John Wallis and Associates: Home Savings Stained Glass from Installation to Repairs

Sue Hertel and John Wallis stained glass, carousel, Montebello, 1974. This site has been recently leased by a future good steward.

Sue Hertel and John Wallis stained glass, carousel (detail), Montebello, 1974. This site has been recently leased by a future good steward.

Last week I stopped into the Sunset and Vine branch of Home Savings. The mosaics look good, and the painted mural is mostly visible behind some cubicles. (As Tony Sheets mentioned this weekend, bank tasks change, and hence these spaces have had to evolve.) But it was the condition of the stained glass that stayed with me.

Sue Hertel and John Wallis and Associates, Hollywood branch stained glass at installation, 1968

Sue Hertel and John Wallis and Associates, Hollywood branch stained glass at installation, 1968

The Hollywood branch stained glass had some cracks, holes, or other damage–covered up with blue electrical tape! I introduced myself and told both the bank manager and Chase’s regional facilities manager who to contact for repairs: John Wallis and Associates stained glass.

In the current Huntington Frontiers magazine, I write about the marvels of the mosaic studio archives, from the time under both Millard Sheets and Denis O’Connor. But a visit with Susan Wallis, the current head of the stained glass firm and John’s daughter, and Helen Wallis, his widow, opened another window (pun intended) important for my research.

The Wallises generously explained the workings of the stained glass studio, and provided a chance to see their extensive files about the research, cost, process, and repairs of the stained glass.
Millard Sheets, Sue Hertel, Helen and John Wallis and (bank official?) at a Home Savings opening

Millard Sheets, Sue Hertel, Helen and John Wallis and (bank official?) at an opening. Courtesy of John Wallis and Associates.

Building designs, mosaics, and painted murals were all done in-house at the Studio, and the archives are filled with Millard’s correspondence about furnishings, carpet, tile, and paint color, and other details. But like sculpture, stained glass was a skill outside of Millard’s direct purview. In the case of glass, it was Sue Hertel, armed with the designs approved by Millard, who came over to the Wallis-Wiley or then John Wallis studios to select the glass colors, approve the “waxed-up” temporary design, and to paint the final details onto the windows.

The discussion of repairs in the files is really fascinating, too. From the very first years, there was vandalism, settling, earthquakes, and accidents that led to cracks and holes, and (mostly in the case of the 1994 earthquake) whole panels falling out and needing to be replaced. Using the original instructions, the same materials, and the same methods, Susan Wallis has kept the windows in pristine condition, with no indication of what had been replaced.

Stained glass in former Home Savings (now New Balance), behind screen, 2012

Stained glass in former Home Savings (now New Balance), behind screen, 2012

As far as I know, none of the Home Savings stained glass windows have been removed, so going to see them is the best way to appreciate them. (Santa Monica, though, is now protected but obscured by a screen, and Beverly Hills are blocked by the new stairs.) Choose a sunny day, and go see these gems, like the Ahmanson Trust windows! (Details on where to find them in the list; contact me with needed updates.)

 

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And – just another word of thanks to all those who came out to the L.A. Conservancy’s Mod Com tour and panel of Millard Sheets’ art and architecture last Sunday. The crowds and enthusiasm were great, and I enjoyed meeting so many of my correspondents, and seeing old friends in the cause.

If you have a memory, story, or question about the work of the Millard Sheets Studio or Home Savings, please do get in touch with me!

Millard Sheets Tour This Sunday!

Visitors at the Millard Sheets Studio, Claremont, c. 1958. Courtesy of the family of Melvin Wood.

Getting a head start on the tour! Visitors at the Millard Sheets Studio, Claremont, c. 1958. Courtesy of the family of Melvin Wood.

I am preparing my introductory slides and remarks for the L.A. Conservancy’s “Millard Sheets: A Legacy of Art and Architecture” tour this Sunday, March 18, so I won’t say too much here — except to encourage you to come!

The Conservancy has docents ready to explain seven sites in Claremont and Pomona with art and architecture from Millard Sheets, including his studio where much of the work was completed.

