I grew up in an art family. Mom had studied painting with Wayne Thiebaud at California State University in Sacramento. Dad graduated from the four-year course at the Carnegie Mellon Arts College with a BFA degree in Painting and Design. They met in Los Angeles at the Art Center night school where she was studying fashion illustration and he was studying graphic design. They married and had been working at design and illustration for seven years when I came along and joined the team. From the time I was born, I have lived art and design every day! I went with Dad and Mom to the Woodward Design and Illustration studio on Wilshire Boulevard across the street from the LA County Museum of Art. At first, I stayed with Mom in her office in my bassinette, and then in my playpen. From my childhood through my adolescence, art and design were always a large part of the family conversation—at work, at meals, and at home.
11011 Strathmore Drive
Home for my first two years was the famous Richard Neutra apartments in Westwood. Ours was 11011 Strathmore Drive. Mom and Dad had work areas there also (work never stopped!). As I have come to know more about the apartments, design ghosts of previous residents may also have been present: Charles and Ray Eames had lived in one of the apartments and so had John Entenza. Entenza published Arts and Architecture Magazine and had sponsored the famous Case Study Houses in the 1950’s.—the Eames house on Chautauqua was one.
544 Paseo Miramar
When I was two we moved from the Strathmore apartments to a house in the Pacific Palisades. It was perched on a hill overlooking the ocean, and we could see from the Santa Monica pier to the Channel Islands. Today we would call it “mid-century modern” with post and beam construction and floor to ceiling glass windows which framed that wonderful view. The floor was white Terrazzo which complemented the dark volcanic rock fireplace wall. Dad had chosen the furniture he loved by designers he admired: The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman, the George Nelson Coconut Chair and Sling Sofa, and a table by Eero Saarinen. You may think of them as mid-century modern masterpieces, but I regarded them as indoor playground equipment. From the viewpoint of a two year old, these were giant toys! I climbed over and crawled under them. As I grew older, I would play army with my plastic soldiers hanging from the Coconut Chair and the Eames Lounge. The Nelson Sofa became a landing pad for my airplanes. It was known as “The Airport.” The Coconut Chair legs were lookouts and had several snipers in the angles. Other troops were wedged between the lava rocks on the fireplace. The round Saarinen table was “The Main Base.”
544 Paseo Miramar was both secluded and in the midst of an intellectual and artistic community. The Palisades had been a sanctuary for intellectuals and artists fleeing the Nazis. Just half a block down from our house was Villa Aurora, the home Marta Feuchtwanger. The big Spanish colonial house was, and still is, a meeting place and cultural center. Paseo Miramar attracted all sorts of creative people—a film director and a composer up the road from our house, and a painter and a sculptor on top of the hill. The sculptor invited us to her opening show at a gallery in Venice. The sculptures were unusual, unlike anything I’d seen in all of the museums I’d been in. They were animal skulls decorated with beads! It sounds grotesque, but they were quite interesting. I thought about it for a few days and then went to my closet where I had stashed a pelican skull. (Dad and I camped in Baja and collected driftwood, shells, and bones.) I got lots of colorful beads at a craft store, and went to work gluing them to the pelican. In retrospect I think I really liked the skull without the beads. Someone told me that Henry Moore had an elephant skull in his studio—now that’s the way to do it big!
I was only five when we went to Japan and Expo 70. I vividly remember the Apollo astronaut figures suspended from the ceiling of the US pavilion to celebrate the American space program. I also remember the elaborate wax food displays in the store windows, and walking in the rain on cobbled city streets. Expo 70 had sculpture that one could interact with. Now, at the age of 50, when I see the slides of the photographs we took, the Expo pavilion designs fit right in today’s design culture. I think the experience of Expo was significant addition to my creative awareness. I like a lot of Japanese crafts —kites, ceramics, paper mache and fabrics. Noe masks are fascinating!
Our home was convenient to Carden Malibu, a private elementary school in Los Flores Canyon. Mrs. Armstrong, the principal, had a huge influence on me. She was a keen observer of nature. The school was surrounded by a rustic natural landscape with a creek and several huge trees, rattlesnakes, raccoons, and occasionally a bobcat! Our music and art teacher was Mr. Kamir. He taught us watercolor painting. I liked going on field trips to paint landscapes. I enjoyed his conversations about art with Mom. He took me under his wing when it came to art.
