I have a few secret things that I love. Everybody has them. I love water parks. Related to that, I love boogie boarding. I love hot fudge sundaes. I love Mercedes Benz automobiles from the mid-late 1960s. And I love family Christmas letters. When I was a kid, they were often mimeographed. They came with their own scent. Distant yet intimate. A staple of the American middle-class holiday season. Now only my friend David Kerr and my Aunt Roberta still send them, and I look forward to hearing the news, even if I already know most of the information.
|Favorite car (MB 280 SE)|
As some of you know, I post a monthly photo diary on Facebook. This will serve to remind me what I did as my memory grows dimmer. It also takes care of the basic information that a holiday letter would contain. So I decided that instead of writing a letter, I would list favorites from this year and see where that leads.
|Joe Brainard: I Remember|
The idea of starting a list of favorites was inspired by the late artist Joe Brainard and his book I Remember. Through repetition, he creates one of the most intimate yet accessible poems I’ve ever read. I am also rereading the great catalog that curator Constance Lewallen prepared for the Brainard retrospective that was at the Berkeley Art Museum in 2001. Brainard brought me around to representational painting. I was reminded of Joe because he was mentioned in the biography of painter Fairfield Porter that I recently finished. Porter has got me looking carefully at contemporary representational painting and exploring the connections between those painters and poets like James Schuyler, John Ashbery, and Ron Padgett. I got to the Porter biography because of its author, Justin Spring. Before this year, I had never read anything by Spring, but his book on the writer Samuel Steward is incredible. Before the Steward book, Spring wrote mostly art history and criticism. So let’s begin there.
|Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward,|
Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade
Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade
Although he lived and worked near where I grew up, I never knew about Steward until his letters with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were published in the late 1970s. But he was much more than a friend of the literati. He was also a tattoo artist, pornographer, professor, and associate of Alfred Kinsey. Spring threads together a life that might otherwise seem fragmented. (My interview with him is posted on my other blog.)
My second favorite biography is Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life, by Carol Sklenicka. It’s well worth reading even if you are not a big Carver fan.
|Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life|
Favorite Joint Art Biography
My favorite solo art biography was the one on Porter. But since I am making the rules, I am going to add a category called “Favorite Joint Art Biography.” I am not yet finished reading Art and Activism: Projects of John and Dominique de Menil, but I am going to include it anyway. This couple spent much of their adult life trying to link contemporary art and spiritual inquiry. This project interests me as much as any other.
|Art and Activism: Projects of John and Dominique de Menil|
Patti Smith’s memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe reminds us that the fleeting moments are history.
|Just Kids by Patti Smith|
Favorite Art Town Book
Chinati: The Vision of Donald Judd
How many artists decide that a town is the right scale for an artwork? This gorgeous volume brings back the memories of a trip Paul and I took there in 2009.
|Walking to the Artillery Shed at Chinati.|
Favorite Design Book
Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Mid-century Designers
I have already written a review and posted an interview about Leslie Williamson’s beautiful new book. You can’t fix the world, but you can record a moment of beauty. Leslie tells stories of place with her photographs and her writing. She reminds me that there is no sin in beautifully designed clutter.
|Courtesy of Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Mid-century Designers|
Favorite Design Blog
Every morning Remodelista posts a carefully curated selection of environments and objects that are now part of my morning ritual.
I didn’t go to the cinema in 2010. But I am looking forward to renting Martin Scorsese’s documentary Public Speaking, a conversation with Fran Lebowitz. If I had seen that film, it would have been my favorite.
|Public Speaking, a conversation with Fran Lebowitz|
Favorite New Shoes
I bought these Clarks. I remember them from high school when we called them inside-out shoes because of the funny seam that runs up the middle. They didn’t have them in black then.
|Favorite new shoes (Clark's)|
Favorite Friends’ New House
That would be have to be David and Jay’s crisp modern rectangle in the Berkeley hills by Clarence Tantau. Rarely does somebody buy a house that I could move right into.
|David and Jay's house|
Favorite New Hotel
I mean new to us. The Middleton Inn outside Charleston, designed by Clark and Menefee, profoundly moved both Paul and me. Inspired by historic architecture and Louis Kahn, the architects created something boldly original and subtle.
Favorite Old Hotel
We only got to visit the Arizona Inn once this year. Although small things change all the time, nothing really changes. Which is just the way we like it.
Favorite New Northern Place
Vermont is the cleanest state we’ve ever been to. Hardly any litter or fast food joints. It’s affordable, friendly, but not sweet. Great swimming holes. We went to see our friends Liz Ross and David Westby, and Paul was ready to move there. Their beautiful home could almost convert me to a traditional house. We now know the charms of a cool basement in an East Coast summer.
Favorite New Southern City
Who could resist Charleston’s charms? It’s about space, light, and proximity to the water. The cemeteries capture the essence of the place.
Favorite New Restaurant for Design
That would have to be Lincoln in Lincoln Center. Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed the place. The carpet was travertine-patterned, and Barbara Walters was a few tables away. How swank is that?
