Tag: research

Nudes and Nudities in Greek Art | A Lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Hurwit


© The Trustees of the British Museum 2012. All rights reserved

On October 28, 2012, Dr. Jeffrey Hurwit delivered his lecture, “Nudes and Nudities in Greek Art” to a public audience at the University of Oregon in Portland at the White Stag Block. Following his lecture, Dr. Hurwit led a tour of the newly opened exhibit at the Portland Art Museum, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece.  The lecture and tour were in collaboration with the Portland Art Museum and The Body Beautiful.


A world renowned expert in the field of ancient Greek art, Professor Hurwit had been asked by the University of Oregon in Portland School of Architecture and Allied Arts to lecture to a general audience and to focus on works of art on display in The Body Beautiful.

The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece at the Portland Art Museum is an exhibit made possible by a collaboration with London’s British Museum. The exhibit, curated by Ian Jenkins and Victoria Turner, brings to Portland, Oregon what will be the only West Coast showing of the 120 objects usually on display as part of the British Museum’s collection of Greek and Roman art.

In what Professor Hurwit called “an extraordinary collection”, The Body Beautiful is an exhibit that has even managed to awe its curators with the striking majesty of its display at the Portland Art Museum.  Hurwit related hearing from the curator, Ian Jenkins that “‘Nowhere has this [exhibit] been displayed better than here in Portland.’ “  And, indeed, as Hurwit illustrated, taken together these works powerfully illuminate a breadth and depth of the Greek and Roman obsession with the human body.

Professor Hurwit’s lecture addressed specific works included in the exhibit and  introduced the topic of nudity in ancient Greek art as representational and containing differing meanings dependent upon context and the individual. Nudity, explained the professor is a costume used by Greek artists to depict a range of roles and connotation.   “In ancient Greek art,” commented Professor Hurwit, “there are many different kinds of nudity that can mean many different things….Sometimes they are contradictory.”

The content of the exhibit “speaks to us today” said Hurwit, and “reveals and celebrates our nature and physical being and bodies.”  Dr. Hurwit began by explaining how the pieces on exhibit in The Body Beautiful exemplify the ideals of the ancient Greek body.

In 440 BC the Greek philosopher, Protagoras wrote “man is the measure of all things.”  While much debate and discussion has surrounded this fascinating statement the general consensus is that judgments about qualities are subjective, truth is a relative thing, and the individual is the judge of all things.  To the ancient Greek mind, however, beauty was not relative.

Polykleitos Doryphoros. Image Courtesy of Professor Hurwit.

So comes the work of Polykleitos of Argos and his Doryphoros (made between 450-440 BC).  Polykleitos wrote a treatise on art called the Kanon and created the Doryphoros to demonstrate his theories.  The Kanon was based on the Pythagorean idea of symmetria, the notion that the parts of a form must have a proportional relationship to the whole, a mathematical formula that determines the perfect proportions of the ideal male body.

The Doryphoros is a study in contracts, in bent versus straight, right versus left, and in opposites.  Yet upon close study, all of these components are beautifully balanced in perfect equilibrium, right contradicts a flowing left, straight compliments bent, relaxed balances flexed, and stillness counters movement. This vision of highly charged repose collaborates to give the viewer a visual image of harmony.

The Doryphoros stands as a visual manifestation of the Greeks’ relentless obsession with structure and musculature, of the youthful male physique, and the male form defined by sharp lines and deep grooves counter-balanced with the exaggerated ridgey , almost-lovehandle-like quality of the hips (an interesting contradiction to the developed musculature of the rest of the form).  This is an idealized perception of what a man ought to look like.  It is the “perfect and the ideal,” a balance of curves and thick musculature.

But before the Doryphoros, Greek artists were producing Kouroi, those upright youthful males, perfectly idealized who blankly (except for that puzzling Archaic smile) and mindlessly stared past their observers and seemed to be all surface and restrained frozen movement.  The Kouroi and their neutral expression seemed to try to resist distracting the viewer by any indication of internal life of the mind.  Into this environment of  these Archaic era nudes, with their hands on their sides, left foot striding forward, arrived the Doryphoros and the impact was instanteous.

Even the marble sculptors working on the Athenian Acropolis began to alter their work—the youthful horsemen on the Panatheniac frieze of the Parthenon became more infused with movement, with the idealized and almost “Kanon”-like interpretation of the male body that we see in the Doryphoros. And, as Hurwit points out, it is an influence and a way of depicting the nude male figure that never really ends.  Just look at the Doryphoros-like stance in Durer’s the Fall of Man….

About a century after the Doryphoros was cast in bronze, a very different statue was made by Praxiteles of Athens.  Praxiteles was known for his depictions of the human body and for his figures’ elegant curved poses, relaxed appearance and a unique softness.  His Aphrodite of Knidos (330 BC) work stands as an innovative approach to the depiction of the female nude and set a precedent for the “ideal woman.”

