Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Crazy Crafty: The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Lamp

Bad taste runs in my family.  For the sake of familial accord at the holidays, however, I'm not naming any names.  But there is a certain relative of my mother's who is notorious for her living room, an unprecedented combination of purple chenille sofas, red-and-orange throw pillows, modernist art in a traditional-southwest palette of peach and turquoise, and reproduction Louis XIV-style chairs upholstered in toile.  It doesn't end there.  Like the shallowing gene pool of European royalty, I am a victim descendant of inbred tackiness.  When my paternal grandparents were alive, they made their home in the desert where "rock lawns" are not an unusual landscape option; they decided to up the ante by covering the rocks in their front yard with a rich, if wholly-unnatural, coat of deep-green, semi-gloss paint - touching up annually or as needed.  Somehow, instead of disdain, I find comfort in my forebears' gifts of eclecticism and spirit of make-do that were certainly a byproduct of Depression-era economics.  wacky tacky courses through my veins.

It should come as no surprise then that I was beside my self with joy when my older brother gifted me a figural lamp in the shape of a woman.  It didn't matter that the lamp came with no harp, no shade, no base, and more than a few nicks and dings.  He couldn't even be bothered to throw down a lightbulb.  No less than ten years later, I have finally made time to give this lady lamp a makeover and allow her to really shine!

This old girl has definitely been around the block.

Fortunately, the wiring was sound, so all she needed was a skirt, a shade, and some TLC.  I had spent portions of the past decade halfheartedly searching for the proper base.  It wasn't until I was making the Put A Lid On It Sun Hat for Mary's Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Matchy-Matchy Rufflekini, that inspiration struck.  I didn't need a factory-issued base; would Grandma have bought new or would she have just made-do?!?!!   All this crazy crafter needed was a sun hat, a glue gun, and a dream!

The chipped paint on her yellowing face and an improper base might turn
some vintage purists away.  I, however, like the character of an imperfect
piece and the challenge of a make-do craft project.

The strapless bodice, opera-length gloves, and hands-behind-the-head posturing all seemed slightly provocative, implying that this was a lamp that could really "turn on."  In researching similar lamps, I found that the earliest examples of this style were really quite demure; the bodies were originally ceramic, affixed on a domed, wire-cage base covered in a fabric skirt (housing another bulb as a secondary light source), and topped with a dainty, ruffled lampshade.

Pleasantville
Two views of the lady lamp on Mary Sue's (Reese Witherspoon) dressing table/desk in a
scene from Pleasantville, proving the lamp's provenance goes back at least as far as 1998.

When Underwriters' Laboratories, Inc. took over the patent, they 
began producing this and many other  lamps in molded plastic.

A basic sun hat would become the new skirt/base for the lamp.
To accommodate the cord, I cut the point off of the hat and created a
reinforced hole in the lower side panel where a small hole already existed.

I had the lamp.  I had the foundation for the skirt.  What I was lacking was direction.  Should I go authentic "repro" or should I go full wacky tacky?  Well, it took only two seconds before that question answered itself.  But I still needed inspiration...

wacky tacky, for sure...but I just couldn't get past the inherent va-va-va-voom!!!
"Pardon me, I'm undressed!"

Yes, the pose was saucy.  Yes, the extant examples were ladylike.  Was there a wacky tacky way to split the difference?  To quote wacky tacky icon, Carmen Miranda, "Sim, Sim!!!"  "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat" would become the Lady in the Tutti Frutti Lamp!

An electrified ode to Ms. Miranda!!!
The skirt's ruffles are made of the same sparkling material from which Mary's most recent Happy Holiday Frock
was made (only in the acid-green colorway).  I strung a cluster of beads in an attempt to recreate Miranda's iconic layered jewelry.  I sewed on the puffed sleeves by hand before digging through my basket of whatnots to find
two fruit clusters that I salvaged from a weird pair of thrift store sandals.

