It Takes Two - Page 2

Cultured couples of California's mid-century who doubled down as partners in love and lifework

1. JERRY AND EVELYN ACKERMAN

  It Takes Two
 

Other married working couples could learn from the Jerry and Evelyn Ackerman story, which clearly showed that their work together was just one aspect of their loving relationship.

Few conjugal partnerships proved as long-lasting or tight-knit as that shared by the Ackermans, who fell in love and married within months of meeting in 1948.

Shortly afterwards, Jerry (1920-2019) and Evelyn (1924-2012) relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles, where, during the decade that followed, they launched their Jenev Design Studio collaboration and began to raise a daughter in a compact mid-century cottage in Culver City.

Both talented designers and craftspeople, the Ackermans partnered to produce affordable work in many media—silk screens, mosaics, tapestries, woodcarvings, ceramics—that would appeal to young couples like themselves.

Their work, rooted in Bauhaus modernism, and in popular culture too, ranged from the functional—vases, pitchers—to pure art. Evelyn had a light touch with the figure and with animals. As a hobby she collected dolls.

It Takes Two
Perhaps the model California couple in the arts whose lives were superbly intertwined in a loving relationship were Jerry and Evelyn Ackerman (top), pictured here from 1948. Above: One of Evelyn's beautiful mosaics.

Evelyn's abstractions were fresh, decorative, and exciting. She designed wooden doors incised with scenes from the zodiac. With Jerry, a dapper man who could keep the patter going, handling the business, Evelyn was free to concentrate on what she did best—design.

The Ackermans' work was shown in Arts & Architecture magazine, among many publications, and taken up by leading crafts galleries throughout Southern California. To keep prices low they farmed out production, often to crafts studios in Mexico, Greece, and Southern California.

They divvied up tasks well. Evelyn was the chief designer, Jerry the salesman, and Evelyn was credited for her work. "We collaborated on a few of the designs, but Evvie was really the main designer," Jerry said.

Jerry, a talented potter, put his art on hold to work the business behind Evelyn's designs. "I never stopped doing designing, but it was in conjunction with Evvie. I was not instigating design unless I had an idea. Then I would do a rough sketch and Evvie would develop it," he recalled.

"He's a good idea man," Evelyn said in a 2009 interview.

Evelyn explained how their differing personalities worked together to further their design business.

"Jerry could meet people, talk to people. He was gregarious," she said. "I was shy and retiring, and we were a perfect match. He could do things I couldn't do, and I could do things he couldn't do."

 

2. LOIS AND FRED LANGHORST

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By 1950 the husband-wife team of Lois and Fred Langhorst were trendsetters among advanced architects and adventurous clients in the Bay Area thanks to a series of small, woodsy homes.

These had blank walls facing the street, and walls of wooden-framed glass opening to the out of doors to the rear. Rooflines over living areas extended well beyond the house, over verandahs that could be as wide as the living room. Many of their homes had 'garden rooms.'

Their work was shown at the San Francisco Museum of Art—including in a one-firm show in 1950. Their work was published often in the professional and popular press.

Lois (1914-1989) won attention for providing innovative, freestanding kitchen islands. Langhorst homes showed the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright—Fred (1905-1979) had trained and worked as an architect at Wright's Taliesen—and of William Wurster, the Bay Area modernist credited as an inventor of the modern ranch house.

Lois, who got her masters of architecture at MIT, came to California hoping to work for Wurster—only to learn he didn't hire women because they would distract his men. Such thinking by otherwise advanced thinkers suggests why there were so few women architects at the time.

It Takes Two
Bay Area architects Fred and Lois Langhorst (top) worked together as Langhorst & Langhorst from 1942-'50. Above: Their Kauffman House design, Hillsborough, from 1949.

The Langhorsts worked together as Langhorst & Langhorst from 1942 to 1950. Their work suggests that each brought some of their own influences to produce homes that neither would have designed on their own.

Although many of their homes were credited, in the press and elsewhere, to Fred only, the couple collaborated on many designs. Lois also designed homes for clients on her own. She also kept busy raising three children.

Just as their careers were on an upswing, material shortages during the Korean War halted building. The Langhorsts went to Europe, planning to stay a year. They stayed five. Their relationship fell apart, author Inge Horton has written, and a bitter divorce left Lois with the children but financially devastated.

It is not clear if working together contributed to their divorce.

In subsequent years Lois showed her paintings and became an educator, including as the first female design instructor at the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley—which was headed by Wurster.