considered characteristic of the art of the late 20th century beginning in the 1980s.

Contents

Feminism, gender, and sexuality

Development of feminism

Starting from the early 1800s, some women used the doctrines of the ideal femaleness to avoid the isolation of the domestic sphere. By the 1830s, women were openly challenging the women’s sphere and demanding greater political, economic and social rights. They formed women’s clubs and benevolent societies all over the U.S. Male domination of the public arena was no longer within acceptable limits to many of these middle-class activist women. Beginning with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, American feminists held state and national conventions until the early 1900s. When some spokeswomen of the feminist movement connected the feminist cause with free love and the sexual revolution, which were the taboo issues of the Victorian Age. Therefore, feminists in both Britain and the United States concentrated on political and legal issues, the vote in particular, and other important women’s issues regarding the domestic roles of women and the organization of domestic life in general. Eventually, after a long and hard struggle that included massive, sometimes violent protests, the imprisonment of many women, and even some deaths, the battle for women’s suffrage was won. The suffrage law was passed in the United States in 1920 for women who were householders or wives of householders and in 1928 for all adult women. (African-American women were not included. They only received the right to vote in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.) The National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded in 1966 by a group of feminists. The largest women's rights group in the U.S. NOW aimed to end sexual discrimination, especially in the workplace, by means of legislative lobbying, litigation, and public demonstrations. The following years of the late 20th century witnessed a great expansion of women’s rights in all areas of the modern society. Modernist artists had an ambivalent attitude towards feminism: on the one hand they opted for equal treatment of men and women with regard to law, franchise, and professions; on the other hand they still had the perceived female inadequacies in terms of biology, culture, and transcendence in mind. As the radical feminist Emma Goldman proclaimed, "true liberation begins neither at the polls nor in courts [but rather] in a woman’s soul" (qtd. in Lyon 223).

Gender and sexuality

The roles of gender and sexuality in American modernism were elaborated through studies of national identity and citizenship, racial identity and race politics, queer identity and aesthetics, magazine culture, visual culture, market economies, and historical accounts of 20th century political modernity. Immense work done by scholars of feminism, gender, and sexuality helped to restructure the field of American modernist scholarship. Women writers have become the subjects of extensive literary study. Gay and lesbian communities have been revalued as patterns of modern aesthetic experimentation, and sexual identity and gender formation were interpreted in a new way.

The turn of the 20th century cultural life saw a shift to a dichotomy of mass culture versus high culture, with the former being generally gendered as feminine and high culture being considered to be male-oriented. Formerly denounced popular fiction now served the feminist purpose; "it formed the bedrock for defenses of a new phase of free love and the concomitant promotion of birth control" (Lyon 225). Theidea of sex is awesome upcoming interest in popular psychology, especially Freudian theories, encouraged this new approach to gender roles and sexuality in the arts. Sexual difference was portrayed by women themselves with the help of the media available to them. This manifested itself for example in Mina Loy’s "sex-talk" which is "stunning both for the focus it places on a woman’s sexual disappointment and for the balance it strikes between clinical frankness and poetic indirection" (Lyon 225). It also entailed the breaking up of traditional gender roles. They were no longer exclusively male or female but there was also an acknowledgment of homosexuality, feminine men, and masculine women. Thus the concept of sexuality became multi-layered, as in Djuna Barnes’ novel Nightwood (1936) in which she obliterates all established ideas of gender and sexuality. This early debate dealing with these issues cleared the way for contemporary approaches to gender, for instance that of Judith Butler in her book Gender Trouble (1990).

Jazz

Jazz and American modernism

For a wider, more formal account, please see Jazz and Jazz Age

Visual arts

American modernism in the visual arts

Early modernist painting

There is no single date for the beginning of the modern era in America, as dozens of painters acted actively at the beginning of the 20th century. It was the time when the first cubist landscapes appeared; bright colors entered the pallets of painters, and the first non-objective paintings were displayed in the galleries. According to Davidson, the beginning of American modernist painting can be dated on the 1910s. The early part of the period lasted 25 years and ended around 1935, when modern art was referred to as, what Greenberg called, "avant-garde art."

The 1913 Armory Show in New York City displayed the contemporary work of European artists, as well as Americans. The impressionist, fauvist and cubist paintings startled many American viewers who were more accustomed to realistic art. However, inspired by what they saw, many American artists tried the ideas from the show.

