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Go west, young PEM!

March 28, 2014

All the leaves are brown.  And the sky is gray.  In the midst of this so-called “spring,” we’re “California Dreamin” along with the Mamas and the Papas.  Unfortunately for us, California is 3,000 miles (a 4-day drive or a 6 hour plane ride) away.  Or is it?

The Peabody Essex Museum’s newest exhibit, California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way (on view March 29-July 6)brings the West Coast right to us.  The exhibit, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), captures the essence of California in the mid-20th century – glamorous, modern, bright, relaxed, sleek, and functional.

It is the first major exhibition study of modern California design and influence and features a diverse collection of textiles, clothing, furniture, home decor, jewelry, toys, film and television clips, and so much more.

In the early 20th century, California experienced a huge economic boom.  Bolstered by the movie industry and post-WWII population boom (and development of surburbia), California became a hub of innovation and experimentation: it was a mecca for creativity and modernism.

Walking through the exhibit, you feel as though you’ve been invited to a mid-century Hollywood dream soiree.  You’re now in with the “in” crowd and surrounded by designer clothes and jewelry, modern furniture, retro home decor, and the obligatory film clips and Oscar statuette (hey, it’s a Hollywood party, after all!).  As you meander, you pass famous faces, such as Walt Disney, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, William Powell, Esther Williams, and Barbie.  All that’s missing are cocktails, canapes, and David Niven (because we’re pretty sure he was at every Hollywood party ever).

And like a dream, you can look and admire, but not touch (or take.  We asked).

For more information on this exhibit, visit

***As a quick fun fact, many of the items in this exhibit – the film clips, “Million Dollar Mermaid” swimsuit, Oscar, Adrian gowns, etc., tie back to MGM Studios.  Studio head, Louis B. Mayer (aka, the second MGM “M”) got his start in the film industry operating a chain of theaters in Haverhill.  In a way, part of this exhibit started in the North of Boston region – so, it’s only fitting that its final showing is here as well.***

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