Palm Springs and Mid-Century Modernism

Mid-century modern room

As early as the 1920s, the Coachella Valley, and particularly Palm Springs, became known for the dry clear climate and mild warm winters which were so helpful to those recuperating from serious respiratory conditions. Wealthy people from all over the country, wishing to escape the winter snows and cold, soon began to value the area for relaxation and fun and as a place to enjoy the stark beauty and contrast of the scenic wonders the desert offered.

Soon the area became a get-away playground for the Hollywood elite and the stars created their own burgeoning movie colony here in the desert. Palm Springs became a safe retreat from the prying eyes of the “paparazzi” of those days. The stars could stroll down the main streets and enjoy themselves in the restaurants and watering holes in relative comfort confident in being fairly anonymous.

Even though numerous spas and resorts sprung up to accommodate the visitors, many of the “snowbirds” and movie stars began to build second homes. Because these homes were not the primary residences of the occupants, the owners felt that they had more freedom to take architectural risks in the designs. The uniqueness of the desert landscape and environment and the luminous, rich, clear and strong light required an architecture that was sophisticated and understated – one that would blend with the spectacular austereness and palette of the desert.

The desert was a blank canvas to the architect, open to creative and innovative approaches in new lines, angles, and textures that worked with the environment. It inspired artists to work with, blending and contrasting, the natural materials in abundance around them.

Dolly Faibyshev states in her book Palm Springs Mid-Century Modern, that Palm Springs has one of the largest concentrations of mid-century modern architecture in the country. Many of the most famous architects of the period were inspired by the desert environment. With commissions from film stars, private wealthy patrons, and corporations, architects of the caliber of Richard Neutra, Donald Wexler, John Lautner, Paul Williams, William Krisel, and A. Quincy Jones, among many other notables, were able to envision, design and play with new and innovative architectural features.

The style emphasized creating structures with broad generous windows and open floor plans, all to the intention of opening up interior spaces and bringing the outside in. The novel post and beam design eliminated the need for heavy and bulky support walls in favor of walls that seemed to be made of glass. The idea was one of “clean simplicity and integration with nature”. In mid-century designs, function did not follow form, it was as important as form.

The mid-century modern movement in the United States was an American reflection of the International Style and the Bauhas movements which had held sway in early 20th century modern architecture. In the 1940’s, the term was used to describe a dissatisfaction with the prevalent styles in modern architecture and a reaction to the lack of variety of Mies van der Rohe and LeCorbusier. Surface ornament and historical references began to re-emerge and influence decorative forms. The International Style’s architectural orthodoxy was challenged by these new approaches. Mid-century design was used in residential structures with the “goal of bringing modernism to post-war American communities.”

The deserts of Palm Springs offered architects and designers fertile and virtually untouched ground for their experimentation with and development of fresh and innovative forms of design. An outstanding example is the work of A. Quincy Jones, the architect and designer of the Walter Annenberg estate, Sunnylands.

mid-century modern chair, style of Bertoia

Palm Springs celebrates its heritage with Modernism Week, February 15-25, 2018, a very popular and always sold-out event. Fortunately, there is a Fall Preview from October 19-22, 2017. Although also a popular event, it gives a brief overview of the full two-weeks taking place in February. The Mission of Modernism Week is to celebrate and foster appreciation of mid-century architecture, design, art, fashion, and culture. A list of events and tours can be found on the site modernismweekly.com. Tickets can be purchased online and are for sale now. The online store also offers many books, prints, photographs and objects relating to the event and to all aspects of mid-century modernism.

As a personal property appraiser, it’s important to recognize mid-century modern furniture and decorative art.  Many of the important designers are highly collectible, and the values for those items have increased over the last several years.

In other events this month, a four-month long showcase of Latin-American and Latino Art entitled Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is being launched on September 17, 2017. Fifty museums in Southern California will offer free admission on that day. According to the website pacificstandardtime.org, the exhibit is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Led by the Getty, it is a collaborative effort from Arts institutions across Southern California. Further information can be found on the website as well as on laist.com.

