Dumpster Diving and Judy Jetson: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

Long, slender legs. Blonde. It was love at first sight. I eyed those lean legs sticking up out of the ginormous dumpster, and what could I do? I had to go in after her. So I scaled the side of the rusty, seven-foot tall dumpster, and, with my tip toes balancing on a thin metal brace, I reached in, grabbed a leg, and pulled Judy out. Much to my disappointment, the rest of Judy was not so…appealing. But I’m no snob. I tossed Judy into my backseat and drove home, satisfied I’d saved another mid-century modern side table from a grisly death.

Judy sat in my screened-in porch for many months. She had no table top (it was possibly left shattered in the bottom of the dumpster), so I placed part of an old, exterior split door on her, sort of as a temporary, make-shift top. For a while I sat drinks or garden tools on her, trying to determine how to fix her up. I liked the idea of keeping her on the porch—she was a good size for that space, and I figured her style was well suited as a companion to my metal lawn chairs.

Her “body” was particle board with a plastic coated, fake, wood grained veneer, so I was confident the extremities wouldn’t harm it. But those legs…thin, golden, solid wood—maple or birch I guessed—I knew moisture and extreme temperatures would eventually take their toll on her four limbs and very modern brass ferrules. So as I accumulated more metal lawn chairs and fret over how to store them, my fears for Judy’s legs gave in, and I relegated her to the garage. I felt terrible.

In late June I was rearranging furniture in my living room, and a spot opened up next to a mid-century sofa which is—I swear—only a temporary part of my collection. But the sofa wasn’t so useful without an end table. While relaxing on the 1950’s sofa, guests need somewhere to sit their martinis, right? So I mentally searched all the tables in the house, until I remembered poor Judy in the garage. Unfortunately, she was a wreck.

It was a Saturday morning and the kids were on a canoeing/camping trip, so I afforded myself some “crazy Mom time” to re-analyze my treasure. I pulled Judy out of the garage and wiped the dust off.  Unfortunately, a long strip of her veneer had pulled away and needed re-glued and clamped for twenty-four hours. While being forced to halt my creative energies, I took that time to considered how to redefine her body, and cleaned-up and applied a golden stain to her worn legs. It took nicely.

Poor Judy. Weathered legs, peeling veneer, no top. She had such awesome modern styling with deteriorating and ugly surfaces. But I had no doubts!

Poor Judy. Weathered legs, peeling veneer, no top. She had such awesome modern styling with deteriorating and ugly surfaces. But I had no doubts!

The next afternoon I pessimistically released the clamp from Judy’s side, relieved to discover the glue held. Her cute mid-section was so unique, with four rounded, triangular cubbies underneath the missing table top. But the plastic coated, dark wood grained, laminated veneer was unattractive and clashed with her golden legs. The styling was fun, practical—very mid-century modern, but it was so ugly I’d couldn’t imagine sitting anything pretty or interesting on it.

The only solution…paint. I was kind of experimenting with a taupe and cream look on the living room walls, and since the table would sit against the taupe color, I thought I’d try cream paint. Also, the cream is light, fresh, and clean—a neutral that would not overpower the golden blonde legs but compliment their warmth. In the first moments of applying the paint I knew Judy was going to be more beautiful than ever.

Immediately I knew the cream paint would take Judy out-of-this world!

Immediately I knew the cream paint would take Judy out-of-this world!

However, while I was painting, the artist in me realized that this piece needed some pop—a little “Punch” for my Judy. So I considered color accents, such as painting the surface quadrants an alternating turquoise and coral. Although those colors are quintessential to the atomic era in which this table originated, when I imagined this paint scheme the results leaned to a piece of furniture better suited to a baby nursery, not a living room.

But the idea of coral lingered in my head. And to be honest, while I cleaned her up I imagined my silver aluminum Christmas tree perch on top of her. Also, given that her golden brass ferrules cleaned up so well, my mind started to play with metallics and the coral, somehow mixed about.

About a week before I started this project, a friend commented on a skirt I was wearing. I took a close look at the details of its tiny print and realized they were little triangles turned in all directions. My mind immediately flashed to a mid-century image, and I replied, “It’s my George Jetson skirt.” I was referring to the introductory scene of The Jetson’s when the earth explodes into a jazzy, abstract, array of dancing, multicolored triangles.

This brief sliver of animated television history is classic, mid-century, abstract art juxtaposed with classic, mid-century, swinging jazz. Think Paul Rand meets Frank Sinatra. Donna Mibus meets Michael Bublé. Neil Fujita meets Dave Brubeck…oh, wait, that one’s been done. Anyway, this all too short moment of TV nostalgia is a consummate spark of mid-century modern pizzazz. And it’s forever burned on my brain.

Courtesy CartoonsIntros

The same week that I discovered my skirt mimicked the Jetson’s animation, a friend of mine posted a sweet image of Judy Jetson on Instagram. Sadly, it was a thoughtful tribute regarding the death of the woman who voiced Judy Jetson, Janet Waldo. These two references continued to dance about in the back of my mind for quite some time.

When I seriously focused in on how to incorporated a coral color into my table, the entire Jetson’s party sprang to the forefront of my thoughts, and there was Judy, decked out in the cutest coral and pink, 1960’s, futuristic getup. Suddenly, everything aligned and was right in my world. This was the point when my blonde, leggy table secured her name—Judy.

 

Fresh, fun, flirty, and decked-out in pink and coral, Judy Jetson was a mid-century delight.

Fresh, fun, flirty, and decked-out in pink and coral, Judy Jetson was a mid-century delight.

So I examined the triangular Jetson’s image on YouTube, stuck with the metallic color contrasts idea, made four triangular stencils, and sponged on the paint. It was a bit of quick and dirty fun.

Cutting stencils from thin cardboard.

Cutting stencils from thin cardboard.

Stenciling on the triangles.

Stenciling on the triangles.

Last problem: Judy still had no top…as in, no table top. Just for fun, I cut a piece of heavy cardboard to fit perfectly inside the rounded top part of the body, because there was a lip there and it just made sense. I spray painted this new make-shift top gold, thinking it would make for a nice contrast, giving three gold layers to the piece:  the ferrules, the triangles on the nook surfaces, and the top.

With a mock gold painted top. Interesting, but blocks the downward view of the triangles.

With a mock gold painted top. Interesting, but it blocks the downward view of the triangles.

It looked okay, but this solution for a top cast shadows down on Judy’s triangles. Only one thing made sense at this point: glass. I painted the edges of the cross braces gold and a thin strip around the top ring gold to maintain the three layered consistency,  and had a piece of glass cut to fit inside the lip. At $40, this was my only real monetary investment in the piece.

Complete with glass top.

Presenting Judy…complete with glass top.

One last thought…Did you notice how my table resembles the buildings in the Jetson’s intro video above? Large, round, layered structures held up by long, thin posts (legs)? Kind of seals the deal, doesn’t it. I love it when everything falls together. Just like how my mid-century aluminum Christmas looks smashin’ on my mid-century end table which was inspired by a mid-century cartoon character.

As I suspected and hoped--a lovely stand for the aluminum Christmas tree.

As I suspected and hoped. Judy is a lovely stand for the aluminum Christmas tree.

 

 

 

Googie: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

To John Lautner, for relentlessly pursing his vision and fighting for his craft.

Driving down the road of life in your 1960 Plymouth Fury, you feel like you have everything you need: cash in your wallet, your sweetheart by your side, possibly a couple kiddos in the backseat. But this is the atomic era—the economy is bustling, consumerism is the rule, and deep down, you want more…because you know you can have it.

“More” is in abundance in mid-century America. It’s everywhere you turn—on your television, in your neighbor’s house, his carport, his backyard…and you want it. You’re human. So you’re driving, searching, trying to make the best decision as to where to exchange that cash in your wallet for the products you want, because you glance to your sweetheart…and she’s worth it.

This is where ad man Don Draper comes in, because he has multiple sweethearts, and they—as a whole—are worth a lot to him, too. In order to lavish upon his collective sweethearts what they want, he first has to convince you to do the same.

Is this tale about capitalism? Absolutely, in a fantastical, romantically spun fashion. It’s also about Americanism. Our culture of a free market economy with purchasing choices and opportunities for commercial improvement or decline is undeniable. And, although you may not be familiar with the term, this tale is about Googie—an extreme, often audacious, architectural  style with the raw function of provoking a quick decision to exchange goods or services for dollars.

By bringing Mr. Draper into the story I’m not suggesting Googie was a creation of Madison Avenue. I’m simply defining it as advertising, which, at its most basic, functional level, it is. The purpose of Googie was to grab your attention and quickly convince you to turn the steering wheel of your Plymouth Fury into a convenient parking lot. However, Googie was not formulated at an ad man’s conference table, but rather an architect’s drafting table.

