Oscar Bruno Bach (Breslau, Germany, 1884 - New York, NY, 1957)

German born craftsman Oscar Bruno Bach was one of the most technically skilled and commercially successful figures in the field of decorative metalwork during the first half of the 20th century. His design and production ranged from small and domestic to grand-scale architectural. His style was as diverse as his use of metals and included Arts & Crafts, Gothic, Renaissance, Spanish Baroque, Tudor Revival, and, on occasion, modern Art Deco. Thematically he was particularly fond of the zodiac, of lush scrolling grapevines, classical masks, mythological symbols and elements of the Italianate and Germanic grotesque. Oscar Bach's work can be found in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Minneapolis Museum of Art, The Wolfsonian, and Reynolda House.

Oscar Bach was born Oscar Bruno Bakstik on December 13, 1884 in Breslau, Germany. As a young man he studied painting at the Royal Academy in Berlin and also underwent a 4 year apprenticeship in metallic arts. From 1898-1902 he attended the Imperial Academy of Art in Berlin. Following this formal education Bach became the artistic director of metallic arts firm in Hamburg where he made an ornate jewel encrusted Bible cover for the study of Pope Leo XIII, an early article of his craft which remains in the Vatican permanent collection. Two years later, Bach won several important commissions to design metalwork for civic buildings including the new city hall in Berlin. Between 1904 and 1911 Bach worked as a successful metalsmith in Germany, keeping a studio in Venice and traveling extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa where he became keenly aware of various decorative styles, histories, materials, and techniques. In 1911 Bach won the Grand Prix at the World's Exposition in Turin, Italy for a bed he designed for Kaiser Wilhelm II. 1911 was also the year that he moved to the United States to join his brother Max and establish a business in New York City.

Soon after his arrival, Oscar Bach and his brother and Max Bach opened a metal design studio together - first in Greenwich Village under the name of BACH BROTHERS. They soon moved to 257 West 17th Street and became Oscar B. Bach Studios, Inc. From 1913-1923 Oscar Bach's little metal shop kept busy creating beautiful household objects for moneyed New Yorkers as well as custom architectural works for America's great country estates. He worked often with architect Harrie T. Lindeberg and designed exterior and interior fittings for many of Lindebergh's clients. Most of his designs from this period bear a metal with the inscription OSCAR B BACH / NEW YORK / STUDIOS INC and a central image of a female profile flanked on each side by a double-struck B. Some also bear the unfielded stamped mark OBASO-BRONZE / OSCAR.B.BACH. STUDIOS.

In April of 1923 the Bach brothers moved to a new studio at 511 West 42nd Street upon an acrimonious split with their business partner, Bertram Segar. Segar remained in Bach's West 17th Street studio, renaming it The Segar Studios. There, Bertram Segar continued to reproduce many of Bach's original designs and variations on Bach's designs, either selling them in an unmarked state or stamping them with his Segar Studios mark. Segar would continue to run a successful custom metalwork studio throughout the 1920s despite Oscar Bach's continued denouncing of Segar's poor ethics and poor taste. Desperate to protect his reputation, Bach even ran advertisements stating that "All products designed and executed in my studios bear my facsimile signature, and no other articles are genuine." Segar's unauthorized production of Oscar Bach's designs has caused much confusion in the market today.

