Monday, April 14, 2014

The Dismal State of Thrifting in the DC City Limits

Guys, I tried. I really tried. I even took a friend with me so mine wouldn't be the only opinion.

But the state of thrifting within the DC city limits is pretty darn dismal. Oh, there are a couple of bright(er) spots, but they're about as far into the outskirts of the city as you can get without actually being in the suburbs.

The usual caveats apply. I'm not looking for clothing or brand new stuff. I'm mostly searching out vintage items for my own collection and my Etsy shop. Your mileage may vary, especially if you've got a store on your walk home from work or something that you can hit every day. And I mean EVERY DAY. Or you're probably not going to find a thing. That said, here's what I found on my thrifting trip into DC.


St. Alban's Opportunity Shop
3001 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
This small shop in the basement of St. Alban's Episcopal Church is run by volunteers from the congregation as far as I can tell. It's not huge, but it's pretty much what you'd expect from a small shop in an upscale area. They sift through merchandise carefully so there isn't any junk on display. I bought a vintage lampshade for $2 and a carving set in a nice walnut box that will likely end up in my Etsy shop. Parking here was a bit of a puzzle until I realized that you can literally park for free right in front of the National Cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue. The only private parking belongs to the school and is reserved for faculty, staff and students. Do not park there. Even though it was snowing the day we visited, they were actively towing.


Georgia Avenue Thrift
6101 Georgia Avenue
Washington, DC 20011

I bought an addition to my collection of Zanesville Stoneage Modern pottery. I swear, there is so much of this stuff! It's a cheap an easy thing to collect and they make rather a nice statement when grouped together. This one was $3. My friend bought an Art Deco liquor dispenser here. There's an  okay selection of housewares here and a small amount of furniture in the back. I think if I were to ever develop a Maryland thrifting route, this store could be on it since it's practically in Takoma Park. Plus parking is easy and free.


Goodwill
2200 South Dakota Ave. N.E.
Washington, DC 20018

Goodwill never disappoints. The store on South Dakota is a good example. The staff is friendly; the store is clean and pretty well organized. It's not a huge Goodwill so the selection isn't as good as, say, the store in Fairfax, but there's a decent amount of furniture and housewares to make it worth the trip. We were pretty tired by the time we finally made it there, but I did find a cool mid century lamp that just needs a little clean-up and a new shade for $4. I'll keep my eye out for shades the next time I hit The Closet in Herndon. It needs a taller one than the one I bought at the St. Alban's shop. Parking here is easy and free in their parking lot.

We visited a couple of other stores too. Martha's Closet on 14th Street seemed to have some nice name-brand clothing, but they had almost no housewares and no furniture at all that I could see. American Rescue Workers Thrift on H Street was a bit better in that they did have furniture (including a bright green sofa that both my friend and I were rather desirous of) and a very friendly staff, but the store itself is pretty dingy. We didn't make it to the Salvation Army store in Southeast so I'll have to check that out on another day. You know how much I love the Annandale store so I'm sure I'll get there at some point.

In summary, We drove all over DC. It took about 5 hours. I bought less than $20 worth of stuff and spent probably another $5 on parking. On a typical day of thrifting my suburban routes, I'll spend about $40 and nothing at all on parking in an hour and a half. If you live in the suburbs, I'd say there's not enough bang for your buck (or really, time) here. If you live in the city, I think a different strategy than the one I use is probably in order. I could never see making a regular route out of the DC stores considering how scattered over the city they are. All in all, I'm newly appreciative of how many awesome thrift stores we have in Fairfax County.

So did I miss any of the thrift stores in the DC city limits? Or can you tell me that I just visited on an off day? Please tell me I did else I'll just have to feel quite badly for all of you city-dwellers.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Smithsonian Craft Show 2014

I think when most people hear the words "craft show" they think about rag dolls, bird houses and homemade fudge as a marching band fundraiser at the local high school. But there is an entirely different side to craft. Even if you're familiar with the world of indie craft via Etsy or shows like Crafty Bastards, you'll be astonished by the quality of work at a fine craft show like the Smithsonian Craft Show held annually at the National Building Museum. Warning: this is a long, photo-heavy post.


