Mid-Century Modern

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If you’re into Tiki like me, you hear a lot about the Mid-Century Modern era in America. But what exactly does that mean? And what does it have to do with Tiki?

According to Wikipedia, Mid-Century Modern is a term that “generally describes mid-20th century developments in modern design, architecture and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965.” So, our first clue of the connection is the timeline. Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt opened his first Don the Beachcomber’s bar in Hollywood in 1933, and the first great wave of Tiki lasted until about 1967, when the Summer of Love aesthetic supplanted Tiki as the primary means of escapism in America.

So, was Tiki a part of Mid-Century Modern design? Not really. Tiki art and architecture were more primitive and natural than MCM, which was more clean, crisp and futuristic. However, they occupied the same space in America’s history, and co-existed quite nicely. Think The Jetsons meet The Flintstones!

But why should I care about Mid-Century Modern? Because it was the backdrop against which Tiki occurred, and there were many connections between the two besides timing. I like to think of SHAG’s art when I envision this era in American history. SHAG incorporates a lot of the MCM design aesthetic in his artwork, much of which recalls the 1950s-60s of Palm Springs: architecture, artwork, cocktail culture. And SHAG paints a lot of Tikis as well. These are the things he knows.

In the next few blog posts, I’ll explore the different elements of the Mid-Century Modern era. I’ll be learning along with you as we go in more depth into this important topic. Aloha.

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Tiki Ohana – Builders

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The Tiki craze was created by Don The Beachcomber in the 1930s, exploded with the return of American GIs from the Pacific Theatre of World War II in the 1940s, swept the nation in the 1950s and early 1960s, and vanished almost completely by the 1970s. Fortunately, Tiki was resurrected in the 1990s and is regaining its popularity today. Here are the current keepers of the Tiki torch who helped build and rebuild this wonderful lifestyle.

 

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LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. 1956 was an important year for Tiki. This was the year The Mai-Kai opened its doors in Fort Lauderdale FL, and the same year that 2 guys in Southern California opened Oceanic Arts. I’ve written at length about LeRoy and Bob’s story (Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit, Nov 2013). It’s not an exaggeration to say that Oceanic Arts was the most important contributor to the Tiki lifestyle, both yesterday and today. They weathered the downturn of the 1970s and 1980s and are still going strong. Mahalo LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. Please check out their website: www.oceanicarts.net.

 

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Sven Kirsten. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the most important figure in the current Tiki revival. Sven Kirsten is a self-proclaimed urban archeologist, a foreigner to our shores, who took it upon himself to research, document, and chronicle the Tiki culture of Mid-Century Modern America in his comprehensive tome, The Book of Tiki (2000). By doing so, Sven Kirsten inspired an entire generation of Tiki-philes to come up above ground, publicize their findings, and connect with each other. Sven Kirsten’s popularity is at an all-time high, as evidenced by last year’s successful exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris: Tiki Pop, L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien. Please check out the companion book here: www.taschen.com.

 

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Otto Von Stroheim. The Tiki craze was born on the West Coast, and the revival started there as well. From his home base in Los Angeles, Otto Von Stroheim was an early pioneer bringing Tiki back. He began publishing his Tiki News magazine in 1995 and continues to publish it as an e-newsletter today. Otto and his wife Baby Doe also created Tiki Oasis, the original Tiki weekender event held every August in Southern California, typically in Palm Springs or San Diego. He is one of the experts on all things Tiki, from cocktails and mugs to entertainment. Okole maluna, Otto Von Stroheim. Please check out this wonderful interview at The Atomic Grog: www.slammie.com/atomicgrog.

 

image Christie Tiki Kiliki White. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, a young lady in Atlanta GA was dreaming of putting on a Tiki Weekender event of her own for the folks who couldn’t make it to California. Along with her friend Swanky, Christie Tiki Kiliki White created The Hukilau in 2002, hosted by Trader Vic’s in Atlanta. That first 3-day Tiki weekend was a resounding success, and The Hukilau was moved to The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale the following year, where it’s been held ever since. I attended last year’s event and blogged live all 4 days I was there (Aloha from The Hukilau, Jun 2014). Now considered the world’s most authentic Tiki event, The Hukilau celebrates it’s 14th anniversary in 2015, thanks to the tireless efforts of cofounder and organizer Christie White. Mahalo, Tiki Kiliki! Please check out The Hukilau’s website for information on this year’s event: www.thehukilau.com.

