The Splendid Disarray of Beauty: The Boys, the Tiles, the Joy of Cathedral Oaks—A Study in Arts and Crafts Community revives from obscurity the story of the California artists Frank Ingerson (1879–1968) and George Dennison (1873–1966). In August 1910, they began fifty-five years of love and life together by launching, as their honeymoon project, a freestanding summer art school. Tucked away in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Cathedral Oaks school was bohemian in lifestyle but rigorously followed the teachings of the dean of American Arts and Crafts design, Arthur Wesley Dow.
After shuttering the school in 1915, Ingerson and Dennison, known among their friends as “the Boys,” go on to lead glamorous lives as interior designers in Hollywood and Europe—hobnobbing with Academy Award winners and dining with the Peerage. But eventually, their money runs out, they lose their contacts, and they pass into starlessness. Married in substance one hundred years before California law got up to their speed, they are two of the most fascinating and admirable people you may have never heard of—until now.
“A small ceramic tile enterprise from 1911 might sound like a niche subject, but with The Splendid Disarray of Beauty, Richard D. Mohr has painted a vivid picture of the role that queer artists played in the American Arts and Crafts movement. There have been quite a few books and exhibition catalogs over the past decades that tackle the Arts & Crafts movement, but I’ve never read a clearer explanation of Arts & Crafts aesthetics. By using Cathedral Oaks, the author does an incredible job of connecting the aesthetic dots. The reader gets a very clear picture of the radicality of the Arts & Crafts aesthetic. I found it astounding how clearly these principles could be explained using Cathedral Oaks as a guide. This book illuminates a stunning body of work through in-depth examinations of aesthetics, education, and, most importantly, community.”
—Garth Johnson, Paul Phillips & Sharon Sullivan Curator of Ceramics, Everson Museum of Art
“Richard Mohr rescues from oblivion George Austin Dennison (1873–1966) and Charles Frank Ingerson (1879–1968), a lifelong romantic and artistic couple at the center of a thriving artist community, who welcomed many celebrity guests—including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine—to their home in the Santa Cruz mountains. ‘The Boys,’ as they were affectionately known, excelled as creators of exquisite ceramic tile, as well as establishing the short-lived, but influential, Cathedral Oaks School of Painting and Design. This handsome volume, including its meticulous research, vibrant prose, and beautifully reproduced images, offers many fascinating delights: an important biographical contribution to queer studies, a contextualized consideration of California’s Arts & Crafts Movement, and detailed documentation of the San Francisco Bay Area’s rich social history.”
—Jim Van Buskirk, coauthor of Gay by the Bay
“Richard Mohr has done a remarkable thing, excavating a loving and socially accepted same-sex relationship at the height of the American Arts and Crafts Movement in the early twentieth century, restoring to prominence two men lost to time. Given how commonly today’s collectors and students of the Arts and Crafts movement are queer, this book answers the plaintive, long-whispered query as to whether we would ever find evidence of queerness within the movement as it unfolded. As this book brilliantly underscores, it was there, it was proud, and it was socially integrated. In one bold act, Mohr has significantly advanced art history, queer studies, American studies, and design history.”
—Jonathan D. Katz, Professor of Practice in Art History and Sexuality Studies, University of Pennsylvania