 I added some flowers and leaves and fixed the hip corsage to the gold
rick rack trim.  There was already a lot going on but she still needed a topper.

The only item that I had to purchase for this project was the
least-expensive lamp shade that Ikea had to offer.  I, of course,
had to paint it gold inside and out, add a couple of fabric ruffles
bound by rick rack, and finish it off with the matching fruit cluster.

The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Lamp in action with my 1940s
Carmen Miranda Coloring Book (a special gift).  It just so happens
that we, like a million other Americans, have some of the same mid-
century, French Provincial furniture seen on the set of Pleasantville

I didn't want to permanently secure the lady lamp to the skirt/hat/foundation; just in case I ever got the 
notion to transform her again, I cleverly stabilized her by attaching the two uppermost layers of the skirt 
to each other and putting a sort of gasket inside the hat.  I love the fact that I didn't touch this lamp for
ten years and all of a sudden I think I'm going to need costume changes!!!

Did I mention that bad taste runs in my family?  No sooner had I started this Crazy Crafty project than my younger brother told me that he had the exact lamp in the exact same condition just waiting for Mr. Tiny's Copacabana Makeover.  It might not be too long before the Lady in the Tutti Frutti Lamp has a twin sister!  In fact, rather than a lamp, I might transform the twin into the most glorious toilet paper cozy that ever was!!!  Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi like that very much!

"The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat" - Carmen Miranda
from The Gang's All Here (1943)

"Boa Noite e sonhos doces, vocĂȘ wacky tacky gargantas do peru!"


Cheers!

Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Kitsch-en Kounter: Strawberry Fields Tie-Dye Pie

My mom might have come of age in the "Age of Aquarius," but she was far from a hippie.  Foregoing the flying fringe of suede vests and rainbow swirls of tie-dye apparel, she instead favored looks decidedly-preppy in nature, fitting of her station as the daughter of a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army.

Mr. Tiny's Mom - circa '68

As the day draws nigh that we Americans join in the celebration of all that is motherhood, I knew I had to create something that would please my mother as much as last year's "Mama's Macaroni Magic" necklace.  Since the macaroni necklace proved entirely inedible, I began brainstorming for a comestible creation that would elicit some carefree memories for Mom (i.e. her pre-motherhood days of the 1960s) - even if she didn't wear tie dye.

Introducing Tie-Dye Pie: A Kitsch-en Kounter Original 

My brother currently works out of state; home for a short time on holiday, he was going to miss the traditional holiday festivities so he and my sister-in-law decided to come over and pre-game Mother's Day before his return to work.  Bringing over a delicious Armenian feast, they left me in charge of the dessert.  Although desserts are not my forte, I continue to feature them as Kitsch-en Kounter experiments in the hopes that my skills will someday improve - which proves increasingly doubtful with each new entry.

 Tie-Dye Pihas three parts: a graham-cracker crust, a grapefruit custard, and a swirl of strawberry puree.
We happened to have a giant grapefruit in the fruit basket, which is odd because I can't stand grapefruit; the only option for the bitter behemoth was to drown it sugar and make it a dessert.  There was also a pint of strawberries teetering on the verge of extinction that needed to be used before becoming another failed attempt at homemade penicillin.  The strawberry puree is a simple blend of the fruit, a tablespoon of sugar, and a few dashes of balsamic vinegar.  I filled the pre-baked crust with the grapefruit mixture, pouring over the strawberry puree before making radial drags from the center of the pie with a skewer. 

Every time I create a pie, a certain friend of mine reminds me that I am an avowed anti-pie guy.  Nevertheless, Kitsch-en Kounter is about creating funny foodstuffs for the people I love; it just so happens that pie, tie-dye and otherwise, comes with the territory.  A quick review of our Kitsch-en Kounter history reveals that I have actually made quite a few pies and might have to change my status to pro-pie.  Sadly, as previously stated, my incompetence in dessert-making remains unchanged.

