Ralph Walker

Ralph Walker (1889-1973)

Ralph Walker
(1889-1973)

Hildreth Meière (1892-1961), 1956

Hildreth Meière
(1892-1961), 1956

Architect Ralph Walker became known in the 1920s and early 1930s for designing beautifully ornamented Art Deco skyscrapers. Kathryn E. Holliday notes in her monograph Ralph Walker: Architect of the Century, “Walker forged a new form of American modernism that balanced the growing influence of technology on everyday life against a tradition of craft by focusing on collaboration between corporations, architects engineers, artists, and craftsmen.”1

As design principal in the successful architectural firm Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker, Walker gave Hildreth Meière several major commissions including the banking room and lobby ceiling at One Wall Street (1931); the lobby ceiling and lobby entrance wall at the AT&T Long Distance Building in Manhattan (1932); the lobby wall of the Travelers Insurance Company in Hartford, Connecticut (1956); and the lobby wall above the elevator banks at Prudential Plaza in Newark, New Jersey (1960).2

Walker was also influential at the two world’s fairs in which Meière participated. At the Century of Progress International Exposition 1933 in Chicago, he was a member of the Architectural Commission, along with architect Raymond Hood, with whom Meière had worked at Rockefeller Center. Hood asked Meière to decorate a reflecting pool in the Communications Court commissioned by AT&T.3

At the 1939 New York World’s Fair a few years later, Walker was Chair of the Board of Design, responsible for approving designs for the pavilions and for awarding architectural commissions.4 Meière received eleven commissions on the exteriors of four different buildings at the fair, including two on the exterior of the AT&T Building designed by Walker’s firm: the overdoors to the Bell System Exhibit and entrances to Voder Room Auditorium.

Walker and Meière’s collaboration on corporate commissions continued for three decades, from 1931 to 1960. She designed for him in various mediums--silver leaf, glass mosaic, silhouette mosaic and colored plaster, and building tile. As styles changed and building exteriors lost their ornamentation, Walker continued to commission Meière to decorate lobby walls with murals relating to the history or purpose of the corporation. The lobbies of Prudential Plaza in Newark and the Travelers Insurance Company in Hartford are two such examples. For their decoration, Meière worked in marble mosaic.

Meière and architect F.J. Rooda of Voorhees, Walker, Smith & Smith in Meière

Meière and architect F.J. Rooda of Voorhees, Walker, Smith & Smith in Meière's studio, c. 1955, with cartoons for the lobby wall of Travelers Insurance Company pinned to easel and a mock-up of the Nunc Dimittis clerestory window for St. Bartholomew's Church visible to left

In 1941, having worked with Meière for a decade, Walker stated:

I’d much prefer to work with Miss Meière than with any artist I know. She will take any commission you give her and work it out without any help from you--clean quality, good draftsmanship, material intelligently used. Once the job is in her hands you can forget about it, assured that it will be done right and done on time. There is absolutely nothing temperamental about her; she doesn’t have to be expedited over the parts she may not happen to enjoy doing. Nor is she worried about the immortality of her work. . . . We need more artists in America like Hildreth Meière!5
1

Kathryn E. Holliday, Ralph Walker: Architect of the Century (New York: Rizzoli, 2012): 16.

2

While working with Meière, the firm Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker became Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith, and then Voorhees, Walker, Smith & Smith, and finally Voorhees, Walker, Smith, Smith & Haines. The successor firm today is HLW International.

3

See Catherine Coleman Brawer and Kathleen Murphy Skolnik, The Art Deco Murals of Hildreth Meière (New York: Andrea Monfried Editions, 2014), 179-81.

4

For a full discussion of Ralph Walker’s role at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, see Holliday, 98-119.

5

Ernest W. Watson, “Hildreth Meière, Mural Painter: An Interview with Illustrations of Her Work,” American Artist 5: 7 (September 1941): 5.