Kaffe Fassett grew up in Big Sur at Nepenthe, the restaurant his parents built overlooking the coast. He was offered a scholarship to go to Happy Valley School in Upper Ojai where he graduated in the early 1960's. After a brief sojourn at the Boston Museum School he went to England a painter but shortly discovered his true passion: the colors and patterns of textiles and fabric. Britain has adopted him as a favorite son, where he is famous as a knitter, needlepointer, quilter, author and media personality.
I met Kaffe at a gathering in Hope Ranch, Santa Barbara organized by Besant Hill School (previously Happy Valley) on a Saturday in January and found him to be both pleasant and slightly patrician. We discussed his complaint that after 40 years in England his accent still marked him as an American -I countered with the news that after a similar period away from England I was considered an American in my homeland and would forever and a day be considered a Brit in California. Such is the fate of the ex-pat. I briefly enquired of his art - knowing him only at that point as a fabric artist - and asked him if he was represented by a gallery. He responded by mentioning that he did "books" and his work was typically purchased by museums.
The following evening Lorrie and I journeyed back to Santa Barbara to hear Kaffe's presentation at the glorious Marjorie Luke Theatre on Cota Street. The room was crowded with upwards of 250 people almost entirely bereft of the 'Y' chromosone. I suggested to Lorrie that perhaps there was a football game on TV that had depressed the male turnout. I understood, however, the reality that at this point in time, in our culture, real men do not turn out for a presentation by a gay man who makes his living knitting.
They missed an amazing performance by a truly protean creative spirit who lives and breathes color, texture, pattern and visual imagery. I don't think I have ever been in the presence of such a purely creative spirit. At the same time he was funny, self deprecating and warm. He has eschewed certain trappings of modernity - computers, motor cars and television to focus on his artistic passions. Enormously productive, with an output that spans from mosaics to neeedlepoint, he consistently dazzles with his sense of color, pattern and compositional bravura.
As an architect who is constrained to work in white, neutrals, earth tones and taupes, his presentation was a rare tonic. As an erstwhile painter and sculptor who, in the heat of artistic inspiration, was capable of bending everything and everybody to his creative will, I was reminded of what I had lost by embarking on a profession that values restraint, moderation and structural integrity. As I reviewed my recent work with my partner Lorrie Brown I comforted myself with the thought that we had really cut loose of late and actually used four different gravel textures in a project. Each of the gravels was, of course, a similar hue. Baby steps.....