The Los Angeles art world, like the broader society, is struggling with how to continue to operate during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Art galleries and museums all over the Southland have shuttered their doors and installations have languished in darkened rooms, without visitors. Interesting solutions have emerged to tackle this difficult challenge. One solution is to create fully digital visiting tools, which enables show-goers to visit an art space from the comfort and safety of their home.
A fabulous 2020 design show entitled “A STEP BEYOND: Contemporary Footwear, Functional to Fanciful” has recently graced the galleries at the venerable Otis College of Art and Design. While the gallery doors for A STEP BEYOND were prematurely closed to the public in mid-March, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, show curator Lauria and gallery staff pivoted quickly and were able to digitize the show experience. The OTIS team has created an online tour of the show including a virtual curator tour, which is coming soon.
Otis is a private college, founded in 1918, which was the first independent professional school of art established in Los Angeles. The Ben Maltz Gallery on campus features a full slate of art and design shows throughout the calendar year. Guest curator, Jo Lauria has created a knock-out show for the space. On the Ben Maltz gallery site, there is now a 60-image slide show complete with didactic information. While nothing can replace the visceral experience of seeing a beautifully designed art show in person, during the time of social distancing this is certainly a healthy and welcome option. The full show can be accessed at: https://www.otis.edu/ben-maltz-gallery/step-beyond-contemporary-footwear-functional-to-fanciful
“At the beginning of the War we were limited to the prescribed boot for walking…now our choice of shoes has become more unlimited than ever, and the subject of footwear fascinating enough to talk about at length.”– Vogue Magazine, 1918
Humans have an intimate relationship with shoes. In the time of pre-history, our ancestors utilized woven grasses and animal hide to wrap the foot for needed warmth and protection. Fast forward to our modern age, and footwear – even our perception of it – has changed radically. We now universally obsess over the design, concept and look of the shoes we wear and collect. For some, shoes are the ultimate status symbol.
A STEP BEYOND show, Otis Alumni shoes, L-R: Anna Miller (above), Alexandria Felix and Jacob Kim (below)
Historical shoes on display representing decades from 1900 through 2010, “A Step Beyond”
Rem D. Koolhas, “Mobius” shoe progression for United Nude, 2003-2016. UNITED NUDE, a global lifestyle brand co-founded by Rem D. Koolhaas, combines fashion, architecture, and design to produce footwear with an “alternative attitude.”
Situated at the intersection of art and design, A STEP BEYOND explores the complex relationship between fashion, footwear, society and culture – focusing on the past 110 years. The exhibition features contemporary footwear from a variety of perspectives, including custom shoes designed and handcrafted for a private client; luxury, limited-edition creations made for a privileged clientele; and shoes mass-produced for the consumer market.
“Footwear reflects the imagination, innovation, and artistry of its time.”– Jo Lauria, curator
A STEP BEYOND also includes footwear related artworks and showcases the imagination and technical prowess invested in human foot covering. The show features five shoe collections, (including twenty-one collectible sneakers), and eighty-five historical shoes, dating from 1900 through 2010. Twenty-three international artists, craftsmen and architects are represented including luminaries such as Andy Warhol, Rem D. Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid.
Zaha Hadid “NOVA” shoe for United Nude
Paul Kaufman for pskaufman shoes.Kaufman, has worked for international companies Dr. Martens, Na Na, Fornarina, Rocket Dog, Twin Star, and London Underground.
The enduring allure of the Cowboy boot, A Step Beyond
The show is smartly divided into seven distinctive categories, outlined by the curator as follows:
The shoe as functional footwear – encompassing custom designed and handcrafted shoes for private clients, luxury, limited-edition creations for privileged clientele, and mass-produced shoes for the consumer market
The shoe as structure, sculpture and performance gear: highlighting artists/designers who successfully merge functionality with freedom of expression and the extend the shoe into other artistic realms.
The shoe as fashion marker: charting fashion trends and key developments in 20th and 21st century design.
The shoe as composition: focusing on the illustrated shoe as fashion’s most important accessory.
The shoe beyond literal object: Featuring the shoe as protagonist in individual artistic narratives.
The shoe as collectible: centering on the phenomenon of shoe collectors and their collections.
The shoe as design challenge: Otis alumni and faculty rise to the challenge of creating footwear with flair.
By separating the exhibit into these distinct categories, the viewer is encouraged to think about the shoe not only in its historical context, but to see it as a practical object and an art/luxury object. The various ways artists and designers think about, and approach the shoe, is the focus.
“Ill-fitting or supportive, teetering or flat, silent or squeaky, restrictive or ergonomic, the forms surrounding our feet ask us to weigh nature against desire, and the outcome of this equation, when tipped even slightly toward one side or another, has the ability to impact every inch of our bodies and our understanding of ourselves.” – Amara Hark-Weber, bespoke shoemaker
Highlighting the artists who have participated in the exhibit, it was indeed tempting to try to cover every maker in the show, as they all have fascinating stories and create beautiful work. I’ve chosen a handful of contributors to highlight whom I feel capture the spirit of the exhibit.
