From California Design (1954) to California Design (2011)

This Saturday, LACMA will host the symposium The Legacy of the California Design Exhibitions about the important exhibition series organized by the Pasadena Art Museum between 1954 and 1976. Over the last few years, as we formulated our own California Design exhibition, on view now, we returned again and again to this earlier project, which proved to be a bellwether of the state of design and craft in its time.

Exhibition catalogue from the first California Design, 1954

The first of the twelve exhibitions, held in 1954, surveyed the innovative goods produced in the state with a strong emphasis on Los Angeles County. Reflecting the era’s fluid ideas about making that were exemplified in California’s creative environment, the earliest installments freely mixed unique hand-produced crafts with industrially produced designs. The series’s first curator, Clifford Nelson, noted that all of these goods were functional housewares and urged Californians to purchase the best of what the state had to offer.

Sam Maloof, Executive office chair, c. 1962, from California Design 8 (Pasadena: Pasadena Art Museum, 1962), photograph by Richard Gross

Over the run of the series, the landscape of design and craft changed drastically. Curator Eudorah Moore took the helm in 1962 with California Design 8, and quickly revamped the exhibitions to accommodate these changes, boosting the prestige and impact of the shows in the process. She instituted juries of prominent local designers and craftspeople and began to produce beautifully illustrated catalogues. 

In these catalogues, virtuoso examples of man-made goods are elegantly displayed within California’s dramatic natural landscapes. Flipping through these books, we were able to see first-hand how design and craft, which had been so inextricably linked in the 1950s, diverged as craftspeople began to explore more individualistic expressions. Moore’s prescient selections made these distinctions clear, documenting and promoting the changing attitudes around her.  Decades later, as we revisited these themes in our own show, these invaluable sources introduced us to new designers and helped us examine how their work shifted over this critical time period.

Organized with Craft in America, Saturday’s symposium delves deeper into this story. We will bring together Moore and several key collaborators, including Lois Boardman, Bernard Kester, and Richard Amend. A second panel will feature several designers and craftspeople whose work appeared in the original California Design series to discuss how the shows impacted their own careers. 

Staci Steinberger, curatorial assistant, Decorative Arts and Design

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