Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman Design Their Own Love Story

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Charles and Ray Eames, Robin and Lucienne Day, Massimo and Lella Vignelli: all couples who made a big mark on post-war Modern design. LA has also been home to another designing couple, Jerome and Evelyn Ackerman, two Detroit artists who opened a studio in West LA in the early 1950s, and forged a path in artful craft, applying Jerry’s entrepreneurial savvy and Evelyn’s fine artistry to ceramics, weaving, mosaics, wood-carving, metalwork and more. Now you can see some of the highlights of their partnership at the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in a show called A Marriage of Craft and Design. On the next DnA, we’ll hear from the couple about the love that bound their life and work. And below, DnA’s Olga Khazan reviews the exhibit:

Before there was IKEA and other mass purveyors of affordable-yet-stylish home decor, there was Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman, the iconic duo behind a design style known as “California mid-century modernism.” The couple, who have been living and working together for more than 50 years, have produced everything from vibrant mosaics to playful tapestries. Last week, the Craft and Folk Art Museum opened an exhibit, aptly titled “A Marriage of Craft and Design,” featuring a wide array of the Ackermans’ work, and the Ackermans came out to celebrate.

To the sounds of singer/songwriter Daphne, on January 29 CAFAM patrons toasted the Ackerman’s long creative history, as well as the pair’s personal milestones: The exhibit opened on Jerome Ackerman’s 91st birthday, and Evelyn Ackerman had just celebrated her 87th birthday on January 12.

“This proves that two people cannot only live together, but can create together and touch the lives of people through their designs,” said Holly Jerger, CAFAM’s director of public programs.

Originally from Detroit, the couple moved to Los Angeles in 1952 in order to establish their design careers. They opened Jenev Design Studio, a combination of their first names, and Jerome launched his pottery career while Evelyn immersed herself in mosaics and wall panels.

Cast in stylish two-toned earthenware, Jerome’s pottery still looks up to date in the museum’s glass case, despite its decades-old design. Meanwhile, Evelyn’s mosaics are simultaneously busy and structured, the forefathers of the colorful jigsaw designs that today one might see in an Urban Outfitters catalogue.

In the ‘60s, the Ackermans expanded their studio and changed their businesses name to ERA industries, three letters that hang over their exhibit space at CAFAM. They also began designing wall hangings, tapestries, cabinet hardware and wood paneling – each of which is represented at the exhibit.

The tapestries share the same whimsical spirit as the mosaics, many made with hand-hooked abstract shapes and a variety of textures. Evelyn also hand-crafted custom dollhouses and toys for her daughter, Laura.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Ackermans’ work is its affordability, an aspect of their products they sought to preserve as an acknowledgement of their humble beginnings.

“One of our goals was to be affordable,” Evelyn Ackerman said in a recent LA Times interview. “Not having a lot of money was the position we were in most of our young life, so it is what we strove to do for others.”

Today, their portfolio represents the golden age of post-war home comforts, or as Jerger put it, “an homage to the history of design in SoCal.”

Also opening at CAFAM last week was an exhibit called “Crossing the Line,” an innovative work by Mexican-American artist Tanya Aguiñiga. In a nod to the back-strap weaving technique Aguiniga learned in Chiapas, the exhibit consists of hundreds of strands of colored yarn strung from floor to ceiling and interspersed with “floating” woven patterns. In effect, it creates a maze of string for the viewer to get lost in, with some of Aguiniga’s funky woven furniture pieces placed at various points along the way.

As if the double-opening wasn’t enough, at the reception CAFAM also announced that Suzanne Isken, former Education Director at the Museum of Contemporary Art, will assume the role of director at the museum on February 14. As a Valentine’s Day gift to craft lovers in LA, let’s hope she keeps the fabulous exhibitions coming.