Friday, June 12, 2015

The Art Set: My Travels with Elsie de Wolfe

Guests surrounding Frank Gehry sculpture at a book party held for Elsie de Wolfe’s Paris: Frivolity Before the Storm at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills.
The Art Set: My Travels with Elsie de Wolfe
by Charlie Scheips

Since my book, Elsie de Wolfe’s Paris: Frivolity Before the Storm came out in October of 2014, I’ve traveled the country giving talks and signings to help sell the book.

Deborah McLeod, Director of Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills.
Most recently, Deborah McLeod, Director of Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills threw a cocktail party for me (and the book) on the roof of the Gallery. The weather was perfect — and about 75 friends came for cocktails, delicious hors d’oeuvres and camaraderie. 

I lived in LA from the mid 1980s until the early 1990s and still have a pile of friends there since I have come back often over the years. I knew Deborah first when she worked for the Jan Turner Gallery — then when she went to direct the Blum/Helman Gallery. After a stint as Christie’s West Coast Contemporary Art maven Deborah joined Gagosian several years ago where a stunning Antony Caro sculpture exhibition was just closing the night of my party.

The concept of RSVPing seems to be challenging in LA — some people who actually RSVP’d didn’t make it — and others who didn’t RSVP came. No matter, it was fun seeing: Deborah Irmas, Leonard Stanley, Anne Paulino, Wendy Stark, Elizabeth East and Kimberly Davis from LA Louver Gallery in Venice, art dealers Cliff Benjamin, Christopher Ford, Michael Maloney and Doug Roberts, as well as Diane Connors, Dagny Corcoran, Danniel Rangel, Claude Morais and Brian Wolk, Lynn Nakamura, Mayer Russ, Barbara Isenberg, The Broad museum director Joanne Heyler, Richard Schmidt, Bob and Marion Pynoos, Brad Botems and Gary Farmer, Jim Wilke, Chris Yeager as well as a contingent of my pals from the Elizabeth Taylor Trust including Barbara Berkowitz (who acted as my photographer) Julie Cloutier, Cristin Klein and Janel Rizzo.  Gagosian’s Dominique Porter brilliantly saw to the myriad details that made the evening so lovely including flower arrangements inspired by fabric designs of Elsie de Wolfe’s that the ever active decorator designed in the early 1940s. 
The scene of the party: The Gagosian Gallery Beverly Hills roof terrace.
Elizabeth Taylor Trust's Barbara Berkowitz and Cristin Klein. Christopher Ford and Cliff Benjamin.
Jeff Vespa, Julie Cloutier, and Cristin Klein.
Lynn Nakamura, Carson Schurko, Chris Yeager, Craig Brill, and Diane Connors. Charlie with Jim Wilke at Gagosian.
Mayer Rus.
Signing a copy for Leonard Stanley.
I was thrilled that Ian Falconer actually made it as he is busy putting the finishing touches on the set and costumes for a new production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker that opens at the Seattle Opera on Thanksgiving weekend.  And the legendary George Christy was happily there too and said he’ll do a piece in the Beverly Hills Courier on my book.
With Amy Fine Collins and Helen Houghton at a book sinigng at the Colony Club in New York this past winter.
After doing several events this past winter in New York for the Elsie book, I took it on the road traveling to Nashville as part of the O’More College of Design conference and Atlanta at the Cherokee Club for that city’s French Heritage chapter. Last month, I hit the Midwest with a half dozen talks and signings. 

I spent part of my youth in a suburb of Milwaukee called Shorewood. It was a happy time there and when my family moved to Connecticut in the 1970s we never cut our ties to the many friends we had there. 
The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee where I attended musical kindergarten and studied piano with Emily Silber Herwig.  It is the former McIntosh/Goodrich mansion from circa 1903.
The beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright 1917 Frederick C. Bogk House, owned by my family friends Robert and Barbara Elsner since 1955. It is the only single-family  house by Wright in Milwaukee.
When I first started speaking to Daniel Goldin about doing something at his bookstore — Milwaukee’s independent Boswell Books — he mentioned that perhaps the Villa Terrace might be interested in hosting a talk and book signing at that amazing David Adler-designed house on Lake Michigan that is now a design museum.  I was soon in contact with Stephanie Van Alyea Quirk who is among a group of passionate Villa Terrace supporters trying to bring the place to greater prominence. When Stephanie and I learned how many Milwaukee people we knew in common it became pretty much of a family affair. 

The day I arrived in Milwaukee I first met the Villa Terrace committee who organized my event at the Lake Park Bistro that sits in Milwaukee’s stunning Olmstead-designed Lake Park on Lake Michigan. Tom Graf and I were entertained and fed by Stephanie, her mother Pat Van Alyea, Sarah Slaughter, Mary Brown and Kelly Boecker
The Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee's Olmsted designed Lake Park, where I had lunch with the Villa Terrace committee before my talk.
After lunch, we headed down to the Milwaukee Art Museum where we took in the Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair that chronicles and presents the history and gems from the five decades of traveling fashion shows conceived and organized by the late and legendary Eunice W. Johnson, the wife of trail-blazing publisher John H. Johnson. During the Fashion Fair’s history these shows raised more than $51 million for local and national charities. The show was very well attended during our visit. And one of the guards stopped me and said he recognized me from the local press on my upcoming talk at the Villa Terrace! 
The Milwaukee Art Museum's Quadracci Wing designed by Santiago Calatrava.
Lake Michigan from inside MAM's Quadracci Pavillon.
The Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Pauline Trigere day ensemble, 1972. Patrick Kelly evening dress, 1986.
Valentino evening ensemble 1974-75. Halston evening suit circa 1981 and Guy Laroche 1972-1973.
Afterwards, we headed over for a drink at the landmark Pfister Hotel before driving back towards the Villa Terrace for my talk. 