For the most part, female nudity in ancient Greek art was unacceptable, shocking and somewhat revolutionary. As Professor Hurwit related, Praxiteles made two of these Aphrodite statues, one clothed, one nude.  One island, Kos purchased the dressed figure; the nude statue was bought by the island of Knidos.  The impact of this nude female figure, as Hurwit states, was “immeasurable.”

In the history of Greek art, the female form had previously been depicted with sparse detail or was clothed, in such pieces as the Folded Arm Figurines or the full-skirt wearing, bosom-bearing snake-goddess or abstractly on the surfaces of vases [Hirschfeld Krater, Athens, 990 BC].  And so begins what Dr. Hurwit refers to as a “double standard.”  The male body could be revealed but the female body would remain relatively hidden, clothed, abstract or only vaguely referenced.

And, of course, Greek artists were well versed in creating Kore or Korai, the definitive female representation.  Korai were always clothed, youthful, standing with one leg forward females.  When a female was depicted in the nude it was usually to denote slave girl, courtesan, or “call girl” status.  There existed a general banning or unacceptance of the female nude in most works, however, a notable exception existed in the depiction of the female nude in sculpture, for example with a work showing Apollo flanked by a nude Leto and Artemis [Relief from a temple at Gortyna, Crete, circa 640 BC].

With the study of the development of the nude in ancient Greek art, it is important to realize that Ancient Greece was not culturally homogeneous.  What was happening and acceptable in Athens, might not have been in Sparta, nor Crete.  However, it is Athens as a cultural center that helps us define the period from 600-340 BC.  From this era and a study of the works of art produced during this time, we can deduce that it was pretty much taboo to depict the female form naked.  Women, in art, are generally covered head to toe.

But in order to break through this taboo and this resistance to showing the female form au naturel, the artist, Praxiteles was very clever and thoughtful—he realized the necessity to create a narrative in order to justify the depiction of nudity.

Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos is shown bathing, modestly covering her pubis and blithely unaware of our presence.  We are in the position of approaching her, she knows not that we are there, watching her.  We are put in the position of voyeur, or voyeurese; we become the ones to blame for violating her privacy, seeing her in a compromising position, watching her while in the nude.

Voyeurs paid a heavy price in ancient Greek times.  Seeing a god or goddess without permission or consent or their knowledge was considered an anathema:  the violation would not go unnoticed nor unpunished.  The irresistible erotic power and sexuality of this statue was what lured viewers and made them its voyeurs.  A person approached this piece at his, or her, own risk (stories have been told of young men unable to resist the powerful sexual allure of this Aphrodite succumbing to and physically acting on their lust, and subsequently going mad, later throwing themselves from cliffs. )

The Aphrodite of Knidos was a liberating work as it essentially paved the way to release a torrent of female nudes and precipitated the onset of an acceptance of female form in Greek art as never before.  We see works like the Venus de Milo that explore how the addition of fabric can add a sensual layer to our view, enhancing the form within.

Suddenly the female form, post-Aphrodite of Knidos begins to experiment with a sense of allowable depictions that seem to encourage a sensual and sexual appreciation of the female form.  A winged Nike approaching Athena on the Temple of Athena Nike is in a full length clingy, dress-like garment, her body beautifully revealed by every thin fold of what must be a soft, flowing diaphanous fabric.  Curves of breasts and thighs seem almost celebrated beneath waves of revealing fabrics that cascade in anatomy clinging sensuality.  Dresses fall off bodies, and while these females are not completely naked, they might as well be—the sensuality and hedonistic visual we are given is nothing but entirely effective.  And, so the progression takes us from a cold, column-like hard, shaft clothed Kore to a new female nude defined as something almost always sensual, draped in folds and poses that accentuate her curves and softness. She bends to adjust her sandal.

The male nude remains another story and a much more complex one, at that.

Greek men strode about in the nude in private bedrooms, and at parties called symposia, sort of aristocratic drinking parties, if you will.  In the public sphere, male nudity was limited to the bathhouses, and the athletic games or gymnasia.  There was also the erotic nudity element in artistic depictions of homosexual and hetereosexual, both youth and adult liaisons—art limitating life, and vice versa.

In some cases, partial nudity of woman and girls was acceptable in the athletic games. In the Games of Hera, where virgins competed, females competed with one breast exposed but otherwise wearing a tunic. Hence, for the most part, full nudity was the privilege of men.

The Townley Discobolus. © The Trustees of the British Museum 2012. All rights reserved.

One of the centerpieces of The Body Beautiful exhibit, the Myron Diskobolos illustrates the aspect of nudity in athletics in ancient Greek art.   This nude body certainly asserts the beauty of the body and shows us an example of what is beautiful also being equated with what is good.  And, brings us further into our discussion of nudity in Greek art as having many different forms and meanings.

We have seen nudity with the male form as a way to define and show perfection and the ideal human form.  Nudity is also a custom of the gods, and therefore, a costume worn by god-like men.

