Myths and Legends about the Clara Porset Archive


Most recently a symposium took place at the Americas Society in New York together with the exhibition Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978. To my utmost surprise, one of the speakers (Mrs. Ana Elena Mallet) stated that the Clara Porset Archive which is safeguarded by the CIDI (Centro de Investigaciones de Diseño Industrial – Industrial Design Research Center) at the UNAM (Universidad Autónoma de México), does not have an inventory or is even catalogued and that every time she goes through it, she discovers something new! The comment in my opinion was very unfortunate and rather ungrateful to Mexico’s prestigious Industrial Design Research Center, and I feel the need to publish some pictures that I recently took myself of the Clara Porset Archive in its current state at the CIDI/UNAM, clearly including inventory codes, perfectly catalogued and securely stored.

The Clara Porset Library at the CIDI/UNAM

Interior view of the Clara Porset Library and Archive at the CIDI

Clara Porset Archive map storage cabinet

Clara Porset furniture design sketches

Inventoried Clara Porset sketches

Clara Porset Archive cataloguing work

File storage cabinets keeping Clara Porset’s personal library

The Clara Porset Library is well-organized thanks to the continued work and dedication of its Clara Porset Archive curators at the CIDI: CIDI Director M.D.I. Enrique Ricalde Gamboa and D.I. Jorge A. Vadillo López. Below I have included a picture of both them at the CIDI offices together with the true +30 years Clara Porset expert in Mexico´s Industrial Design scenario, Dr. Oscar Salinas Flores, who actually was one of Clara Porset’s devoted students and who has published two books about Clara Porset and several textbooks about Industrial Design in Mexico.

DI Jorge A. Vadillo, MDI Enrique Ricalde and Dr. Oscar Salinas at the CIDI main offices (from left to right)

The CIDI team and the UNAM have made great efforts to keep the Clara Porset Archive in good shape; of course, there are always new technologies that could make the Clara Porset Archive easier to review for researchers, but that might take some time and additional resources.

I hope, this clarifies several misleading and out-of-place comments concerning the Clara Porset Archive and who our CLARA PORSET EXPERTS really are!

P.S.: Clara Porset experts is boldfaced, because Mrs. Mallet, Mr. Rivas and Mr. Castañeda, who were involved in the above mentioned symposium and made reference of Clara Porset’s life and work, none of them realized that Clara Porset was not born in the year 1932 as stated in the list of designers featured at the exhibition on the opening page of

Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and …

That´s what I call soi-disant expertise!!

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

ZONA MACO visitors captivated by Don S. Shoemaker designs

Leave a comment

Don Shoemaker´s overwhelming presence at Zona MACO

ZONA MACO Salón del Anticuario 2014 first edition was presented in Mexico City last month. I happened to be visiting the city during those days and I decided to check on this new Antiques Show. My adventure definitively paid off! Even tough the exhibition area was rather small, my attention was immediately captured by one of the participating galleries who had an amazing collection of Don S. Shoemaker´s furniture pieces and accessories on display.

Don Shoemaker´s iconic furniture as seen at Zona MACO-Salón del Anticuario 2014

Modernist Don Shoemaker’s stole the show in Zona MACO with this Bar Set

I also found this sample of William Spratling’s superb work in silver from the 1940’s, a wooden box containing these 12 silver goblets, intact, never used, with its original wrapping paper…

An amazing set of 12 William Spratling Silver Goblets (1940’s)

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

20th-century furniture design value – Part # 1

1 Comment

The past decade has seen a significant rise in the value of 20th-century design, with vintage furniture pieces achieving record prices at auctions. Buying design objects and furniture at auction has become an event on par with a Modern and Contemporary Art auction in London or New York, etc. Today, all main auction houses around the world such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Phillips, Bonhams, RAGO and Wright have design departments and design auction sessions. The market has also seen a rapidly growing number of websites selling vintage furniture online. Beware of knock-off’s and attributions!

Another factor that has affected the market is the increasing interest of museums all around the world to develop a 20th century decorative arts department. There are some museums as well which have been interested in 20th century decorative arts for many years, in some cases predating the 1950’s. But there is only one goal for all of them: display the masterpieces of designers from as many countries as possible, so, when you visit the museum, you are able to enjoy the ultimate of elegance created by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, the Brutalism of Paul Evans, and world record price setter like Eileen Gray, etc. It is obvious, that with big players like museums, 20th century design auctions have become an arena where top prices are paid for furniture pieces.