And then there is the 5:00pm panel, with sculptors Betty Davenport Ford and John Svenson, Sheets Studio architect Rufus Turner, Sheets Studio mosaicist Brian Worley, and two of Millard Sheets’s children, Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle and Tony Sheets. And I am  told many other individuals who worked in the Studio and on related art and architecture will attend as well.

This is a one-time-only set of events, so what are you waiting for? Buy those tickets now! See you Sunday!

Missing Home Savings Artwork: Wall Hangings from Huntington Harbor

Susan Hertel and Alba Cisneros, wall hanging for Torrance branch, Home Savings, 1980. Image courtesy of Alba Cisneros.

Susan Hertel and Alba Cisneros, wall hanging for Torrance branch, Home Savings, 1980. Image courtesy of Alba Cisneros.

The vast majority of Home Savings’s distinctive art and architecture cannot be moved easily: mosaics; stained glass; giant painted murals; large sculptures; and the architecture of the buildings themselves. In a few cases, they have been torn down or painted over, but for the most part the artwork is in place, though at times hidden or damaged by changes to the bank’s layout, security, or convenience features.

But this week I want to focus on that which was movable from the Home Savings banks, and see if you my avid Internet audience might have ideas on where items are. There are some wood-panel murals that have been removed from the Pasadena Home Savings and the Pomona Buffum’s, as well as the mural from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel; these all seem to be safely maintained. There are the original Millard Sheets sketches for Home Savings projects, some of which are for sale by Alan Wofsy Fine Arts. And there are various commemorative brochures and prints offered at the openings of Home Savings in Beverly Hills and Hollywood, and Pomona First Federal in Claremont and Pomona; I have seen a number of each, some in library collections. There are calendars and advertisements too, with fascinating messages, which are harder to find — more on that in another post.

Susan Hertel and Alba Cisneros, wall hanging for Huntington Harbor branch, 1979, in 1980 Home Savings calendar. Image courtesy of John Wallis and Associates stained glass.

Susan Hertel and Alba Cisneros, wall hanging for Huntington Harbor branch, 1979, in 1980 Home Savings calendar. Image courtesy of John Wallis and Associates stained glass.

But what about these wall hangings, done for Huntington Harbor and Torrance, or the mosaic tables produced by the Millard Sheets Studio for Lakewood, the Van Ness branch in San Francisco, and the Arden Way branch in Sacramento? Can anyone say if any of those survive? (I also hear there is a version of the Home Savings shield done in stained glass for an Ahmanson Center corporate office; I am keeping track of these movables as I mull whether an exhibit might be possible alongside my book.)

The wall hangings are especially interesting, as they are more quilting or embroidery, rather than the tapestries that the Studio produced earlier for the Foley Communication Arts Center at LMU, as well as the Garrison Theater, produced in Aubusson, France. (It is unclear what kind of fabric art was in the Home Savings branches at Montebello and Mountain View as well.)

Alba Cisneros, who worked in the studio for many years, recalls having these wall hangings stretched out across her living room, sewing them quickly for the bank opening. Their theme and color palette, by Sue Hertel, reflect traditional Home Savings designs, but the new medium provides new textures and depth of color — as well as the portability that leads to the question of where they are.

Do you have leads on any of these items? Are any still in these banks? Have they been preserved? Do let me know.

Also: a REMINDER of the L.A. Conservancy’s Millard Sheets tour in Claremont and Pomona on Sunday, March 18, 10:00am-4:00pm. At 5:00pm there will be a panel discussion with Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle (Millard’s daughter), sculptors Betty Davenport Ford and John Edward Svenson, architect Rufus Turner, and Studio mosaicist Brian Worley — and I will introduce the session with slides relating the tour sites to my overall research. I assume lots of others involved with this artwork will be there too. Hope to see you!

