Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Front to back: Billy Haines's eye for talent


When I first opened up Class Act and saw the singerie sketches, I presumed they were by Billy Haines—it was a book about the designer, after all. But on closer inspection I read that they were by Paul Fehér, a talented artist and draftsman who worked with Haines as a freelance designer for more than forty years. The book illustrates several of Fehér's murals, several of which were done for Haines's house on North Stanley Avenue in Hollywood, but the endpaper drawings were intended for folding screen. (Was it realized? My curiosity about Fehér is officially piqued.)

Gondola-going monkeys float along to the music of a monkey band.


Fehér was born in Budapest, where trained in the fine arts before moving to Paris in 1923. He worked briefly as a furniture designer, but quickly found a place in the studio of master metalworker Paul Kiss. Fehér's Art Deco designs were highly sought after, which caused more than a bit of friction with Kiss. In 1929 he decided to leave Paris and accepted a position with the Rose Iron Works in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Fehér's designs, like the fire screen below, received much acclaim but when the Great Depression hit, the firm's commissions evaporated. With his savings lost in the crash, he returned to Hungary. But he didn't stay for long. With equally few job opportunities in his homeland, he decided to again try the United States—this time for Hollywoodand a happy ending it was. Fehér enjoyed a long career collaborating with Billy Haines (on homes like Pickford, no less), and ran a successful decorating firm specializing in residential and restaurant design. He worked into his late 50s, and resided on Balboa Island until his death in 1990.

Fehér's Muse with Violin screen for Rose Iron Works won the Cleveland Museum of Art's spring show in 1930.

So with this little foray into endpapers I've learned about someone previously unknown to me, and I'm now completely inspired to learn more about him. Is his archive out there somewhere??

Class Act, which appears to be one of those publications that fails to credit its designers by name, was published by Pointed Leaf Press in 2005.

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