Despite these difficulties, Oscar Bach's Manhattan based business continued to flourish throughout the mid 1920s and 1930s. Most of his designs from this period bear a metal tag with the artist's name in script. Commercially Bach's production pieces ranged from the modest, such as a small lead ashtray to the pricey, such as a highly ornamental bronze chandelier with custom aurene shades. Almost every conceivable form was available - smoking stands, library lamps, footed bowls, card trays, planters, torchéres, andirons, slab tables, mirrors, sconces, picture frames, humidors, curule chairs, bookends, children's flatware, porringers ... all fabricated in bronze or iron, steel or aluminum, silver or copper, or occasionally lead, and featuring polychrome enamels, delicate chemical and cold patina work, custom Steuben glass components, and fanciful cast ornamental detail. Bach routinely submitted his diverse objects to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Exhibition of Industrial Art and would capitalize on the show's prestige by posting advertisements with photos of his exhibits. He networked well and made important social and business connections with bankers, museum directors, hotel magnates, and architectural firms. In 1926 he won the prestigious Medal of Honor from the Architectural League of New York for a set of bronze doors to their club room. Bach was a savvy self-marketer who advertised consistently in a variety of magazines, some associated with fine art and décor such as International Studio, but others more associated with the leisure class lifestyle, such as Theatre and Country Life. Wherever his commission work took him, Bach would seek to secure a local venue, usually a high end department store, to sell his designs. By 1929, consumers could purchase Bach's fine metals across the U.S. from Manhattan's B. Altman to Joseph Horne in Pittsburgh, and Forster-Smith in Toledo. Winning the commissions to furnish custom metalwork for the oceanliners SS Manhattan and SS Washington, Bach then persuaded US Lines to offer a selection of his small domestic objects for tourists to purchase on board while traveling across the Atlantic. Once in Europe, one could visit Bach's studio in Piazza Oberdan, Florence, Italy.

But New York was Bach's headquarters and it is here that one could find artist's main show room and many of his most ambitious architectural commissions including New York's Riverside Church, Temple Emanu-el, the Masonic Level Club, the Earl Carroll Theatre, the Daily News Building, the Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, the Woolworth Building, the Airlines Building, and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank in Brooklyn. Perhaps his crowning glory is the large inlaid stainless steel mural he fabricated and installed in the lobby of the Empire State Building in 1931. Elsewhere Bach won high-status commissions from the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department, Washington D.C., Yale University, The Toledo Museum of Art, Christ Church at Cranbrook, and the Circle Tower in Indianapolis. But many of Bach's most impressive creations were not accessible to the public. These were the custom metalwork commissions he executed for the homes of some of America's wealthiest aristocrats including Eugene duPont, Jr.'s Delaware mansion Owl's Nest, W. E. Scripps' Michigan estate, Moulton Manor, Lloyd Frank's lavish Fir Acres in Portland (now Lewis & Clark College), and the ornate Villa Philbrook for Waite Phillips of Tulsa.

By the late 1930s Bach's showroom and sales office had relocated to the prestigious British Empire Building at 620 Fifth Avenue and was operating under the name Bach Products. Most objects from this period are stamped OSCAR B. BACH and bear an applied tag which reads BACH PRODUCTS above the profile image of a tazza. His studio which employed numerous European trained craftsmen was located at 288 East 18th Street in Patterson, NJ. Throughout his career Bach filed for a total of 66 patents with the U.S. Patent Office and in 1941 Bach patented the "Bachite" system of construction to render steel corrosion and abrasion proof. 1941 marks the end of his work in the field of decorative arts and the beginning of his career as a metallist for some of America's top industrial firms. From 1941 until his death in 1957 Bach worked as a top consultant for Remington-Rand, Manning, Bowman, Edward Budd, Oneida, Baldwin Locomotive, American Radiator Company, and the Tappan Stove Company. Upon his death Oscar Bach and his wife Pauline were living at 962 Fifth Avenue with a lovely view of Central Park and the surrounding city of New York that had been his home for over four decades. According to his obituary in the New York Times, in the months leading up to his death, Bach's largest free-standing sculpture, "The Spirit of Democracy," a 17 foot allegorical figure, was nearing completion and scheduled to be placed at Rockefeller Center's La Maison Française terrace. Though Bach finished this massive tribute work, "The Spirit of Democracy" was never installed. During Bach's lifetime, the artist was celebrated by renowned art critic and author, Matlack Price, in a publication called "Design & Craftsmanship in Metals: The Creative Art of Oscar Bach." Bach was interviewed and featured in numerous magazine articles and trade publications. Oscar Bach died on May 4th, 1957 at the age of 72.