Home Savings Towers: Later Efforts at Distinctiveness

Home Savings and Loan tower, Covina

Home Savings and Loan tower, Covina

I have been on the Southern California freeways a lot recently–driving down to San Diego, out to Claremont, around and around the LA Basin, discussing my first book and finding new leads for Home Savings research. And though I have written before about the efforts to catalog what makes the Home Savings and Loan buildings distinctive, I have found another pattern worth noting: the Home Savings and Loan office tower.

Millard Sheets Studio, tower for Home Savings and Loan, Pomona, 1962

The first Home Savings tower seems a fluke: it was built in 1962 as part of the downtown Pomona Mall redevelopment, a project that was a love note from Millard Sheets to his hometown, and something Howard Ahmanson and Home Savings seem to have joined as a favor to Sheets. The mall was toasted nationally as the future of urban renewal, and then faced its own decline — and now Chase has threatened the future of the tower as well. (Come tour the Pomona sites, and learn more from docents, a panel of Studio participants, and knowledgeable folks like me, at the L.A. Conservancy tour March 18th).

The tower was a one-off — Home Savings was not then in the business of building large office towers, nor of owning and managing commercial real-estate. And, because it may be the only Home Savings tower to have Sheets Studio art, I basically ignored the other towers for a while.

But I have been recently thinking about how the Home Savings brand was maintained by architecture even as the Sheets Studio branches changed (a topic for a future post), and I began to think more about the Glendale tower, and the Covina tower, and the one along the 405 in… Carson? Signal Hill? Clearly, Home Savings and Loan did become interested in tall office towers, likely for their commercial real estate space and their large branch spaces, after the S&L banking laws changed.

Home Savings tower, Covina, side view

Home Savings tower, Covina, side view

And of course it was nice that the towers could be their own Home Savings icons. These towers reflect the work of Frank Homolka for Home Savings, and their uniformity, with the space for the proud Home Savings name at the top and the shield along the shaft, created their own iconic recognition. (Here you can see Chase beginning to mimic this, with their logo on the side.)

Home Savings towers are  in sight of the freeway, along the main streets of these suburbs, and hence often they are the only office tower of their kind in, say, Covina. This reflects a continuation of the Home Savings siting policies of the decorated branches. But the choice not to include Sheets Studio art, combined with the ubiquity of this generic, pared-down modernist architecture, suggests these towers no longer stand out from their postwar peers. But they do serve as a part of the story of art, architecture, and the urban context of Home Savings and Loan — if a subtle one.

Martha Menke Underwood Dies: Pomona Valley Artist and Crucial Home Savings Mosaics Link

Martha Menke Underwood

Martha Menke Underwood

I was sad to learn that Martha Menke Underwood died on February 15, 2012. I had the chance to visit her in November 2010, on a day she was at work in her painting studio; like so many of the Pomona Valley artists with whom Millard Sheets collaborated, she had achieved renown in a number of media, before, during, and long after her time working for the Sheets Studio. She was especially known for her tapestries and other “stitchery” works.

Martha Menke Underwood, "stitchery," 1970

Martha had studied with Jean and Arthur Ames; Arthur had overseen her master’s thesis, and shared an interest in the revival of tapestries as a fine-art form. After graduating from Scripps and Otis, Martha was briefly employed by Wallis-Wiley Stained Glass (the contractor the Sheets Studio used as well) before working directly for Sheets. Some of her tapestries hung in the first major Sheets bank commission, for Mercantile National Bank in Dallas; she also became essential to the design, installation, and  construction of the early Home Savings mosaics.

Martha left the Sheets Studio soon after she was married, to the Sheets Studio architect S. David Underwood, in around 1960; they later divorced. But, in those busy years, Martha Menke Underwood was instrumental to the creation of the Sheets Studio style of mosaic work.

Though mosaics were essential to the new look of art and architecture that Millard Sheets was providing for Howard Ahmanson beginning in 1954, Sheets and those around him had no expertise in how to create them. Initally, the mosaics were designed in the Sheets Studio but sent to Italy or, Martha said, to Mexico for fabrication, but Sheets grew frustrated with a process out of his control, sending back versions of his designs stylized against his wishes.

