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Eudorah Moore dies at 94; early ambassador for California design

As a guiding force with the Pasadena Art Museum, now the Norton Simon, and founding president of the Pasadena Art Alliance, Eudorah Moore's openness to the unorthodox led to landmark exhibitions in the 1960s and '70s that combined art, design and craft.

April 27, 2013|By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
  • Eudorah Moore in the early 1960s with exhibits at the Pasadena Art Museum.
Eudorah Moore in the early 1960s with exhibits at the Pasadena Art Museum. (Los Angeles Times )

Through a series of landmark exhibitions in the 1960s and 1970s, Eudorah Moore blurred the boundaries between art, design and craft — and helped introduce the concept of California design to the wider world.

In choosing to present fine wood furniture and pottery alongside such surprising pieces as a bus stop bench or jewelry that functioned as body sculpture, she championed a message of mixed-media inclusiveness. As she cast her eye outdoors, Moore helped cement the notion of design as lifestyle by highlighting the region's fascination with recreation by displaying such items as a canoe, skateboards or a portable cabana.

The state had a sense of "why not, let's try it," she recalled decades later, and Moore said she felt it was important to record that eclectic perspective through California Design shows at the Pasadena Art Museum and a final one in 1976 at the Pacific Design Center.

Moore, who was the museum's curator of design from 1962 to 1977, died April 20 at her Pasadena home, her family said. She was 94.

"She is one of the most important people in the history of California design," said Bill Stern, executive director of the Museum of California Design. "What was really extraordinary is that she had the ability to recognize what was important at the time it was being made."

A Colorado native, she studied zoology at Smith College in Massachusetts and arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1940s. She and a girlfriend soon came up with the only object Moore ever designed, a sandal, and sold it to a high-end department store, her son William said.

By the early 1950s she was living in the Pasadena home she and her husband helped design with an eye toward managing their brood of children. To cut down on traffic inside the house, they gave each room an outside door. She would display the same openness to the unorthodox while guiding the California Design exhibitions.

"This show's greatest value is that it's not hung up on prejudices. You don't have to be a superstar to get in," designer Douglas Deeds told the Los Angeles Times in 1971. "The beer-can chaise I entered in the 1962 show says it all."

She attributed her appreciation of design to the scholarly German governess who rewarded her for completing her studies as a child by teaching Moore and her two siblings crafts. "If our handwork had a single flaw, it was torn apart and we started all over again," Moore said in 1976 in The Times. "But she had a wonderful gift of making it all seem fun."

Decades later Moore's role in helping elevate such handmade crafts as tapestries and rugs to art was celebrated in the show "Golden State of Craft: California 1960 to 1985," which closed last year at the Craft and Folk Art Museum.

For California Design shows, she painstakingly documented each object and often had them photographed against a natural landscape, which emphasized the link between geography and design. Most of the photographs were taken by Richard Gross, who told The Times in 1971 that he "couldn't do it without Eudie," as Moore was known to friends.

"She puts on jeans and lugs 100-pound pots over sand dunes and assumes every farmer in the state has heard of California Design and is eager to have us hang weavings on their barns and fences," Gross said.

Master furniture maker Sam Maloof, a steady presence in the California Design shows, once said of Moore: "Somehow her eyes see things that other eyes may not. But it's her enthusiasm that matters most."

She was born Eudorah Morse on June 15, 1918, in Denver to Bradish Morse and the former Anna Reynolds. Her father, who died when she was 11, ran a machinery company and managed Colorado mine claims.

Her older brother, A. Reynolds Morse, would also make an enduring mark on the art world. A plastics machinery entrepreneur, he built a significant collection of art by Salvador Dali and founded a museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., devoted to the surrealist. He died in 2000.

While attending Smith College, Eudorah met her future husband, Anson Moore, and married him in 1940, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree. They were soon living in the Los Angeles area, where he built housing developments and later became a stockbroker.

In the early 1950s, she became the founding president of the Pasadena Art Alliance and by 1957 was president of the board of the Pasadena Art Museum, which had produced annual California Design exhibitions since 1954.

The early shows featured mainly contemporary furniture, but the focus shifted after Moore became director in 1961. She instituted a jury system with the 1962 exhibit and, in an attempt to build a weightier body of work, made California Design into a triennial affair.

When the Pasadena Art Museum became the Norton Simon Museum in 1974, the staff was let go. Moore and her team struggled to produce two more shows under private auspices at other venues, according to "California Design," a 2005 book about the endeavor.

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