Of all the skills that I have never mastered in the kitsch-en, piping is at the 
very top of my list of failures.  My only redemption is that the whipped
cream tasted far better than it looked!

A total square, in the very best sense, the pie did not bring back
any acid-induced flashbacks for my mom.  Frankly, I'm not so sure
that she even understood the reference.  I explained to her that it's
totally "pie-chedelic!!!"  She remained more sated than amused.

Do you have a special recipe that you make for your mom on the big day?  Is there a special dessert that she makes for you?  Be prepared when Mother's Day comes.  Give Mom more than pie in the sky, give her pie that is real tie dye!

"Strawberry Fields Forever" - The Beatles (1967)
I don't know how thematically-appropriate this song is but it's 
kind of psychedelic and there were "strawberry fields" in the pie...


HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!!!



Cheers!

Mr. Tiny

Monday, April 27, 2015

Heritage Park: A Revolutionary Playground

I must often remind to myself that wacky tacky is not some abstract concept, some mysterious, intangible quality floating in the ether, only to be applied arbitrarily by a capricious overlord.  Often times wacky tacky is determined by the irrefutable proof of simple arithmetic.  Get out your number-two pencils.  What do you get when you take a Southern California city of early-Mexican lineage and a Spanish name, add a community whose population is 62-percent Asian, plus the tax-payer funding to build a thematic playground?  The answer is obviously, Colonial Boston.  Duh.

              
Now I am no historian, but I can say with some degree of certainty that the bulk of the action during the American Revolution did not take place in - or even around - Cerritos, CA.  Why then would the city fathers hearken back as far as our nation's forefathers for inspiration in constructing the city's flagship playground?  Clearly imbued with the "Spirit of '76," that for all practical purposes had the entire nation possessed during the bicentennial celebrations, Heritage Park was born.

Heritage Park - Cerritos, CA

Floating on its own little man-made island (just like Boston), Heritage Park is wonderland of trails, tunnels, waterfalls, and sunbathing turtles.  With my nephew in tow, I navigated the wacky tacky time machine to the American Revolution!!!

He's still embarrassed that he left his tricorn hat in the future...

At Heritage Park, the playground equipment is cleverly integrated into the colonial village scene, where each building (saddlery/tannery/blacksmith shop) houses slides, jungle gyms, and ropes courses.  I'm not so sure that this translates to a highly effective lesson in American history, but it pays to start early, right?

Can you see the slide coming out of the second story of that building (top left)?
I mean, who doesn't want to slide his way out of the Old North Church?!!

Okay, so maybe the American Revolution is a tad advanced for a four-year-old.  Maybe I had to tell him we were going to a "pirate ship park" to elicit any kind of enthusiasm.  wacky tacky wisdom dictates that we teach history in baby steps.

heritage park cerritos
"The Boston Tea Party is that-a-way, boys!"...is what I would have liked him to say.
"Avast, me hearties," instead was his cry.

The thing I really love about Heritage Park is that it is so atmospheric.  It might not recreate an accurate picture of 18th-Century Boston, but the meandering trails, the countless bridges, and the water features turn taking the kids to the park from a chore to a midday "vacay."

And that blue, blue water is spec-tacky-ular!!!
There is something about water that is dyed blue (an algaecide) that
makes it all the more magical as it trips and falls over stones on its way. 

Be ye history buff, pirate enthusiast, or lover of man-made nature, Heritage Park offers something for everyone!  In a time when when "you get what you pay for" rings more and more true, I am so glad that some intelligent city planners and parks departments are putting our money to work in ways wacky tacky!  Forty years old or two-hundred-forty years old, we love a playground that excites our imaginations...while doing some of the work for us!

Blast you, you dirty red coats pirates!!!

heritage park cerritos
Paul Revere says, "Be 'Just Like Me;' one, if by land, and two, if by sea."

"Just Like Me" - Paul Revere & The Raiders

Heritage Park
18600 Bloomfield Ave
Cerritos, CA



Cheers!

