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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Klingman & Limbert Chair Company

by Rita Reif

Galleries today focus less on Stickley, whose innovative furniture is increasingly rare and costly, and more on his competitors, whose works are more plentiful and less costly. "Kindred Styles: The Arts and Crafts Furniture of Charles P. Limbert," an exhibition at Gallery 532, on Wooster Street in SoHo, through Nov. 19, 1995, sheds new light on one rival who is unknown today to all but scholars and the most dedicated enthusiasts of the style.

The gallery's displays reveal the great variety in Limbert's furniture. He borrowed freely from innovative American and European architects and designers, liberally mixing motifs and forms from the Arts and Crafts and Prairie styles. He used the same slender spindles in chair backs that Frank Lloyd Wright had introduced earlier, and his Morris chairs, with adjustable backs and slatted construction, resemble those of Stickley. The square cutouts on Limbert's chairs and tables and the inlaid metal flowers on his cabinets recall details in the furniture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh of Glasgow. And the cutout hearts reveal a familiarity with the designs of Charles Voysey of London.

Charles Limbert was born in 1854 in Lyonville, Pa., and grew up in Akron, Ohio. His father was a furniture salesman, and the son began the same way, selling chairs and tables. By 1891, Limbert and Philip J. Klingman were making furniture in Grand Rapids, Mich. The show's earliest piece, a Victorian ladder-back rocker with curvy legs, bears a label from that partnership, the Klingman & Limbert Chair Company, which was dissolved in 1892. Two years later, the Charles P. Limbert Company came into being, and two years after that it began producing Arts and Crafts furnishings. It did so until Limbert's death in 1923.

His most distinctive designs are the tables and chairs with square cutouts. A plant stand of this design, appeared in "The Arts and Crafts Movement in America 1876-1916," a 1973 exhibition at the Art Museum of Princeton University, the landmark show that defined the style and helped spur its revival. The show's organizer, Robert Judson Clark, a professor in the art and archeology department at Princeton, said Limbert's slat-back chairs and standard crafts pieces were usually "underscaled and malproportioned." But every once in a while, he said, Limbert produced an exceptional group of pieces.

While there is nothing to equal the plant stand at the SoHo gallery, the chairs and tables with square cutouts are arresting. Of these, the boldest is a futuristic chair with an adjustable back and three square cutouts under the arms. It is an American version of a Morris chair, named after William Morris, a British founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, and costs $12,000.

Mr. De Falco said the prices for Limbert's Morris chairs were almost as high as those made by Stickley, which cost as much as $16,000. "Limbert's Morris chair is among his most popular designs," he said. "It's called a Flash Gordon chair because the design was decades ahead of its time. Far-out."

Excerpted from a New York Times article by Rita Reif, October 29, 1995

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