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)
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.
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.
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.
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.