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New book introduces mid-century design enthusiasts to Disney Animation’s Kem Weber

Posted on: 01/06/2019 00:00

(dailynews.com) When he retired from the Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2016, David A. Bossert got to take home his animation desk as a souvenir.

As the retired animator turned author put it, “This furniture has a soul to it.

“You feel the sense of history and creativity and the fact that this desk was part of some magnificent movies that were made,” Bossert said, adding films as far back as “Bambi” would have been partly created on its drawing board.

Bossert didn’t know it at the time, but his desk — designed in 1939 by the Berlin-born architect Karl Emanuel Martin “Kem” Weber, now the subject of the book “Kem Weber: Mid-Century Furniture Designs for the Disney Studios” — is part of a collection that has become a sought-after relic of the West Coast modernism movement Weber helped popularize alongside Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra and others.

Weber’s streamline moderne pieces today fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

In December at Design Miami, which took place alongside the Art Basel fairs, Laguna Beach-based Peter Blake Gallery sold five Weber pieces to three collectors for more than $100,000, including an animation desk, which the gallery noted: “rarely come up for a sale.”

Other pieces included a music cabinet, “Airline” Armchair, wardrobe and side table.

There was also interest from cultural institutions across the U.S., all of which already have Weber furniture in their respective collections. These included the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where the Airline Chair — considered Weber’s masterpiece — was a centerpiece of the 2011-12 Pacific Standard Time exhibition “California Design, 1930-1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way.’”

“Throughout the fair, we received overwhelming attention from those already familiar with Kem Weber, and most interestingly from people who had never seen his work/designs before,” said Genevieve Williams, the gallery’s director. “I think people were immediately drawn to the beauty and simplicity of the designs and were enamored with the history when they learned more about our presentation. Kem Weber is renowned in his own right as an architect and industrial designer, but the creative collaboration with Walt Disney was an incredibly special and unique chapter in his career. Disney also holds a very powerful place in the hearts and psyche of American culture, so it was quite wonderful to see the furniture that was used in the original animation offices.”

Bossert knew little about Weber or the furniture he designed for Disney Animation until the summer of 2017, when — while writing his manuscript for the still-to-come “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Visual Companion” — he sat back and began to contemplate its history.

He wondered, “Had anyone done any real documentation on this wonderful furniture?”

The answer, surprisingly, was no.

“I think there are tons of stories about Disney and the Disney organization that have never been told because they’re small stories,” he said. “This is a niche topic, but I felt it was worth documenting.”

Weber, who died in 1963, had left his papers to UC Santa Barbara. The university’s Art, Design and Architecture Museum opened up the archives to Bossert who discovered a treasure trove of information, blueprints and historic photographs that now informs his book, what he calls his “love letter to the furniture.”

The book also features interviews with the people who worked on the furniture during its heyday.

During his own 32 years at Disney Animation, Bossert created effects animation for “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “Pocahontas,” “Hercules” and other films on that solid-core birch plywood desk still stained with nicotine from some long-ago animator who smoked.

Weber had designed the desk with input from Disney’s top artists to include details such as a cigarette guard to prevent the wood from burning and a skinny pullout drawer for pencils, chalk, paper and other tools of the trade.

And its modular design allowed for some customization such as raising the desk on blocks (with some muscle) so that an artist could draw standing up.

Today it serves as Bossert’s writing desk.

The varnished finish put on some 79 years ago has aged to warm honey.

“There are dings and little imperfections from the way it was used, but it’s the original desk,” he said, noting the wood grain on the cover of his book is, in fact, the side of his desk. “It’s comforting to know that when I come into my office to work, I’m looking at the desk that I walked in on 30-plus years ago.”


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