Editor’s Note: Carrie Adrian was a lightning force in both South Pasadena and Pasadena art scenes. In 2017, ColoradoBoulevard.net’s Visual/Musical Arts writer, Toti O’Brien, visited Carrie at her house in South Pasadena and came out with this wonderful snapshot of an extraordinary person. In Carrie’s obituary there was the following message:
Carrie’s instructions are that those who knew and loved her should visit an art museum or gallery, eat some dark chocolate and toast her memory with a glass of good red wine.
This will give you an example of what kind of a person she was. Carrie Adrian, of South Pasadena, passed away on Thursday, December 2, 2021. Carrie, you will be missed.
O O O
How can Luigi—the gigantic feline meeting you at the door, then politely escorting you—inch its way so skillfully among fragile potteries filling the living room? An incredible spread of ceramic artifacts—decorative, votive, functional, anything in between—populates every corner. They thrive on open shelves, low tables, even—most astonishingly—on the floor, magically yet naturally emerging from a soft carpet, light beige—perfect neutral background for both earth tones and colorful underglazes.
By Toti O’Brien
Now how can a cat as wide as a pillow impeccably behave, squeezing eel-fashion through one-foot-large aisles among breakable beauties?
I have been exposed to many private collections, enjoying the peculiar thrill due to a gathering of artworks unified by personal taste. It is a distinctive pleasure, as the collector’s likings permeate the ensemble, making it more cohesive, more interesting and of course unique. Carrie Adrian’s “at home art gallery” stands out among my experiences for a number of reasons.
As you enter the living room (chaperoned, as I said, by soft-pawed, discrete Luigi) you are immediately impressed by an equal presence of two and three-dimensional work. Most collectors favor one or the other. Art admirers equally at ease with painting or drawing and with sculpture are as rare as are artists freely switching between the two. Here the balanced presence of media creates a visual landscape of unusual richness—diverse, dynamic, and utterly exhilarating.
As I said the folk art is mainly terracotta, mostly from Mexico, South American countries (Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador) and Cuba. There’s a lacey woodcarving from Bali, there are African statuettes, Moroccan style talavera, and more.
Here is another peculiarity. Folk art is represented as well as fine art, and the line separating the two is hard to walk. Carrie has the keenest eye for both, besides solid expertise. Every work of folk art in sight is exquisite—nothing is predictable or easily classified. With few exceptions folk art is anonymous—one of its defining elements—but here you’ll find nothing made by rote. On the contrary, you’ll keep asking who the author of this or that singular, outstanding, fascinating object might be.
“It is folk art,” Carrie will invariably answer, but she will not stop there, as each piece has indeed a compelling story, quite a bit of history, layers of information behind it.
This is true for fine art as well, as Carrie has met and befriended most of the artists whose work she has acquired, gathering a wealth of memories and anecdotes—plus first-hand, in-depth understanding of inspiration and process. Which gives you a sense of the commitment and passion underlying her pursuit.
How and when did her collecting start? Carrie was a student in Mexico City, age twenty-or-so, when she bought her first piece. You can see it as soon as you pass the door, up the stairs, on the first landing of her multilevel townhouse. It’s a Modern Madonna, boldly red, painted by Linda Morris, who also studied in Mexico City at the time. Thus her first purchase sustained a living artist, yet unknown. Carrie bought a second piece from Morris, then some more, always keeping in touch.
She has been loyal to the artists, steadily and repeatedly purchasing their work. But she has also been generous donating to various institutions—among them the Pasadena Museum of Californian Art and the Pasadena Police. Her relationship with the Pasadena Museum of California Arts (PMCA) is more substantial than the occasional gift. As she first met the directing team, one year after the museum was open, she appreciated their kind, welcoming, non-elitist attitude, and eventually became one of the founding members of the Ambassador Circle. “I couldn’t have found,” she says, “a nicer museum to support”.
Carrie Adrian’s professional fields are International Relationships and Finances. Her employment within prestigious bank institutions brought her back to Mexico City, where she spent a long time as an expatriate. Her Mexican years are accountable for a prevalence of South American art on her walls. There are big names. Two lithographs by Francisco Zuniga unavoidably catch the eye. One in sepia tones, one richer in color, similar in mood and size, they portray powerful and intense female figures, yet treated with subtle nuances of trait and tone.
“Of course I couldn’t afford a Rivera on canvas,” Carrie says. She perfectly knew who the masters were when she was in Mexico—the already established and those still obscure. If she wished to collect those already famous, she had to buy prints. She did.
Most engraving techniques are in her collection, notably a few wonderful collographs, very attracting because of the unpredictable texture such method allows. All has been archival mounted, carefully shielded from direct light. Some of it is stacked vertically against furniture, well protected and labeled, yet viewable. There is no more room on the walls…
Carrie’s townhouse has three levels, but interposed landings add articulation. Every room, passage, hall, stairway, is an exhibit area. Yet the place doesn’t feel crowded. How is it possible? The display is brilliantly organized. Each piece isn’t only well placed, well lit, enjoyable. It also resonates with the rest—a matter of echoes, harmonies, contrast. You have the feeling this happened organically, over time—a fruit of love and attention.
Carrie has it all perfectly mapped. “Turn over your shoulder,” she’ll tell you. “Look slightly to your left. Don’t move you right arm! There’s a sculpture, right there. Look again, do you see that small landscape?” You are not even in sight, how can she? All is mapped within her eyes.
Two pieces in the living room create an interesting tension. A large print by Kay Snodgrass (“Good Old Boys”, six different etchings on a single sheet of paper) represents colorful neckties, each sporting typical icons of Corporate America lifestyle. Right below, an intriguing silver sculpture within a clear case is a “penca”—a traditional artifact from Bahia Salvador, Brazil. It’s the cluster of charms the master gave to a slave in praise of good behavior. Bulky and heavy as it was, the slave hung it at her neck—still a cravat, of a wholly different kind. The two pieces (on the wall, under the glass bell) entertain a mute conversation—the result of their juxtaposition being, obviously, much more than the sum of the parts.
How many pieces are there? Give or take? Carrie can’t remember, but of course all has been appraised and catalogued. She is ready to sell her collection, she says, because she cannot bring it with her… The art needs to find proper destination. She is ready to sell it, she specifies, not to give it up.
Yet refraining from buying is difficult. Her last New Year resolution was to lose fifteen pound, and purchase nothing. She has lost twenty, and purchased two. Why is her drive so commanding? Again, where did it start?
Not in college, of course. Carrie’s mother and father loved the arts, to which she has been exposed since childhood. Her tastes are strong and personal, because they rest on familiarity, knowledge, education. Her life has displaced her across distant geographical settings, from Seattle to California, from Mexico to Brazil, from Manhattan to Cuba. “Yet,” she says, “wherever I have been, art has been a part of my life”. No doubt. You suspect that, wherever she has been, art indeed has been ‘home’.
In a corner of the living room floor a Peruvian Village has burgeoned, made of the most intricate elements of low-fired clay. They will break if you blow on them, you think, yet Luigi, while he sees you to the door, slides along with nonchalant ease. How is it possible? You should know by now… the cat simply can’t help it. Carrie’s empathy with the artwork, her being one with it, irradiates, shaping the atmosphere around her.
This is the true signature of her collection. The owner’s life is so deeply intermingled with the art that—in spite of professional etiquette and true worshiping—her place doesn’t look a museum at all. It is pristine yet cozy. Impeccably kept, yet domestic and welcoming. Here the art is at home. As it freely breathes, so do visitors.
Farewell, Carrie Adrian
1942 – 2021
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