The trend of investing in mid-century furniture started some years ago when collectors realized that the furniture in their residences were clearly below the level of what was hanging on their walls. It´s like to see a 10 carat flawless diamond mounted in a pull tab! What comes first to your mind is that the gemstone is definitively a fake. And that is exactly the same feeling that you have about the artwork when it is displayed on ordinary furniture. It is shocking to see that you are surrounded of artwork ranging from the US$100,000’s to many US$millions and that to enjoy the view, you are seated in a basic and commercial US$1000 mass-produced sofa or that their US$100 mass-produced coffee tables, credenzas, etc. is the place where they displayed from Henry Moore small sculptures to Alexander Calder mobiles or Gabriel Orozco sculptured stones. You just have to check out the pictures available on the web of celebrities and collector´s homes, and you will see that the boring white or brown mass-produced 3-seater or 4-seaters are the standard furniture at their houses.

Furthermore, the people in the design and art industry began taking an interest in mid-century designers. An important factor is that the shapes of the pieces and the materials used are totally adaptable to today’s way of life; timeless, clean lines and modern, using wood and metal and they also fit perfectly well with modern and contemporary art. The rise in prices for 20th century vintage furniture can be attributed to the change in tastes of affluent individuals that started displaying vintage design furniture pieces along with their collections of Modern and Contemporary Art. Nowadays, the decision to buy a collectible mid-century furniture piece is similar to buying artwork.

And then comes the question: what should you buy? Well, as with stocks, there is no magic list…. American mid-20th century furniture designs are keenly sought after by collectors. Handmade pieces are outpacing the mass produced easily knocked-off early production. Collectors have finally realized that there are millions of Eames chairs, and now they are looking for custom designed pieces by the likes of Vladimir Kagan, just as an example. Sure, some “fatigue” is seen in the George Nakashima market, probably indicating a leveling-off after years of being in very high demand; but Nakashima will remain a “blue-chip” name in American furniture in the future, regardless of the vagaries of the market.

George Nakashima Conoid Bench (1963)

George Nakashima Hanging Wall Case with free edge (1963)

George Nakashima "Slab" Coffee Table (1969)

Vladimir Kagan Mosaic Trisymmetric Dining Table (1950’s)

Vladimir Kagan “Floating Seat and Back” Sofa (ca. 1952)

Vladimir Kagan Wing Lounge Chair and Ottoman (1970’s)

Of course, a Charles and Ray Eames Lounge Chair with ottoman can qualify – even if it is mass-produced – as long as it’s the right example. There’s been a trend away from mass-produced pieces. But, with the Eames chair, first made in 1956, YOU WANT ROSEWOOD, the way the designers intended it, black leather, and down fill, as before 1988.

20th century furniture is a good investment as there is a growing global taste for furniture designed during that period. My top American designers are Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima, Paul Evans, Wendell Castle and Vladimir Kagan.

Wharton Esherick Desk (1970)

Wharton Esherick Hammer Handle Chair (late 1930’s)

Wharton Esherick Cherry Sideboard (1960)

Paul Evans Cabinet (1969)

Paul Evans "Argente" Wardrobe, Model no. PE-43 (1968)

Paul Evans Dining Table (1970’s)

Wendell Castle Two Seat Sofa (1967)

Wendell Castle Stacked Walnut Mushroom Table (1972)

Wendell Castle Starfish Console Table (1995)

If you’re looking for an investment-worthy work of art that you can actually use, mid-century modern furniture is a promising choice. As the market for vintage design and furniture grows, collectors are increasingly seeking out special pieces, limited editions and designs made in rosewood and other high quality hardwoods; pay special attention on designers of this last category. There are many extinct woods that they used and of course, following the economics principle of scarcity, this furniture is the one that will increase its value and desirability via its rarity and irreplaceability.

to be continued in part #2

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

Don’s Modernist Mexican Butaque Chair

1 Comment

continued from part # 5

As described in my previous post series about the Mexican Butaque, we have seen several samples and interpretations of these emblematic chairs coming from different regions and designers in Mexico. Considering all the information and research data that I have gathered in the past years, it is without a doubt that William Spratling is the true Father of the Mexican 20th Century Butaque chair rebirth, not Clara Porset, as many have tried to argue. Clara Porset as well as many other designers from that same period of time basically followed Spratling. Using his designs as an “inspiration” or just plagiarized and mass-reproduced the chair in cheaper woods with minimal changes.

