The Savoy Ballroom.
Watercolors by Richard Yarde. Text by Alexander Eliot.Boston: Hampshire Typothetae for Savoy Associates, 1986 Stock Code: 132377
Glorious visual celebration of "the Track" with an original signed watercolourFirst and sole edition, limited to 400 copies, of this beautifully produced tribute to the famed Harlem ballroom; this copy unusual in being accompanied by an original watercolour signed "Yarde 83", showing one of the most renowned Savoy dancers of the 40s, the celebrated lindy hopper Willa Mae Ricker.
Richard Yarde (1939-2011) studied art at Boston University and later taught there and at a number of institutions before becoming professor of art at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "Yarde dedicated much of his earlier work to the personalities and themes of the African American experience... An individual who truly understands colour, he is able to make it speak almost musically, in tones that vibrate. He is indeed a master of watercolour painting" (Samella Lewis, African American Art and Artists, 2003, p. 295). As Yarde stated in a 1997 interview with Smith College "jazz is an important source of energy and inspiration when I paint. I see the visual structure of my paintings as being very musical. The grid is like the backbeat, it keeps time in the work. The images that break through the grid are similar to improvisation" (cited in his Boston Globe obituary, 17 January 2012, retrieved 26.02.19). Globe art critic Christine Temin described his work in glowing terms, "his handling is virtuosic, his colours dazzling".
The original watercolour takes its inspiration from the plate "Air Steps", which shows Ricker with her partner Leon James, and, like many of the images here, is based on the work of Life photographer Gjon Mili, who captured some of the most iconic portraits of dancers at the Savoy. It is clear from the presence of silk retaining bands inside the lid of the solander box that an original watercolour was intended to accompany the entire edition. However, Yarde's well-recorded health problems, which resulted in a kidney transplant in the late 1990s, would have precluded him from completing the daunting task of producing 400 watercolours. The present example is not numbered and the edition may never have been published as the printer, Hampshire Typothetae, ceased operation in 1986 (see Five College Archives & Manuscript collection online, retrieved 13.03.19). This handsome publication reproduces Yarde's vibrant original watercolours, drawing on many of the renowned photographic images of dancers - largely the work of Mili - at what was known to the cognoscenti as "The Track". Opened in 1926, the Savoy Ballroom billed itself as the "World's Finest Ballroom" - and with considerable justification, it was "a building, a geographic place, a ballroom, and the 'soul' of a neighborhood" (Barbara Engelbrecht, "Swinging at the Savoy" in Dance Research Journal Vol. 15 No. 2, Popular Dance in Black America, Spring 1983). Engelbrecht goes on to comment that the integrated Savoy "was one of the more important ballrooms where black musicians and dancers converged and defined a period: music and dance at the Savoy drew attention to the fact that the tradition of black musical and dance forms were interrelated, and together were responsible for the swing phenomenon For young black dancers who went to the Savoy night after night, and more particularly those dancers who became the 'elite' and were therefore able to dance in the Cats' Corner, dancing at the Savoy became a way of life". In 1982 Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Massachusetts, mounted the travelling exhibition "Savoy: An Installation by Richard Yarde", which was shown at San Diego, Baltimore and The Studio Museum, Harlem.
No appearances cited on book auction records and institutionally we can trace examples at just two North American libraries, Smith College and University of Rhode Island.
Folio. Original dark grey cloth solander box, black morocco spine bearing brilliant red and black gilt label, gilt lettered "Savoy"on lid, both letterpress and plates loose and each housed in a black paper chemise with debossed lettering on covers, the production crafted at the Hampshire Typothetae, designed by Barry Moser, and bound at Sam Ellenport's Harcourt Bindery in Boston.
Complete suite of 28 colour prints each signed in pencil by Yarde; title page printed in red and black, side-notes and titling in red; original watercolour 360 x 258 mm.<br><br>
Couple of light bumps to corner of box, light marks to each chemise, short closed-tear to front panel of first chemise. A very good copy.
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