The show is organized and run by the Smithsonian Women's Committee and benefits Smithsonian grant programs that fund research, special exhibitions and other programs that would not be possible without independent funding. Wednesday night I attended the opening night preview party, though to be honest I was much too distracted by my conversations with the artists to do much partying. I think I managed one glass of wine all night and that was about it.


I've attended this show for several years and I'm always impressed by the level of skill exhibited, but this year's crop of artists really blew me away. It seems every artist I spoke to had a truly unique or exceptional skill to bring to their craft.

Take this chair by Mark Whitley. Be forewarned: I have a major thing for chairs, which I think are absolutely the hardest thing for a woodworker to design and build. Think about it. It has to be lovely to look at it; it has to be comfortable; it has to be sturdy and not fall apart; chairs are moved around a lot, bumped against walls and generally mishandled in a way that casegoods usually aren't. And I loved this chair so much that I could do a whole post on it. Really. All the hearts for this chair.


One of the things that is great about craft shows is that you can ask the makers why they made the choices they did with regard to style or construction. Whether you're a collector of contemporary studio furniture, vintage furniture or just a lover of well-made things, seeing joinery like this is a real education. Knowing something about how wood furniture is made gives me a huge advantage when it comes to spotting treasures in thrift stores: for example, what a hand-cut dovetail looks like versus one that is machine cut. I know where to check joints to be sure they're sound or fixable before snapping up that vintage steal. And looking at books is absolutely no substitute for talking with a woodworker who really knows his stuff because on a really good piece of furniture, what's going on inside is just as interesting as what's going on outside.


The first thing I noticed about this chair is that it looked like the front legs might be turned, which is a totally different process than the shaping done on the back legs, requiring the mastery of an entirely distinct set of skills: using a lathe that spins instead of various types of stationary tools to shape a part. Chatting with Mark confirmed that the front legs are indeed turned by him. A lot of the time craftsmen will just buy those kinds of parts because the skills and tools are so different.


Upon further discussion, it seems that not only is the tenon on that front leg wedged, he bakes that piece to lower the moisture from the typical 8% that he usually works with. It shrinks the part so that when he pounds it into place and it expands over the next few days, just reabsorbing moisture from the air, it tightens up the joint even more. The only way that leg is going anywhere is if you take a saw to it.


The next thing I noticed is that the top rail looked very precarious up there. That's a pretty tiny spot for just a bit of glue to be holding that. However, inside this joint is a half-inch thick, three inch long dowel. That's a lot of structure. It took me from worrying about the long-term viability of this joint to utterly secure in its longevity. Okay, rather than go on and on (I know, too late), just go see this chair for yourself and talk to Mark about it. Though I did upload a few more full-size photos to an album for those or you who are seriously into joinery.


One of the aspects of this year's show that stuck out was the humor and lightheartedness of a lot of the work. The ceramic mugs above are by Beer Chunhaswasdikul. He has been in the show before, which I know because we own several of his pieces--both the grenade mugs pictured above and a different design that incorporates a ceramic whistle. Even though the glaze is somewhat metallic, these mugs can go in the microwave. You just have to pull the pin first. How utterly morbidly humorous!


Next is this ceramic teapot by Gerard Justin Ferrari. Yes, I said ceramic teapot. Not metal. And okay, so it's shaped like a toy airplane and both the wheels and the propeller actually turn. In fact, that hole up there at the top turns to reveal the spot where you'd put water in for tea.


I'm apparently really digging the trompe-l'oeil teapots because here's another ceramic teapot from Eric Serritella. I took this photo from several feet away, but even from just a few inches, you would not believe that this teapot isn't wood. Eric had a demonstration piece available for handling and aside from it being just a bit too heavy to be birch wood, even the texture was convincing.


Contemporary wood furniture might seem an odd thing to talk about in terms of humor, but that's just what struck me about the work of Michael Gloor. He started out many years ago as a ceramic artist before moving to working in wood, which gives his pieces a sculptural quality.


