For Greg Strangman, it all started when he bought a house in Ocean Beach, built in 1962 by veteran San Diego architect Loch Crane, who apprenticed under Frank Lloyd Wright. The home's modernist design propelled Strangman into collecting modern art to decorate the interior, and he eventually found himself in a store on Park Boulevard looking to buy more. The owner of that store directed him to Objects USA--a venture founded by three San Diego natives who specialize in mid-century art from Southern California--and a collector was born.
Objects USA's founders--Dave Hampton, Steve Aldana and Ron Kerner--are not your typical art dealers. The San Diego natives' online gallery of vintage art and design (www.objectsusa.com) focuses on, but is not limited to, objects from San Diego artists from the '50s and '60s. The art is both functional and decorative--a collector can find everything from a vintage painting or sculpture to serving ware and jewelry.
The threesome started the online gallery in September 2005 and, for the last two years, have held an art show called Summer Survey, which they plan to make an annual event. Their hope is to spread vintage love and appreciation to San Diego and beyond.
"We're all collectors, and we're all really passionate about this weird niche of mid-century arts and crafts," says Hampton, "but we also like the architecture and design and the whole kind of bigger milieu that it produces."
Hampton's love for mid-century art came through a hankering for mid-century furniture, which he looked for in local stores like Boomerang and Mid-Century. The 41-year-old also developed an interest in homes built during that period, many of which are still around.
"I didn't really have the resources to buy a house, but objects of a smaller nature were within reach. I could come up with the $150 to buy something to put in my apartment," he said. He made the decision to focus on art, rather than architecture, and never turned back.
In Kerner's case, his grandmother is to blame for his mid-century fetish.
"It all started with a piece of Danish modern furniture from the '50s and a coffee table," he said. "I had moved into a new apartment, and she donated those to the cause, and I sort of began decorating around that." Kerner started dealing art when he realized that he needed to get rid of some things in order to clear space in his apartment.
Aldana's interest in the modernist period started with old motor scooters and grew to pop art, then art made from organic materials like wood and straw.
None of the three have formal backgrounds in art, and all three maintain various day jobs. When it comes to acquiring pieces for the Objects USA collection, the three have distinctly different styles. Hampton likes to meet the artists and will spend hours, even days, learning about them and their art, information he then conveys to potential buyers. One of those artists is jewelry designer Mona Trunkfield.
"He really took the time to come out and learn about me and my work," Trunkfield said.
Kerner, who exudes rock 'n' roll cool, is a thrift-store junkie who scours estate and garage sales, flea markets and eBay to find the goods.
"Even back when I was a kid, I'd dig in thrift stores for cool shoes and stuff," he said. "I've always been fascinated with old things: cars, music, art."
Aldana, the quietest of the three, frequently shops in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He met Hampton in a mid-century store in San Diego, and has a network of people throughout the state that he buys from and sells to. He says it's always tough to part with the art, but it's a necessity, as his kitchen has turned into a storage space.
Keith York, founder of Modernsandiego.com, a website dedicated to mid-century art and architecture, appreciates what Objects USA is doing to make post-war architecture, art, crafts and furniture accessible to a wide range of collectors.
"They are nurturing the young people who are just discovering this type of art, and pricing it affordably enough for them," York said.
Lisa Cliff, proprietor of 20thObsession.com and a modern jewelry specialist, said mid-century art is exploding right now, which may account for the growth of Objects USA. The trio's most recent show, which was held in a small art space in Golden Hill in June, was jam-packed and attended by some of the artists themselves.
"I really hold these guys in high regard because they're unearthing some of these San Diego artisans that most people don't know about," Cliff said.