Pasadena, on the eve of its 100th birthday, is churning with creativity.
Not only is this foothill city preserving many of its old landmarks, it is also enjoying an architectural renaissance and at the same time encouraging the efforts of individual artists.
I drove out to Polytechnic School's Garland Theater and Fine Arts Center the other day to see "My Heart Belongs to Pasadena," an exhibition by 64 Southland artists who donated their works to the Pasadena Art Alliance.
Pasadena schoolchildren were surging through the exhibition in small groups led by Art Alliance members. All the works on the walls were related to either Pasadena or Valentine's Day--sometimes both.
I fell in with a group led by Peggy Phelps. They were looking at a painting that showed a darkening heart sinking into waves.
"What do you suppose that means?" asked Phelps.
"Her heart is drowning," said one of the girls, evidently associating a drowning heart with being female.
Good guess. The work was by Helen Pashgian and it was called "She Stepped Into the Pool With a Sinking Heart."
We moved on to "Taking a Chance on Love," by Bruce Richards. It showed three red dice whose dots were little hearts. There were two above and one below, looking heart-like.
"Love is a roll of the dice," someone said with mature perception.
We stopped to examine "Fading Heart," a collage by Charles Christopher Hill. It showed a fading pink heart pasted against a tattered page of Oriental characters.
"He buried this in the ground," Phelps said, "then dug it up," illustrating the experimental freedom that creative artists have.
Some of them took some thought. A mixed media lithograph by Douglas Bond showed half a dozen rattan chairs and an umbrella table under a hanging brassiere. Handwriting across it read, "He said 'I ain't J.R. and you ain't Sue Ellen.' " At the bottom were cutouts of a man and a woman looking angry.
Everyone got the message of "Baby, You're Number 1," by Alexis Smith. A heart had been penciled on a piece of cardboard, and inside it were a tiny plastic baby doll and one of those tickets you take to show which number in line you are. It said "Your number--1."
Most of the children seemed to like a large black ceramic dish by Mineo Mizuno with large colored marks that looked as if they might have been made by a raccoon dragging its paws across the surface.
Phelps said it might be the most valuable work in the exhibition.
"Mizuno's work is very well known. That will bring a high price at the auction."
"Five hundred dollars?" asked a boy.
"More likely a thousand," she said.
(The works will remain on exhibit through Thursday, then will be sold by silent auction Saturday night at a $135-a-person party in the old Car Barn at 144 W. Colorado Blvd.)
I stopped to study an enameled beige metal box with air slits and a key slot. Suddenly I realized it wasn't a part of the exhibition. It was either a thermostat or a smoke alarm. But I liked it.
The children looked solemnly at a grotesque red mask. Phelps said the artist had died shortly after doing it.
"He was obviously a sick man when he made this piece of sculpture," she suggested.
Some of them were simple enough. John Register's untitled oil on paper was a view of the San Gabriel Mountains rising beyond palm trees through a window half shuttered by Venetian blinds. It was anybody's Pasadena.
In the theater a Saul Bass film on creativity was being shown. I dropped into a seat in the dark to see the end.
As the Easter Island monoliths and other ancient sculptures showed, the narrator said: "Men have long struggled against time, decay, destruction and death. . . ."
A rocket appeared on the screen, climbing heavenward in fire from its pad.
"Some have cried out against the gods, matching power with power. . . . Some have celebrated life, some have burned with faith, some have spoken with voices we no longer understand."
One of the last images was of graffiti on a brick wall. It said, "I am."
"I am unique," said the voice. "I am here. I am."
I thought it was an excellent film to help the children understand the exhibition. The paintings and ceramics and sculptures and collages were all expressions of the individual spirit, the freed "I am." They were cries against the gods.
Meanwhile, Phelps had asked the children to put their thoughts on index cards. She had a pile of them.
"I think all the pieces were fun," wrote Andrea Nefz with much good sense. "They showed joy, fear, sadness, and more! I loved all of them."
"They all had good ideas," wrote Elysia Martin, "even if some of them were ugly. . . ."
"I think you can make very different things with many different ideas," wrote someone who forgot to sign his or her name, "but all with the same concept and with very simple materials."
By the way, they had had a symposium on creativity at the auditorium, and a quotation in the program notes, allegedly by Henri Matisse, dumbfounded me:
"A painter, if he/she is sensitive, cannot lose the discoveries of the preceding generation, for these discoveries are in her/him, in spite of himself or herself. Yet it is necessary she/he become detached from them, in order to bring something new in his/her turn, and a fresh inspiration."
If Matisse can read that, he must be spinning in his grave.