The shoe as collectible, A STEP BEYOND, featuring a selection from the sneaker collection of Twin Daniel, and high-fashion shoes from the collections of Jean Concoff and Pamela Weir-Quiton.
Elisabeth Thorsen wearing her handcrafted leather Rose Maling shoes embellished with fresh water pearls, antique beads and gold thread, with hand-carved wood soles and heels, 2013; and on dinner plate is her handmade shoe Tsar Saltan, embossed leather, hand-carved wood soles and heels, 2013.
Elisabeth Thorsen, L-R: Easy Ticket to Hoppa-Hage, 2017, marbleized vegetable leather-chalk heels; Polka, 2018, Goodyear welted shoes, vegetable leather , hand-painted and hand-stitched details, in collaboration with Mari Jaeger, designer and Paint Me a Birdie (shoes), 2015, embroidery and EVA materials, in collaboration with Jens Stegger Ledaal; and Print from Print Me a Birdie shoes, 2015, ink on paper.
Elisabeth Thorsen is a Norwegian shoemaker and performance artist who draws inspiration from “nature, art, fairytales and 1970’s movies.” Thorsen graduated from the Norwegian school for shoemaking in 2008 and has been making art using shoes as her primary focus ever since. Thorsen views her work as pieces of art, not merely functional objects. Her performances are both live and captured in digital video. She prefers to craft her shoes with experimental, non-traditional materials such as “carpets, furniture, carved sculptural elements, drapes and even ice, sugar, pencils and sports tape.” (1: From Artist Bio, Elisabeth Thorsen)
In Gaza Bowen’s series, Shoes for the Little Woman, the shoes are fabricated mostly from cleaning products that serve as a parody for the stereotype of the happy housewife who “enjoys” housework. Gaza first learned her craft in 1976 at Colonial Williamsburg from a master cobbler. Gaza dedicated nearly twenty years to honing her construction skills and representing the shoe’s “cultural meaning and social significance” in both functional footwear and sculptural applications.
“The works on display provide a focused look into the extraordinary life of Gaza Bowen. If anyone can claim the territory of “progenitor of sculptural shoes,” it is Gaza: she originated the concept of ‘narrative’ footwear that combines humor, unusual materials, invention, attitude, and social commentary.” – Jo Lauria, curator
Gaza, who passed away in 2005, noted “there’s more (to the shoes) for the person that cares to look. In that humor, I’m trying to make a statement about women and fashion, and women and household cleaning, and women as sex symbols.”
Helen Chung is an LA artist who works in multiple medium including installation, painting and photography.Drawing on popular culture, literature, and her former experience in accessory design, the artist attempts to “debunk social and cultural myths surrounding the notions of possession, desire, objectification, commodity, and commerce.” “The two bodies of work on exhibit,” adds the artist, “are displayed in a boutique style with shoes and bags, except the items displayed are only containers of such objects. The boxes and the deconstructed shopping bags engage in a dialogue between intuition and intention, outlining two different processes: one planned with specific outcome, the other, a spontaneous process allowing whim and chance. The work ironically challenges the fixed notion of containers, as merely an external protection or subordinate transporting aid, not quite qualifying as an entity in itself.” By focusing on the container, and the concept of containment, curator Jo Lauria notes “Helen maintains the integrity of the shoebox and the shopping bag by not adding anything or taking anything away.”
Bespoke shoemaker, Amara Hark-Weber considers the shoe “an extension of body, vehicle, representation of personal identity, inhibitor to/enhancer of movement, metaphor, fetish form, or simply utilitarian object.” Through sculptural footwear, Hark-Weber seeks to question our ideas of function and what we are willing to subject our bodies to.
‘My sculptural footwear is an exploration of human movement, building techniques, and visual metaphor. They are objects that come alive with personal narrative when worn, with the power to challenge the viewer’s ideas about form, function, body, and movement.”– Amara Hark-Weber
Elisabeth Thorsen, Shizaru (4th Monkey Boot), 2018, leather, hand-carved wood heels. Carving by Trude Johansen, detail.
“Andy Warhol glorified the shoe by using it as the sole seductive element of his still-lifedrawings, devoting entire portfolios to illustrations of women’s footwear.”– Jo Lauria, curator
The show also features artists who use images of shoes in their work. Spirited pen and ink drawings of shoes by Andy Warhol are included. According to the exhibition didactic, Andy Warhol began his career as a commercial artist in New York City in the 1940s and self-published hand-colored prints of his campy and glamorous shoes.
“Widely distributed in fashion magazines such as Glamour and Vogue, Warhol’s illustrations elevated the pump to an object of desire.” – Jo Lauria, curator
Joshua Wong’s artwork of glamorous shoes, reflects his life-long love of footwear as luxury item. Inspired by the Upper East Side ladies of Manhattan hailing cabs in their 4-inch heels, Wong launched a successful career designing women’s footwear and handbags. Wong’s love for fashion illustration began in childhood when he was four years old, when his parents noticed that he was drawing high-heeled shoes and racing cars. He later mastered these skills at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
After a career in advertising Ralph Lauren hired Joshua to be his women’s collection footwear designer. There, he was involved in “the fast-paced world of runway shows and super models.” While traveling to Paris, Milan and London, Joshua was inspired to capture even more stories of fashion and design. Later on, he became the vice president of footwear design at Banana Republic. Joshua currently enjoys developing the next generation of designers as a mentor at various schools and is an official mentor at his alma mater, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. (2: From Artist Bio, Joshua Wong)
Amara Hark-Weber – Measurements, a work in progress
Andy Warhol, reproductions of original ink and pen drawings of shoes. Courtesy of Sotheby’s photography.
