January 18, 2013
The next time you have lunch at City Cafe, take a moment to peer into the window of the building next door at 1013 Cathedral Street – it just might take your breath away.
|McClain Wiesand’s Showroom|
Wait a moment and let your eyes adjust to the light. The 2-story, blueberry hued showroom is crammed with odds and ends that, somehow, pair perfectly together.
A bust of Marcus Aurelius watches over a Baltimore Chair that sits next to a heavy oak table displaying hand-colored drawings.
It’s the main showroom for McClain Wiesand, a custom furniture company and Baltimore institution for more than 25 years.
“In the late 80s and early 90s, I owned an antique shop on Howard Street,” David Wiesand told me, “I loved it. I ran the business by day, but at night, I built my own, custom designs.”
David graduated from MICA with a Master’s in Painting – he was the one who painted the beautiful murals that were part of the Tremont Grand’s restoration.
Eventually, he realized that his true passion was furniture design.
David particularly enjoyed a style known as Biedermeier, which catered to the German Middle Class of the early 19th Century. This style emphasized clean lines and minimal ornamentation, with a nod to the past. “The 19th Century Germans were looking at the French, who were an ornate team of architects looking back at classical Rome,” David explained.
“You can see the Classical influence in the scrollwork in their pieces, and the ‘X’ braces that support their chairs.”
|Notice the ‘X’ beams|
David also studied the work of Baltimore’s best craftsmen from the 19th Century: a pair of brothers named John and Hugh Finlay. Their work can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like David, the brothers Finlay followed the Biedermeier style and created high-style painted furniture masterpieces with classical motifs.
David revived the Finlay brothers’ most successful piece, which is affectionately known as the Baltimore Chair.
But for some, this very elegant design proved to be a precarious perch. Benjamin Latrobe, who worked with the Finlay Brothers, once complained that “three of the chairs have been broken by one man weighing a lot who has attempted at different times to lean back in them.”
David’s chairs, on the other hand, account for sitters of all sizes. In fact, his furniture business grew out of commissions from local designers to fabricate the Baltimore Chairs. “It was really my opportunity to talk them into something I wanted to make,” he said.
A Workshop, A Home
|David Wiesand with a holiday creation|
In 1999, David moved his antiques business into the old Reliable Tire building at 1013 Cathedral Street.
“The upstairs rooms were used to store tires – I could see the measurements written in pencil on the walls,” David said. He researched the building’s history at The Maryland Historical Society and then began a decade-long renovation. All of his artistic skills were called upon. With the help of friends, he raised the ceiling a few feet, moved the roof joists, built an enormous floor-to-ceiling column for the showroom and painted murals and stonework along the walls.
These days, his home is a spectacular work of art that has been featured in The Baltimore Sun and was even a stop along the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage and Holly Tour. There are different themed rooms; one parlor, a throwback to the 1850s, is filled with historically accurate furniture David made by hand. Another is a ‘Moroccan Room,’ complete with hookahs and the exact tile motif found in the Tremont Grand’s Oriental Room. “I love to call it a giant confection,” David said.
|A mind-bending array of possibilities|
But for me, the most fascinating part of David’s old curiosity shop is the workshop itself.
David converted the Reliable Tire’s garage into his fabrication shop – it’s a treasure trove of new and reclaimed materials from places like Second Chance, Baltimore’s architectural salvage depot.*
In one corner sits a massive walnut cabinet that David & team are building for a customer in New York; David is currently perfecting the cremone latching system that allows the cabinet doors to effortlessly open and shut. In another corner, a man-sized sheet of rubber molds will become part of the design of a dining table for a customer up North. In still another corner, there is a mirror frame with a thousand different metal slots – into these, David’s craftsmen will carefully insert shards of colored glass.
|Alexandra Wiesand with a chandelier ‘in progress’|
McClain Wiesand has become a family business; David’s two daughters, Alexandra and Katie, both help their Dad out with his wildly creative projects. Here Alexandra works on of one of the company’s most popular items, called the Carousel Chandelier.
The gold circles dangling to the right of Alexandra may look familiar. Ever notice the large mirrors placed high on the wall in the back of clothing or grocery stores? The ones meant to catch shoplifters? Well, David figured out a way to elevate this everyday object into fine art. He removes the plastic surrounding the mirror, and then flecks the lens with acid, which eats through the mirror’s silver finish. Then he adds a top-secret recipe of finishes and voila!
Check out what the finished product looks like:
David’s showrooms include the prestigious John Rosselli & Associates showroom in New York, Design Center of the Americas in Florida, Hinc and Company in San Francisco and Michael Smith’s Jasper showroom in Los Angeles, to name just a few.
The Wiesand family has deep roots in Baltimore, and our city proves to be a source of constant inspiration for David. In fact, a trip David made to The Walters Art Museum a few years ago inspired him anew. “I remember standing in the Armor Room and seeing the displays of beautiful chain mail. I thought, ‘here’s one thing. Now if I put lots and lots of these things together, I can create a new thing.’”
