Quirky Events Add Zing to PS Mod Week

This amazing image is part of a space-age style exhibit at Palm Springs Modernism Week, one of several offbeat events that flesh out the increasingly popular week. Courtesy of Martin McGee

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the past from the future. But isn’t that what good design is all about?

During Palm Springs Modernism Week, a sprawling smorgasbord of events ranging from mid-century modern home tours and visits (many sold out) and the popular Modernism Show & Sale to parties and exhibits, visitors discover beautiful designs that are mostly old but sometimes new, generally in a retro way.

The non-profit behind this February 14-February 24 'week' has managed to squeeze in some 350 events – a good reason for extending the week to 11 days.

Among the events, some of the smaller but deeply heartfelt programs should not be overlooked.

Consider ‘Space Age Era Culture and Design 1957-1972,’ an exhibit, talk, and film showings put on by Martin McGee, a documentarian and media producer from Buffalo, who loves designs from that era because they seem both exotic – yet so of today. Or even of tomorrow.

“Wow,” people have told Martin while admiring some of his collectables, which make up the bulk of the exhibit. “That [object] looks like Apple is going to put it out in ten years.”

The Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon from 1967 is a sharp yet workaday vehicle, with a glass roofed area. Photo by John Jordan

The period McGee focuses on runs from Sputnik to the end of the Apollo program. “I grew up in that period, during the height of the space age. It was the last period when we had a really unified cultural situation. It affected everyone from the corporate board room to the hippies,” he says.

“It was ahead of its time and it still seems contemporary,” McGee says of designs from that period. “That fascinates me.”

He says few exhibits and only one book have focused on space age design. “I hope to do something like what Sven Kirsten did with Tiki culture."

His free exhibit, 'Artifacts of the Future,' in the lobby of Palm Springs Convention Center, opens Friday evening February 15 at 6 p.m. and ends Monday afternoon, February 18. It will have about 100 objects, including a JVC ball TV showing the moon landing, shag carpeting, groovy old outer-space-themed ads, and plenty of stuff made from Lucite, including a stereo.

McGee will also talk, sign his book on the topic, and show a 1970 sci-fi film, ‘Marooned.’

Consider the spaciousness and comfort of a 1971 Oldsmobile 442 wagon. Photo by John Jordan

“It includes technological outer space, psychological inner space, and socialized human space,” McGee says of the focus of his research. “You cannot understand that period from a design sense without also looking at the influence of psychedelics.”

Also during Modernism Week, Palm Springs resident John Jordan focuses on a mode of transportation a bit less exotic than rocket ships but equally appealing – mid-century station wagons.

His talk,From Real Woodies to Vinyl: America's Love Affair with the Station Wagon,’ starts at 10 a.m. on February 17. It is inspired by a book Jordan wrote with Will Bodine, ‘Looking Backwards, America’s Love Affair with the Station Wagon.’

“The whole idea is, the station wagon became the workhorse vehicle of suburban America,” Jordan says. He adds, “They speak to a whole slice of Americana, and how they supported the growth of the suburbs.”

A car collector, Jordan says vintage station wagons, once ignored, have been showing up at car shows for about a decade now.

“I started seeing station wagons starting to show up at car shows, and at first I thought that was quirky. These were originally purchased as secondary vehicles by families who felt the need at the time because of their growing families, living in suburbia, taking care of your lawn,” he says.

“For station wagons, it’s amazing to see them as collectors cars because production numbers were lower than other vehicles and they were workhorses. They weren’t babied.”

The Palm Springs Door Tour provides attendees with a map to about 15 homes with cool doors. Photo by Bethany Nauert

If you’re looking for an even lowlier form of transportation during Modernism Week, rent a bike at the gathering point at the Saguaro hotel or bring you own and attend the Palm Springs Door Tour, on two days, February 17 and 24.

Anyone who has ever walked, driven, or biked through some of Palm Spring’s cool mid-century neighborhoods has spotted some quirky, colorful, and/or just plain sharp-looking doors.

This 90-minute to three hour or so tour, in which participants use their own transport to follow a map to about 15 homes, gets beyond that, though.

At each door in the Indian Canyon neighborhood, docents will be there to discuss history and aesthetics. Co-sponsor is Dunn-Edwards Paints, and many of the doors are newly painted, says Katy Carrier, event organizer. Carrier, a journalist and blogger, has been picturing cool doors on her blog Palm Springs Style.

What makes a great door?

“I’d say some combination of a great color and great detail, the door knob, the knocker,” Carrier says. “Also architectural detail, the carving. It doesn’t hurt if the rest of the house is amazing.”

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