Keeping Time

The William Dorsey Collection

William, Annette, Nathaniel, and Cordelia Dorsey.

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Like a thirsty man surrounded by saltwater, visitors to our midcentury modern home often glimpse more than 100, non-operating clocks on the wall and have this reaction. What use is a clock that isn’t plugged in and doesn’t tell time? The answer is that these are no ordinary clocks, as even a cursory inspection reveals. George Nelson and his team of designers—particularly Irving Harper—cared about function, but they were inspired by art, sculpture, innovation, and the philosophy of time.

A January 1, 1960 article in the New York Times put it succinctly. “Mr. Harper, seeking the soothing effect of shifting sands in hour-glasses, the mechanical wonders of eighteenth century clocks, and a new sculptural quality in time pieces, arrived [at the Motion Notion series]....By employing materials alien to clocksmiths of old, he has achieved a startling group of hypnotizing designs.” The designs are no less hypnotizing or influential sixty plus years later.