 

image Tim Swanky Glazner. As a cofounder of The Hukilau, Tim Swanky Glazner is the East Coast’s answer to Otto Von Stroheim. An expert on all things Tiki, Swanky has many interests including wood carving, Tiki mugs, and mixology. He is the head bartender at Hapa Haole Hideaway in Knoxville TN, and created The Swank Pad website years ago to keep track of his diverse collections. Swanky is currently researching a book on the history of The Mai-Kai, which given his expertise and collection of memorabilia, should be an amazing read. Please check out Swanky’s Facebook page devoted to his forthcoming book here: Mai-Kai: Mystery, History and Adventure.

Stalking SHAG

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I love the work of Josh Agle, the artist better known as SHAG. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not obsessed with him. My chance discovery of SHAG’s art (see my 24Nov13 post, Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge?) started me on the path to Tiki, a journey I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and I sure have collected a lot of SHAG swag over the years. Most of it I’ve gotten myself, but some of it has been acquired for me by my partners in crime, often times in-person, with requests for personalized signatures on my behalf. Which is why SHAG must think I’m stalking him.

Chicago, July 2006. My second SHAG print, Raft of the Medusa, came from his SHAG After Dark exhibition at the DVA Gallery in Lincoln Park. Now I don’t live in Chicago, but my friend Bruce does, and he agreed to head over to the gallery and pick up this print for me. As it turns out, he went there on the first day of the show, and happened to meet Josh Agle in-person, who was there for the premiere party. Bruce got him to autograph the print for me, which was pretty cool.

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New York City, November 2008. I first met Josh Agle myself at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in Chelsea, where he attended the premiere of his Voyeur exhibition. My wife Jess & I took a day trip to NYC, where we did our usual touristy stuff (Times Square, Rockefeller Center, F.A.O. Schwartz), walked down to the old Empire Diner for dinner, then ended the day at the art gallery for the SHAG party. We got there early, and he got there late, but he was gracious and kind enough to talk with me and pose for a few pictures. He also signed my new print, In Search of Tiki, which I had schlepped all over NYC in its tube in my backpack, hoping to get a SHAG personalized autograph. We were off to a good start, Josh & I.

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Anaheim, September 2009. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009. SHAG was commissioned by Disney to create some artwork for the event. They had worked together before on other milestone celebrations, but this was the first time that I was aware of it beforehand and had the opportunity to get some swag in real time. If only I knew somebody in LA! Well, I didn’t, but my friend Gordon has an aunt, Mary Pat Killian, who lives in Whittier and happens to have season passes to Disneyland. Bingo! Gordon asked Aunt Mary if she’d be willing to pick up a few things for me, and she was game. No personalized SHAG autographs, but she did get me some great items, including a set of collectible pins, a tin of postcards, and a cool mini print with themed frame that now hangs in my daughter Natalia’s room. Thanks, Aunt Mary!

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Chicago, February 2010. SHAG came back to Chicago, this time to the Rotofugi Gallery (which had merged with DVA) for his Red Star, Black Eye exhibition. My wallet and I were on hiatus from spending money on SHAG prints (I was up to 4 by now), but even though I wasn’t in the market for anything, I told my buddy Bruce that Josh Agle was coming back to town. Unbeknownst to me, Bruce attended the premiere event, and picked up a little something for me as a surprise birthday gift: a toy Shriner car, also inspired and designed by SHAG. How cool is that?! Of course, Bruce got him to autograph the car for me, but by this time, Josh was on to me and my network.