The greatest of all civic heroes, we can say, is Pericles.  And our model of a hero par excellence, Theseus.  When we see these men depicted in the nude in war or battle, we can acknowledge that their physical prowess is being shown-off; but going into battle naked was not realistic, highly dangerous, and not the best way to fight.  Yet depictions of nudity in these battle-scenarios symbolizes an elevated and exhalted status, showing a sense of impending victory and courage, and of physical power.  This is “heroic nudity.”

We also see examples of “political nudity”—where political heroes are shown in the costume of democracy.  The removal of their clothes effectively distinguished them as “great leaders” and physically fit leaders in the political realm.

“Civic nudity” with the heroes as citizens (such as two brothers, The Tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who plotted to murder and over throw the Peisistratid tyrant Hipparchus) are depicted in statuary nudes as heroes of the state, in a willingness to shed all, to trust all and to exemplify “democratic nudity.”

Common laborers can be depicted nude, as well.  Shown naked, their sweat and muscles revealing how hard they work.  Even nudity is used to show age from youth to the elderly: one nude illustrating the fresh, strength and slenderness of youth to the other revealing the sickness and weakness possible with the dead, dying and aged.  But both show us a vulnerablility, a fragility, if you will,—one of the young, one  of the old.

Nudity can give us a glimpse of suffering, defeat, and impending death as we see in Ajax as he prepares to throw himself on his own sword and take his own life: he is the fallen, isolated, tortured hero as nude.  [Black Figure Amphora, The Suicide of Ajax, Greek, 540 BC.]  Perhaps “pathetic nudity.”

We see a full frontal of a nude Cassandra in a Red Figure Hydria, [Naples, Kleophrades Painter];  or a naked Hector bound to Achilles’ chariot…both strong and emotional depictions of nudity.  [Attic Hydria, Achilles Dragging Hector, 520-510 BC.]

And, this brings us to the concept of the difference between sexual nudity, soft nudity, nudity for nudity’s sake and actual nakedness, as well as the comparison between male and female nudity.  Nudes and nudity in Greek art do not always divulge the same connotation or meaning.  We have the presentation of nude versus clothed and the revelation:  there is much more to a Greek nude than just perfect flesh and “heroic nudity.”

Following his lecture, Dr. Hurwit led a public tour of The Body Beautiful at the Portland Art Museum.  His tour continuing and illustrating points made in his lecture, provided insightful scholarly commentary on numerous works in the exhibit including the many iconic marble and bronze sculptures, vessels, and funerary objects most coming from the second and third millennium BC. For more information on the exhibit at the Portland Art Museum please refer to, The Body Beautiful.

[This article is a brief summary of the lecture Professor Hurwit gave on October 28.  A full recording of the lecture will be available shortly and will be linked to this article.

We extend a sincere thank you to Professor Hurwit for his lecture, Nudes and Nudities in Greek Art and his tour of The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art.   Also, many thanks to the Portland Art Museum for their cooperation and assistance with this event.]

About Dr. Jeffrey Hurwit: Dr. Hurwit has degrees in Classical Languages and Literatures from Brown University and a Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from Yale.  He has taught at Yale, subsequently joining the UO faculty in the History of Art and Architecture.  He holds a co-appointment in the Classics Department and holds a Philip H. Knight Professorship.

A leading scholar of the archaic and classical periods in Greek art, Professor Hurwit has appeared in major documentary films and lectures at the world’s top universities, museums, and archaeological institutes.  The recipient of many prestigious awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the University of Oregon’s Faculty Excellence Award,  Professor Hurwit is the author of many works on the art  and civilization of Archaic and Classical Greece. Among his many influential publications that are regarded as standards in the field, his recent book, The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles is considered the definitive work on the subject.

Professor Hurwit regularly conducts research in Greece and Italy, and has been selected four times to teach in the Northwest Council for Study Abroad programs in Siena and Athens.  He has spoken widely across the United States and Canada and has also served three times as a study leader for Smithsonian Institution tours of Greece and the Mediterranean. In 2000, he was appointed to the prestigious Martha S. Joukowsky Lectureship for the Archaeological Institute of America, and in 2003 became the inaugural Dorothy Burr Thompson Memorial Lecturer at University of British Columbia. He has also served on the editorial board of the College Art Association’s Art Bulletin and on the Publications Committee of the Getty Research Institute.

Professor Hurwit is also currently working on Palaeolithic cave-painting in addition to his studies in ancient art.

Read one of Dr. Hurwit’s articles on this subject, The Problem with Dexileos: Heroic and Other Nudities in Greek Art.



Sara Huston's Conceptual Furniture Design | Objects of Empathy

Dan Scofield.

The official motto of the UO School of Architecture and Allied Arts is “Make Good.” Students in Sara Huston’s Furniture Design course this last fall 2011, took that one step further. Huston led her students on an interdisciplinary exploration of furniture design with the intent to “make good”—better. The course offered in the Product Design’s Portland program, Conceptual Furniture Design | Private Space (PD410) launched an experimental foray into furniture as a catalyst for creating meaningful experiences and interactions between the object and the user. Not only were students welcomed from all Portland programs to enroll in this course, but regionally-based community members and professionals in the design fields were invited to participate, as well. All the students found themselves challenged to embrace their backgrounds whether in architecture, art, or design to create pieces that illuminated ideas and provoked thoughts far deeper than your run-of-the-mill kitchen stool might elicit.

