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 Oscar Bruno Bach  (1884 - 1957)

About: Oscar Bruno Bach
 

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Lived/Active: New York / Germany      Known for: decorative metal work, lecturer

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BIOGRAPHY for Oscar Bach
Facts/Data
Birth
1884 (Breslau, Germany)
 
Death
1957 (New York City)

Lived/Active
New York / Germany

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decorative metal work, lecturer

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

The following biographical information has been provided by Tracy H. Bernabo, Research Assistant for Friends of Oscar Bach, June 2006:

Oscar Bruno Bach (German/American, 1884-1957)

German born craftsman Oscar Bruno Bach was one of the most technically skilled and commercially successful figures in the field of decorative metalwork during the first half of the 20th century.  His design and production ranged from small utilitarian designs for the home to grand-scale architectural elements.  His style was as diverse as his use of metals and included Arts & Crafts, Gothic and Tudor Revival, Spanish Baroque, French Directoire, English Chippendale, and American Art Deco. Thematically he was particularly fond of the zodiac, of lush scrolling grapevines, classical masks, mythological symbols and elements of the Italianate and Germanic grotesque. Oscar Bach’s work can be found in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Minneapolis Museum of Art, The Wolfsonian, and Reynolda House.

Oscar Bach was born Oscar Bruno Bakstik on December 13, 1884 in Breslau, Germany.  As a young man he studied painting at the Royal Academy in Berlin and also underwent a 4 year apprenticeship in metallic arts. From 1898-1902 he attended the Imperial Academy of Art in Berlin. Following this formal education Bach became the artistic director of metallic arts firm in Hamburg where he made an ornate jewel encrusted Bible cover for the study of Pope Leo XIII, an early article of his craft which remains in the Vatican permanent collection.  Two years later, Bach won several important commissions to design metalwork for civic buildings including the new city hall in Berlin.  Between 1904 and 1911 Bach worked as a successful metalsmith in Germany, keeping a studio in Venice and traveling extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa where he became keenly aware of various decorative styles, histories, materials, and techniques.  In 1911 Bach won the Grand Prix at the World’s Exposition in Turin, Italy for a bed he designed for Kaiser Wilhelm II and soon after, he left Europe to establish a business in New York City with his brother Max Bach, arriving at Ellis Island on the S.S. Argentina in 1912.

A new business partnership formed, Oscar and Max Bach established BACH BROTHERS, and soon after Oscar B. Bach Studios, Inc. at 257 West 17th Street.  During these early years Oscar and Max Bach’s metal shop stayed busy creating beautiful household objects for moneyed New Yorkers as well as custom architectural works for America’s great country estates.   Most of Oscar Bach’s designs from this early period bear a metal with the inscription OSCAR B BACH / NEW YORK / STUDIOS INC and a central image of a female profile flanked on each side by a double-struck B. Some also bear the unfielded stamped mark OBASO-BRONZE / OSCAR.B.BACH. STUDIOS.

In April of 1923 upon an acrimonious split with a third business partner named Bertram Segar the Bach brothers moved to a new studio at 511 West 42nd Street and renamed their firm Oscar B. Bach and Associated Craftsmen. Bertram Segar remained in the West 17th Street studio, renaming it The Segar Studios. There, Bertram Segar continued to reproduce many of Bach’s original designs and variations on Bach’s designs, either selling them in an unmarked state or stamping them with his SEGAR STUDIOS mark. 

Desperate to set the record straight, Bach full page advertisements in multiple issues of Arts & Decorations stating that, “All products designed and executed in my studios bear my facsimile signature, and no other articles are genuine.”  And, “It is distressing to find other things – ugly things that I could not create, put before the public with the insinuation that they are my work. It is not only distressing but a fraud on the public.”

Despite these very legitimate complaints lodged by Oscar Bach, Mr. Segar enjoyed a successful six-year run in the custom metalwork business, eventually folding in 1929. Segar’s unauthorized reproduction of Oscar Bach’s designs continues to cause much confusion in the market today.

As for Oscar Bach, the firm of Oscar B. Bach and Associated Craftsmen flourished robustly throughout the mid 1920s and 1930s.  Most of his merchandise from this period bears a metal tag with the artist’s name Oscar B. Bach in script. His busy workshop turned out large quantities of his most popular items such as ashtrays and lamps, by way of small scale “mass production” while Bach himself never missed the opportunity to create more lavish and entirely unique pieces for his special clients. Almost every conceivable form was available from his production line - smoking stands, library lamps, footed bowls, card trays, planters, torchéres, andirons, fire screens, slab tables, mirrors, sconces, chandeliers, picture frames, clocks, humidors, curule chairs, cabinets, benches, bookends, children’s flatware, porringers, hinges and door hardware – all fabricated in an array metal materials … bronze, iron, steel, aluminum, silver, gold, copper, and even lead, and often featuring polychrome enamels, traditional hot chemical patinas and other innovative surface treatments, custom Steuben glass components, and fanciful cast ornamental detail.

