Arts-and-Crafts Meets Machine at the Gamble House

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Fans of the Gamble House, the Arts-and-Crafts masterpiece created by Greene and Greene in 1908, will either be thrilled or horrified this Halloween season.  The Machine Project has transformed the House during the Pasadena Art Council’s two-week AxS Curiosity Festival to reveal the history and visual ideas behind the historic site in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  Called the “Field Guide to The Gamble House,” it includes experimental tours and dances, group naps, operatic bird beaks, seances, videos, architectural lawn furniture and a secret Swiss-Japanese fusion restaurant. Complementing those live events, they’ve installed contemporary paintings and sculptures throughout the house to juxtapose today’s artistic ideas with 1908′s architectural style. On-site, hands-on workshops offer lessons in topics ranging from soap-making (a tribute to the family’s business) to solar robotics, from Craftsman-style cat houses to basic electronics, bringing the Arts and Crafts movement in parallel with today’s Maker groups.

Here’s a rundown of some of the events:

  • Audience Apparition, outside the Gamble House.  In this nighttime event, visitors participate in an exterior architecture tour using only flashlights for illumination. Images capturing this ghostly exchange will be on display in the house for the remainder of the show.
  • Gamble House Roof Sculptures, on the Gamble House Lawns.  Half-scale replicas of the Gamble House’s famous roof sit upside-down at various points around the lawn. Allowing for a close-up inspection of the roof’s complex construction out of beams, joists and shingles, these inverted mockups also double as lawn furniture for lounging.
  • The Swirling Mess Below the Sleeping Porch Soon Solidified into A Crest of Phantasmagoric Weight that Creaks Between the Doors, the Floors, and a Form that Could Never Be a House Again, on the Gamble House Front Sleeping Porch.
    A two-story puppet animates the crane and rose of the Gamble family crest. Puppeteers activate the sculpture at regular intervals during the festival.
  • The Ultimate Bungalow!, on the Gamble House front lawn. The style in which Greene & Greene designed many of their houses came to be known as “ultimate bungalow” — inspired by the smaller structures with which they share a typology but, as the adjective implies, of a different order of magnitude in size, materials, craftsmanship, and attention to detail. ULTIMATE BUNGALOW! is a hand-painted tribute to the ultimate ultimateness of the Gamble House.
  • Lawn Drawing (Gamble House Interior Detail), the Gamble House back lawn.
    The intricately detailed woodwork of the staircase is scaled up and transposed into a two-dimensional image that is etched onto the landscape of the back lawn.
  • Objects for Plants, various Locations in the Gamble House.  Small wood sculptures echoing the Greene & Greene highly-crafted design appear throughout the house, replete with ikebana arrangements made by the house’s Flower Committee.
  • Psychic Reading of the Gamble House, in the Gamble House upstairs linen closet. In this film by David Fenster, Asher Hartman psychically reads the Gamble House.
  • Solar Sun Chime Workshop, in the Gamble House basement.  Ever wanted to learn how to build your own solar-powered gadgets for use in sustainable installations & outdoor computing? This workshop will provide an introduction to attaching mini solar panels to small motors and other battery-powered devices. Wire your own simple ‘sun chime’ using solar cells a few simple electronic components such as resistors & potentiometers. Previous soldering experience not required.
  • Paper Cutting Workshop, in the Gamble House attic. Participants learn techniques for template design and paper cutting in styles drawn from intricate architectural and interior design motifs found throughout the Gamble House.
  • Letter Writing Workshop, in the Gamble House attic.  Using correspondence examples from the Gamble House inhabitants, participants will learn letter writing techniques through both the form (script, paper, envelopes) and content of period specific letter writing.
  • Materiality and Signification Tour.  Using a scale model of the staircase and samples of different species of woods, artist Ryan Taber leads a house tour focusing on the front entry hall, back terrace and upstairs hallway.
  • Joinery and Decoration Tour.  Using samples of timber frame joinery from various cultural traditions along with different species of wood. Artist Ryan Taber leads a house tour focusing on the Attic “Billiards” room, the crawl spaces, the upstairs guest bedroom and the master bedroom.
  • Tone and Cadence Tour.  This tour will take place after dark and will feature content from the Materiality and Signification Tour and Joinery and Decoration Tours, as well as information about the houses artificial lighting and leaded art glass. A component of this tour will be conducted in the dark, with flashlights.
  • Gamble House Archaeological Dig, on the Gamble House back lawn.  Using both the analog and high tech methods of historical archaeology this interactive field-work will engage the material and immaterial culture of the Gamble House.
  • Waterfall, intermittently on the Gamble House main stairwell.  Nick Duran embodies falling water in a solo dance for the staircase, inspired by the hallway’s framed embroidery.
  • Secret Restaurant, on the Gamble House lawn.  A conveyor belt delivers small bites of Swiss-Japanese fusion cuisine from the Gamble House’s basement. The menu features some of original owner Mary Gamble’s recipes as well as a few other “secret” menu items.
  • Poets in Closets, in the Gamble House downstairs bedroom closet.  Poets read a single poem to one audience member at a time in the Gamble House’s walk-in closet.
  • MASS (at home), intermittently in the Gamble House.  In this ambulatory dance, dancers become sculptures that move through the house and evolve over time. Oscillating between action and inaction, the dancers’ bodies evoke shape, architecture, landscape, matter, machine, animal, robot, and alien.
  • Bed Conversations, in the Gamble House downstairs guest bedroom.  Eight guests in rotating shifts will animate a Gamble House bedroom with bedtime chatter, while lying in bed.  Inspired by Bunkbed Conversations, a form of public theater starring pajama-clad intellectuals created by Cabinet magazine.
  • Decho Tech Sunshine, in the Gamble House dining room.  A late 19th century lightshow simulating an extreme and completely artificial sunset ablaze through the dining room patterned glass windows.
  • Projected Shadows Video Installation, on the Gamble House exterior.  This nighttime installation transforms the Gamble House’s exterior through video projected on various surfaces, mimicking the interior’s bas-relief wood carvings.
  • The Hour of the Cat, in the Gamble House living room.  A reading of the work of Clarice Lispector, in the form of a tableaux vivant performed by a pair of cat-women and accompanied by projected video.
  • The Gamble Birdhouse Workshop, on the Gamble House back lawn.  Workshop participants build their own edible birdhouse inspired by the architectural elements and detailing of the Gamble House with nuts, seeds, bird feed brittle, and other aviary accommodating accoutrements.
  • Afternoon Tea with the Women of the Gamble House, on the back terrace of the Gamble House.  The Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW) presents an Afternoon Tea hosted by Pasadenans of 1909. Featuring light musical entertainment and a presentation of the history of Women’s Organizations in Southern California, early twentieth-century female household staff will serve iced tea and snacks based on Gamble-family recipes. A special tour focuses on womens’ spaces and work by female artisans.
  • The Urban Cat Architecture Workshop, in the Gamble House attic.  Learn how to design a cat dwelling by examining historical references, construction techniques and designs.
  • Necessary Interruption, intermittently in the Gamble House.  Two figures enter and exit rooms of the Gamble House, interrupting the conversations of the assembled crowd and each other.
  • Soap Making Workshop, on the Gamble House Lawn.  Learn how to make cold process soap with a reusable mold. Participants take home their own citrus soap inspired by the Gamble House, the “House That Soap Built”.
  • Embroidering in Architecture Workshop, on Aunt Julia’s Sleeping Porch. Participants learn the basics of hand embroidery as they stitch an Art Nouveau design onto a throw-pillow cover they can keep.
  • Group Naps, on Aunt Julia’s Sleeping Porch.  Come take a nap on the Aunt Julia’s sleeping porch while Paul quietly serenades you with arrangements of Ivory soap jingles.
  • Landslide, on the Rear Terrace of The Gamble House.  In a durational work engaging the body with a nearby hill, Rafa will slide down and climb up the hill continuously both altering the natural landscape and exacting his movement through repetition. The work will be visible only on the Rear Terrace via telescope.
  • Drawing With Ghosts, in the Gamble House attic.  In this event, the Gamble House’s ghosts (may) express themselves to the living world through drawing machines and tools created by the drawing team.

