The New York Times December 8, 2011
Think Big, Build Small: Inventors’ Prototypes By EVE M. KAHN
American inventors in the 19th century shipped operable miniatures by the hundreds of thousands to the federal government, as models for potential patent approval. Tinkerers in every realm, from piano keyboards to collapsible lifeboats, were required to submit three-dimensional scale prototypes. The collection soon overwhelmed government storage spaces. In the 1920s, after two major warehouse fires, patent officials concentrated on technical drawings instead as proof of innovation, and the models were sold and given away. Alan Rothschild, an inventor near Syracuse, has spent 20 years gathering some of the stranger and more elaborate prototypes. Clusters of his 4,000 antiques are now on view in two museums. At the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, they are in “Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models From the Rothschild Collection” (through Nov. 3, 2013), which shows dreams for improving machinery that threaded screws, dyed yarn or cranked out bricks, horseshoes and fence posts. At the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, “Get Your Gears Turning ... the Curious World of Patent Models” (through Jan. 1) has about 60 Rothschild loans, including a semitransparent coffin, an unwieldy metal backpack for schoolchildren and a
clamp for attaching napkins to diners’ collars. Mr. Rothschild gives tours of his private patent-model museum by appointment at his home in Cazenovia, N.Y. Shelves and cases there are overflowing. In the garage boxfuls of more contraptions have not been unpacked yet. A decade ago he had developed plans for a free-standing museum building, but financing fell through, so he has been arranging traveling shows instead. “Maybe it was best that we didn’t build a bricks-and-mortar facility,” given the current donation crises facing many museums, he said in a recent telephone interview. He no longer buys much, although patent models do routinely turn up at auctions for a few hundred dollars each. “They’re very, very minor models” circulating on the market these days, he said. He keeps researching and restoring his existing holdings. Each piece represents someone’s hopes to change the world a little and maybe get rich and famous. “If I lived to be 500 years old,” he said, “I’d probably only put a dent in the amount of work required to do the collection justice.” ART DECO TRAVEL POSTERS Rumors abound in the poster world about Roger Broders. An Art Deco graphic artist, he specialized in mountainscapes and beach resort views in Fauvist hot colors, as advertisements for French rail companies. He was popular and prolific between 1920 and 1935, and then “he disappeared from the arena, and nobody knows why,” said the poster dealer and collector Israel Perry.
On Thursday, Swann Auction Galleries in Manhattan will offer Mr. Perry’s complete run of Broders works in 100 lots. Estimates are mostly a few thousand dollars each for aerial views of Riviera towns and Alps valleys and lakefronts. Lanky couples in sportswear pose in the foregrounds. Mr. Perry spent more than a decade tracking down Broders pieces and researching the designer, who died at 70 in 1953. Family members have said that during decades of retirement in suburban Paris he became a fine artist, but hardly any canvases have emerged. Scholars have speculated that Broders was actually institutionalized for mental or physical ailments, or perhaps sympathized with the Nazis and could not find work after the war. Swann is also offering a set of 17 lithography proofs (estimated at $3,000 to $4,000 for the group), which Mr. Perry found rolled up at a Paris flea market. The pages reveal how Broders planned separate print runs for each color on an Alpine landscape, specking red on farmhouse tile roofs and streaking purple highlights on cliffs and pine branches. PAMPERED PORCELAIN The high-tech underpinnings of the Frick Collection’s 1910s building were briefly exposed last week, during preparations for the opening of a new wing. On Tuesday the museum will begin allowing visitors into a portico with views of a magnolia grove and Fifth Avenue. Charlotte Vignon, a decorative arts curator at the Frick, and the museum conservator Joseph Godla gave a sneak preview, explaining how the portico’s wall texts and new display cases for 18th-century Meissen porcelain are clipped and bolted to
the masonry. The Meissen pieces, part of a recent gift from the New York collector Henry H. Arnhold, show how the Saxon ruler August the Strong persuaded German ceramists to try copying expensive imports from Asia. Orange sea monsters and goldfish battle on a Meissen teapot in the portico. A tankard is painted with an improbable scene of Chinese quack dentists giving marketing speeches on a stage and pulling teeth from a hapless audience member. The portico adjoins a newly re-engineered gallery for Renaissance enamel vessels and plaques with biblical scenes. Recent research shows that the glossy surfaces react to tiny changes in humidity, so the display cases have climate-control systems that resemble hydroponic laboratory tanks. Mr. Godla opened a base panel to reveal containers for silica gels, misters and buffering salts. If the humidity spikes, he said, the system can alert museum employees by e-mail. TIFFANY AS A PAINTER Louis Comfort Tiffany sketched and painted wherever he traveled, from Cairo to Amsterdam to Vancouver. He based his metal and glass works on the scenery that he rendered on canvas: he adapted Moorish filigree balconies for lamp bases, and incorporated Roman ruins and cypress trees into the backgrounds of windows. New York collectors who have spent decades acquiring Tiffany paintings have lent 125 for a show that opens on Saturday called â€œThe Paintings of Louis Comfort Tiffany: Works From a Long Island Collectionâ€? at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor, N.Y. (through March 18). The owners, who are requesting anonymity, display the works
in no particular scholarly order. The museum has clustered them by geographic area, so the seven galleries flow from pyramids and camel caravans to cramped Northern European alleyways and misty Pacific Northwest redwood groves. The works seem influenced by numerous other artists, including Frederic Edwin Church, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam and George Inness. Tiffany’s chameleon skill probably helped him supervise the huge variety of artisans fabricating light fixtures, ceramics and stained glass at his workshops in Queens. “It’s almost like someone who imitates accents, wherever they go,” said Jean Henning, the museum’s senior educator.