Painted Wooden Modernism

Added on by Doug Dowd.

It's a contemporary irony: the age of the digital has devalued the manual. We click and swipe and pinch our electronic sidekicks, but it's all fingerwork.

There is some pushback. Just as the Arts and Crafts movement fetishized handwork in a machine age, today's artisanal whatnots point to a celebration of the handicrafts (the antique term) as well as neo-villager food production. It may be precious, but I get it. There is something to the manual-mental-spiritual triad.

Our devices are mesmerizing, but we do not grapple with them. It's neither an exaggeration nor a metaphoric utterance, to say that people are groping for an alternative to our fussy-passive diversions. 

All of which amounts to an extended preamble to the artifacts of the day. 

Is there a more satisfying intersection of vision, inanimate manipulation, and cognitive challenge than a child's wooden puzzle? Playskool and Sifo both made them, and for a stretch in the late 40s and 50s the designers who worked on them had a kind of American Scene abstract sensibility. They number among my collecting enthusiasms. Here, a quartet of puzzles, all by Playskool from the same general period. 

Enjoy. 

Then go use your arms and hands to do something. Dig a hole. Paint a door. Wrestle your dog. 

 

Designer unknown, Construction Site, Playskool Wooden Puzzle, circa 1950. Look at this thing! An essay in shape, line and edge. Lots of saturated color bracketed by black and white. I might add that these things do not have dotted lines demarcating where the pieces go in the recessed green board. You get a big hole and lots of pieces. Figure it out. An eBay buy of recent weeks. 

Construction Site pieces. These things feel good in your hand. 

Stuart Davis, Bass Rocks #2, gouache on paper, 1939. The line versus edge investigation, begun in 1927, particularly, with the Egg Beater series, is applied to a seaside landscape. A major painting came of this, with a higher-keyed palette. 

Designer unknown, Steam ShovelPlayskool Wooden Puzzle, circa 1950. The linear passages are quite calligraphic here. A little less saturated palette. But that burnt umber color field! Such a surprising choice, and a great one. Maybe late 1940s? eBay. 

Designer unknown, Funky Bus in Orange City, Playskool Wooden Puzzle. The ever-alert Linda Solovic picked this up for me. Somehow, Gary Karpinsky passed on it, so it got out of the house and came to me. Score! Bizarre but fabulous palette. The cream-colored field is a huge part of this. The script logotype suggests (along with that lime green) that this is of later vintage). Among the peculiarities of this image are those buildings, as well as the chunky-boxy cloud. The skyscrapers reminded me instantly of transitional Philip Guston paintings of the late 60s. 

Philip Guston, City, oil on canvas, 1969. God, I love late Guston. 

Designer unknown, Auto Repair Shop, Playskool Wooden Puzzle, circa 1948(?). The balance of linework and shape isn't quite as good on this one, and the palette feels very late 40s. Another Playskool puzzle I got through Linda Solovic. I wrote about this puzzle before, in a discussion of the gasoline pumps, also in the context of Stuart Davis. 

Playskool is still at it. This is a logo redesign by Selbert Perkins from 2013, which I found on a designer's blog. They do not seem to be using it, as their site shows one more dumbass gradient highlight/shadow lozenge thing: dimensionality because we can. This does not appear on the Selbert Perkins site, so somebody must have put the kibosh on the project. Too bad. Nice work. 

Playskool is still at it. This is a logo redesign by Selbert Perkins from 2013, which I found on a designer's blog. They do not seem to be using it, as their site shows one more dumbass gradient highlight/shadow lozenge thing: dimensionality because we can. This does not appear on the Selbert Perkins site, so somebody must have put the kibosh on the project. Too bad. Nice work.