Midcentury Marvelous

Midcentury Marvelous

Midcentury Marvelous

October/November 2011 issue of American Craft magazine
Mediums Clay Metal Wood

5. Ken Price at Scripps College, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery

In the years after World War II, Los Angeles held out a sparkling promise of the American dream: sun, surf, endless summer, the good life. As the city's population exploded amid postwar prosperity, a new wave of innovation and creativity invigorated every field and industry, especially the arts.

"Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A., 1945 - 1980," a Getty initiative, celebrates that golden era in a sweeping series of exhibitions, on view now through early spring 2012 at more than 60 cultural institutions around Southern California.

Like the scene it documents, the lineup is strikingly diverse, a vibrant mix of media, movements, personalities, ethnicities, and sociopolitical currents.

Of course, there's no talking about midcentury art in L.A. without a focus on the integral role of craft artists. Inspired by the housing boom, they helped develop the California Modern style in home décor. Free from any notion of hierarchy or separation within the arts, they mingled easily in a creative community with painters, sculptors, photographers, designers, and architects. Unconstrained by tradition, Angelenos boldly went where no makers had gone before, producing original, exciting works that put them at the leading edge of studio craft in America.

It's all there in "PST." For a complete list of shows, visit And don't miss these highlights.

1. The Golden State of Craft: California, 1960 - 1985
Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, Sep. 25 - Jan. 8

"California has always been a laboratory for new concepts and ways of thinking and working," says Jo Lauria, who organized this multi-medium overview of defining objects from what she describes as "a game-changing time in the crafts, as assertive, unexpected, large-scale, and radically altered forms emerged from studios."

Special tribute is paid to two of craft's grandes dames, CAFAM's late founder Edith Wyle and Eudorah Moore, the force behind the famous "California Design" shows at the Pasadena Art Museum.

"Golden State" is presented in partnership with L.A.-based nonprofit Craft in America, which is also sponsoring a "day for craft and design," a film and panel event at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Nov. 12).

Over on West Third Street, the Craft in America Study Center will host a Thursday night lecture series on mid­century craft (through Nov. 17), along with "The Eighties," a group show of vintage pieces by artists who emerged in that decade - with their current work for sale next door at Freehand, the pioneering craft gallery run by Carol
Sauvion, Craft in America's executive director.

2. The Alchemy of June Schwarcz: Enamel Vessels from the Forrest L. Merrill Collection
Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles, Sep. 25 ­- Jan. 8

Enamelist June Schwarcz is technically not a SoCal artist (she's from Sausalito, up the coast), but has been officially recognized as a Living Treasure of California. Besides, she's simply amazing. At 93, she still makes the complex, vividly colored sculptural forms she's explored since 1954, beautifully showcased in this career-spanning collection.

3. The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945 - 1985
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, Sep. 24 ­- Jan. 30

Filled with artworks by the late woodworker's friends, Sam Maloof's handbuilt house in Alta Loma, just east of L.A., "embodies who [he] was both as a human being and as an artist," curator Harold Nelson writes in the catalog for this show, which presents classic furniture by the master alongside about 80 pieces by members of his circle, channeling the home's warm, collegial vibe of "artists working in disparate mediums and from widely divergent points of view . . . shown together in a happy, if perhaps quirky, harmony."

4. In Words and Wood: Sam Maloof, Bob Stocksdale, and Ed Moulthrop
Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts, Alta Loma, Oct. 1 ­- Jan. 28

At Maloof's spectacular home and studio, the story of the close friendship between a great furniture maker and two great woodturners, told through their art and personal correspondence.

5. Clay's Tectonic Shift: John Mason, Ken Price, and Peter Voulkos, 1956 - 1968
Scripps College, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Claremont, Jan. 21 ­- Apr. 8

Southern California was the epicenter of clay's Big One - the seismic move from vessel to sculpture - whose aftershocks are still felt today. "These three artists were the catalysts for a new ceramic scene and a definitive shift in the way ceramics were understood. From that point until the present day, clay has simply never been viewed in the same way again," says Williamson Gallery director Mary MacNaughton. The show examines the artistic and technical revolution they led, and how critics, dealers, and patrons interpreted the change.

6. California Design, 1930 - 1965: "Living in a Modern Way"
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Oct. 1 ­- Mar. 25

"Craft is everywhere" in this big show, says Wendy Kaplan, curator and head of decorative arts and design at LACMA. Some 350 objects trace the evolution of the California Look in architecture, furniture, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and more, highlighting "the concept of the designer-craftsman, who sought to work collaboratively with industry to produce a more democratic art." The focus is the modern California home, designed and furnished for carefree, indoor-outdoor living.

7. Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California, 1945 - 1975
American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona, Nov. 12 ­- Mar. 31

When "Common Ground" was planned several years ago, the idea was to exhibit works by local masters (Paul Soldner, Laura Andreson, Otto and Gertrud Natzler, et al.), while emphasizing the influence of artist, educator, and design champion Millard Sheets (1907-89). Now, in a bit of serendipity that AMOCA director Christy Johnson says "gives me goose­bumps," the show inaugurates the museum's new home, a former bank featuring a 77-foot mural painted in 1956 by none other than Sheets himself.

8. Beatrice Wood: Career Woman - Drawings, Paintings, Vessels, and Objects
Santa Monica Museum of Art, Sep. 10 ­- Mar. 3

"Mama of Dada" Beatrice Wood (1893-1998) lived her 105 years as performance art, playing extraordinary roles: muse to Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roché, devotee of the teachings and philosophy of J. Krishnamurti, inspiration for film heroines (Jules and Jim, Titanic). But behind the beguiling bohemian image was a disciplined, inventive artist. "She was very dramatic, but also a deeply philosophical, intelligent woman who knew exactly what she was doing," says SMMoA director Elsa Longhauser. "She carefully nurtured her persona and, working very hard, developed this body of ceramic work that's iconic."

9. San Diego's Craft Revolution - From Post-War Modern to California Design
Mingei International Museum, San Diego, Oct. 16 ­- Apr. 15

San Diego has long been a vibrant center for crafts, with many ties to the L.A. scene. Featured here are some of the city's best, among them Toza and Ruth Radakovich, Rhoda Lopez, Jack Hopkins, Arline Fisch, Ellamarie and Jackson Woolley, Larry Hunter, Kay Whitcomb, and James Hubbell.

Joyce Lovelace is American Craft's contributing editor.

Photo credits: Price photo: © Kenneth Price, courtesy of SFMOMA / Eames photo: © The Eames Foundation, courtesy of Eames Office LLC / Schwarcz photo: M. Lee Fatherree / Asawa photo: Courtesy of Forrest L. Merrill / Maloof table with Natzler ceramics photo: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens / Maloof photo: Alfreda Maloof, courtesy of the Maloof Foundation / Chair photo: Courtesy of Douglas Deeds / Beatrice Wood photo: M. Lee Fatherree, © Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, Happy Valley Foundation