We are creatures of clutter in an age of clutter. Clutter is what happens to things when they become useless but friendly. The world is a thingdom. The history of civilization is a history of things, both for survival and for vanity. The history of mankind is one big desk drawer.The problem, as every member of the acquisitive society will have noticed by now, is not in amassing things, but in getting rid of them. There is something of the pack rat in all of us. Is the passion for collecting a direct surrogate for sexual desire and in which case a delicate symbolism is concealed in the objects collected; or just an inner feeling of voidness concerning some particular craving. Compulsive hoarding is the alter-ego to the neat freak. But, to turn accumulation this into art, may defy psychological explanation.
.Home is where you lay your head. Starting in the early 1960s, Beryl Sokoloff made what used to be called experimental films,short, lyrical, non-narrative movies, edited to draw together patterns, visual and psychological.A number of Sokoloff’s films were about other artists. My Mirrored Hope, from 1962,was a 17-minute excursion over the surfaces and into the shadowy depths of a great American folk art eccentricity, the madly intricate, self-built home, now lost to a fire, of Clarence Schmidt.
Schmidt and his wife relocated to Woodstock , New York during the economic depression of the 1930’s, after working as a movie set builder for silent films in New York. In Woodstock he worked as a handyman and began building the massive house/beaver palace that would become his life’s work and he became, by avocation, a self styled sculptor builder of avant-garde assemblage. Over the years it grew into a huge collection, that would enrich several junkyards, of wooden window frames, mirrors, walkways, bedsteads,and found objects; including rubber face masks, hands and feet that he made into sculptural art as well as other uncategorized pieces with diverse and sundry oddities,stuck together with asphalt and painted over by Schmidt.
It was a towering environmental sculpture, that was an apt reflection of American materialism. And by the time it all burned to the ground, in 1968, it was the Hadrian’s Villa of outsider art. An anti-bonfire of the Vanities. There were thirty rooms spread over seven stories and topped by a garden. “My hopeless art”, he once called it.
”A lot has changed in the art world, and a lot has changed in the real world. We now have a category for Clarence: vernacular artist. In 1970, after not seeing Clarence for five years, I visited Woodstock, New York where he lived and worked. His first words to me were, “I hear you are copying me in Philadelphia.”It is true to a certain extent; I have been copying Clarence my whole career, trying to make a total encyclopedic vision that has no parameters and no end. My work is marked by events and is a mirror of the mind that is building and falling apart, having a logic and but close to chaos, refusing to stay still for the camera, and giving one a sense of heaven and hell simultaneously.” ( Isaiah Zagar )
Architecture, the mother of the arts, has often been slow to accept new ideas , and quick to cater to comfort and convenience. That folk architecture, now part of the category, the ”vernacular arts ”, has never enjoyed the popularity of folk art as a means of self expression would seem to prove the point. An ordinary person may indulge in daydreams worthy of a Pharaoh or Cleopatra, but when it comes to the hod and hammer labors of building one dwelling, they promptly drop back to earth.
Still, there have been mavericks. True amateurs unspoiled by formal training, unfettered by the discipline of structural engineering, and importantly, disinterested in practicality for its own sake. The non-conformists had a dream so insistent, so vivid, that no amount of public disapproval and no appeal to logic could dissuade them from giving their dreams tangible substance. Modest circumstances forced them to create their architectural phantasmagorias out of the castoffs of nature and the rest of society; junk, sea shells, broken bottles, scrap metals, splintered furniture, shattered mirrors and all held together with cement and perhaps a touch of magic.
Ingenuity and intuition made these non-professionals better engineers than one would expect. In 1959, a committee of Los Angeles citizens, battling condemnation proceedings against the celebrated 100-foot-high Rodia towers in Watts, could confidently call in structural engineers to attest to the tower’s stability. In France, where Ferdinand Cheval’s extravagance was completed in 1902, sentiments changed from ridicule to respect, including from Le Corbusier. Today this work of an anonymous civil servant has some status within the sophisticated profession it naively burlesques.
Simon Rodia spent thirty-three years on his labyrinthine towers. Rodia came to Los Angeles from Italy, prospered as a tile-setter, and in 1921, at the age of 41, began his project. Like the commercial says, ”Lets build something together”. Using only hand tools, shells, glass, and such improbables as corn-cobs, he spun cobwebs of brilliant fantasy. “If a man who has not labelled himself an artist happens to produce a work of art, he is likely to cause a lot of confusion and inconvenience.” (Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker in 1965). Sam Rodia an Italian immigrant who, the correspondent from NYC explained, “constructed a dream-like complex of openwork towers . . . and encrusted them with a sparkling mosaic, composed mainly of what had once been refuse.” spent most of his lifetime building his world which he called Nuestro Pueblo, or “our town.’ ”
The Tower of the 4 Winds, was a kinetic sculpture designed by Rolly Crump for Walt Disney Studios. It was part of the Pepsi-Cola Tower at the New York World’s fair in 1965. It is a rare example of architectural daydreaming gone legitimate. Part pop art mobile, part Brobdingnagian tinker toy, it is an unconventional windmill; an adversary worthy of Don Quixote. Crump was likely influenced by the work of Charles and ray Eames and their solar powered ”Do Nothing Machine”.