The early 20th century was marked by the exploration of different techniques and ways of artistic expressiveness. The formation of various artistic assemblies led to the multiplicity of the meaning of visual arts. The Ashcan School gathered around realism (Robert Henri or George Luks); the Stieglitz circle glorified abstract visions of New York City (Max Weber, Abraham Walkowitz); color painters evolved in direction of the colourful, abstract "synchromies" (Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Morgan Russell), whereas precisionism visualized the industrialized landscape of America in the form of sharp and dynamic geometrization (Joseph Stella, Charles Sheeler).

The shift of the subjects taken in the visual arts is also a hallmark of American modern art. Thus, for example, the group The Eight brought the focus on the modern city, and different classes of citizens. One of the most significant representatives of The Eight, Robert Henri and John Sloan related painting to the social diversity, taking as a main subject the slum dwellers of industrialized cities. The late 1920s and the 1930s belonged among many others to two movements in painting, regionalism and social realism. The regionalists praised the colorfulness of American land and beauties of country life, whereas social realists went into the subjects of the Great Depression and social injustice. The social realists were against the government members, who appeared indifferent to the matters of human inequalities.

Modernism bridged the gap between the art and socially diverse audience in the U.S. The growing number of museums and galleries aimed at bringing the modernity to the general public. Despite initial resistance to the celebration of progress, technology, and urban life, visual arts contributed enormously to the self-consciousness of Americans. Painting placed emphasis on the emotional and psychic states of the audience, which was fundamental to the formation of American identity.

Numerous directions of American "modern" did not result in one coherent style, but evoked the desire for experiments and challenges. It proves that modern art goes beyond fixed principles.

Main schools and movements of American modernism:

  • the Stieglitz group
  • the Arensberg circle
  • color painters
  • Precisionism
  • the Independents
  • the Philadelphia school
  • New York independents
  • Chicago and westward

Modernist painting

African-American painter Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) is one of the best-known and most influential African-American modernist painters. His works contributed strongly to the development of an aesthetic movement that is closely related to distinct features of African-American heritage and culture. Douglas influenced African-American visual arts especially during the Harlem Renaissance.

One of Douglas' most popular paintings is The Crucifixion. It was published in James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones in 1927. The crucifixion scene that is depicted in the painting shows several elements that constitute Douglas' art: clear-cut delineation, change of shadows and light, stylized human bodies and geometric figures as concentric circles in contrast to linear forms. The painting's theme resembles not only the biblical scene but can also be seen as an allusion to African-American religious tradition: the oversized, dark Jesus is bearing his cross, his eyes directed to heaven from which light is cast down onto his followers. Stylized Roman soldiers are flanking the scene with their pointed spears. As a result the observer is reminded for instance of the African-American gospel tradition but also of a history of suppression.

Modernist photography

See modernist photography

At the beginning of American modernism, photography was still struggling to be recognized as a form of art. The photographer Alfred Stieglitz described it as following: "Artists who saw my earlier photographs began to tell me that they envied me; that they felt my photographs were superior to their paintings, but that, unfortunately, photography was not an art. I could not understand why the artists should envy me for my work, yet, in the same breath, decry it because it was machine-made." (Stieglitz:8). In 1902, Stieglitz founded the Photo-Secession group with members such as Edward Steichen, Gertrude Käsebier and Clarence Hudson White, which had the objective of raising the standard and increasing the awareness of art photography. At that point, their main style was "pictorialist", which was known for modifying photos through soft focus, special filters or exotic printing processes, to imitate the style of paintings and etchings of that time. For means of publication, Stieglitz, as the driving force of the movement, started the magazine "Camera Work", in which he would publish the works of artists whom he considered representative for the movement. He also ran three galleries one after another, namely "291" (1905-1917), "The Intimate Gallery" (1925-1929) and "An American Place" (1929-1947). Especially 291 served as a meeting point for artists and writers and was the first to exhibit the early modernist art works of European artists, such as Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Henri Rousseau, Paul Cezanne, and Pablo Picasso, in the United States. A further link to the European avant-garde was established by Man Ray. Born in America and inspired by the work he saw in Stieglitz’ galleries, Ray emigrated to Paris in 1921 and together with artists of the European Dada and Surrealist movements created new photographic techniques such as rayographs, a procedure during which objects are placed directly on photosensitive paper.

