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'50s-Sent

Sit on it: A 1950s "Coconut" lounge chair.
courtesy of Herman Miller Inc

In 1959, as June Cleaver vacuumed in pearls and pumps, something strange and wonderful was thundering down suburbia's streets, foreshadowing the racy rebellion that would detonate in the next decade. It was Chevrolet's El Camino, and its newfangled façade capped off a decade driven by design.

A stylish new exhibition blasting back to the nifty '50s, "At Home With Ozzie and Harriet: Mid-Century Design," opens this weekend at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Built around a recent museum gift of period dinnerware, the collection details the decade when, thanks to the advent of air conditioning and affordable housing, the Valley -- and America -- took suburban shape.

"Although [the exhibition] is not exclusively about Phoenix, there is a lot that is homegrown," says guest curator Debbe Goldstein, a former professor of art history and design ethics and a veteran of DreamWorks' animation department. She points, in particular, to "Little Susie," a 1959 turquoise El Camino on loan from a local collector.

"The El Camino, I thought, was just a really good example of what somebody in Arizona would have had in the '50s . . . a hybrid for somebody who's living in the desert: not quite a car, not quite a truck," Goldstein explains. "So rather than getting, like, a '57 Chevy, which is probably what people would expect to see in a show like this, I got something that was . . . closer to home."

Susie's aren't the only fenders in the exhibition; the collection also boasts a '54 Fender guitar from the manufacturer's museum in California. Other "Ozzie and Harriet" highlights: mass-produced furnishings from Herman Miller Inc., Russell Wright ceramics, vintage appliances, and pop culture memorabilia, such as Barbie dolls, a View-Master and sci-fi movie posters. While a 1950s timeline details each year's local and national events, video blurbs sample scenes from the era's commercials, The Today Show and, naturally, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.


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