But what I want to highlight here is his use of colored epoxy. The center strip of this dining table is maple and the edges are cherry with mineral deposits (those black dots). Often, the mineral deposits can create little divots as you slice the wood to use for furniture. It's generally not considered to be desirable and most furniture designers would not select a board that had that "defect". But Gloor instead chooses to highlight it by filling the holes with epoxy that matches the maple strip in the center. Maybe you have to be a furniture nerd to see the humor in that, but once I figured out what was going on there, I was most amused.


No matter the medium, what really stands out at this show is the phenomenal, almost miraculous technique of these artists. Carrie Gustafson makes these stunning blown glass vases and bowls. She first creates the layers of glass and then applies hand cut stencils to the surface before carefully sandblasting away the top layer to create the luminous final piece. Just a few seconds too long and the process punches right through the glass.


Another artist with astonishing technique is Lucrezia Bieler. She creates hand cut paper art that to the untrained eye probably looks like a print of some sort. It isn't.


She uses tiny scissors to create both negative and positive space, revealing an image. See above how the thorns are "dark" and the flowers are "light"? I was floored by both the design and execution of these works. They are just so incredibly detailed. One of the larger works on display this weekend took her six months to complete.


Speaking of ultra-detailed work that takes immense amounts of patience and time, Martha Fieber creates photo-realistic landscapes in thread. When I first passed her booth, they really looked like photographs. Each piece has many layers of thread that create the picture with a sense of dimension and perspective. They're also incredibly pretty.


While I will always have a fondness for fine art, which formed the basis for my art history education, my love of decorative arts is really what drives both my collecting and my shop. Handling everyday things that are lovely to look at, a pleasure to touch and functional to use pretty much forms the basis of my fascination for art and design. There are always stunning examples of this at the Smithsonian show and this year is no different.


Borealis Studios is comprised of Devin Burgess Glass and Jerilyn Virden Ceramics. Even in the terrible light of the National Building Museum toward the end of the evening, Burgess's glass is radiant. It reminded me most of the Aseda vase I had in the shop just a while ago in terms of the depth of color. And Virden's ceramics are the perfect complement, grounding the ethereal glass with practical earthenware in black and white. It's difficult in ceramics to create such simple work that doesn't remind me of anything else. I was particularly covetous of the serving pieces and when I'm in "blog mode" it's extremely tough to get me to look at objects in terms of actual purchasing.


The work of Eshelman Pottery does refer back to the best mid century ceramics before taking off in a more contemporary direction. These are simple, utilitarian pieces that can go in the microwave, dishwasher and oven. I see both a little bit of Dansk and a little bit of Heath Ceramics in this casserole, for example.


But then you get these little ergonomic bowls, which are utterly their own thing. There's a photo on the Eshelman website of hands wrapped around that bowl with a thumb tucked into the hole at the top. After the winter we had, I can clearly see the appeal. I predictably love anything with both glazed and unglazed surfaces so it's not surprising that I could see outfitting my entire kitchen with these pieces.


Even though I've shared some of my favorite pieces here, this stuff really is best viewed in person. Like this wood clock made by James Borden of Timeshapes. It was a little noisy while I was filming, but in person I barely noticed it because I was mesmerized. There is something extremely elegant and soothing about watching this clock in action. These are the sorts of works that will be in the Renwick Gallery in years to come and getting a chance to meet and talk with the artists is a real privilege.

The Smithsonian Craft Show runs today through Sunday at the National Building Museum. Admission is $15 and I wouldn't devote less than 3 hours.

Friday, March 28, 2014

How to blog and watch TV at the same time with Chromecast


A couple of months ago, I saw an advertisement on Hulu for a little gadget called Chromecast. It's made by Google and costs $35. This post is totally going to sound like Google is paying me. They are not. I just love this little thing to BITS.

See, we don't have satellite or cable television. We watch Netflix or Hulu when we aren't watching DVDs. Before Chromecast, we ran an HDMI cable from my laptop to the television screen and whatever showed up on my laptop screen was now on the TV screen. It worked.

That said, effective, but also annoying. First, there was a cable perpetually strung across the living room, which is both ugly and a little dangerous. Chester clothes-lined himself on it a couple of times, once knocking my laptop off the coffee table and causing some damage. Not good. Second, if I wanted to watch TV, that meant I couldn't really be using my laptop because the TV picture would disappear behind whatever else I was doing. That doesn't really work when you want to binge-watch West Wing while also getting Etsy listings up.


