To visit San Diego’s Craft Revolution exhibit at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park is to walk through our city’s post-World War II past.
The city’s artists heartily embraced contemporary art design, ornamentation and craft based on three strong influences: the area’s growing defense industry, a rapid escalation of art education and the spread of modernism.
A group called the Allied Craftsmen especially fostered mid-century modernism style. This was evident in enameling, body ornamentation, architectural craft and furniture.
Margaret Price’s earthenware pot, vase and dish herald the theme as you enter, followed by John Dirks’ mahogany salad bowl. A subdued monotype by Harry Bertoia, along with some amazing silver pins and bracelets, are juxtaposed with silver rings by James Parker.
A Venetian glass mosaic in reds, blues and purples sits in stark contrast to three Honduran mahogany beakers from Lemurian Crafts. The same group has a gorgeous enamel on copper base to a lamp.
This abundant show merits a lot of time to appreciate fully. Mosaic-topped tables of every size and shape are interspersed with an ink screen printed on linen, vases of unusual shapes and a pre-psychedelic Parker piece of colored enamel disks on copper.
Check out Larry Hunter’s intricate walnut game table and Douglas Deeds’ chairs of Budweiser cans, a precursor perhaps to Andy Warhol’s pop art. A long jewelry case containing gold, silver, turquoise and even leather pieces is a treat for the eyes.
Items, both practical and purely decorative, range from leather wallets to neckties to linen napkins so beautiful one would hate to sully them at a meal.
Enamel on copper seems to have been a common treatment of the period, used in plaques, pendants and dishes. Particularly vibrant is Phyllis Wallen’s “Fanfare,” a light panel salvaged from skylights from the Wishing Well Hotel in Rancho Santa Fe. The many pendants in the exhibit shimmer in the light and were clearly popular forms of jewelry.
How about a camel-shaped pot to wet your whistle, or a candleholder that suggests Medusa’s head? It is all here for your delectation. Brightly colored plates, seemingly inspired by Native American motifs, grace a display that includes a unique Jack Boyd necklace of horn, rosewood and bronze.
Stand in front of Kay Whitcomb’s huge gaily enameled double doors developed during the San Diegan’s trips to Sweden and Belgium expressly to study this craft. Then look opposite to James Hubbell’s amazing stained glass window accented by wood shapes, lead and fused glass.
The variety of chairs are as whimsical as they are often impractical. Never mind, here design trumps function and what a treat it is.
So very San Diego is Carl Ekstrom’s double doors made of polyester resin used in surfboards. Arline Finch and Marsha Lewis’ display of fashion designs are awash in lovely velvets, silver, rabbit fur and leather.
At the end of the exhibit is Ellamarie and Jackson Wooley’s huge “Reflective Sun” wall sculpture, which once graced the San Diego Civic Theatre. There’s a sad tale connected to its eventual removal but that does not diminish its brilliance, capping an exhibit worthy of multiple visits.
It continues until April 15, 2012. (619) 239-0003 or www.mingei.orgu