What is The Maximalist?

It’s part archive, part museum, part portfolio, and part creative space…

I should probably start at the beginning, although there are multiple beginnings.

In 1981 when I was ten, my parents let me pick out my own bedroom set. At the time we lived in central New York and I rushed them to this Danish modern furniture store in Ithaca, NY. I just loved those clean lines and light colored woods. I grew up in an early Victorian house furnished with period antiques, which I hated, but it did mean that I got to go to a lot of antique and thrift stores as a kid. In those antique stores, I would always see these colored plates that I absolutely loved – bright disks of orange-red, yellow, green, and blue. Fiesta, it was called, and I told my mom someday that I would collect it.

I’ve always been a serious collector of a variety of things, even from a young age. I loved Barbie, Matchbox cars, and I had the most spectacular collection of Dienar rubber animals, now long gone. I had to have every animal in every color. You could buy them at the local stationary stores for 25 cents each. The orthodontist handed out mini versions, so I didn’t mind getting my braces tightened. I still find them on eBay and look at them wistfully. 

Anyway, fast-forward to the early 1990s. Recently graduated from college and now living in Denver, Colorado, I started haunting thrift stores to furnish my apartment. Mom also mailed me a Homer Laughlin Fiesta collector book around this time. But being Denver, which grew up in the 1950s, I ended up thrifting a lot of mid-century pieces. I found myself still drawn to dinnerware, but from the 50s genre. I should note that this was before the internet, when wonderful surprises were still to be found in the myriad of antique stores, flea markets, junk piles, and whatnot prevalent during the time. I think what inspired me about dinnerware in particular was that so much of it was a practical and usable art form: Art for the everyday in often outrageous shapes, colors, patterns, and designs. Like any early voracious collector, I bought indiscriminately. It was a time of exploration and discovery. 

Of course, after a while, a true collector will often find a focus area, although the locus of the collection may change over time. I started in the 50s with manufacturers like Gladding-McBean Franciscan, Metlox, Laurel of California, and Vernon Kilns (and so much other stuff along the way). New Fiesta became our regular eat-off-of dinnerware, but I still hadn’t started collecting any of the original 1930s that inspired me as a kid. The contextual history of the items was very important as well, and I read as much as I could about the cultural, social, geographical, and historical aspects surrounding my favorite objects.

As I got older, my dinnerware collecting interests shifted and around 2010 I discovered Pacific Pottery’s Hostessware line. I can’t recall exactly how I landed on it since I don’t recall seeing much of it if when I was in the 90s heyday of collecting. But around that time Mexican and Latin American design really began to inspire me. The confluence of 1930s streamline design, bright color palette, Mexican influence with a uniquely southern California aesthetic had me hooked. Ironically, I found my first piece of Pacific at a Connecticut flea market. Pacific turned out to be the hidden gem of the Big 5 California potteries, available to those willing to look hard enough, but not especially popular with collectors. Fortunate enough to have the means to travel and buy locally in hot spots like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento, networking with other collectors, as well as purchase extensively online, this collection grew into a passion. While I can’t exactly quantify it, it is quite possibly the largest assemblage of Pacific Hostessware in the world.

Now there’s another path I found myself on during all of this. Being heavily influenced by early-to-mid 20th century design, I wanted to explore it in new ways. In the early 2000s, I started designing and creating on my own, first with paint and paper and then moving to digital tools around 2010. Over the past ten years, I almost exclusively work in digital design with deep and wide technical focus areas. Building this skill and knowledge allows me to play with the designs and design genres I love in new ways – creating new things, but also reinventing and reimagining the past.

If you can’t find the world you want, create it.

I launched The Maximalist in 2015 as a place to showcase my collection and share with others. Over time, it’s morphed into a design playscape where I can creatively express my design work and interests outside the confines of social media channels. The Maximalist is part archive and historical record for 1930s colorware and part portfolio space. I’m not a commercial designer and I generally don’t sell my work.  A few designs are available through third-party producers like Society6 and, of course, my most excellent book on Pacific Pottery is available as print-on-demand through Blurb.

Enjoy The Maximalist! If you have any questions about Pacific Pottery or 1930s California Colorware drop me a note at qwkdogdesign@gmail.com.

Rachel  Alt-Simmons

QwkDog Design