Enter Chromecast. The little doohickey plugs into the HDMI port on my TV. I downloaded the Chromecast app to my phone and suddenly my phone is a remote control running the app in the background while I do whatever I want with both my laptop and my phone. It doesn't even use data because my phone is hooked up to our household WiFi.


So now if I want to, I can watch Sherlock for the 1,000th time, edit photos and text with a friend all at the same time. And I do. All the time.


If you're not a ridiculous multi-tasker who is always online, this might not be something you need. But if you are, a one-time payment of $35 to be able to watch TV like a normal person without paying hundreds of dollars a month for cable? Yeah, pretty awesome.


I got mine from Amazon, but you can also buy them at Best Buy.

Really, this isn't an ad. It's just the fact that Chromecast is so cheap and fixed this ridiculous blogger problem so well, I pretty much want to tell the whole world how amazing it is. So there.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thrifting in Arlington Virginia

A few weeks ago, I posted an update to my Thrifting Guide to Northern Virginia for 2014. Promptly, I got three requests for some DC and Arlington thrifting spots. Now, ordinarily I avoid the thrifts closer to the city. Back when I was still working full-time in an office, Doug and I used to visit many of these on the weekends and my overwhelming impression was always that they were A) crowded, B) picked-over and C) expensive. Well, color me surprised. A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I took a mid-week trip to several of the thrift shops around Arlington and Falls Church. A few I had been to before and a few I hadn't, but I think we managed to find something at a reasonable price almost everywhere we went.

Ideally, my mission was to find some places a person could get to without a car. Now, I think nearly all of these spots are on bus lines, but none of them are what I would call Metro-accessible. If you don't do Zipcar or something like that, you might have trouble getting to all of these in a few hours like we did.

And again, keep in mind that I am almost always looking for mid century housewares and furniture. If you're thrifting for other things, your mileage may vary. So without further ado, here's my guide to thrifting in Arlington.

Falls Church Goodwill
6136 Arlington Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22044


I've only visited this store twice, once about a year ago and once on our trip a few weeks ago. The problem is the parking lot. It's hard to get in and out of, the shopping center where it's located is quite busy and parking is often a bit difficult. However, it is a relatively large store and I've seen several pieces of mid-range mid-century furniture here (like Dixie and Lane type quality). To be honest, I've never purchased anything here, but I haven't visited often enough to say I've given this store a fair shot.

Annandale Road Goodwill
2936 Annandale Rd, Falls Church, VA 22042


This Goodwill has a great location, right off Route 50 in Falls Church. It's also a relatively new store so it's quite bright and clean. On this trip they had several antique pieces including a gorgeous Empire sofa, but the pricing was quite high: $800 for a tall cabinet and $300 for the sofa and neither were in great condition. I never complain about thrift store pricing, mostly because I'm often looking to resell and frankly, if the charity can get top dollar for a piece in their store, I think they should. I realize this is a semi-controversial point of view though so people looking for an antique at a steal might be disappointed. I haven't hit this store on weekdays often enough to tell if this pricing and selection is typical, but it's practically next door to the next stop on the list so it's worth stopping to check it out regardless.

Clock Tower Thrift Shop
2860 Annandale Rd, Falls Church, VA 22042


A picture is probably worth a thousand words in this case. Yeah, so this store is a little chaotic. And their pricing has tended toward the uneven. I've found West German ceramics at insanely low prices and mediocre glass at insanely high prices, but that's thrift stores for you. On this trip, I found some great Royal China plates at a great price so I was happy. I usually buy at least something every time I stop in here and their prices on furniture for refinishing or upcycling for personal use are generally fair. Lots of older solid wood pieces that would be really good candidates for fun paint jobs. One funny side note: Quinn's Auctions is fairly nearly this store and I saw a Partners estate sales tag on a few items on our recent trip. Quinn's owns Partners so it made wonder if they take some of their unsold inventory there?

