My first job when I moved to Indy in 1998 was fixing up Vess Ruhtenberg's dad's house. Vess is a well known local musician, producer and overall aesthete with an obsession for architecture. His list of projects is too long to go into here. Google him.
So how I talked Vess into paying me to do this I'm still not sure. I didn't know much about fixing up houses but I knew something about working on old cars. His father's 1960 MG A was sitting in the garage in a state of disrepair. One of my favorite memories is the eureka moment we had when we hand cranked the MG to life for the first time in decades after a lot of work. Yes, hand cranked.
While working on this project and hanging out with Vess I got to know more about his father and grandfather, Jan. Both were architects and from what Vess was uncovering it sounded like his grandfather might have been special. I hadn't yet begun my career in antiques and auctions so the significance of the fact that my work table at the house was a prototype of Mies van der Rohe's Tugendhat Table didn't really register at the time. Tugen-what?
As Vess discovered more and more about his grandfather- Jan Ruhtenberg- it became clear that Jan was no minor modernist. He had worked close with Mies on the Barcelona collection in the late 1920s. In fact he may have even been an important collaborator on Mies' most famous piece- the Barcelona chair. Vess uncovered 2 early variations on the chair from his grandfather's collection that provides some evidence that Jan could have even originated the design. Jan also worked and lived with Phillip Johnson. Vess uncovered letters from Mies and Phillip Johnson revealing that his grandfather was thick with the most important designers of the time. But until recently history has not been kind to Jan.
Last month Indianapolis Monthly ran a great story on Jan including a good accounting of Vess' quest to finally give his grandfather the respect he deserves.
This Friday, September 2nd, Blackline Studios in the Murphy Building in Fountain Square (Indy) will host a exhibit of Jan's work. Here's more info on the event. I highly recommend you attend.
Details: Reception, 6 to 11 p.m. Friday, Blackline Studio for Architecture, 1043 Virginia Ave., Studio 211, free, (317) 803-7900, www.blacklinestudio.net