In what became a fantastic combination of the relationship between human behavior and product design, the course moved along with each student being required to develop a piece of furniture that might be found in the home environment. Once the design was completed, students worked on creating production documents to be used in communicating design intentions to fabricators. As a final step,students took part of their creation to the White Stag model shop, the Fab Lab, and built | prototyped the piece with the technical expertise of John Leahy and guided by Huston.

Student Ariana Budner commented on her experience in the course:

Although all of our designs were initially based on a lifestyle (ie. spiritual life), what was interesting to me was how each person began to focus on different components of the design — material, process, overarching concept — to dictate their final piece. For example, I wanted to learn how to use the CNC router, therefore, the concept of the turntable, grew out of the tool’s capabilities.

What I liked about the design approach in this class, specifically, was the diversity and breadth of skills I utilized, learned and strengthened within the ten weeks of the class. We were encouraged to work with fabricators, yet build what we could by hand. I learned a great deal in regards to both. And I enjoy the fact that my turntable is a fusion of my hand-crafted woodworking, digital woodworking, a fabricator’s welding, and a mass produced electronic.


Ariana Budner.

The progression from idea to a tangible piece of furniture was revealed at the course’s final review in early December 2011. The process had guided students down a path of understanding history and precedents of domestic furniture culminating in how they could create furniture with more meaning while encouraging them to defy convention. Focus was put on researching a user’s physical and emotional relationship with furniture and how to blend form, function, and design conceptualization.

When the pieces were put on display for review, the assortment was impressive: students showed a knowledge of materials, and finishes, and had crafted by hand or worked alongside manufacturers to help realize their designs. They engaged with reviewers and spoke about their work, explaining connections to the people who would be using the pieces. The exhibited pieces had been made of natural or deadfall wood, and materials that were completely formaldehyde-free or recycled. Concepts of reduce-reuse-and-recycle were plainly evident. Local manufacturing was the preferred option. This was the brave new world of furniture design. And as reviewers such as Reiko Igarashi , Kate MacKinnon, John Paananen, Dave Laubenthal, David Bertman, Leslie Biggs, and Brian Gualtieri joined the dialogue to critique the designs, the students’ creations received both constructive criticism and praise fueling the realization that furniture design for the home can be a highly provocative topic.

Danielle Thireault.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Sara Huston about her interdisciplinary product design course.  I wanted to discover how she was relating intention, process and her ideals of humanitarian-based design.  Huston explained that her Furniture Design course was all about collaborative design, interdisciplinary blending of talents and the understanding that to create something meaningful sometimes you need to “step out of yourself.”  This sounded fascinating, so I asked her to continue and to illuminate what it is that compels her visionary approach to furniture design and creative exploration of the form into an object of daily use.   The Cranbrook Academy of Art grad (MFA 2007, 3D Design) will quickly assure you that it is her sense of curiosity about “human behavior, human emotion, and how we connect with objects.” She further explains that this element is “something shared with the design profession….To be even more inclusive.” Huston continues, “it is all linked to physiology, sociology, and anthropology.” Talk about interdisciplinary….Huston feels that if one gathers the skills to enable “knowing the right formal expression, proportions, colors and compositions” one can use this melding of experiences to craft a compelling piece. Sometimes the most compelling pieces disrupt expectations and bring attention to passive human behaviors. “Just imagine,” says Huston, “how a table placed between two people affects their conversation, their body language, the way they interact with one another.” Remove that object, and the situation changes or shifts—no longer is there a solid object that projects intention and spatial relationships to a face-to-face encounter.

Zach Rosato Maxwell.

Huston is fascinated by the intimate, or lasting, relationships people establish with “stuff”—objects that are kept for a lifetime versus objects that are casually disgarded. What decides how objects are treated, what gives meaning to a piece? What makes one piece end up in a landfill and another remain a decades-long fixture in one’s living space? Huston believes that if an object does not hold something personal or evocative to a human’s emotional situation, that piece won’t be kept for long—it becomes meaningless, valueless. Posing these inquiries to her practice and embracing the somewhat controversial philosophy of product design as an art and not just a design, Huston enthusiastically promotes her process as akin to a brush thick with paint stroking a canvas-like sense of “freedom to absorb the world around [her] and reinterpret [her] surroundings.” A painterly metaphor gracefully upholds her firm stance that objects must contain an emotional and empathetic aspect. Thereby, her intention is to make design secondary to art, but to retain both as inextricably interwoven. Every created piece must have a rich story: have meaning, value and intention that moves forward with emotion and purpose. Lofty ideals to accomplish, indeed. But Huston is certainly the artist | designer to do just this. Her educational background (in addition to her MFA from Cranbrook, she holds a BFA in Sculpture from the Art Academy of Cincinnati, 2004) and her penchant to self-teach practical methods of woodworking and the technology of tools, has turned this ‘humanitarian artist of the object’ into a realm that rises with silky smoothness over and above only product design.

