Arts & Humanities Campus News

Jacobsen shares the importance of chairs, museums during Signature Lecture

No one could have guessed that Diane DeMell Jacobsen’s Zoom lecture on chairs was the first one she had ever delivered that way.

Presented by the Georgia Museum of Art in conjunction with the exhibition “The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design,” the event, designated one of the university’s Signature Lectures, featured Jacobsen’s enthusiastic survey of some of the chairs in her foundation’s collection, from which the exhibition is drawn. Jacobsen is a distinguished scholar, art collector and chair of the Thomas H. and Diane DeMell Jacobsen Ph.D. Foundation.

With a beach scene behind her, complete with a palm tree swaying in the breeze and some rolling surf, she cheerfully asked, “Aren’t you glad you have chairs? Imagine if you had to stand through this Zoom lecture and you didn’t have a nice chair to be seated in.”

Jacobsen’s enthusiasm for her subject came through clearly, as she ranged from Egyptian revival design (the first chair she ever bought, inspired by her own trip to Egypt) through American history. Along the way, she made the case that “chairs are pieces of sculpture that you just happen to sit in. They show creativity. They show the history of a county. They show innovation. They can trace how art has changed from decade to decade to decade.”

In her talk, while using chairs as the immediate focus, she also discussed the origin of time zones, the history of the Shakers (famous for making beautiful furniture), the early House of Representatives, the impact of inexpensive patents, Commodore Perry’s entry into Japan and how to bend horn to make a Texas-style ranch chair.  Jacobsen continued and spoke about other topics, like the assassination of President William McKinley, the National Parks system, the fact that wicker is a process rather than a material, Japanese internment camps and Elvis Presley. Along the way, she not only communicated her love of chairs and the fact that she has sat in all 60 the foundation owns, but also the importance of museums in her life.

She said that as a child, she would go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on her days off from school and still makes an effort to visit museums wherever she travels. “Take your children, your grandchildren to the museum; they will be able to relate to the chairs and you’ll be giving them a gift for the rest of their lives.”

When the exhibition finishes its tour after 26 venues, she plans to donate the chairs to a decorative arts museum, where they can be appreciated. She is also working on a catalog to document her collection. She closed by saying, “I hope that you love chairs as much as I do.”

Those who missed the it can watch the recorded lecture on the museum’s YouTube and Vimeo channels.