According to Martha’s account, she was tasked with figuring out the process. After more frustration with imported mosaics–she specifically remembered having to piece together the outline for the Arcadia Home Savings and Loan mosaics on the spot, as the concrete backing for the installation waited–she took charge of ordering smalti and creating a tile-cutting and -setting procedure in the Sheets Studio.

Martha Menke Underwood tapestry behind freestanding Sheets Studio mosaic, Mercantile National Bank Building, Dallas, 1959

Martha Menke Underwood tapestry behind freestanding Sheets Studio mosaic, Mercantile National Bank Building, Dallas, 1959

Martha remembered how exhilarating but stressful work for the Sheets Studio could be. As the timing for completion of the Los Angeles Scottish Rite Masonic Temple mosaics was tight,  various sections of the four-story-tall exterior mosaic were taken for installation before she could be sure the colors and lines could match up. But I think the resulting mosaic (below) demonstrates how it worked out!

Finally, Martha decided to hire an artist who would take over the details of the mosaic operation, from ordering to installation. Her search led to the Studio’s master of mosaic fabrication, Denis O’Connor, whom Martha helped to train. Martha continued working for the Studio, part-time, and contributed to the iconic mosaics at Sunset and Vine, the Garrison Theater, and Notre Dame, among other projects.

Martha Menke Underwood followed the pattern of many Pomona Valley artists in finding the time working for Millard Sheets as invigorating but ultimately distracting from her own art interests. She credited Millard Sheets with arranging for her large-scale tapestries to be woven at the historic looms in Aubisson, France, and she stayed close to many of her fellow artists; she also taught art for 27 years at Chaffey College..

Her website holds many of her last works, as well as a picture with a wide smile, much like the one that welcomed me. She will be missed.

Millard Sheets, Martha Menke Underwood, and others in the Studio, Scottish Rite Temple exterior, 1963

Millard Sheets, Martha Menke Underwood, and others in the Studio, Scottish Rite Temple exterior, 1963

Steve Rogers at Sherman Oaks: Home Savings Art after the Millard Sheets Studio

Home Savings, Sherman Oaks, 1989 - bas-relief panels by Steve Rogers

Home Savings, Sherman Oaks, 1989 – bas-relief panels by Steve Rogers

It is great that the Millard Sheets Papers and the Denis O’Connor Papers have been donated to archives.They provide a tremendous amount of detail about the art and architecture of Home Savings, starting in 1954. There, the work of the Sheets Studio team is documented — a changing cast including these two men; their main collaborator Susan Lautmann Hertel; architects S. David Underwood, Rufus Turner, Robert Kurtz, Robert Nilson, Milton Holmes, F. Arthur Jessup, and Francis Lis, and Frank Homolka and Jess Gilkerson of Long Beach; contracted sculptors such as John Edward Svenson, Betty Davenport Ford, Albert Stewart, Renzo Fenci, and Paul Manship; John Wallis and Associates for stained glass fabrication; other Pomona Valley artists such as Arthur and Jean Ames, Martha Menke Underwood, Melvin Wood, and Sam Maloof; studio regulars including Nancy Colbath, Alba Cisneros, Brian Worley, and Jude Freeman. More than 200 projects are documented in this way (though the records remain incomplete, as described here).

But then there are at least 14 other Home Savings buildings with art and architecture to consider. Starting in 1989, Home Savings (then expanding as Savings of America into Florida, New York, and other states) decided to cut ties with Denis O’Connor and Sue Hertel, for reasons I have not quite figured out yet. At first, Home Savings fine arts coordinator Kristen Paulson added artists such as Steve Rogers, Richard Haas, Roger Nelson, Marlo Bartels and Astrid Preston, and in the final few years of commissions, these artists replaced O’Connor, Hertel, and the Sheets Studio method.

Why? Was it cost? Theses final works are mostly painted flat-tile artworks, still painstaking but less expensive than the traditional Sheets Studio mosaic. I am seeking out these artists to learn more, and I had the pleasure last month of interviewing Steve Rogers.

