Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In Los Angeles, a glimpse behind the Iron Curtain

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Wende Museum in Culver City for a tour of its collections and a presentation by Dale Gluckman, former head of LACMA's Costume and Textiles Department, and Lyssa Stapleton, curator of the Cotsen Collection. What I thought would be simply a nice afternoon with friends (this was my first trip to the Wende—I had no idea what to expect) turned out to be a completely eye-opening experience. I could write about the textile lecture itself, but what I really want to do is take you behind the scenes of this burgeoning institution. Angelinos, take note: You can actually witness the birth of a museum. How often does this happen?

The Wende (wende is German for "turning point") is a museum and archive of Cold War material—items from "an extinct culture and time," explained Justinian Jampol, the museum's executive director and founder. Jampol began building the collection in the mid-1990s and formally established the museum in 2002, with the mission to preserve "the cultural artifacts and personal histories of Cold War-era Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to inform and inspire a broad understanding of the period and its enduring legacy."

What started as a singular idea (a grad school thesis, really) and a grass-roots campaign just ten years ago is now a warehouse of some 75,000 acquisitions, a small exhibition space, and a research facility. The core of the collection is textiles (such as pattern books, banners, and uniforms), but there are also furnishings, paintings, sculpture, and ephemera, plus miles of film, and, as one might expect, great chunks of the Berlin Wall.  


While discussing this most "unconventional museum", Jampol explained that the Wende also has a separate 1,000 square feet of space filled with surveillance equipment. That's when I shivered. Up until that point (perhaps with the exception of seeing the military uniforms or the caged busts of Communist leaders) it had really felt like the clinical storage side of any museum. But this is notby any means—like any other institution I've ever visited.

The Wende is currently working with Paravant Architects on the redesign of the National Guard Armory in Culver City, which was built in the 1960s and most recently served as a homeless shelter. "We hope to be in by the end of 2012," said Jampol, who gave us a peek at the renderings. This is one of the most exciting things happening in Los Angeles right now, and I encourage everyone (not just LA locals!) to participate in its success.

Keep track of the happenings online at Wendemuseum.org and Like them on Facebook.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A little Sunday reading... and a lot of inspiration

The New Guard: Nina Yashar (click to read the feature)

What a treasure-find in the May 2012 issue of W: Andrea Lee's article on dealer Nina Yashar, founder of Nilufar in Milan, with photographs by François Halard.

My favorite passage...

"Like most people whose life and work make up a seamless whole—the happy ones, that is—Yashar finds a near religious satisfaction in what she does. 'Doing this kind of work is like a spiritual exercise,' she says. 'You are always reaching a new level of insight. Sometimes Miuccia and other friends and I will be just sitting around brainstorming, and the atmosphere is charged with energy, and I feel like I have contributed to it. Change—calling into question established truths and juxtaposing strange things that no one ever thought of putting together before—that is how I believe you get a really fresh view of life or of art; that's how creativity is born.'

Yashar passed her hand through her dark curls and shook her head. 'More than once I have been called selvaggia—a wild woman,' she said with a grin. "And that's because of the way I work; not for commerce but for passion. I believe that the real merchant doesn't just think about buying and selling. The important thing is to give people insight into their own imagination, to open new territories. To have them be able to live with the idea that anything is possible.'"

Quick study

A fun, fast look at a few stylistic differences between 18th- and 19th-century Dutch painting, courtesy of specialists Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Front to back: A bit of Mad Men-esque style

Alas, not from my own shelf but from the Beverly Hills Library, which has one of the best design collections in the area.

Since I started off on Monday with1969's The Hollywood Style by Arthur Knight and Eliot Elisofon, it seems only fitting to end the week with Hollywood Life, The Glamorous Homes of Vintage Hollywood, which is essentially a reprint of Elisofon's images. It was published in 2004 by the photographer's estate and Graybull Press. The endpapers were designed by Virgil Marti, and I absolutely adore what he's done: the graphic form of an inside-outside wall is transformed into a simple, modernist brown-and-white pattern.

