Traveling with a California curator

Our newest exhibition opening festivities are underway. I caught up with a visiting curator here for the installation. California Design: Living a Modern Way 1930-1965  comes to us, fittingly, from LACMA, where Bobbye Tigerman is Associate Curator of Decorative Arts and Design.

We sat in our Atrium on a dreary day in March, when New Englanders are so done with winter, we never want to see it again, and discussed, well, California.

Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, 1958

Buff, Straub & Hensman, Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, 1958. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1959.Getty Research Institute. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).

“Ideally we would have included the weather in the loan contract,” Bobbye said with a smile, “but since we couldn’t, I think it will remind people of the possibilities of summer and warmth and take them away a little bit while they are in the show, like a little vacation.”

Speaking of vacation, the object that most captures the themes of this show, she says, is the 1936 Airstream Clipper.

airstream loadin

Moving in the 1936 Airstream to PEM’s Atrium with the Yin Yu Tang Chinese House in the background. Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

“It has this aluminum body and it’s riveted and the technique to make it is derived from air travel technology. Then it’s an industrial technique that gets transformed to a more consumer application. It’s also a home on wheels and this is a show all about the modern home. This represents the openness of California, which is a cliche in a way, but also true.

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

Airstream in PEM's Atrium. Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

Airstream in PEM’s Atrium. Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

The idea that a lot of people were drawn to California because of the perception of endless possibility and that the rules could be broken or bent and that they couldn’t realize their dreams in other places. You could take your airstream to the beach or the mountains or the desert and it became your home and it gave flexibility and freedom and that permeates the entire show.”

Of the various locations this exhibition has traveled to — Japan, New Zealand and Australia –  Salem, Massachusetts certainly seems the most opposite, literally and culturally from California. The other venues are Pacific Rim and have this idea of the west that they share with LACMA. Plus the climates of New Zealand and Australia offer a sensibility shared with Southern California. But New England? In March?


Woman’s bathing suit, late 1950s. United States, California. Gift of Esther Ginsberg and Linda Davis in honor of Jennifer Blake. Margit Fellegi Estate; Reproduced with permission of The Warnaco Group Inc. All rights reserved. For Authentic Fitness Corp., Cole of California. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.

Bobbye is actually FROM California. When pressed where exactly, she answers: “I’m a valley girl…totally.”


Bobbye Tigerman at PEM, braving a cold March day.
Photo by Dinah Cardin

She adds: “What I think it means to be a true Californian is that you have to have chosen to move there. You have to have made that conscious choice to leave where you are because you have to think that what you can find in California is different. As a native, I don’t think I truly understand what California means. California is a dream and and it’s a fiction, but it’s a fiction that everyone buys into. And continues today. I talk to young designers who say they come for the space, the light. The informality and laid back quality of life is something that persists and that myth remains powerful today.”

Kaufmann House, Palm Springs, 1946

Richard Neutra, Kaufmann House, Palm Springs, 1946. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1947. Getty Research Institute. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).

California Design opens Saturday, March 29, with a full line-up of activities from 11 to 4. Both a 1936 Airstream and a 1964 Avanti are on view in the Atrium.


One Comment

  1. Caryn says:

    Every time I walk past that shiny Airstream in the Atrium, I am going to be daydreaming of taking it on a road trip to warm, sunny Cali.

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