The Santa Monica Studio
The studio in Santa Monica, at 1415 Second Street, was the back half of the building. It had once been an automotive repair garage. It was one huge room of 4,000 square feet, two stories tall, with a balcony on the east end. We entered from the alley—not very elegant! But once inside, the impact of the space was breathtaking! Dad’s office and conference area was on the balcony. Mom’s was three steps down to her own balcony. Dave, John, Stan, and others as needed, were on the main floor. Since they each did different kinds of work, they had different supplies and tools. I was about five when we moved in, and I had the run of the place. Everyone was busy, but they always took time to say hi and show me what they were doing.
I was five years old when we went to Expo 70 in Osaka Japan. We stopped in Tokyo for sightseeing and to buy two Nikons. Home again and at a Christmas party for kids, Dad handed me one of the Nikons. After the briefest instructions he said: “Now go take pictures.” I did. It was fun and I’ve never stopped. I take pictures every day documenting my projects, just for fun with friends, and most importantly as art. Dad’s photography was an integral part of his design process. He had a dark room at the studio. Maurice, one of his freelance photographers, showed me how to load black and white film into the developing tank, how to process it, and then how to print the pictures. Sid Avery was a family friend and I admired his photography. I have his book Hollywood At Home on my coffee table.
My photography and ceramics
I attended high school in Beverly Hills. At Beverly High, I enjoyed the photography class—I became a creative artist with the camera! The images I captured were art! And, I could combine several transparencies for even more interesting art. I experimented with infrared film and with color printing. That technology collapsed when the digital camera killed Kodak film. I still miss it! But technology has added digital to the art pallet, and I’ve used computer modification and special printing techniques to enhance my photographic images. I won awards for my photography. The debate over whether photography is art is pointless. The image is what we look at, and what we judge for its quality as art. As with all art, there is good and not so good, inventive and imitative. Judge the image and not the medium—judge the originality and the creativity of the artist! The ceramic class at Beverly changed my life—I could imagine something and it came out my finger tips! I made a lion’s head in the ceramics class. I then made a series of several dozen animal head sculptures at our apartment. The animals were made of clay applied over a paper armature which burned out when the piece was kiln fired. To fire them we rented the kiln at The Clay House ceramics studio in Santa Monica. We liked the Clay House studio and the instructors. I took classes to learn how to throw pots. In later years I’d drive to Van Nuys to work at Del Rupp’s ceramic studio. It was fully equipped with potter’s wheels, a kiln, and glazing facilities. Several skilled professional potters also used Rupp’s studio. They were very talented and commercially successful. I admired their work, and learned a lot from observing their methods. I splurged and bought a pot.
Ken Ferguson and the Anderson Ranch
I was about twenty and was visiting Dad at the Aspen Design Conference. We drove over to Snowmass to visit the husky sled-dog kennel. On the way we stopped at the Anderson Ranch where art and ceramic instruction was scheduled for later that summer. Dad noticed that Ken Ferguson, a former classmate of his at Carnegie, and now head of the ceramics department at the Kansas City Art Institute, was teaching a two week ceramics class. I enrolled, and later that summer I drove from LA to Snowmass in my Ghia. What a trip that was!
There were twelve of us of varying abilities in Ken’s class. He started by demonstrating how to throw a pot. We then applied his techniques to our work, which he would critique. For some unknown reason he was especially critical of my throwing. Thirty years later I met a woman at a raku workshop in Phoenix. She remembered me from Ferguson’s class, and said: “He wasso hard on you—and you were so good!” That made me feel better! I understood more when I read of Ferguson’s own long struggle to achieve perfection of his own throwing techniques. Maybe he saw that I was talented and serious and needed a kick in my potter’s butt to get going.
While I was studying with Ken, I noticed Victor Babbo’s glazing techniques He was a master! Victor also taught at the Kansas City Art Institute. Ken and Victor were good friends, and they encouraged their students to go into each other's classrooms. Every evening we had a barbecue with people from the various classes—furniture building, photography, and ceramics. Many students brought their work into the courtyard to be critiqued by the other classes. Ken Ferguson and the Anderson Ranch was a wonderful, wonderful, experience!
In a way, I grew up with Natzler ceramics. Dad designed the catalogue for the Gertrude and Otto Natzler ceramics exhibition at LACMA (1966). The variety and originality of the Natzler glazes has always fascinated me.
On a teenage excursion to Ojai I discovered the tiny studio of Bea Wood surrounded by her beautiful garden. I liked her work and bought two small pieces.
Over the years I've always had a kiln and potter’s wheel. In Arizona I built a shop in my backyard to house my ceramic studio, wood shop (carving, furniture fabrication, and would turning), a silkscreen section, a dark room for my photography, and an area to work on my art projects.