Recognize the homeowner? Why, it's lyricist Ira Gershwin.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Front to back: Kelly Wearstler and Elsie de Wolfe

I first came across Kelly Wearstler in the June 2001 issue of House Beautiful—a feature on a little 1936 Spanish-style bungalow in Los Angeles that she used as her design office. Looking at those rooms filled with such color and pattern I knew I was seeing something totally different, and something that would change the course of contemporary design. Did she ever! I still have the issue, and most of her books, but one of the most treasured is the big slip-cased Domicilium Decoratus published by Regan Books in 2006. Wearstler designed the book with Mark Edward Harris, Steve Crist, Christopher Smith, and Marie Astrid Gonzalez. Its malachite endpapers signal the luxury that's to come. Plus, it's a nice nod to Elsie de Wolfe and Tony Duquette, whose work has influenced Wearstler's.

Books, books, books. A lady after my own heart. Seeing her holding Elsie de Wolfe, A Decorative Life (Clarkson Potter, 1992) inspired me to lift it off my own shelf and take a peek at its endpapers. And, of course, it does not disappoint. Book designer Dania Martinez Davey used two of Elsie's designs: one of roses, one of ferns. As authors Nina Campbell and Caroline Seebohm wrote, "Chintz was the medium that heralded Elsie's message of a new kind of American interior decoration. Always her mainstay, she used it in every permutation—flowered, striped, and in prints from chinoiserie to toile de Jouy."

Vittoria from Lorenzo Rubelli

Fern from Lee Jofa

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Front to back: Billy Haines's eye for talent


When I first opened up Class Act and saw the singerie sketches, I presumed they were by Billy Haines—it was a book about the designer, after all. But on closer inspection I read that they were by Paul Fehér, a talented artist and draftsman who worked with Haines as a freelance designer for more than forty years. The book illustrates several of Fehér's murals, several of which were done for Haines's house on North Stanley Avenue in Hollywood, but the endpaper drawings were intended for folding screen. (Was it realized? My curiosity about Fehér is officially piqued.)

Gondola-going monkeys float along to the music of a monkey band.


Fehér was born in Budapest, where trained in the fine arts before moving to Paris in 1923. He worked briefly as a furniture designer, but quickly found a place in the studio of master metalworker Paul Kiss. Fehér's Art Deco designs were highly sought after, which caused more than a bit of friction with Kiss. In 1929 he decided to leave Paris and accepted a position with the Rose Iron Works in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Fehér's designs, like the fire screen below, received much acclaim but when the Great Depression hit, the firm's commissions evaporated. With his savings lost in the crash, he returned to Hungary. But he didn't stay for long. With equally few job opportunities in his homeland, he decided to again try the United States—this time for Hollywoodand a happy ending it was. Fehér enjoyed a long career collaborating with Billy Haines (on homes like Pickford, no less), and ran a successful decorating firm specializing in residential and restaurant design. He worked into his late 50s, and resided on Balboa Island until his death in 1990.

Fehér's Muse with Violin screen for Rose Iron Works won the Cleveland Museum of Art's spring show in 1930.

So with this little foray into endpapers I've learned about someone previously unknown to me, and I'm now completely inspired to learn more about him. Is his archive out there somewhere??

Class Act, which appears to be one of those publications that fails to credit its designers by name, was published by Pointed Leaf Press in 2005.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Front to back: It's a clever collage for David Hicks

Like father, like son: designer Ashley Hicks's 2003 publication on David Hicks's legendary career.

Today's book, David Hicks: Designer, might have my most favorite endpapers since they're collages of Hicks's work—it's almost like a little glimpse of his desktop, a glimpse back in time. Not only are there hand-written notes and sketches of patterns and interiors, but beautiful landscape studies. And because more is more, both front and back pages differ. The book was created by the Estate of David Hicks and published by Scriptum Editions. The book's designers, Pritty Ramjee, Karen Watts, and Ashley Hicks, did such a brilliant job. You know they had fun putting this one together.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Front to back: The ingenuity of endpapers

Anyone who knows me knows I have a love of... well, an obsession, really, with books. It all started in college with the beautifully illustrated art history texts required for so many classes, and which I could never bring myself to sell back at the end of the semester. I've continued to collect them over the last twelve years of working in the arts and publishing, which now means we have five huge shelves of books in the living room and two in the office, there are several large stacks elsewhere and, I admit it, some stuffed under the bed. I've been given the talk about hoarding, but I do use these books, honest I do! Maybe it's researching something for someone. Maybe it's for inspiration or even nostalgia. Whatever the reason, I just enjoy having them.

