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College of Design

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

George Myron Swan Jr.


Better Homes & Gardens, "The way we built our house"

Cerny Brochure

George Myron Swan Jr.
B.Arch 1943

This memory was shared by George Swan III, in memory of my late father, George M. Swan Jr. (B.Arch '43). He and my mother, Anne Swan (Elizabeth Anne Cleveland Swan (BA '44 Architecture) were cohort with Cecil Tammen (who worked at Thorshov and Cerny at the same time my father worked there in the 1950's) and both my parents were friends with Richard Hammel (B.Arch '46) and his first wife Libby during the 1950s. I also remember being about 5 years old and going with my parents to a Christmas Lake party, at a lake-side cabin on the west side of Christmas Lake which was hosted by Walter Vivrett (and his two Great Danes--see posting by Susan J. Blumentals, B.Arch '59, about "Andy!"). For some reason I think I remember my parents mentioning that Carl Graffunder (B.Arch '42) and others were there. My lasting impression from those years was that there was a socially vibrant arts and architecture community, post WWII, in the Twin Cities.

In addition, Bob and Ann Bliss lived up the Ridge Road (east side of Christmas Lake) from where we lived. (My mother remembers they graduated from Yale and were at the U of MN perhaps doing post-graduate work or teaching before moving on to University of Utah(?).)

I recently was reviewing "old history" with Mom when she let loose with the story about having dinner with Bucky Fuller at the Bliss's who had come to speak at the department earlier that day. "Wow," I exclaimed, "that must have been interesting!" "It was," she replied. "He was willing to reminisce a lot about his life and his work!"

I came across a promotional picture taken for Cerny Associates to introduce their "new design team" (Cerny brochure, page 2). There in the rear row--typical of his reserved personality is the image of a young, enthusiastic and perhaps still idealistic George Swan, my father. Also pictured are Vivrett, Tammon and others.

I've attached the Better Homes and Gardens article of the first house Dad designed for us and built on Christmas Lake. There were five residences total he did for our family (the 2nd is in La Crosse WI, 3rd and 4th at Verona WI outside Madison, 5th just outside Patagonia AZ town limits--1 hour south of Tucson at 4000 feet) before getting a Clayton Manufactured Home set up for Mom in Patagonia town proper--right across from the library--just before he died. After retiring in 1984, he spent most of his time reading, practicing amateur astronomy and doing watercolors as well as teaching a few watercolor workshops. Only recently have I noticed the golden rectangle of composition lurking behind the spontaneous surface of many of his watercolors.

The photo of the two men is a picture from later in my father's career when working at Hackner and Schroeder in La Crosse WI. Dad is on the right pictured with Roger Rosslansky, the designer on the H&S team who paid my father a compliment by buying our La Crosse family residence when we moved from La Crosse to Madison. You can Google a street view of it at: 1205 Cliffwood Lane, La Crosse WI. Fifteen years earlier (1950) Dad had designed original sliding-glass doors for a "contemporary", lake-side house with a unique-looking exterior. This time (1966), with several years experience in prefabrication design, he focused on cost-efficiency. I asked him once why he hadn't designed more "flashy" houses like the first, and he responded, "Well... after a while, you realize all you need are four walls with a roof on top." This second house and the three following it, were of that simple design concept; the innovation and interest arise from where you put the windows and doors and how you lay out the interior.

A comment a few weeks ago from the Realtor who sold the last residence he and mom built in Patagonia: "We showed your parents' house to a lot of people. Fifty percent of the people didn't get it; all they saw was the exterior box. The others saw the interior, its connection to the exterior, and the innovative and efficient use of space it is--as well as the magnificent view of Red Mountain from kitchen, living room and dining room."


flower painting-gswanjr-WEB.jpg

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