Art, Antiques & Papergoods: A family Affair
My mother and my godmother are best friends. My mother, Toots, was an art dealer in San Francisco for maybe 20 years. My godmother, Magoo, was a dealer of esoteric antiques and primitive arts for just as long. Together, the three of us have collaborated to create a fresh space that embraces and evokes creativity. In our store, we show-off unique and decorative products, ranging from Hungarian armoires (courtesy of Magoo) to jewelry to small letterpress-prints. …….. – Chloë
Toots (right) and Magoo (left) at Alameda flea market circa 1972
Re-nest.com asked me some questions
Re-Nest.com interviewed me about the store. I love interviews because they force me to step outside of my usual routine and think about what I am doing and why. Fortunately, I am pleased with what I see. Toots & Magoo is involved in a much larger conversation on being resourceful and being more clever about how we use and relate to objects in our day-to-day. For us, this goes way beyond simply re-using; it’s about re-inventing. It’s about breathing new life and love, not just into our things, but into our lives…
So, for me, I feel good about things. Design & retail, as we know it, are undergoing a huge overhaul and are in an intense state of re-invention, putting a stronger emphasis on care and craftsmanship. The shift is not necessarily comfortable, but still, what could be more exciting? And more necessary?
We’re still working on our logo. It’s going to be a jockey. We’ll tell you why.
A wise man once said:
“The artist must raise the cup of his vision aloft to the gods in the high hopes that they will pour into it the sweet mellow wine of inspiration.”
With all due respect, the creators of Toots & Magoo beg to differ: These three artists lowered the cup of their vision down in reach of a short, waifish man who poured into it the fierce, fiery hooch of Gumption.
Billy Pearson is the 5-foot, 2-inch tall muse behind Toots & Magoo. A famous horse jockey of the 1940s and 50s, Pearson epitomized the attitude it’s not the size of the man on the stud, but rather, the studliness of the man himself. Nicknamed “bandido” on the race track, Pearson possessed the charisma and cajones of someone twice his size, daring to take mortality by the reigns and ride it hard and fast across the finish line. “I am reconciled to the fact that I will never get out of this life alive,” Pearson admitted, “and while I’m still breathing, I’m going to live it up.”
Live it up, down, and out he did. In his 82 years, Billy Pearson’s memoir reads like a 20th Century Renaissance man: From champion race jockey, to rapturous raconteur; twice winner of the famous 1950’s quiz show “The $64,000 Question,” to world traveller; Hollywood actor, to accomplished author, merchant marine, ex-pat, pioneer, adventurer, husband six times over, playboy, father, and gallery owner — all as a disobeying high school dropout. Where others had privilege, Pearson had pluck; where others had formal training and entitlement, Pearson had high jinks and hunches. In this regard, he leaves his greatest legacy: Esteemed Art Connoisseur.
Pearson had what historians call an “intuitive eye,” the gift of knowing a treasured work of art just by seeing it, feeling it in the Gut and Groin and all the tingly ringing nerve endings of intuition. Combined with a personal taste that was both broad and bewildering, Pearson acquired one of the most eclectic private collections of his generation: the series included everything from American folk art to pre-Columbian relics, antique checkerboard quilts to presidential curios, Mayan pottery to Monet paintings, and on — most of which he smuggled across the border, locked in storage, showed off, sold away, and later repurchased at different times in his life.
Pearson got his hands dirty. He was an anti-intellectual in the world of the socially elite. He tracked muddy, horse-shit covered shoe prints into the Ivory Tower of night caps and canapé’s, and his appreciation for and approach to art was no different. His interest rested in the intrinsic value of a specific work, not in its investment value. He believed art should not only be admired, but also applied; not only held dear to the heart and soul, but also held, handled; its appeal one of form, and function.
He tapped into his own bounty. He furnished his home with traditional dowry chests from the 19th Century Austro-Hungarian Empire. He painted over the original coats of rare folk art with vibrant day-glo hues of lime and fuchsia. He gave away pre-Columbian statues to friends as housewarming gifts. Where his critics sought to preserve the story of a piece in airtight glass cases, “Look But Don’t Touch” signs and motion sensors —–Pearson pried them open, wide open to the air and the elements, revealing a story yet untold. Where theirs was to restore, his was to reinvent.
Many were moved by Billy Pearson’s rare and rebellious spirit, none more than the woman with whom he shared the last three decades of his life, his wife Margaret “Magoo” Pearson. Well-soused in that “fiery hooch of gumption,” Maggie collaborated with childhood best friend Cheryle “Toots” Jernigan-Wicker, and Cheryle’s daughter Chloë to create a space where pieces from Billy’s own collection would showcase modern-day designs. Each one would strike at the core of Pearson’s artistic philosophy: to be both precious and purposeful; to put the “USE” back in MUSEUM. Thus, Toots & Magoo gallery was born in April 2008.
Above all else, Billy Pearson wanted a story, the story held inside faded photographic ink, clogged ceramic pores, and tattered patch-worn thread. His search was often long and dangerous, or just plain lucky. But now, a new D.I.Y. Renaissance has changed all that. The growing movement to upgrade “arts and crafts” from hobby to livelihood is taking the creative world by storm; and with it comes the triumphant return of all the kinetic “ing’s” of invention: weaving, carving, embossing, binding, felting, sewing, stitching, knitting, sweating, bleeding, and selling.
Toots & Magoo scours all four hemispheres for artists who have risen to the top of this rapidly competitive field. They are environmentally conscious and exacting in their craft; imaginative and inspiring; distinct and disciplined. Their pieces are crawling with stories, raw and sincere, sad and hopeful: Of tired calloused hands and all-nighters; following ones heart, and sacrifice; trial and error; rejection and redemption. They are entire histories and open-ended futures.
They are… They are… They are…
They are letterpress printed journals from Portugal with winning, whimsical pages begging to be written on. They are one-of-a-kind Italian handbags as easily hung on the wall as art as they are slipped onto the shoulder: Leather dyed and distressed to feel as soft as silk rose petals. They are glass-blown jewelery so delicate in its making, yet durable in its finish. Enchanting ceramic vases shaped like mason jars, old-fashioned tin-windup toys, Japanese bookmarks, gorgeously painted recycled paper goods, silk sewn scarves as fine and flappable as elephant ears, and on, and on.
Walking into the brick-and-mortar Toots & Magoo on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is like stepping into a Seuss-ian temple. Up above, felt birds perch on felt branches while paper airplanes hang in mid-air alongside oriental kites. Giant wood-carved centipedes line the uppermost shelves of Hungarian armoires as parachuting puppets drift down in the storefront window. Screen-printed bags, hand-woven aprons, kitchenware, school supplies, books, toys, and paintings while somewhere in the swoosh and jingle, Billy Pearson himself can be heard saying, “l’ll have another.”