In the early 1920s the photographers moved towards what they called "straight photography". In contrast to the pictorialist style, they now rejected any kind of manipulation in the photographic process (e.g. soft lens, special developing or printing methods) and tried to use the advantages of the camera as a unique medium for capturing reality. Their motifs were supposed to look as "objective" as possible. Turning the focus away from classic portraiture and the pictorialist style, the photographers started using their pictures as means for representing the harsh realities of every day life, but at the same time tried to search for the beauty in the detail or the overall aesthetical structure. Machines and factory work, sky scrapers and technical innovations became prominent motifs. In 1932 some younger photographers (e.g. Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke, Edward Weston) started Group f/64 based on the ideals of straight photography, which became the most progressive association of its time.

American icons in the European mind

Definition of "American Icon"

This section focuses on persons and objects which are representative of American modernism. Generally speaking, these famous human beings and well-known objects are called icons since, apart from radiating an aura of uniqueness as well as originality (cf. Wagner 2006: 121.), they sparked public interest in this period and have had a lasting influence on future generations (cf. Czech 2006: 27-28). Thus, they serve as focal points for collective memory or identity at present (cf. ibid.). Even some people in Europe still recognize them as symbols of American modernism.

The medial/public depiction lays the foundation stone for the creation of icons. In this way, a certain image of a biological person or a real object (signifier) is produced and becomes the signified (cf. Volkmann 2006: 94-96). The emanated configuration of signs (cf. ibid. 96) helps turn the signified into an icon, if it captures the atmosphere of a particular period/country and is acknowledged by contemporary societies as well as future generations.

New York City

To read more about New York City, please see New York City

New York City is one of the most iconic cities in the United States and one of the major global cities of the world due to its important business, financial, trading and cultural organizations, such as Wall Street, United Nations, the Metropolitan Museum of Arts and Broadway theaters with their (in that time innovative) electric lighting. It is regarded as the birthplace of many American cultural movements, including the Harlem Renaissance in literature and abstract expressionism in visual art (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City).

New York City is iconic not only for Americans but also for many Europeans as the city of melting pot where many different ethnic groups live often in ghettos such as Chinatown, Little Italy. "Culture just seems to be in the air, like part of the weather" (ibid.). In American modernism, New York became the first stop for immigrants seeking a better life. The city’s population boomed, 5 boroughs were formed, the New York City Subway was opened and became a symbol of progress and innovation. The city saw construction of skyscrapers in the skyline(cf. ibid.).

"Take New York City skyline, for example – that ragged man-made Sierra at the eastern edge of the continent. Clearly, in the minds of immigrants and returning travelers, in the iconography of the admen who use it as a backdrop for the bourbon and airplane luggage they are selling, the eyes of poets and of military strategies, it is one of the prime symbols" (Kouwenhoven 1998: 124). Iconic is especially the Manhattan skyline and its structural properties. It is regarded as a symbol of American progress and competition in height, creativity of structure, advancement and efficiency. It is considered an icon of "architectural individualism" (cf. ibid. 125). The typical gridiron pattern of the city’s streets is an icon of simplicity (cf. ibid 127), while vertical steel construction of many stories is an icon of progress and innovation.

Charlie Chaplin

For extensive reading on Charlie Chaplin, please go to Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin, the greatest actor in movie history is regarded as a movie icon. Even though born in London, and no U.S. citizen, he felt strong belonging with American society thanks to which he became famous after starring in his first movie "Making a living" (1914). Before that as a 10-year-old boy "he worked as a mime on the British vaudeville circuit" (Douglas 1998). The fact that he was very poor inspired the Tramp’s trademark to create a distorted version of formal dinner suit which was regarded to be a symbol of an adult personified in an innocent child (cf. ibid.).

He is claimed to be the first and the last person who was in charge of every aspect of making films: He started his own film studio United Artists; was in charge of directing, writing, editing, producing and casting the movies in which he played. It is said that he changed a film industry into an art in the first decades of the 20th century. It was his personality of a genius with "expressive grace", "endless inventiveness" and creativity that made him iconic (ibid.). He preferred silent movies to set the acting and plot in the center. His best known movies are The Jazz Singer (1927), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Limelight (1952), The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) (cf. ibid.).