Joshua Wong, “Snake Shoe” ink and pen drawing on paper
Gregory Weir-Quiton is a legendary fashion illustrator who can usually be seen at Los Angeles art events, sitting in the middle of the crowd, drawing from life.
“My passion is drawing the contemporary figure. Fashion design obviously influences my work since what intrigues me is how people design themselves (and everyone does). The drawing is an end in itself and I rarely add anything once the pose is over.” – Gregory Weir-Quiton
As a young person Weir-Quiton saw a fashion illustration in the local Detroit newspaper, and he knew he had found his calling. He graduated from Cass Tech High School, majoring in fashion illustration and then received a scholarship to Art Students League. He worked in New York and Chicago before moving to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, he met and married his wife Pamela Weir-Quiton a celebrated wood worker. Her fantastic collection of shoe wear is featured in the exhibit. For 35 years, Gregory worked with major California retailers in the fashion industry including, THE MAY COMPANY, ROBINSONS, BULLOCKS, THE BROADWAY and I. MAGNIN. In this role, Gregory honed his skills of drawing shoes for advertisements. He would later refine these skills to create his more personal fashion illustrations of the human figure, accessorized. After a long career in fashion illustration, Gregory reinvented himself at Hollywood advertising agency, BLT & Associates, where he works on major film and television releases. Gregory’s original concept sketch, drawn on a napkin for Stephen Spielberg, eventually became the iconic DREAMWORKS logo of the boy fishing on the crescent moon.
Gregory Weir-Quiton, ink and pen drawing
Gregory Weir-Quiton, pencil drawings on paper, for Bullocks Wilshire.
Gregory Weir-Quiton, Pencil on paper drawing for Bullocks Wilshire.
Through painting and object making, Alex Becerra pays homage to the lowly footwear traditionally worn in rural settings by Mexican laborers or in urban environments as “Gang-style Street wear” when the sandals are worn with white tube socks. The painting and object combination of huaraches references the artist’s Mexican-American heritage. The artist constructed traditional Mexican huaraches out of sheets of dried acrylic paint that were cut and woven by hand, to mimic the authentic leather sandals. Becerra’s engaging oil paintings are placed on the wall behind his real-life shoe subjects for maximum effect.
Phyllis Green is a Los Angeles artist, educator and curator who is interested in “integrating gender politics and craft.” Primarily a sculptor, she also works in performance, installation and video. Her contribution to the show is a soft sculpture, a lotus flower shape, crafted from sheepskin and topped with sheepskin slippers. Born in Minneapolis, Green grew up in Winnipeg Canada and attended the University of Manitoba. In 1978 she moved to Los Angeles and earned an MFA from UCLA in 1981. Green has lectured globally and has held various teaching positions at UCLA, USC at Loyola Marymount University. (3: From Artist Bio and Wikipedia, Phyllis Green)
Green’s “formally beautiful body of work somehow engages art history, contemporary social and political issues and heartfelt mystical spirituality without missing a beat” – Doug Harvey
Alex Becerra, L-R: NIKE Waffle Racer, 2019, oil on linen. Actual NIKE Waffle Racer shoes displayed on shelf below. Self Portrait with Huaraches, 2019, oil on canvas. Huaraches, 2013, hand-woven acrylic paint, displayed on shelf below.
Artist Phyllis Green, with her sculpture “Stepping on a Lotus”
A Step Beyond: Contemporary Footwear, Functional to Fanciful curated by Jo Lauria now showing virtually at the Ben Maltz Gallery, OTIS.
Katie Nartonis is a 20th century design specialist, curator and filmmaker with over 20 years experience in the auction field. She is passionate about the work of the post-war California studio artists and craftsmen. She is currently co-authoring a book on the San Diego maker Jack Roger Hopkins. More info at at www.thenartonisproject.com.
We asked for submissions for an ongoing story called, “The Quarantine Diaries”; a quick look at where people are at and what they’re doing. For our first outing we visited upon our Arts Editor and our Fishing/Wildlife Editor Katie Nartonis and Phil Miller. These days they are somewhere in the low slopes of Joshua Tree.
Phil Miller is a sculptor and custom furniture maker who works primarily in metal and found objects. I’m lucky to share my life with Phil and many of his beautiful and finely crafted objects.
The Breast of Drawers (2018), is a custom art furniture piece which was first designed in 1992. Miller created the initial example in a pink and black finish, and it is in a private collection on the West Coast. He likes to tell the story that he finished it the day the riots broke out in Los Angeles. This white on white example was created for an art show in 2018, “Nature: Human Nature” at Loft at Liz’s gallery in Hollywood.
