The Daily

On Design

Shep and Dorothy

November 15, 2014 | by

A husband-and-wife team and their influential midcentury designs.

Page 34-35

From Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream.

Lucky is the designer who can see in both two and three dimensions. Luckier still is she or he to be married to someone with equal gifts—especially if that mate is a collaborator and not a competitor. So appears to have been the case with Dorothy and Otis Shepard, whose enviable creative lives have been captured in the absorbing, moving, and lushly illustrated new book Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream, by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel.

Both Dorothy and Shep (his nickname since childhood) got their start as commercial artists during San Francisco’s billboard boom of the 1920s. The Federal Highway Act, signed in 1921, helped fund the expansion of U.S. roadways, and advertisers took the opportunity to reach audiences beyond the traditional black-and-white pages of mail catalogs by posting colorful advertisements along America’s highways. Shep, a veteran of World War I, was a man of great adventure, with a strong and lasting interest in the theater. He was well regarded as a commercial painter while employed as an art director at Foster & Kleiser Outdoor Advertising Company, a top Bay Area agency of the period. In 1927, he wisely hired the gifted and highly praised Dorothy Van Gorder straight out of the California School of Arts and Crafts, from which she had graduated in only three years, as valedictorian. According to family lore, Dorothy was unabashedly outspoken (and just plain unabashed—she was once evicted from an apartment for sunbathing nude on the roof), and it cost her the Foster & Kleiser job, but almost as soon as she was let go, she was rehired for her prized skills. Hathaway and Nadel write that either in spite of or because of Dorothy’s brashness, Shep, the “raconteur,” soon began courting the “young bon vivant.”

And so their joint artistic adventure began—most markedly with a honeymoon in 1929 to Paris, Venice, Zurich, and Vienna. While there, they purchased Bauhaus furniture and had the good fortune to meet the great modernist Joseph Binder, who was a leader in the European abstract graphic style. “Shep and Dorothy already wanted their work to convey meaning through compositional structure—instead of realism,” write Hathaway and Nadel, but Binder’s reduction of “an image to a series of shapes and forms and [integration of] typography into his pictures” helped refine their approach to design and illustration. Both Dorothy and Otis had been following the modernist movement with great interest back home, but seeing this work and the new techniques in person and to scale had a profound and lasting effect on them. Read More »

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Catch the Bus

May 20, 2014 | by

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BUS:STOP, Sou Fujimoto; image © Adolf Bereuter; via DesignBoom

Krumbach is an Austrian market town with a population of about one thousand—it has a handsome eleventh-century castle and, as of this year, seven of the most arresting bus stops in the world. As part of a new project, BUS:STOP, seven international architects have designed Buswartehüsle—small shelters—“in a dialogue with the people, landscape, and local culture, building upon the traditions of skilled trade in the area.”

Sou Fujimoto calls his stop, pictured above, “a transparent forest of columns,” and emphasizes its variousness as a public space: “Both bus passengers and non–bus users can use this bus stop as a meeting point,” he writes, and though maybe no human alive has ever actively identified as a “non–bus user,” his larger point rings true: “Everyone may climb the tower-like bus stop to enjoy panoramic views of Krumbach.”

The other contributing architects hail from Belgium, Chile, Russia, Norway, Spain, and China, and given the impressive designs they’ve brought, it’s hard to fault Krumbach’s official culture site for a bit of characteristically Teutonic rhetoric: “People from the Bregenzerwald are generally seen as proud of their roots and open to new ideas. This has shaped our region down to the present day: the collaboration between humankind and nature, tradition and modernism, handcraft and the culture of building.”

DesignBoom has a gallery of photographs worth viewing in full. One might object to the primacy of form over function here. It’s hard to picture someone comfortably waiting at Fujimoto’s shelter, for instance, especially if it’s raining. But none of these stops are entirely without utility: they are all, however tenuously, places where you go to catch a bus. I’ve tried in vain to find statistics on public transit in Krumbach—how many of its thousand citizens use the bus system, anyway?—but even if these shelters are seldom used, it’s still a pleasure to imagine them out there, flecking the Austrian countryside. Greyhound: take notes.

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BUS:STOP, Ensamble Studio; image © Adolf Bereuter; via DesignBoom

 

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A Life in Matches

September 19, 2013 | by

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A Life in Matches: Marineland Restaurant, Marineland, California. Photograph by Ben Stott.

How does one document his or her life? Do you track the minute details of each and every day in a diary, like Ned Rorem, or measure it out with coffee spoons, as J. Alfred Prufrock declared? When digging through the last boxes and cases from his grandfather’s home, Justin Bairamian found an old suitcase, full to the brim with thousands of matchbooks. They were from the Savoy in London to the Marineland Restaurant in California, and many had his grandfather’s own scribbles noting the location and year on the inside cover. Bairamian had discovered a beautiful record of a life well lived.