Fort Myer Thrift Shop
224 Forrest Circle, Fort Myer, VA 22211



The Fort Myer thrift shop is probably the strangest place on this list. It's just like it sounds: the shop is located on the Fort Myer Army base in the middle of Arlington. If I were giving you verbal directions, they would include both the phrases, "you'll have to stop and wait until they search your car" and "drive past the stable on the left". That's just a little bit cryptic, huh? But the fact is, you will need your picture ID to get onto the base and unless you have a military or Defense Department ID, you'll need to have your car searched before they'll let you go shopping. That said, it's totally worth the hassle. There are actually two shops, one "boutique" where they keep higher end stuff and the other for more normal stuff. I found three sets of 1960s glasses and my friend found a really cute Anthropologie-esque jewelry box. The prices were quite low and they had a lot of really interesting furniture in addition to all the housewares and clothing. There were several lamps that I might have purchased if it hadn't been our first stop of the day, but I decided to save my cash. Turned out to be a good call because I found several more great pieces at other stores. This is one store I'll be visiting frequently in the future.

Glebe Road Goodwill
10 S Glebe Rd, Arlington, VA 22204


When people think of Goodwill in Arlington, they probably think of this location. It's right at the corner of Glebe Road and Route 50 and you can see it from the highway so it's hard to miss. I've gotta be honest: I've never had a lot of luck here and this trip was no exception. They seem to get tons of donations (I've donated here myself since it's so conveniently located on the way to or from a lot of spots), but I think the only thing we've purchased here were a few books for my husband. On this trip I spotted a very cool bright orange mod resin lamp, but it had two huge chips in it. It was priced right for the damage, but I still couldn't pull the trigger on it. I know the DC Goodwill Fashionista shops here pretty often though and she finds some great clothes so that might be the sweet spot for this store.

Columbia Pike Thrift Shop
4101 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204


This shop, run  by Trinity Episcopal Church in Arlington, is a small store that appears to be quite well run. The very front has a lot of vintage and antique housewares though the higher end stuff is kept on shelves behind the counter. I found a large wire plant stand for $3 and my friend got a couple of Eva Zeisel glasses for 50 cents each. My plant stand will get a spray paint makeover once the weather finally warms up because the paint is a bit worn, but that's a great deal considering I paid $12 for an almost identical one at the DC Big Flea last fall. I left behind some vintage digital clocks and we barely glanced at the clothing, but it seemed to be well organized and in good condition. I'd classify this one as a must-stop spot.

Columbia Pike Goodwill
4714 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204


Just up the street from the store above is the third Goodwill in Arlington/Falls Church. This store was the most crowded and busiest of the places we stopped, even on a Wednesday afternoon. We didn't pick up anything here on this trip, but I've found some mid century dishes (not big names) and Dansk wood pieces here in the past. This store is huge though and appears to get pretty good turnover in stock so if you're prepared to visit frequently, you could probably find some good pieces. Don't miss the art and furniture downstairs.

There's one other store that we missed on this trip right near the Falls Church Goodwill on Arlington Boulevard called Capital Caring. They have a "boutique" side and "regular" side too. We missed that one on this trip because we were starving and had to eat lunch before I took my friend back to the Metro. Oddly, the regular side of that store has been where I've found the majority of my Zaneville collection. I seem to find one every time I go. Both sides are pretty uneven as far as pricing and quality and neither are large, but they've had a good selection of both practical and decorative stuff in the past.

So help me out: did I miss any of the Arlington/ Falls Church thrift stores? What about consignment stores? I know there is one on Washington Boulevard, but anywhere else? Let me know in the comments!


Thursday, March 6, 2014

DC Goodwill Fashionista Blog Guest Post


Hop over to the DC Goodwill Fashionista blog where I'm guest posting today on some of the great mid century modern finds you can find for pennies at your local Goodwill!

If you're visiting Pies & Puggles for the first time from DCGF, welcome! If you're looking for a place to start, you might want to check out this post on the best thrift shops in Northern Virginia.

Happy thrifting!


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Lenten Journey



It's Ash Wednesday, which means it's time to talk about Lent again. Don't worry, this isn't going to be all about religion beyond a little bit of explanation, which is important to me, but I get isn't important to everyone. So just bear with me?