My Career Plan
When high school was over I considered several career options. Architecture was a possibility. I was interested the variety of home styles on Paseo Miramar—our post and beam modern and the Spanish colonial next door. The idea of creating these large functional structures was exciting. Bernard Zimmerman and architect Ray Kappe had established the Department of Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona. Dad knew Bernard and asked him to consult with us regarding my plans for the future. We met him at the Hamburger Hamlet (one of Bernard’s designs) on Hollywood Boulevard. He advised us on the value of the six to eight years involved in an architectural degree—as opposed to just taking the few technical classes necessary to bring me up to speed, and then apprentice with a designer-builder to get going.
I went to work for a contractor. I knew nothing—not even the names of the nails! But I took classes in construction, estimating, materials, and architectural styles. I started construction knowing nothing, and by the sixth year, I was running a crew of 150 doing everything from tract homes to hotels, and building custom homes in Beverly Hills and at Lake Tahoe.
I was well prepared to be a designer-builder, and when I moved to Scottsdale I worked on home construction with several architects and on some remodels. What I liked best was working with people who had their property and a dream and who needed my design talent and construction skills to make it happen. It took a while to accomplish what Bernard had suggested, but I was profitably self-employed at something I loved doing.
I worked with all materials. I had an early interest in southwest adobe and rammed-earth, but they were both labor intensive. I found a product called Rastra that made it possible to build an Adobe type of house with thermal mass and cost efficiency and less labor. Using this green building product, I've built Santa Fe style adobe, Spanish territorial, mid-century and contemporary houses.
DR and The Things in Our House
The Design Research store in Geradelli Square was a “must stop” when we went to San Francisco several times a year. It was full of beautiful and functional objects from everywhere. I recently bought a copy of “DR” a book by Jane Thompson about the store. I was reminded of so many things we had in our house—the modern design of my early life. DR was Ben Thompson’s creation, although we were unaware of that until much later. In the 1980’s Dad and Thompson became friends at the Design Conference in Aspen Colorado. Ben, a Harvard trained architect, had accomplished so much—the reviving of Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace; the South Street Seaport just south of the Brooklyn Bridge which changed the Fulton Fish Market into a complex of restaurants and shops with a harbor museum; the Bayside Marketplace in Miami. These projects changed the “tear-down” approach to city redevelopment to one of renovating the old buildings to give them new vitality and life while retaining the color and warmth they add to the city. Although I never met him, Thompson is one of my favorite architects.
Other architects that I admire include Bernard Zimmerman who moved me in the right direction at just the right time. Roger Kennedy, a family friend, whose Laurel Canyon house I still walk through and enjoy in my mind. Craig Ellwood whose elegant Art Center building on the hill I drive by when I’m in Pasadena. Charles Eames whose house on Chatauqua was part of my growing up in the Pacific Palisades. David Hovey in Scottsdale is admirable in so many ways, including the quality of his architecture and art, and his approach to the business of design, construction, and marketing.
One of Dad’s friends was an art consultant. Among the remarkable art in her home was a figure by Alison Sarr. Sarr’s story telling sculptures dramatized the black experience in America. I was very impressed, and have been inspired by her ability to find more ways to express the subject and the beautiful ways she uses wood.
Other sculptors that I admire include: Peter Voulkos, Ken Price, Isamu Noguchi, and Ken Ferguson. On an early family trip to a museum I saw my first Henry Moore---it was an animal-like form with a tiny smile on its face. Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers are amazing! I like painters from Van Gogh to Pollock to Thiebaud to Fritz Scholder.
One of Dad’s projects was a kinetic sculpture. He kept a prototype made of the same materials. It was accepted in California Design Ten in 1968. After that, it was our companion at home in the living room. I grew up with that kinetic. Dad has never lost his interest in moving sculpture, and lately, we’ve been talking a lot about the art of Alexander Calder, George Rickey, and Harry Bertoria. Alexander Calder’s beautiful and playful hanging mobiles are unequaled by his later imitators. George Rickey’s kinetic sculpture, with its precise engineering and elegant balance, responds to the slightest breeze.
For all of my interests and activates in the arts, I’ve only recently decided to exhibit. In 2016 I made a major commitment with five gallery showings:
The Fine Arts Expo in Scottsdale
The Sonoran Arts League Gallery at el Pedregal in North Scottsdale
The Gray Gallery in West Hollywood
The Ice House Gallery in Phoenix
The Lotus gallery in Downtown Scottsdale
I contributed sculpture to the auction at Bonhams to raise funds for APLA, and to Imagine LA for their auction, and to Leher Architects for the LA Forum Online Auction.