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Orlando, October 2011. SHAG was called upon by Disney yet again, this time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Now this one was a big deal to me, as my family has fallen in love with WDW and had already vacationed there twice in the 3 years before this event. In fact, we were scheduled to be there again in December of 2011, but I was afraid that might be too late to get any of the good SHAG swag going on sale in October. So, who did I know on the ground in Orlando? Of course: another old friend and former hockey teammate, Michael Hardy! Mike had been living in Orlando for a few years, and when I asked him to run over to the Art of Disney gallery at Downtown Disney to pick up a few things, he was happy to do it. He called me from the gallery to tell me what was available, and we hit the mother lode: shirts, coasters, post cards, pins, and another cool mini print (this one hangs in my other daughter Lexie’s room). It turns out Mike was there on the day Josh Agle was there as well, so he went up to Josh and asked him to sign a few things for his friend, Andy Panda. According to Mike, Josh just shook his head, smiled, and graciously signed away! I was glad to be able to return the favor to Mike a couple of months later, when I treated him to a round of golf at WDW, followed by some Mai-Tais at the Polynesian Resort’s Tamba Lounge. Mahalo, Mike!

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Palm Springs, December 2012. I’ve gotten to know Monet Leann Orystick pretty well, even though I’ve never met her. Monet runs SHAG: The Store in Palm Springs, which is associated with M Modern Gallery, who has hosted several of SHAG’s art exhibitions. I’ve ordered a couple of SHAG shirts from Monet, who does a great job of sending out blast emails and Facebook posts to tempt suckers like me. One day I asked her if Josh Agle visited the store often, and she told me he tries to get there about once a month. I then asked Monet if she’d be willing to deliver a package to him, if I mailed it to the store, and she said she’d be happy to do that for me! I sent Josh a couple of my mix CDs featuring his art on the cover, and a nice letter asking him to consider coming to visit my hometown of Bethlehem. Boy, was I surprised when I got this hand-written note back about a month later!

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New York City, April 2013. Josh Agle returned to the Jonathan Levine Gallery for a 3rd time (I missed the 2nd time) for his Thursday’s Girl exhibition. He had some really cool paintings featuring Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, which unfortunately I didn’t have the $10K to buy! I did come to the premiere party, however, and this time I brought the whole family with me. Thanks to some hellacious NYC traffic and family-friendly stops at Ellen’s Stardust Diner and the Nintendo Store, we were seriously late to the party, and almost didn’t make it before they locked the gallery doors. Fortunately, my friends Beth Lennon (a/k/a Mod Betty) and Cliff Hillis (a/k/a Pop Star) were there to let us in, and Beth had even gotten SHAG to sign one of the event postcards for me in case I didn’t make it. Another stalker joins the team! Well, we did make it, barely, and just like 5 years earlier, SHAG was gracious enough to chat with me and pose for pictures with my whole family. He also thanked me for the CDs I had sent him a few months earlier and asked me when we would come visit him in LA? Funny he should ask!

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Anaheim, June 2013. The 50th anniversary of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room was a huge event in the Tiki world. I had already decided to spend my birthday weekend in LA with Jess, centered around this event as the focal point, and as an added bonus, we met “Aunt” Mary Pat Killian in-person and treated her, her husband Hank, and her nephew (and my friend) Gordon to dinner and drinks at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. So when Josh Agle asked me, a few months earlier in NYC, when we were coming to LA, I just laughed and told him we’d see him again in June! Of course, I already knew that Disney had commissioned SHAG once more to create the signature artwork for this celebration, and I was prepared to finally pick up my SHAG/Disney swag in-person, for the first time. And what a haul! I had pre-ordered most of it, but was still really excited to handle the merchandise: shirts, pins, postcards, mini prints, Tiki mugs, bowls, and even some cool extra stuff we got just for pre-registering for the event! As we met Josh to get some of our stuff signed, he again thanked me for the CDs I had sent him, telling me how much he enjoyed listening to them during his drives out to Palm Springs. I smiled as I handed him another CD I had brought him, just for this occasion! Josh then signed one of my mini prints, with the orange Sharpee I had brought with me for this specific purpose, giving me the coolest personalized SHAG autograph I’m proud to have. I was in Heaven.

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So when will I next see Josh Agle? Who knows? It may be as soon as The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale this June, which Bruce and I plan to attend. SHAG has been to The Hukilau before, so maybe he’ll be there this year? If so, I’ll be happy to buy him a drink, shoot the breeze, and not ask him to sign anything, for a change. Unless, of course, I end up buying some really cool SHAG swag there…