Film: The Fragility of Glass, The Solidity of Stone: Eliot Noyes in New Canaan
by Gwen North Reiss
Eliot Noyes, photograph by Molly Noyes, all rights reserved
The second house that Eliot Noyes designed for his family in New Canaan is known for many things: the Calder sculpture in the courtyard (and the mobiles inside), the inspired use of glass and fieldstone, and the separation of public and private spaces (you have to go outside through covered walkways around the center court to get to the bedrooms and bathroom) to name a few. The house, which is still in the Noyes family, was the setting this past spring for a conversation with Eliot Noyes’s son, Boston-based architect Fred Noyes. Our interview was filmed and photographed by students as part of the Glass House Oral History Project.
Noyes House 1955, back view. Photograph by Gwen North Reiss.
Eliot Noyes was a designer’s designer. He made a quiet and profound mark on the disciplines of architecture and industrial design. Are you a baby boomer whose first word processor was the IBM Selectric typewriter? He designed it. The modern Mobil logo and its streamlined stations with their circular umbrella-shaped canopies were projects that came from his office. While a curator of Industrial Design in the 1940s at MoMA, he championed the work of Charles & Ray Eames. He brought Paul Rand to IBM. As both Fred Noyes and Gordon Bruce, Noyes’s biographer, both emphasize, his vision of American companies that integrate design, corporate identity, and product lines created a template for the way we do business today.
Noyes House, interior view from living area toward courtyard and front door. Photograph by Jeanne McDonagh.
We discussed Noyes’s life, his houses, and his principles of design. A short clip features Meridee Noyes Brust, one of Noyes’s two daughters on moving into the second Noyes house. The theme that emerged in our talk was the way that art, architecture, and life were in Fred’s words “all of a piece.” While Alexander Calder worked on the sculpture for the Noyes courtyard, the whole family was in on the discussion of scale. And Eliot suggested steel plates that would help support the weight of the sculpture—an innovation that changed the way Calder designed some of his larger outdoor pieces. Fred also gave us a glimpse of a childhood visit to Calder’s studio—and how his wild enthusiasm (as he caught the moment of a small creation) gained him a prize. His telling gives us an astonishing view of the artist at work.
Our interview is in two parts: “The Fragility of Glass, The Solidity of Stone: Eliot Noyes in New Canaan,” and “A Bird, A Beast, and Two Mobiles: Alexander Calder and the Noyes Family.” The second film includes a short bio of Noyes before the interview begins.
Film: A Bird, A Beast, and Two Mobiles: Alexander Calder and the Noyes Family
Alexander Calder and crew assembling the stabile (the Black Beast) in the courtyard. Eliot Noyes’s suggestion of using gusset plates to reinforce the sculpture was an idea that allowed the artist to create larger outdoor pieces. Photograph courtesy of the Noyes family, all rights reserved.
Noyes kids on stabile. Photograph courtesy of the Noyes family, all rights reserved.
The Black Beast stabile in snow. Photograph courtesy of the Noyes family, all rights reserved.
Bird by Calder, given to Fred Noyes by the artist. Photograph: Fred Noyes, all rights reserved.
* The Philip Johnson Glass House is pleased to announce that tickets are now available for the 2013 tour season. A variety of tours are available so visitors can enjoy all aspects of the Glass House, an icon of American modernism, as well as art galleries and other buildings set a 49-acre country landscape. www.philipjohnsonglasshouse.org
Filed under: Glass House Films, Tours + Programs, Alexander Calder, Eliot Noyes, Fred Noyes, Glass House Oral History Project, New Canaan, The Glass House