“Googie” (pronounced ‘goo-gee) was the family nickname for Lillian K. Burton, the wife of entrepreneur, Mortimer C. Burton.  In 1949 Mr. Burton erected a coffee shop in West Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard and honored his wife by naming the establishment Googie’s.

One day in the early 1950s, architecture critic and magazine editor Douglas Haskell, and architectural photographer Julius Shulman, were driving along Sunset Boulevard. Upon spying Mortimer Burton’s coffee shop, Haskell demanded the car be stopped, then proclaimed, “This is Googie architecture.” An article with that as the title, written by Haskell, ran in the February 1952 issue of House and Home.

Haskell made no attempts to hide his ambivalence regarding the emerging style. “It starts off on the level like any other building,” he wrote. “But suddenly it breaks for the sky. The bright red roof of cellular steel decking suddenly tilts upward as if swung on a hinge, and the whole building goes up with it like a rocket ramp. But there is another building next door. So the flight stops as suddenly as it began.”

The architect of Googie’s coffee shop, John Lautner, was not mentioned in this specific article by Haskell. Lautner was a student of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and followed Wright’s ideals of functionality and innovation, grounded in the organic. In the mid 1940s, before Lautner designed Googie’s, he designed three Coffee Dan’s, coffee shops all located in Southern California. His work gave birth to the Coffee Shop Modern Style, incorporating “the eye-catching roofline, the integrated sign pylon, [and] the destruction of the distinctions between indoors and out.”

In “Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture,” Alan Hess explains that the Coffee Dan’s designs display “Lautner’s combination of structure, space, and function. To Lautner, human predilection, not structural requirement, should shape a space. The cantilevers, structural bents, and concrete shells made possible by modern engineering free him from having to fit humans into the boxlike rooms created by conventional building methods. He selected the vaults and glass walls and trusses and angles of his buildings to help him shape the concepts of space he favored. This uncompromising attitude made him one of the true purists, sweating out the design to the last detail to preserve the consistent idea.”

Form following function…

Midcentury America hosted the merging of fresh, enthusiastic ideas with exciting innovations. Prevalent and affordable automobiles steered the culture, fueling the desire for suburban tract housing and shopping centers. Returning war veterans were eager to start families, to retool wartime factories for domestic progression, and to push the American dream onward. Peacetime enthusiasm had everyone looking to the future and to space. Everything was forward and upward. And sometimes even at a diagonal.

The new challenge for businesses was that consumers weren’t walking on sidewalks peering up at merchant names on store fronts or gazing into their windows. Inside, shoppers whizzed by in their cars, distracted by other automobiles and pedestrians. Businesses had to attract buyer’s attentions from a block away and clinch it. The solution was for advertising and building structure to become big and loud and flamboyant. Additionally, it had to speak the language of the day, and that language was futuristic…space.

Rockets, amoebas, boomerangs, chevrons, starbursts, and atomic models, not to mention bold geometric shapes and angles and vivid color…this was the cultural dialect of post war America—the atomic era. American business quickly learned to speak this emerging language, and created some fun and unprecedented art as a byproduct.

Googie is better shown than described. After all, the purpose was for it to first catch the eye, then excite the mind. So I’m displaying several examples, all from my hometown of Topeka, Kansas. Even though the style was rooted and prevalent in Southern California, architectural examples of the atomic era are sprinkled all across American. How fortunate we are that some pieces are being used and maintained, time capsules of the American vision of the future, over fifty years ago.

 

Auto Acceptance Center, 29th Street. The folded plate captures the eye and draws it upward.

Auto Acceptance Center, 29th Street. The folded plate roof captures the eye and draws it upward.

 

Alorica, 29th Street. Originally a Katz Drug Store, I really dig how the blue underside of the folded plate roof accents its zig zag.

Alorica, 29th Street. Originally a Katz Drug Store, I really dig how the blue underside of the folded plate roof accents its zig zag.

 

Bobo's Drive In, 10th Street. A Topeka Classic since 1948, their red neon signs and wall of glass are period Googie, and their shakes are delicious!

Bobo’s Drive In, 10th Street. A Topeka Classic since 1948, their red neon signs and wall of glass are period Googie, and their shakes are delicious!

 

The Gage Center sign off Huntoon and Gage Boulevard is 100% Googie. Large, bold, colorful--wildly geometric including a slender chevron. One of my favorite architectural pieces in Topeka.

The Gage Center sign off Huntoon Street and Gage Boulevard is 100% Googie. Large, bold, colorful–wildly geometric including a slender chevron. One of my favorite architectural pieces in Topeka.

 

Gage Bowl, Huntoon Street. The zigzag of the folded plate roof appear to float above the entry.

Gage Bowl, Huntoon Street. The zigzag of the folded plate roof appears to float above the entry.

 

Soon to be Mr. Nice Guys, Huntoon Street. Obviously this was a mid-century drive-in. Note the boomerang roof line over the

Soon to be Mr. Nice Guys, Huntoon Street. Obviously this was a mid-century drive-in. Note the subtle boomerang (folded) roof line above the parking spaces.

 

Topeka Dental Associates Building, Huntoon. Love the wavy, cantilevered roof line.

Topeka Dental Associates Building, Huntoon Street. Love the wavy, concrete shell, vaulted roofline and floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

 

Chief Drive In sign, 37th Street. Kudos to Wal-Mart for not only saving but preserving the glorious piece of Topeka architecture.

Chief Drive-In sign, 37th Street. Kudos to Wal-Mart for not only saving but preserving this beloved piece of Topeka architecture.

 

Central National Bank, Quincy, downtown. Towering stucco arches supporting a round protruding eave. Two stories of solid glass...I'd mark this structure down as Googie in my books.

Central National Bank, Quincy Street, downtown. Towering stucco arches supporting a round protruding eave. Two stories of solid glass…I’d mark this structure down as Googie in my books.

 

Hanover Pancake House, Kansas Avenue. In business since 1969, this sign can't be missed. Note the colorful diamonds tracing the eave.

Hanover Pancake House, Kansas Avenue. In business since 1969, this sign can’t be missed. Note the colorful diamonds tracing the building’s eave.

 

Spangles, Wanamaker Road. Founded in 1978, Spangles incorporates elements such as neon, bold colors, and the geometric juxtaposition. The particular restaurant was probably built around 2005, yet its heart is mid-century.

Spangles, Wanamaker Road. Founded in 1978, Spangles incorporates elements such as neon, bold colors, and geometric juxtaposition. This particular restaurant was probably built around 2005, yet its heart is mid-century.

 

University United Methodist Church, 17th Street. The structure angles forward as it reaches to the heavens.

University United Methodist Church, 17th Street. The structure and roofline angles forward as it reaches to the heavens.

 

Gage Bowl sign, Huntoon Street. Googie architecture often tilted letters about, such as "fun" was placed, above. The bowling pin bursts from the base of the sign, a common geometric element of Googie.

Gage Bowl sign, Huntoon Street. Googie architecture often tilted letters about, such as “fun” was placed, above. The bowling pin bursts from the base of the sign, a common geometric element of Googie.

 

Kansas Children's Discovery Center, 10th Street. This building is approximately five years old yet it screams Googie. The impressive triangular roof, supported by walls of glass and colorful poles, mimics a rocket ready to launch.

Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, 10th Street. This building is approximately five years old yet it screams Googie. The impressive triangular roof, supported by walls of glass and colorful poles, mimics a rocket ready to launch.

 

Did you notice this post contained a fair bit of ice cream? I’d argue that Googie is the ice cream of design—a tall, swirling, scrumptious ice cream cone. It climbs upward to the sky because no one said it couldn’t. With the aid of post war building materials—sheet glass, glass blocks, metal, plastic, stucco, wood, copper—the wafer and the ice cream merge and harmonize.

There were no rules regarding Googie materials or geometry—this cone twists, dollops, scoops, and curls in any flavor imaginable. It not only brings your eye up and out and to the diagonal but brings it deep into your imagination. You’re seeing man’s past, present and future, all at once, in a single, delicious dessert.

And what better treat for your sweetheart who’s smiling at you from the passenger seat of your Fury and the for the kiddos in the backseat than a tasty bit of ice cream.

Now that you know what Googie is, send me a pic of it from your city. Email it to crkennedy3@gmail.com or…hashtag it as #avcgoogie on social media. Make it a selfie. And have fun. Because Googie is nothing if not fun!

 

Ice cream makes everyone happy. So does Googie!