For those who aren't familiar with the practice, Lent reminds Christians of the 40 day period Jesus spent fasting in the desert. It marks a period of prayer and fasting for Christians in the days leading up to Easter and Christ's resurrection. A lot of people don't observe it, even a lot of Christians, but I like it for its somberness. And at least for me, it's a good way to think about what stands in between me and God. Or if you're less into the God idea, me as I am and me as I'm meant to be. 

During Lent, most people do things like add extra prayer time and/or give up things like sugar and Facebook. I've done things like that in the past, but in the last few years, I've opted to take a more creative approach. Two years ago, I gave up stress. I forced myself to find ways of coping that didn't involve endless worrying. I ended up quitting my job that year. Last year, Doug and I gave up one of our two cars. We didn't drive the second car for 40 days. Later that summer, we sold our second car. It seemed like such a waste to have two when most of the time both of them just sat in the driveway at home. I'm not proposing anything quite so radical this year. At least, I hope I'm not. 

This year, I'm adding something: going somewhere every single day. Now that I work at home, there are days when I literally do not leave the house except to walk the dog. It's even worse in the winter. But not leaving the house makes me morose, bored, watching too much television and not participating in my community, which I always say is important to me. It's pretty pathetic, actually, and I know I'm not taking advantage of the resources I've been given. So here are the objectives.


1. Be grateful for where I live. 

The DC area is really rather amazing. Millions of people come here every year to take advantage of the things we have access to every day. In my case, that's mostly taking advantage of our amazing museums. And because we live here, we can see more than just The Boating Party, the Enola Gay and Dorothy's ruby slippers. Plus not only are we just two hours from the ocean and the mountains, we're two hours from Richmond, three hours from Philadelphia and just four(-ish) hours from New York. So even though we wish we lived in Staunton, we also should be grateful for what we have here.


2. Be grateful for what I have.

Now that we're a one-income family, it's easy to get caught in the trap of wishing we had more. And sure, there are some expensive things that require a bit more saving and planning, like major travel. But when it comes to day-to-day living, we have a lot to be delighted by, not the least of which is each other. Also because a lot of the best museum collections in DC are free to visit!

Ascension Triptych at Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, VA, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany

3. Look forward to tomorrow because there won't always be one. 

My days are much the same. I get up, I blog, I cook, I go thrifting, I read, I wait for Doug to come home. When people ask me what's new, I generally don't have a good answer. And even though I love my life and love what I do, I've been feeling like I'm in a bit of a rut, which leads to me feeling sad instead of thankful. Whatever life after death holds, I want to be sure I've done what I can here to make life more bearable for those around me. 

I won't be blogging my adventures every day (the idea is to get out of the house, not park myself in front of the computer), but I will be chronicling my travels on Instagram and Twitter so if you're interested, you can follow along there. I'll also be posting a schedule on Monday of every week so you can see just how many great opportunities there are in the DC area to see and do and taste and enjoy wonderful things every single day of the week.

Here's the plan for the next few days with ticket costs where applicable. If you see me, say hi!

Wednesday, March 5th: Northside Social and Arlington, Virginia thrift stores
Thursday, March 6th: Phillips After 5, Mad Museum: The American 60s, The Phillips Collection, $12
Friday, March 7th: William Kloss on Modern American Realism, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Saturday, March 8th: Community service project at Main Street Child Development Center
Sunday, March 9th: Service worship at Common Table, Jammin Java in Vienna


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Brutalism in a brutal week: Paul Evans in Pennsylvania

Last week was kind of like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: almost hilariously disastrous. Nothing burned down, but we did end up spending four days and $1,000 in car repairs (not including the car battery that died Saturday afternoon), dealing with an unrelated medical emergency and trying to support friends through varying degrees of emotional and physical trauma. Then there were the lesser complaints like my hair stylist not showing up for my appointment Friday morning and misreading a recipe that I thought would take an hour and a half, but really took more like three hours resulting a very late dinner Wednesday night.

So if you were expecting me to do something for you last week or hoping to hear from me, I'm sorry. That didn't happen. But I've had some time to rest and regroup and I'll do better this week, I promise.


