Not long ago, we were very fortunate to have Caren, the granddaughter of Conant Ball designer Leslie Diamond, leave us a message here on Ars Longa. Caren grew up in Enfield, CT with two sisters and a brother. Her mother, Martha Diamond Clark, was born and grew up in Gardner, MA. Her father, John Clark, also worked at Conant Ball before he moved his family to CT after getting a job at Pratt & Whitney/Hamilton Standard. Caren very kindly agreed to share with us some reminiscences about her grandfather and his work...
Caren (left, age 1) and her sister Beth (right, age 2) at her grandfather's house. Note the Conant Ball Modernmates chair behind Caren! Photo courtesy of Caren & reproduced with permission.
Ars Longa: Tell me a little about Leslie Diamond, his personality and his life.
Caren: My grandfather was born on May 17, 1903 and died in June of 1960. He died of a stroke as he was closing the car door for my grandmother. He loved working with wood and maple was his favorite. He made a lazy susan out of bird's eye maple and he used his kids' marbles for the turntable. They had about 1/4 acre garden with pear trees in each corner. They grew many vegetables for pickling and canning and also potatoes. They slaughtered their own chickens and sometimes a pig. He loved to tell jokes and he creeped us out by eating chocolate covered ants. He had a large brick fireplace in the backyard, complete with a chimney that we would barbeque on.
Ars Longa: Has anyone in your family continued in your grandfather's footsteps and become a designer?
Caren: My mother was extremely artistically gifted. She was a self-taught artist, crafter of dolls, did beautiful counted cross stitch and she made drapes and upholstered furniture. She was a home decorator hired by the dentists and doctors in the area to design their waiting rooms and offices.
Ars Longa: How did your grandfather get started in design?
Caren: My grandfather made a lot of furniture himself and he did a lot of it in the colonial style with turned legs and highboy type chests of drawers. He made a set of twin beds with cannon ball posts that my sister and I slept on for all our growing years. I assume he went from working with wood to designing it during his time in college. I don't know where he went; just that he had some kind of a degree.
Conant Ball "Modernmates" Upholstered Armchair designed by Leslie Diamond. At left: from my personal collection here at Ars Longa. At right: as pictured in the 1948 Rhode Island School of Design catalog for the "Furniture of Today" exhibition.
Ars Longa: Leslie Diamond did a lot of work for Conant Ball. Was he a designer on staff, or a contracted designer? Did he design for other companies you are aware of?
Caren: He was on the staff of Conant Ball. He personally made some of the miniature furniture for the New York World's Fair in 1939. To the best of my knowledge he was a furniture designer for Conant Ball, exclusively.
Ars Longa: Did your grandfather ever speak about favorite designs of his? Favorite designs by other designers?
Caren: He liked the curves of the Windsor chair and had one that went with a secretary desk that he made. I think most designers of that time were impressed by the Danish style of design displayed at the World's Fair in 1939.
Ars Longa: Does your family live with and use any items designed by your grandfather?
Caren: I have a gate legged table (harvest table) and a set of 4 chairs that he designed. There were 6 chairs originally. Two captain's chairs and four mate's chairs, but my mother sold the captain's chairs in a yard sale when they moved to a smaller house. I also have a bureau that he designed and was made in the Conant Ball factory. My sister has the cannon ball beds and a set of nesting tables made of bird's eye maple. He made some wooden lamps that my mother had until she died.
Caren's dining set designed by her grandfather. Inset: Leslie Diamond designed bureau. Photos courtesy of Caren & reproduced with permission.
Ars Longa: What advice do you think your grandfather would give to designers today?
Caren: Use only good quality materials and don't skimp on your joinery.
Ars Longa: What else would you like us to know about your grandfather and his work?
Caren: My grandfather was a happy and reliable person. His wife's parents lived with them for years. I remember having a barbeque with my great grandmother and grandfather Puttister at my grandparents' house. There was a display of furniture at a library in Gardner in memory of Leslie Diamond, but they had to remove it a number of years ago because it got mildew and moldy.
Conant Ball "Modernmates" corner desk and vanity desk designed by Leslie Diamond. From my personal collection here at Ars Longa.
Thank you, Caren, for taking time to speak with us about your grandfather and for sharing your photos. Leslie Diamond was a truly marvelous designer, and sounds like a wonderful man!
Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer commented: Thanks so much for sharing this. It is informative and interesting. The photos themselves are worth 1000 words!
Scott commented: Thanks Cindy! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
Brian commented: Those are some really nice pieces of furniture in your collection! I like the "uncomplicatedness" of their design - if there is such a word.
Scott commented: Thanks Brian. We have about 20 pieces in our collection all together. Wish I could have shown them all!
Modernmates is indeed a very strong Modernist design. As strong as any of the "big name" designers ever produced, in my opinion. It's definitely time for Mr. Diamond to get some recognition!
