by Emily Dodi 

It’s not easy to escape the stress and trappings of our modern world, so here’s a suggestion: Try a bit of time travel. Two current exhibits make it hard to say no.

California Cool: Mid-century Modernism on the Central Coast, on display at the Museum of Ventura County through Feb. 21, is described as an exploration of the “popular design movement in interior and graphic design, architecture and urban development from 1945 to

“Untitled,” oil on canvas, Perry Owen. Courtesy of the Museum of Ventura County

1965.” What it feels like is stepping into the lives of some incredibly cool, immensely talented people. You wouldn’t be surprised if Mad Men’s Don Draper (after he loosened up a little in California) offered to fix you a dry martini while you lounged in a Z Chair by Paul Tuttle. Martinis aren’t actually served during the exhibit and the iconic leather and metal chair is for the eyes only — but you won’t mind. There is plenty enough to satisfy you here.

As the exhibit literature explains, the Central California Coast was (and is) very attractive to some of the most forward-thinking architects, designers and artists of their generation; not just because the area is spectacularly beautiful and a great place to live, but because artists and architects found kindred spirits and willing patrons here.

Those artists included legendary architects such as Richard Neutra and Rodney A. Walker. The exhibit features photographs and floor plans of some of their works found in the area. Images of the McSorley House in Thousand Oaks, the Moore House in Ojai and the

Tremaine House in Montecito, all designed by Neutra, show how the homes embody the essence of “California cool,” with wide-open spaces that blur the line between indoor and outdoor living and large windows that look out onto spectacular views. Also featured are photographs of the Walker House in Ojai by Rodney Walker, the Lukes House by Fred Hummel, the Geifer House by Paul Tuttle and other notable homes. Each photo offers an inside look into an era when, as chief curator Anna Bermudez explains, “architecture, art, music and design merged to form a modern awareness based on living well.”

The rest of the exhibit focuses on an abundance of items that appointed those lives well-lived, including pottery, furniture, paintings, carvings and other art.

Perry Owen paintings and Evelyn Ackerman tapestries and wood panels share the space with works by renowned ceramists Tom McMillin, Stan Bitters, Beatrice Wood, and Otto and Vivika Heino. There’s a fish lamp by Mitchell Bobrick, furniture by the likes of Paul Tuttle and Dan Johnson and more. There is so much to admire.

The exhibit also has a few films on offer. The documentary Eames: The Architect and the Painter (2011), directed by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey and narrated by James Franco, is about the influential designers Charles and Ray Eames. Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner (2008), directed by Murray Grigor, celebrates the visionary architect. Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman (2008), by Eric Bricker, looks at the work of the renowned

“Cycle of Life,” oil on wood panel by Michael O’Kelly.
Courtesy of Michael O’Kelly

architectural photographer. Although the films are shown on a small screen, there is something to be said for watching them while in the midst of work created by mid-century masters. 

In the adjacent gallery is a fun collection of everyday items, from clothes and handbags to household appliances, that were popular during the era.

The voyage through time continues up the street and a few decades later, as in the 1970s and 1980s, where Namba Performing Arts Space presents works by Michael O’Kelly and Joann Daley. On display and for sale are pen and ink drawings which O’Kelly transferred onto brushed aluminum. The effect is unique and beautiful and the detail is exquisite. His subjects include a Chinese terracotta soldier and Mayan figures, which O’Kelly originally drew for the Encyclopedia of Ancient Cultures in the late 1970s. “They look like artifacts,” notes O’Kelly, who is perhaps best known for his ceramic tile mural detailing the history of the city of Ventura located in front of the San Buenaventura Mission.  

Also part of the exhibit are several works by Joann Daley, which O’Kelly has put up for sale. They include Daley’s original painting for the Porky’s Revenge movie poster and a portrait of pro surfer Tom Curren. A pop culture icon, Daley did work for Marvel comics, Playboy

“Terracotta Head,” pen and ink on brushed aluminum by Michael O’Kelly.Courtesy of Michael O’Kelly

magazine, Harlequin book covers and, most notably, for movies like Creepshow and Scanners. “She was a really fine artist,” says O’Kelly. The exhibit, which will run for several weeks, is open for viewing when classes and other events at Namba are not in session.

Well worth a trip downtown and through the decades, California Cool: Mid-century Modernism on the Central Coast and the works on display at Namba Performing Arts Space are a doorway into another era. Step in, relax and enjoy. You’ll want to take your time while you’re there.

California Cool: Mid-century Modernism on the Central Coast through Feb. 21 at the Museum of Ventura County, 100 E. Main St., Ventura. For more information, call 805-653-0323 or visit  venturamuseum.org. See works by Michael O’Kelly and Joann Daley at Namba Performing Arts Space, 47 S. Oak St, Ventura. For more information, call 805-628-9250 or visit www.nambaarts.com.