The Art Deco Murals of Hildreth Meière

By Catherine Coleman Brawer. Andrea Monfried Editions, dist. by ACC, May 2014. 240 p. ill. ISBN 9780991026302 (cl.), $60.00.

Reviewed June 2014
Lee Viverette, Director of Library, Special Collections and Publications, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, lee.viverette@vmfa.museum

This monograph focuses much-deserved attention on a female artist active as a muralist in the early twentieth century in America whose achievements have been obscured over time, even as her work remains highly visible. Hildreth Meière executed over 100 commissions including the famous large scale roundel decorations on the exterior of Radio City Music Hall at Rockefeller Center in New York that depict art deco style personifications of Song, Dance, and Drama. Her work may also be seen in other well-known public spaces such as Nebraska's State Capitol, the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, and numerous ecclesiastical buildings throughout the United States.
 
Biographical information details how Meière succeeded in transcending the boundaries ascribed to her gender in a profession dominated by men and boldly pursued every educational and artistic opportunity afforded her. It is fascinating and inspiring to learn how she cleverly navigated the complex logistical and aesthetic challenges posed by each unique architectural project. Her working relationship with prominent architects such as Bertram Goodhue are explored thoroughly.
 
A compelling aspect of this study of Meière’s artistic achievement is the recognition of Meière’s groundbreaking innovation and versatility in design technique and application.
The title of the book is slightly misleading in that the book is more comprehensive than the title suggests. The exploration of Meière’s work in the final chapter “Beyond Art Deco,” while informative, is a bit anticlimactic as the later representative work is decidedly less exciting than the art deco murals.
 
Authors Catherine Coleman Brawer and Kathleen Murphy Skolnik have produced the definitive book on Meière and the depth of their archival research is evident. They provide a wealth of scholarly documentation of her career, creative processes, and working methods with corresponding notes, index, and an appendix with a chronological list of commissions. The book is lavishly illustrated with documentary photographs and luscious new photography of Meière’s work provided by Meière’s granddaughter Hildreth Meière Dunn. In addition, Richard Guy Wilson, the renowned architectural historian from University of Virginia has contributed the foreword.
 
The title is essential for decorative arts or art and architectural libraries and appropriate for any comprehensive art reference collection or general library. Brawer also recently produced a catalogue entitled Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meière to accompany the recent exhibition of the same name held at the Quick Center for the Arts in NY and the National Building Museum in Washington, DC in 2011 that will also be of interest to those interested in this topic.

© 2014 ARLIS/NA