Raised on the coast of Washington State on a clam farm, after college Phil co-founded the 1960’s Seattle art band Lamar Harrington. In 1977, Miller moved to Los Angeles. He played in various bands, opening for the Dead Kennedys at their first LA gig as part of the punk supergroup The 1, 2, 3, 4, Fuck You! band. He later managed the seminal punk group The Screamers.
Miller owns land in remote eastern Washington state which is populated with his sculptures.
Los Angeles has lost a pillar of the art community. Peter Loughrey, respected art dealer and the founder of the venerable Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) has passed away at the all too young age of 52, after a year long struggle with cancer.
Loughrey was a formidable and visionary force in the auction world, establishing the very first successful boutique auction house in the country dedicated exclusively to modern design. In addition to his role as LAMA’s founder, director, and principal auctioneer, Loughrey was a skilled writer and curator who worked tirelessly to share the stories of the art objects and artists he so admired. Loughrey became a house-hold name, appearing regularly as an appraiser on PBS’ show “Antiques Roadshow” as well as other national television shows. He will be remembered as a loving son, brother, friend, and husband of 27 years to his beloved wife Shannon.
Peter Alexander Loughery was born on February 20, 1968 and grew up in scenic Salisbury, Maryland. The son of Irish parents, his physician father Theo and homemaker mother Claire raised their two sons and daughter in a rural and idyllic setting. Peter grew up close to his extended family in Ireland, and is part of a tight-knit group who adore their American cousin. His childhood stories paint a Tom Sawyer-like childhood spent fishing the local rivers, racing cars on empty wooded roads with his buddies, and running with abandon along the tops of moving trains jumping from car to car. It was this dare-devil streak, combined with his encyclopedic knowledge and a passion for marketing, that ultimately made LAMA the first successful auction house in the world dedicated exclusively to selling 20th Century modern art and design.
At the age of 20 in 1988, Peter originally headed to Hollywood to try his hand as a stuntman in the film industry. His career in the movies was short lived, but his adventurous spirit never waned. In the early days, Peter was living happily out of a van parked by the ocean in Marina Del Rey. He and his older brother, Joe ran a small business hunting for unique treasures at local estate sales to re-sell at the flea market. Later they opened a design gallery together on Beverly Boulevard in 1989. It was still a time when mid-century design could be scored at garage sales and rescued from the curbside trash. “I found that out here, a lot of people didn’t know what antiques were and what a good antique was,” Loughrey told CNBC in 2017, “and I started trusting my eye and buying things and flipping them.”
When Peter Loughrey first moved to California he was so enamored by the modernist homes he’d pass while driving through Brentwood and Bel Air that he’d often stop, ring the doorbell and ask the owner for a tour. “A little old lady would answer and I’d say ‘Is this a Neutra house?’” recalls Peter, referring to pioneering Austrian-American architect Richard Neutra. “She’d say ‘Yes! How did you know?’ Then she’d let me in, make me a sandwich and show me around.”
After the untimely death of his brother Joe in 1993, Peter briefly took a job selling medical equipment in Philadelphia. It was during this time that Peter was first diagnosed with cancer. The silver lining to this chapter is that he reconnected with his childhood friend, Shannon Carragher. Shannon, who grew up in the same small coastal town as Peter, happened to work in the accounting office at the NIH where Peter was being treated. “I swore if I got out of this, if I beat this lymphoma, I’m going to be the best art dealer I can be,” he later said. Peter was now fully recovered, thanks in part to Shannon’s regular visits, asked Shannon’s hand in marriage. Having completed the auction course at Sotheby’s in London, Peter and Shannon headed back to Los Angeles together in 1995, determined to establish their own design auction business. With Shannon now working by his side, the couple would eventually grow Los Angeles Modern Auctions into a world-renowned institution.
From the very early days, LAMA led the field in the rediscovery and celebration of mid-century design on the West Coast. The early auction audiences were a who’s who of design enthusiasts and budding collectors that including famous actors, designers, architects, and other LA luminaries. Highlights from LAMA’s ascent include the commission to liquidate the Silver Lake architectural offices of Richard Neutra as well as the corporate art collection of the Atlantic Ritchfield Corporation (ARCO) in 1999. That same year, LAMA set the world record for a design sold at auction by Charles and Ray Eames. Notably, LAMA carved a niche into the international market through milestone auctions dedicated to individual designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Paul Laszlo, and R.M. Schindler.
After conquering the design market, Peter turned his considerable talent and passion to the sale of contemporary art and would soon establish LAMA as an International force in the contemporary art field. During his nearly 30 year tenure, LAMA has set dozens of auction records and sold more than $100 million in total sales. Highlights including the work of such luminaries as Ruth Asawa, Sam Maloof, DeWain Valentine and Andy Warhol.
Peter co-curated many Los Angeles gallery shows, including Gio Ponti: Furnished Settings & Figuration (2004) and Dutch Design (2005), both at ACME Gallery, in addition to co-curating and publishing the exhibition catalogue for Gaetano Pesce: Pieces from a Larger Puzzle at Los Angeles’s Italian Cultural Institute (2010). In September 2017, Loughrey curated a show as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a Getty initiative, on Emerson Woelffer. He has also written numerous articles and was a contributor in the books Case Study Houses (TASCHEN 2003), Julius Schulman Modernism Rediscovered (TASCHEN 2007), and Collecting Design (TASCHEN 2010). LAMA has also conducted auctions for prominent California estates, and institutions such as LACMA, the Palm Springs Art Museum, Playboy Enterprises as well as the artist James Pristini and collector Max Palevsky. Peter also served as a member of the board of the Decorative Arts Council at The Los Angeles County Museum, LACMA.
All those who knew Pete were blessed to have known a man whose vast knowledge of art and design was surpassed only by his wit, kindness and generosity. He leaves behind his loving wife Shannon, his parents Theo and Claire, and sister Helen. In addition, Peter had a network of loyal friends who thought the world of him, and will miss him greatly. With the continued guidance of Shannon Loughrey, and along with her dedicated and expert staff, LAMA will operate as before – while continuing to celebrate Peter’s formidable legacy.
Southern California is rich with historically important artists and makers. In the mid 20th Century, trail-blazing craftspeople and designers of all kinds were working up-and-down the California coast, creating work of distinctive character and enduring beauty. These pioneers, many who are still with us today, are considered the backbone of the celebrated California Design movement.
Michael Arntz is a Santa Barbara based ceramic artist, and former educator, whose long career has produced an influential body of both monumental sculpture and smaller scale works that continue to be collected and shown nationally. His work has been sold at fine auction and is included in many noted national collections. Eudorah Moore, the celebrated curator of the famed “California Design” Exhibitions (1962-1976) included Arntz’s work along with the most famous West Coast designers and makers of his generation.
Various examples and detail, of Michael Arntz’s ceramic sculpture
In 1967, in a review of his show of large ceramic sculptures the Los Angeles Times wrote of twenty-eight-year-old Michael Arntz:
“Arntz’s statements are as eloquent as a commanding totem pole, as fertile of symbol as fruit about to burst with ripeness. They might have grown out of the earth—overnight, as a mushroom appears. Discovering them, one is tempted to associate them with magic powers, or make use of them in invocations to the pagan deity for rich harvest.” In a full-page profile of Arntz in 1970, the Christian Science Monitor described his “monolithic forms, convoluting shapes, slab-constructions dripping with appendages create a feeling of strength, of growing things.” Michael Arntz told the Monitor at the time, “I try to bring together the organic and the inorganic.”
In 2018, The Landing Gallery in Los Angeles held the show “Ken Nack/Michael Arntz: Santa Barbara 1960’s – 1980’s.” Gerard O’Brien, Director of The Landing notes that “some of his (Arntz’s) sculptures feel geological—at times featuring a split reminiscent of earthquake fissures, allowing the viewer to see their insides, and are sometimes painted with stripes reminiscent of the earth’s striations—while others feel biological. Still others —especially those in plexiglass or metal—include sharp edges, perfect globes, or snaking tubes. All reflect a freedom of form and zest for experimentation that feels exceptionally Californian.”
Ken Nack/Michael Arntz show at The Landing Gallery, Los Angeles in 2018 – photo courtesy of The Landing
Michael Arntz was born in Los Angeles in 1939. Michael’s parents were divorced soon after Michael was born and he was left, for most of his early years, with his maternal grandmother who lived in the San Fernando Valley just outside of LA. His memories from that time are of walking to school through rich farmland where he would pick carrots, turnips and oranges to eat on the way. He also had fond memories of getting money from his grandmother to buy eclairs from the Helman’s Bakery wagon. That, according to his wife Penny, began his life-long passion for sweets.
Michael’s father lived in Santa Monica and his mother in Oklahoma City. In the summers, Michael would spend his time as a ‘latch-key kid’ at his father’s home near the Santa Monica beach. He cooked himself fried-rice and fish that he and his buddies caught off the Ocean Park Pier. Michael notes that the eroded cliffs across from the beach along the Pacific Coastal Highway (PCH) were an important influence on Michael’s work. Indeed, his later “Mountain Pots” series all depict the eroded, gouged earth and cliffs he saw so often in his youth.
Michael Arntz, “Mountain Pot” series
Returning to California after graduating from Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City, Michael headed to Santa Monica City College. His father had by then moved to Zuma Beach, where he and Michael built a small home together by hand.
Michael earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from California State, Long Beach in 1962 and went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts from the same institution.
A football scholarship started his college career at Santa Barbara City College and then followed with him to Long Beach State University – a total of eight years of college football. He recalls that during his first year he played the freshmen at UCLA, Stanford and USC were ineligible so they all came to SBCC to play. That incredible team won the National Junior College Championship in the Rose Bowl and Michael still wears his championship hat proudly to this day.
To keep his scholarship, as his grades needed a boost, he signed up for a ceramics class which ultimately led him to change from an architecture major to an art major. At Long Beach State he was awarded the job of technical assistant in the ceramic studio – with a key, and unlimited hours. The kilns were big, he was strong and talented and his first monumental clay sculptures ensued.