Ice cream makes everyone happy. So does Googie!

 

Sources:

Hess, Alan. Googie Redux:  Ultramodern Roadside Architecture. Chronicle Books, LLC. 2004.

 

George Shearing: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

Shearing to crop

George Shearing, 1959

Defining light with sound…

To step into the world with a disability could be daunting for some people. The realization that you are not equipped for a “normal” life—that you must lay out an alternative path for yourself that most people don’t understand…it’s an overwhelming thought. Yet some people pull this task off flawlessly.

George Shearing was born congenitally blind. When those of us with vision close our eyes we see darkness. Did Mr. Shearing see darkness? How would he know? If you can’t see light, can you define darkness? Without light, does darkness even exist? These are questions for philosophers…and scientists…and perhaps mid-century enthusiasts.

Mr. Shearing came into his world in 1919 in the Battersea area of London, the youngest of nine children. James Shearing, his father, was employed as a coal worker, while his mother, Ellen, raised children by day and cleaned train cars at night. Young George began paving his own path by dropping glass bottles from an upstairs window of the family home and listening to them shatter. Milk bottles, to Shearing’s ears, represented classical sounds while beer bottles denoted jazz tones. The family piano also served as an enlightenment, as he picked out tunes beginning at the age of three.

He received formal musical training at Linden Lodge School for the Blind, where he studied piano after being inspired by American jazz artists Art Tatum and Fats Waller. A teacher there steered him away from the classics after recognizing George’s talents for improvisation. His gifts, coupled with hard work, opened up a world of college opportunities to study music. Yet financial circumstances restrained him, keeping him in night clubs, performing for five dollars a week and meager success.

After World War II George took a leap, landing in the United States. However, booking agents weren’t impressed, as they attempted to compare him to other musicians. A spark of light told George he needed to develop a sound all his own. So he did, and it became known as The Shearing Sound.

He laid the foundation with a quintet:  a vibraphone, guitar, piano, bass, and drums. Shearing hoped to attain a “full block sound” as he called it, and to achieve this he arranged for the vibraphone to double what his right hand played and the guitar to double his left. In effect he crafted a sophisticated sub-genre of jazz, loved and appreciated by listeners worldwide who boasted more gentle musical appetites.

Two years after immigrating to the United States, The George Shearing Quintet recorded its first international hit, “September in the Rain.”  The single’s success boosted bookings in night clubs and concerts, and solidified the allure of Shearing’s innovative sound. The song was composed in 1937 and Shearing’s 1949 interpretation is cool…a continuous light, bouncy, repetition, most noticeably between the vibraphone and piano.

The syncopated and swingin’ 1952 “Lullaby of Birdland,” adopted by its namesake New York City jazz club as its theme song, became a true jazz standard. Composed by Shearing, this foot-tappin’ groove puts a smile on my face but would never put me to sleep.

The spotlight remained on Shearing for two decades then filtered lightly as smooth jazz fell out of favor with popular audiences. Yet he continued to record and perform to the delight of many.

Coming out of the darkness with sound…

A few years ago I was thrust into a new world. Darkness encompassed me for many months. There was no defined path for my situation—I’d never known another person who found themselves in this awful reawakening. I couldn’t find anyone strong enough to pull me out of the darkness, only a few sincere friends telling me it would be okay. But how did they know? When they closed their eyes they didn’t see my world. What they imagined as my reality was nowhere near how it felt or looked through my sorely damaged eyes.

This new world robbed me of a few things essential to healthy living, one of those being good sleep. I’d awaken many times at night, my heart racing. I’d gone from a person who relished sleep and nighttime to one who dreaded the thought of being alone in the dark. Fear of the unknown consumed me, creating severe anxiety and illness.

Like the deliverance Shearing must have felt when he first heard glass shatter upon cobblestones outside his window, I too was released from my misery and fear by sound. Interestingly, the sound I heard was produced by Shearing himself, over fifty years ago.

George and Nancy

My first experience with Shearing. Love everything about this album and it’s modern cover.

I was talking to a friend one night, and he told me he was listening to George Shearing and Nancy Wilson’s, The Swingin’s Mutual.  This didn’t ring a bell, but my friend and I have very similar musical tastes. Curious, I pulled the album up on YouTube. In an instant, everything clicked, and I once again awakened in a different world. Like Shearing’s shattering glass, a new sound enlightened me. It pulled me into an existence of calm. It steered me to a bright path—once again I sleep peacefully through the night and no longer fear the dark.

Most of the music I listen to originates from the mid-century, and I’ve long been a fan of cool jazz. How was it possible I was unfamiliar with the gentle swing of Shearing’s signature sound—one that epitomizes the uncluttered, organized, and polished characteristics of mid-century modern? I think it was a matter of timing. Shearing found his way to me when I most needed him.

a Lullaby in Birdland

This album was a gift from a dear friend. I love how Shearing is in the spotlight.

I’m not a musician, but my interpretation of jazz is that its magic lies in its timing and strong use of syncopation. Syncopation is defined as “a temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent in music caused typically by stressing the weak beat.”

In the dark world I was trapped in, I’d become a miserable and weak beat. But Shearing wouldn’t stand for it. He wrapped his enchanted fingers around me and recomposed me as the accent in a delightful new piece. To thank him is not enough. Instead, I close my eyes and imagine a dimly lit mid-century nightclub, soothing cocktails, and a close friend. I see a charming world in which crisp sounds weave through my entire being and illuminate all that was once dark.

“September in the Rain”. Wikipedia. N.p.,n.d. Web. 22 May 2016.

<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_in_the_Rain>

Keepnews, Peter. “George Shearing, ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ Jazz Virtuoso, Dies at 91”. The New York Times. 14 Feb 2011. Web. 22 May 2016.

<http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/arts/music/15shearing.html?_r=1>

 

 

 

 

Quartite Creative Corp Lamp: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

Bedroom-lamp alone

How a lamp found a home…

A few years ago I experienced a major life change that forced me into a 1953 Cape Cod home with very little furniture to sprinkle about the blond, oak floors. The tragic event wasn’t something I’d ever wanted to happen, but had to accept for the time being. So I scavenged some cheap thrift store, flea market, estate sale, and (free!) roadside finds up into a cobbled mid-century mess in my new residence. I was safe with comfortable places to sit and sleep, but definitely far from content or satisfied.

One afternoon during those early days I stopped into an antique mall that I frequented in better times. I hoped to find an affordable treasure, one with enough magic to pull all my mismatched furniture pieces together. What I found and fell in love with was a 1950s, two-tiered, walnut laminate coffee table. Unfortunately for me, it was appropriately priced at $195. So I took a risk and waited. Every couple of weeks I stopped in, hoping the table would be on sale.

About six months later I found it red tagged for $115. Ecstatic, I began clearing all the smaller decorative items off the table, because it was going home with me. I got down to the last item and took a step back. How long had that object been displayed there? In the center of the table—on the long, single stretch of its lower tier—sat a very large table lamp. I think all this time I’d been so obsessed with the table that I never noticed the beauty of this mid-century lighting piece—a 1956, Quartite Creative Corp lamp.

The two pieces—the table and lamp—were the same age (from the 1950s), and the same style (very modern), and both were designed for the living room. I imagined the couple not only originated from the same household, but from the same room in that house—the living room. They’d been functional, decorative partners for 60 years. And who was I to break up a good partnership? So for $35 I took the lamp and my $115, on-sale coffee table, and headed home to enjoy the Friday evening in true Vintage Chick style.

I immediately placed the coffee table in front of the sofa (duh!). Perfection…and in ways I hadn’t even expected. The table’s designed with a long lower tier which is open in the middle, and two short second tiers on both ends. The spaces between the lower and upper tiers are perfect for laptop storage. A pillow resides on the open part of the lower tier mimicking an ottoman. The upper tier surfaces are great for drinks, books, reading glasses, junk…you know. The table and my sofa create a second, very comfortable, writing environment.  But for all of the wonderfulness of the coffee table came struggles with its lifelong partner, the lamp.  

As I drove my mid-century acquisitions home that Friday night, I had high hopes the lamp could set on the fireplace mantle in the living room. I wanted to pull light upward in the room and accent the fireplace. Also, the builders of my Cape Cod cleverly placed an electrical outlet in the center of the mantle surface, and I really wanted to indulge in their ingenuity. Unfortunately, the space between the mantle and ceiling is 42”, and my new lamp with its original shade was 44”. Impossible fit.

20150220_182333

The Quartite on the walnut sofa table. Not bad.