There was one highlight though, and what a highlight it was. Monday morning on our way to the first car mechanic of the week, David Rago of Rago Arts and Auction Center tweeted me to invite me up to Doylestown, Pennsylvania to come to the opening of the Paul Evans exhibition at the James A Michener Art Museum. I'd read about the exhibition in the New York Times Arts section and figured I'd make it up there eventually, but the invitation provided the perfect impetus.

George Nakashima table and chairs in the Michener's permanent collection

So first: David Rago. Rago Arts and Auction Center is one of the sponsors of the exhibition and hugely important to mid century modern collectors on the East Coast. When I started studying early modern decorative arts in the pre-Mad Men era, the old Sollo Rago Modern Auctions catalogs I was able to obtain off eBay were invaluable, especially since most of the antiques trade publications and big price guides had the tendency to ignore Art Deco and mid century objects as not-quite-antique-enough. David is also an appraiser on Antiques Roadshow and we all know how I feel about that (spoiler: way cool). Remember, he was an off-screen feature of my Herman Kahler vase appraisal with Suzanne Perrault last summer.

Loaners to the exhibition L to R: David Rago, Peter Gleeson, Dorsey Reading, Sybil Conn, Paul Evans, Keith Evans, Todd Merrill

Next, Paul Evans. We all know who that is, right? He was a designer and craftsman of mostly metal furniture with his most recognizable work appearing in the 1950s through the 1970s. His studio was in New Hope, Pennsylvania right near Doylestown, which was also the home of master woodworker George Nakashima (mark that bit; it's relevant later). Paul Evans worked in a style this is now commonly referred to as "Brutalist". Brutalism is actually an architectural style, popular in the same period that Evans was working, characterized by huge, largely concrete buildings with a modular appearance and often projected portions that seem to jut or leap into the viewer's physical space. We have a number of excellent and much-reviled examples of Brutalist architecture in DC: the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building and the no longer extant (as of last week) Third Church of Christ, Scientist, among others. Critics of the style tend to come up with witticisms like "socialist" and "ugly".


However, I've never thought the criticisms particularly fair. For one thing, the style has an active vitality to it and an organic quality that seems to refer to nature as it is rather than nature as we would wish it to be. By this I mean heartless, violent and implacable rather than romantic, pastoral and benign. I think the same can be said of Paul Evans' work. Whereas most furniture celebrates restrained elegance, lavish comfort or strict practicality, the hard lines and jagged edges of an Evans piece aren't minimalist, but they also aren't displaying the same "beauty" of the ornamental styles of an earlier age. These are the moors of Yorkshire, not the gardens of Kent.


Okay, enough with the art history, let's get back to the exhibition.

Dorsey Reading identified this cabinet as Evans' best work.

So I met up with David Rago, who promptly introduced me to Dorsey Reading. Reading was Evans' primary fabricator, worked for Evans for 23 years and is now one of the foremost collectors of Evans' work. He loaned many pieces to the exhibition and was full of stories about his days working for Evans, turning his drawings into furniture. He was the craftsman who built these monstrous hulking pieces and has the bad back to prove it. Reading now has his own successful custom building and renovation business.


Next, casual as you please, David introduced me to Mira Nakashima, George Nakashima's daughter and the heiress to her father's legacy, both in terms of the furniture business he built and his talent and techniques as a woodworker. I must admit, I got a little tongue-tied when I was introduced. Actually, rather like a twelve-year-old girl meeting Justin Bieber. I've always thought it rather wonderful that she took over her father's business and has become a master craftsperson in her own right. She is prodigiously talented and extraordinarily gracious.

A collection of New Hope decorative arts: furniture, fiber art and pottery

So not only did I get to see some masterpieces of mid century modern furniture up close (including the piece that Dorsey Reading referred to as Evans' best work), I got to meet some really interesting and talented people in David Rago, Dorsey Reading and Mira Nakashima.


The exhibition itself is well worth the trip. It contains sixty-five pieces of Evans' work and spans his entire career from art school in the early 1950s through to some fiberglass work he did late in the 1980s toward the end of his career. It's the first comprehensive retrospective of his work and a must-see for any fan of Modernism.

Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism is open from March 1 through June 1 at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
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