When Don S. Shoemaker arrived to Mexico this small charming chair also called his attention, but our master had his own ideas… He envisioned the Butaque chair from a modernist point of view: the design had to be organic and it had to be made with dark and heavy tropical woods. On this basis, instead of using the typical arch that conform the legs of a butaque chair, he presented us with a beautiful organic composition of his chair legs. Moreover, he gave the flair of a sling chair using softer black leather instead of the traditional “vaqueta” leather that his predecessors had been employing. And of course, he did not attach it to the lateral body of the chair, and instead of using the round head rivets for this purpose on the top and low rail he developed a system that today is his trademark of fixing the leather to the hardwood: his iconic leather “sunflowers”.

Bronze rivet (19th Century) and Don’s leather rivet (1960’s)

The Sling “Sloucher” Chair was one of Don’s very first chair projects. The result: a very unique interpretation of a modernist Mexican Butaque! By 1960 he introduced the chair as we know it today:

Sling "Sloucher" Chair by Don S. Shoemakeral

The Sling “Sloucher” Chair is Don’s flagship, these chairs were an essential part of his SEÑAL, S.A. furniture catalog together with the Sling “Swinger” Chair and the Sling “Suspension” Stool.

Sling Casuals Catalogue page

As we have seen, the exotic Mexican Butaque Chair has a long history in furniture design; Don’s modernist Butaque was the last evolution of this graceful chair, no other designer in Mexico has succeeded in the attempt to create a new form for the last 50 years.


Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

The revival of the Butaque Chair in Mexican 20th Century Furniture Design – Part 5

Leave a comment

continued from part #4

The perfect finale for the Porset-Barragán-Sordo Madaleno butaque chair designs chapter is Mexican muralist, painter and designer Xavier Guerrero. Guerrero was Clara Porset’s silent partner, the quiet husband who was behind many of Clara Porset’s iconic furniture designs, including some of her best known butaca chair designs, as presented at the recent Xavier Guerrero Exhibit – Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo in Mexico City:

Butaca Chairs designed by Xavier Guerrero for Clara Porset

Prominent Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta started his career in the shadow of Mexican modernist José Villagrán; however, by his mid-career he had become far more prolific than any other Mexican architect, landing work as far afield as London, Australia, Japan and Qatar. Legorreta’s architecture has been described as Mexican minimalism and Mexican modernism; his mature style combined many of the aspects of the International Style with elements derived from the climate, colors, and architectural history of Mexico.

Whereas Barragán will be remembered as a designer of domestic spaces and housing developments, like El Pedregal de San Angel in Mexico City, Legorreta will be remembered as a master of large public spaces, from Pershing Square in Los Angeles (1993) to the Managua Cathedral (1994) in Nicaragua, and a long list of many other well-known international projects, placing Mexican architecture on the world map.

Among his best-known works in Mexico is the deep pink and yellow-fronted Camino Real hotel in Mexico City, which was designed to attract visitors to the 1968 Summer Olympic Games. Among the most famous private homes he designed were one for his friend and fellow Mexican, Hollywood actor Ricardo Montalbán, in the Hollywood Hills, and another for Chicago philanthropist Cindy Pritzker, a renowned supporter of architects. Legorreta’s interior designs frequently included Butaca Chairs and Benches, here we have some of them furnishing the entrance and lobby of the Camino Real hotel in Mexico City:

Butaca Chair designed by Ricardo Legorreta (1968)

Butaca Bench designed by Ricardo Legorreta (1968)

Large Butaca Bench designed by Ricardo Legorreta (1968)

Another noteworthy Mexican architect is Manuel Parra. Parra´s work is completely atypical compared to that of the other Mexican architects from his generation. Parra’s work spans from the 1930’s through the 1990’s and consists of many “casas” he built in Mexico City, primarily in Coyoacán and San Angel. His creations display a collection of fragments from a multitude of origins. He was a pioneer in the recycling of construction and demolition debris, he employed materials such as brick, tiles, wood, local volcanic rock, iron and, preferably, the remains of demolished Colonial buildings. These eclectic combinations became the fingerprints of his designs.