I have a walnut sofa table in the living room which, by the way, looks smashing with the coffee table! The night I brought my lamp home, the sofa table was centered in the picture window next to the sofa and was partnered with a small, Frank Lloyd Wright/mission style lamp. Both pieces had come from my last residence and had been paired for about 8 years. But I split them up and placed my new lamp on the sofa table. It stayed there for a month and looked okay, but its huge lamp shade, 19” x 17”, ate up too much of the window view. So I shifted the furniture moving the sofa table east 3 1/2 feet. The lamp no longer blocked the view of my water fountain and gardens. All was fine until I discovered an affordable, depression era, art deco sofa table at a flea market.

Yeah, I bought the art deco sofa table. I reasoned with myself that I needed an entry table for my non-existent entryway. So the Quartite lamp moved to the art deco sofa table next to the front door. And the mission lamp moved back to the walnut sofa table by the window. Things were tight, but now I had a surface by the door to set down my purse and other items when I came through the front door. The arrangement was good, until I started painting the room.

I tried several test samples of color on the living room wall. Shades of gold and tan dominated in my furniture, but I hoped to eventually change out to a grey scale. I ultimately matched the paint to the grey-ish tan on the Quartite lamp. I guess I was trying so hard to make the lamp work in this room with its companion, the coffee table, that I painted the wall a color that matched the lamp. And to remind myself how well it matched, I rearranged the furniture yet again. The lamp stayed along the far wall with its new coat of paint, resting on a Heywood Wakefield side table, for awhile…

 

Different room, different problem

For a long time, my bedroom in this Cape Cod was pathetic. My bed sat on the floor for over a year and I had no night stand. The walls in the room were in rough shape and painted a shade of green which may have been popular for two months back in 2007. But now they looked awful.  I disliked the room so much I slept on the couch in the living room, the bedroom strictly relegated to clothing storage. Looking back, I realize the room embodied all my emotions regarding my new status in life. Deep down I didn’t want to accept that status so I avoided it. Same went for the room; it remained ugly, neglected, and unused. Until I ventured into my favorite second hand store…

Did I mention I sometimes hear vintage pieces calling to me? From outside the store?  It’s true. When they call I go in and always find a treasure. Last January I was leaving my part-time job and hesitated before I got in my car. Yes, I stood in the cold parking lot staring at a great second hand furniture and accessory store, “Once More Décor.” I finally went in and discovered a headboard I’d seen months ago suddenly half price. The headboard, definitely 1960s, and metal bed frame together were $75. I was interested but uncertain until the sales lady pulled the the headboard finials off. Without the finials the headboard’s style was a wonderful modern, art deco mix. SOLD!

I went home and started scraping, sanding, cleaning, spackling and priming those awful bedroom walls. I was excited! Invigorated! In love! And I decided to use the same paint I’d starting using in the living room, the “kind-of-grey, kind-of-tan” color, more accurately called “taupe.”

While painting late one night I needed more light to cleanly cut paint in around the trim and windows, so I snagged the Quartite lamp and sat it on the floating table with my paint can. I remember this night well—I’d been listening to “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Wings, over and over on my phone. Perhaps it was the quintessential love song in the air, or my goofy, tired, lingering enthusiasm. Regardless, in an instant I knew the lamp was destined for this room. Its taupe segments matched the new walls to a tee. Its copper segments mirrored the coppery color of the headboard. The turquoise blue in the lamp was a color I hoped to incorporate in as an accent. The poor lamp had spent over a year, not so happy, in the living room. But it needed to be in this room—in my new creation.  The partnership with the coffee table had to be dissolved, no matter how much my mind fought the idea. So the lamp stayed. In the bedroom. Ready to begin a solo journey.

Bedroom-Maria earring

A Vintage Chick needs a pretty and comfortable place to primp and relax.

Bedroom-Maria on bed

The whole point in this experience? Sometimes two objects just don’t go together anymore. After many years in aesthetic harmony, fending off cultural and style revolutions together, a friction surfaces and erodes the once vogue connection. You struggle and rearrange until you realize it just won’t work anymore. So you split the partnership, placing the objects in separate rooms, where their clashes can no longer be seen.  And after a bit, or perhaps a very long time, you conclude its okay. Happiness can be found in new environments, with new companions, and new attitudes. It’s a hard lesson in decorating, and in life. Separation from a long-time mate can really hurt, but sometimes the resistance to the split hurts more, and keeps décor—and people—from bliss and contentment in new homes.

Although my lamp is finally satisfied in its spot, I’m still not entirely content in my new home. But that’s one reason I’m writing this blog and sharing my journey. Stay tuned, folks. But be forewarned. I’m not aiming for “okay.” I’m shooting for “fabulous.”  Fun, flirtatious, mid-century, and fabulous. I can’t imagine a more fulfilling theme for the journey to my final home.

Bedroom alone

Ahhh….at last. Good night.

Sunday in New York and The Eames Lounge (670) and Ottoman (671): What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

Sunday_in_New_York_(1963)

“How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.”

~Sigmund Freud

Fortunately for mid-century modern enthusiasts, bold doesn’t have to equate with orange, molded fiberglass chairs or plaid, polyester slacks. Instead, bold can be defined as standing your ground, holding to your tastes, convictions, passions…  Simply, boldness is knowing who you are and remaining fearless to express it…or blog about it.

Two Sundays ago I was down with the flu. In the theme of staying true to myself, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to find a mid-century sex comedy to watch, preferably one I hadn’t already seen. While flipping through Facebook that afternoon, a post to a favorite page of mine, “The Retro Cocktail Hour,” jumped out at me. It was Bobby Darin’s version of “Sunday in New York”, put to a video. I only hit the play button to hear Darin sing. But to my delight, the video contained clips of the 1963 movie of the same name. Who knew there was a movie? And with Rod Taylor? I was immediately all over that.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen many Jane Fonda films. I haven’t even got sweaty to Jane Fonda’s Workout video. But eight minutes into this film I found myself impressed with her acting, a skill highlighted by the perky boldness of the character she played.

Fonda portrays Eileen Tyler, an Albany newspaper writer who heads to New York City early on a Sunday morning. Her first stop is the apartment of her older brother, a swinging bachelor employed as a commercial pilot for TWA. She’s escaping the unhappiness of a break-up with her beau and looking for an answer to a question regarding the specific reason why men continue to dump her.

Her quandary? “Is a girl that’s been going around with a fellow for a reasonable length of time supposed to go to bed with him or not?” Bold, direct, and impassioned—Miss Fonda delivers this line like a boss. Impressive, considering Fonda was only twenty-six and this was her first big role. Relevant, considering her character is a twenty-two-year-old virgin.

Her playboy brother, Adam, played by Cliff Robertson, is shocked by her question and explains that men want to marry decent girls, and that the men comprising her love life must be bums. Then he delivers a bit of his own boldness by lying to her. He insists he’s not slept with anyone. Well…the “not sleeping” part is true.

Rod Taylor, whom I adore as an actor, is Mike Mitchell, a sports writer from Philadelphia who enjoys going to New York on Sundays, often in pursuit of romance. Masculine and somewhat aggressive, Mike never overwhelms Eileen but dances the man/gentleman line. His reaction to her virtue sends the storyline in an unexpected new direction, and initiates a stimulating and honest discussion about sex for “beginners.”

Adam's apartment 3

A strong fourth character introduced in the first scene with Adam and Eileen is Adam’s Manhattan apartment. Although many of the details of the apartment such as the doors and trim, fireplace mantel, columns, and stairway in the outside hall suggest the building is early twentieth century— possibly even Victorian— its renovated architecture and décor are indeed mid-century modern.

The bedroom, living room, and kitchen are on different levels yet remain completely open to each other. Adam is able to stand in his living room and toss his luggage up to the bedroom on the second level. A crude, industrial metal spiral staircase is the access to the bedroom and is used throughout the film brilliantly to create comedy, tension, and suspense.

Adam's apartment 4 better

A handful of modern pieces play into the space; a sleek, cone, tension-pole, lamp light and an off-white, clean-lined sofa boasts an array of earth toned pillows, to name a couple. Anchoring the entire apartment, and perhaps the movie as a whole, is arguably the most iconic mid-century modern chair ever designed—the Eames lounge chair (670) and its side kick ottoman (671).

Introduced in 1956 for the Herman Miller Furniture Company, this chair and ottoman was designed by husband and wife team, Charles and Ray Eames, after years of development. These pieces were the first exception to the couple’s rule of making “the best for the most for the least,” as this set was a high end product inspired by the traditional English Club Chair. Masculine, modern, upscale…it’s no wonder this chair received a starring role in this film.

cliff and chair

The Eames Chair and Ottoman—a truly central character.

others and chair

 

Sunday in New York mirrors two unlikely characters against each other:  Eileen and the Eames lounge.