Zach Rosato Maxwell.

These ideals are interpreted to provoke a design discourse discussion.  Huston seeks to get her students to feel empathy with the users of their artistic furniture or, conversely, their furnituresque art, to perceive values in objects that can create a more fulfilled or meaningful life. Perhaps this is a new thinking, feeling, almost psycho-analytical development to product design, dare we say, a kinder, gentler way—the desire to encourage students to create objects that make people think and feel and respond to their environment? Huston would, in her charmingly bashful manner, say that her goal is simply to challenge these young people, to show them furniture is “the muse”.  It is not new, it is not revolutionary, she says, but it is a way of teaching product design that puts people first, and commercialism and materialistic acquisition firmly in second place. Students are taught that pieces with little intention and devoid of meaning are quickly put aside.

All of this translates to a course where Huston recognized the creative potential of reaching out to architecture and art students who might not yet have been exposed to furniture design, might not have thought about humanitarian furniture objects, might not have considered the emotional power of a simple usable furniture piece but who already are learning to practice the same inquiries in their creative design. Huston saw this as a chance glance through the lens of their architectural or art learning and realized an advantageous opportunity apply it to day-to-day, hands-on, immediately buildable pieces. With furniture design, Huston could enable her students to explore that their ideas as designs that embody design as a tool to positively effect their environment and draw attention to elements of living on a touchable, comfort-providing level.  We see the soft stacking layers of Danielle Thireault’s Homasote chair; and the gentle undulating concave a la convex of  Seth Dunn’s chaise longue.  And something as basic as a dining room table could be transformed to become integrated with digital, motion-sensitive lights and visually display human movement and interaction, or lack thereof, during a sit-down dinner. Student, Adam Wilson’s table was a captivating commentary on the health of the modern family, a solid recognition on the collapse of a strong family unit –if the family sits down together the red lights dance in response to human motion across the surface of thetable. The piece remains dark with no human interaction.

Seth Dunn.
Lights dance with the addition of moving hands and bodies on Adam Wilson's table top.

Discovering how furniture can relate to and express the human environment, as ideas from solitary sitting, to interactive motion-sensitive devices to pieces that would efficiently spin vinyl and simultaneously hold records illustrated how these students were critically thinking about the functioning world around them, how people relate to spaces and items in those spaces and everyday objects that might provide some glimpse into how we relate to one another.  Not to mention, what objects they felt people held or could develop an emotional attachment to.  The empathy is found in designing for others and their specific lifestyle: pieces had to work with a humanistic element and had to have an emotional anchor, they had to challenge expectations and react. Students had to grasp what creates furniture.  And what compels someone to like something inanimate: what prompts an emotional response, a table, a chair, an object that can hold something of value.

It had been Huston’s keen interest in discovering and developing the possibility of interdisciplinary creativity that would help students see a breadth to their ideas.  This concept ultimately led Huston to propose her furniture course series. Huston remembers herself grappling with design versus art concepts during her undergraduate days:  the art aspect flowed easily, the design component seemed to be inherent.  Did the two need to be separate or as her practice suggested, her work seemed to embrace the dichotomy.  She recalls an immediate connection with reflective artistic practice, it resonated with her from the onset of her creative endeavor, and “just” designing seamlessly gained her artistic flair. Huston comments that now having her own established studio and professional practice,The Last Attempt At Greatness, has allowed her to realize a niche for crafting objects that are woven with aspects of humanitarian thought, sustainable sentiment and a challenging process.  These were all aspects that would ask students to think differently about standard, everyday objects of furniture. Blending this into a design ethos and getting her students to visualize making furniture as a lasting and influential process made the interdisciplinary combination essential. Huston blazed ahead, her students expressing gratitude for the progression.

Student Danielle Thireault, commented:

The furniture course was the first chance I had to really integrate my architectural and product design educations. It allowed me to consider the spatial implications of the piece, as well as the user interactions. I really enjoyed the experience and appreciated being able to fabricate a concept and get a better grasp on the breadth of processes included in the production as an individual piece, as well as what considerations to take into account on a mass production scale. The environment of working amongst both architecture and product design students also encouraged avariety of exploration that, for me at least, was key to the development of my chair.

Danielle Thireault and her Homasote chair.

The initiation of the furniture series to inaugurate the interdisciplinary coursework at the UO AAA in Portland reflects a passionate, and increasing interest among students and professionals to participate in projects that extend to a greater community in ways that show positive, meaningful, connected work. Huston’s philosophy that asks students to think critically about and be cognizant of the history and social context fosters a much greater contribution to the product design field than simply approaching furniture design from a commercially viable viewpoint. Huston shepherded her students to experience and to merge with the environment they would be creating a useful object to be placed within. And as Huston likes to point out, this method can produce commercially marketable pieces appropriate for a mass-marketplace. However, she is quick to say that for her frame of reference, making things involves more than producing a sell-able item—and this, perhaps is what results in Huston’s craft intention being art first, design second. Or, maybe, intentionally, art that inspires comfort and connection because it just might be your favorite chair and something you feel an emotional connection to.