In the seminal 1976 survey of Californian makers “Craftsman Lifestyle: The Gentle Revolution” by Olivia H. Emery, Michael notes his natural gravitation toward sculptural work. “While I was in school, we went to visit the Heinos (famed Ojai ceramicists Otto and Vivika) to see how a limited production studio worked. I was very impressed when Otto ‘kicked’ (on the kick potter’s wheel) a large pot to show how strong and functionally satisfactory his product was, but I realized at the same time that I was not interested in how well my pot worked as a functional object…I wanted to make a statement in clay”
David Cressy at the famed manufacturer Architectural Pottery (“AP”) company hired Arntz while he was still a student. For his first job out of school, he continued as the lead designer-craftsman at Architectural Pottery from 1963 to 1965. Wife Penny remembers “Michael would come home from working there and have to soak his hands in hot water to make them function again.” She continues that while he did not sign those Cressy pieces – “so many that we see coming up for sale today at design auctions now are his – we are sure.”
In 1965, Arntz was hired as a Professor of Studio Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Alfred Moir, the Department Chair at UCSB came to Cal State Long Beach to ask Michael to come to Santa Barbara to visit. According the Penny, “Michael saw the campus by the ocean, the lagoon right out from the Art Department and just grabbed the job. He loved his students, the studio there, the lagoon and the ocean for 38 years.”
Student Joanne awards Michael Arntz with “Best Professor” award, 1969
Years of summer camping trips canoeing, hiking and fishing (making his own split bamboo rods and tying flies) furthered his passion for the outdoors and all of nature. The forms and patterns of nature inspired his work and his preference for an outdoor placement for his sculpture. “Placement in the outside environment is also what interests me. Nature is inspiration, and I’m equally interested in the way my piece relates to the environment and the environment to my piece.”
Michel built two homes for his family by hand and cabin designs for three fiberglass boats. One was a 26′ Coquille he used for commercial lobster fishing – swimming into faculty meetings at UCSB when he was department chair – having anchored in Goleta Bay. He held his clothes up out of the water as he swam ashore.
Penny Arntz notes that Michael and a few of his colleagues at UCSB (biology and geology) worked together to establish ‘the Ranch’, given by Duke Sedgwick to UCSB, as a nature reserve as Duke intended. Others at the university had tried to break the trust and subdivide a big portion of the property. Michael went to the local press and revealed the plot and was censured by the Academic Senate, of which he was a member. He was terrified at the time that he has lost his job, but happily, there were no negative repercussions.
Arntz retired as Professor Emeritus from UCSB in 2003 with a party in the ceramic studio courtyard. The University’s Chancellor and Vice Chancellor attended with many of the faculty and Michael’s former students. He received numerous awards, fellowships and commissions during his almost forty-year tenure at the University.
Over his long career, there were numerous solo exhibitions including at the famed Esther Bear Gallery in Santa Barbara, the Fairtree Gallery in New York and The Long Beach Museum of Art.
His work has appeared in group exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum, the Long Beach Museum of Art, and the Pasadena Museum of Art. He is represented in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
He has received numerous awards, fellowships and commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, The American Craft Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The recent Ventura County Museum’s current show “California Cool: Mid-Century on the Central Coast” included a fine example of Arntz’s work alongside other master designer craftsmen of the central coast. The show was curated by curator/design specialists Steve Aldana, Jordan Downs and Eric Huff.
Michael’s great love is his family – his wife Penny, his daughters Rebecca and Michele, son Chris and his beloved grandchildren. While his life has slowed, his work has left a lasting legacy, and has cemented his reputation as one of the most important living makers on the West Coast.
Michael’s retrospective at the Landing Gallery Sept 22, 2019. He and wife Penny is pictured with a former graduate student John Doloszycki and John’s wife.
PamelaWeir-Quiton is an influential Los Angeles based woodworker who has been making finely crafted sculptural works since 1965.
Her work has appeared in multiple publications over the years, including the cover of LA Home Magazine, and has been exhibited and collected nationally since the 1960s. She is considered an important part of the West Coast studio movement, and she is one of only a few veteran female artists working with wood. A lover of fashion,she originally planned to be a fashion designer. She has become a ‘bandsawfashionista.”
Known for her stylized functional doll forms and life-sized ‘rocking animals,’ Weir-Quiton is currently celebrating her 50th studio year. Championed by thelegendary LA curator, Eudorah Moore, her work was included in the seminal“California Design” exhibits (1964-1976) at the Pasadena Museum which definedthe look of West Coast design for generations.
Weir-Quiton’s work is a part of the fabric and history of the LA Design scene. Earlier this fall, a retrospective of her work was held to much acclaim at the Craft in America Center in Hollywood. A recent visit to her West Adams studio revealed how the artist is currently thinking about her work and her legacy.
KN:Your work has largely focused on animal and human figures made of wood. How has your observations of the interaction between man and critter effected your work?
PWQ: You know being in a military family, I would talk to my cats. And later, to my dogs. Being here, working alone in the studio and basically being an outsider, my dogs are more than muses. They are almost human to me.