The Villa Terrace was originally the residence of Lloyd R. Smith, president of the A.O Smith Company, and his family.  David Adler designed it in 1923 in the style of a 16th century Italian villa. Perched on the cliffs above Lake Michigan its gardens with cascading fountains reminded me of the great Villa Lanti outside Rome. 
The Villa Terrace gardens modeled on the Villa Lanti in Lazio outside Rome.
Courtyard of the Villa Terrace in Milwaukee.
View looking down to Lake Michigan from the Villa Terrace.
Plan of the Villa Terrace by David Adler.
The original owners of the Villa Terrace.
There were already friends arriving by the time I got there. My mother was a member of a legendary Milwaukee “ladies” book club and a few of her friends came to my talk including: Barbara Elsner, Nat Beckwith and Jill Heavenrich, other long time friends Andy and Libby Bruce (my hosts while there) Joan Urdan, Dr. Carl Weisner (who turns 90 tomorrow!) and his son Jim, Robert McCreadie, Blaine Gibson, Rick Cudahy, Marianne Lubar and dozens more from multiple generations of Milwaukee friends.  I saw so many familiar faces while Sarah Slaughter was introducing me on stage that I got teary-eyed.

The Villa Terrace is having a great summer gala themed “A Night in Marrakesh” on July 18th. For more info go to:
Stephanie Van Alyea Quirk, Sarah Slaughter, Charlie Scheips, Pat Van Alyea, and Mary Brown at Villa Terrace.
Sarah Slaughter welcoming guests at the Villa Terrace.
 Marianne Lubar and Charlie signing books at Villa Terrace.
Tom Graf, Joan Urdan, Jill Heavenrich, Charlie, Marianne Lubar, Nat Beckwith, and Barbara Elsner.
Jim Weisner, Dr. Carl Weisner, and Charlie reune! June 13th is Carl's 90th birthday!
Nat Beckwith. We used to be "dates" at the Milwaukee Symphony starting when I was about 8 years old!
Elsie de Wolfe's Paris sold at Villa Terrace by the great Milwaukee treasure Boswell Books.
Click here
to order your copy!
The next day I headed up to Cedarburg just outside of Milwaukee to give another talk at the Cedarburg Art Museum. That evening Andy and Libby threw a great buffet dinner party at their house in Fox Point with about 40 or 50 friends. It was great being back in Milwaukee!
Thanking all my Milwaukee friends at Andy and Libby Bruce's party.
Long time family friend Bill Eastham at the Bruce's in Fox Point.
Chef John Leonard and his neighborhood "helpers" Lucy and Charlie at Andy and Libby Bruce's party.
Then I headed down towards Chicago where I had another three events related to my Elsie book.  We stayed at the amazing house of my great friends Katie and Tim Hale in Lake Bluff. The Hale house’s foundation was once an enormous greenhouse for the David Adler-designed Ely estate.  Sometime in the 1960s the property was divided and the new owners transformed the greenhouse into a proper house and built a two-story, two-bedroom pool house. When Katie and Tim took it over more than a decade ago they built additions to house their five children. We got to stay in the Pool House just as spring was sprung and the pool was being filled with salt water. 
At the Hale's Pool House in Lake Bluff just before it was filled.
The Hale pool filled with salt water two days later.  
Spring is sprung in Lake Bluff.
The Hale Pool House with Henry and Oliver two weeks later.
Signing my Elsie book for the five Hale children and others in the kitchen.
Followed by a delicious plate of fried pickles.
I gave two talks in Chicago. The first was at the Casino that hosted a lovely cocktail reception before and delicious buffet supper after my talk. The next day I did a luncheon lecture at the fabled Arts Club of Chicago. A lot of my art pals were off in Venice for the opening of the Biennale but the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Lynne Warren was there as well as Katie Hale, my old childhood Milwaukee pal Michael Shield and several dozen other Arts Club members and guests.
The understated Casino Club in Chicago in the shadow of the John Hancock building.
Luncheon guests assembling  at the Arts Club of Chicago for my talk on Elsie de Wolfe's Paris.
I stayed overnight at the Drake Hotel and while I didn’t get a chance to eat in the great Cape Cod Room, I did manage to have a Bloody Mary at the Coq d’Or bar in the hotel. I mourn the appearance of flat screen TVs in places like the Coq d’Or — now that everyone can watch something on their phone, watch or iPad ... don’t we think it's time to take the big screens down?  I do.
The Drake Hotel's Cape Cod room — still a classic!
Elsie de Wolfe was a jet setter before the aviation technology even existed — it seems to me as I travel around the country that since the 65 years after her death in Versailles in 1950 the world still is captivated by this amazing woman who was born before the American Civil War and died during the Atomic Age. 

And she would have loved all the excuses for parties that my book is continuing to inspire. She said at the end: “I don’t want to die” — and she obviously hasn’t as my book has also inspired a complete restoration of her beloved Villa Trianon in Versailles that is underway now. 

Come to my next talk  somewhere and I’ll show you the pictures! Or perhaps it will become another book — I certainly have enough material.
Photography by  Barbara Berkowitz (Gagosian); Brian Slawson Photography (Villa Terrace); and Charlie Scheips.