What an assortment of activities to pack into a two-week period!  Which would you be willing to try at your historic site?  Which are too weird?  Are there any you’d love to attend?  Which would absolutely make your board, staff, or volunteers rise up in arms?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tackling something like this is a big risk, especially for an historic site that’s perceived as conservative and traditional, so I applaud the Gamble House for taking this step.  No doubt some events will be more successful than others, but that’s the price of innovation.   And while it may seem to be a strange set of activities, director Ted Bosley found that the, “Machine Project at the Gamble House felt less like an ‘intervention’ than a collaborative intersection of decorative arts and fine arts, not to say art and craft, and so it’s entirely in line with the Greenes’ belief in ‘architecture as fine art.'”  Furthermore, he says that, “The diverse audience it attracted was tremendously gratifying to see.”  So what does The Curator think?  Anne Mallek says, “It was a great opportunity for us to stretch ourselves interpretively, and expand/extend the expectations of our volunteers, members, and visitors. Working with Machine Project and the 57 artists they brought to bear on this project has been nothing short of exhilarating!”


2 thoughts on “Arts-and-Crafts Meets Machine at the Gamble House

  1. Sandra Smith

    Max, were all of these projects and programs put on by the Machine Project – an external group? I love all these ideas, but there are so many – it seems like it would be a burden on the staff to design and implement programs that aren’t necessarily replicable, no matter how cool they are. Just curious about that aspect of things.


    1. Max van Balgooy Post author

      I believe all were developed by the Machine Project but staff (which consists of a handful of paid staff and dozens of volunteers) was closely involved with the planning and implementation given the nature of the site (furnished rooms, small spaces, limited lighting). My jaw dropped when I saw how extensive it became, so if others sites are inspired by this, I’d just do 2-3 of them or talk with Ted or Anne at the Gamble House to figure out how they made this happen.


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