California Design: Living in a Modern Way, 1930–1965

Wendy Kaplan, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Tuesday, December 13, 2011Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Rudolph Schindler, Dresser with mirror

Rudolph Schindler, Dresser with mirror from the Shep commission, Silver Lake, c. 1934-1938, gift of Ruth Shep Polen, photograph © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Margit Fellegi, Woman's swimsuit and jacket,

Margit Fellegi, Made by Cole of California, Woman’s swimsuit and jacket, c. 1950, gift of Doris Raymond/The Way We Wore, photograph © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Gertrud Natzler and Otto Natzler, Bowl

Gertrud Natzler and Otto Natzler, Bowl, 1943, gift of Rose A. Sperry 1972 Revocable Trust, photograph © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Eames Storage Unit (ESU)

Charles Eames and Ray Eames, manufactured by Herman Miller Furniture Company, Eames Storage Unit (ESU), c. 1949, gift of Mr. Sid Avery and Mr. James Corcoran, photograph © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Wendy Kaplan’s topic is the subject of her exhibition, by the same name, that will remain on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through March 25, 2012. Her comprehensive study of modern California design is comprised of more than 350 objects — architecture, graphic and industrial design, furniture, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, fashion and, of course, film. The show also features three period recreations, including the living room from the iconic Case Study House built and furnished by Charles and Ray Eames. (Elizabeth Smith spoke to the Forum about “Blueprints for Modern Living: LA in the 50s and 60s” in February, 2006.) Ms Kaplan will demonstrate how the California of our collective imagination — a democratic utopia where a benevolent climate fosters an informal and outdoorsy lifestyle — was embodied in a material culture that defined the era — and which continues to resonate with Californians today.

Wendy Kaplan will trace a distinctively Californian modernism from its beginnings in the 1930s with the work of Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler and their contemporaries. World War II saw the development of technologies that were adapted for peace-time design innovation. These post-war developments are best exemplified by the plywood and fiberglass furniture pioneered by the Eameses. The technology of molding plywood splints for broken legs was soon utilized to produce Eames chairs. A burgeoning, newly prosperous population — intoxicated by the ability to purchase the latest in consumer goods after the deprivations of the Great Depression and wartime rationing — made California into the epicenter for American progressive architecture and furnishings in the postwar years.

Wendy Kaplan’s focus on the California home will emphasize open floor plans, the seemingly seamless transition from indoor to outdoor living spaces and iconic consumer goods such as Heath Ceramics, Van Keppel-Green and Architectural Pottery. (Fern Prosnitz spoke to the Forum about “The Modern and the Mundane: The Nifty Fifties, Biomorphism and Space” in January, 2010.) Ms Kaplan will explore other furnishings whose designers and manufacturers have not previously been documented. She will conclude with the dissemination of the “California look” to the rest of America and the world by exhibitions, magazines, shops and film. Many of us will remember the poolside encouragement to Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) in “The Graduate” that a prosperous future could be found in “plastics.”

Wendy Kaplan graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in American civilization, followed by a master’s degree from the Winterthur program in early American culture. She has held curatorial positions at the Wolfsonian-Florida International University in Miami; the Glasgow Museums in Scotland (not coincidentally the city of Charles Rennie Mackintosh); and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Ms Kaplan has been, since 2001, the department head and curator of decorative arts and design at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Ms Kaplan’s publications include The Arts & Crafts Movement in Europe and America: Design for the Modern World (2004); Leading “The Simple Life”: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, 1810-1910 (1999); Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1996); Designing Modernity: The Arts of Reform and Persuasion, 1885-1945 (1995); The Arts and Crafts Movement (1991); and “The Art that is life”: The Arts and Crafts Movement in America (1987, reprint 1998). Wendy Kaplan’s previous presentations to the Forum are “Modern and Anti-Modern Arts & Crafts in Britain, Europe and the U.S., 1880-1920” in June, 2002, and “Art That is Life: The Arts and Crafts Movement in America” in May, 1987.

This lecture is generously sponsored by Donald Stroh. Thank Don as you check in at the welcome table.

7:15pm mini-exhibit

California began leading the nation in a new, relaxed lifestyle in the early 20th century. Accompanying decorative arts also reflect the California climate with bright colors and objects that are equally at home indoors and out. Bauer bowls, Catalina tile tables, Eames chairs, Saschsa Brastoff enameled wares and Heath Ware ceramics have become icons of California design. Share your Modernist furniture and objects, and wear some California clothing from Jantzen or the Gap.


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.