crossing the bridge

From a suburban cubicle in one of New England’s largest office parks, I spend my days making extraordinarily beautiful books.  To that end, as a requirement of my job, I must research San Francisco’s artisanal toast trend, develop projects with media savvy Dumpster divers, and find ways to endear myself to The 60 (Plus)  Coolest People in Food and Drink 2014.

Nothing has much of anything to do with my immediate environment or community. It’s just me, my imagination and Google. And while that combination’s a pretty fecund one, it does have its limitations: namely me (not so much Google).

So in an effort to break free from the insularity of my own mind and intentionally expose myself to the new/unexpected/other, I organized a Friday afternoon office field trip.  A dozen of us would make the ten-minute drive across the bridge from Beverly to Salem (which in truth is a journey as psychological as it is physical) to America’s oldest operating and most innovating museum, our very own Peabody Essex.

A tour of their new exhibit, “California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way,”  did not seem immediately relevant to developing food and craft books, but pourquois pas? Why not let another with more knowledge than I take on the responsibility of showing me something interesting?

Also, I’ve found a change of scenery is usually beneficial in itself.

Buff, Straub & Hensman (1955-1961, later Buff, Hensman and Associates). Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, 1958. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1959. Getty Research Institute
Buff, Straub & Hensman (1955-1961, later Buff, Hensman and Associates). Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, 1958. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1959. Getty Research Institute


And the effect of a change in scenery, is in large part, what the show is about: the ways California’s climate, opportunity and distance from the Establishment manifested themselves in myriad ways from the domestic to the atomic to create a distinctively “modern” and memorable way  of life.


Photo courtesy of Regina Grenier
Photo courtesy of Regina Grenier


Look at those Shapes!


photo 2
Photo courtesy of Regina Grenier

And colors!

In thinking about the artists, designers, manufacturers and consumers who cultivated the looks on display here, it’s not hard to recognize their intentionality and drive.  In every new shape, color combination, and product is a glimpse of the new/unexpected/other; the very manifestation of the modern.

These creators crossed a continent in pursuit; we crossed a bridge to glimpse.

It will be curious to see once settled back at our (actually rather innovative) cube farm on the other side of the bridge, how we find new ways to pursue the beautifully new, despite our undeniably established environs.

When there’s not a bridge or continent or any real geographic distance at all to cross, how do we remind ourselves to look relentlessly for the new amidst all the old?  To cross from the known, to the unknown?  To journey from the ordinary to the extraordinary?

Memories of California might help.


“To the farthest port of the rich Indies.”


PEM presents California Design, 1930 – 1965: Living in a Modern Way
On view from March 29 to July 6, 2014 

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