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FORD, LYNN

FORD, LYNN (1908–1978). Lynn Ford, a craftsman, cabinetmaker, builder, and teacher who frequently collaborated with his brother, architect O'Neil Ford, was born in Sherman, Texas, on February 20, 1908, the second son of Leonides Bertram and Lula Belle (Sinclair) Ford. In addition to his brother, Lynn had a younger sister, Authella. Bert Ford, a railroad worker, introduced Lynn to the art of wood carving and fostered his childrens' creativity by bringing home discarded ink pencils from the railroad dispatch office, grocery sacks for drawing paper, and scrap lumber. The elder Ford died in a train accident in 1918, and the family moved to Denton, where Belle Ford took in boarders and sewed.

In both Sherman and Denton the Fords built backyard workshops where Lynn, O'Neil, and occasionally Authella built toys, miniature furniture, and makeshift vehicles. By the age of eighteen Lynn was able to sell furniture, sculpture, and copper items. In 1928–29 he attended North Texas State College in Denton (now the University of North Texas) with the intention of becoming a coach and woodworking teacher. Although he supported himself by working as an architectural draftsman, he still found time to be art editor of the annual and president of the sophomore class. He enrolled in architectural drafting courses at the University of Texas in the fall of 1930 but was forced to drop out in December due to financial problems. During this period he temporarily lost his eyesight due to eyestrain; eye problems periodically troubled him for the rest of his life.

In the early 1930s Ford moved to Dallas, where he lived with his brother and converted an old stable on Maple Avenue into a shop. There he produced furniture, wood carvings, rugs, and copper light fixtures for about ten years, assisted by his mother, who had taught herself to weave, and friends, neighbors, and students eager to learn his methods. The regionalist fervor of Dallas's art scene during this era provided a congenial atmosphere for Ford's craft production. He taught at the Dallas Art Institute and participated in government-sponsored art programs. In 1932 he supervised a woodworking shop in the government resettlement town of Woodlake; four years later he executed wood sculptures for the Hall of State, assisted by a group of National Youth Administration workers. In 1937–38 Ford supervised Texas Womens' College (now Texas Woman's University) students in making doors, furniture, light fixtures, and decorative carvings for the Little Chapel in the Woods in Denton, which was built by NYA students under the direction of O'Neil Ford and Arch Swank.

From 1938 to 1953 Ford collaborated with his brother in building homes for prominent Texans. Generally he worked with unskilled laborers to lay bricks, set tile, and make furniture, doors, mantels, beams, and other carpentry work. He temporarily left this activity for service in the army during World War II, for which he won several medals. Afterward he moved to San Antonio and built his Willow Way shop, where he and his assistants produced decorative pieces for homes, frequently commissioned by architects. Ford stopped building homes in 1953, apparently for health reasons, but continued to operate the Willow Way shop until he retired in 1973.

At the shop he produced doors, screens, walls, light fixtures, containers, and other items in wood, copper, and brass. He also taught himself to work with ceramics, lead, and cast babbitt (a lead alloy). Ford found inspiration for his designs by reading about topics ranging from African primitive art to Mexican and Swedish folk art. His characteristic style was to fill the surface of an object with a pattern formed by the repetition of simple geometric motifs such as triangles, squares, or circles. Occasionally he alternated plain panels with carved motifs for elegantly simple designs, as in the shutters he crafted for the McNay Art Institute (1970) (see MARION KOOGLER MCNAY ART MUSEUM). In other works, such as his wall of carved basswood sticks for the Denton Public Library (1967), he combined a variety of motifs for a tapestry effect. He also combined materials to effect a rich interplay of color and texture; his wooden doors for the Lone Star Steel Company in Dallas, which feature panels of lead and copper hammered into star and circle shapes, are an outstanding example of this technique.

Ford designed his work with an awareness of the way light falls across surfaces. In many of his carved pieces, traces of chisel marks lend a stippled effect that activates the surface of the object. He preferred natural colors and used unorthodox materials, such as shoe polish, baby oil, and car wax, to achieve and maintain a desired color. A spirit of self-reliance and innovation frequently shaped Ford's technique: for example, when he made six ceramic plaques representing the six flags of Texas (1958) for the Villita Assembly Building in San Antonio, he carved the patterns into dry clay, an unusual method that suited his wood-carving skills. Ford used both hand and machine tools, and frequently invented his own when standard tools were not available. He usually drew patterns directly onto an object, a habit formed when paper was scarce.

During the 1960s he completed a number of private and public commissions, often working on projects with his brother. In 1964–65 he made several decorative objects for the Chapman Graduate Center and the Marguerite B. Parker Chapel, both on the Trinity University campus in San Antonio. He carved the wooden screen wall for the federal courthouse in San Antonio (1968) and the wooden entry doors for the post office in Johnson City (1969). Between 1963 and 1975 he completed a carved wooden wall, doors, a light fixture, and a sign for Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Although Ford avoided art competitions and public recognition, he nevertheless received an award for "outstanding craftswork" from the San Antonio Conservation Society in 1962. He also received an award for "excellence in craftsmanship" from the San Antonio chapter of the American Institute of Architects in the 1960s and again, posthumously, in 1983. In the 1960s his work was honored in an exhibition at Trinity University and featured in a regional craft exhibition sponsored by the San Antonio Craft Guild at the Witte Memorial Museumqv.

Ford never married, but his life was filled with companionship provided by his close family, assistants in his shop, and a diverse group of friends. He constantly attracted new apprentices, who were drawn by his sense of design, his philosophy that one learned by doing, and his gift for spinning yarns. In the 1970s he informally adopted a young woman named Denise Kocourek and paid for her education at Texas A&M. He suffered heart attacks in 1965 and 1970, and in 1973 he decided to retire. He continued to produce work in a shop that he set up in a barn on Pyron Street until he died, on January 1, 1978. At the time of his death he had produced work for over 100 clients throughout Texas and also had fulfilled commissions in Colorado, California, and New York. The San Antonio Conservation Society has awarded an annual Lynn Ford Memorial Craftsmanship Award in his honor since 1978.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Michael Ennis, "Doing What Comes Naturally," Texas Monthly, June 1978. Mary Lance, Lynn Ford: Texas Artist and Craftsman (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1978). San Antonio Express-News, January 2, 1978.

Kendall Curlee

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Kendall Curlee, "FORD, LYNN," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffo54), accessed August 01, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.