Never in a million years did I ever dream of being mentioned in the same program as Charles and Ray Eames and James Dean!
Last month, I drove down to Palm Springs with Linda, through a raging rainstorm that nearly swallowed us up. We were headed to the Palm Springs Modernism Show and Sale at the Palm Springs Convention Center, where I was invited to be a featured speaker. The show was held from February 17 to 20.
It was an amazing experience. There were several thousand attendees and 80-plus exhibitor booths artfully displaying Modernist furniture, accessories, and art.
I had an enthusiastic audience for my presentation on my career and work at Blenko from 1952 to 1963. I had my current Jazz in Glass line of decanters, and Sonoma Sun platter on display, as well as some of my vintage Blenko designs.
The Eames and James Dean
“Eames, an Affection for Objects” was the topic one of the other presenters, Daniel Ostroff, a film maker and author of a book about Modernist design dynamos Charles and Ray Eames. I spoke to him afterwards about meeting the Eames at the Aspen Design Conference in 1958, and also at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1960, when I was there for the opening of an exhibit of my Blenko designs. I was a big fan of their work.
You’re probably familiar with the Eames’ great and famous Midcentury designs like the Eames lounge chair. I learned that Ray was fascinated with WW2 Jeeps and combat helmet forms and that together, Charles and Ray made over 18 short films, including “Toccata for Toy Trains,” shown by Daniel after his presentation.
James Dean memoirist Lew Bracker gave a talk (“Jimmy and Me”) about his close relationship with Dean.
My Modernist Influences
My time as Design Director at Blenko was smack in the middle of the Midcentury Modern era. I was immersed in the styles of the day, mostly Bauhaus-inspired. For me, the Bauhaus was a major influence... it was indelible in my mind that all product design is dependent on how the product is made. It drove me to invent centrifugal casting at Blenko and to find new ways to make metal molds from foam plastic carvings. I admired the Midcentury icons who were a generation older than me at the time. I drove a Buick three-holer (Bauhaus founder Marcel Breuer drove one), we had an Eva Zeisel teapot and a Russell Wright cream-and-sugar set on our table.
Breuer, one of the founders of the Bauhaus and a master of Modernist architectural design, was indeed influential. In the summer of 1951 between my senior and graduate school years at Alfred University, I actually helped to build the famous McCord House, a butterfly-roofed split level house with free-standing fireplace that Breuer designed in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. More on that experience in a later blogpost.
I was also impressed by the sleek lines of Constantin Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” that I’m sure influenced me when I started pulling out the necks of Blenko vases in creating the “big ass” architectural pieces.
The Toledo Museum of Art has a permanent collection of vintage Blenko designs. Jutta Page, its curator, said of my architectural pieces “Not only was their heft and scale too large to be displayed on furniture, they were conceived as architectural elements that related to the built environment in which they were placed. The Architectural Series was a strictly American phenomenon that dovetailed with Midcentury open-concept architecture and split-level floor plans.”
Palm Springs, City of the Futuristic Past
Have you been to Palm Springs? It’s an extremely chic and affluent city! It was Modernism Week, and the schedule of events included daily bus tours of the iconic Modernist Show Houses in the city and surrounding areas.
One collector who attended my presentation showed us a photo of a Warhol painting that he owned. "It must be worth a million bucks," I remarked. His response: he had LOTS of them, all originals. Alfa Romeo had three late-model and a vintage car on display in the huge lobby, all for sale and under discussion with apparently serious buyers.
The Modernism Show and Sale is an annual event in Palm Springs. It’s put on by Dolphin Fairs Group, based in Chicago. Thanks to director, Rosemary Krieger, and media director Gordon Merkle. And great thanks to Steve Stoops, owner of Stevens Fine Art in Phoenix, who introduced me to Rosemary and recommended that they invite me to speak at the show.
I first met Steve when he contacted me to inquire about the “Id Vase” ( as shown in my last blog post) that I designed at Blenko. Steve’s booth at the show featured many amazing ceramics, including a Gallé vase and other vintage glass, ceramics, paintings and late 19th – 20th century prints. You can see his collection at stevensfineart.com. Steve now is the owner of the Gamboni plaque that I featured in my August 7 blogpost “The Antigua Line and My Excellent Italian Adventure.” (He bought it at the show.)
There was lots of vintage Blenko, which made me happy to see that its popularity is still up there.