Our students, future architects, designers, artists will help fill our world with ideas. If they are offered opportunities to collaborate with those ideas, to work within all creative disciplines and to craft work that truly serves a population the field will blossom. Huston feels that it is with students that we “see the most innovation of all.” They are not afraid of failure, they take risks, they question what exists, they try things. This is why Huston says her best and most interactive audience is her students—“they feel the freedom to think and create what might never have been done before.”

Taking this energy into her spring offering of PUBLIC FURNITURE, Huston will be working with students who are interested in the competition, Land Art Generator Initiative, [LAGI serves to educate and inspire people about the potential for renewable energy generation infrastructure to become integrated into the aesthetic of our cities in ways that contribute to the cultural richness of the built environment.] Interested students can register starting March 2012 for this innovative class experience.

Providing key courses that encourage students understanding about the built environment, from the skyscraper to the stool, continues to develop an understanding of collaboration and bringing together ideas, a confluence of creativity. The intersection of thoughts, as Sara Huston advocates, can make good, very good design, but also it can make designs more thoughtful, more sustainable and more connected to the populations that live and work and play with them. From chairs to record player shelves, from tables to work stations, Huston’s class brought together a myriad of students who with different perspectives who had a vision to build something interesting and really think before, during and after. Design merged with art . . . . and it was stunning.

Photos of the student work from the fall 2011 Conceptual Furniture Design | Private Space (Product Design 410) course and the December 2011 review follows.

You can learn more about Sara Huston on her website, The Last Attempt At Greatness. She is currently exhibiting at the MADE LOCAL:  Products of the Pacific Northwest show, February 14-29, 2012 at the Bellevue College Gallery Space in Bellevue, Washington.

story and photos  sabina samiee

The work of Dan Scofield.
Dan Scofield's chair with bicycle tubing.
Dan Scofield's chair with bicycle tubing gets a test drive.
Ariana Budner's record player and record holding table.
Danielle Thireault's Homasote chair.
Danielle Thireault.
Meagan Dickemann's stackable pieces.
Seth Dunn and his chaise longue.
The bright lights of Adam Wilson's motion-sensitive table.
Adam Wilson demonstrates his table's bright lights to Nancy Cheng, director of the Portland Department of Architecture.
Kirsten Poulsen-House and Meagan Dickemann exploring what touch and pressure can do to Zach Rosato Maxwell's piece.
Heath Korvola (center) and his functioning workshop table.
The 2011 December review night.

Johnpaul Jones, FAIA | 2011 Pietro Belluschi Distinguished Visiting Professor in Architectural Design


Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, Ignacio, Colorado.

Johnpaul Jones, FAIA:  “Seeing the Things In Between”

The 2011 Pietro Belluschi Distinguished Visiting Professor in Architectural Design is Johnpaul Jones, FAIA, of Jones & Jones Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners, Seattle, Washington. In the fall of 2011 and as the 2011 Pietro Belluschi Distinguished Visiting Professor, Johnpaul Jones presented two lectures at the University of Oregon for the School of Architecture and Allied Arts Department of Architecture:  “The Frog Does Not Drink Up the Pond in Which It Lives, “ October, 2011 in Eugene;  and “Times Change but Principles Don’t,” November, 2011 in Portland. Among the many attendees at the lecture in Portland at the UO in the White Stag Block were Pietro Belluschi’s two sons, Peter Belluschi and Anthony Belluschi.

Jones has a distinguished 40-year career as an architect and founding partner of the Seattle-based firm, Jones & Jones Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners.  His design philosophy emerged from his Choctaw-Cherokee ancestors and connects his work to the natural, animal, spirit and human worlds.  His designs have won wide-spread acclaim for their reverence for the earth, for paying deep respect to regional architectural traditions and Native landscapes, and for heightening understanding of indigenous peoples and cultures of America.

What follows is a post on his Portland lecture, “Times Change but Principles Don’t.”

Northwest Native Canoe Center Seattle, Washington.


Johnpaul Jones is internationally lauded as an architect of both structure and landscape in Native, indigenously-inspired design projects.  Jones’ projects take a multidisciplinary approach swirling together symbolic Tribal activity, a sense of place, the natural environment, Native social customs, and religious beliefs.  His projects stand as virtual cultural reconstructions and beautiful culminations of cosmological concepts and life represented in an architectural achievement. Jones’ approach is one that reaches well beyond the basic requirements of a building to incorporate Native sensibilities and aesthetics.  His ability to bridge a path between the built environment and the Native universe, has allowed him to meld buildings rich with imagery, connections to the earth, and stratifications of story with reference in color, texture, and detail creating both a structure and a site that melds story and interpretation of a living, reacting, existing culture.

