Archive for August, 2009

Oh baby, when I look in your eyes I go crazy

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Amelie Rives, Princess Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives, Princess Troubetzkoy

One of the benefits of having a family obsessed with old family stories is, just that, many old family stories. My grandmother is from an ancient Virginia family and she often referred to cousins, aunts, and great-great grandparents in polite and obscure language. “Well,” she would say, in a very slow Virginia drawl, “she was a true beauty, and quite eccentric.” And that would be that. As I’ve looked deeper into some of these relatives, the truth is far more interesting.

For example, my grandmother’s cousin Amelie Rives’ godfather was General Robert E. Lee and granddaughter of Senator William Cabell Rives. She was born at the end of the civil war and lived at Castle Hill, built by one of my distant grandfathers Dr. Thomas Walker, near Charlottesville. In 1888, she married John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler, grandson of John Jacob Astor. The marriage was a disaster with details including morphine addiction in France, affairs, and eventual madness. The Astor family claimed that Amelie drove Archie mad, my family claimed that he was already mad. Donna M. Lucey’s biography, Archie and Amelie, Love and Madness in the Gilded Age retells the story, albeit in a salacious way.

In the end, Archie descended into madness, including delusions that he could put himself into a sort of trance in which his face would somehow morph into the death mask of Napoleon. In the meantime, Amelie became the toast of European society, divorced Archie, and married Russian Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, “an artist and an aristocrat,” who possessed more glamour and panache than money. The two settled at the family home, Castle Hill and were together for the rest of their lives. The scandals continued, when Amelie began writing novels and plays including the shocking The Quick and the Dead?, an erotic story. However, as my grandmother said, “Why, she was such a fine beauty.”

Castle Hill, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Castle Hill, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives 1890

Amelie Rives 1890

John Armstrong "Archie" Chanler

John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler as Napoleon’s death mask, and riding
Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy

Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, by Frances Benjamin Johnston (infamous lesbian photographer) 1910

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy by Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy c. 1890

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy by Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy c. 1890 (found hidden after my grandmother died.)

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How to Rebound after a Really Bad Day

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

I’ll be honest. This last week has been one hell of a bad week. Like everyone, we’re feeling the economic issues. I went home Friday night feeling a little beaten, but I remind myself, to quote from Oscar Hammerstein II, “The world belongs to you as much as the next fella. Don’t give it up.” So wallowing in self pity isn’t an option. And I try to remember that I’ve got it easy compared to my forefathers who colonized Jamestown and Plymouth, fought a revolution, lost fortunes after the civil war, but just kept going. So, having low cash flow really isn’t life threatening. But I’m human, so I felt pretty crummy. Then I came across the title sequence to To Kill a Mockingbird designed by Stephen Frankfurt, and this made everything ok, in addition to the rum and Fresca (Rumescas) and anti-anxiety pill.

Airing the old laundry

Thursday, August 27th, 2009
Noreen Morioka, Sean Adams, the Peoplemover, Tomorrowland

Noreen Morioka, Sean Adams, the Peoplemover, Tomorrowland

Many people ask how Noreen and I met. I like to tell them it was in prison, but that’s not true. We met in school, at CalArts. We went our separate ways after we graduated, Noreen to Tokyo, and I went to New York. At the end of 1993, we were sitting on the Peoplemover in Tomorrowland and decided that rather than complaining about design, we should step up and have our own firm. Much of that work was documented with transparencies and hasn’t been published for over a decade. So we decided to drag the pieces out of the archives and give them some air for awhile; even if they are a little dated.

Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities

Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities

Our first postcard, some were sent back with added drawings

Our first postcard, some were sent back with added drawings

SCI-Arc Building in Los Angeles, 1994

SCI-Arc Building in Los Angeles, 1994

Wired magazine

Wired magazine

SCI-Arc Spring Lecture Series

SCI-Arc Spring Lecture Series

Poster, LA Louver Gallery

Poster, LA Louver Gallery

Not my Nuts!

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009
Nut Tree Dining Room, Vacaville, California

Nut Tree Dining Room, Vacaville, California

There are times in history when all elements come together at a specific place to create something remarkable. Fallingwater, the Lever House, the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, and, yes, the Nut Tree in Vacaville, California. For most people growing up in northern California or Nevada, the Nut Tree was a ritual. Every trip we took between our ranch in the Sierras to San Francisco required a Nut Tree stop. I believe I have the Nut Tree to blame for my vocation. I was mesmerized by the packaging, signage, typography, and artwork. And I was 4. Much of the design was the creation of Don Birrell. He introduced high California modernism to the farming fields of central California. The Nut Tree had Eames chairs in the Toy Shop, and Dansk flatware in the Dining Room. The mix of folk art, hand-crafts, and minimal modernism predated Alexander Girard’s Textile & Objects shop by 8 years. There was a clear sense of joy, clarity, and quality that pervaded the atmosphere. And this was, basically, just a roadside store and restaurant, with a small local airport. If one of the tenants of modernism is to bring good design to the masses, the Nut Tree is a prime example and is long overdue for the recognition it deserves.

Sean (4) admiring letterforms on Nut Tree train
Sean (4) admiring letterforms on Nut Tree train
Nut Tree Train, Vacaville, California

Nut Tree Train, Vacaville, California

Nut Tree Dining Room, Vacaville, California

Nut Tree Dining Room, Vacaville, California

The Nut Tree Shop

The Nut Tree Shop

The Nut Tree Plaza

The Nut Tree Plaza

"Dendriform" by Jean Ray Laury at the Nut Tree, Vacaville, California, 1978
“Dendriform” by Jean Ray Laury at the Nut Tree, Vacaville, California, 1978
Charlotte Patera poster, 1975, Nut Tree

Charlotte Patera poster, 1975, Nut Tree

Lowell Herrero poster, 1970 at Nut Tree

Lowell Herrero poster, 1970 at Nut Tree

Woodcarvings, Stan Dann, Nut Tree Poster 1977

Woodcarvings, Stan Dann, Nut Tree Poster 1977

Pocket Pal

Monday, August 24th, 2009
The Cute As A Button Doll: Fit's in your hand or pocket

The Cute As A Button Doll: Fit's in your hand or pocket

I know these Cute as Button dolls are supposed to be super cute, but I find them rather disturbing. I can’t decide if they are supposed to be premature babies, or fetuses. I don’t like either idea. One of the designers at AdamsMorioka left a direct mail card for these dolls on my desk. Either they think I’ll buy them one, or I have a special love for cute dolls. Neither of these options are possible, and both options scare me. The card tells me that these dolls are not toys, but are fine collectible to be enjoyed by adults. Yes, disturbing. The card also tells me that the dolls “Are Sweet as You Please.” That’s like telling someone, “You’re just as cute as you can be.” The subtext here being, “You’re not very cute.” This line also sounds vaguely like the tagline of a slasher movie: Fetus Doll, Sweet as You Please. This may sound judgemental, and I’m glad someone is probably loving one of these dolls right now. The first movie I ever saw was Barbarella, and most of my early years were obsessed with the killer dolls who try to eat Jane Fonda.

The Cute As a Button Collection
The Cute As a Button Collection