The winters of Chicago make me long for the warmth of my home state of California. To beat the cold I picked up California Design Ten, a 1968 exhibition catalog from the Pasadena Museum of Art. The warm hues of the book’s cover, a detail of an embroidery collage by Carol Hansen Wagner in orange, yellow, gold, green and brown, promises pages filled with treasures from the Golden State.
From handmade goods to mass-produced products, the catalog is a broad and fascinating visual survey of the works made in California in the mid-1960s. The pages of the book are filled with works by artists and designers whose names have become synonymous with modern design including Ruth Asawa, Gertrud and Otto Natzler, Paul Tuttle and Sam Maloof, to name just a few. Stressing the importance of design in everyday lives, the exhibition includes multiple categories with everything from seating, lighting and storage, to jewelry, games, textiles and more. Finally, because it is the 1960s, there are space age bus stops, sunglasses with literal shades (!!!), grass-like tufted carpets and celestial lighting systems.
While I can spend hours exploring the works, I greatly appreciate and enjoy the museum’s presentation; they let the works speak for themselves with only simple captions to accompany the black and white or color photographs throughout. In a wonderful act of contradiction, these works – most designed for the interior environment – are photographed in various outdoor landscapes; Zavern Zee Sipantzi’s coffee pot is set among a rocky terrain, a pair of doll-shaped chests by Pamela Weir is found in a green forest and three colorful stoneware sculptures by Ralph Bacerra are pictured in the desert. This creative staging is playful and fun but it also reiterates the importance of the location for this esteemed exhibition.
As the title suggests, this California Design exhibition was the tenth in a series of state-sponsered and juried exhibitions featuring functional designs and decorative objects made by artists or manufacturers in California. In the introduction, Eudora M. Moore explains the programs goals; along with presenting the works of California designers and makers to an international audience, Moore writes, “we wish to achieve through this program an awareness in the public of fine design, and hopefully to have some influence on the general taste level…”