Defining California Design

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Hearing that the event we were at tonight was being held by the Museum of California Design gave us quite a start. “Uh, what? There’s a museum of California design? And it’s in LA?”

Turns out, MoCAD (you’ll pronounce it mo-cad, not moca-d like we were) is only a virtual museum as it looks for a home (um, join forces with A+D?). However, founder-curator-visionary Bill Stern has organized exhibitions at other museums to answer to some of the questions about California design: what is it; what makes it special?

Tonight’s event was the last in his five-part Design Matters series at the Pacific Design Center. In conversation with Frances Anderton, host of the podcastable public radio show “DnA: Design and Architecture” and our design writing hero, Stern addressed pottery and armchairs and iMacs and most interestingly, the planning of a fruit crate label vs. farm worker poster exhibition, which we cannot wait to see in light of current events.

Anderton and Stern also discussed why California experienced such a design renaissance in the post-war era. With a glut of manufacturing factories and resources left with nothing to do after the war, designers recruited them to start building furniture. Plus, the number of WPA grants handed out made public works and urban planning projects extremely lucrative.

We were the youngest person in the crowd of 100–by far, but that was okay. As Anderton and Stern started speaking about specific projects, someone would chime in from the back to add a detail–and what do you know, it was usually the designer themselves. Gere Kavanaugh was there, in the same orange-and-cream scarf she was wearing at the Art Center conference (it must be some kind of uniform), and she said there’s a movement to manufacture in Southern California again, and she just knows that will signify another great revolution. We hope she’s right.

Also there: Henry Keck, who designed the flashing roadside light in 1967 (above), which has remained pretty much unchanged since. It was one of the first products to be made out of plastic. Most delightful: Jerry and Evelyn Ackerman, ceramics legends, who told us they’d be at the LA Modernism show, but not the gala, even though they love Will Ferrell.