Features of Eileen’s polished style—bright blue eyes, perky golden locks, and slender figure—are well suited for the seven costume changes she undergoes on this one day. Designed by Orry George Kelly, her clothing is tasteful, attractive, and conservatively fashionable. The Eames lounge, comparatively, is supported by polished rosewood and elegantly dressed in supple, black leather. Charles and Ray Eames designed the lounge to appeal to affluent men. Eileen’s look has the same allure.

The storyline focuses on how three different men react to the status of Eileen’s sexuality, and her frustration with the situation. Unfortunately, the lounge and ottoman take the brunt of her agitation as she bounces off the chair’s armrest and seat. Mike’s in a state of exasperation both times he briefly sits on the ottoman. Not once in the film does anyone settle into the chair, elevated their feet on the ottoman, and relax. But that’s exactly what this furniture was designed for—someone to sink into it’s supportive goodness and fall in love.

The mid-century boldness of both characters, the girl and the chair, lay not in flashiness but in the fact they are both one-of-a-kind. An introspective Eileen states “…it’s my firm conviction I’m the only 22-year-old virgin alive.” When first unveiled to the buying public, the exclusive Eames lounge was simply a piece of furniture like nothing else.

Ultimately, Eileen finds sustaining love without first sacrificing her virginity. Does the Eames chair find the love it desires? Well, this same lounge chair (670) and ottoman (671) have been in continuous production by Herman Miller using virtually the same design since they were introduced in 1956. That’s sixty years of love between the lounge and consumers with affluence and good-taste.

If Sigmund Freud had the opportunity to analyze the Eames lounge, could he of come up with a better definition of love? I think within an hour we’d find him cradled in leather, peacefully taking a nap. And I can’t think of a better thing to do on a rainy Sunday in Vienna, or more appropriately, New York.

Sources:

Wikipedia. N.p.,n.d. Web. 16 Mar 2016.

<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eames_Lounge_Chairurces>

 

Wikipedia. N.p.,n.d. Web. 16 Mar 2016.

<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eames_Lounge_Chair>

 

Herman Miller Store. Web. 16 Mar 2016.

<http://store.hermanmiller.com/store/servlet/DynamicKitDisplayView?langId=-1&storeId=10151&catalogId=10051&categoryId=&dynamicKitId=14640>

 

“The Best for the Most for the Least”. Eames Official Site. Web. 16 Mar 2016

<http://www.eamesoffice.com/the-work/the-best-for-the-most-for-the-least/>

<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eames_Lounge_Chair>

 

Anchor Hocking “Happy Hour” Chip & Dip Set: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

There is a local thrift shop I like to frequent because it’s clean and stocks a decent kitchen and glassware section. Every once in a while I find a beautiful piece of vintage Pyrex significantly below its market value. On Thursday I popped into the shop because I felt it calling to me.

As I approached the glassware shelves in the very back of the store, an item to the right, in the furniture section, caught my eye. Then it sucked me in like a long lost child, and the moment I was close enough I wrapped my arm around it. The item was mid-century, screamed “atomic modern,” and was smashingly gorgeous. But what the heck was it doing on a crappy fake wood sofa table behind a crappy 1990s blue sofa, ten feet away from the kitchen section? A better question… Who cares? It was nine bucks and it was mine!

I stood in the check-out line, clinging to my treasure. The woman behind me asked me if I knew my item was from the 1950s. I politely responded, “yes”. She informed me her and her ex-husband were glass collectors, having amassed a $10,000 collection while they were married. In her expertise, what I was holding was a punch bowl, and probably originally came with matching punch glasses. She guessed it was Federal Glass.

Her comments were fascinating, as I had first thought this set would be perfect for chips and dip. After I made my purchase I asked some of my mid-century modern Facebook friends if they could tell me anything about the set. The overwhelming response: it’s a chip and dip set. However, in the back of my mind, the seed had already been planted, and I imagined a frothy, pink or orange sherbet punch inside the larger bowl. So I went to the Internet for a bit of research.

One of the photos of the same set that was shared by a Facebook friend called the set “Blendo.” I searched Blendo and found many striking, similar pieces in a variety of colors made by the West Virginia Glass Specialty Company. There were bowl sets with the identical design and the exact same metal bracket that attached the bowls together. All the bowl sets, pitchers, and glasses under the Blendo line have the same graduated color motif starting dark and heavy at the bottom, fading to clear as it rises upward. My bowls had that feature but not to the same extent. Also, none of the pieces I examined featured the super cool atomic pattern. So I kept looking.

I took a stab and Googled “Anchor Hocking Chip and Dip”. After milling through many sets, I found a picture on Flickr. It was a set identical to mine, photographed next to its original box. I love original boxes—they don’t lie and their story doesn’t change over time. This box clearly said: Anchor Hocking “Happy Hour” Chip & Dip Set. So I was done. Or was I?

I kept thinking about the Blendo glass similarity and the fact that the Anchor Hocking and the West Virginia Glass Specialty Company brackets were identical. After a little more research I stumble upon a claim that my atomic set was made by Anchor Hocking and “decorated by West Virginia Specialty Glass Blendo.” I can’t verify that, but it’s plausible.

So what to do with my “Happy Hour” treasure? I decided something orange would look lovely behind the turquoise pattern. The more I considered orange it occurred to me that a very “orange” event would be taking place in a few days. The Denver Broncos would be playing in Super Bowl 50, and I always think of them from the old days when their defense was known as “Orange Crush”.

I threw all these ideas into a pot…I mean, a “bowl”, and came up with this theme: “A variety of ways to use the ‘Happy Hour’ Chip & Dip Set for your Broncos Super Bowl party.” Here they are…

The classic: Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles and Orange French Onion Dip

Chips and dip use

 

The unexpected: Cheez-Its and a Cheddar Cheese Ball

cheezits use

 

The healthy:  Carrots and Orange Dilly Veggie Dip

Carrots and dip use

 

The old-fashioned:  Orange Sherbet Jell-O Salad and Halos mandarins

Jell-O and oranges use

 

The high class/low class: Orange Crush Punch and Orange Crush

Orange Crush Punch use

Though I tried to forget about it, one question remained: why was this set placed in the furniture section of the thrift shop? Had a store employee brought it out from the back but been distracted and sat it down to assist someone? Had someone picked it up and debated about a purchase only to change their mind and discard it in the first convenient spot? My theory—the first person to bring the bowls out from inventory didn’t think of them as a kitchen item. They saw the set as art…art so beautiful that it should be displayed “as is” in the living room on a table for your guests to admire. I completely agree.

Lamp and bowl use

 

 

Recipes:

Orange French Onion Dip

16 ounces sour cream

1 packet onion soup mix

Roughly 12 drops yellow and 4 drops red food coloring

 

Mix all ingredients.

 

Cheddar Cheese Ball

¾ package (6 ounces) cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons dry sherry

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

16 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese

 

Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until fluffy and soft. Stir in mustard and sherry, mixing thoroughly. Beat in most of the Cheddar cheese and vegetable oil. Shape mixture into a ball and roll in the remaining Cheddar cheese. Wrap ball in plastic and refrigerate until firm.

 

Orange Dilly Veggie Dip

1/4 cup chopped green onions

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dried dill weed

1/8 teaspoon garlic salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

½ cup light sour cream

¼ cup plain nonfat yogurt

Roughly 12 drops yellow and 4 drops red food coloring

 

In small bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours to blend flavors.

 

Orange Sherbet Salad

2 boxes orange Jell-O

2 cups hot water

2 cups orange sherbet

2 cups Cool Whip

 

Mix Jell-O and hot water, stirring until Jell-O is dissolved. Add sherbet and mix well. Add Cool Whip and mix well. Chill. (As salad thickens the Jell-O sinks to the bottom of the bowl)

 

Orange Crush Sherbet Punch

½ gallon orange sherbet

6 ounces of frozen orange juice concentrate

1 (2 liter) bottle ginger ale

1 can Orange Crush soda

 

Place orange sherbet and frozen orange juice in bowl and allow to soften for 10 to 15 minutes. Mix in ginger ale. Add a splash of Orange Crush for a little extra “punch!”

The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “Skating”: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

For Aaron, who shares my affection for Vince Guaraldi

Press play and “Skate” as you read

Some of the most celebrated, feel-good Christmas songs never mention the words “Jesus”, “presents”, “Santa Claus”, “love”, “winter”, or even “Christmas” . As a matter of fact, some of those songs don’t have words, but rather express a wintertime recreation so articulately you feel yourself engaged in the activity. The spirit it leaves you with comprises warmth, happiness, and gaiety…an easy linear move to Christmas euphoria.