Thus, his Tab table was born.
“I’m moving away from antique reproductions now,” David continued. “I’m focusing more on new, interesting art: on texture, on surfaces, and on form. I like to call it ‘Neo Baroque.’ The Baroque movement was grandiose and big, with gilt decoration. I like to think of our furniture as fashion, which is constantly changing. We want to give our clients something new to be excited about.”
I can’t help but think, that, by honoring the past – especially Baltimore’s craftsmen and the objects from days gone by – David’s own voice has emerged.
We are profoundly impressed, David! And so happy to have the McClain Wiesand workshop in our neighborhood. Your creativity adds something special to Charles Street. Here’s to reclaiming pieces of Baltimore’s past, and representing our city on the world stage of furniture design!
McClain Wiesand’s showroom is open Monday-Friday from 9 am-5 pm. It’s located at 1013 Cathedral Street. You can also call ahead to make an appointment; 410-539-4440. Website: http://www.mclainwiesand.com/
*Editor’s Note: Second Chance recently moved, but it’s still open and operating in Baltimore! Its new location is 1700 Ridgely Street.
Fun Things Happening the Rest of This Week
Tonight, January 18 at 8pm, listen to the harmonies of East & West featuring G.I. Gudjieff at An Die Musik!
Gurdjieff, a seminal spiritual figure of the last century, introduced to the West an ancient yet unknown esoteric teaching of development and awakening, one that teaches how to creatively use the diverse impressions of ordinary life to come to real life.
In the 1920s Mr. Gurdjieff created a body of music that is the esoteric expression of the sacred. He was assisted by the Russian composer and pianist, Thomas de Hartmann, who said of Gurdjieff’s music “it helps to concentrate oneself, to bring oneself to an inner state when we can assume the greatest possible emanations.”
The works will be performed by Michael Dale, a composer-improviser and multi-instrumentalist residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. He performs regularly with many jazz and classical groups including New Keys and Death of Cool. Recently, he is featured on the recordings Sacred Music of the Eternal Present: Hymns and Prayers of G.I. Gurdjieff, and Perserverance, by the free-jazz group Sound Immersion. He is also a composer for film, having scored the award-winning short Milo’s Wheels. He maintains a full studio of private students in the East Bay. He is a student of William Patrick Patterson, a leading exponent and teacher of Gurdjieff”s Fourth Way.
There will be a wine reception following the performance. Tickets are $10; order yours online or by calling 410-385-2638. An Die Musik is located at 409 N. Charles Street. Website: http://andiemusiklive.com
Due to the Inaugural Festivities, the Mayor’s Office decided this year to hold our 13th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade on Saturday instead of Monday.
So, the parade will be held on Saturday, January 19, 2013 beginning at 12:00 noon, rain or shine.
“The parade is to remind us Dr. King’s message of equality,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
And this year’s grand marshal is Baltimore native and former Harlem Globetrotter, Charles “Choo” Smith.
The parade route starts at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Eutaw Street, and proceeds south along Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to Baltimore Street. Click here for a complete list of road closures. For all the details on the parade, click this link from the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.
On Saturday night, join Peabody Institute Faculty member Brian Ganz as he continues his quest to perform every work by Chopin, on Saturday, January 19 at 8pm at Strathmore!
Brian will be performing with the National Philharmonic. He will be exploring the theme of “Small Worlds.”
His program will include Frédéric Chopin’s 5 Mazurkas, Op. 7; Trois Ecossaises, Op. 72, No. 3; Lento con Gran Espressione in C-sharp minor; Presto con Leggerezza in A-flat major; Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23; Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47; and the 24 Préludes, Op. 28.
The first of the Ballades holds a place of honor in Brian’s heart, as he considers it the piece that inspired him to become a pianist. “It is no exaggeration to say that Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 changed my life,” he says. “I like to say that Chopin ‘wounded’ me with the mysterious, inexplicable beauty of that piece.”
Brian is Artist-in-Residence at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and on the piano faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Tickets are expected to sell out – get yours now! http://nationalphilharmonic.org/
Know someone who’d like to be a Charles Street Insider? Just send them this link:
http://historiccharlesstreet.com/signup And they’ll be on our email list! Thank you, now and always, for supporting our Charles Street community.
Alright, Ravens fans! This week, I want you to test your knowledge of our team with this online trivia quiz (I thought it was hard!)
Best of luck to our boys in purple this weekend, and talk to you soon!
The Historic Charles Street Association (HCSA) is a non-profit organization, 501 (c)(3),whose mission is to support and promote the businesses, cultural attractions, entertainment venues, restaurants and retail establishments along the Charles Street corridor. HCSA serves as a problem solving and information resource for its members, as well as provides a forum for networking, communication and collaboration.