Plastic, the word has become the very symbol of superficiality, the excess of our modern industrialism. But it wasn't always so. Once, plastic was the possibility and triumph of the Jet-age. Even French philosopher and semiotician Roland Barthes couldn't help but rhapsodize on its romantic power: "[Plastic] is in essence the stuff of alchemy... more than a substance, plastic is the very idea of infinite transformation."
Another who was seduced by plastic, clear thermoplastic in this case, was Charles Hollis Jones. Jones was both a pioneer and a prodigy. Interested at an early age in the material qualities of glass, the advances in acrylic technology during World War II, especially in its use in aviation, made acrylic an industrial material worthy of designer crushes. For Jones, its transmissivity, i.e. transparency with a low reflectivity, were the qualities worthy of career long affair.
See our earlier post on acrylic.
His work with the material began at the dawn of the Rock and Roll Age in 1961 but didn't hit its full stride until the arrival of the Disco era of 70s. His work would find a roster of marquee champions including John Lautner, Raymond Loewy, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tennessee Williams, and others.
By the early seventies Jones's stools were in the Playboy Club and his vanity tables in the Mondrian Hotel. His work had risen to the archtype of evil cool appropriate enough for the James Bond film "Diamonds Are Forever." But this success brought imitators selling downgraded knock-offs that would scratch and cloud. The effect would be devastating on the acrylic furniture market, by no fault of Jones it'd go from swank to stank within a decade.
While plastic furniture—for better or worse—has become omnipresent, clear acrylic wouldn't make a significant comeback until many years later. Even now, at the relatively spry age of 67, Jones is still working and very much dedicated to the material.
Beyond design, Jones also pioneered techniques in manufacturing. He developed a method for joining large acrylic castings in perfectly transparent and seamless joints as well as a proprietary technique for joining acrylic to metal without screws or fasteners.