Col­lec­tor Home: Cel­e­brat­ing Cal­i­for­nia

Sci­ence, art and his­tory col­lide in the Pasadena home of the Gam­ble/shaw Col­lec­tion.

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS - By John O’hern

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.”

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Francis Smith

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.

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