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 Karl Springer  (1931 - 1989)

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Lived/Active: New York / Germany      Known for: furniture design and decoration

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Foo dogs (2)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Rago Arts and Auction:
Karl Springer was born in Berlin, Germany in 1931, where he studied bookbinding and dressed windows for a popular city clothier.(1)  Springer immigrated to the United States and was working in New York by the late Fifties, creating window displays for Lord & Taylor. Using his bookbinding skills, he began making custom furniture and decorative accessories using animal skins. His work eventually made its way to the sales floor of New York’s high-end retailer
Bergdorf Goodman. A particular snakeskin telephone table apparently even impressed the Duchess of Windsor!(2)

He opened his first shop on First Avenue creating accent pieces treated with faux
finishes and animal skins. He then moved operations to East Fifty-Third Street, where he was assisted in the execution of his designs by European and Asian craftspeople, highly skilled in lacquering, batiking, and leather-work.

Springer’s home was an eclectic mix of East and West- antique and modern. His own creations drew inspirations from both early, sometimes even ancient, styles and the Deco designs of the 1920s. His surface treatments had a distinctly modern aesthetic. Drawing on the work of Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Jean Dunand, Springer brought Shagreen, or snakeskin, back into vogue.(3) In fact, it was his use of such exotic animal skins- lizard, shark, goat, alligator, and cobra(to name a few)- that set Springer apart.

In 1969, Springer opened a new showroom on East Sixth-first Street.  As he had done previously with great effect, Springer continued to outsource assembly of his designs to skilled craftsmen, both in New York and beyond. Springer’s close friend, Ron Seff, managed his workshop during the'70s, before the two had a falling out. Seff went on to produce Springer-like knock-offs.

The heyday of Springer’s career was in the early '80s, with showrooms in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Munich.  He fostered relationships with manufacturers in Mexico, Indonesia, and the Philippines.  These regions supplied Springer with the materials and skilled craftsmen to complete his work.  He also worked with Murano glass manufacturer Seguso to create hand-blown lighting. In addition to animal skins, Springer also utilized chrome, brass, glass, and Lucite to great effect- reflecting the in-vogue styling of the Disco-chic '70s and high-society '80s. By the end of the 80s, Springer’s health was in decline and he was forced to sell the company. He died in 1989.

1. Julie Iovine. "Karl Springer" in eds. Todd Merrill and Julie Iovine, Modern Americana. New York: Rizzoli, 2008. p.207
2. ibid, 207
3. ibid, 208

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