I always sense that particular joy when I hear Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” We performed the exciting orchestral piece when I played clarinet in junior high band, and a passion for the song never left me. It cultivated my love of the symphony, rustic winter scenes, and the lithographs of Currier and Ives. The rhythms and perfectly timed tones of different instruments place my mind in a wooden and metal sleigh with two brown horses pulling me through the snowy woods. I am cozy and warm, nestled amongst family, on the way to a Christmas party. That’s how I imagine it.

While writing my last blog post about the aluminum Christmas tree and its nemesis—Charlie Brown’s Christmas TV show—I found myself listening more intently to the program’s musical soundtrack, A Charlie Brown Christmas, performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The album’s songs are a combination of traditional pieces and some composed by Guaraldi.

All of these recordings from the originally released album have worked their way into the tapestry of popular American Christmas music. I frequently listen to the “Frank Sinatra & Bing Crosby (Holiday) Radio station through Pandora (yes, I listen year-round—Christmas makes me happy) and Guaraldi’s Peanuts tunes pop up frequently in the rotation. These recordings are purely American and thoroughly mid-century modern. Also, they’re a uniquely delightful blend of subtle bossa nova and definitive cool jazz.

Jazz music evolved rapidly in America in the twentieth century. The earliest form was Dixieland, which began around the turn of the century in New Orleans. Around 1910 those early musicians took their sound to Chicago and New York, with some of those performers in search of better employment. The style of music at that point was referred to as Chicago jazz or hot jazz.

The swing era of the 1940s put a fresh spin on popular music, ending the careers of many hot jazz musicians. This decade also gave rise to a jazz style with complex harmonies and rhythms known as Bebop. But the West Coast, already known for a more relaxed lifestyle, had its own musical ideas.

In California during the post war 1940s, jazz invented its own regional dialect. Known as West Coast jazz or cool jazz, this breed is characterized by relaxed tempos and lighter tones. In contrast to the heavy use of improvisation in hot jazz, cool jazz often employs formal arrangements and even fuses elements of classical music into its structure.

I have long been a fan of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, a group that grew out of the California cool jazz movement. “Take Five”, composed by the group’s alto saxophone player, Paul Desmond, is one of my favorite pieces of music. The score for A Charlie Brown Christmas always reminded me of Brubeck, and now I understand why—Vince Guaraldi and Brubeck were both composing at the same time in San Francisco.

snip - Schroder and Vince

Guaraldi was born in San Francisco in 1928. He would have remained only a minor contributor in the jazz world had it not been for his B-side composition, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” The single became a grassroots hit and won a Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition. It also got the attention of Peanuts producer Lee Mendelson. He hired Guaraldi to score the first Peanuts television special, a documentary called, A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Guaraldi composed and recorded the soundtrack, but the program never aired; Mendelson could never sell it. However, Coca Cola was intrigued about the idea of a Peanuts’ Christmas special, and Mendelson and Guaraldi once again collaborated, this time for a CBS special.

CBS viewed the final product—A Charlie Brown Christmas—before it was aired, but expressed their lack of enthusiasm. They even questioned the appeal of a jazzy/bossa nova soundtrack for a children’s Christmas special. But it was too late—the air date had already been published in TV Guide. Despite the doubts of CBS executives, the show was a smash hit. And so was its unique soundtrack, which eventually sold over three million copies.

“Skating” is one of those original compositions on the sound track. It’s purely instrumental. And it’s amazing to me that Vince Guaraldi was able to pull off with three instruments—a piano, bass, and drums—what Leroy Anderson did with an entire symphony for “Sleigh Ride.”

According to Derrick Bang in his Cuepoint blog post, “How Vince Guaraldi Made Charlie Brown Cool”, “‘Skating,’[is] a lyrical jazz waltz highlighted by sparkling keyboard runs that sounded precisely like children ice-skating joyously on a frozen pond.” Bang also quoted a newspaper columnist as saying, “The cascading notes to Guaraldi’s Vivaldi-like ‘Skating’ are the most vivid representation of falling snowflakes in music.”

I visualize Guaraldi at a grand piano, his dancing fingers floating above the keys, often keeping a bit of air between his fingertips and the slick ebony and ivory of the keys. The sound is light, defying gravity. It also matches the skater’s objectives perfectly—to make as little contact with the ice as possible.

snip - Peanut's gang skating

When I was about twelve I received ice skates for Christmas. My resourceful, industrious, and creative father excavated about five inches of earth from the plot of land which had been our large vegetable garden the previous summer. After lining the shallow void with plastic sheeting, he filled it with water. Adding a little cold, Kansas, winter weather, I soon had a private skating rink.

I spent hours on the ice, breaking-in my new skates, surrounded with rustic nature and dancing to a continuous song in my head. I’m pretty sure, whatever it was, that upbeat, melodic, cascading tune resembled a Guaraldi waltz, undoubtedly replanted in my head year after year while snuggled up with my family in front of the TV, engaged in pre-Christmas euphoria.

Sources:

Wikipedia. N.p.,n.d. Web. 23 Dec 2015.
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_jazz>.

Wikipedia. N.p.,n.d. Web. 23 Dec 2015.
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vince_Guaraldi>.

Bang, Derrick. “How Vince Guaraldi Made Charlie Brown Cool”. Cuepoint. Medium.com. Web. 16 Dec 2014.

<https://medium.com/cuepoint/how-vince-guaraldi-made-charlie-brown-cool-92d50fb4824e#.tixhnuc3u>.

 

The Aluminum Christmas Tree: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

1960's ad snip

The aluminum Christmas tree is to mid-century modern as the Christmas tree (in general) is to Christ; it’s a glorious representation of its time and creator.

Although tree worship is pagan in nature, the Christmas tree is anything but non-Christian. In 8th Century Germania, missionary St. Boniface cut down Donar’s oak, a tree worshiped by German pagans. He replaced it with an evergreen tree, and, in efforts to convert the pagans to Christianity, explained that the three points of the triangular shaped evergreen remind humanity of the holy trinity (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Also, unlike deciduous trees which tend to be round or oval in shape, the triangular evergreen resembles an arrow, pointing to heaven.

St. Boniface was not the first to equate the evergreen with religious or spiritual representation. An evergreen plant replaces its leaves or needles continuously over the year. Thus, the plant is always green. This natural, perpetual animation may be why the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews believed that evergreen garlands and wreaths symbolized eternal life.

Bringing the tree to Christmas… In Medieval times mystery plays were preformed on December 24, the name day in some countries for Adam and Eve. The plays were presented around the paradise tree (from the Garden of Eden) which was decorated in apples (representing the forbidden fruit) and wafers (representing the Eucharist—redemption).

It is speculated that Protestant Christian reformer Martin Luther first added lighted candles to an evergreen tree in 16th century Germany. By the 18th century the custom had spread along the upper Rhineland of Germany but not in the more Roman Catholic lower Rhineland, as it was considered a protestant expression. However, around 1815, with the emigration of Prussian officials, the custom became more widespread. By the 19th century the Christmas tree had solidified itself in Germanic culture. And as Germans immigrated to America, they brought their traditions with them.

The atomic era and the space age launched during the 1950s in the United States, representing both developments in technologies and the general cultural attitude. Americans were happy to cast off the despondency of the Great Depression and the anxiety of World War II, and reel-in the excitement of economic boom and futuristic advancements.

Post war America had an extraordinary combination of factories in need of new, non-war productions; war developed technologies in need of new, domestic uses; returning soldiers ready to work and in need of jobs; and lots and lots of optimism. The possibilities were endless. The 1950s—the same remarkable decade that brought us advances that included polypropylene, the polio vaccine, and integrated circuits—gave us a new concept for one of the oldest symbols of the birth of Christ.

In 1958, Tom Gannon, toy sales manager for the Aluminum Specialty Company, was captivated by a metal tree in a store window during a visit to Chicago. He took the idea to his company engineers, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. They developed a substantially cheaper tree—retailing for $25 compared to $85 for the tree Gannon saw in Chicago. Also, their tree was easier to mass produce, and easier for the consumer to put up and break down. Aluminum Specialty produced hundreds of thousands for the 1959 Christmas.

blonde 1960 with tree fix

At first the buying public seemed confused by this product. Artificial trees were nothing new, but, since aluminum is an excellent conductor of electricity, there is a fire danger with stringing electric lights on these trees. So the idea of casting colored light from a rotating color wheel on the tree was introduced. With this added marketing novelty, in 1960 Aluminum Specialty’s tree was branded “Everglam” and sales took off, with millions being sold during the decade. On the flip side, sales of electric light strings actually took a brief nosedive.