SOURCES

Julius Shulman: Palm Springs; Michael Stern and Alan Hess, Rizzoli 2008

Desert Modernists: The Architects Who Envisioned Mid-Century Modern Palm Springs, published in collaboration with Modernism Week and Palm Springs Life 2017

Palm Springs Mid-Century Modern; Dolly Faibyshev, Schiffer Publishing, 2010

LA Times Article on Fall Preview: August 1, 2017

moderrnismweekly.com

pacificstandardtime.org

Mid-century modern furniture on 1stdibs

Links to mid-century modern in Palm Springs at Swank Modern Design

 

Modern Italian blown glass vase, style of Venini

The Grand Tour – Then and Now

Carved shell cameo brooch

Tourism really hasn’t changed very much over the last 300 years. Traveling for pleasure, knowledge, and acquisition had its beginnings in the 17th century. Those travelers on the classic “Grand Tour” and modern-day tourists have much in common – a willingness to be inspired and enlightened by the art, beauty, and culture embodied in the famous cities of Europe, and eventually as travel methods improved, around the world.

The emphasis in education, particularly for young people of wealth and privilege, was steeped in Classical literature, art and architecture. At first Italy and France were the goal. The desire to see firsthand all they had studied gave rise to what we today call the “gap year – two or even three years then – and the tradition known as the Grand Tour came to be.

Antique print of Pompei theater, southern Italy. Original, created by Wolfensberger and Radcliffe, was published in Florence, Italy, 1842, Luigi Bardi ed.

It soon became the fashionable thing to do before settling down to fulfill the familial duties waiting for them at home. Enduring the extreme rigors, the weeks and sometimes months it took to get somewhere, and the perilous dangers of travel in those days was part of the adventure. In the days before photography, it formed the basis for the sketches, letters, diaries and eventually books they wrote about their experiences as well as the lessons they learned on their journeys. They collected art, sculpture, literature, and decorative objets d’art and shipped it all home to fill their country estates and London townhouses.

What to do and where to stay, what and where to eat; the best routes for traveling, the best merchants from whom to buy, the best artist studios; the best entertainment, and the visual wonders, natural and man-made were all experiences communicated to family, friends, and future travelers. Sound familiar? Now we have up-to-date guidebooks, Instagram and the Internet to communicate our favorite images, ideas, and experiences.

In the words of Matt Gross, of the Frugal Traveler, a New York Times Blog:  “Even though the basic contours of the Grand Tour were established in the 17th century – as a kind of finishing school for affluent young gents – it has mutated to meet the shifting demands of generations of travelers.”

Now bargain fares and “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” type tours are available to everyone, not just the privileged few. Colleges have instituted semesters abroad where students study and immerse themselves in the arts and culture of the country under the auspices of the university.

Eiffel tower souvenir

All travelers, and especially those who have traveled the world, enjoy collecting objects that reflect the countries they have visited. Many of them find themselves in a similar situation as this woman.  She has traveled all seven continents and has filled her home with dozens of artworks and objects displaying her interests. When asked if she had cataloged her possessions, she replied: “Oh. No, I haven’t ever thought about it as they are really only of value to me.” She was advised when the time came, her family and heirs were going to be left with the very stressful task of figuring it all out.

An excellent source for organization to aid future heirs as well as estate and insurance appraisers is On the Record – Creating a Road Map for Your Family. Amy Praskac, owner of On the Record has compiled a comprehensive website on all aspects of record keeping. She also has a blog filled with valuable information and ideas on how to gather and store records for safekeeping.

This summer, an event of note allows “travelers” to embark on a “grand tour” of Europe without getting on an airplane. A major festival of the arts going on in Southern California (July 7- August 31) is the 2017 Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. The theme this year is aptly titled “The Grand Tour”.

 According to the website: “A pageant ticket becomes your passport on the Grand Tour to experience spectacle, music, stories and grand illusions as masterpieces come to life. …a breathtaking theatrical journey through the centuries in search of unforgettable art.”

For some first-hand observations about the Grand Tour, there are several very enjoyable books by such famous authors as Mark Twain, Henry James, Edward Gibbon, and Francis Bacon, whose advice to travelers in 1625 is still relevant today. And of course, lots of fun movies to watch.

19th century table inlaid with porcelain plaques.

As an appraiser, I have had the opportunity to examine several 19th century souvenirs of The Grand Tour including sets of plaster medallions with Classical scenes, prints depicting ancient ruins, carved cameo shells and micro mosaics.  I’ve even seen tables inlaid with stone, mosaics and porcelain plaques.

 Sources

Grand Tours and Cook’s Tours: A History of Leisure Travel, 1750-1915. Lynne Withey.  William Morrow, 1997.

 Italy and the Grand Tour. Jeremy Black. Yale University Press, 2003.

