features
#094 / 2009
Uncovering Contemporary Furniture Collections

School of Design Chair Collection: Dundee, Scotland

Ninety-five kilometres north of Edinburgh, Scotland, Dundee occupies the north bank of the River Tay. A one-kilometre walk east of city centre brings you to Dundee University and Hawkill House, which stores the School of Design Chair Collection inherited from Duncan of Jordanstone College.

Myer Lacombe, lecturer and later principal of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, assembled the collection as a personal avocation mainly in the 1970s and 1980s. With the amalgamation of the college and the university in 1994, the Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection came under the care of the University of Dundee Museum Services.

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Lacombe endeavoured to provide students with first-hand experience of examples of classic contemporary furniture designs, from early mass-produced bentwood chairs by Thonet to contemporary pieces by Philippe Starck. This legacy continues when the university's architecture and design tutors access the collection, secondary schools borrow from the collection for study purposes and with the collection displayed in on- and off-campus exhibitions.

Unlike "conventional" museums, the over 30 chairs in Lacombe's visionary collection, lacking a permanent exhibit space, must be viewed by appointment in its current storage location at Hawkill Place on the Dundee University campus.

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(left) Collection used for school projects.
(right) Willow chair, Charles Rennie Macintosh, 1904 (copy made by Cassina).

The University of Dundee School of Design Chair Collection comprises examples from a wide range of renowned European and American designers, without omitting talent from the United Kingdom: Charles Rennie Macintosh represents Scotland, while Ernest Race and Robin Day profile England.

Charles Rennie Macintosh (1868-1928), architect of the Glasgow School of Art and The Hill House, Helensburg, also designed unique furniture. The school's collection includes his first high-back chair designed for Catherine Cranston's Arglye Street Tea Rooms in 1887 and a curved lattice-back chair for Cranston's Sauchiehall Street Willow Tea Rooms in 1904. (Italian manufacturer Cassina produces both examples under licence from Mackintosh's estate.)

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(left) Antelope chair, Ernest Race, 1950.
(right) Polyprop stacking chair, Robin Day, 1963.

Ernest Race (1913-1964) developed his designs (as did Robin Day) amidst the material shortages, new war industry technology and the social optimism of the period. Lacombe chose Race's Antelope chair, designed in 1950 for the Festival of Britain, as representative of his work with its sparse use of material, formed plywood seat and (on the original) what one commentator refers to as "comical" ball feet. The chair in the collection appears to be a later production model, with more "practical" tube-shaped feet.

Robin Day (1915-2010 ) sold millions of his Polyprop chair (still in continuous production) since designing it in 1963. Though it cannot be considered a rarified example of chair design, its inclusion in the collection is essential as the first commercially successful injection moulded polypropylene stacking chair. The collection includes another Day plastic-shell chair: his 1975 Polo chair.

An email sent to , Curator of Museum Services, obtains an appointment to view works by these and other eminent designers of the 20th and 21st centuries, courtesy of the University of Dundee School of Design Chair Collection.

 

Website: www.dundee.ac.uk/museum/design/index.htm

Where: Dundee, 95 km N of Edinburgh, Scotland, at University of Dundee, Hawkhill Place, Hawkill House (across from the university's School of Design)
View collection by appointment.

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© furniturelink 2009, images © University of Dundee Museum Services