Jerry Johnson and His Sling Chair
This one is for all you chair geeks / design nerds out there. (I'm one!) While we were living in Florida in 2015, I picked up a bargain chair ($10) that I nicknamed 'The Batman Chair' as it looked like the seat of the Batmobile. After identifying it online as a Jerry Johnson Sling Chair I dug a bit deeper and found the design patent, including it in my listing.
199,621 Patented Nov. 24, 1964 United States Patent Office ARMCHAIR Jerry Johnson, Malibu; Calif. Charlton Company Inc., Fitchburg, Mass.
I took some nice photos of the chair and sold it on Etsy. Soon after it sold, I was contacted by Jerry Johnson's daughter (in Temecula, CA) who asked if she could use the photos as part of a remembrance for her father - he had passed away that month (5th Aug 2015). I have been unable to find his obituary anywhere. It would be interesting to read more about his life so if anyone has it please send it along.
And that's where it ended - there didn't seem to be much more out there on the chairs or Jerry Johnson...until I picked up a couple more pairs of these super cool chairs and wanted to dig a bit deeper. I discovered a number of clippings and and some interesting tidbits to go along with them.
Origins of the Sling Chair
Chicago Tribune, January 7th 1964
The photo below is the reason I wrote this article! I couldn't believe the two chairs were in the same article - and we have the same two in our living room! This is the first mention of the chair as it debuted at the 1964 International Home Furnishings Market in Chicago in january 1964 - meaning it was probably designed in 1963. It links it to the Charlton Company with no mention of Jerry Johnson. The chair in the middle is also one that has been a mystery chair for some time on the interwebs. According to this article it is by Deco House Company.
Marketing Change for the Sling Chair
The Times, Munster Indiana, Sunday January 24, 1965
Jerry Johnson is named in the advertisement, but Charlton is not mentioned at all. It also briefly names the chair 'Maverick I'.
The Cumberland Evening Times, Wednesday July 7th 1965
Six months later with the chair into production, the chair frame gets some improved structural stability with the addition of two stretchers running between the front and back leg stretchers. I haven't been able to find any examples without these reinforcements so it is possible only the earliest productions or maybe even the prototypes did not have them. I'm also guessing the marketing department really liked the cleaner profile of the hand drawn rendering so they used it in advertising material.
This advert refers clearly to the chair as the Triumph I Sling chair, and it's nice to see I wasn't far off with the Batmobile idea! - 'Sports Car Look Comes Into The Home' . The ad references the 'patented three-point suspension' and its foam filled seat, with options only in vinyl.
This advert interestingly states 'Patent Applied For', even though it is from 1969 and the Patent was applied for in 1964! (Poughkeepsie Journal 19 October 1969). Includes new options for 'the season's smartest fabrics or vinyl'.
Big thanks to blog reader Rod who sent us photos of an original paper tag on his JJ sling chair - I'd never seen one before as they usually fall off:
We currently have 2 pairs of Jerry Johnson Sling Chairs in the Trystycraft store here:
Other Jerry Johnson Chair Designs
This one with an iron frame and leather sling has often been mis attributed as a William Katavalos sling chair. (Photo from Los Angeles Times, 31, Aug 1958 Page 158)
The Engineer of the Famed Sling Chair
Jerry Johnson's approach to furniture seems to be that of an engineer, evidenced by his preference for suspended slings, cantilevers and new materials. This photo shows Johnson with chairs, ottomans and barstools from his chrome cantilever line.
Johnson even created a new material for Landes Inc. to allow new forms. This material was PVC - which was waterproof and maintenance free. Several realisations of this new material are shown below: Idyllwild Chair (1968) made of interlocking tubes and the tubular framed Lounge Chair and Ottoman (1971) (From: California Design: The Legacy of West Coast Craft and StyleBy Jo Lauria, Suzanne Baizerman 2005)
In Other 'Mystery Chair' News...
I found an old advert for this beautiful cane seat chair with a sculptural frame which had been unidentified or wrongly attributed to a number of designers and producers over the years. When I sold this chair to Ralph Lauren in NYC a few years ago, I was still unsure about its true origins, only that it was stamped "Made in Denmark".
The adverts below, however, reveal its origins as a design by Kofod-Larsen. It was featured in a number of print adverts featuring imported Danish furniture and the one shown below lists it in a group designed by the famous designer/architect Ib Kofod Larsen for Selig.
Image: Palm Beach Post, Feb 10 1958
I hope you've enjoyed this collection of snippets from vintage print adverts I've put together from hours (days, really!) spent on archive sites. I'll be writing some more posts on chairs, designs and designers that I found interesting and that, to my knowledge, there isn't much readily available information on. If there's a mid-century modern chair you can't identify, get in touch and we'll see if we can help.