The LaVerne family spawned three generations of artisans. Brooklyn-born designer and sculptor Philip LaVerne (1907-1987), son of the muralist Max LaVerne, was known for his bronze art furniture that he fabricated by hand with son Kelvin LaVerne (b. 1937). Philip LaVerne trained at the Art Students League in New York began and went on to work in porcelain and then brass and bronze casting. Kelvin studied in Paris and Florence for one year before becoming his father’s creative partner around 1950. The pair had a rare partnership in custom-furniture making, creating what Philip LaVerne called “functional art” or “sculptural functionalism.” According to his well-known advertisement, “It’s not just functional and not just art, it’s an investment.” The LaVernes preferred to operate as artist-furniture makers, creating one-of-a-kind and limited-edition pieces. In making their patinated, sculpted, or pewter-etched bronze tables and cabinets, they combined innovative techniques with traditional styles. The simple form of these tables usually consisted in slabs set atop supports, ranging from legs to pedestals. They were known for their sculptural and three-dimensional bases, illustrated by “Four Cubes,” whose base included dynamic imagery of mythological and Michelangelo-esque figures made in deep relief in the early 1970s. Other pieces gave importance to the tabletop. The LaVernes favored narrative and figuration for their vivid imagery, often referencing art historical themes, from Classical Antiquity, Ancient Chinese Art, the Italian Renaissance, eighteenth-century French art, as well as more abstract modern styles. Kelvin demonstrated his ability to render dynamic heroic semiabstract figures and classical bodies in movement in his “The Bathers,” a cabinet depicting the nude swimmers he observed on Shelter Island. These works of art, which the Lavernes widely exhibited, were conservative in design, and thus adaptable to both traditional and modern settings. Their technique combined a centuries-old bronze-casting method with their own innovations. The process was based on a hand-carved bas relief technique, to which pewter and bronze layers (and often enamel detailing) were mixed with the Laverne’s secret chemical brew. They painstakingly monitored the buried bronze that was naturally oxidizing in order to achieve the exact color and patina they sought. The Lavernes displayed these handcrafted pieces, which now attain fifty to one hundred thousand dollars at auction, at their gallery-like showroom on 46 East 57th Street. After Philip’s death in 1988, Kelvin fulfilled three years worth of back orders before returning to sculpting.
Julie V. Iovine, “Philip & Kelvin Laverne,” in Todd Merrill and Julie Iovine, eds., Modern Americana: Studio Furniture from High Craft to High Glam (New York: Rizzoli, 2008), 152-161.