Bairamian has allowed designer Ben Stott to catalogue a sample of the collection, one day at a time, on the blog A Life in Matches. It is a brilliant tribute to one man’s life, as well as insight into the evolution of graphic design.

 

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Pleasure Domes with Parking

December 24, 2012 | by

The Court of Flowers, postcard.

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Because my grandfather owned a men’s clothing store and my dad briefly worked for him, I spent a lot of my childhood in malls. Hanging around malls is already a tradition in Phoenix, Arizona, where I grew up. It’s as central to life as driving and eating Mexican food, a habit stemming from a mix of materialism, a reflexive tendency to “pass time,” and a very practical need for air conditioning. But it was also a habit born of an era when malls adorned themselves in gaudy architecture and country-and-western motifs, presented themselves as shopping experiences rather than just places to shop, and capitalized on Americans’ aspirations toward glitz and glamour. I can’t enter one of the predictable, interchangeable modern retail spaces without thinking of the heyday of the mall, a period when, to borrow the title of a Time magazine article, malls were “Pleasure-Domes with Parking.”

I saw none of these touches of class in person. I was born in 1975, and by then malls had changed. As I experienced it, my Grandpa Shapiro’s store, The Habber Dasher, was adjacent to the food court, an echoey hall enlivened by the greasy orange aroma of Pizza D’Amore and the sweet froth of Orange Julius, as well as Kay Bee Toys, the Red Baron video-game arcade, and the movie theater. My time at the mall was spent buying shockingly lifelike diecast metal cap guns at Kay Bee and then eating free samples of slow-cooked meat from the tiny gyro stall, staring in horror at the hard, sunken eyes of the whole smoked fish in Miracle Mile Deli’s cold case, or looking up at the tall escalator that led into UA Cinema. When I walked through the open, indoor plaza where Santa Claus sat in a huge Styrofoam Wonderland, surrounded by polymer wads of fake snow while the sun shone outside, I had no clue that malls could be anything but what they were then, that they had any history at all.

In fact, shopping arcades and centers existed in the Western World as early as the 1920s. The classic, fully enclosed form now known in America as “the mall” debuted in Edina, Minnesota, in 1956. An Austrian-American architect named Victor Gruen designed the so-called Southdale Center, and it became the de facto prototype for a wave of enclosed, temperature-controlled shopping complexes structured around big name “anchors” and interior garden spaces. Read More »

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Getting in the Habit

January 18, 2012 | by

Harmony Hood ($208), Alban Cloak ($489), and Agnes Dress ($412). Photo by Julia Sherman.

Modest, natural, and snazzy—those were the three directions Mother Mary Magdalene gave artist Julia Sherman for designing the habits for the Community of Compassion, Mother Mary’s new Anglican Catholic order in Fort Worth, Texas. “You can’t just go to the store and buy a habit,” Mother Mary wrote to me. “Every order has to have a distinct one designed by the foundress, and you’re not supposed to copy anyone else.” The difference between two orders can be as simple as a few extra pleats in the skirt or as noticeable as Mother Teresa’s blue-striped, sari-inspired head covering.

But Sherman’s habits are something entirely new. Moreover, the JF & Son store in New York has partnered with Sherman to produce and sell the habits for secular customers. So while Mother Mary is praying in her peach-colored harem pants in Forth Worth, a young New York woman might be traipsing across Fifth Avenue in the very same design.

Mother Mary found Sherman after she saw the artist’s work photographing nun dolls from the Nun Doll Museum in Indian River, Michigan, a shrine to more than five hundred dolls and mannequins, each dressed in the traditional garb of men and woman from religious communities in North and South America. Sherman, whose previous photographic work has focused on the intricate process of creating wigs for Jewish women, clearly has a thing for religious accessories. Read More »

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Fashion Week, 1947

September 12, 2011 | by

Gertrude Stein and model in Pierre Balmain’s salon, with Rosamond Bernier in the background. Photograph by Horst P. Horst.

When the French fashion houses began to open again in 1946–47 after World War II and the occupation, American magazines thought it worthwhile to send people over to report on them. I was one of those people. I edged into the fashion world almost sideways. I thought I was going to write art features when I was recruited by Vogue. But Mrs. Chase thought otherwise, and her word was law.

I found myself on one of those first transatlantic flights that stopped over for the night at Gander, Newfoundland, to refuel. You rested, fully dressed, in one of a line of cots in a kind of barracks. My immediate neighbors were a group of Dominican monks—Italian, no English. I had studied Italian a long time ago in college but had had no opportunity to practice. I could only remember a few lines of Dante, about returning from hell, not much of a conversational opener. I tried it out, anyhow, and got a gratifying response.

My traveling companion was a small, angelic, and gifted artist who was the magazine’s dessinateur. He went under the name of Eric. My entire professional training was a hissed injunction as I left for the airport: “Keep Eric sober.” Keeping Eric sober turned out to be a major project, but if his gait was sometimes unsteady, his line never wavered. Read More »

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