Steve Rogers in his Upland studio, 2012, with images from the Home Savings project

Steve Rogers in his Upland studio, 2012, with images from the Home Savings project

Steve first gained attention for his bas-relief panels of boxing scenes; in 1989, he received the Home Savings commission, and afterwards did a marvelous scene in the lobby of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District, the relief on the tiles jutting forward with the rush of the water. He has been recently working on fantastical images of chickens, showing the same energy and attention to bright colors and contrasts that his earlier work has shown.

Speaking with Steve Rogers and seeing his notes and files from the Home Savings commission, I was struck by how similar the process remained from the earliest works: choosing a theme that reflected local history or community; input from the artist and the bank representatives on themes and edits to make; and then the logistics of fabrication, engineering, and construction to get the image ready for permanent display along a busy street, over the door in earthquake country.

From the street (as we saw on the Autry bus tour of the Valley Home Savings sites), it looks easy, and simple: those images of Day Begins and Day Ends (titles the artworks should have but that are not on the pieces, another characteristic omission) at the local mission, the carreta out front, the man hard at work.

But, from the files, you can see the negotiations, the short time frames, the worries and contract provisions that went into making this art. From Steve, I got the same sense of what I can find in these files: this work was exhilarating, but the uncertainty could also be unnerving — Would it be done in time? Will I make any profit? Will there be another commission? Steve’s work shows the same knack for crystallizing the sentiment of the community, but unfortunately, he has not been chosen for similar projects after the Metropolitan Water District.

Steve Rogers, Hanna's View - Parker Dam, LA Metropolitian Water District headquarters, 1998

Steve Rogers, Hanna’s View – Parker Dam, LA Metropolitian Water District headquarters, 1998

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am in touch with more of these artists, and I welcome contact from even more artists, and their bank liaisons. I look forward to sharing more of the stories from the oral histories on the blog and in the eventual book.

Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Other Mysteries of the Sheets Studio archives

Redwood City Chase, 2300 Broadway, via Google StreetView

Redwood City Chase, 2300 Broadway, via Google StreetView

The responses to the “definitive list” have been great! I know the spreadsheet section is a bit hard to read, but the interactivity of the map provides a nice perspective on the scope of the project. I will integrate corrections, updates, and even clean up the map data in the weeks ahead. I even had a chance to see a 1992 Home Savings directory, so I can get a lot of the missing addresses.

But the addresses and the maps can’t do everything — and neither can the archives. As I may have mentioned, the Millard Sheets Papers and the Denis O’Connor Collection are spectacular resources for the workings of the studio, the names of those artists involved with each project, the costs and the timeline. But the paper record often peters out, and it can be unclear whether the project was suspended, canceled, finished by someone else, or simply completed without incident.

Google StreetView can provide some knowledge about what is there on the outside now, and historic photographs, when available, provide great evidence of what was there. But often all we have is memories about what was there — and so I ask again for your help with those memories.

The Redwood City branch provides a case in point. I visited Redwood City in the spring, on a swing through the Peninsula branches (more for the website, one of these days). The building was a Home Savings, it was clearly designed by Frank Homolka, and Update: This seems to have been a Guaranty Savings and Loan, a northern California bank chain once controlled by Howard Ahmanson, until 1958. It seems to have had a Sheets painted mural over the teller windows. I asked a manager about it, and he said it had been painted over — seemingly another case, like the West Portal mural, of Sheets Studio artwork being lost.

But — in the archives there is a discussion of a “Redwood City” branch at 650 Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park, and an order for two pumas from sculptor Betty Davenport Ford. I visited that location, and didn’t see evidence of those pumas either — but it is possible they, too, were never installed.

Menlo Park, 650 Santa Cruz Ave, via Google StreetView

Menlo Park, 650 Santa Cruz Ave, via Google StreetView

So, do Redwood City and Menlo Park have two cases of missing Sheets Studio art, or (as I suspect) was there never a mural there to paint over? Only those of you who have lived near this branch and banked there before 1998 can let me know for sure. The archives and the current visits can only get us so far.

