Thursday, April 19, 2012


The big wall clock with the ticking second hand is still ten minutes short of three thirty. Mr. Morrison is droning on about the Mexican-American war, something about Teddy Roosevelt and some rough riders. I'm only hearing foreign location, beach and exotic travel. There's a lilac bush outside the window in full bloom and the weather has been uncharacteristically warm for the beginning of April. In Madison in early April we're still not clear of a hard frost or spring snow. There's still a good month and a half to go till school is out for the year. It's 1962. In my childhood once summer is here the best I can hope for is an overnight in The Dells with a trip to Storybook Gardens and maybe a chance at a beaded belt made in China. I don't know what it is but some of us are born with the need to travel. There's a curiosity to discover what the canals of Venice smell like or if you can make one of the Queen's guards smile.
It's now 2012. I know now how the canals of Venice smell (not so good) and I've tried to get one of the Queens' guard to crack a smile (with no success) but I've still got plenty of places on my bucket list. So until our ship rolls in and we're able to buy those tickets to exotic locales once again I'm going to have to settle for posting the accoutrements of traveling as my link to my wanderlust. Here's a little ode to the suitcase. It's always good to have one handy so when the traveling gnome comes a knockin' you ready to go get rockin'.
In the entry of the Waterfront Hotel in San Francisco the unclaimed baggage of long departed guests now stands as a memorial to a stay so good they forgot their possessions and left with only their memories of one unforgettable evening at the Waterfront. The use of these perfectly balanced suitcases makes for a sensational console, unexpected but totally appropriate.
A more practical use may be to use them closer to what they were made for. In this white on white niche a rustic bench stores a couple of valises providing a clean place for keeping your thousand thread count vintage Italian linens.
Stephen Kenn has taken the essence of luggage and WWII era military gear turning it into furniture that makes you want to stay at home. Steve welds the steel frames, rusts them so they turn that beautiful color of toast and marmalade and then seals the frames to protect the patina. The belting replicates Swiss mule belts reminding me of the straps on campaign luggage trudged through the African jungles on safaris. There's a real hint of the elegance of a hundred years ago here with a very modern twist.
I've always admired those metal suitcases carried onboard planes by photographers. The ones with the foam interiors making negative patterns outlining the camera bodies and lens they are meant to protect. Maybe Design out of Vienna and Istanbul has re-crafted these protective carriers into these sleek chairs and ottomans. Reminiscent of the lines you'd see in a Saarinen airport lounge, they have stewardess and "fly me" written all over them.
Restoration Hardware has created an entire line of desks, chests and cocktail tables based on the luggage of oceanic travel. they've named the line the Richards' Collection. I'm not entirely sure who the Richards are but it they aren't they should have been oceanic travelers. The kind of people who would have sat at the captain's table next to Rose and the Unsinkable Molly Brown. They would have been the ones hoisting a glass of champagne as their ship rolled to the ocean floor because they had class. This furniture collection carved from  luggage has that kind of class. They've updated the function of this vintage luggage with a secretary hidden in a steamer trunk where a twenty-first century traveler can sit at their computer and google places like Orvieto or Kyoto.
Now for the backpackers out there, Quize & Milan with Eastpak have sewed up this great sofa replicating their soft luggage complete with zippers and pouches for storing all those remotes and magazines that can clutter up an organized person's sense of order. So with everything stored away you can hang up your hiking shoes and relax.
I like to hunt the flea markets for my suitcase finds and then stack my treasures at the edge of a sofa or next to the bed. In this new century luggage has become disposable for the most part. There was such sophistication and glamour connected with the travel of the past. I have to applaud all those designers who have either taken the time to reclaim and repurpose some of the traveling containers from the past or used those pieces of elegant travel as an inspiration for their contemporary designs.

There is a graveyard for all those lost bags, never recovered and doomed to the loneliness of the unclaimed. It's called the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. I took it as a joke when I first read about it but this place really exists, For over forty years the Unclaimed Baggage Center has grown from an operation run as a bunch of card tables with the unclaimed unmentionables laid out for a few bargain hunters to peruse to a 40,000 square foot thrift store with a department store atmosphere. Shoppers now come from around the world to hunt for treasures, sometimes from unlocked valises and Gucci bags were the contents could lead to unbelievable fortunes like a Barbie doll stuffed with $500 in cash or a camera designed for the Space Shuttle - who knew NASA flew commercial. Whoever said there wasn't anything to do in Alabama?

Thursday, April 25th, is the opening gala for Design MMoCA. This will be the third bi-annual holding of the event. The two previous Design MMoCA events were a way of highlighting the interior and architectural design potential in the area in a way that included them in the art culture of Madison. The way it worked was invitations were sent out to area interior designers and architects to submit applications for entry into the event. From the submitting designers a representative group of the design community was selected to participate. Each designer or firm was then brought in to select an art piece from the museum's permanent collection. They were then to come up with a three-dimensional space with a footprint no larger than twelve feet by twelve feet inspired by their selected artwork.
This year the field of design disciplines was enlarged to include fashion, jewelry and graphic designers as well. Anyone who could add designer to their name was encouraged to participate. The challenge was the same: choose a piece of art from the museum's collection and construct a design around that artwork to include the piece of art.
This will be our first opportunity to participate in the event. We chose a photograph by Wisconsin photographer, Carl Corey. Carl's work is categorized as fine art documentary photography. Carl's most recent book, Tavern League - Portraits of Wisconsin Bars, digs deep into the rough-edged beauty of working-class taverns and bars. We chose a piece titled "At Random - Milwaukee", an architectural image of a supper club, the B movie kind best seen under the haze of low lighting and a few beers. Our challenge was to transform this juxtaposition of the raw unrefined envelope into an illusion of elegance.
The exhibition will run from April 26 to May 6. There will be an opportunity to meet the designers on Sunday, April 29 from 2 to 4. We will be giving a talk on, "Why use a designer" on Saturday, May 5 at 11am.

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Zane Williams, Photographer

1 comment:

  1. Why am I not surprised that you picked a photo as your art inspiration?