Mr. Tiny

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sew What?! Santa Clarita Meets Santa Maria

Please stop me before I've gone too Chico's.  There is a fine line between bohemian/folky/ethnic chic and a full-blown Southwest nightmare - and I'm having to learn where to draw it.  Not that there is anything wrong with Chico's; it's only that Mary is just barely twenty-two and not quite ready to ride off into that great sunset of Santa Fe-senior sophistication.

Santa Maria in Mr. Tiny's Mexicali Folk Couture
Nevermind the blue wristband...check out those cool, cowgirl gauntlets!

This past weekend, Tiny & Mary were thrilled to be part of the annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival where we shared the stage with our pals Deke Dickerson and the rip-roarin'est kings of the Hollywood honky-tonk, The Lucky Stars.

File this under awkward family photos.
Dan, Mary, Tiny, Russ, Sage, Pappy, Andy, Djordje,
with Deke front and center...but where's Wally?!?!!

As the event landed within a few days of Mary's birth, she was definitely entitled to one new outfit, one that would hopefully work for our performance.  Ours was a daytime affair, so instead of going the rhinestones and fringe route, I opted for something a little more casual, a little more sultry, and a little more inspired by looks found south of the border.

Our little Santa Maria is still "on the fence" as to whether this looks
artistic or like the climax of an old-west melodrama.  Or maybe both?

In the steadily-reducing fabric stash at Mr. Tiny's Workshop, I discovered a remnant of multi-colored, woven fabric of indeterminate origin (my best guess is Peru).  The oddly shaped piece, garnered at an estate sale as part of a bin of fabric, had already been cut and used by its previous owner (a seamstress and lover of ethnic textiles); there was so little usable material left that I almost put it in the rag bag.  Mary rescued the remnant and it became the top of this two-piece entry into Mr. Tiny's Mexicali Folk Couture.

On the balcony with a balconette top.
I rather inappropriately think of those decorative accents at the neckline as
"eyebrows;" some perfunctory internet research indicated that tops of this nature
can be referred to as "balconettes."  Help me out here, vintage sewing pals???

Because I had only enough to barely eke out the bra-top, I began the hunt for fabric in a complimentary style.  I drove to nearly EVERY fabric store in the Western Hemisphere, even perusing the stalls at that lovable, little tourist-trap known as Olvera Street, to no avail.  I was not looking for a match.  In fact, I was happy with the idea of an altogether mismatched set.  Nothing I found, however, had the same weight, the same richness, nor the same quality as that damnable little scrap of fabric with which I began this whole mess...until I remembered that there was another, much larger, woven textile found in the same tub of fabric at the same estate sale, a piece I had looked at every day during my search but had tuned out because it was being used as a throw over a chair.

Using every last inch of the material, I gathered it into a long,
patio-style skirt, using solid black for the alternating tiers.

After the show, we went to explore the festival grounds, situated on the historic estate of William S. Hart.  The 1927 Spanish-Colonial mansion, the cactus, and the slowly-sinking sun were an ideal backdrop for a few photo-ops.

But maybe the sun had sunk a little too low for this picture...
Nevertheless, the view from the Hart mansion is 360-degrees of beautiful hill country.

Justifiably unsatisfied with my pitiful photography skills, Mary
set the auto-timer on her phone and captured this photo of herself.

As this was our first time at The Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, we were unsure of exactly what to expect.  As it happens, the festival is a full family affair with activities for everyone.  Next year, I plan to make a long weekend out of it and listen to some of that cowboy poetry, hear a few more bands, rope 'n ride 'n wrangle, and get there well before all the barbecue is sold out!

Happy to finally be standing next to a real cowboy/frontiersman,
Santa Maria thought this guy was Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and
Buffalo Bill all rolled into one!

Well, what do you think?  Have I strayed too far into the land of metal lizards and copious amounts amber jewelry?  Are this ensemble and this guy haunting your desert dreams?  Fortunately, with this photo set, I think we're giving neither Chico's nor any of our photographer pals need to worry that were moving in on their territory!

