Thursday, June 22, 2006

My Dinner With Jack: The Snowflake Will Know

After his lecture last night at the Portland Art Museum, I was fortunate enough to be invited to dinner by famous textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen. I've known Mr. Larsen for a short while now, and was delighted to be able to see him again. Apart from being able to simply enjoy the company of such a recognized figure in my field, I am even more interested in having a living connection to a group of artists and designers from the 1950s and 1960s that I admire so much. Jack Larsen existed in social and creative circles along side John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, etc. Reading about these guys is one thing, and hearing the history come out of the mouth of someone who was there is nothing short of amazing.

Over dinner I asked Jack about Cage and Cunningham. As it turns out, shortly after moving to NYC around 1952 and starting a small business that provided custom hand-woven cloths to patrons in the city, Jack asked his friend John Cage to work as his graphic designer. While Cage was making a name for himself as a musician, he was also peaking people's interests by way of his unusual approach to designing posters and publicity for his events. Scavanged materials, unconventional layouts and oddball marketing schemes were mainstays in Cage's approach. In Jack's eyes, he was the perfect person to recruit for the job.

For Larsen's holiday card to send to clients and friends, Cage proposed a hand-cut paper snowflake placed in a small handmade Japanese style box upon a small piece of one of Larsen's fabrics. The snowflake was also printed with "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" on either of side of the invisible ink. A lovely proposition, but daunting when thinking of the 16-fold hand cut paper circle needing to be recreated hundreds of times for Larsen's many clients (this dirty work, as I now understand, would have been passed on to Merce Cunningham).

Below is a transcript of the conversation Jack had with Cage so many years ago, as recounted to me last night:

Larsen: John, your idea is a lovely one, but I'm afraid the notion of handcutting hundreds of snowflakes is a bit much. Perhaps we could have them die-cut instead and save you and Merce the trouble of doing so much work.

Cage: I dont think it would be the same.

L: No, but with the right printer, I doubt I would be able to tell the difference between the two.

C: Perhaps, but I would be able to tell the difference.

L: I've seen this done recently, and the results are quite nice. I'm certain you couldn't tell the difference...

C: Even if I were unable to see the difference, the snowflake would know.

And, for you inquisitive types, Jack was wearing a very nice seersucker suit over a collarless indigo died shirt (with matching pocket square in the coat's front welt pocket) and a woven straw hat with a black band. Brown leather penny loafers, sans pennies, and tan socks with a diamond pattern. The hat is Amish, and was puchased mail order by Larsen for a mere 19 dollars.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had similarly delightful encounters with dance instructors over the years. Not too long ago I had the great pleasure of working with Dan Wagoner (79 years old at the time), a real modern dance pioneer. He continually spoke of a woman he danced with "in the beginning" named Martha. When I asked him if he was referring to Martha Graham, the mother of all dance, he looked me right in the eye and said "do you know a lot of other dancing bitches named Martha? I certainly don't!"

I love seersucker and admire all those who wear it.

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having now actually seen Mr. Larson in person, it's fair to say that he possesses a most excellent and striking sense of style. It's a lot like this blog.

9:14 AM  

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