The production designers of Mad Men have consistently and exquisitely recreated the look and feel of the 1960’s. I have always loved how everything from the ashtrays to coupons on the refrigerator were spot on. Another aspect that MM does quite well is in the art of the period. Now we all know Bert’s Mark Rothko and Midge’s money-for-heroin art, but, as I mentioned in a previous post, there are two pieces of art in Peggy’s apartment that intrigued me from the moment I first noticed them in Sit Down, Have a Seat. Just behind Don as he sat on Peggy’s couch, you could see the bottom third of an image of a man sitting on the ground, playing a flute. I know I had seen it somewhere in my 60’s childhood, but unfortunately I still can’t remember where, most likely at a friend’s house. But it had a magical quality about it and that beautiful, sleek mid-century touch.
Then when I saw the mate next to Peggy’s art this season in At The Codfish Ball, (with the two women) my curiosity was peaked. So I started to investigate this unusual art style, and discovered that it is gravel art; a common do-it-yourself kitschy craft project of the time. Gravel art was created by gluing black yarn onto wooden panels to outline the pre-printed design in the kit. The gravel, (and sometimes beads and gold cord) were glued into the outlines, creating the final look. And within an hour, all the suburban Betty Drapers would have a sleek, contemporary piece that friends would rave about at their next cocktail party.
Gravel art kits were found in any toy or department store at the time. The Mosette kits were created by artist Jane Gaylor in 1960. The designs featured bright colorful pieces that ranged from cutesy (elves) to international (geishas). She sold her designs to Craft Master,Paint by Numbers of Toledo in 1964 and stayed on for three more kits. The styling of the pieces was contemporary chic; with lots of exotic scenes, like kabuki theater, flamenco dancers, Calypso performers and, in Peggy’s case, Moroccan style marketplace types, swathed in beige, orange, and turquoise robes. I suspect that the travel element was one of the biggest attractions to these pieces; with lots of happy, playful and highly idealized idylls of exotic lifestyles. and just the kind of places that some mothers could only dream of to escape housekeeping blues.
Searching eBay, I found a photo of an actual Mosette catalog, and there, along with scary clowns and pink poodles, was the elusive North African set. Unfortunately, it was too small to see its title, but it gave me something to work with, and I eventually found a more detailed catalog page (at right) of the very design I sought. The pieces were titled Market Place and Market Place Boys. I bookmarked ‘Mosette’ and ‘Gravel Art’ into my eBay searches, and after two months or so, was thrilled to find Market Place, and snatched it up immediately. As I expected for a nearly half-century old piece, the actual piece isn’t perfect; the frame has a few scratches and the image itself has a brownish tinge from its previous owner’s cigarette smoke, but it still bright in its color and sleek in design and I just love it!
Glancing at the catalog page again, I realized a strange distinction between the printed design and Peggy’s pieces. The standing man in the catalog Market Place Boys was robed in turquoise, but the one in Peggy’s is robed in white. Peggy’s pieces are also larger than mine, (the design came in 12”x 36” as well as 8”x 24”). Could Peggy’s be recreations of the originals, or the real thing? Having seen the intricate period detail of MM props in the past, I think they’re real, but now I’ll have to be sure that any companion piece I buy is the smaller size. The dealer described the piece I bought as “on the rare side” so I’m hopeful that I will eventually unearth its perfect mate. Of course, if you know anyone who has a spare 8”x24” copy of Market Place Boys who wants to sell it, let me know!
So now that I’ve discovered the secret of Peggy’s art, I have to ask: Does this make Peggy a secret crafter? Her sister could have made them, although I think her sister would go more for the poodles and scary clowns whereas Peggy’s taste is a bit more modern, global, and unconventional.
Want to see more gravel art? See my tumblr blog here and scroll down.
Do you have a memory of, or do you actually still own, any special 60s kitsch favorite? Let’s hear about it!