Argente: An Inteview with Dorsey Reading
Produced in very limited quantities, the Argente line is one of Paul Evans’ most expressive series. Dorsey Reading, Evans’ employee who worked in the studio for twenty-three years, discusses the series:
How did Argente come about? Can you explain the technique?
Actually it started by us getting involved in casting. We cast some ashtrays, studio pieces, just to play with the materials. Paul asked me if I knew how to weld aluminum, I said yes. A few weeks later he came to me with a sketch of what would become the P37, a stock piece for Directional. I took the sketch and we began experimenting with the materials. We used 1/8th inch sheets of aluminum. It would get marked out and he wanted the welds rough and quick. We applied a black ink with a foam brush, scratched different designs and welded sections. Argente was one of the fastest evolving techniques to come out of the studio.
How many Argente pieces did the studio create? For how long was the Argente line produced?
I don’t know an exact number but for every 100 pieces we produced for Directional, maybe five were Argente designs. We started making the Argente pieces in mid-1960s and made them through the 1970s. The Argente line was the most prolific early on, the bulk of the pieces were produced before 1970 but we would fulfill orders infrequently throughout the 1970s. The atmosphere of the 1960s was more about the designer, and that changed in the 1970s.
How was the Argente line marketed?
The Argente line was available through Directional and the studio as well. The studio is where we played with the design. We made one-of-a-kind sculptures, that was a lot of fun.
What was your favorite of the techniques to come out of Paul Evans Studio?
There were so many different techniques and designs. We were always experimenting and trying new things. People’s taste changed so we changed with it.
Most aluminum is anodized which gives it a flat look. Mine is done in a different manner and I am still working on the technique. This is a whole new approach to aluminum and these pieces...are my first approach to this metal which has a great future because it fits with the mood and designs for many of today's architects.
Born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1931, Paul Evans exhibited talent for design at an early age. He studied woodworking in high school and briefly attended the Philadelphia Textile Institute. Evans was awarded the Aileen O. Webb Scholarship in 1950 and studied at the prestigious Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Craftsmen. He would continue his studies at Cranbrook in 1952 with a focus on metalwork. In 1953 he took a position as the metal craftsman at the living museum, Old Sturbridge Village. Feeling that his creativity was being stifled, Evans left the museum in 1955 to find a more stimulating environment. He opened a showroom with fellow designer Phillip Lloyd Powell and the two began a decade-long collaboration.
Evans’ experiments with welded and enameled sculpture in the early 1960s caught the eye of the Directional furniture company. Directional was looking for handmade furniture with distinctive character and Evans’ new American craft designs were a perfect fit. In 1971, Evans developed the brass and chrome Cityscape line for Directional marking a departure from his earlier sculptural works. In the 1980s, working with his son Keith, an electrical engineer, he continued to experiment with new materials and design increasing minimal forms with kinetic elements. Together, they formed Zoom, Inc. in 1983 and began a relationship with the Design Institute of America. In 1987, just one day after his retirement, Evans suffered his third heart attack and died.
Evans is now internationally recognized as one of the great studio furniture makers of the 20th century. In his finest work, such as Argente and Sculpted Front, he deploys his training in welding, metallurgy, and jewelry design to sculpt brutal and beautiful furniture in metal—work that prefigured the art furniture movement today.
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