Biography

IRON WORKER
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Born: 3/2/1885, Died: 10/3/1940

Speaking to the Architectural Club of Chicago in 1926, Samuel Yellin succinctly described his design process:
There is only one way to make good decorative ironwork and that is with the hammer at the anvil, for in the heat of creation and under the spell of the hammer, the whole conception of a composition is often transformed." (See the link below for the full text of this lecture.)

Samuel Yellin was a leader in the revival of crafts that Philadelphia experienced in the early twentieth century. Along with stained glass artist Nicola D'Ascenzo Yellin encouraged a greater attention to the arts which were applied to buildings, working with notable architects all across the country and drawing considerable attention to Philadelphia as a center for the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Born and trained in Poland, Samuel Yellin diverted from the career of his father (an attorney) to study art and to apprentice with an ornamental metalworker. He came to Philadelphia in 1906, and his abilities soon brought him to the attention of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts, which engaged him as an instructor in their metalworking classes. He would work with the PMSI from 1907 to 1922.

By 1909 he had opened his own studio, and by 1915 Mellor & Meigs, an architectural firm with which he was closely associated, had designed his studio/showroom on Arch Street in West Philadelphia. There he and his staff (eventually over 200 craftspeople) would churn out hundreds of designs for gates, lighting fixtures, screens, grilles, railings, doors, all sorts ironwork, from the monumental to the small. Residences, cathedrals, banks, academic buildings -- all could be enhanced with Yellin's unique approach to the use of metalwork; and his clients included both Yale and Harvard Universities, as well as Washington Cathedral (DC), Grace Cathedral (San Francisco), and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (New York, NY). Nor were his designs limited to public clients. The wealthy (Edward W. Bok, Lammont Dupont, H. H. Flagler, Robert Goelet, etc.) also commissioned Yellin's studio to produce embellishments for their country and city homes. All of these commissions brought Yellin into a circle of elite architects who worked not just in Philadelphia, but all across the country, creating many of the most publicized buildings of the early twentieth century. Yellin's work often emphasized traditional styles, but he still molded those styles to the needs of the clients and to his own ideas regarding craft. In his 1926 lecture to the Architectural Club of Chicago Yellin clearly states his attitude toward tradition in design:

I am a staunch advocate of tradition in the matter of design. I think that we should follow the lead of the past masters and seek our inspiration from their wonderful work. They saw the poetry and rhythm of iron. Out of it they made masterpieces not for a day or an hour but for the ages. We should go back to them for our ideas in craftsmanship, to their simplicity and truthfulness. The superficial and the tricky, which are spreading over the world of art like a disease, doom themselves to destruction. The beautiful can never die. (See link below for full text.)

With all of his commercial success, Samuel Yellin never lost his love of the material and his desire to celebrate the craft. He contributed the essay on "Iron Art" to the eminent 14th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and he was invited by the Philadelphia Museum of Art to act as consultant on their collection of historic crafts. Furthermore, beginning in 1919 he also received several medals acknowledging his contributions, including awards from the Chicago Art Institute (1919), American Institute of Architects (1920), Architectural League of New York (1922), and, locally, the Bok Civic Award (1925).

Written by Sandra L. Tatman.

Clubs and Membership Organizations

  • Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
  • Philadelphia Sketch Club
  • Architectural League of New York
  • T-Square Club

School Affiliations

  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art

Links to Other Resources

  • Samuel Yellin Metalworkers Co. - This link represents the continuation of the Yellin firm and includes a job list as well as some illustrations of Yellin's work.

 

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