(First posted 3/21/2011)
Every time I say "SEE Zhair-AY," I smile a little. I picture Jerry Fels (1917-2007) and Kurt (aka Curtis) Freiler (1910-2013), close friends who married sisters, sitting around one night, having a drink or two, and figuring out a way to capitalize on the "Paris chic" craze of the 60s. People were in love with Brigitte Bardot, Leslie Caron and poodles, right? So why not a French designer of home furnishings?
And so it was that Artisan House was launched in 1964, and that mysterious designer with the French-sounding name was born...or at least that's the way I like to imagine it. Yes, C. Jere', the designer whose name was combination of Freiler's and Fels's first names. The same designer who never seemed to be available for interviews...or even photos, no matter how badly the public wanted to know who he was. He may have been fictitious, but Fels's talent and Freiler's ingenuity were very real.
Fels and Freiler were jewelry makers who decided to start an interior decor company when a cigarette caused an explosion that destroyed their jewelry factory and all their inventory. Fels supervised the design of their pieces, while Freiler figured out how to mass produce them and still make them look handmade and hired people who could do it. Although best known today for their metal wall sculptures, the company also produced small table sculptures and lamps which were at first distributed by Raymor and sold in high-end department stores like Gump's in San Francisco.
I can't help but think that Fels and Freiler smiled a few times themselves...just a little at the success of their ruse and a whole lot at the success of their business. In fact, wherever they both are today, they're probably still smiling...but this time at the renewed interest in their work and the unbelievably high prices some of the wall sculptures are fetching.
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