Mingei Museum brings Craft Revolution to Pacific Standard Time project

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

The art event of the year is Pacific Standard Time, a grand collaboration of museums and galleries around Southern California that celebrates four fertile decades (1945-1980) of California art. Spearheaded by L.A.’s Getty Foundation, PST includes major exhibitions by two San Diego museums — the Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” and the Mingei’s “San Diego’s Craft Revolution: From Post-War Modern to California Design,” which opened Oct.16.

From Bauhas-influenced mid-century modernism to a more playful approach to the making of furniture, ceramics and “body ornaments” in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Mingei’s crafty exposé of local talent features some 250 pieces by 69 San Diegans who were part of the emerging art scene around the world.

Craft Revolution curator Dave Hampton is a passionate collector and longtime documenter of San Diego’s visual arts community, whose latest publication, “San Diego’s Craft Revolution,” was released to coincide with the exhibit. He is especially interested in members of a group called the Allied Craftsmen, still in existence, but notably prominent from the late ‘40s to late ‘70s because of its relationship with the San Diego Museum of Art, then known as the Fine Arts Gallery.

At a preview of the show, Hampton talked about how postwar modernists in San Diego were an “esthetic minority” in the days when abstract art was more often loathed than admired. So craftspeople banded together to encourage each other and help San Diegans understand the new forms of art.

Every piece in the show has a story behind it.

Among the earlier works are experimental photographs and a short color film that looks like a precursor of ‘60s light shows by Lynn Fayman, three-time president of La Jolla Museum of Art and husband of local arts patron Danah Fayman. There are well-turned wooden bowls and an elegant lamp by craftspeople in the Lemurian Fellowship, a community of folks based in Ramona since 1941 who believe in received wisdom from the lost continents of Mu and Atlantis.

The exhibit, on display through April 15, shows practical stoneware giving way to abstract ceramics in the 1950s, when form was more valued than function. And then came the ‘60s, when anything was possible.

Fast Fact: Douglas Deeds’ circa-1960 beer-can chairs preceded Andy Warhol’s pop-art soup cans by about two years.

Not-So-Fast Fact: In 1967, Windandsea surfer and board-shaper Carl Eckstrom joined forces with Svetozar “Toza” Radakovich, an established sculptor/jeweler from Yugoslavia, in a confluence of SoCal and European sensibilities that produced a sleek set of polyurethane/fiberglass doors. These Double Doors, newly buffed for the exhibit by Eckstrom, are on loan from the Bay Area home they have adorned for more than 40 years.

“Intergenerational, intercultural collaboration was characteristic of the Allied Craftsmen community,” Hampton said. “And this show is really a story that leads to the Mingei. It starts with Martha Longenecker and other studio artists of her generation going off to interact with artists from other countries. That exchange of cultural influences is what led to the founding of the Mingei.”

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About the Mingei

The Mingei International Museum started out in 1978 with a 6000-square-foot space in University Towne Center. It was founded by La Jolla dynamo Martha Longenecker, a ceramist, educator, and the museum’s director from 1978-2005. In 1996, the Mingei moved to its current 41,000-square-foot Balboa Park location, designed under her supervision.

The word MINGEI, meaning “art of all people,” was invented by Shoetsu Yanagi, one of several Japanese artisans and art historians who inspired Longenecker’s work. The museum is dedicated to exhibiting folk art, craft and design from different cultures and eras. Several of Longenecker’s pieces are on view in the current show.