On Saturday March 12th, The Art Deco Society of New York offered its members a tour of the Radio City Music Hall. It was a great tour and included a trip into Roxy’s Apartment, which is usually off-limits. This was the first time I was in the theatre in over 20 years and the first time since its major restoration in 1999.
I have always loved the Music Hall and I’m glad that it was saved from slated demolition in 1978. There are so many impressive features of the theatre, but what struck me the most on the tour was something that I have barely taken notice of before, the textiles. The carpets and wall coverings are masterworks of modernist design.
Industrial designer Donald Deskey won the commission to decorate the two enormous Rockefeller Center theatres, the International (soon changed to Radio City) Music Hall and the R.K.O. Roxy. Because the scale of the theatres were so large Deskey turned over the interior decoration work for the R.K.O. Roxy to Eugene Schoen. Deskey hired a team of modern artists to decorate various sections of the Music Hall. This team of artists included Marguerite Mergentine, Louis Bouche, Stuart Davis, Buk Ulreich, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Witold Gordon and Ruth Reeves. Reeves had already collaborated with Deskey on furniture he designed for the Ypsilanti Reed Furniture Company. Reeves provided modernist textiles for the cushions, inspired by the artwork of Henri Matisse.
Ruth Reeves‘ textile design was influenced by cubism and that is clearly seen in her two works at the Music Hall. Still Life with Musical Instruments is probably Reeves most recognizable textile work. Comprised of very abstract and not so abstract representations of a guitar, banjo, clarinet, saxophone, accordion and harp in shades of gray, gold, rust, cream and black adorn the carpets in the Grand Foyer and its adjoining staircases.
Reeves’ other textile covers the entire rear wall and lower side walls of the auditorium. Titled History of the Theatre, it is executed in shades of browns and sepia.
Donald Deskey designed several textiles located around the theatre. His vision in the Grand Lounge carries a “diamond” theme from the ceiling lights through the mirrored columns right down to the carpet.
Deskey was a master of using out of the ordinary materials to make a statement. Nowhere is this more true than in the second mezzanine men’s lounge. The walls are covered by aluminum foil (donated by the Reynolds Tobacco Company) wallpaper with brown figures depicting the growing and selling of tobacco. Entitled Nicotine, it is the perfect wall covering for the space.
The elevator bank off the Grand Lounge has a carpet that I will attribute to Ruth Reeves. If the designer of this carpet was mentioned on the tour I have forgotten it and I cannot find any references in print or online about it. The reason for the Reeves attribution is the strong influence of Henri Matisse.
Deskey added a fun, whimsical touch with his carpet Singing Women for the auditorium. In shades of cream and blue against a light brown background, it compliments Ruth Reeves fabric wall covering perfectly.
The walls of the first mezzanine men’s smoking room are covered in a canvas mural. Designed by Witold Gordon it depicts in a stylized, modernistic version of Maps of the World.
If Donald Deskey did not design the textured, brown and gold tokko (heavyweight jacquard decorative fabrics with large designs) wall covering in all the mezzanine promenades, he did approve its installation. The Deskey designed lighting fixtures harmonize perfectly with the wallcovering creating a warm glow over these spaces.
The Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour is offered daily 9:30 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. If you love Art Deco and you haven’t been on this tour, make it a must do on your next trip to New York.
Anthony & Chris (The Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guys)
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