A “Definitive” Map of Home Savings Locations and other Sheets Studio Work

Map of Home Savings artwork locations and Sheets Studio art (please click for interactive)

Map of Home Savings artwork locations and Sheets Studio art (please click for interactive)

See the current “definitive list” here — and the interactive, scalable map of the locations (with some somewhat misleading information on which artwork is where) here. Map courtesy of BatchGeo.

Well, I have finally done it. About two years after I discovered I was working with hundreds, not dozens, of sites, I finally have something like a definitive list of the 138 Home Savings / Savings of America sites with artwork ready. This is thanks to the archival Sheets Papers and Denis O’Connor (DOC) Papers, and the notes in those files from Sue Hertel (SLH in my code) — and a lot of hard work from volunteer (and former Home Savings employee) Teresa Fernandez, and the magic of Google StreetView.

It is not perfect — and I need your help to send in corrections. Send in correct addresses, send in new status updates, send in alerts of places you think are threatened. I have found that the California Art Preservation Act is included in many of these contracts between artists and Home Savings — even when the artwork was in, say, Florida — so there is a mechanism to help with their preservation.

This is an imperfect simplification of my main work database, which holds the names of each artist who worked on each piece, archival notes, construction dates vs. completion dates, and more. But I do hope that it leads to a lot more information about the current state of this artwork coming to light!

 

Home Savings, LACMA, and the mausoleum?

Tony Smith, Smoke, inside the LACMA Ahmanson Building atrium

Tony Smith, Smoke, inside the LACMA Ahmanson Building atrium

A few final thoughts from researching the Pacific Standard time exhibits and the Sheets Studio:

First, the LA Conservancy has a Pacific Standard Time tour of Millard Sheets sites in Claremont and Pomona on March 18. A great time to see these connections; sign-up info here. Stay late in the day, and I should be on hand as well for a panel discussion.

Second, have you ever noticed how the Ahmanson building at the LACMA looks a lot like the early Home Savings buildings? Howard Ahmanson clearly had his favorite architects — Edward Durrell Stone, William Pereira, and Millard Sheets’s Studio — and it seems the museum building borrows from the Home Savings look — blank travertine faces with no windows, lower entrance ways, into soaring central spaces. Instead of teller windows and interior mosaic, you get more blank faces in the Ahmanson building atrium, hiding the floors of art behind.

This element of the Home Savings architecture was derided as looking like a mausoleum — perhaps that is part of what motivated Ed Ruscha to dream of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire

Ed Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire, 1965-1968

Ed Ruscha, Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire, 1965-1968

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I have been busy with research at the Huntington, more oral histories, and new initiatives — including a definitive list of locations — to be highlighted here soon. Stay tuned!

Missing Millard Sheets: Pacific Standard Time and the Art of Home Savings

Dora De Larios, Franciscan 400 Series Contours CV Tile, 1963-1964, as installed by the Millard Sheets Studio at Pomona First Federal, Claremont

Dora De Larios, Franciscan 400 Series Contours CV Tile, 1963-1964, as installed by the Millard Sheets Studio at Pomona First Federal, Claremont

Pacific Standard Time is a juggernaut: over 60 exhibits in five Southern California counties, documenting and explaining — in many cases, for the first time — the role of the L.A. art scene on the world stage. The Getty has provided the bold vision (and the financing!) to create this massive multi-exhibit conversation, and the Performance and Public Art festival section of the shows, running from January 19 to 29, will only add to the marvel (and overwhelmingness) of it all.

Pacific Standard Time has included many overlooked artists, overlooked art forms, overlooked themes, and overlooked art. And what was included reflected what the participating art organizations wanted to highlight. But the fleeting presence of Millard Sheets in the Pacific Standard Time shows demonstrates some of the art-world boundaries that remain.

First, disclaimers: I know I am letting the myopia of my Home Savings project drive this post. I know that Sheets was already a nationally known artist before 1945. And I will get to the three Pacific Standard Time shows that include Sheets below.

