Frank Lloyd’s blog

Art, architecture and the people that I know.

Posts Tagged ‘Harrison McIntosh

Harrison McIntosh Memorial

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I feel very lucky to have known Harrison McIntosh. Even when I was a teenager during the 1960s in Pasadena, I recall seeing his work. I remember being attracted to the simple yet classic forms, the blend of Scandinavian and Asian that was described so well by Christy Johnson and Hal Nelson yesterday at the memorial.

Little did I know that, much later in life, I’d have the chance to get to know Harrison, much less get to represent his work, and know his marvelous wife Marguerite.  When I first called and talked to Harrison, I was thrilled to make an appointment for a studio visit. As I stepped into their house above Padua Hills for the first time, it felt like a dream, to be welcomed into the home of a studio craft legend. I recall feeling like I was walking into the pages of a magazine. We agreed to a show.

When we first presented his work in a one-man FMH027 copyshow in 1998, there was a remarkable welcome from the other artists in the gallery. The most meticulous of craftspeople—including Adrian Saxe, Ralph Bacerra, and Roseline Delisle—all came to pay their respects to Harrison. Each artist took time to examine and praise the details of Harrison’s work; they lifted lids to show the precision of the fit, they turned the pots over carefully, to show me how perfect the foot was, and pointed out how every proportion was exactly right. Later, visiting artist Gustavo Pérez from Mexico wanted to get an autograph, and pose for a picture with his hero—whose work he had only seen in books.

But I represented Harrison late in his long and productive career. When I wanted another show in 2002, there were fewer new pots in the studio, and Harrison’s eyesight had, sadly, declined. I suggested that we augment the works from the studio with some classic works from private collections. Harrison agreed, but with one condition: that he would be able to examine them and approve of their quality and condition. Of course, I agreed. So, before the show, Marguerite drove Harrison to the gallery in Santa Monica, and I presented the additional work.

To my astonishment, he promptly sat down on the carpet of the back room, and felt—with both hands—the pots, carefully holding and rolling the forms, touching the incised lines—caressing the shoulder, the foot, and the lip.

If ever there were proof of the tactility of ceramics, this was the moment for me. I’ll never forget it. And to make it even more surprising, Harrison told me the year of each piece with perfect accuracy. Tactility is primal, and though artists often talk about the touch and feel of clay, that day Harrison showed me the touch and feel of memory.

FMH058 copyAs I said, I was lucky to know him late in his career. Still wanting to have all of his work recognized, I presented the late sculptural works in 2005. These were rounded discs, sculptural spheres, and oval forms mounted on chromed steel bases. The sculpture fulfilled a vision of the late twentieth century, no longer tied to pottery traditions, but developed from content and themes of unity—which had always been present in his work.

Titles gave these forms greater understanding: “Yin and Yang”, “Nature’s Union”, and “Mass in Space”, the works had a calm, balanced view of man’s place in Nature. Consider the form of “Raindrop”, a meditation on a single drop of water, a source of life.

It was the gentle spirit of the man that I will remember. His calm and balanced way of being was reflected in the work. He was a dignified, kind, and peaceful man, and may he rest in peace.

 

 

 

Written by Frank Lloyd

February 29, 2016 at 9:33 pm

What is California Design?

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CHM041Yesterday, a journalist asked me “What is California Design?” My response was to send her the first chapter of Wendy Kaplan’s excellent essay in the LACMA publication, “Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965.” Kaplan’s book (now in its fourth printing!) accompanies the touring exhibition which debuted at LACMA last year, and is set to open in Tokyo in March.

But as I thought about the question of definition, I realized Blog 052that California Design has some strong antecedents and a marvelous mix of influences. In fact, Kaplan said it best herself when she wrote that, when speaking about California Design, scholars are “referring not to a single aesthetic but to a loose, albeit clearly recognizable, group of ideas.”[1] It’s a movement that was fed by European émigrés, including architects Schindler and Neutra, as well as Marguerite Wildenhain and the Natzlers in ceramics. Another component was the modern craft movement, which emphasizes the connection to the hand and the recognition of the beauty of every-day objects, when imbued with a refined aesthetic. Being on the edge of the Pacific Rim, California also absorbed the aesthetic and philosophy of Asian culture in the post-WWII environment. And certainly, most accounts include the open and unbounded atmosphere for expression on the West Coast, not to mention the inviting climate.

Blog 054European immigration to California came in two primary waves, the first beginning in the late teens and 1920s and the second consisting of war-time refugees, fleeing the Nazis. R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra were both early émigrés, who found in California an accommodating climate and a clientele interested in their theories of indoor/outdoor living and the use of modern materials such as steel and glass. The conditions of California were particularly amenable to the casual outdoor living promoted by these transplanted Modernists, who worked to tailor their visions to the desires of Californians.

These modern homes needed to be filled with the CHM030furniture and objects of everyday life, and the modern craft movements had a marked influence in this regard. Designers and artists strove to make their work accessible to the middle class, giving rise to the designer-craftsman. In her volume, Kaplan writes that “The concept of the designer-craftsman, though not unique to California, was most successfully realized there, particularly in ceramics.”[2] Ceramists such as Harrison McIntosh embodied the idea that everyday items can be imbued with elegance and dignity, and that using these well-designed objects adds enjoyment to one’s daily life. Influenced by the Bauhaus-educated Marguerite Wildenhain, who fled the Nazis in 1940, McIntosh focused on simple and graceful silhouettes for practical usage.

CHM047 copyOpenness to new ideas is no doubt one of most important factors in the development of the style that came to be known as California Modern Design. A willingness to try new things led to an exciting synthesis of influences. California’s proximity to Asia led to heightened interest in the aesthetic and philosophy of Asian culture after the Second World War. Furniture and the decorative arts in particular were influenced by Pan-Asian motifs.

Thus, the question “What is California Design?” is not one that can be answered simply. California Design, like California itself, reflects the complex set of factors that shaped a region during the middle of the 20th century.


[1] Kaplan, Wendy, Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965, (Los Angeles: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and MIT Press, 2011), 33.

[2] Ibid., 39.