Parra was also a movie set designer, painter, sculptor, potter, and he designed furniture. Parra´s architectural work represents the Mexicanismo movement at its best, and his furniture designs would always include butaque chairs; essential pieces of furniture in his interior designs for the houses he built or refurbished.

Manuel Parra would only commit to build a house for somebody he liked. The legend says, that he built over 800 residences during his career, including Haciendas in the State of Morelos, gorgeous private homes in San Angel, Coyoacán, San Jerónimo, Chimalistac, Las Lomas and El Pedregal in Mexico City; in resorts like Acapulco, Colonial cities like León and San Miguel de Allende in Central Mexico, and in many other parts of Mexico, as well as in southern U.S.A.

Butaque Chair designed by Manuel Parra

Butaque with armrests by Manuel Parra (1960’s)

Then, the last push of the Mexican Butaque Chair fever came with Mexican painter, graphic designer and artisan Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo, who deserves to be mentioned for his iconic “Rangelino” Butaca designs: Rangel Hidalgo lived and worked most of his life at his family’s property called the Nogueras Hacienda in Comala, Colima. His best known work involved the designing of Christmas cards for UNICEF and the New York Graphic Society in the 1960’s, but he is also well-known for his furniture designs and promotion of traditional handcrafts.

In 1970, Rangel and one of his brothers obtained federal funding and founded the School of Artisans in Comala, where he taught design, painting and furniture making. Over 7 years, the school taught about 300 local artisans adding classes such as wood working, iron working, leather working, gold leaf application and furniture finishing. When he died, he bequeathed the Hacienda to the University of Colima, which converted it into the Centro Universitario de Estudios e Investigación, an Ecological Park and the Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo Museum. The name Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo is clearly identified with his style, now called ‘Rangelino’.

Many Mexican embassies and presidential homes are proud to showcase Rangel Hidalgo´s furniture and artwork. Here some perfect samples of his “butacas” with the typical “Rangelino” hand painted head supports:

Butaca Rocking Chair by Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo (1960’s)

Pair of Butaca Chairs by Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo (1970’s)

Butaca Chair with armrests by Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo

to be continued in part # 6

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

The revival of the Butaque Chair in Mexican 20th Century Furniture Design – Part 4

Leave a comment

continued from part # 3

American designer William Spratling frequented prominent artists and personalities that were active within the Mexicanismo movement during that time, and many of them decorated their homes with his furniture. As a result of William Spratling’s furniture designs success, the Butaque fever started in Mexico, and following the saying of silversmiths “the tin is the poor man´s silver”, in the 1940’s Clara Porset decided to introduce industrial low-cost series of butaques with only minimal changes to Spratling’s designs produced since the early 1930’s at his Taller de las Delicias. The conflict between Spratling and Porset became well known, and as a consequence, they never talked to each other again. Porset also approppriated an old art-crafted typical caned butaque of Veracruz and the famous Miguelito armchair from Jalisco, of course in cheap woods like pine, etc. Someone coined the saying: “A Porset is the poor man’s Spratling butaque”.

Low cost Butaque Chair designed by Clara Porset (1949)

Armless Butaque version designed by Clara Porset (1956)

Armless Butaque Chair by Clara Porset (1960´s)

Clara Porset´s Living room with a variety of Butacas

Pair of Miguelito Armchairs designed by Clara Porset (ca. 1947 + 1950’s)

Now we will witness how the fever of the butaque chair was propagated:

Everybody knew each other in the Mexican architectural and design world and one thing lead to another: Clara Porset collaborated on many projects with prominent Mexican architect Luis Barragán and by the mid 1940’s Barragán presented “La Butaca” designs in his furnishing proposals. At this moment the butaque fever reached its peak and the cloning virus was more vicious than ever; please check on the pictures of the typical Jalisco Miguelito chairs and the identical butaques produced by Barragán and Clara Porset; miraculously, one particular chair created by Clara Porset for Barragán looks identical to the caned Butaque chairs from Veracruz from the early 20th Century. (See my posts: Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part #1 & Part #5 + ¿What is the difference between a Mexican Campeche Chair and a Butaque? – Part #2)

I would like to remark however, that some of Luis Barragan’s and Clara Porset’s dining room chairs remind me of William Spratling’s designs as well, but we will talk about those appropriations in future posts.

