Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Connecting Dots

This post is a bit of a departure from all the (uppercase) Gay Pride lately, but I need a diversion and, frankly, my reader could probably use one too.

As you may know, I enjoy the thrill of the vintage hunt, and late last winter I started picking up coffee mugs that had a distinctly 70s or 80s feel to them.  It seems random but don't forget - I had a huge tiki mug collection for like 15 years until I sold it last year.  One day a mug caught my eye, a beige one with a seventies graphic of a cat and the words "Le Chat" on it, which just made me think of "Le Car" and "Le Bag" and the whole "le" trend.  So I snagged it.

I ended up posting it to my Etsy vintage shop, but in the meantime I started using it and really became quite attached, so I was disappointed when it sold all-too-quickly.  It wasn't until later (when I started searching for a replacement) that I deciphered the signature on it and discovered it was part of a series of mugs that came out of a housewares store based in San Francisco in the 70s and 80s called Taylor & Ng.

I know I seem like a cynic most of the time, but when it comes to certain eras I actually get quite caught up, and that period in San Francisco is a real sweet spot for me.  I blame early exposure to the "Tales of the City" books. So I became slightly obsessed with the different mug designs by Taylor & Ng, and once I'd exhausted those Google image searches I tried to learn more about the company. What I learned made me love my lost mug even more.

The company Taylor & Ng was founded by Spaulding Taylor and Win Ng, an openly gay man born and raised in San Francisco's Chinatown.  The company produced housewares featuring whimsical illustrations by Win including mugs, trivets, linens and cookbooks that became enormously popular, and are quite collectible today.  They started with their own small shop and grew into a supplier for Macy's and other major department stores.  Additionally, they are credited with bringing the Chinese wok to the US and making it a common kitchen utensil.  (Those of you of a certain age will remember how popular the wok was when it burst onto the scene in the seventies!)

The company closed their store in 1985.  It is reported that Win spent the period after that focusing on his fine art.  Given that he died of complications from AIDS in 1991 at the age of 55, I'm guessing being diagnosed with HIV led to some rearranging of priorities.

On the one hand this is just another story of a gay man in San Francisco whose life was cut short by AIDS.  There are certainly enough of those.  But I suppose I was struck by the way that my impulse purchase at a thrift store led me to the story of a gay man completely unknown to me who left his gay world just as I was coming into my own gay world. And whose creations - as whimsical as they may be - live on for a new generation to discover.

I'm know I'm reading more into a mere coincidence than is really there, but sometimes I wonder if there isn't something that connects the dots for us, that draws us towards the things we really want to know.  It's certainly a New Age conjecture worthy of 1970s San Francisco.  In this instance, I'm kind of ok with that, because it brought me some knowledge that moved me, and it made me feel connected to an era I love.

And it brought me a different kind of gay pride. A lowercase one.


Anonymous said...

Great post and such a cool mug. Thanks for sharing.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

The constellations are merely dots connected that we then create stories around - stories thousands of years old still have value to us - stories that were built around randomly distributed points of light.

Dick H. said...

I have a Le Chat mug in blue. It was a gift from a friend many years ago. I enjoyed your post about the background of the artist and the company. I found the SF connection interesting as I lived there 1981-1983. I'm a huge fan of Tales of the City also. The follow up books about Michael (Mouse) and Mary Ann in today's world are a great read.

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