Michel van Beuren was an important catalyst in the introduction of modern furniture design in Mexico in the 1930s and 1940s. Born in New York, Van Beuren moved to Europe in 1930 to escape the great Depression, and along with several other Americans, attended the legendary Bauhaus art school in Dessau, Germany (1931–32), also studying with Mies van der Rhoe, the last director of the faltering institution when it moved to Berlin in 1933. After the outbreak of World War II many of his classmates returned to the US, but Van Beuren set his sights on Mexico where he moved permanently in 1938. Along with fellow Bauhaus-educated German Kluas Grabe, who arrived in Mexico a few months after Van Beuren, he began designing furniture for private clients under the name of Grabe & Van Beuren. By 1939 the young designers joined forces with the American architect Morley Webb and established a small yet highly successful furniture operation in Mexico City under the label Domus. Van Beuren and Grabe were largely responsible for the designs (Morley Webb was in charge of the daily operations of the store and public relations). Their goal was to create a line of high-quality furniture that combined local Mexican furniture materials, excellent craftsmanship, and a more modern, streamlined aesthetic that reflected a Bauhaus sensibility of radically simple forms, rationality, and functionality.
The San Miguel or San Miguelito side chair is one of Michael Van Beuren’s most successful and representative designs. (Michael van Bueren was referred to as Don Miguel or Don Miguelito in Spanish, from where he took the name.) The chair is a modern interpretation of the traditional butaca, or butaque (commonly referred to as Campeche chair), which was popular in Mexico’s coastal areas since colonial times, including the Yucatan Peninsula and Veracruz. This particular iteration of the San Miguelito chair was likely produced from 1947 to 1960, the period when the bulk of Domus production was manufactured using the more inexpensive Mexican white pine wood (ayacahuite) combined with natural fibers such as woven agave fiber (ixtle) and palm.
Ilona Katzew, Curator and Department Head, Latin American Art