Collector Home: Celebrating California
Science, art and history collide in the Pasadena home of the Gamble/shaw Collection.
Ken and Stacy Gamble Shaw’s roots in Central California run deep. In their adopted city of Pasadena they have a home that has its own roots in California history and are actively restoring it and filling it with art and artifacts that celebrate California and their place in it.
Their home was designed in 1932 by Wallace Neff (1895-1982) for Clark Blanchard Millikan, who was the son of Robert Millikan, recipient of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1923 and president of California Institute of Technology. Clark Millikan was a professor at Caltech, renowned for his work in aerodynamics and chair of the board of directors of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The home was later owned by Hans W. Liepmann, who was director of the Graduate Aeronautical Laboratories at Caltech. Neff thought it was one of his best houses and the one most “authentically Mexican.”
Stacy relates, “Neff himself told people that he was successful because he built California houses for California people. His architecture has always been so fascinating to us because he took these wonderful old-world elements and turned them into authentically Californian homes, designed to embrace the climate and the propensity of Californians to live their lives outdoors as much as indoors. The house is so well-designed that it is constantly making us appreciate Neff’s ability to create this beautiful living environment that is surprisingly functional. In Southern California, we have something like 300 days of sunshine a year, and this house is designed for the windows and doors to be left open and for the outside living space to flow into the indoor space. But the thing that makes this house so perfect for its surroundings is that there is nothing in the architecture that feels pretentious or overdone. It is a place to feel completely at home and casual while still being beautiful. That is a fairly accurate description of our art as well.”
She continues, “The world forgets (or just doesn’t realize) that California is mostly
rural. We both come from multi-generational California farming and ranching families, and while that is pretty common where we come from (California’s Central Coast). We were fortunate enough that someone in our families made that discovery generations ago, and our forebears were smart enough never to leave. We feel very fortunate to be from this state, and very tied to it, which probably has something to do with descending from people who always worked with the land. Because where we grew up was so rural, anything within 75 miles in any direction felt like ‘home.’ A lot of our art depicts places that we knew as children or places near our adopted home in Pasadena. And Spanish Colonial architecture just feels the most comfortable to us since it is so ingrained in California history, and feels more authentic
to our landscape than any other style.”
I asked her how they came to purchase the home. “This is truly a crazy story, and I’m fairly certain that we were meant to own this house and to take care of it,” she replied. “After purchasing our first home in Pasadena we used to flip through the real estate section in the Sunday Los Angeles Times and covet all of the beautiful old Pasadena homes for sale. Neff had always been a favorite and spotting a house of his for sale anywhere in Los Angeles always inspired longing. About 18 years ago, we saw this house was for sale, but we had only recently purchased our first home, and it was far out of our grasp. We remembered it, and it always remained our ideal, certainly a dream home. A couple years ago, we were quite contently living in a beautiful Spanish home that we had completely and lovingly restored from top to bottom on a historic street in Pasadena. At that time, I thought it would be our home for the rest of our lives because we had completely done everything exactly to our taste, and we loved it. One day, we were with my parents, and this house came up in conversation. We ran an internet search on the address to show my parents a feature of it and saw that it was for sale. We didn’t need or really want to move, and we didn’t need more space (it is a ridiculous amount of space for two people). The day after we saw it was for sale, the price was cut by a massive amount. As it turned out, the home was in pretty bad shape. There was a lot of deferred maintenance, including needing to be completely re-roofed, and the broker finally convinced the seller to get realistic with the price just as it crossed our path again. We were the perfect buyers because the fact that it needed a remodel (actually a restoration) was an incredibly appealing feature to us. It became an obsession, and after a lot of encouragement from family and friends, we ended up buying it. Not only did we think it was incredibly beautiful, but it was an opportunity to preserve a truly remarkable piece of architecture. We hope to spend the rest of our lives here and leave it restored to its former beauty to be appreciated for the next 100 years. We are still in the middle of the restoration and will be for some time because we want it to be done right. We ended up going through the process of getting the house landmarked by the city so that its main features will be protected going forward. This house is a legacy project for us. It is a tremendous amount of work, we probably do more on our
own (and with my father’s help) than most people, but we feel like its custodians, and we feel compelled to bring it completely back to what it was meant to be. And despite all of the time and work, I still constantly find myself walking somewhere in the house and saying to myself ‘I LOVE this place.’”
Ken says he works on the house and Stacy is the collector. “That is kind of the case,” she says. “I’m the one who is kind of crazy about art. My mother was around horses all of her life and went to art school, and I really was in awe of her talent as a child. I remember her telling me that only very good artists could paint horses (I assume that was her opinion and not a fact). But Glenn Dean and Logan Hagege both paint horses beautifully, so I think that stuck with me on some level and influenced my opinions of them as artists.”
