Sunday, January 10, 2010

Konrad Cramer Heads the Art Program at Parkhurst’s School

Konrad Cramer and his wife, Florence Ballin had settled into the life of country artists as they moved to Woodstock, established studios and continued painting. The rural environment provided a rich experience for the young couple. Konrad began teaching at The Woodstock School of Painting and Applied Arts and the Cramers began remodeling a pre-revolutionary house in nearby Bearsville. Florence had established a shop, selling art books, prints, jewelry and antiques to supplement the couple’s income. It was a productive and energetic time for them. Life was simple, money sometimes scarce, but in comparison to their previous life in New York City, the rural setting allowed time to paint and provided an active social community.

Some time before moving to Woodstock, Konrad had met Helen Parkhurst. The two shared conversations regarding education, and Cramer may have spoken of his experiences while visiting Europe in the spring of 1920. While abroad, the artist had studied the educational methods used in the training of craftsmen and designers. Parkhurst must have been impressed with Cramer, as she asked him to join the faculty of her Children’s University School in its new quarters on Manhattan’s West 72nd Street. Cramer at first refused, preferring to continue his studio activities and Woodstock teaching. But finally money became scarce, as Florence wrote in her diary at the time, “we are damn broke.” Konrad acquiesced and accepted Parkhurst’s offer to teach in Manhattan.

In the fall of 1927, Konrad Cramer became the head of the Children’s University School’s art department, framing the art program and becoming the first active artist to teach at the school. It is not know how many classes or teachers were working at the school, but there are a few surviving photographs of the art room from 72nd street. They show multiple activities. While students in these photos are most likely posed, the picture does reveal the range of art activities that were offered at the school. Weaving and embroidery (sewing), drawing and painting, sculpture, and ceramics, and printmaking seem to be offered to the children.

Arts Students from the Children's University School

Josephine Boardman Crane Papers Relating to the Dalton School.

Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Cramer dedicated himself to developing art curriculum. He spent his weekdays in New York City and traveled north to relax and enjoy weekends in Woodstock. Because of the busy schedule, he was unable to produce any new art while teaching. Florence laments the fact that her busy husband has not done any painting for a long time.

Konrad managed to stay at The Children’s University School for two years. At times his wife Florence also came to New York and conducted classes at the school. Cramer finally decided not to return to teaching at Parkhurst’s school for the fall semester of 1928. The artist must have parted on good terms for when Parkhurst decides to expand school facilities and move to a new location on East 89th Street, building a new building there, Konrad Cramer is commissioned to paint murals for the classrooms. It is at this point that The Children’s University School is transformed into The Dalton School, taking the name from the “Dalton Plan” which was the foundation for Parkhurst’s educational model. The name “Dalton” comes from Mrs. Josephine Boardman Crane’s home in Dalton, Massachusetts where Parkhurst first formulated her educational philosophy, with Crane’s encouragement, as she privately educated Crane’s three children.

When Cramer begins to work on the Dalton murals he returns to cubism, yet retains much of the dynamism of New York City. Despite the fact that we only have documentation of one mural constructed for one of the 5th floor mathematics classrooms, there is evidence there were two. In Florence Cramer’s diary there is a reference to multiple murals at the school,

For a time he was head of the Art Department of the Children’s University School in New York, and later did mural abstractions, in oils, for two mathematics rooms in this school. This mural was paid for by Mrs. Victor Harris, and Cramer was assisted by Woodstock artist, Lorenzo D. “Tode” Brower.”

Though the mural does not survive today, we do have Cramer’s preparatory study, an unfinished drawing, showing the geometric composition and beginning to hint at his color choices. The final painting was estimated to be 3’ x 9.5’ and has the top of a doorway cut into the bottom edge of the mural, just to the left of the center. Cramer builds a dynamic composition of carefully scribed lines, concentric marks and architectural details. His imagery represents a modern Manhattan at the beginning of its jazz age – skyscraping towers, an airplane ready for take off, the luxury of a fine Ruxton motor car with it’s spare tire resting on the front fender as it speeds uptown, all displayed in a cinematic flux. The discernable elements of airplane and automobile erode to the geometries of engineer’s drawings showing the draftsman and mathematician’s craft behind these modern forms. Cramer provides inspiration for the daydreaming student showing the beauty and potential behind mere number study. This work is unquestionably the most avant guard mural to be commissioned in New York at the time. The works of famous Mexican Muralists and those by Thomas Hart Benton and others would embellish the next generation of skyscrapers, yet would come a decade or two after Cramer’s work. The significance of Cramer’s modernist approach to imagery, a cross between the pulse of the city and the mechanics that lies underneath were surprising. A momentous, though largely unrecognized chapter in modern art, known only to the children who took their classes in this mathematics classroom for three and a half decades. A later head of school, Donald Barr, removed the mural in the 1960s. It is the only work like it in Cramer’s oeuvre and seems his only attempt at mural painting.

Konrad Cramer

Study for the Dalton School Mathematics Classroom

mixed media on paper

Courtesy of Franklin Riehlman Fine Art

Study for the Dalton School Mathematics Classroom (detail showing Ruxton Automobile)
Advertisement for Ruxton Automobile
Though Konrad Cramer’s time at Dalton was short, his influence set the groundwork for the importance of including art as part of every child’s education. Parkhurst continued the program and as she did with Cramer, she looked for individuals who represented a new wave of thinking and teaching to influence her school and the young minds of her students.
Dalton School 5th Floor Mathematics Classroom
A corner of Konrad Cramer's mural can be seen in the upper right of the photograph.
© The Dalton School Archives

No response to “Konrad Cramer Heads the Art Program at Parkhurst’s School”

Leave a reply

© 2009 Rob Meredith. All Rights Reserved | Powered by Blogger
Design by psdvibe | Bloggerized By LawnyDesignz