Jeff commented: Hi Caren,
I have a Conant Ball side chair that looks like the one pictured with you and your sister. Mine has the same legs as that chair, and the same seat as the orange upholstered chair in the second picture. My chair has ivory vinyl upholstery with three buttons in a row across the lower curve of the seat (the vinyl has torn at the site of the buttons). I was told that a Conant Ball catalog attributed the design to Russel Wright. Do you know if Russel Wright designed for Conant Ball and if so did he create pieces for the Modernmates line?
Scott commented: Hi Jeff. Your source was mistaken. There is no Conant Ball catalog that attributes the "Modernmates" line to Russel Wright. Wright did design for CB, but the line he produced was called "American Modern" and will be marked with that name along with his. "Modernmates" was entirely designed by Leslie Diamond, and has been documented as such in period exhibition catalogs as well as by his family.
Elizabeth Clark Bannock commented: So surprised to find this artical and the pictures as I am Beth. I wish to give you additional history on our grandfather, Leslie Diamond, and
correct some of the misinformation provided by Caren.
As a young man, Leslie went to art school in Boston and worked for a surgeon, who specialized in reconstruction, in order to support himself and pay for art school. In those days, surgeon's did not have X-ray equipment and relied on artists who were knowlegable in human anatomy and bone structure. How he went from that to furniture design is not known but I suspect he needed to make a living for his family and Gardner was the "furniture city" in the state at that time.
Leslie's household members consisted of his wife, Irene Puddister Diamond, and their three children; George, Martha, and Marion. His parents, not his wife's, lived with them. They were George William Diamond and Caroline Diamond. George W. had some physical disabilities attributed to his work in foundries so Leslie supported his parents throughout his adult years. I have a few pewter pieces made by George W. Diamond
The majority of Leslie's designs were early american reproductions and those are the pieces most cherished by his daughter, Martha, and passed down to Caren, Nancy and myself. When Martha and John Clark became engaged, Leslie gave her a choice of gifts: a big wedding with all the trimmings or 3 rooms of furniture from Conant Ball. Ever practical, Martha choose the furniture. The coffee table, end tables, and nightstands she selected are currently in my home along with a few other pieces.
The Modern Mates, however, seem to be his claim to fame and are the furniture pieces in the Leslie Diamond Room of the Methodist Church in Gardner, MA. The original Methodist Church had been damaged in a fire and Leslie collaborated with an architect to design a new Church. He passed away before the project was completed but his contribution was recognized and honored.
In the fall of 2008, after our mother's death, Nancy & I visited the Church, saw the Diamond Room and donated a miniature collection of the Modern Mates to be displayed in the Room. I believe Caren is somehow confusing the Church with a library.
Leslie did die from complications of a stroke but not while opening a car door for his wife. As was their daily routine, Irene drove him to and from his office each day and upon returning home one evening in June, she parked the car but he did not move to exit. She spoke his name several times, saw his eyes were open but he was not responsive and she immediately drove him to the local hospital. Over the next few days, he did have coherent times and his children were able to speak with him but I believe he had a second, fatal stroke.
I noticed in your listing of designer's, there is no picture of Leslie. I believe I have his passport picture and some more candid, relaxed photos. You may contact me if you wish.
I apologize for the length of this comment but I felt corrections were in order.
Richard Dietzel commented: I posted your URL at a thread on eBay about Wright vs Diamond and most people assume it was a woman.
I have a bedroom set that I love.
This sort of confusion happens elsewhere my Drexel desk is/isn't by Wormley.
Scott commented: Thanks Richard. I know the eBay Forums thread you mention. I've been fairly active on it debunking all the misconceptions about Conant Ball designers. I appreciate you're being proactive about proper attributions for these wonderful lines of furniture.
Lisa commented: Do you know where I can sell a 6 person dining set with matching china by Conant Ball?
Scott commented: Ebay and Craigslist are the most obvious choices to me. Otherwise, I'd check to see if there's a Midcentury modern dealer in your area who would be interested in consigning it. Good luck!
Daryl Diamond-Kumph commented: I was so surprised to see all this info on grandpa online. It was the first time I had ever googled him after my husband & I were discussing his art work this morning. I am the eldest grand daughter and the daughter of his son George. After Grandpa passed away, our family inherited his home in Gardner. It was a great place to grow up! The huge fireplace in the back yard was made by Grandpa out of stone. The concrete holding it together had crumbled. I don't know if it is still standing. My girlfriends & I cleaned out the old chicken coop & turned it into a play house. Inside the house, grandpa had buillt bookcases along an entire wall. It was filled with books. Some were bound by him. The window frames were custom built to look like picture frames. Grandpa was also known for his art work and sculpture. I have decorated my bedroom in an Asian style which evolved from 2 pen & ink drawings of a Chinese couple that he did in art school in Boston. We also just received a replica of the Sacred Cod that he carved out of one piece of hard wood which was hanging in his office at Conant Ball. Any time I see anything made from maple, I seem to instinctly be drawn to it! I enjoyed seeing your photos of his furniture. I recall seeing much of it as a child. It brings back many memories of growing up in a wonderful family.
james decker commented: I have a bed labeled 616 star dust from forest furniture company in North Wilksboro NC and was wandering if anyone had any info they could give me on possibly the time period and maybe worth.