“There is a great auction house here in Pasadena that specializes in early Californian art,” Stacy comments, “and we got started buying plein air paintings there and became fairly addicted to the excitement of auctions. But we have purchased from art shows, galleries, events at the Autry and Briscoe museums, and we have received art gifts from family members. We have been buying from Maxwell Alexander Gallery for years. They feature some of our favorite contemporary western artists like Logan Maxwell Hagege, Glenn Dean and Tim Solliday. Painters like Kenton Nelson and Glenn Dean are artists that I really love. We purchased smaller paintings at first while waiting for the ‘right’ paintings that felt like they belonged with our plein air.”
The contemporary paintings join period paintings relating to their families’ ranches in Central California, Ken’s great grandfather’s silver spurs, Stacy’s mother’s first cowboy boots, Spanish Colonial santos and historic Monterey furniture. all of which complement Wallace Neff’s unique spaces.
The passion Stacy and Ken have for California, their family history and their home is reflected in Stacy’s advice for collectors.
“Surround yourself with things that you find beautiful,” she says, “and buy what you love and not what someone tells you is good. There are no mistakes with art purchases if you do that. If something stirs you, there is a reason for it, and it will continue to bring you joy. An older gentleman once told us at an auction that he had never regretted purchasing a piece of art, he only regretted putting down his paddle and missing out on something he loved.”
Above Left: On the bottom shelf to the left of the door is Mick Doellinger’s bronze, Mr. Russell. Above it is Bowl of Cherries, 2011, by Chessney Sevier. Glenn Dean’s Santa Barbara Landscape is to the right of the door. Beneath it is The Path by Jean Mannheim (1863-1945), the first painting Stacy ever purchased. Next to it is an original brand registration for her great-great grandfather’s cattle brand from 1922. On the bottom shelf is Fields of Nipomo, a watercolor by Milford Zornes, a scene a few miles from her family’s ranch on the central coast. On the left shelf directly above the cabinet doors is a collection of her grandmother’s Spanish hair combs, peineta, worn under a mantilla.Top right:the vintage hand-tooled and hand-painted leather chairs are from Grenada, Spain. Stacy’s mother spotted them at the Golden West Show held annually in Glendale, California. “After 10 years I still think they are amazing every time I see them.” The dining table features a collection of vintage California tiles originally commissioned by Diane Keaton, who, Stacy says, “is my interior design and architectural preservation idol…she is a serial home restorer and captures everything I love about California in every house she does.” The painting above the cabinet is Los Olivos, California, oil on waxed canvas, by Mischa Askenazy (1888-1961). Bottom right: To the left of the door is Figure Near a Mexican Arcade, oil on canvas laid to board, by Alson Skinner Clark (1876-1949). To the right is Howard Post’s Unplanted Pasture, 2013, purchased at the Briscoe Western Art Museum Night of Artists event.
Three ink drawings and a watercolor by California cowboy artist Ernie Morris hang around a sconce commissioned from Tracy Barnett. Stacy asked him to put her great-great grandfather’s cattle brand on it—“the brand is still used by my family,” Stacy adds. The boots are her mother’s first cowboy boots. “The books are part of a collection of vintage Leo Politi children’s books that I started collecting because they are beautifully illustrated, and his books show such love for California history and its Mexican roots.”
Logan Maxwell Hagege’s Mesa Walk, purchased at the Briscoe Western Art Museum Night of Artists event, hangs above a Monterey bed. Stacy says, “It is one of the first large pieces of Monterey that we purchased, and inspired a lot of later purchases, as well as commissioned pieces in the Monterey style when we weren’t able to find antiques for a particular purpose.”
Left: Passing Beneath the Butes(sic), 1933, by Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) is a painting of the bluffs along the Santa Maria River in Santa Barbara County not far from Stacy’s family ranch that straddles the river at the coast. Ken saw the painting at an art fair and thought he recognized the scene. “The funny thing,” Stacy explains, “is that the artist interpreted them as these majestic impressive bluffs, but they are only about a quarter of that size.” Below left: Junior, the couple’sJack Russell terrier, rests on a sofa beneath four framed Mexican papel amate (bark paper paintings) given to the couple by Ken’s mother who bought them on a visit to MexicoCity in the 1960s when she was in college. “She gave them to us when we bought our first home, a small Spanish bungalow in Pasadena,” Stacy says.
The couple found Wallace Neff’s original plans for the house in the Huntington Library archives and learned there had been a tiled fountain in the courtyard in the form of an eight-pointed Moroccan star. Stacy says, “We worked with a third-generation tile maker who specializes in reproducing historic California tile to choose historically accurate patterns and select each color in the fountain using mostly traditional Malibu tile glazes of the period.”
The collectors have “commissioned an amazingly talented local iron worker, Tracy Barnett of Gladys Enterprises in Montebello, California, who fabricates custom designs for us specifically for the house.” This large chandelier is modeled after a floor lamp at another Wallace Neff home.
A Michael Horse Ledger Painting, 2009, hangs above a pre-columbian Costa Rican anthropomorphic tripod bowl.