Johnpaul Jones began his presentation, “Times Change but Principles Don’t,”  with an acknowledgement of the namesake of his distinguished professorship: Pietro Belluschi; Jones also profusely thanked both of Belluschi’s sons, Peter Belluschi and Anthony Belluschi (seated in the front row) for attending the lecture.  “Your father,”  Jones proclaimed addressing both the audience and Belluschi’s family, “was timeless, he had spirit.”  Jones asserted that the designs of the famed Northwest architect “inspired [him] to become an architect.”  Also, praising his architectural education at the University of Oregon, Jones recalled that “[UO] was the right place for [him].”

Jones, himself of Cherokee | Choctaw heritage, became involved in Native art  and architecture early in his career due to his belief that one must bring new life to indigenous design and commit to taking a sort of pilgrimage to Native cultural environments thereby becoming influenced and inspired by the rich aspects of these Native traditions.  He encouraged a proactive personal seeking of this heritage as a way to gain an awareness of the Native environment.  This individual participation in the culture of a region would contribute to one’s understanding of distinctive forms.  Once one has experienced this uniqueness of site, the subsequent built environment and landscape design will more honestly evoke Native stories and connections to all four of the worlds present in indigenous beliefs:  natural, animal, spiritual and human.


Traditional regalia and dancing, Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, Ignacio, Colorado.

The importance of these four worlds to design and structure, according to Jones, cannot be underestimated —as these elements become the formative basis of the project.  Jones reflected that the natural world has the potential to effect us everywhere and needs to embrace the idea of sustainability as a constant.  The natural world deals with light and the seasonal equinox and solstice patterns.  Thus, in designing for a site the very initial step taken should be noting the cardinal directions, the location of the sun, and the stars in the cosmos.

Animals are of importance to a design and structure as well.   Many Native stories come from the animal world.  Using the inspiration of a living, breathing thing, whether a delicate frog, butterfly, bird or dragonfly to tell a story about life, existence and the fragility of living beings becomes a powerful design principal.    The spirit world contains objects such as rocks, views, mountains and trees, as all things have a spirit, says Jones.  Understanding or recognizing this idea of the spirit world will translate to a respect for the site and a comprehension that the land has something to tell.  Equally important is the human world as in all work there is the element of the passing on of knowledge.  Good design must provide opportunities to pass knowledge; and this component comes from the human world.

Using the idea of a canoe filled to the brim with elements from all four worlds:  natural, animal, spiritual, and human, Jones urged architects to “listen to the client, respect the land of the site, and be aware of the bigger message.”  The built environment is not just a sequence of buildings, said Jones, but stuctures that contain “life messages” and serve to act as translators of both ancient and indigenous gifts.


Light-infused interior, Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, Ignacio, Colorado.

Jones continued by discussing several projects he has participated in:  the National Museum of the American Indian, the Commons Park in Denver, Colorado, and a zoo design.  In each project, Jones emphasized that importance of a diverse practice and the diversity of design but, overall, the importance of a respect for the environment and natural settings and an integration of all four worlds.

For each of his projects that involved Native tribes, Jones recounted the sequence of the work pattern.  First, one must establish what is “welcome.”  He urged both the writing and thinking of the idea of “welcome.”  In addition to discovering this key concept of “welcome,” the architect must work with the tribe to determine the life force of the people.  In his cultural museum design at the Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio, Colorado, Jones spoke of the lives of the people as always spiraling outwards much like the spiraling basketry the tribe handcrafted.  Jones made a connection between trying to work within these stories and integrating this concept into the ultimate design.


Designing the Welcome cone-shaped structure, Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, Ignacio, Colorado.

Discussing his work with the Mercer Slough Nature Park in Bellevue, Washington, Jones described the master plan as embracing the value of creating a place for walks and a place where people could connect with themselves. This connection space and place would serve to provide a sense of enjoyment.  By integrating walkways and spaces in between the buildings, providing places to sit and see nature and the natural views of the surrounding landscape, and giving ample opportunities to appreciate the natural light though large windows in the buildings, Jones developed a way to integrate the person to the environment.   In doing so, the architect provided a source for conversation about what is being seen and what one is literally surrounded by.  Jones calls this “giving reasons to talk to [children] and to explain things.”

At Fort Vancouver, Jones related a project of reconnection, of a circle that connects to itself, his renowned Vancouver Land Bridge and was a key component of the Confluence Project.  His design here is intended to reconnect visitors to the river and to the land; to uncover the spirit of the place and the enchantment of the history, both Native and of the Western Europeans.  The effort one must make to “walk up and over and into the Fort” compels a sense of circular involvement and movement in amongst objects that seem low and unobtrusively part of the land.

Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat and the Icicle Creek Music Center, Leavenworth, Washington, is a project of Jones’ where he let his design meander naturally and organically throughout the complex.  Integrating large windows that face snowy, rocky hillsides, Jones thought to bring the outside in and use the natural surroundings to inspire the work of the musicians composing, playing, and practicing within the retreat.  As Jones puts it, his arms swirling to evoke the movement and melding of nature and music:  “you can see clouds moving, birds flying, and this brings the spirit of the music alive.”  It is a place to create and to observe, a place where one is not separated from the natural environment that is so strikingly just outside the windows but where one can infuse creative musical composition with the stunning visual component of the dramatic landscape and moving weather systems.

Architects must be adept at designing for emotion, Jones continued.  In the early 2000s, Jones was asked to design the masterplan for the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Memorial, a monument wall to honor the Japanese Americans who were displaced during WWII.  Jones created a place of quiet, a gently curving cedar wall where visitors can remember and honor their ancestors.  Key to this project was working directly with the Japanese American community of the region to discover what they would feel epitomized their emotional response.  The site would have to be something that recognized all diverse peoples.   Jones recalled with reverence the appreciation he received from the Japanese-American community for this project.


Influence of basketry in design, Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, Ignacio, Colorado.

Jones’ most recent Native project is the cultural education center in the Rocky Mountains, the Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, in Ignacio, Colorado.  Jones spoke of how the tribal members came to him and asked for a building that would represent their “circle of life”philosophy.  The tribe wanted a permanent gallery, a temporary gallery, and a native gift shop  in addition to educational and administrative components and a library.  The desire was to have a complex that began in a space that was clearly a  Welcome Center.  Jones devised a welcoming area that utilized the tribal concept of a cone, or a circle that crossed a stream and progressed under an arbor covered in a translucent material to let light glow within.  Jones thought that the most important component of this project was that it feel welcoming and that it resonated with the cultural mores of the tribe.  The resulting structure makes use of a great deal of colored glass (similar to the architectural designs of Pietro Belluschi, said Jones, as well as echoing the regalia of the Native tribe on this land).

As Jones brought his presentation to a close, he somberly appealed to his audience to remember: “Times Change but Principles Don’t” and commented that he felt Pietro Belluschi had understood this in his designs.  “We are destroying the earth,” cautioned Jones.

Jones’ lecture reminded the audience that the times have changed, the landscape is rapidly changing, but we remain here to live together and to be creative in the pursuit of allowing this land and all the people to listen to the swaying of the leaves, the roaring of the river, the blowing of the winds, the snowcapped majesty of the mountains.  The smallest frog or butterfly should be compelling enough to inspire a connection to animals and nature; the weather and the flowing of time, might evoke spiritual appreciation, and the father sitting with his child on a park bench telling her the story of the woodpeckers or the creek or the bear,  should provide a reason to think about the human world and the importance of communication, conversation, and connecting with one another.  Jones encouraged all to look in between things, to observe and notice that which is always present and around us.

Jones’ Portland lecture was delivered to an audience of over 150.   Quiet and contemplative throughout the presentation, listeners fell into an even greater sense of attentiveness as Jones read a well-known poem by Chief Dan George:

The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass, speaks to me.  The summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me.  The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning, the dew drop on the flower, speaks to me.  The strength of fire, the taste of salmon, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away.  They speak to me.  And my heart soars.

“We are part of this planet,” said Jones, “It is never going to go away.  So, take care of it.”  Jones advised, by “listening and being respectful,” and, above all, we must all seek to  “see the things in between.”  Do not forget the importance of “the place, the culture, and the environment, keep bringing these up” he encouraged.  When designing, “keep at it, and put people right in there.”  While Jones credited his mother and grandmother for teaching him the lessons of his heritage, he also thanked his university education for developing his approach.  Adopting a humanistic perspective and maintaining a design philosophy where the people-element is never forgotten or sacrificed is a principle Jones proudly says he “got from the University of Oregon.”  Post-lecture, Jones was asked for his comments about this recent experience as the Belluschi Distinguished Visiting Professor and his work with the students at the University of Oregon.  He commented that he tried to instill in the students the idea that “It’s not the final designs, even though that is what we are judged by, but the ‘Emerging Indigenous Gifts’ that count.”   He added that he would like to “thank all of [the University] for the opportunity [it] gave [him], and look forward to continued interchange.”

Jones’ lecture provided an education into the wisdom and unparalleled legitimacy of indigenous peoples.  His ability to come into the peace of a wild, natural environment and to absorb the presence and stillness of nature by bringing that into his designs is a principle of grace and understanding.  As an architect, Jones has allowed his heritage to move him and transpire into a empathetic design aesthetic.  It is this multidisciplinary aesthetic that  brilliantly incorporates into his architectural systems and thus adding meaning and story to the landscapes, shapes, textures, colors, patterns, rhythms, and forms of his projects.

[Note:  the video of Johnpaul Jones’ Eugene lecture is available at the following location:  “The Frog Does Not Drink Up the Pond In Which It Lives.“]

post  sabina samiee

many heartfelt thanks to johnpaul jones for sharing his images with us for this blog.

Johnpaul Jones delivers "Times Change, But Principles Don't", UO in Portland, 2011.