Favorite Big Party
Definitely Rob and Jeff’s big queer wedding in Washington DC. There are some advantages to being slightly controlling. You get a good event. There were great testimonials and raucous dancing.
|Rob and Jeff's wedding|
The second favorite big party was also in Washington. It also involved Rob and Jeff, although you can’t see them. Here is a video clip from the Miss Adams Morgan Pageant.
Favorite New Art Museum
Hands down, it’s the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson. Anne-Marie Russell has created a great center for art in the desert. And now it’s in a former Brutalist fire station.
|Favorite new art museum (MOCA Tucson)|
When Prop 8 was overturned, we marched!
Favorite Source for Bow Ties
Seigo via Jill Pilaroscia!
The Concrete Tour of Cambridge, Massachusetts by yours truly in celebration of Paul’s mid-century mark. We found Jay's old apartment in Luis Sert land!
Favorite Bus Tour
The magic bus ride that Al and I took!
|Al Baum on the favorite bus tour|
Our all-time favorite garden is Uncle Graham’s in Walton in the Midlands because Graham created it. But like all art, it is never done. We saw it at the beginning of the year in winter. Amazing light.
Not far from Graham, we toured the garden of his friend John Oakland, Long Close Garden, near Woodhouse Eaves. A life’s work really. Although it was winter, there was still a great deal of life.
|Graham's friend's garden|
The Middleton Inn (see above), which is next door to one of the country’s grandest gardens, the Middleton Plantation. We woke early to avoid the humidity, and it was one of those rare moments where you were alone and walking, as if in a dream. As if an entire estate was yours for an hour or two.
Not far from us in El Cerrito, I stumbled on Harlan Hand’s famous garden at a Sunday open house.
|Harland Hand garden|
Favorite Garden Without Plants
My young friend Lissa took me to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. Reminded me of Simon Rodia, but the garden version. Here is a brief video. You must check it out if you are ever in Philly.
Favorite New Print
Chris Brown’s Trackside found its way to the living room wall.
|Favorite new print (Chris Brown)|
Favorite Fashion Designer
I don’t know very many fashion designers, but I love what our friend Martha McQuade does. She had a show in March at the Rare Device store in San Francisco. And her website is exquisite.
|Rare Device (where our favorite designer exhibited her wares)|
Favorite Factory (and Ceramic Bowls)
Truth is, I don’t visit many factories in any given year. But this one should be on everybody’s list. Heath Tile are still making it like they used to, but at the same time introducing new designs. They are not cheap, but you have them forever (if you are careful!).
Favorite Porcelain Artist
Paul went to high school in the Midlands with Joanna Howells. We saw her briefly at the holidays a year ago, and the house she shares with her partner Tony is a perfect cozy Welsh cottage. For Christmas, Pauly got a new piece! Also, you can read an interview with her on my blog at
|Pauly's new gift from Joanna Howells|
Favorite New Car
Zipcar! I no longer own a car. I miss my car, but I am saving money. I should say instead of giving money to the insurance company and the repair shop, I am giving it to the IRS. Now, my favorite Zipcar from this year was a Mini Cooper. Tempting…
Esalen, of course. All my worries went away while the Big Sur waves crashed outside. Cherie’s perfect birthday gift!
Favorite Art Farm
One of the highlights of April was the visit to the Oliver Ranch in Sonoma County, where Steve Oliver led a tour and shared his thoughts about collecting experiences. Although he must give this tour several times a year, it felt fresh. Find a tour to join.
|Martin Puryear at the favorite art farm|
I don’t shop much any more. My all time favorite shop was Design Research. Jane Thompson and Alexandra Lange wrote a wonderful history of the store, which I blogged about and reviewed for The Architect’s Newspaper. Some of my happiest moments this year were looking at that book. Although Design Research no longer exists you can find some of the spirit of the store in a little shop in Gualala, California (just north of Sea Ranch) owned by two D/R alums, Maynard and Lu Lyndon. They don’t have room for all the great furniture but there are lots of Marimekko clothes, bags, and linens. The Lyndons are not stuck in the past but have updated the vision with contemporary crafts and an art gallery. Not only is everything beautiful they are great shopkeepers. Look for a blog entry about them in the near future! We got to visit with them on New Years Day while visiting our favorite place to ring in New Years.
Favorite Place to Ring in New Years
It’s Sea Ranch, where architects planned a utopian eco-friendly place and got a semirural suburbia by the ocean. But we still like the bluff walks, good architecture, and old friends.
And my favorite place to spend Christmas (besides anywhere with Paul's Aunt Jenny and Uncle Graham and their kids) is Carmel with Cherie and David and their family. Also one of my favorite non-boogie boarding beaches. History, white sand, and a Frank Lloyd house at one end. What's not to love?
|Favorite regular beach (Carmel)|
A good place to close is my favorite composer. And best buddy and partner, Paul Crabtree.
|Pauly with stars in his eyes|