A Friend to the Artist
Claire Falkenstein & Frank Crockett
Frank Crockett and Bryan Kelly lived together in a home once described as “the most beautiful house in Los Angeles.” The Buck House, designed by Richard Schindler in 1934, was built in the city’s mid-Wilshire area, just a stone’s throw from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “People would knock on the door thinking it was part of the museum,” Kelly recalls. And though it was no museum, the Buck House was filled with Crockett and Kelly’s collection, which included John Altoon, Ynez Johnston, and Peter Voulkos, as well as many works by an artist the pair counted among their friends: Claire Falkenstein.
“Frank was very fond of Claire,” Kelly says. “He was very close to her, he very much admired what she was doing.” Crockett was an artist himself, working largely in encaustic to make textured grids and geometric abstractions. His early studies were in Japan, followed by the Art Students League and Brooklyn Museum School in New York, the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania, and the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris. Crockett likely befriended Falkenstein in the early 1970s, after moving to California from the East Coast with Dr. Louis Heyn. While living together in the Hollywood Hills, Heyn commissioned Falkenstein to create the large-scale sculptural fountain Structure and Flow (now in the collection of the Long Beach Museum of Art).
Crockett and Falkenstein remained friends after Heyn’s passing, and Crockett was a frequent visitor to Falkenstein’s Venice studio. Though fiercely dedicated to her work, Falkenstein would pause long enough to cook a meal from the California Artists Cookbook for Crockett and Kelly, or to occasionally visit the couple at the Buck House. Of Falkenstein’s character, Kelly recalls, “You kind of didn’t mess with Claire! She was very stern and a no-nonsense kind of person – busy and absorbed with her own artwork.” That dedication to art was among the things that she and Crockett shared: as Kelly put it, “Frank’s whole life was art, really.”
As an artist of singular innovation and energy, Claire Falkenstein explored a range of mediums but became known for her expansive wire structures that often included found glass and wood. Born in 1908 in Coos Bay, Oregon, Falkenstein grew up in Berkeley, California and attended the University of California in 1930, studying sculpture, philosophy and anthropology. She continued her studies in sculpture at Mills College in Oakland and while there, studied under the avant-garde artist Alexander Archipenko.
Falkenstein's first major body of work emerged in the early 1940s, with her Set Structures, which her made of wooden elements that could be disassembled. In 1947, she began teaching at the California School of Fine Arts and in 1950 she re-located to Paris; this move would prove pivotal to Falkenstein's work, as she encountered influential artists of the European avant-garde, as well as Peggy Guggenheim, who would become a major supporter of Falkenstein's work. During this time, jewelry became a main focus for Falkenstein; Working out of a tiny studio and with not much money, Falkenstein created works inspired by the free-form abstraction popular among Paris’ vanguard with castoff and nontraditional materials. A significant breakthrough for Falkenstein came in 1961, when Guggenheim commissioned her to design the gates at the Palazzo Venier de Leoni in Venice—a work regarded as one of the finest of her prodigious career and one that illustrates Falkenstein’s inimitable ability to create forms that exist beyond the physical space they inhabit.
Falkenstein eventually returned to the United States in 1963, settling in Venice, California, where she lived until her death in 1997. She created enduring large-scale public works during this time, most notably, the doors, gates and windows at the St. Basil Catholic Church in Los Angeles. At the later end of her life, she had turned her focus to painting. Her works are held in such prestigious collections as the Pompidou Centre, Paris, the Tate, London and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Auction Results Claire Falkenstein