When I was very young, my father was in the Air Force. My mother and I moved to Indiana to be closer to family. There is a place there, a nature preserve, where we would go for walks. That’s where my“nature walk “ necklaces come from. (photo)
I have always believed in fairy tales. So my fairy tale is like a kind of Hansel and Gretel, only with a good witch. So in my version of the story, we would gather nuts and things and we would go back to the good witch’s cottage where she just happens to have a wood shop, and a drill press. And you drill holes in everything you have found and you string it together!
KN: Is that a view of the creative process as a kind of magic, as alchemy?
PWQ: It is that, I’m not doing it. And, that anyone can tap into this channel!
All that I can say, is that it is intuitive. And now, more so than ever for me. It’s really has become crystal clear by thinking about the law of attraction. By asking, how does this make me feel? I’ve always been able to capture the frame, and hold it, and sketch it. In the new studio (West Adams), I feel even more connections. I’m seeing piles of sacred scrap from older projects, and I’masking “what can I do with this?”
The materials and the tools, nothing else matters. That’s who I am. We don’t travel. There is nothing else that I want to do. Once I discovered woodworking at the wood shop at Cal State Northridge, there was no turning back, it was100% commitment. It’s like an obsession that grabs you by the throat. It’s like Colin Kaepernick, the “take a knee guy” – find something you love and if you have to – risk everything. That’show that am.
KN: If you were to go back and tell your 23-year old self something, what would it be?
PWQ: (Laughs) I guess I would tell myself that it always worked out!
You can only have one thought at a time, and the trick is to be able to shift it and focus. That’s what coming in, and turning on the lights in the woodshop, does for me. It’s vibration, it’s frequency, it’s energy. The woodshop is my yoga,my meditation – it’s everything good.
I know who I am. It’s not an ego thing. I’m not afraid to put myself out there, because I don’t feel like I’m pushing myself. It’s “come and play with me inthe Universe!”
Katie Nartonis is an Art + Design writer, curator and auction specialist based out of Los Angeles, California and sometimes Taos, New Mexico. Earlier this year she curated “Nature: Human Nature” an art +design show at Loft at Liz’s gallery in Los Angeles. She is currently finishing co-writing and publishing a book on the late San Diego designer/maker, “JackRogers Hopkins: California Maverick”(with Co -Writer/Editor Jeffrey Head). Sheis the founder of The Nartonis Project and is Art + Design Editor of SoCalMagazine. www.thenartonisproject.com
Known for his high level of craftsmanship, John Nyquist worked in exotic woods and created pieces that were impeccably made. He created spindle-back rockers, upholstered lounge chairs, credenza, music stands, free-edge coffee tables, jewelry boxes and dining tables among many other forms. His careful design choices, and his religious attention to the finishing (the polishing, sanding and fine upholstery and leathers) created lusciously tactile pieces that yearned to be touched, and used.
John Nyquist influenced generations with his teaching and his life-long studio practice. He taught at CSLULB and Cerritos College as well as at the Anderson Ranch in Colorado during the Summer. Gerard O’Brien of Los Angeles’ Reform Gallery/The Landing handles Nyquists work. O’Brien notes:
“Like many of the makers in the post WW2 era, John will be remembered for mentoring many a woodworker as an educator, and inspiration for making ones way as a craftsman. He was also an incredible draftsman, his line drawings were a work of art in and of themselves.”
John Nyquist was born in 1936 in South Dakota and raised in the Black Hills. His father was a physician in the C.C.C. (Civilian Construction Corps). The artist remembered his very cold early years living under the shadow of Mt. Rushmore:
“..we lived in a one room log cabin during that time. No running water and no electricity. The cabin was only a short distance from Mt. Rushmore, which was being constructed while we lived there. As a young child I remember the actual carving of the monument. After WWII, my father returned from the war and we moved to California.”
Nyquist met his lovely wife Shirley in Long Beach, when they were both in High School. They were married in 1957 and together they raised 6 beautiful children.
Over the last decade, Nyquist enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the hand-made studio movement of the 20th Century, and John’s work has been included nationally for sale in both fine 20th Century Design auctions and high-end design galleries on both coasts. In 2009, Nyquist was honored at Bonhams + Butterfields Auction Company as part of their ongoing Bonhams’ Design Lecture Series. Gerard O’Brien of Reform Gallery notes:
‘I had the good fortune to handle a number of John’s finest commissioned pieces over the years, a true highlight was having his arm chair from CA Design, inspired by Mexican furniture he had seen. John’s form and line were his own.’
John Nyquist represents a generation of artists and craftsmen who rejected a 9-5 desk job in order to live a more self-directed and fulfilling life in the arts. In 1976’ publication “Craftsman Lifestyle: A Gentle Revolution”, Nyquist noted:
“I take sincere pride in my work and confine it to one geographical area. I want to work directly with my clients, and stand behind my work, even after it has left the shop. I think if the individual takes personal responsibility for the attitudes and actions that represent him, he has a more meaningful life.”
John simply loved to work and he would get lost in his studio, working for hours and hours in his creative “groove.” In 1976 John described his studio time:
“One of the satisfactions of being a craftsman is the sensory pleasure you get from your materials and tools. I guess, when you get down to it, we craftsmen get to a point where there’s nothing we want to do as much as our work and then we find it hard to explain.”