 Ladies of the Grand Tour. Brian Dolan. Flamingo, New Ed Edition, 2002.

 The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century. Jeremy Black. Sutton Publishing, 2003.

 Websites

 The Grand Tour of Europe in the 17th and 18th Century   thoughtco.com

 9 Books and Films Inspired by the Grand Tour. Google Arts and Culture. 

 Frugal Traveler – A New York Times Blog

 On the Record – Creating a Road Map for Your Family.  

Art Deco 1925-1940 …. Looking to the Future.

Radio with art deco streamlined styling.

The predominant motif in Art Deco design was the appearance of “Speed”. Streamlined sweeping curves based on aerodynamic principles – a symbol of forward movement.

The pessimism – some critics considered it decadence – that pervaded society at the end of the 19th century was replaced with a sense of optimism and excitement. People looked ahead to the new century witnessing the industrial progress that was giving them hope for an economic and social revival.

The term “Art Deco” derived from the 1925 Paris L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The purpose of the exhibition was to “unite art with industry”. The concept was to embody the ideas of this modern age with a complete break from the past. The work of designers was not to imitate earlier historical periods. They could, however, draw on ancient designs for inspiration, as long as the artisans adapted the designs in the modern style.

Gathering from diverse sources, we see motifs from Mayan and Aztec cultures; Egyptian themes that coincided with the discovery and worldwide interest in King Tut’s tomb, and interest in the striking patterns and colors inherent in African and Japanese art.

Walnut art deco dining table

The cost of fine handcrafted objects was out of the reach of many. Exotic woods, and other expensive materials made this new design form available only to the very wealthy. A need was created for production of machine-made objects in quantity, cost-efficient, modern looking and affordable to all; items that were not only functional, but beautiful in their simplicity.

Streamlined designs were applied to cars, trains, ships, and objects whose purpose was certainly not forward movement. Buildings, gas pumps, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, radios and gramophones, kitchen utensils, toasters, ceramics, pottery and glassware, clocks and wall sconces, and other everyday items all displayed this new form of design. Striking geometric patterns, bold and contrasting use of color, symmetry, lack of frills and of anything faintly romantic defined the style.

Art Deco concepts permeated all things in the 1920s and 1930s – architecture, fine art, cinema, graphics and advertising posters, and in fashion design for both men and women.

Bakelite and other new synthetic materials were particularly well-suited to the mass production of Art Deco jewelry. Now anyone regardless of their social position could afford the trendy and decorative pieces that were now available to all.

Sleek-looking metals, stainless steel, aluminum and chrome appeared in even the most common household items. The cocktail shaker became the symbol of fashionable sophistication in many middle-class homes. If you enjoy the “Thin Man” movies or any movie from the 1930’s, spot the cocktail service that was always present as part of the set decoration.

Walk into a home department at Macy’s, and you will most likely see a display of Fiesta Ware. Still popular with its simple, streamlined forms in brilliant colors, it was introduced by the Homer Laughlin China Co. of West Virginia in 1936.The line was noted for its Art Deco styling which featured concentric circles and a variety of bright colors and shapes. It was discontinued in 1972 due to changing tastes in dinnerware styles, but was reintroduced in 1984 with new glazes and colors. Popular again, Fiesta Ware is considered to be the most collected brand of china in the United States.

An organization devoted to the preservation of Art Deco in all its forms is the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. They are sponsoring a festival aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California from August 18-20. It will be a weekend of total immersion in the Art Deco era. They are also planning their annual Avalon Ball in January in the Casino on Catalina Island. The Catalina Casino on Avalon Bay, built in 1929, is a remarkable example of Art Deco design. Information and many interesting articles on preservation as well as other topics and events can be found on their website.

The theme of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair – “A Century of Progress” sums up the underlying ideas of the period known as Art Deco:  Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts.

Art Deco survived into the early 1940’s when it evolved to mid-century modernism.

One of the most interesting assignments I’ve had was to appraise a large collection of Art Deco period furniture and posters for insurance purposes.   Identifying the exotic veneers was a challenge.

Sources

Definitive Guide to the Decorative Arts of the 1920s and 1930s. Alastair Duncan.

Harry N. Abrams New York, 2009.

Art Deco 1910-1939. Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, Ghislaine Wood, Editors

V & A Publications. London, 2003. (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. www.adsla.org

Art Deco. Young Mi Kim. Friedman/Fairfax. Architecture and Design Library

Art Nouveau and Art Deco Jewelry. Lillian Baker. Collector Books Paducah, Kentucky, 1981.

