Paul Evans' Sculpture Front Series
An Interview with Dorsey Reading
Master welder, metalworker, and craftsman Dorsey Reading began working for Paul Evans right out of high school and stayed for 23 years. He became Evans’ most relied-upon employee and was responsible for executing many of his designs. We spoke with Reading about this cabinet, an important and rare example from the Sculpture Front series, and he provided unique insights into both the history and process of one of the most rare and expensive lines from Paul Evans’ studio.
When was this piece made?
We made this cabinet between 1962 and 1964. It is one of the first three Sculpture Front cabinets we ever made, and quite possibly the very first.
What was America House and can you tell us more about their association with Paul Evans?
America House was a gallery on West 53rd St. where Paul’s work was first introduced to New York City in the early 1950s. It was originally founded as a cooperative shop by Aileen Osborn Webb in 1940 to feature American-made crafts and it had a bit of everything, all by craftspeople like Paul. This is where the first piece of Sculpture Front, a three-by-eight-foot screen, was shown in 1961, and from which all the Sculpture Fronts evolved.
How do you know it is this early, and where in the production of Sculpture Front cabinets would you place this example?
There are a lot of little details. The ends of the cabinet itself are 1 1/2” thick and the top and bottom are ¾” thick. After they went into official production they were 1 1/2” thick all the way around. The hinges have six square bolts, whereas later ones had four hexagonal bolts so that they could be put on with a ratchet. The doors are cut by hand with a torch, but later ones were cut with a power hacksaw. The decorative forged elements are ⅜” square rod, but later pieces had rods of different sizes and shapes. All the metal put on the cabinet was hand-nailed, where later ones, especially during Directional, were applied with a nail gun. As a whole, the earlier pieces were far more labor intensive. Early ones took two weeks to make, where later ones took five days.
How did the Sculpture Front series come about?
Paul created the line, in part because the welder we used at the time gave us latitude to make more complicated work. Paul came out with a sketch and said “we’re going to make this big screen for America House”, and that led to the Sculpture Front line. That first screen stood in the window of America House.
How did later examples evolve, and do you think the changes in fabrication affected the quality in any way?
It was a trade-off. Earlier ones were made better but later ones could be more refined.
How many Sculpture Front pieces did the studio create and how long was the series in production?
The series started with that first screen at America House in 1961 and was in production until about 1980. Because the line was more costly and labor intensive, Sculpture Front works were all made-to-order and I'd say that all in all, between cabinets and screens, we only made about 50-60 total.
How much did this cabinet cost at that time?
I was getting a dollar an hour so it cost about $80 of my time, at a dollar an hour, to make this. $900 was the cost to America House and they likely sold it for about two-and-a-half times that. When we got an order for one of these it was like heaven!
Which decorative elements on this example are most compelling and rare?
The forgings stand out as having the most character, especially the little boxes, which are unique to the piece. Some of the colors are really cool. The gold sections changed over time but the earlier work shows beautifully with patinated gold. White is also a difficult pigment to use and it adapted itself well to the textures we were trying to achieve. Red pigment was bright at first but if overheated it would turn black; the red on this one came out very well. There is no date because we tended to only sign the early ones. My “D” is on it though in addition to Paul’s name. These signatures were done in individual letters with a stainless steel welding rod. Later Evans signatures were in script with a regular welding rod.
I like this cabinet as an early, formative example and, more personally, I can see where I was at this point in time in my development as a craftsman.