His family notes that he had no clock or wristwatch in his studio.
“When it’s dark, I go home” – John Nyquist
John was laid to rest on Saturday, September 8th at a packed service at St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church in Long Beach. The Nyquist family and close friends gathered at the family home after the funeral for a lively and celebratory reception. There, John’s widow Shirley was surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Stories told by his students, children and colleagues remembered him as a dedicated, thoughtful, generous man and a skilled artisan and teacher.
John Nyquist will be missed.
Acknowledged influences on his own work are Shaker furniture, Scandinavian Design of the 1950’s and the organic shapes of nature.
A selection of John Nyquist’s work offered at Bonhams Auction Co. (Photo: Shirley Nyquist)
Nyquist’s work was shown consistently during his lifetime in major exhibitions and shows including the seminal “California Design” exhibitions (1964-1976) at the Pasadena Museum of Art. John maintained a studio practice, and a bevy of faithful private clients who commissioned his work for their homes and offices for over 60 years. In the last decades of his life, he enjoyed a national reputation as part of a small number of noted makers who led the West Coast studio-craft movement.
Katie Nartonis is an Art + Design writer, curator and auction specialist based out of Los Angeles, California and Taos, New Mexico. She is currently co-authoring a book on the seminal San Diego designer/maker, “Jack Rogers Hopkins: California Maverick”(with Co-Writer/Editor Jeffrey Head). She is the founder of The Nartonis Project and is Art + Design Editor of SoCal Magazine. www.thenartonisproject.com
A selection of John Nyquist’s work offered at Bonhams Auction Co. (Photo: Shirley Nyquist)
“History, context, one’s particular experience with a material, all play a tremendous role in the connection made between an artist and their viewer.”
Rebecca Niederlander is a sculptor and installation artist interested in revealing cosmic truth. Through contemplation, and a thoughtful manipulation of materials, Niederlander perceives clues to the subtle mapping of a larger order. The artist uses these hard-won insights to construct a new way of communicating – a new visual language.
A St. Louis native, and graduate of both UCLA and CCA (California College for the Arts), Niederlander works out of her Eagle Rock, California studio. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including a group show of Los Angeles artists at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
KN: Have you always thought of yourself as an artist? When did you first start making/creating?RN: Yes, I have always thought of myself as an artist. It is in the way I approach the world, and the way I communicate within it. When I was seven years old I won a coloring contest and received a seven foot tall stocking filled with toys. I have always been a maker. I realized early that my way of seeing the world was actually different than many people. That has been a good thing, and a hard thing as well. Being a creative professional involves finding ways to communicate in the internal language one has. Community is created through communication, and having spent my entire life sorting out the best ways to do such.
KN: I discovered in an artist statement about your work that you speak of “interrogating the materials lovingly.” How does this thoughtful interrogation lead to an artistic breakthrough?
RN: I consider myself a materialist in the truest sense of the word. I look at materials as a significant part of conveying whatever the specific message is for a given work. Certain materials, like paper, give a very intentional read to a work, while steel, obviously, will lend itself to wildly different reads. History, context, one’s particular experience with a material, all play a tremendous role in the connection made between an artist and their viewer. I take that connection to heart in the initial stages of developing a project by working a material and putting it through its paces. I’ve had projects that I think will work really well in a particular medium, only to discover through exploration that something else is significantly superior.
KN: Your newest series incorporates the use of salvaged wood pieces adopted from wood workers’ shop refuse piles. As part of the works, you interview the maker about their process, and explore how the intent of the work is imbued – even absorbed – into the cast-off material. Can you describe this series a bit more?
RN: The current series involves making pilgrimages to wood-workers shops, and interviewing them about their spiritual practice, after which I take their scraps and combine them to make new sculptural works. I also have a degree in journalism, and have extensive experience with interviewing and human-interest stories. My interviews are off the record, and completely about honoring the particular experiences of the wood workers. Anyone involved with a particular medium, and I’ll go out on a limb here to give a special shout-out to those in the designated craft mediums, has a particular fondness of their medium which has a lover’s-type relationship to it. They have grown with it, and understand it in the way an old couple does. As someone who varies their medium over my own decades as an artist, I wanted to find a specific path to exploring the ways these creative professionals might have a spiritual connection to their material.
I am deeply committed to the idea that we are all in community with each other, and to finding the connection that creates the ability to be an empathetic person and a part of any community. By honoring these people and the soul/ghosts of their work, and then honoring their scraps/trash/discards, and then creating new communities through the assembling of cast-offs into new and exciting works, I am visually describing what is possible for each of us when we connect with another. Each of the sculptures in the series is totally unique. They are connected by the materials, and my manipulation, but part of the rubric is that I can not alter the wood. No cutting is allowed. Thus each element becomes a part of an unknown puzzle that must be solved in my studio. I see interacting with other people in the same way. Each connection is a puzzle to work out.
Katie Nartonis is an art historian who specializes in West Coast Art + Design. As writer, curator, designer and film-maker Nartonis endeavors to tell untold stories of the artists and makers whose work contributes to the fabric of the larger California art scene. She serves as Art + Design Editor for SoCal Magazine.