Other aluminum manufactures followed suite, and trees of varying heights and colors were produced, silver being most prevalent. Yes, all was merry and bright…for about ten years. Sales took a downturn in the late sixties, and, according to the general internet consensus, who was to blame? Charlie Brown.

Yes, America’s favorite blockhead takes the wrap for putting an end to an icon mid-century fad. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown went against popular opinion—of Lucy and the Peanuts gang—and bought a sad little “real Christmas tree” instead of a “big, shiny aluminum tree…maybe painted pink” for the Christmas play. At first he was ridiculed for his blockhead decision.  But the pathetic little tree seemed to grow with love and warmed the hearts of the peanuts gang, and the mid-century, American consumer. Much like a shooting star, the brief sparkle of the aluminum tree faded.

The aluminum Christmas tree may have blurred into nostalgia for about forty years, but Charlie Brown’s Christmas special didn’t. Generations of children and sentimental parents kept the beloved program alive year after year. And with each replay came the question from curious, young minds and, perhaps, a few parents: “What’s an aluminum Christmas tree?”

My answer? It’s a sparkling adornment that reflects the joyous light of its environment. It’s a mid-century creation that reflects the zeal, ingenuity, and ambition of its creator. It’s a seasonal testament that reflects change, evolution, advancement…yet brings us back to the core—a reminder of our own Creator.

Maria decorating tree

I purchased my aluminum Christmas tree about a month ago off eBay for $125. It’s four foot tall, and was 100% complete, including all fifty-eight branches, paper branch sleeves for storage, stand, instructions, and original box. If you’re willing to forego any of those components, the price obviously drops. At first I was looking for one without the “pom-pom” branches, but they sort-of grew on me as I shopped, and now I’m glad I picked that feature—the pom-poms add to the uniqueness. Perhaps they are a bit of space age “pop!”

Aluminum trees have made a resurgence in recent years, following the return to popularity of the modern style of design. Aside from that general trend, I think the trees were also resurrected out of grannies’ attics by the very television program that relegated them to that dark and dusty purgatory a few decades ago. That brightly animated and beautifully scored holiday tradition—deeply entrenched in the American household for fifty years—is a TV special in which Linus reminds us that the birth of the Christ child is the reason for the season, and the Christmas tree is its most holy, enduring symbol.

 

Sources:

“Christmas Tree”. Wikipedia. N.p.,n.d. Web. 20 Dec 2015.

<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree>

Williams, Tate. “The Short Life—and Awesome Resurgence—of the Aluminum Christmas Tree”. mental_floss. 24 Dec 2014. Web. 20 Dec 2015.

<http://mentalfloss.com/article/60849/short-life-and-awesome-resurgence-aluminum-christmas-tree>

“Aluminum Specialty Company (Made First Aluminum Christmas Tree) – Manitowoc, Wisconsin 1967”. Scripophily.net. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec 2015.

<http://scripophily.net/alspcowi19.html>

 

The Fictional Crime Syndicate SPECTRE: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

Dr Evil Blofeld

“I didn’t spend six years in Evil Medical School to be called Mister.”

~ Dr. Evil, villain in Austin Powers spoofing Ernst Stavro Blofeld

By the same token, Ernst Blofeld—SPECTRE’s number one operative—didn’t spend fifty years tied up in lawsuits and reverting license agreements to be called “the reason for nearly every problem and devastation James Bond faced over his life.”

Or did he…?

In the recently released Bond film—Spectre—Blofeld gleefully takes the wrap for many of the major tragedies of Bond’s life since his childhood. This scenario is a bit challenging for Bond aficionados to swallow.

Perhaps more compelling—yet equally difficult to believe—is the narrative of the real life evolution of the fictitious SPECTRE, from its intellectual infancy to its current day title as a feature film. (Although, because of the above mentioned license agreements issues, SPECTRE must now be written as “Spectre”. In this post I’ll continue to write it as an acronym, because I’m a vintage chick, and it will always be SPECTRE in my heart.)

Let’s leap back in time. In 1958 Bond novelist Ian Fleming approached Kevin McClory—a screenwriter, producer, and director—for a collaboration. Their mission: to produce the first James Bond film. Jack Whittingham, a British screenwriter, joined the team, and between 1959 and 1960 the three men struggled to craft a script with a working title of Thunderball.

However, as McClory and Whittingham attempted to wrap up the failing screenplay, Fleming boldly went rogue. Without McClory or Whittingham’s knowledge or consent, Fleming sent a draft copy to his agent. The result…Thunderball was published as a novel in 1961 with only one author credited:  Ian Fleming. Needless to say, McClory and Whittingham were not happy.

Lawsuits exploded and even though copyrights were awarded in 1963 the battle over Thunderball raged on for years. Buried within the Thunderball script lay a villainous treasurer named SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion)—a fictional crime syndicate with a modern, corporate structure.

Long story short… EON, the film producers of the majority of the Bond films, only possessed a license to use the SPECTRE organization and its operatives for six films, from 1962 until 1971. It wasn’t until November 2013, seven years after the death of Kevin McClory, that his estate returned the SPECTRE license to Danjaq, LLC, the parent company of EON. Exactly two years later, Blofeld and SPECTRE returned to the world of motion pictures.

There is no question that SPECTRE’s roots are planted in the mid-century—specifically the early 1960s. In 1961 Fleming published the Thunderball novel featuring SPECTRE as Bond’s foe, and EON introduced the organization to the world on the big screen in 1962. It’s my opinion mid-century modern—as a culture, style, and attitude—peaked around 1960. Hence, SPECTRE’s modern characterizations grow out its period of creation, but also—and less obviously—its creator’s ideology.

Three strong, defining elements of modern in the above mentioned context include efficiency, functionality, and breaking from tradition. SPECTRE nails these themes and keeps on punching.

Numerical order is efficiency in its rawest sense. Every operative within SPECTRE is assigned and referred to by a number, from one to twenty-one. Ernst Blofeld—head of SPECTRE who’s featured in seven EON films and one Warner Brothers production of James Bond—is Number One. Emilio Largo, second in command and the main antagonist in Thunderball, is referred to as Number Two. Number Three was allocated to short yet feisty Rosa Klebb. In From Russia with Love—EON’s second Bond film—she engaged knives from the tip of her shoe during an attack on Bond. Though quite serious in Bond films, all three of these characters were hilariously spoofed in the 1997 movie Austin Powers, as Dr. Evil, Number Two, and Frau Farbissina.

bond klebb

Numerical labels create a sense that all members are replaceable, and thus easily eliminated. This immediate mortality is displayed often, including in the current Bond film Spectre, as operatives are swiftly disciplined for their failures at the conference table by means of violent and gruesome death.

In the movie version of Thunderball, Number One (Blofeld) determines Number Nine is guilty of embezzlement. Number One flips a switch and Nine is electrocuted in his leather chair as the other operatives look on. Without hesitation, or even removal of the body, the meeting continues—it’s business as usually for SPECTRE.

blofeld conference

Some film variations of Ernst Blofeld exemplify a definite effeminate bent for the character. Sporting a Mau suit (very mod, by the way) while caressing a fluffy, white pussycat, Blofeld wears a deep scar across his face and is presented as less manly than Bond. This unique stereotype falls well within the modern cultural ideals of breaking from traditional super villains, and serves as a precursor to the sexual revolution and acceptance of alternative sexual lifestyles. However, the underlying intent may actually be more politically charged than cultural. As Fleming’s country suffered post war decline, the author and film producers position a virile, masculine British agent (Bond) against the lesser, deformed Russian villain (Blofeld). It was a modern stab at a cold war enemy.

It is often postulated that Fleming chose a corporate model (as opposed to a government structure) for SPECTRE because he believed—in 1959—that the cold war could end before the projected release date of the Thunderball film—in two years— and he didn’t want the film to be “dated.” I believe this theory is too simplistic; I think Fleming’s reasoning was grounded in modernism.

England’s post war decline as an imperial producer gave way to corporate expansion with its economy turning to banking and stocks. Harold Perkin, a British social historian, called this “the rise of the professional society.” Fleming came to age as a writer in this era and thus, so did Bond. But this evolution is most apparent in the motivations of SPECTRE, which are as equally ideological as they are capitalist. In Thunderball, SPECTRE steals two NATO atomic bonds, and holds the world ransom for £100 million in diamonds (capitalistic), in exchange for not destroying an unspecified major city in either England or the United States (ideological).