Websites

History of Art Deco. Bryan Mawr College. www. brynmawr.edu

Art Deco. The Art Story – Modern Art Insight. www.theartstory.org

Art Deco. Wikipedia.

Art Deco perfume bottle

“The Art that is Life” American Art Pottery

Arts & Crafts period tile mural for the Santa Fe train at Union Station, San Diego.

The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, spanning the years from 1875-1930, saw its beginnings as a rebellion against the fussiness and excesses of the Victorian age and the terrible economic and environmental conditions fostered by the industrial revolution. It had its origins in expressing the ideas of the Movement as stated in this quote from an exhibition catalog published by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:

“Convinced that industrialization had caused the degradation of work and the destruction of the environment, Arts and Crafts reformers created works with deliberate social messages. Their designs conveyed strong convictions about what was wrong with society and reflected prescriptions for living. The aim was to incorporate art into everyday activities and thus, to democratize it”.

Groups of like-minded artisans formed guilds and collectives to produce handcrafted wares including tall vases, tiles, utilitarian shapes for daily use, original designs with simplified shapes, experimental glazes and painting techniques, many with incised and raised decorations. From the 1880’s to post World War 1, highly decorated Japanese porcelain and artifacts inspired American pottery artists and designers.

Many pottery-making collectives sprang up across America during these years, and especially in California, incorporating new ideas about design, philanthropy, and social consciousness. The Arequipa Pottery located in Marin county in Northern California, was established as part of a tuberculosis sanatorium for young working-class women who were taught the craft as part of their recovery program and produced wares for sale in stores across the country, as well as being displayed at the Pan Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915.

The popularity of the Arts and Crafts movement began to decline after World War 1 as newer design forms began to evolve. The design aesthetic of the movement continued to influence modernism in the 1930’s and 1940’s and into the post-modernism period of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Sunnylands, the Walter Annenberg estate in Palm Springs, is a fine example of post-modernism architecture as it echoes the idealism, beauty, grace, form in nature, and simplicity of the earlier movement.

There are a few Arts and Crafts potteries still producing today, but almost all of them were out of business by 1930. There was a resurgence of handcrafted pottery and objects late in the 20th century and there are many artisans producing fine handcrafted works today. American Art Pottery can be found in antique stores, auctions, and on line. There are collections in many museums around the country. There are walking and home tours in San Diego and Pasadena focusing on arts and crafts design and architecture at various times of the year and many websites, books, publications, organizations and dealers can be found on line relating to the Arts and Crafts movement and, specifically, art pottery.

A worthwhile show for those who are interested in handcrafted art pottery, old and new, is the upcoming Los Angeles Pottery Show at the Pasadena Convention Center on May 20-21, 2017. It is the largest pottery and tile show in America.

FURTHER RESEARCH

General Books on the Arts and Crafts Movement:

The Art That is Life – Arts and Crafts Movement in America 1875-1920, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Wendy Kaplan   1987

The Arts and Crafts Companion, Pamela Todd, 2004, Bullfinch

The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America: Design for the Modern World 1880-1920, Wendy Kaplan, 2005, Thames & Hudson

The Arts and Crafts Movement (World of Art), 1991, Thames & Hudson

Arts and Crafts in Britain and America, Isabel Anscombe and Charlotte Gere, 1978, Rizzoli

General Books on American Art Pottery and Tile:

American Art Tile 1876-1941, Norman Karlson, 1998, Rizzoli

American Art Pottery, David Rago , 1997, Knickerbocker Press

California Pottery: From Missions to Modernism, Book Published  in Conjunction with Exhibition at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, 2003-2004

Journal of the American Pottery Association – bi-monthly magazine with fully researched and in-depth articles and information on all aspects of art pottery

www.AmArtPot.org/

justartpottery.com         Newsletter and Blog

Museum Collections

LACMA

Oakland Museum    Oakland, CA

Kirkland Museum    Denver, Colorado

Everson Museum    Syracuse, New York

American Arts and Crafts Collection of Alexander and Sidney Sheldon (exhibition publication)

Palm Springs Art Museum

Art Pottery collections displayed in many Museums around the US.

The Arts and Crafts Society – aggregate of resources, books, collections and museums worldwide

Arts & Crafts pottery compote