A curatorial collection with local roots

07/06/2017

Though the late sculptor J.B. Blunk’s 1950s house in Inverness commands all the respect of a museum, it remains the home of his daughter, Mariah Nielson, and the headquarters for her design brand, Permanent Collection.

“Living with beauty, as opposed to preserving it, putting it away, was always my family ethos,” said Ms. Neilson, who spends half her time with her new business and the other half promoting and cataloging her father’s work.

Permanent Collection, which launched last September, is a mixture of old and new, utility and beauty. The company features high-end clothing, accessories and design objects derived from vintage items, including some based on Mr. Blunk’s
portfolio. 

Though the collection draws from his ceramics, jewelry and glassware, Mr. Blunk was best known for redwood furniture and installations unprecedented in their size and degree of abstraction. The Oakland Museum still showcases his monumental work “The Planet,” made entirely of one ring of redwood burl 13 feet in diameter.

Ms. Nielson and her business partner, Fanny Singer, met at the Royal College of Art and the University of Cambridge. Their graduate studies and curatorial experience led them to the idea of applying curatorial rigor to the world of fashion and
design. 

They now split their time between the Bay Area and London, searching for objects for the collection, finding craftspeople up to the job of reproducing them and sourcing new materials. 

On a recent tour of the collection at Ms. Neilson’s house in the Bishop Pine Preserve, thick blue and black woolen coats hung on metal racks alongside chic, draping silk shirts and dresses. A small desk displayed silver earrings and bracelets, thin, hand-blown wine glasses and white porcelain mugs. Pairs of wide-strapped leather sandals were tucked beneath the coats. 

The shoes are $350, while prices for the coats range from $500 to $1,200 and from $400 to $5,000 for the jewelry.

“Organic, sustainable, ethical sourcing—these are values we learned from our mothers,” said Ms. Neilson, whose mother, Christine, founded the organic bedding company Coyuchi. Ms. Singer is the daughter of Bay Area chef and food guru Alice Waters.

With her mother’s knack for business and the artistic sensibilities of her father, Ms. Neilson’s vision for Permanent Collection is expansive. Since releasing their third collection last week, the founders are working on producing kitchenware inspired by Ms. Waters’s favorite items. The unifying element will be their integral, or permanent, function in the lives of their customers.

Ms. Nielson and Ms. Singer aren’t purists when it comes to reproducing objects. The collection features porcelain cups that were cast from ceramic versions made by Mr. Blunk between 1950 and 1990 (Ms. Nielson thought he sourced the clay from West Marin). A set of ivory and gold earrings he made for her mother have been reimagined in cow bone and recycled gold.

The pair’s academic background and appreciation for art is reflected in all aspects of the business. To date, they have published two journals of essays, poems and images from artists, poets, curators, designers and critics on the themes of “permanence” and “collection.” 

And for each collection, a different artist designs the wrapping paper for the clothing. For collection three, that was Rick Yoshimoto, a long-time Inverness resident known for his ceramics and woodwork.

“The key to knowing something really will last is to live with it,” said Ms. Nielson, who was wearing one of the collection’s long blue woolen coats Monday. 

“My mother taught me that. I remember from my childhood she was constantly washing the sheets, changing the sheets… She wanted to make sure they wouldn’t wear out.”

Christine Nielson, Ms. Nielson’s mother, said Coyuchi and Permanent Collection share the common aspiration to not just make money, but educate people through the selection of the materials—in her case, about the deluge of pesticides on conventional cotton fields.

“I also think Mariah picked up from me the satisfaction of doing something of your own,” she said. “She saw that a woman can do something she believes in, and it’s possible to make a business successful, despite many obstacles.”

 

Permanent Collection will hold a pop-up trunk show from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 22 at Coyuchi, in Point Reyes Station. The event is free.