Monday, November 4, 2013

Struck by Modernism: C. Carl Jennings, Artist-Blacksmith

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Welcome! Photo ©Darren Bradley
This past spring, my friend Dave Hampton told me about a new museum exhibit he was planning to curate on the artist C. Carl Jennings, for the Mingei International Museum in San Diego. He was planning to visit the late artist's residence in Sonoma County soon, and asked me if I'd join him for the trip. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

But it wasn't just a pleasure trip. He had the idea that he would like to photograph the site and the unique home that the artist had built, himself, in the 60s. He also wanted to try to document the original artwork as much as possible in its context in the home. So that's where I came in, I guess. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

I wasn't exactly sure what he had in mind or why me. This is a bit different from what I usually do. But it sounded like fun and so I immediately accepted. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

I was admittedly not familiar with Jennings' work and didn't really know what to expect of for the house or artwork. It's quite an amazing place, and I loved the art. 


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Love this door. Photo ©Darren Bradley

There really wasn't much around the house when it was built. But today it's completely hemmed in by grape vines supplying Sonoma's now famous wine industry. Hopefully, this place will survive but given the value of the land now, that's always an open question. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley
I'm reading Tolkien to my daughter at the moment, and the place immediately reminded me of something out of a fantasy world. Every single detail of this home was imagined in the mind of Jennings, and built himself, by hand. It's absolutely incredible. 

Entering the house, you are immediately greeted by this handmade copper fireplace and chimney that forms the central support column. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

There's a central skylight, where those massive support beams are visible. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

As I mentioned, all of the lamps, art and steel work in the house were handmade by the artist. Even the door handles, latches and hinges…


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Every door has a hand-made latch like this one. Well, not exactly like it. No two were alike. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Jennings recycled trash and household objects to create his work. Windows were inset with the bottoms of wine bottles…


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View to the wineries beyond… Photo ©Darren Bradley


And lamps got the top parts… 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

The concrete window frames were also done by Jennings


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

This organic bathroom is one of my favorite parts of the house. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

Jennings' style evolved through the years, as you can see. Much of the design here is very organic and seems to be almost gothic modern, and reminds me of Gaudi in that respect. But some earlier pieces are more of an abstract modernism. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

Jennings was a blacksmith by training, like his father before him. And it was in his own blacksmith shop that he created so much of this artwork. He set up a shop in an old quonset hut adjacent to this house. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

It had hardly been touched since the artist's passing.


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Photo ©Darren Bradley

I loved the details, the textures everywhere. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley
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Photo ©Darren Bradley

After a long, fascinating day of photographing everything I could, there were a few months where the museum and Dave were putting the exhibit together. I really had no idea how my photos would be used, if at all. Then, the show opened at the Mingei… 

Dave Hampton and the team at the Mingei International Museum have done an amazing job. 

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Photo ©Darren Bradley
The exhibit is beautiful and does a great job of showcasing the artwork, and conveying the spirit of this magical place. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley
It turns out, they enlarged two of my photographs to fill entire walls. I'd never seen my photos that large before. 


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Photo ©Darren Bradley
My photos were also used extensively on the website, and in a separate app that was created for the exhibit - as well as for postcards and the official program. 


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Close-up of the fireplace. Photo ©Darren Bradley
I'm very honored to have the privilege of contributing a small part to this exhibit. I would highly recommend paying a visit if you can get over to the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego. There are many, many pieces included than what I photographed. The exhibit will continue through February 23rd, 2014.

For other photos that I took during a brief walk in and around Berkeley while up there on this trip, see my blog posts here and here… 

3 comments:

Mark Gilsdorf said...

Darren, your photos of Jennings' house are amazing. As a blacksmith I just want to thank you for your work in helping to document an important chapter in the history of blacksmithing in this country. Jennings truly used "hammer and anvil, ...(to) forge for mankind a richer life." Thank you.

Darren Bradley said...

Thank you, Mark. Glad you enjoyed the photos. But of course, my photography was only a very small part of this. Real credit is due to the artist, and the curator, Dave Hampton, who provided both the idea for the show and the drive behind putting it together.

delvinho said...

Incredible photos of an incredible artisan.