Friday, February 19, 2016

JEWEL BOXES: On the scene report from Denver's quirky Kirkland Museum, by guest blogger Murphy Birdsall

Kirkland Museum, Denver, CO, built in 1910
photo by Michael Schonbach
(yes, that dot in the picture is me)

The clock is ticking on the current incarnation of the more-than-mildly eccentric Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art in Denver. The much loved venue, with its "Annie's Attic" atmosphere, will be open for just another couple of months; it will close on May 1, prior to a move into its vastly expanded new digs downtown. Ground was broken for the new Kirkland in September, 2015, and the opening date of the modernized building is set for some time in 2017.

Happily, my longtime friend and fellow design aficionado Murphy Birdsall was on the scene recently, and filed this breezy memoir of her day at the museum for all of Mad for Mod's readers. I really enjoyed seeing this remarkable collection through such perceptive and joyful eyes. Thanks for the tour, Murphy!!

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Animals, Color and the Cosmos at Denver's Kirkland Museum

words and pics by Murphy Birdsall 

Whoa, what the heck do I look at, with my wide-open eyes ricocheting from floor to ceiling, wall to wall? A cozy seating area from a 1930s ocean liner, a riveting Coloradan painting, a bakelite radio and doorways to rooms beyond ... I’ve just stepped into the Kirkland Museum.

My sister had suggested that this might be a place to go while I was visiting her and her husband in their art-filled Victorian brick Denver home. They tried to describe it to me: Vance Kirkland, the painter & art educator, his work done while hanging belly down in a sling (he was short, the canvases were large, and it would otherwise have been difficult to reach the entire work), and the museum filled with 20th century decorative arts, along with his paintings. Describing didn't come close to experiencing.

It's a feast. And I immediately thought of my friend, Judy Polan, writer of this blog, and how much she would love this. So much of the collection is Art Deco and Mid-Century furniture and decorative objects. I knew she had to come here.

 Art Deco child's tableware
by Acro Agate Co, Clarksburg, West Virginia
They made marbles for the boys, and "doll dishes" for the girls.

 It turned out she had come there, and knew well this overflowing collection. I am thrilled 
 to be contributing a guest post.

I had to narrow the focus of the piece, so I scrolled through the photographs I had been able to take on my phone, and went with what I found. Mainly, I saw color and a  surprising number of animals. I had been capturing what shots I could get in the crowded exhibits, particularly of designs that I wanted to email to Judy, to say, "Look at this!" ... Things that delighted me.
 Above: Alexander Calder demitasse cup for Braniff Airways
Boy, those were the days - airplanes that were orange, blue, lemon yellow; Pucci-designed flight attendant uniforms; and Calder demitasse cups, adorned with a 
multi-colored many-legged creature.
Below: Pony Chair by Finnish furniture designer Eero Aarnio
Cute, huh? I'm sure Judy has written about Aarnio's Ball Chair. [You're right, Murphy; a link is here.] This soft orange pony would look perfect beside it, like your own little pet, with platform hooves.

And then, shelves crammed with Clarice Cliff's Bizarreware ... 

In 2007, Judy introduced me to the British Art Deco designer, Clarice Cliff, in the terrific piece she wrote (with its gorgeous photographs) for Modernism magazine. It is impossible to imagine not responding with joy to Cliff's brilliant, goofy tableware.

[You can link here
to the article.]


Above: Knit dress inspired by Kirkland painting

This stunning dress was made by Russian artist/costume designer Nadezhda Bogdanova, who was inspired to create it by seeing a painting by Vance Kirkland. The soft tubular gown is brilliantly colored, has an elegant neckline and slinky back, and even looks comfortable to wear. 

 I wish I had taken a picture of the specific painting of inspiration, which hangs above this    exhibit, but I will only say that it is along the lines of his "Forces of Energy From a Sun in the Open Star Cluster K 1."

Detail from Vance Kirkland's "Forces of Energy" painting
Which brings me to the Cosmos.

Vance Kirkland was synesthetic, experiencing music as color. This connection across senses is most obviously apparent in his later Abstract Periods, when his work explored the universe. With titles such as "Experience of Mysteries in Space,' "The Energy of Explosions Twenty-Four Billion Years B.C." and "The Illusion of Mysteries Near Mars," he reportedly took notes of color schemes he visualized while listening to classical music (generally compositions with some dissonance: Bartok, Ives, Stravinsky e.g.) and used these color combinations in evoking the forces of the universe.

A final note about Vance Kirkland that amused me, was his feeling that his paintings should not be considered to have a "right side up." He might sign it on the back, but he rarely put a signature on the face -- that would limit the direction in which the work was exhibited.

The museum is like that -- a vast maze of color and design in which you are allowed to stumble upon, or peer intently at, forces of energy. Highly refreshing.

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Note from blogmeister Judy:
I'll keep you posted on the relocation of the Kirkland Museum
to downtown Denver, as work progresses. I would, though, urge anyone who can 
to visit this remarkable collection in its existing venue.
Its singular charm will not be easily recreated.

Normandie Art Deco Vignette
photo credit:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

CELEBRATIONS: Happy Mid Mod Valentine's Day to you!

Happy Valentines Day, Mad for Mod readers

Vladimir Kagan sofa
The famed designer will participate in a conversation presented by Elle Decor 
at Palm Springs, CA's Modernism Week 2016, on Valentine's Day 

If you're lucky enough to be in Palm Springs, CA today, 
there is a multitude of events on offer at Modernism Week, 
most of them ticketed but some of them free. They include house tours, 
book talks, conversations with notable designers, an acclaimed film, 
and even a "think and drink happy hour program". 

