Friday, April 25, 2014

California Dreamin: Living in a Modern Way (1930-1965) via the PEM

As you already know if you've read many of my entries or know me very well, I lived in Southern California-- Mid Century.  And while I don't really have any desire to live there now due to cost of living, traffic and the fact that family and (most) friends are elsewhere, I do have deep roots in the Mid Century Modern ethos that  I grew up with.

So when I saw that the LACMA exhibit I'd been reading about was coming to the Peabody Essex Museum in nearby Salem, MA, I had to go. And I'm glad I did.
It shouldn't be a surprise that one of the first objects we came across was a shiny Air Stream mobile home.  California was big on un-dividing the indoors from the outdoors, and what better way than to drag your living quarters into the wilderness?
There was also a beautiful teal colored Studebaker Avanti in the lobby.  I missed getting a picture of that.  (But the picture below was on PEM's page)  I'm pretty sure that my "years before his time" uncle owned one once.  I'm positive that he is in BOTH  books/catalogs that accompany this exhibit.  He designed a couple of Case Study houses, knew Julius Shulman, worked with Quincy Jones (the architect, not the musician), and kind of knew everybody who was anybody in that era and area. 

 The Hollywood Hills or San Gabriel Mountains were a familiar site to me... especially when there was a mostly glass house nestled in such a way that it had privacy AND a great view.  Sun bathing was popular as well as "atomic ranch" accessories.  Everybody was excited by space, rockets and things that looked out of this world.
The museum didn't really want me taking photographs, since it was LACMA's "stuff."  But I already had some pictures taken.  I didn't get the name of the artist who painted the painting left, but it definitely reminds me of the graphic style of our upholstered couch!  An odd combination of symbols that could be primitive Mayan, or imitating Joan Miro, or abstracted from electronic diagrams.

One of the first things I saw was a beautiful rocking chair made by Sam Maloof.  Again, my uncle knew and admired Sam Maloof before most other people did.  My husband (the woodworker) thinks Maloof's construction methods and designs are top notch.  Apparently he's not the only one.  A rocker made by Maloof in 1986 sold for $80,000+ in 2012!!  I think it was wonderful that in the 50's-70's an artist could make a living doing custom work and not farming it out to apprentices. Even though Maloof was awarded  the first MacArthur prize given to a craftsman, he didn't consider himself an artist.  He always identified himself as Sam Maloof, woodworker.

Although never as famous, another person in the show with a familiar name was Myrton Purkiss. It was my mother who claimed to know him, but I don't know what their connection was.  I have a ceramic bowl he made with my first name initial on it, and signed to me on my birth date.

I was more surprised to see a pot made by the honcho Ceramics Professor at my undergraduate school, Paul Soldner.  I think he gets a lot of credit for bring Raku style firing to the United States.  I know that he got a fair amount of notoriety for posing nude (or nearly so) in his advertisements.  The college was definitely more conservative than he was!

 These colored blocks were intended as toys for budding city planners by Charles and Ray Eames.  I have their building "cards" with fabulous photographs on one side and asterisks on the others.  (The box, unfortunately is long gone.)  I am going to see if there any of these blocks available on eBay.

And even though she famously created paint splashes on a huge natural gas tank in Boston, Corita Kent was part of the California Design ethos with her political art prints.  This one is clear about "Make Love, Not War."  It took me a while to figure out that the largest letters spell VIETNAM -- but upside down and backwards. 

Another installation viewable at the same time was From Here to Ear.  A flock of zebra finches were left to make themselves at home in a large room full of plugged in Fender and StratoCaster Guitars, Zildjian cymbals, woven nests and fountains.  One could walk into the room and hear the birds "playing" the guitars as they perched, flew, and perched again.
Again, photos (even without flash) were prohibited.  I thought there would be post cards of the banner, at least.  But there were not.  On the other hand, there were nice note cards with reproductions of  local artist. Alyssa Watter's finch paintings.  Apparently she used to work in the gift shop.  Nice promotion for her AND the birds!

Between the exhibit and the reception we had dinner at Thai Place which is in the small mall across the alley from PEM.  Our server was animated and funny.  She made a good recommendation to have the chef's special rather than a more typical item from the menu.

I hope to get to the new part of the Museum next time.  Wegman's Weimaraner is pretty cute.

Of course, I browsed the museum store.
I liked the small red purse with the jeweled tiger on it.  Although a purse no bigger than a glasses case would probably not be of any use to me since I believe in always having lipstick, comb, BOOK, and sketch book and possibly a knitting project with me.

The tree of sticks also looks like a honey-do project.  I could put hanging Christmas angels on it, hearts or any number of seasonal objets d'art.  I started to make a bunch of origami cranes.  They would be conversation starters and pretty, too.

These wraps, made of organza, silks and satins were beautiful, but at $300+ beyond my "just for fun" budget.  I checked out the label.  They are made by Mina Mann whose motto is "Every Woman should be wrapped in a Mann."  Clever, even if anti-feminist sounding.

 Next time you see something funky from your parents' or grandparents' era, remember, it probably started in California.

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