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 James Mont  (1904 - 1978)

About: James Mont
 

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Lived/Active: New York/New Jersey / Turkey      Known for: furniture and interior design

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Pair of wall-hanging sculptures
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Rago Arts and Auction:
James Mont is synonymous with the Hollywood Regency design of the 40's and 50's. He was born Demetrios Pecintoglu in 1904 in Isanbul to a Greek-Turkish family.  The family emigrated to the United States in 1922. Mont eventually settled in Brooklyn, NY and opened an electrical supply shop where he purportedly began selling lamps to a Brooklyn mobster.(1) Thus began Mont’s career and lifelong connection with notorious clients, for whom he produced lavish furnishings to match their larger-than-life personalities and expensive tastes.

He moved his lamp shop to Atlantic City where his relationships with
gangsters is said to have further evolved.(2) By 1932 he was operating a design design business on Fifth Avenue in New York, reportedly with the financial backing of his underground associations yet again. With the onset of Prohibition, Mont began designing custom bars and liquor cabinets, disguised as other furniture or collapsible.(3) He relocated his business, now going by the name “Maison Decors, Inc"., to 37 West Fifty-Seventh Street in 1937 followed by another more to 548 Madison Avenue the next year. In the late forties, he began a partnership with cabinetmaker Karl Gephardt, and the two began the company Modern Modes on East Fifty-Second Street.  Their operation included fifty workers spread between the drafting room, metalworking shop, upholstery shop,
finishing room, and showroom. He is said to have opened and closed stores, with other locations including Greece and Miami Beach, in order to avoid taxes, although he went bankrupt in 1934, 1946, and 1952.(4)

Mont’s own designs were flashy, elegant, and often excessive. Using built up layers of hand-polished lacquer, gold leaf and other expensive materials, Mont created opulent furnishings with heavy Chinoiserie influence.  He thought his furnishings unique and original, calling them “Chinese Modern.” His partnership with Gephardt produced imposing furniture that was glamorous, painstakingly crafted, and expensive. In the early 50s his Octopus lamp, featuring multiple cast bronze legs and black lacquer wood core, was selling for $1,000. One of his largest commissions came in the 1960s when his career was flagging, custom-designing the over three-thousand square foot interior of a Miami Beach penthouse in a building called the King Cole, using Greco-Roman and Chinese motifs throughout.

James Mont's life ostensibly mimicked that of his disreputable clients, driving a custom Packard, consorting with many women, and relished his high-profile social connections.(5) In 1937 he married Helen Kim, a twenty-five year old Korean-American stage actress. Twenty-nine days after their wedding, she
committed suicide in their Park Avenue apartment. The event made the papers and Mont fell under suspicion. Doubts were also raised over another suicide, this time of a female business associate, whom Mont received prison time for assaulting.(6) He died in 1978.

Whatever one might say about Mont's personality and private life, and there is certainly plenty to be said, his best designs- well-proportioned, exotic, and luxurious- stand as a true testament to mid-century Hollywood glamour.

1. Maneker, Roberta. “James Mont” in ed. Todd Merrill and Julie V. Iovine, Modern Americana (New York: Rizzoli, 2008) p.163
2. ibid, p.163
3. ibid, p.163
4. ibid, p.164
5. ibid, p.164
6. ibid, p.164

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