Butaca Chair designed by Luis Barragán (1945)

Caned Butaque Chair from Veracruz (early 20th Century)

A Luis Barragán Miguelito Armchair

A typical Butaca from Jalisco (Miguelito Chair)

Pair of Miguelito Armchairs by Luis Barragán

I also have to mention Mexican architect and urban planner Juan Sordo Madaleno, active during that same period of time. Architecturally, he settled initially by the Bauhaus style and influence of Le Corbusier. Notable examples of Sordo Madaleno’s work are his own house (1952), the Cinema Paris (1954), with its surprising structure and composition, and the Seguros Anáhuac Building (1958). He significantly influenced the design of hotels in Mexico and he was among the pioneers to introduce a new type of large-scale commercial center, such as the Plaza Satélite (1971) in Mexico City. Juan Sordo Madaleno collaborated with Luis Barragán, Serrano and Ricardo Legorreta, among others, and he worked with Clara Porset on several projects like the Club Campestre Churubusco in Mexico City.

Here are some interior views of Sordo Madaleno’s house in Mexico City, including Butaca chair models designed by him – very similar to those presented by Luis Barragán and Clara Porset:

Butaca Bench by Juan Sordo Madaleno (1950’s)

Miguelito Chair by Juan Sordo Madaleno (1950’s)

A Luis Barragán Miguelito Armchair

to be continued in part # 5

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

The revival of the Butaque Chair in Mexican 20th Century Furniture Design – Part 3

Leave a comment

The comeback of “El Butaque” in Mexican 20th century furniture design came with American designer William Spratling, “Father of Mexican Contemporary Silver”. Spratling was not only well known for his creations in silver, but also for his emblematic furniture designs… All of Spratling’s furniture pieces were handmade by local carpenters under his direction, and they represent the essence of pure Mexican craftsmanship. Bill redesigned the butaque chair in a unique “ranchero style” and started to produce his iconic “butaquitos” at his firm Spratling y Artesanos in Taxco in the 1930’s. (See my post: Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part # 4). Both, larger and smaller butaque chairs were produced, with and without armrests:

A William Spratling Butaque (ca. 1940´s)

Butaque Chair designed by William Spratling (ca. 1940’s)

Butaquito designed by William Spratling

Pair of William Spratling Butaques

Hectór Aguilar began his career as the shop manager for William Spratling’s Taller de las Delicias in 1936. Aguilar then left Las Delicias in 1939 taking a number of silversmiths with him to found the Taller Borda, with the financial support from his wife and several friends. By 1948 he formed a new company, Talleres Borda, S.A. de C.V. which quickly became one of the premier retailer silver outlets in Taxco. Taller Borda sold a full line of sterling jewelry, hollowware, flatware and furniture pieces, all produced at the Aguilar workshops. The firm prospered for many years until its closure in 1962. Below I have included a butaca armchair produced by the Héctor Aguilar workshops:

Butaca Chair designed by Héctor Aguilar

Another outstanding Mexican artisan and designer who started his career in Taxco, at Casa Grande, is Antonio Frausto. He became famous for his highly successful Mexican Colonial designs made in juniper, pine and exotic wood species from the state of Guerrero. Frausto designed complete furniture sets for the interiors of Mexican Modernism architects Francisco Artigas, Manuel Parra and Max Cetto, just to name a few. His emblematic Mexican Colonial furniture pieces can be found at Haciendas and Ranches of Mexican Presidents, politicians, celebrities and wealthy businessmen; even today, you may recognize Don Antonio’s furniture designs at prestigious Mexican Colonial hotels and restaurants. His workshop, Artesanos de México, S.A. produced furniture lines including all sorts of cabinets with attractive ironworks, office furniture, dining and living room sets, bedrooms, chairs, tables and benches. My favorites, Don Antonio´s “bargueños” are without a doubt his personal trademark, but these will be described in another post dedicated to furniture from the “Mexicanismo” movement.
Since the 1950’s Don Antonio’s workshop produced a complete variety of “butacas” in juniper wood and “vaqueta” leather. Regrettably, most of his furniture production does not carry any label or signature; his creations are very often mistaken for designs attributed to William Spratling, Francisco Artigas, Luis Barragán or even Clara Porset.

A Butaca Armchair from the Artesanos de México catalog (1967)

Butaca Armchair designed by Antonio Frausto (1960’s)

Butaca Armchair designed by Antonio Frausto (1960’s)

Small Butaca Chair by Antonio Frausto (1960’s)

to be continued in part # 4
Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

Older Entries Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: