Sunday
Feb102019

Brad Keeler on Brad Keeler: A Conversation with Brad Keeler's son

Transcribed from a conversation with the younger Brad Keeler on September 3, 2018, the oldest child of Brad Keeler and my mother's big brother. My uncle Brad and my mom are in regular communication, and as he is that last remaining repository of direct information about my grandfather, I’d been wanting to ask some questions to further my own understanding of my grandfather and his work. I should add that my own very indirect information has sometimes been riddled with factual errors — which my uncle has been very kind to point out! The following are the notes I took during the phone call, lightly edited, in an effort to get things straight, like the fact that I said he must not have been athletic, based solely on his high school yearbooks.

 

Grandpa Brad Keeler with son Brad Keeler, on the beach

Cati Porter: What can you tell me about the family ceramics business? What have I gotten wrong on my website or in my writing?

Brad Keeler: Well, my dad was very athletic. I have his High school letterman sweater in my closet. He was a real athlete. He was a pole vaulter in high school. One of the better pole vaulters in all of southern California. And he was a gymnast, real good at gymnastics. And track and field.

CP: How did he get started in the ceramics business?

BK: He was a very good artist. He became a modeler. He modeled statues and stuff like that. He had experience in modeling, being that his dad was in ceramics. He just started with modeling flamingos. And as it turned out he was real good at formulating glazes. All these oxides and different chemicals go into that.

CP: Family legend has it that he was involved with the making of the first Oscars. What do you know about the Oscar statuette?

BK: He worked where they made the Academy Awards. I’m not saying he made the Academy Award, but he worked there, at the company where they made modeled them.

[Cati’s notes: Brad was born in 1913, and the first Academy Award (aka Oscar) was created in 1928. Brad would have only been 15 years old. The internet tells me that George Stanley sculpted the first Oscar based on a sketch by Cedric Gibbons. During WWI and WWII, the statuettes were made of plaster. That timing makes more sense for my grandfather’s involvement. My suspicion is supported by all the photos of Oscars in the family photo album that date to that period. Will do further research.)

CP: What was Brad Keeler like? Was he funny? Serious? Was he good with his money or did he spend too much? What was he like as a dad?

BK: He was a real good guy. Committed to his work. Not a lot of time to spend with the family. My dad was the kind of guy … he was just a regular good person.. he didn’t go to work in a suit and tie and sit in a fancy office. He didn’t do that. He went there and he worked. I can remember many times being in the pottery and some salesman would walk in and want to talk to the owner and I would point to him and say there he is sweeping the floor and the guy would say No, not an employee, I want to see the owner. He was a down to earth good guy.

CP: Were you close?

BK: Not as close as I wanted to be. Right before he died we got really close. He loved the ocean. We’d go spear fishing and surfing. Not surfing like you think of with surf board. We had paddle boards.

CP: Did he get his love of the ocean from his dad [Rufus Keeler of Malibu Potteries]?

BK: Yes, I believe he did. At the factory in Malibu they would all go swimming in the ocean at lunch and then go back to work.

CP: Did you help with the pottery?

BK: He showed me everything. I made molds, glazes, swept the floor.  I was eleven or twelve or thirteen years old. [Cati's notes: Probably not unlike the way Rufus would bring his own sons to the Malibu Potteries factory.] Every weekend during the school year. The shop was on Delay Drive. He and my mom were living in a little house owned by Grandmother Keeler and then he started making the flamingos in the garage. He took them to Bullocks to see if they’d sell them and they did. The business started real fast.

Then we moved to Catalina Island. Mom, Dad, and my brother Pat. We lived there while he tore down the house on Delay Drive and built the pottery on that property. Then we lived in Laguna for a while. Finally they built the house in Glendale. This was 1947-48 to around 1952.

[Cati's notes: To see pictures of this house, you may view my album on Facebook which also contains photos from the cemetery where he is interred.]

When he was building the pottery in Capistrano we rented a house in Laguna. I was 16 years old. Then he had a heart attack and died and all hell broke loose. Mother relied on him for just about everything. She didn’t know what to do. Lived in her mother’s house for a little while.

Did you know he was connected with Walt Disney?

CP: No! What was the connection?

BK: Walt Disney wanted his characters made in ceramics. He and Walt Disney became real good friends. Came out to the house in Glendale all the time.

CP: What was your grandpa Rufus like? What can you tell me about him?

BK: Never met him. Grandma Mary was 99 and lived in the house until she died. Google “The House that Rufus Built”. Rufus was a real genius at glaze work and those tiles were some of the best tiles. Best looking tiles. All over Los Angeles homes. They were real popular. Beautiful tile work in Los Angeles City Hall.

CP: What else don’t I know about him?

BK: He was on a rice diet. Months before he died, that was all ever ate. That’s what the doctor wanted him to eat. My mom and dad were up in a hotel. I’m not sure the name of the hotel or where they were. Then he had the heart attack and they went to a hospital in Glendale, where he died.

CP: How did he lose his eye?

BK: His mom and dad owned a gas station. He worked in the gas station for his dad and he was lifting a battery. In the old days the way you lifted a battery with a leather handle and it slipped and a piece of the battery flew up and blinded him. Never wanted to have a glass eye. His eye was real cloudy. They even told hm they could take his eye and tattoo an eyeball but he didn’t want any part of it.

CP: Can you tell me a little about yourself? You made a career in ceramics too?

BK: I even worked at Twin Winton in Capistrano.

[Cati’s notes: Twin Winton was the manufacturer who took over the factory that my grandfather had built in Capistrano just before he died. The factory is gone, but the mural he had commissioned for the lobby still stands as a city landmark. To view an old post on an ancient website, click here.]

Sharon’s mother did not like me. She convinced Sharon to go school at Graceland College in Iowa. We weren’t engaged, we were just going steady. She sent me a letter and said I met this guy and I’m going to have to break up with you. I just jumped on the Greyhound Bus that very day and went back to Iowa and convince her to drop that guy.

One day I showed Sharon the ad for a ceramics engineer. I told her they wouldn’t want me. Sharon wrote them a letter. Then one day I got a letter from that pottery, from the midwest. They flew this guy out to Los Angeles to talk to me, and they hired me. So, we moved to Missouri. It was about a mile from Independence. The right thing at the right time for us. 1963. I designed ceramic lamps and formulated all the glazes.

Sharon was born with a hole in her heart, a congenital defect. Doctors told her she should never have survived childhood. Before the surgery, she even won Queen for the Day.

In 1962, she had open heart surgery in Los Angeles. She was in the hospital for about two weeks. We had no money and no idea how we were going to pay for all of this. She was 26. All of a sudden we found out from the hospital that she was the “hospital case of the year” — every single thing was paid for. It was an experimental operation. If you don’t have the operation you won’t live another six months.

[Sharon passed away January 4, 2016, in Independence, Missouri, at the age of 79.]


Sunday
Jan072018

Brad Keeler featured in Flea Market Decor Magazine

Good morning, Brad Keeler fans! Some good news: Recently I was asked to contribute an article on collecting Brad Keeler pieces for Flea Market Decor Magazine. It focuses on my experience collecting his work. I'm really happy that his work is getting the attention it deserves. I also am committing in this new year to post at least monthly some new information about his life or work. Thanks for your patience. More coming soon!

 

Saturday
Feb232013

Love Letters & 100 years

 

From a letter dated July 17, 1942, addressed to "My Most Beautiful and Beloved Wife":

My Darling I've been been so busy with samples I'm near worn out. How we'll ever make it by Sunday I don't know -- I may have to go down Sunday morning and make some sort of set up with James -- If so I'll let you know for sure even if I have to telegraph. So don't worry. If that happens I'll come down Monday & Tuesday and rest with you. (In bed)

***

 

It's been months since I've posted on this blog. In the interim, lots of things have gone on, but probably most significantly my mother, Brad's daughter and youngest child, has underwent breast cancer treatment, so we've had a lot more time to spend together. Just the other day though we did something that I've been wanting to do for a long time - went through a trunk of my grandparent's things, trying to piece together their history. Many pieces of memorabilia were among the items we found. Here are a few:

My grandmother's wedding dress.

It was, I swear, only 12" wide as she was *tiny* due to Grave's disease, a hyperactive thyroid disorder, that was "cured" when they removed her thyroid gland; Brad Keeler's high school yearbooks, which prove to me that greatness cannot always be measured by academic or athletic achievement as he was not on any of the dean's lists (in fact, it appears, from one of the autographs in the book, that he made many trips to the dean's office!), nor was he involved in sports, or any other club for that matter, save for the photography club, the only record of him personally in the book. The club was responsible for taking the senior class' portraits, but no portrait of him appears in the yearbook, except the group photo of the club; also, we found newspaper clippings and photographs galore, including some rather racy (for the time) photos he took of his wife, my grandmother, as well as letters that he wrote her when she was spending the summer in Laguna Beach while he continued his work at their home/factory on Delay Drive.

Here is a photo of my grandmother Catherine, sitting on the very trunk that my mother and I went through:

This was taken on her birthday, June 18, 1944, two years after the letter excerpted above. She was 32 years old.

My mom and I had gone through the entire trunk and had moved on to a box of my grandmother's belongings taken from her home after she passed away in 1979. These letters stayed in her direct possession all that time - 27 years. So much had happened in those years, the years between when Brad passed away and when she did. It would not be inaccurate to say that she fell apart after his death. What kind of love does that to a person? Only the most intense, I would think.

Here is their wedding photo. Aren't they adorable?

The sunglasses, I am told, are not because he wanted to look cool, but because he had the measles!

February 4 would have been Grandpa Brad's 100th birthday. Happy birthday, and happy Valentine's day to one very loving and lovely couple.

Monday
Jun182012

Happy 99th Birthday Grandma Catherine!