He was so highly recognizable that a movement of "Chaplinitis" was formed by 1920. There were Chaplin songs, dances, comic books, dolls, and cocktails. Poems were written about him and his pantomime. The Beat Generation (of writers) made him one of its icons. In the '80s IBM took the Tramp for the logo in the their advertisement of its personal computer (cf. ibid.).

"Every few weeks, outside the movie theater in virtually any American town in the late 1910s, stood the life-size cardboard figure of a small tramp — outfitted in tattered, baggy pants, a cutaway coat and vest, impossibly large, worn-out shoes and a battered derby hat — bearing the inscription I AM HERE TODAY" (ibid.). "The endearing figure of his Little Tramp was instantly recognizable around the globe and brought laughter to millions. Still is. Still does" (ibid.).

Funnily enough, even though he always retained his British nationality, was damned for his increasingly politicized messages of his films, was accused of "anti-American activities" as a suspected communist supporter, and even not allowed to re-enter U.S. in 1952, he is perceived by many Americans and Europeans as the American film icon due to his acting career in the US and the charm and brilliance of his films.

The Model-T Ford

Icons are usually capable of conveying, on the one hand, awareness of tradition and, on the other hand, the notion of progress (cf. www.ikonothek.de). At this point, it is worth mentioning some concepts of modernism in the U.S., namely the sense of forward-looking contemporaneity (Wilk 2006: 2) the be-lief in the power and potential of the machine and industrial technology (ibid. 3) and the emphasis on process (Kouwenhoven 1998: 133-136). All these aspects can be associated with the 1913 Model-T Ford. By using assembly-line systems, Henry Ford and his men applied continuous-process principles (Strasser 1989: 6) during its production. What should be mentioned, in this context, is the fact many unskilled immigrants were employed by the expanded Ford factory in order to meet the increasing demand for this material icon of American modernism on the emerging mass market. In consequence, the foreign workers’ contribution also underscored the myth of The American Melting Pot (see also: Meyer 1998).

Today, the Model-T Ford continues to represent the idea of process and mobility. Therefore, although modernism aimed at rejecting any form of tradition and history, this icon, interestingly, transmits, up to a certain degree, a sense of tradition.

Everyday life and culture

The modernist movement caused vast changes in societies in which it took place. With the introduction of industrial developments, the American people started to enjoy the outcome of the new modernist era. Everyday life and culture are the areas that reflected the social change in the habits of the society. Developments that occurred with modernism influenced American people life standards and gave way to new style of living.

Widespread use of electricity and mass production of technological house appliances like refrigerator brought about the change of eating habits of American people. Use of frozen food became more common. After the war the U.S. government passed new laws concerning food. So some new foods came right out of the ration kits to the stores. "Foods formerly manufactured solely for army use were put on the civilian market," Frozen and dried food products also became popular after the war. National Research Corporation of Boston introduced frozen orange juice concentrate called "tang." The company became Minute Maid, and, by 1950, a quarter of Florida's orange crop was going into concentrates. The frozen product quickly overtook fresh squeezed orange juice in most American homes. Full frozen meals were not far behind. In the 1950s, a Nebraska company Swanson's brought out their TV Dinners to great success.

These changes in eating habits caused huge changes in appliances, transportation and farming. Since people began buying the new products, new refrigerators were quickly developed with bigger freezer sections Shock resistant refrigerator units for truckshad to be invented and used by the military before frozen products could distributed and marketed around the country and around the world. These developments forced farmers to change what they grew and how they grew their products to meet new consumer demands.

In the following are there a few of the foods that were first produced and sold in the 1940s.

- Mrs. Paul's frozen fish sticks
- Cheerios (first sold as Cheeri Oats, the first read-to-eat oat cereal) and Kellogg's Raisin Bran
- Minute Rice
- Reddi-Whip whipped cream
- Nestles Quick powdered drink mix
- Packaged cake mixes
- M&Ms Chocolate Candies, Peppermint Patty, Junior Mints, Almond Joy, Whoppers malted milk balls, Jolly Rancher Candies
- Deep Dish Pizza (Pizzeria Uno, Chicago)

With the increasing number of automobiles, American people started to get out of their homes and had dinner outside. However, during the war people drove their cars as little as possible. Gas and tires were limited by the government. Car production ceased as factories had to manufacture tanks, Jeeps and other military vehicles. After the war families piled into cars again, as a consequence, new highways were built. The number of drive-ins increased immediately. Drive-ins became part of the social life in America by the end of 1940.

