Exhibit by artist, designer and contemporary of Charles Demuth opens at Demuth Museum | Entertainment

In his lifetime, artist and designer Robert Locher was probably more well known than his friend and fellow Lancaster native, artist Charles Demuth.

And yet today, Locher’s name has largely been forgotten, while Demuth’s is ranked highly in the annals of American artists.

Anne Lampe, executive director and chief curator of the Demuth Museum, would like to put that to rights.

“Robert E. Locher: A Modern Classic,’’ an exhibit showcasing Locher’s diverse artistic talents, opens this weekend at the museum.


Eugene Hutchinson, Robert E. Locher, c. 1930, gelatin silver print, 9 1/16 x 7 3/8 in., Collection Linda Lestz Weidman, courtesy of the Demuth Museum, Lancaster, PA

“It’s unusual to have someone operate on such a high echelon across the field,’’ Lampe says.

“It’s overwhelming to me over the years how many different areas of the arts he touches on.’’

Born in 1888 in Lancaster, Locher was interested in art as a boy and hoped to pursue art studies. After his father died, however, Locher’s older brother steered him toward an apprenticeship with a local architect.

The training would later become invaluable to him in his work as a designer.

Art continued to woo him, however, and he moved to New York, unleashing his creativity in a variety of ways, from designing sets and costumes for local theaters to producing illustrations for small magazines and newspapers.


Robert E. Locher, Hoop Skirt Illustration, c. 1915, ink on paper, 9 1/2 x 7 in., Private Collection, courtesy of the Demuth Museum, Lancaster, PA

As his reputation grew, so did his clientele. He began designing the homes of some of society’s wealthiest people. His ability to seamlessly combine classic pieces with a modern sensibility put his services in increasing demand.

“He was a leading light in the Art Decco period,’’ Lampe says. “He would design homes where the people inherited lots of family antiques, and he would take the antiques and integrate them into a very contemporary setting. This was something that had never been done before.”

Some of the highlights of his career include illustrating for Vanity Fair, House and Garden and Vogue magazines and doing the interior design for the lavish, 557-room Hotel Nacionale in Cuba.

He also designed rooms for Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

“He knew everyone,’’ Lampe says. “He did things for really high end people and he ran in very wealthy circles.’’


Robert E. Locher, Woman with Bird Hat, c. 1914, ink on paper, 8 5/16 x 5 1/2 in., Private Collection, courtesy of the Demuth Museum, Lancaster, PA    

The exhibit features more than 150 examples of Locher’s illustration, including the original drawings for the Whitney dining room and the original proposal work for the Hotel Nacionale.

“We have some objects, like a beautiful mirror, a lamp, a personal set of sterling silver that he designed, but the exhibit consists more of his drawings,’’ Lampe says, including those of costume designs and stage sets.

The exhibit is accompanied by a 210-page, hard-bound catalog, “Robert E. Locher: A Modern Classic,” by Lampe with author Charlie Schroeder. The work is published by the Demuth Museum and is available for $49.95.

It represents about a decade’s work for Lampe, who has spent that amount of time researching Locher and his work.

“We spent a lot of time tracking down details’’ of his life, Lampe says. “I wanted to create a catalog for this person and bring back to life all his accomplishments because he was wildly accomplished. To be able to put someone’s work back together and make a full picture of it is incredibly satisfying.’’

Charles Demuth willed his Lancaster home on East King Street to Locher, and after the death of Demuth’s mother, Locher moved back to his hometown, where his career had begun.

Lampe believes that the strong community and tradition of Lancaster helped catapult him to broader horizons.

“Lancaster gave him the world,’’ she says.

And the exhibit reintroduces his hometown to one of its native sons.

“I think it helps Lancaster,’’ she says of the exhibit. “There are so many things we can be proud of here, and this community is so unique as far as the arts go.’’

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