Dear Brad Keeler Artwares enthusiasts,

A few tidbits to share:

First, last February would have been Brad's 99th birthday, and today would have been my namesake's (they were born the same year), so I'll give you a little bit of background about her here.

Catherine Maude Gutting was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to Jennie and John Gutting. When she was a teen her family to moved to Southern Calfornia. She had one sister and twin brothers, one of whom went on to become Chief of Police of South Gate. ***Feb 18, 2013 - CORRECTION: Catherine had TWO sisters - Elizabeth and Ethel - and THREE brothers - John, Clarence, and James Earl; none were twins. John later became Chief of Police in South Gate; he was the one with twin sons. (Much grattitude is owed my Uncle Brad & my mom Heather for noting these corrections, and many apologies for not making the corrections months ago when they were first noted - where has the time gone?)***

When she was 22 she married Brad Keeler. By the time I met her she was in her sixties. Some of my earliest and best memories are of spending time with her: I would stand behind her and "do" her hair in a style which I called the "Lucy O Ball" (Lucille Ball!), or she would read to me from one of the many Golden Books she gave me, or from the catechism (she was Catholic). When she died I was only seven years old and I inherited a number of pieces from her collection, including one that bore her name (so, one from after Brad died and before the factory shut down). Here it is:

Also, thinking about Father's Day, and the not-so-long-ago Mother's Day: A few years back we took my mom out for a Mother's Day breakfast in downtown Riverside, after which we walked around a handful of local antiques stores. I was searching for something to display my recently-acquired tulip tea set and found what I thought was the perfect thing. I paid for it and brought it home, and then my brought something out: A photograph of my grandmother Catherine standing in front of a nearly identical display shelf! I had no memory of the shelf in her house, but surely somewhere stored in head was an image of this "perfect" display piece, and it was the same as hers!

The only downside to this "perfect" shelf is that it collects some serious dust! But I'm glad to be continuing on the tradition.

***

Speaking of Mother's Day, I received as a gift this past Mother's Day a beautiful pair of quails. For some bizarre reason I can't make this photo go the right direction, so I recommend turning your head rather than the computer monitor to view it in the correct orientation...! :

***

In reader news, since January, I've been contacted by at least a dozen of you -- looking for information about his work, offering information about the pieces you own, and generally thanking me for providing some history about his life and work. You're all the reason I'm doing this, and while my blog posts may be sporadic, I am always just an email away, and make every effort to respond in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, sometimes things do get lost in my inbox -- correspondence for my other occupations as a writer, editor, and staff for the nonprofit literary organization Inlandia Institute, as well as all the junk mail that I get, tend to overwhelm my inbox. So if you don't hear back from me right away, please feel free to drop me a second email as the first may have gotten lost.

Here is a recap of the pieces described in the emails that I've received.

- a pair of cranes, 713 & 714, described by Lake Vortex as "rare", which have been in the reader's family since 1954 at least!

- a pair of Chinese pheasants, 38A & 38B:

 

- Rooster cookie jar

- Peacock/Peahen pair, 701 & 702

- A bird & a duck, without specifc item numbers listed; here is a photograph of a duck & a couple of birds from my own collection.

- Fish pitcher

- A siamese cat ceramic lamp, which I don't a photo of, and which I am slightly mystified by: I have never seen one, and the search I did turned up a man named Howard Ball who worked for Leland Claes, a ceramics artist who specialized in ceramic lamps, many with siamese cats. One theory that I have is that perhaps Howard tried to recreate the lamps under the Brad Keeler label, but I have no definitive evidence at this time. For the curious, here is a page about the Leland Claes lamps:

http://www.tvlamps.net/claes_lamps.html

- AND! A family member - daughter of my grandfather's brother - found this site. She also has an extensive collection of his work that I am hoping to post photos of at some time.

***

Thank you all for your interest in this site, and for any family members or others who might have known Brad Keeler who are reading this: I'm always happy to make corrections! Just let me know. :-)

Happy Collecting!

Monday
Mar122012

Update from my Uncle Brad 

 

The photo above was taken outside the family home in Glendale, as pictured in the photos in the earlier post. In the photo stands my grandfather Brad Keeler, my grandmother Catherine, who is presumably pregnant with my mom, Heather, and my uncles Brad (firstborn and namesake, right side, his mom's around him) and Patrick (who died of a heart attack at the age of 36). 

I've just received word from my Uncle Brad, via a letter from his wife, my aunt Sharon, that some of my facts are incorrect. Just goes to show how family fable can and does go awry sometimes!

I have made a couple of corrections to my previous post, but in short:

1.) Brad Keeler never had a glass eye, though I assume (?) that he did lose functioning in one of his eyes after an incident with a car while working at this father's gas station in Glendale; and

2.) He did not die after working in the yard of the Laguna Beach home he and his family were renting, but in a hotel in Los Angeles while overnighting there with his Grandma Catherine. Also, he apparently had a heart condition that required that he maintain a rice diet, so will have to learn more!

I am now curious which hotel, and what kind of heart condition.

Watch this space for further updates!