Mr. Tiny & the wacky tacky adventure team say, "'Happy Trails,' until we meet again, Mr. Hart!!!"

"Happy Trails" - Roy Rogers & Dale Evans


Cheers!

Mr. Tiny

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Nethercutt Collection: The House That Merle Norman Cosmetics Built

Everyone's house has a smell.  Frustratingly, it is nearly impossible to distinguish the fragrance of one's own home because years of living in a particular aroma leave the olfactory senses distinctly immune (finally putting to rest the old saying that has been haunting me my entire life, "He who smelt it, dealt it").  As a child, I was especially concerned with the different smells of houses.  One of my childhood friends' homes smelled like a perpetual batch of buttery croissants was freshly baking.  Another's home smelled of wheat grass and sandalwood.  Yet another's home had the crisp and comforting smell of chlorine; his was the "cool" house featuring an architect-designed swimming pool with waterfall.  Having spent a good part of my childhood around families of much greater means than mine, I always assumed that if rich houses smelled rich, then our tidy but modest home must have smelled of festering bologna and day-old diapers.  Years of neurotic nose-blindness were laid to waste one fateful day when I walked into a "fancy" neighbor's home and was immediately assaulted by the stench of stone-cold goat urine.  Stale.  As one is loath to find a goat within the suburbs of Southern California, I committed each subsequent trip across their threshold to full-bloodhound mode, sniffing out the fetid source of the home's signature scent.  For reasons inexplicable, I always suspected their ancient family Bible, haughtily perched in the same location, silently bragging about the baptisms and marriages of Mayflower descendants and a commitment to Christian idealism.  I still don't know if that was the origin but I now know that the Bible was probably purchased at auction and that people of independent means can often smell like the product of incontinent "weens."  Yes, money needn't necessarily equate to the perfume of prosperity.

To wit, when passing through the bas-relief doors of solid brass into the
house that Merle Norman Cosmetics built, one is greeted by the rather
plebeian, if not entirely unpleasant, aroma of axle grease and rubber tires.

To adulterate Fats Waller's famous quote for my own pun-ny benefit, "One never 'nose,' do one?"  Nevertheless, while circling the soaring marble columns, taking in the grandeur of a mirrored, recreation deco-era auto palace filled with beautifully-restored antique automobiles lit by glittering chandeliers, one cannot escape the distinct whiff of wealth.  Started by Mrs. Merle Nethercutt Norman in the 1920s, the eponymous cosmetics company (currently helmed by her great-nephew) has, over the past nine decades, amassed a world-class collection of rarities, featuring priceless cars and automated music machines.  After many seasons of gathering dust on the wacky tacky adventure list, The Nethercutt Collection finally made its way to the top, happily finding us in sunny Sylmar, CA.


Housed behind the windowless edifice of a monolithic, late-'60s commercial building, the Nethercutt Collection was officially started by Norman's successor, nephew J.B Nethercutt.  His passion for collecting, restoring, and entering historically-significant automobiles into competition has been transformed from a hobby into a slightly-obscure but must-see destination for car enthusiasts, history buffs, and high-class hoarders everywhere.  Open to the public since 1971, the collection contains sports cars, executive sedans, luxury touring cars, roadsters with rumble seats, and even an Isotta-Fraschini.  "Have you ever heard of Isotta Fraschini?"   



I fell for the tonal stripes (a stock option) on the 1930 Ruxton in a big way!

One of the first electric cars


Besides an insipid fascination with things that are fast and shiny, Mr. Tiny is not a car guy - but the Nethercutt might have changed that.  In spite of the numerous Concours titles the Nethercutts have won for their amazing 1920s-30s automobiles, they are no snobs when it comes to vehicles of all makes and models.

It didn't matter that I was bigger than this four-seater Vespa,
I was in love with a pretty little surrey with the fringe on the top!

And I could never turn my nose up at a customized '79 lowrider Lincoln!