But if the Pacific Standard Time exhibits would have commissioned an art-world treaty painting like the one showing Paris ceding to New York, Millard Sheets would have clearly been a face in the crowd, given not only his prominence among the California watercolor painters but his role as Director of Fine Arts at the LA County Fair 1930-1955, teaching at Scripps College 1931-1954, director of the Otis Art Institute after 1953, and his role advising Howard Ahmanson as he shepherded the Los Angeles County Museum of Art into being, and Sheets’s later role in curating the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation collections, now a permanent part of the Huntington collections. Perhaps Sheets’s influence is too large and too disparate to measure easily.

As this blog and the associated research project suggest, Sheets’s most important art contribution to LA after 1945 was the art and architecture of the Home Savings banks. Sheets managed a studio full of artists and architects to turn initial sketches and an open-ended offer from Howard Ahmanson into landmarks of the local community, telling history and celebrating family life through very traditional art forms: mosaic; conventional figurative paintings; stained glass; sculpture. In no way avant-garde, done for a commercial patron to advertise their business, it is easy to understand why the Pacific Standard Time exhibits (and other standard art-history studies) have missed the importance of these Home Savings works for the landscape of postwar southern California (and beyond).

But — there are elements of this story in four of the Pacific Standard Time exhibits. In order of increasing relevance, I give you:

4) California Design, 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way” at LACMA. This is the marquee decorative-arts and design exhibit for Pacific Standard Time, and it delivers — everything from an Airstream trailer to the reconstruction of Charles and Ray Eames’s living room in the gallery. There are the perfect exemplars that match the white-walled modernist setting — for example, a Japanese-style screen painted by Millard Sheets — but also lots of helpful contextual information on the source of inspirations, the choice of design media, the marketing and distribution of these products, often intended for the home or daily use. Items from Sheets’ influential 1954 Arts of Daily Living show are echoed here as well.

3) Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California, 1945-1975 at the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA). This show uses Millard Sheets as an organizing principle–ceramicists with a “direct connection” to Sheets and “his dynamic personality, inspirational teaching, and business savvy” are included. The AMOCA’s new space has a spectacular Sheets and Hertel mural along one wall, and one part of the exhibit puts ceramic tiles used by the Sheets Studio (like those above) into their original context, in an artist-in-industry program Millard Sheets established with Franciscan Ceramics, including the work of Dora De Larios, and which led him to do some large-scale ceramic-tile mosaics with Interpace. And its exhibit book has the most up-to-date scholarship on Millard Sheets’ role as interface between business and industry, with essays by Hal Nelson and others that will be a spectacular resource for me.

Dora De Larios’ work was also included in the Autry’s Pacific Standard Time exhibit, part of the L.A. Xicano subset of PST. Race and memory, nostalgia and the growing multiculturalism of postwar southern California is key to how I situate the Home Savings artwork, so I found

2) Sandra De La Loza’s Mural Remix installations at LACMA very powerful. I particularly like the video installation where naked men and women paint the murals onto themselves (through some green-screen magic), demonstrating some of the ways in which the murals become a part of us — something that I think is true of the Home Savings work as well. The more standard video documentary — catching up with Judy Baca and other 1970s Chicano muralists in LA — has lots of great info as well. There is also an affiliated tour with Sandra on Saturday January 21.

1) The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945–1985 at the Huntington Library. If I have to pick a #1 exhibit for understanding the Home Savings artwork and the Sheets Studio work, this is it. The LACMA has the Eames’ living room, but this exhibit, curated by Hal Nelson, feels like Sheets’s living room, with a collection of his POmona Valley colleagues from Sam Maloof to enamelists Arthur and Jean Ames to sculptors Betty Davenport Ford, John Edward Svenson, and Albert Stewart, Sheets’s constant collaborator, painter Sue Hertel, represented with work in their own style, but with hints at how Millard Sheets also used some of their talents in Home Savings buildings as well.  

Am I missing something? Let me know in the comments. And read more about these exhibits and their ties to Sheets herehere, here, here, here, and here.