This Art Teacher Designed One of the Most Divine Art Deco Landmarks
Who: Adah Robinson, an art teacher who designed an ecclesiastical icon—Boston Avenue United Methodist Church—during the art deco movement in the 1920s; July 13, 1882–March 10, 1962
Why She Dazzles: When the building committee at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church searched across the United States for an impressive new design, they found nothing inspiring. The wife of a committee member suggested they ask Adah, an art instructor and founder of the University of Tulsa art department, for a design in 1928. While her designs were totally unlike anything they had ever seen, they accepted her unconventional work, which would become one of Tulsa’s most iconic sites. Adah wasn’t an architect, so when prominent architects declined to bid on her radical design, she suggested one of her former high school students—the not yet famous architect Bruce Goff—create the blueprints. She remained on the project as a supervisor through its completion in 1929.
Why You Need to Know Her Today: Art deco buildings light up the skyline in downtown Tulsa due to the great wealth that accumulated in the Oil Capital of the World during the oil boom. Boston Avenue United Methodist Church remains one of the city’s most well preserved art deco buildings from the era. While the church remains loyal to Adah’s artistic contributions, controversy lingers as to who is responsible for the church’s unorthodox design. Her former student, Bruce Goff, claimed he and his firm designed the church. Even though Adah and the church preserved her original pastel drawings of her designs, there were social constraints for career-driven women like Adah in the first half of the 20th century. Many didn’t believe she could be the mastermind behind this architectural gem. Her influence is visible in Goff’s work and other former students who became notable architects and artists like Robert Garrison, the sculptor of the terra-cotta sculptures at Boston Avenue. Fortunately, Boston Avenue recognizes Adah as the principal designer, and her portrait remains on display inside the church’s main entry.
What She Would Say—Because She Said It Then: “All appointments have been designed with the hope of creating a place that is honest, harmonious, and spiritualized; that those who may not respond through their reason and those who may not react through their emotion may at least through visualization be moved to a higher conception of the Presence of Divine Power.”
Where She May Like to Instagram: Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, now a national historic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places through the National Park Service. Her art deco design for the church’s intricate interior and exterior was a departure from the popular Gothic style of the time, yet Boston Avenue became one of the finest examples of art deco in the country. The most visible design element is the slender, 15-story, limestone tower capped with four shards of glass, receiving and reflecting light toward the four cardinal directions.
What the Ladies Rocked Then: The International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts gave rise to a new international style known as art deco in 1925 between World War I and World War II. Geometric, elongated pieces with symmetrical lines emerged, and contrasts in color were emphasized. Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds were the most popular gemstones, often in fancy cuts set in platinum. Women wore short hairstyles that exposed the ears so the most fashionable earrings were long, dangly, and jeweled.
How You Can Rock It Now: “Season after season we see exceptional pieces from the 1920s and 1930s command top prices,” said Frank Everett of Sotheby's in Town and Country magazine. “This jewelry represents the ultimate attention to detail in terms of design, materials and craftsmanship, and will always harken back to that glamorous period ‘between the wars’ when lifestyles called for dressing up and wearing lots of jewelry every day.”
Shop the Sparkle: Downtown Deco
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