By Amy O’Hair
All things Fazekas are found linked on this page.
I have kindly been given a few unattached examples of Anton Fazekas’ work in the form of doorbell plates, most with their wonderfully finger-inviting Bakelite buttons still in place.
These little works of art were just some of the vast array of products created and sold by his company, American Art Metal Works, during the 40 years he ran the South-of-Market-based firm. Below, there are a few to be seen mounted on the display behind the master himself on this page from a 1940s-era catalogue. (Do you have a doorbell by Fazekas? Write me.)
First we have one touched with the Art Nouveau vibe, sporting two singing birds, a mottled background, and subtle but nonspecific plant references. It appears to have never been attached to a house, as a film of lacquer across one screw hole is unbroken. I believe many of Fazekas’s metal items shipped with a clear lacquer layer on them. It shows the sculptor’s hand in that there are clear but subtle asymmetries to the design. (About 11 cm tall.)
Interestingly, the company name on the reverse is upside down, given the birds’ position on the front.
This heraldic-themed model alludes to some mythic Merry Old England, with small equal-armed crosses on a bend sinister, some bit of plant life sprouting up behind the button hole, and a variety of hand-mottled surfaces. A small torch crowns the top.
As with all his doorbell surrounds, it is subtly asymmetrical, because the original model from which the cast was made was hand-carved, probably by Fazekas himself. For the whole of his career, he always put ‘sculptor’ as his occupation, although his company mass-produced a vast array of metal objects. (About 10.5 cm tall.)
This patriotic model in a silvery color references the Great Seal of the United States, though of practical necessity, the eagle’s wings are curved inward to make a more compact plate, and the olive branch and arrows usually clutched in her talons are left out. The Bakelite button on this one is a bit weathered, having spent some time in service. (About 11 cm tall.)
Lastly, my favorite, which I think of as being like a printer’s dingbat, an attractive abstract design without any tacky references to symbols of status or power. I love the marked asymmetries on this one, top to bottom, and side to side. No curve is exactly repeated. The mottling on the surface is quiet, but clearly shows the hand of the maker. (About 9 cm tall.)
The Bakelite button shows a bit of grime and craquelure, so it likely did service on a house for some time.
Addendum: A generous reader sent a photo of another doorbell plate, which is a more complete variation on the heraldic theme. However, as usual, Fazekas the artist leaves his mark in some slightly eccentric choices. (The owner would like to sell this item; if you are interested in being put in contact with them, write me.)
In the central shield there are four figures, but none are quite traditional. Plain crescent moons are a common heraldic device, but here he has given his moon a face. Above it in the upper left there is a five-pointed star, called a mullet in heraldry, but he has turned it upside down, rendering it unconventional.
In the upper right, there is a ‘fylfot’ (a heraldic swastika). It was a common cross variation used from ancient times, although now of course it is a viscerally repellant figure. Once it held a very different set of associations. I note that is the left-hand version of the more common right-hand version employed by the Nazi Third Reich.
The battle axe in the lower right is pretty plain, given the form it usually takes in heraldry; but you can only cram so many details into a small metal object.
On either side of the coat of arms, there are two so-called sea-lions as ‘supporters’, mythical creatures having the body of a lion with webbed forelegs and a fish tail. Fazekas has folded the tails up, rather than curling them around as was done conventionally; the extended tongues attached to the top of the shield. Both changes to the traditional form are concessions to the need to keep the final figure compact and executable as a small metal object. The sea-lions are marked with long lines, which have the unfortunate effect of suggesting the creatures are starved to the point of ribs becoming visible beneath skin, but I don’t think this was Fazekas’s intent.
Surrounding the figures are various vague foliage decorations and a cross-hatched ribbon at the foot, where a motto would conventionally go. The end result is something reasonable intricate given the constraints of the material, with a good variety of enticing details. Something to look at while you are waiting for the butler to open the door.
One of the books Anton Fazekas may have had in his library of visual sources to draw on is this famous work on heraldry from 1909.