The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism

Here's why the Denver Modernism Show is so appealing: The mid-twentieth-century culture it so joyfully upholds was clearly the culture of the future, all shiny and new and space-age, the product of new technologies and post-war optimism. Here in the future, where things seem much bleaker, the elan of mid-century design buoys us up out of our pessimism. For some who visit the show each year, it's a step back in time, celebrating the stuff they grew up with; for others, it's a stylistic look at the treasures of the modern imagination. Plus, it all just looks so cool.

Forthwith, we present a recap of the 2011 show's blast-off on Friday night at the National Western Expo Hall.

Our first stop at the Denver Modernism Show was in the conveniently placed tiki bar and emporium. Not only could you order a well-stoked Mai Tai, Piña Colada or Blue Hawaii, but you could walk out of the room with Kāne Milohai under your arm and a $15 muu muu before you even set foot into the show floor proper.

The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism

These old-school skateboards brought to mind my own model of yore: It was called the "Shark" and was so emblazoned.

The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism

Then, drinks firmly in hand, we watched as this year's jurors, Westword's own Michael Paglia and sculptor Robert Delaney, handed the blue ribbon to artist Candice Jones

The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism

  This year's show devoted more space to contemporary designers creating furniture in the pioneering spirit of the mid-century. We ran into this guy, Scott Friedman, posing here with his sharp-looking Coban Buffet held aloft by timber beams and plow heads, who left behind a career in architecture to take the indie route as a furniture designer and builder. Visit his Gitane Workshop website for a closer look.

The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism

When they're not looking perfectly at home at the Modernism Show, this photogenic couple, Lisa and Jesse Detschermitsch, create and market their own Atomic Living Design line of nifty retro furniture. Very slick!

The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism
The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism
The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism

But there was plenty of the vintage stuff, too, from petticoats and pillbox hats to sculpted chairs and hippie gear. And people get into the spirit of the show, especially on opening night, where women swish by, this way and that, in hats and gloves and billowy shirtwaist dresses or other period clothing.  

The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism
The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism
Go-go dancer Honey Touche, just passing by...
Go-go dancer Honey Touche, just passing by...
Retro King Charles Phoenix strikes a pose with a mannequin, while taking a break from frying cereal at the Test Kitchen.
Retro King Charles Phoenix strikes a pose with a mannequin, while taking a break from frying cereal at the Test Kitchen.
One vendor was selling this nearly pristine baby-blue Bug.
One vendor was selling this nearly pristine baby-blue Bug.

  Some of the best-dressed on Friday were the impeccably outfitted Miss Modernism entrants, who were competing that night in a contest of mid-century style and delivery.

Miss Modernism second runnerup Jena Taylor, puttin' on the Ritz.
Miss Modernism second runnerup Jena Taylor, puttin' on the Ritz.

Jaime Askvig, Miss Denver Modernism 2010-2011 and the contest's inaugural queen, was plainly sorry to give up her crown (Symbolically, anyway. She got to keep the physical accessory). Her followers know she took the job very seriously and played it to the hilt, making appearances in character throughout the year. If she could have entered again, she would have. Considering that her talent performance last year involved tap dancing and playing the clarinet, simultaneously, we think her chances of winning again were pretty good.

The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism

But after several rounds of cocktail mixing, baton twirling, hula hooping and other odd talent offerings, the elegant and sultry Miss Grace Stean broke through, channeling a more buttoned-down Claudia Cardinale, at least until she broke loose with a round of Pachelbel's Canon performed on a sparkly electric violin that lit up. All of Rome might as well have been burning as she fiddled up a storm to a pedal-controlled aural loop. Mama mia!

The Denver Modernism Show: Stiff piña coladas, the space age and a new Miss Modernism
There she is...
There she is...

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