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PortWatch

April 10, 2014

California style

Peabody Essex Museum showcases designs of '30s to '60s

Visitors entering the Peabody Essex Museum these days may feel like they’re pulling onto a freeway.

They will be greeted inside by the turquoise, fiberglass body of a Studebaker Avanti, a sleek car created in 1963 by industrial designer Raymond Loewy.

The traffic picks up speed in the atrium, where a shiny aluminum Airstream Clipper trailer from the 1930s heads for the museum’s newest exhibit.

“There is no better introduction to California modern than the Airstream trailer in the atrium,” said Wendy Kaplan, head of decorative arts and design at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“It is the emblem of the good life in California, representing the freedom and mobility made possible by advances in technology and by new materials, packaged in a streamlined, modern design.”

The trailer and car are two of 250 objects in “California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way,” which Kaplan co-curated for its original 2011 opening at the Los Angeles museum.

The period it covers saw the transformation of California from a place to live into a way of life, one that carried far beyond the state’s boundaries.

The vehicles of that ideal were not only automobiles but also the architecture, ceramics, jewelry, fashions and household objects that were created in the Golden State.

“There was less emphasis on tradition,” said Austen Bailly, curator of American art at PEM, and formerly on the staff at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “These designers designed with comfort and vibrant color, even fun, in mind, and they turned to Asia, Europe and Latin America for design sources.”

The show also documents the conditions that made the creation of all these consumer items possible. These included a population explosion in the 1920s that created demand for the new objects and was driven in part by opportunity.

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