Motown Modern

Paul Evans Furniture from the Collection of Gwen Gordy Fuqua

Gwen Gordy Fuqua at her desk at the Motown Building

An irrepressible business woman and sister to Berry Gordon, Gwen Gordy Fuqua was a critical force of nature behind the emergence of Motown and the astronomical success that followed. Raised in Detroit during the Great Depression, Fuqua made what was likely her first major business investment in 1956 when she purchased the photography and cigarette concession of Detroit's infamous Flame Show, where Billie Holliday, T-Bone Walker, and Dinah Washington, among many others, performed. A decade and a half—and many savvy business decisions—later, in 1972, both Fuqua and Motown Records would relocate to Los Angeles, where she took up residence in the 10,000 square foot Mediterranean estate at 1004 Benedict Canyon Drive. Around the corner from the Beverly Hills Hotel, the home became the center of Motown meetings as well as legendary parties—integral to the setting were the Paul Evans furnishings that Fuqua selected as her backdrop for entertaining, presented here at auction.

Gwen Gordy Fuqua's dining room with Paul Evans furnishings

Fuqua came a long way from driving a truck in coveralls for her father's construction business to hosting stars at her own Hollywood mansion. Though her brother Berry may be more of a household name, it was indeed Fuqua who helped him make his first important music business contact when she introduced him to Al Green. Fuqua possessed a keen understanding of the power of presentation, particularly in overcoming firmly entrenched racism and gender discrimination. After Fuqua's own record companies, Anna Records, Harvey Records and Tri Phi Records, all officially merged with Motown in the 1960s, Fuqua established the label's Artist Development Department. The department would train the label's artists on how to present themselves publicly, including dress, body language, and general etiquette, and was famously managed for many years by Maxine Powell. As NPR reported "Motown was a kind of machine: Songs were written by committee, and artists had their images meticulously managed and cultivated. This meant that Motown's artists made incursions into places that black artists were not often seen."

Gwen Gordy Fuqua with Paul Evans's Sculpted bronze dining chairs (Lot 138)

In 1977, Gordy founded her company Gwen Glenn Productions, working to produce Motown acts including High Inergy. She retired in the early 1980s, but continued to put her talents to work—not least at the horse track, where she took to breeding and racing her own horses and allegedly delighted in "beating old white men at their own game." In 1993, Fuqua was given a diagnosis of brain cancer with six months to live; instead she fought the disease for six years and, tired of wigs, designed crystal-studded turbans for herself to wear. She passed away in 1999 at the age of 77, and was honored with two funerals, one in Los Angeles and one in Detroit, where she was donned in two separate outfits. Today, Motown's presence in Los Angeles is commemorated by Berry Gordy Square, located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Argyle Avenue, next the building that once housed the beloved and boundary-shattering label. 

Paul Evans from the Collection of Gwen Gordy Fuqua

Paul Evans

Born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1931, Paul Evans exhibited talent for design at an early age. He studied woodworking in high school and briefly attended the Philadelphia Textile Institute. Evans was awarded the Aileen O. Webb Scholarship in 1950 and studied at the prestigious Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Craftsmen. He would continue his studies at Cranbrook in 1952 with a focus on metalwork. In 1953 he took a position as the metal craftsman at the living museum, Old Sturbridge Village. Feeling that his creativity was being stifled, Evans left the museum in 1955 to find a more stimulating environment. He opened a showroom with fellow designer Phillip Lloyd Powell and the two began a decade-long collaboration.

Evans’ experiments with welded and enameled sculpture in the early 1960s caught the eye of the Directional furniture company. Directional was looking for handmade furniture with distinctive character and Evans’ new American craft designs were a perfect fit. In 1971, Evans developed the brass and chrome Cityscape line for Directional marking a departure from his earlier sculptural works. In the 1980s, working with his son Keith, an electrical engineer, he continued to experiment with new materials and design increasing minimal forms with kinetic elements. Together, they formed Zoom, Inc. in 1983 and began a relationship with the Design Institute of America. In 1987, just one day after his retirement, Evans suffered his third heart attack and died.

Evans is now internationally recognized as one of the great studio furniture makers of the 20th century. In his finest work, such as Argente and Sculpted Front, he deploys his training in welding, metallurgy, and jewelry design to sculpt brutal and beautiful furniture in metal—work that prefigured the art furniture movement today.

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