 Among the February 14 highlights at Modernism Week:

Princeton Architectural Press presents
grids and guides: a notebook for visual thinkers

A fun and fascinating volume, this engaging book "for
right- and left-brainers alike" contains 144 pages of varied
graph papers (great for architectural sketching) interspersed
with an eclectic array of charts and infographics that include:
musical instruments and their pitch ranges, perspective drawing,
knot tying, logical connectives (a bit beyond my understanding),
the golden ratio, and much more.

      Meanwhile, back at the festival ...


Book jacket for William Krisel's Palm Springs
Authors: Heidi Creighton and Chris Menrad

Bonus pic, just because I like it:  
EZ Mod Kiss chair
A mini-tribute to Salvador Dali's iconic
"Mae West's Lips" sofa 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

DESTINATIONS: Sizzling with Hollywood style: Palm Springs Modernism Week presents gems of American Mid Mod

cool. iconic. modern

Palm Springs Modernism Week 2016 will be replete with the jazzy sights, sounds and celebrations that have drawn enthusiastic visitors to this glamorous desert town for over a decade: house and garden tours, talks, films, open-air double decker architectural bus ridesand an ongoing show and sale of Modernist furniture and other interior decor at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

 Roll up for the Modernist Mystery Tour ...

Even the Palm Springs airport is getting on board with the Modernism theme.
Here, Virgin America's gate is decked out in retro furnishings 
 to welcome February visitors. 

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Saturday, Feb. 13 will be "Eichler Day" at the mod-fest, celebrating the 
work and legacy of visionary designer and real estate developer Joseph Eichler.
Events will include a house tour, a panel discussion, and a screening of 
the newly-remastered film “People in Glass Houses: The Legacy of Joseph Eichler”.
11,000 "Eichlers" were built in numerous CA communities during the 1950s.

Above: Desert Eichler house

"Eichler brought his social justice values into his plans for modern housing 
for middle-class Americans. Combining the midcentury esthetics of airiness, 
use of glass and steel as construction materials,  and a seamless integration of 
indoor-outdoor space, his homes captured the imagination of thousands 
of young families who were looking for affordable 
yet stylish housing during the post-war boom."
                                                                            ... Mad for Mod, Jan. 9, 2016

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A highly coveted ticket will be for "An Afternoon with Mad Men" (Feb. 18), 
a three-part presentation by the show's set design team, fashion designer Tina Turk, 
and creator Matthew Weiner. (Update: It's already sold out -- it figures.)

Languid ladies + Don Draper

Set of the Drapers' NYC apartment

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Below: A modern Kennedy compound
Named by The Hollywood Reporter as the “#1 Must-See Event of Modernism Week!” Traditional Home and California Homes magazines present Show House 2016: 
The Christopher Kennedy Compound. For a third year, home decor and 
design maven Kennedy brings together ten of the nation's most prominent 
tastemakers to create unique rooms in this showcase venue. 
The house is "spectacularly sited" on the fairway of the Indian Canyons Golf Resort, 
a favorite of Hollywood stars like Frank Sinatra, Walt Disney and Bob Hope. 
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Another mustn't miss event:
The film Gray Matters, about the life and work of iconic designer
Eileen Gray, will be screened on Feb. 14 .

Above: Eileen Gray's famed "E1027 House", built o
the French Riviera in the late 1920s. The home -- which is wrapped in a story of love, 
revenge and madness --  was recently restored and opened to the public.

For a comprehensive article about the life and work of EG, 
a piece I wrote for the Spring 2011 issue of Modernism magazine.

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Glass House, William F. Cody, 1967
Cody was considered a master of sleek desert Modernism.
He designed country clubs, residences, hotels, restaurants and other 
public venues in Palm Springs, numerous southern California towns, 
Arizona, Mexico, and Cuba. A Feb. 20 tour included in Modernism Week 
will be a rare opportunity to visit Cody's iconic Glass House, 
a magnificent example of his elegant style. 

... and there's so much more ... 

Visit the "Events' link at 
for the full daily schedule

Link here for "A Procrastinator's Guide to Modernism Week"
See you there!

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

EXHIBITION: Television Project Part 1 closing 2/14 at NYC's Jewish Museum, but there's lots more to come

"Yoo hoo ..."
Gertrude Berg on the set of The Goldbergs (CBS), 1949-1956.

The inaugural exhibition of The Television Project, a 3-year-long series 
of thematic exhibits about Jewish culture as portrayed on
American television, will close on February 14. Part One of this series, 
called Picturing a People, features clips from programs including
The Ed Sullivan Show, Northern Exposure, The Twilight Zone, The Goldbergs,  
The Simpsons, My Name is Barbra, and ABC News' Eichmann Trial coverage.
Related works of art, artifacts and ephemera are also displayed.

The Television Project will resume on March 18, with 
Part Two of the exhibition:
Some of My Best Friends (running through August 14)

All in the Family (CBS) TV Series, 1971-1979
Clockwise from left: Rob Reiner, Sally Struthers, Carroll O’Connor 
and Jean Stapleton. © CBS

and again on September 16, with 
Jews and the Advertising Revolution
(running through Feb. 12, 2017)

 Doyle Dane Bernbach Agency