Frankly, I didn’t even notice it when I put up the front of Leslie Charteris’ Thanks to the Saint last week, but that Pocket edition’s cover painting by Darrel Greene shows a well-proportioned redhead seated in what’s known as a Butterfly chair, a style of sling chair often associated with mid-20th century architecture. After seeing my post, Art Scott, an authority on book-cover illustrations and the co-author of last year’s The Art of Robert E. McGinnis, wrote to point out that Thanks to the Saint doesn’t represent the only instance of a Butterfly chair landing on a classic crime novel’s façade.
In fact, Scott explains, “one of the sidelight digressions” of a paperback cover-art slideshow he has presented at Bouchercon and other events looks at “popular props,” including sling chairs. Or as he calls them, “Chinese finger traps for your butt.”
Probably like a great many of you, I have found myself sinking down into many Butterfly chairs over the years, but I’ve never known anything about their history. Until today. Anna Hoffman, a contributor to the Web site Apartment Therapy, writes that
The Butterfly Chair is known by many aliases: the Hardoy chair, the sling chair, or the BKF chair. In my college dorm room, it was the Nap Chair, as close to a hammock as we could get in the wintry Northeast. By any name, the chair has been wildly popular since its creation, offering users an easy-going surfer dude of a lounger. But despite these relaxed associations, the chair’s origins are rooted in serious history, from 19th-century military furniture to Le Corbusier’s architecture studio.Scott sent along half a dozen examples of other paperback fronts incorporating Butterfly chairs. At the top of this post, for instance, you’ll see The Living End, by Frank Kane (Dell, 1957), showcasing an illustration by Victor Kalin. On the right is Case of the Laughing Virgin, by Jonathan Craig (Gold Medal, 1960), with artwork again by Darrel Greene. And you’ll find embedded below: Felicia, by Mark Dane (a pseudonym used by the prolific Mike Avallone; Belmont, 1964); Gold Comes in Bricks, by A.A. Fair (actually, Erle Stanley Gardner; Dell, 1961), with a cover illustration by Robert McGinnis; Strangle Hold, by Mary McMullan (Dell, 1953), featuring cover by Fred Scotwood; and The Myopic Mermaid, by Carter Brown (Signet, 1961).
The first of the Butterfly chairs came out of the Argentinian architectural firm, Grupo Austral, in 1938. The Austral Group was comprised [sic] of Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy, Juan Kurchan and Antonio Bonet, who had met as assistants in Le Corbusier’s Paris atelier. The chair is occasionally known as the BKF chair, for Bonet-Kurchan-Ferrari, but an official letter from the firm attributed primary authorship of the design to Ferrari-Hardoy, which is why it is also occasionally known as the Hardoy chair.
The chair may have been designed for a project the Austral Group was building in Buenos Aires, but it was first introduced at the 3rd Salon de Artistas Decoradores, a design exhibition held in that city in 1940, where it won two prizes. …
First mass-produced in the U.S. by Alvar Aalto’s company Artek (the name a contraction of “art” and “technology”), the chair was composed of two bent tubular steel rods welded together, over which a leather sling was hooked, creating a suspended seat. … While the Butterfly chair was perhaps the first of its kind in tubular steel, similar constructions in wood had been around at least since the 1850s, when an English engineer named Joseph Beverly Fenby created a folding “campaign” sling chair for use by the British military …
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