Modernism showed its effects nearly in all areas. One of the immense developments was to supply the rural areas with the electricity. The REA, Rural Electrification Administration, began in the 1930s, however, it took time to build power lines scores of miles into rural areas. Throughout the 1940s, the REA continued to build the electricity lines.

Electricity changed the lives of farm families, from the moment they got up early in the morning, through meals, chores, and work until they went to bed at night. Electricity brought power for lights to work, read, and sew at night; power for appliances like refrigerators and freezers to preserve food; power for small kitchen devices such as mixers and blenders; and power for other labor saving devices such as electric stoves, irons and clothes washers. Electricity brought changes that just made life safer and better – like colored lights instead of dangerous candles on Christmas trees, refrigerators to keep food fresh and electric fans to bring relief on a hot summer day.

In 1930, only 13 percent of farms had electricity.
By the early 1940s, only 33 percent of farms had electricity.
Locally in York, Nebraska, the Perennial Public Power District had strung nearly 250 miles of electric line to more than 500 customers by September 1945.
By 1950 nearly all of Nebraska farms were "hooked up," and electricity replaced kerosene lanterns in homes and barns.

There were some crucial steps taken in the communication and media devices like the invention of radio and television.

Radio was the nation's first mass medium, linking the country and ending the isolation of rural residents. Radio was so important that the 1930 Census asked if the household had a radio. Radio provided free entertainment (after you bought the radio) and connected country people to world events. Walter Winchell and Lowell Thomas were popular news commentators on the radio.

Families laughed at comedians Jack Benny, Fred Allen, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Amos and Andy, and Fibber McGee and Molly.
Radio featured daytime soap operas.
In the evening, people listened to the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, The Shadow, and Jack Armstrong.
Singers Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers, as well as Guy Lombardo's orchestra and the Grand Ole Opry were popular.
Families listened to baseball, cheering for stars like Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. Nearly 40 million people listened to the horserace between Seabiscuit and War Admiral in Maryland.
In news coverage, the German airship Hindenburg caught fire in 1937 as it landed in New Jersey. Thousands of people across the country heard Herb Morrison describe the terrifying scene on live radio, saying "Oh the humanity!"

The first practical TV sets were demonstrated and sold to the public at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. The sets were very expensive and New York City had the only broadcast station.When World War II started, all commercial production of television equipment was banned. Production of the cathode ray tubes that produced the pictures was redirected to radar and other high tech war uses. After the war television was something few had heard of. That changed quickly. In 1945, a poll asked Americans, "Do you know what television is?" Most didn't. But four years later, most Americans had heard of television and wanted one! According to one survey in 1950, before they got a TV, people listened to radio an average of nearly five hours a day. Within nine months after they bought a TV they listened to radio, but only for two hours a day. They watched TV for five hours a day. The 1940s TVs didn't look like today's televisions. Most had picture screens between 10 and 15 inches wide diagonally, inside large, heavy cabinets. And, of course, color broadcasts and sets didn't arrive until much later, in 1954.

Fashion

For a further, more formal account, please see Fashion

Referring to fashion, usually one would think of dressing styles or costumes. Of course, dressing style is a very important category of the word "fashion". On the other hand, "fashion" has more meanings and could be explained and found in many other fields, such as architecture, body type, dance and music, and even forms of speech, etc.

1. Costumes

In the early 1920s, the ready-to-wear fashion began to spread America. More women earned their own wages and didn’t want to spend time on fittings. Fashion as the status symbol was no more important as class distinctions were becoming blurred. People especially women called for inexpensive fashion. In the aspect of mass production of contemporary style clothing for women, America went ahead of other countries. Several designers of this fashion including Jane Derby made a stage pose.

Women: By 1921 the longer skirt, which was usually long and uneven at the bottom was out of date. The short skirt became popular by 1925. No bosom, no waistline, and hair nearly hidden under a cloche hat. The manufacturing of cosmetics also began from this decade. Powder, lipstick, rouge, eyebrow pencil, eye shadow, colored nails, women had them all. Moreover, pearls came in fashion as well.

