Dunbar Beck (Artist): Collection of Designs for the White House Steinway

Dunbar Beck (Artist): Collection of Designs for the White House Steinway

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Dunbar Beck (Artist): Collection of Designs for the White House Steinway:

[White House Steinway] Beck, Dunbar. (1903 - 1986) Important Collection of Designs and gilted wood study for the White House Steinway
An important archive of assorted studies on paper and wood as well as photographs and other ephemera related to the grand piano decorated by Dunbar Beck, presented by Steinway to Franklin Roosevelt in 1938, and which remains in the East Room of the White House to this day. The archive generally in very good condition, various sizes and formats, with scattered minor tears, smudges, and creases. From the Estate of the artist.

Included here are two copies of a finely printed trifold Steinway brochure ("The Nation's Second Steinway") with a brief history of the instrument: "On December 10, 1938, Theodore E. Steinway, President of Steinway and Sons, and grandson of Henry Engelhard Steinway, the founder, stood in the White House before the President, and said: 'Some five and thirty years ago we had the distinguished honor of presenting the instrument which has found its home here since that time. Now, because of your graciousness and generosity, Sir, this great distinction comes to us again. The motives that impelled this presentation are the same that impelled the first one, namely, it is a paean of Thanksgiving by a family who arrived on these friendly shores from abroad and here were permitted to seek and make their homes and their lives, and to pursue their work with happiness and contentment.' President Roosevelt accepted the instrument for the nation, saying he dedicated the New Steinway to 'the advancement of music in every city, town and hamlet in the country.' Visitors will see the instrument in the East Room of the White House. The case, of finest Honduras mahogany, was designed by Eric Gugler. Dunbar Beck executed the symbolic decorations, which represent elementary American music - the Virginia reel, the New England barn dance, the ceremonial chant of the American Indian, the Negro cotton-picker bursting forth into song and the cowboy singing beneath the prairie stars. The massive eagles, symbolic of freedom, which support the case are the work of Albert Stewart. This magnificent instrument was built in its entirety with loving solicitude at Steinway, L.I., by craftsmen who believe it is their destiny to make the finest piano in the world. All those who worked on this piano sought to create an instrument which would be a State piano, one that would be at home in the White House." The White House website features a short film about the piano ("Catching up with the Curator: The Steinway Piano"), including footage of it being performed at recent White House concerts, as well as archival footage of it being played by Harry Truman.

The archive features 11 original studies by Beck, of various sizes and formats from approx. 6 x 12 to 11 x 14 inches. For the "Barn Dance" tableau, there are four drawings in pencil, ink and/or gouache plus a magnificent fully realized wooden maquette painted in gilt precisely as seen on the actual piano. For the "Native American" tableau, there are four original drawings, plus a photograph of the final panel, inscribed by Beck on the verso "Hard to find an Indian dance not connected to war or religion - Crow Indian social dance depicted." For the "Virginia Reel," one drawing included and there is a further drawing depicting two figures speaking with a man on horseback, illegibly inscribed below and perhaps a discarded earlier idea. A 24 x 18 inch printed diagram of a Steinway Model D ("Scale - 2 in = 1 ft"), features on the verso an expressively drawn male nude, evidently not related to the designs for the piano, though included because of its placement on the diagram. Also included is a 20 x 16 inch black and white doubleweight presentation photograph of the piano, a program from the "Preview Luncheon to the Creators of the White House Piano" (Lotos Club, NY - December 3rd, 1938), a 4-page Steinway News brochure about the piano (including a photograph of Beck), an original 1928 graphite portrait drawing of Beck by W. Christian, and a letter to Dunbar Beck on Steinway & Sons letterhead dated January 25, 1947, signed "Th...Steinway," and letting Beck know that "we had to take the White House Piano to the factory for slight repairs. Luckily your lovely decorations are O.K., but there are so many visitors in the White House who finger the piano and brush their buttons on it, that some day someone may make an injury to your lovely work, in which case, as far as I am concerned, no one will touch it but you!"

Dunbar Dyson Beck was a muralist, teacher, interior designer and painter. In 1927, after receiving his BFA from Yale University, he won the prestigious Prix de Rome award for his painting Adoration. He spent the following three years studying at the American Academy in Rome. Upon his return, he taught at Columbia University and Cooper Union in New York. Commissioned works occupied much of his time during the 1930s and 1940s, ranging from murals, including for the World's Fair and Radio City Music Hall, New York, to ecclesiastical commissions, such as St. Roses' Chapel in Sacramento, California, and more uniquely, the present frieze for the case of the Steinway concert grand piano that was given to the White House by Steinway & Sons, which received by President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt with great pleasure.

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Dunbar Beck (Artist): Collection of Designs for the White House Steinway:

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