Not only does Fleming’s antagonist follow a modernist model, but the author’s writing narrative also adheres to elements of efficiency and with a parting from tradition. In the book, Ian Fleming & James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007 (a collection of fifteen essays), Fleming’s style is described as “characterized by an almost arid order and efficiency. At times, character and suspense literally give way to textbook-like displays of professional knowledge—decisively non-narrative list, definitions, and reports.”

Kingsley Amis, British author, describes the “Fleming Effect”, in which Amis “praises [Fleming] for his ability to construe the fantastic in precise, realistic terms.” Amis also suggests that Fleming is more interested in the encyclopedic facts than action—that the author provides the excitement of action only to help us swallow the influx of presented facts.

blofeld and feline

So how does SPECTRE fare in the newest Bond flick—released November 6—which shares its name? Does the organization remain efficient, modern, and corporate? Does Blofeld retain his cold wickedness while clinging to his fluffy feline? Does a sacrifice at SPECTRE’s notorious conference table measure up to previous, horrific, operative exterminations? I’ll let you decide. Even though Spectre is far from my favorite film in the franchise, I found it fascinating how EON patiently bided time for forty years, then dusted off a mid-century work of art and unveiled it as a far-reaching, contemporary spectacle.

 

 

Sources:

Goodman, Greg. “The Battle of the Bonds: From Thunderball to Spectre”. Universal Exports:  Keeping 007 Safe Since 1996. N.p, n.d. Web. 9 Dec 2015.
<http://www.universalexports.net/00Sony.shtml>

Amis, Kingsley. The Bond Dossier. New York City, New York. New American Library, 1965. Print.

Comentale, Edward P., Stephen Watt and Skip Willman. Ian Fleming & James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007. Indiana University, Bloomington Indiana:  Indiana University Press, 2005. Print.

 

 

West Bend Pantry Ware: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

“I believe that truth has only one face: that of a violent contradiction.”

~ Georges Bataille, twentieth century French intellectual and writer

“The purpose of contradiction in art is to exaggerate the extremes and force them to pop against each other. If done well, balance and harmony are achieved in the eye of the beholder. However, if the beholder is a blogger with the intention of explaining said art, it becomes an exercise in frustration and procrastination—a violent maddening of the mind.”

~ C R Kennedy, mid-century enthusiast and blogger

West bend copper 1 (2)

Aren’t they an adorable couple? I’ve decided to name this West Bend Pantry Ware salt and pepper shaker set Betty and Don Draper, after two of the leading characters from the TV drama, Mad Men. Your first thought may be “oh…because the pair is mid-century and Betty Draper is blonde (salt) whereas Don has thick, dark hair (pepper).” That analogy would work, but my reasoning is far less obvious. I arrived at those well-suited names after a Sunday morning epiphany, brought about by an intense examination of a sharp contradiction. Here’s what led to that revelation:

I recently bought this West Bend Pantry Ware salt and pepper set from an eBay auction for $22.50. In 1959, the two pieces above—along with a matching grease container—were known as “the range set” and retailed for about $3.95. My intentions regarding this purchase were to nearly complete the Pantry Ware line my grandmother had, which I inherited in 2003. Last fall I added the matching breadbox—another eBay find—for $20.

Even though there are no dates stamped into their copper-colored, anodized aluminum construction, I had always been comfortable this set was mid-century. Simply, it looks very 1950s/60s and most of the items in my grandmother’s kitchen originated from that period. But I had no solid evidence. And although I so badly wanted to label these items “modern”—their shiny, clean, solid colored, linear, highly functional construction screams “modern”—the cute little Colonial labels threw me. Why the heck did West Bend slap Early American art on a sleek, modern-styled kitchen accessory? It made me crazy.

This line is abundant on eBay, and also came in polished aluminum with black accents, and copper-colored bases with black accents. But I am yet to see a seller putting an exact date of production in the description or giving the line a name.

My set snip border and tag

I hoped researching the vast history of West Bend—a hundred-year-old manufacturer of many products—would shed some light on the age and style of my kitchen accessories.  After a fire destroyed a pocketbook manufacturing company in West Bend, Wisconsin in 1911, a young and dynamic local entrepreneur, Bernhardt C. Ziegler, recruited six other men to help him incorporate the West Bend Aluminum Company. With Sears, Roebuck and Company as an early anchor customer, by 1921 West Bend earned the rank of third in the nation in sales of aluminum cookware. During WWII over 300 new items were manufactured through defense contracts, earning the company six Navy “E” awards for outstanding achievement. Post war production included an air-cooled out-board motor marketed exclusively through Sears under the “Elgin” name, a division later purchased by Chrysler. Many innovative and successful mid-century fabrications are mentioned in the company history, but not the polished aluminum or copper-color kitchen accessories.

Somewhere, deep in the depths of a Google search, I finally found a Pinterest link that took me to an image of a 1957 West Bend advertising insert (shown below). A juicy little nugget of information appeared at the top of the beautifully illustrated ad—“Pantry Ware.” Those two words opened a door, and I found a handful of magazine and newspaper ads for Pantry Ware, fortunately with dates and retail prices. Finally, solid evidence that these pieces are mid-century.

Ad snip

Ad collage tag

It appears by 1955 production of the Pantry Ware line was in full swing, as the oldest advertisement above was in a magazine of that year. The first style of this line was in aluminum or anodized copper with black lids and labels. Their nickname in a few ads was “Bright ’n Black”. I believe it wasn’t until 1959 that white lids and graphics were introduced on the copper anodized pieces which were given the nickname “copper ’n snow”.

Copper and cream snip

Ebony tag

Onto my second quandary; is this line modern, or instead, a fun Colonial throwback? Oddly, this is where Don and Betty Draper come into play.

During the mid-20th century, two very drastic decorating styles competed for prominence in the American home:  modern and Colonial, which is sometimes more specifically broken down into Colonial and Early American. A stylish mid-century home would have been considered eclectic, albeit quite normal, to have elements of both modern and colonial (contemporary and traditional) sprinkled about.

A fantastic example of these extremes is well-illustrated in the early seasons of Mad Men.

Betty Draper's kitchen 2

Betty Draper’s kitchen, in my opinion, is a great example of mid-century Colonial design:  knotty pine wood cabinets; muted, brown patterned wallpaper; frilly, busy curtains; and an Early American pine kitchen table. Behind Don hangs a wood spoon rack. Her oven is in a greenish earth tone. The room is warm and cozy, homey in the tradition sense.

Betty Draper's kitchen cafe curtains

A close-up of Betty’s kitchen café curtains shows Early American images, much like the images on the Pantry Ware. Check out the brown pepper grinder.

Don Draper's office

Don’s office, on the other hand, is the height of modern style. There are several strong, silver metallic, vertical lines—dividing the wall paneling, used as chair and table legs, and holding up Don’s ash tray. Even the paneling—perhaps walnut—has a linear, vertical pattern. The furniture has strong, straight edges. All fabrics are solid colors, and the yellow sofa pillow is bold, square, and shiny—I believe its purpose is to draw the eye to the bright, abstract painting above. The room is crisp, clean, uncluttered, yet very stylish—everything we love about modern.

Both styles played a dominate role in Don’s life at the same time. They complement each other to the extent their presence allows you to see exactly what the other style is not.

Given the examples of innovativeness, success, and longevity of West Bend’s products, I wonder if the contrasting styles regarding the Pantry Ware were an attempt to market these products to both sectors of the buying public—those seeking the spark and boldness of modern style, and those longing for the comfort and hominess of traditional Colonial.

At the end of the day, the best validation for labeling these products as modern comes directly from the manufacturer. On the company’s 1957 advertising insert (shown above), which beautifully displays the entire line of copper and black items, we find the following description:  “Strikingly modern – with a touch of Early American charm. That’s the beauty of West Bend’s complete line of perfectly matched Pantry Ware. Protective coating prevents fingerprinting, keeps every piece bright and new-looking. Sparkling polished aluminum or tarnish proof copper-color aluminum.”

I’m satisfied that these beautiful, mid-century pieces are modern, but personally, I prefer my Don Draper pepper shaker analogy. What can I say? I’m a sucker for sleek, bold, and handsome.

 

 

Sources:

“West Bend Co. History.” Funding Universe. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

<http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/west-bend-co-history/>.

          Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 14. St. James Press, 1996

“Colonial & Traditional Style:  20th Century Interior Design.” [Antique Home Style]. N.p.,

n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2015. <http://www.antiquehomestyle.com/inside/colonial/>.

I do not possess copyrights to the newspaper or magazine advertisements or the Mad Men photos. They belong to their original owners.