What we saw on the first floors of the collection would have been enough to keep our imaginations quite busy.  To see all of the crown jewels, however, one must venture onward and upward!

The landing of the grand staircase is home to the simultaneous-recording
grand piano on which George Gershwin played/recorded "Rhapsody in Blue."
It was a bit thrilling to be accompanied by Mr. Gershwin as we ogled Maybachs,
and Daimlers, and Rolls-Royces.

The uppermost floor of the collection, "Cloud 99," is accessed via the "Stairway to the Stars."
The one-and-one-half spiral staircase is decorated with gilt sconces and a swirling music
staff that is an actual transcription of the well-known song - the Nethercutt's favorite. 

Cloud 99 is a grand salon used for special events and corporate entertaining.  The bulk of the room is open, the walls lined with an unrivaled collection of nickelodeons and orchestrions (completely animated music machines that briefly substituted for live bands in beer gardens, restaurants, and dance halls before the introduction of the jukebox). 

The floor is covered by thousands of square-feet of green, hand-tufted
carpet with sculpted flowers, meant to evoke a field of wild flowers.

A large, oval-shaped dining room features large mirrors at either end, creating and infinite reflection of both the diners and the antique, crystal chandeliers.  The ceiling of that dining room is adorned with Classical frescoes in the style of Michelangelo.  Studying the heavenly subjects, a few faces stand out amongst the seraphim.

The J.B. Nethercutt's and their cherubic children!
Isn't this the best?!?!!  Sometimes having more money than you know what to do with is an AMAZING thing!!!

Whilst on Cloud 99, visitors are treated to demonstrations of the nickelodeons, orchestrions, and the mighty Wurlitzer organ (one of the largest in the world).  Understandably, video recording was strictly prohibited; oddly enough, I was one of the few people who obeyed the rules!

A small fraction of the organ's smallest pipes, is dramatically lit during the performance.

The beautiful, central figure on the largest of the orchestrions.

A primitive, psychedelic light at
the apex of a Wurlitzer Nickelodeon.

By the turn of the 21st Century, the Nethercutt Collection outgrew its home and a new building was constructed across the street, called the Nethercutt Museum, to house the bulk of the automobile collection, a library, and a Edwardian-era, private Pullman car. Each and every one of the cars is operational and is driven on regular rotation; with approximately 150 cars in the collection, I am astonished that they rejected my offer to become a full-time driver!

The Nethercutt Museum

The movie Tucker was a family favorite so it was a delight to see a beautifully-
restored model of the extremely-limited-edition, 1948 car of the same name.

Rudolph Valentino's car!!! 

The car that dreams are made of.
The 1930 Rolls Royce Phantom II Town Car that once
belonged to Hollywood star, Constance Bennett

1937 Bugati

As a lover of miniatures, it was a treat to walk through the Pierce-Arrow Travelodge Trailer,
pulled by a matching Pierce-Arrow, and then find the scale-model of the same in a display case.
The only thing I couldn't understand was the pair of contemporary camping chairs; with so much
time, money, and energy put into the restoration, why couldn't we find some period-appropriate
chairs on eBay?!?!!  

"All Aboard!"
Mr. Tiny at Nethercutt Depot

Representing the golden age of rail travel, the 1912 Pullman private car (pulled by a 1930s engine)
includes multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, a fully-functioning kitchen, a dining room, and parlor.

The Nethercutt collection is so much larger than we could represent here (the hood ornaments alone would take a whole year to catalogue); so, if you've got a free afternoon to "sail away on a lazy daisy petal," then sail on over to the Nethercutt Collection.  Even if the household aroma may be decidedly automotive, the smell of J.B. Nethercutt's success is still very sweet.

"Stairway to the Stars" - Ella Fitzgerald


The Nethercutt Museum & Collection
15151 Bledsoe St
Sylmar, CA
(818)364-6464

nethercuttcollection.org


Cheers!

Mr. Tiny