Bach routinely submitted his new designs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Exhibition of Industrial Art and would capitalize on the show’s prestige by placing advertisements with photos of his MMA exhibits.  He networked well and made important social and business connections with bankers, museum directors, hotel magnates, and architectural firms.  In 1926 he won the prestigious Medal of Honor from the Architectural League of New York for a set of bronze doors to their club room. Bach was a savvy self-marketer who advertised consistently in a variety of magazines and journals, many associated with the trade such as Metal Arts, many with fine décor as their focus such as International Studio, and a few aimed at the leisure class lifestyle such as Theatre and Country Life.  Wherever his commission work took him, Bach would seek to secure a local venue, usually a high end department store, to sell his designs.  By 1929, consumers could purchase Bach’s fine metals across the U.S. from Manhattan’s  B. Altman & Co. to Joseph Horne in Pittsburgh, and Forster-Smith in Toledo.  Winning the commissions to furnish custom metalwork for the ocean liners SS Manhattan and SS Washington, Bach then persuaded US Lines to offer a selection of his small domestic objects for tourists to purchase on board while traveling across the Atlantic. Once in Europe, one could visit Bach’s studio in Piazza Oberdan, Florence, Italy.

But New York was where Oscar Bach was most present – from his retail showroom in Manhattan he could look proudly towards every compass point of the surrounding city to find examples of his ambitious architectural work: the Riverside Church, the Architectural League of New York, Temple Emanu-el and Congregation Rodeph Sholom, the Masonic Level Club, the New York City Department of Health Building, the Bank of New York & Trust Company, the Earl Carroll Theatre, the Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, the Airlines Building at East 42nd Street, and the stunning Williamsburgh Savings Bank in Brooklyn.  Perhaps his crowning glory is the large inlaid stainless steel mural he fabricated and installed in the lobby of the Empire State Building in 1931.

Elsewhere Bach won high-status commissions from the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department, Washington D.C., Yale University, the Toledo Museum of Art, Cranbrook Art School, and the Circle Tower in Indianapolis.  He worked often with prominent architects such as Lewis Colt Albro, Herman Brookman, Clarence Day, Charles B. Delk, and Harrie T. Lindeberg and designed exterior and interior fittings for the houses of some of America’s wealthiest aristocrats including Horace Havemeyer’s Long Island home, Olympic Hill, George Arents’ residence in Rye called Hillbrook, Eugene duPont’s Delaware mansion Owls Nest, William Scripps’ Michigan estate, Moulton Manor, Lloyd Frank’s lavish Fir Acres in Portland, and the ornate Villa Philbrook for Waite Phillips of Tulsa.

By the late 1930s Bach’s showroom and sales office had relocated to the prestigious British Empire Building at 620 Fifth Avenue and was operating under the name Bach Products.  Most objects from this period are stamped OSCAR B. BACH and bear an applied tag which reads BACH PRODUCTS above the profile image of a tazza.  His large workshop which employed numerous European trained craftsmen was located at 288 East 18th Street in Patterson, NJ. 

Throughout his career Bach filed for a total of 66 patents with the U.S. Patent Office and in 1941 Bach patented the “Bachite” system of construction to render steel corrosion and abrasion proof. As an innovator of metal materials Bach also created Lustralite, a form of anodized aluminum for Manning-Bowman. It is during this later period Bach that transitioned from the field of decorative arts to a career as a metallist for some of America’s top industrial firms. From 1941 until his death in 1957 Bach worked as a consultant for Remington-Rand, Edward Budd, Oneida, Baldwin Locomotive, American Radiator Company, and the Tappan Stove Company. Upon his death Oscar Bach and his wife Pauline were living at 962 Fifth Avenue with a lovely view of Central Park and the surrounding city of New York that had been his home for over four decades. According to his obituary in the New York Times, in the months leading up to his death, Bach’s largest free-standing sculpture, The Spirit of Democracy, a 17 foot allegorical figure, was nearing completion and scheduled to be placed at Rockefeller Center’s La Maison Française terrace.  Although Bach finished this massive tribute work for his client, The Spirit of Democracy was never installed.

During his lifetime, Bach was interviewed and featured in numerous magazine articles and trade publications, and was most notably celebrated by renowned art critic and author, Matlack Price, in a publication entitled, “Design & Craftsmanship in Metals: The Creative Art of Oscar Bach.”  Metal artisan and innovator Oscar Bruno Bach died on May 4th, 1957 at the age of 72.


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