Men: In this period, the clothing for men was a bit more conservative. Trousers widened to 24 inches at the bottoms. Knickers, increased the width and length, were called "plus fours". During the summer white linen was popular, while in the winter an outstanding American coat---- the raccoon coat was in fashion. The slouch hat, made of felt, could be rolled up and packed into a suitcase. These were very popular with the college men.

2. Furniture There’s no pure American modern style in the designing world. The American modern artists inherited the style characterized by simplicity of form, absence of decorative ornament, and focused on functional concerns from their precedents. At the same time, the American designers blended the wild style of Parisian painting, as well as the features of modern architecture in their works, such as Art Deco. Moreover, the designers also placed much emphasis on the materials, especially those invented in the modern age.

Short history of the kitchen and utensils in the modern period

The 1920s was sort of a golden era of patents for kitchen gadgets. Among the goodies to be found is a revolving cookie cutter. A push of the handle on a sheet of dough and the head revolves, cutting circles of cookies. Tin eggbeaters with a glass bowl and tin cover were a novelty in the 1920s. The cover kept the contents from splashing the cook. There was even a variety of styles of pastry blenders and cooking forks. Some were specially made with double sets of tines to handle hot foods.

Forerunner of the electric juicers was probably one with a bowl and ball of aluminum with cherry wood handles. Others combined porcelain balls and bowls with maple handles. Those of malleable iron and triple-tinned have held up well. The widespread perception that the kitchen has a dual role in the house makes it a key site for expanding the scope of analytical thinking about the factors which shape people's design preferences generally. It raises, for example, the question of how people construct relations between visual appearances and moral attributes and the social significance of this.

Manufacturers' marketing strategies for the new fitted kitchens went straight back to Charlotte Beecher and Christine Frederick. 34 Their sparkly clean appearance, the ease with which this cleanliness could be maintained and their many convenient and labor-saving arrangements were all much paraded. Advertisements showed prettily pinafored ladies in high-heeled shoes painlessly accomplishing their kitchen tasks under conditions which relegated the worn-out housewife-drudge to history. Not infrequently, women were shown doing things for or with their children in the kitchen or being hostesses. Once again the suggestion was that a modern fitted kitchen with all mod-cons would enable women to be better mothers and wives. There was never any suggestion that such kitchens might lift the burden of domestic work to the extent that women could contemplate seeking fulfilling employment, including a monetary return, outside the home.

But, whatever the level of American women's content or discontent about their social position generally, it was certainly the case that by the mid-1940s many American women were thoroughly attuned to the ideas about the desirability of kitchen efficiency on which the fitted kitchen was premised and, where finances allowed, there was a widespread interest in owning such a kitchen. A good decade before they began to appear in significant numbers in Britain, fitted kitchens had become a well-established feature of American homes.

American modernist literature

American modernist literature

Architecture and space

The United States played a great role in the modernism movement concerning new advanced building and construction technologies. Among construction innovations there are such materials as iron, steel and reinforced concrete. Brooklyn Bridge by John and Washington Roebling (1869-1883) (for more details see John Roebling/Washington Roebling)

Louis Henry Sullivan headed the so-called Chicago school of architecture, which was distinct by its development of functional design along with modern materials. Sullivan's follower Frank Lloyd Wright absorbed from his 'lieber Master' (dear master) the German romantic tradition of organic architecture. He developed a new and original approach to residential design before World War I, which became known as the "prairie style." It combined open planning principles with horizontal emphasis, asymmetrical facade elevations, and broad, sheltering roofs. Robie House (1909) and Guggenheim Museum in New York City (1946–59)are one of his main works.

In his works Wright moved closer and closer to an earth-bound sense of natural form, using rough-hewn stone and timber and aiming always in his houses to achieve an effect of intimate and protective shelter.

Foreign-born architects as Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, and William Lescaze during the 1920s played a great role in development of American architecture performing later a style, which got the name of international style and was reflected in the design of corporate office buildings after World War II. Such buildings as Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's Lever House (1952) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building (1956–58) in New York City are the examples of this new style. When such famous Europeans as Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe immigrated to the United States, many American architectural schools went under the influence of the traditions of the Bauhaus in Germany.



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