While looking through a few the other night, I was struck by their endpapers. It's curious why some publishers really do it up, while others opt for a blank page. A cost issue? But what a waste of two full spreads! "Brilliant," I thought, "I'll do a week's worth of posts on wonderful endpapers."

So with that, let it begin: the Week of Endpapers! (That should be read with some sarcasm.)

First up is The Hollywood Style, by film historian Arthur Knight and Life photographer Eliot Elisofon. It was published by Macmillan in 1969 with strict instructions: "This is a volume to be enjoyed." Well let me assure you, the enjoyment starts right when you lift the cover and find a coral-colored street map of the Hollywood Hills. There's no credit for the endpapers, but I'm assuming they were designed by illustrator (and later writer) Ulrich Ruchti, who was responsible for the book's layout, along with an Ellen Hsiao. (If anyone knows different, please let me know.)

A bit tattered, just as a book should be. (That's Cecil B. DeMille's place on the cover.)

Knight and Elisofon initially planned to limit the book to just Hollywood stars of the 1920s, but that quickly changed and they took the book right through the 60s. The map wouldn't differ much either way—this was definitely the part of the city to call home, no matter the decade. 

That six-way intersection at Sunset, Crescent, and Beverly is one of my most feared in the city.

It's also worth showing you the book without its jacket. I love the bright yellow cloth (the color doesn't really come through in the photograph) and the deep red text and decoration. I'm not sure what the design on the cover is, but surely there's a clue somewhere inside the book that I've yet to find (more on that in a forthcoming post).

Friday, May 18, 2012

Going green places

A little color inspiration from the Golden State, courtesy of Mother Nature and the Fullerton Arboretum:



Thursday, May 17, 2012

The foundation of California design

I've had the luxury of time to travel lately, so while wine tasting in Southern California's Santa Ynez Valley last weekend, we finally made it to the Santa Inés mission. Founded in 1804, it's the nineteenth of twenty-one churches built by the Spanish between 1769 and 1823.

Santa Inés has a long history—it's survived wars, natural disasters, and even boasts a pirate tale—so I'm going to cheat and link you to the mission's Web site for all the details, and I'll let the pictures give you a sense of the site's beauty, both man-made and natural. I must admit that I wrestle with the grace of California's missions and the darker corners of their history (in this case with the Chumash), but we were the first visitors of the day and the stillness of the chapel, along with the birdsong in the garden, I won't soon forget. 

The front colonnade of Santa Inés, or Saint Agnes in English. The town and surrounding valley became Santa Ynez. Ah, anglicization...

One column was left unstuccoed during the restoration and shows the original materials and techniques.

The view to the southeast.

I didn't really know what to expect of Santa Inés's art collection, but I never imagined we'd find such a startlingly huge collection of early paintings, like Mariano Borja's Virgin of Guadalupe, painted in Mexico in 1841.

Most of the frescoes at the mission date to about 1820; they were restored and repainted in the 1970s.

A stunning example of Baroque sculpture, the mid-18th century Our Lady of the Rosary. Their robes are worked in a technique called estofado, where one layer of paint is scratched to reveal another of contrasting color.

A garden has always existed behind the mission but its present layout, which takes the form of a Celtic cross, was created by the Capuchin Franciscans in 1926. 

You'd never know there was a bee problem by the buzzing of the garden. The rose arbor was their biggest attractormore so than the citrus blossoms that perfumed the entire area.

The graveyard stretches the entire length of the mission and well to the back of the property. The first burial was recorded in January of 1805, and there are many, many more graves than markers. The original bell tower was destroyed by an earthquake in 1911, but rebuilt in the 1950s based on early photographs and paintings.

Want to learn more about the history of the missions? Try the Getty's 2009 publication The California Missions: History, Art, and Preservation by Edna E. Kimbro and Julia G. Costello, with Tevvy Ball:

Want to see how the Spanish Colonial style evolved in the hands of architects like Wallace Neff, Lilian Rice, and Paul Williams, and pick up a little interior design inspiration as well? Try Rizzoli's 2007 California Romantica by D.J. Waldie and Diane Keaton, with photographs by Hester + Hardaway: