The Artist's Barber Chair

self portrait the godfather by al hirschfield

great comedians - w.c. fields, charlie chaplin, buster keaton & groucho by al hirschfield

self portrait

A barber chair just gained legendary status. And it wasn't in a barber shop. It was in the home of Al Hirschfeld.

Albert "Al" Hirschfeld is considered one of the most important figures in contemporary American caricature. He's best known for his simple black and white portraits with exaggerated faces, using a minimum number of lines. Hirschfeld had his quirks, like eating with his left hand, but drawing with his right. But his best quirk of all was that he immortalized these Broadway stars and celebrities while seated in a barber chair. But since his death in NYC in 2003 - just five months shy of his 100th birthday - the legendary barber chair's been collecting dust in his famous studio, and his widow recently decided to donate "his throne" to the Lincoln Center branch of the New York Public Library, where it will be permanently installed, along with his century-old drafting table. His widow said, "I thought this library was the right place for his work. He lived most of his life in New York. His main focus was New York City and the theater . . . his personal vision and style was something I felt belonged in New York."

Mr. Hirschfeld called his barber chair "the last functional chair" because it could go up, go down, swivel, and recline. His widow described his barber chair as "a predecessor to the ergonomic chair."  Since he spent practically every single day drawing, he needed to find the most comfortable chair and found it in an old-fashioned barber chair at a used furniture place on the Bowery for $3, but by the 1990s the chair was falling apart (all that remains of this original barber chair is the base, and is on display at the Manhattan gallery of Margo Feiden). He finally agreed to replace it with a new barber chair that had been used in a shop in the Chrysler Building.

It took eight men to get this barber chair down the four flights of stairs from his East 95th Street apartment while black liquid dripped from the chair, apparently hydraulic fluid leftover from the Chrysler Building shop. Check out this article and video.

It's been years since his passing but his art and the barber chair lives on in new places. If you live in New York, check it out, along with a rotating selection of his drawings now on display. His drawings can also be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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