Artist Was Inspired by Living in an Eichler

Forms, colors, and the suggestion of imagery in Kerry Vander Meer's Eichler series of works on paper derive from her experienceof living in an Eichler in Marin County. Courtesy of Kerry Vander Meer

Contemporary artists who deliberately evoke the mid-century modern era by drawing amoeba-like forms, or lozenges, or dapper guys with pencil-thin ties and wasp-waisted women posing poolside by a Tiki, are legion.

As mid-century modern style has zoomed in popularity, many artists have jumped onboard, including many who were not even alive during the period. Many do fine work and have been profiled by the Eichler Network.

Kerry Vander Meer, who recently showed her 'Eichler series' of works at Mercury 20 gallery in Oakland, is not one of this crew. Her work evokes the period – but more subtly. So subtly, in fact, that the influence of Eichler on her work has sometimes not been obvious to the artist herself.

“When I did the first Eichler series,” Kerry says, while displaying some new and old works to a visitor in her mid-century modern West Oakland studio, “I didn’t realize they were Eichler-like. Then [many years later] I looked at them and they reminded me of Eichlers.”

And Kerry did grow up during the mid-century, part of the time in an Eichler home in Marin’s Upper Lucas Valley.

Kerry, getting ready for her high school prom, poses in her Eichler home, which was outfitted totally 1960s. “Those curtains, they are so cool, that big-leaf pattern," she says. "No one would have curtains like that today. But they are so cool.” Courtesy Kerry Vander Meer

It’s an experience that haunts her still, but in a good way.

She moved as a high school senior into an Eichler on Idyllberry Road, with her family, relocating from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She had never seen anything like the home and fell in love.

“It was fabulous. It was soothing and calm,” she says. “My bedroom had one wall that was total windows from the floor to the ceiling. I was looking into the atrium and I could look all the way to the backyard.”

“It’s so zen-like.”

Kerry was not an artist then, though she did sew in the home, sewing her own homecoming dress, for example. She was in all ways a normal teen. “I was so into being popular and graduating and having a boyfriend, and all that,” she says.

She graduated from Terra Linda High and remembers enjoying the “communal pool” and recreation center at the Lucas Valley Eichlers.

Kerry went on to have a solid art career, with an MFA in sculpture from Mills College in Oakland. She has shown her art at the Oakland Museum and throughout the world, doing a residency in Ireland “that brought together hundreds of people and involved the construction of over 200 fabric and paper boats, each representing the families that migrated from the Iveragh Peninsula over the past 150 years,” her website says.

“After returning to California, Vander Meer sewed the boats together to form a large Celtic cross, which she exhibited, suspended from a ceiling, at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco,” the site continues.

Kerry's work involves a series of manipulations, including collage, to produce works that seem simple yet evocative. Courtesy of Kerry Vander Meer

A few years ago while cleaning her studio she came upon a series of small works she’d done 20 to 30 years earlier—small yet complex works that involve mono-printing, etching, collage, and more, using images that, she says, “just come out of my head.”

That was when she realized the forms, colors, and moods of the works had been influenced by the four years she lived in the Eichler home and the years afterwards she spent there when visiting her family.

“When I look at these I think: these remind me of Eichlers. These remind me of something you would see framed on an Eichler wall,” Kerry says. “If anyone else agrees with me, I don’t know.”

The mood came naturally and did not require forethought. “It’s just in your blood if you grew up with these forms and colors, and these accessories and furnishings. You’re living and breathing it from your childhood. Of course it’s going to rub off.”

“Noguchi, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Eichler all shared a sensibility. I think they all have a lot of roots in Asian art. A lot of people who like my work say it’s so Asian,” she says.

Kerry says she would never want to directly imitate forms from the work of 1950s or ‘60s artists. “I’m not going to copy. I wouldn’t want to copy what somebody else has done. But the influence is there.”

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Another image from Kerry's Eichler series

“I just work on different bodies of work, different series, performance, sculpture, painting. It’s usually organic,” she says. “I think most of my organic forms come from my childhood, growing up in the ‘60s. My goodness, that was such a period, with the music and all the visual forms. Free love. It was a very exciting time to live, compared with now, particularly. Now it’s just a scary time to live.”

Her studio, originally a commercial building, was turned into live-work spaces by her late husband, the landscape designer Rod Garrett, well known for his pool and spa designs and for being chief designer for Burning Man at its origin and for laying out Burning Man’s Black Rock City.

The studio is a block away from some of Oakland’s more innovative galleries, including Aggregate Space and Transmission Gallery.

Kerry’s work, which can be radically affordable (at Mercury 20 her small works in the Eichler series went for about $125-$250), can be seen and obtained at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s rental gallery, at Mercury 20 where she will have another show in the fall, and through her website.

“I feel really fortunate to have grown up during the time I did,” Kerry says. “And California sure was the right place to be.”

Kerry Vander Meer alongside the printing press in her West Oakland studio. Photo by Dave Weinstein

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