Monday, June 10, 2013

Periwinkle: a Dynasty Built on Art and Music

Periwinkle: a Dynasty Built on Art and Music
           At their Palmetto store, mid-90s: The Emdes with Kay Scott, Shirley Petersen & Sandy Kavanaugh.
          
A lot of Pacifica life is not easily seen. There is much going on behind closed doors – including longtime businesses. Periwinkle Custom Framing is one such business. Lionel Emde, owner of Periwinkle Custom Framing,  has experience in matting and framing that goes back to his youth, learned from his mother Enid, and father Dale’s business, which went by the name of Periwinkle Art Gallery, then Periwinkle Prints and Gifts, to now Periwinkle Custom Framing.    Lionel regularly does work for fine art museums in San Francisco, so he knows his business — you will see that he comes by it honestly. Periwinkle’s employees were known as the “Winkle Workers,” who were also artists and friends. Their clients spanned the range of local to well-known artists, like Galen Wolf, who was also a dear friend. Over the years, from 1969 to the present, Periwinkle has occupied nine locations in Pacifica, sequentially - that might be a record!


In addition to the Emdes’ involvement with the visual arts, they are also a musical family. Lionel not only plays trumpet, he repairs brass instruments of all kinds for Hornucopia in San Carlos. His father Dale was an opera singer who performed for the San Francisco Opera House. In addition to his career as an opera singer, he and Enid both majored in music at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Emdes and Periwinkle framing are part of a very rich history in Pacifica, which is ongoing.
       Dale Emde, in various costumes for  San Francisco Opera House performances.
                 
 What makes a person start a business, and stay in it for decades? Enid Emde didn't intend to start her own business, when she went to work part-time at a gallery in Pacifica. As Enid explains: "In 1969, a gallery and potter’s workshop named Dal-Pac, in Pacific Manor, run by Larry Kempher, was for sale. The workshop was located next door to Manor Music. To keep costs down, the two businesses shared the same telephone number. When they received a call (phone was located in our shop), I'd bang on the wall! Can you imagine that happening now? When Larry moved to Palmetto, between an electrician and plumber who hung a toilet seat outside his door for “open” and “closed” information. It was Kempher’s belief that Palmetto was destined to become Pacifica’s 'downtown.'" Larry asked Enid to help him find someone to carry on the business, and she did. Hours were 10 to 3:30 PM, so mom was home after school. The potter's workshop was gone.


Deb: "So, where did the name: Periwinkle come from?"
Enid: "I renamed it The Periwinkle, because that is a shell, a color, and a flower, and reflects the energy felt within the store.”
Occupying a total of nine locations, Periwinkle, in its various transitions, may have set a record for occupying the most addresses in Pacifica. These included two in Pedro Point, two in the Pacific Manor district, and three in the Sharp Park district (Eureka Square).
Enid: "Periwinkle carried consigned art and art supplies. A vacancy in an old surf shop on Pedro Point opened up, and the gallery moved again. After about 21/2 years, the Firehouse on the point was for rent. Another move, but what a wonderful setting. The firehouse was a perfect setup for concerts, movies and gallery openings."

It was in the Firehouse on Pedro Point where Enid, Dale and friends had quick set-ups in place for film festivals and musical events. 
Enid: "At the firehouse, we built large flats with rollers, to hang the art. They were moveable, and stacked nicely. The firehouse provided chairs. A stage was built and soon Sheldon Smith, our friend and piano restorer, provided a nine-foot Steinway for concerts. Between 1972 and 1978, we had classical concerts twice monthly. Lionel recorded many of the concerts. Eventually “Jazz at the Firehouse” began.

In addition to “Music at the Gallery”, Dave Campbell set up a program of old movies where popcorn was provided. The 'Flash Gordon' series brought so many people from all over the peninsula, the fire department made us install push bar doors for safety."

Dale Emde spoke of the Flash Gordon series that Periwinkle presented, which brought out people in droves. “There was this talk show on the radio, and the host was sitting in for the regular D.J. I thought, well, maybe this guy would like to listen to our Flash Gordon Series at Periwinkle, or say something about it...and so, he put it on the air (laughs), and that place was just flooded with people – jammed! And we had this whole series of Flash Gordon films....and they were really bad....but we also had lots of wine, so it somehow didn’t matter!”
Periwinkle preceded the Sanchez Concert Hall as Pacifica’s entertainment center. Despite all the activity, the firehouse was in a remote location. Being an entertainment center does not necessarily help business. Yes, another move, this time to Linda Mar Center. The Winkle Workers were Enid, Dale, Lionel, Donna Reid, Shirley Petersen, Maggie Piver, Deb House and Big B, their store cat.


 

Enid: "Business grew, and we needed more room. We asked for half of the adjacent shop, since the owners wanted less space. The management said they would prefer putting a Kragen’s in the extra space. We did it again. We moved to Eureka Square, eventually expanding into two stores, a gallery, gift stop and a custom framing and office supply store. Discount art suppliers put an end to the art supply sales.”

At that time, Dale left his job with a pharmaceutical company to work with Enid at Periwinkle in the framing department of the gallery. The Prints and Gifts shop, which was managed by Enid and the "Winkle Workers", held art exhibits and hosted many receptions for the artists whose works were featured. The gift store was so successful that it moved to a larger location in the shopping center. Lionel helped with the work and managed the store, with his parents. 

Which leads us to....  The Heyday of the Winkle Workers



In one of his Pacifica Tribune “Reactor” columns in the 1980s, Paul Azevedo commends the Emdes’ business in his column entitled: ”Service is the Key to Success”. He wrote:”When I took a class at Skyline, the teacher told us of a great place to buy supplies for the course. "Periwinkle in Pacifica,” he said. I had no trouble believing that. Enid Emde and the rest of the staff seem to follow the Rotary Club concept of ‘Service Above Self’. The Emdes are willing to innovate. They are also willing to admit to themselves when they make a mistake, and go back to more “primitive” ways of doing business They have carefully built a firm customer base with friendship, quality and service."

In addition to service, there was skill and craftsmanship. The Emdes studied framing, often by going to classes and framing conventions. They developed techniques and used materials that they took pride in. Most Pacificans knew the Periwinkle staff as the "Winkle Workers". These were the Emdes, plus the people who worked for/with them, often also a talented bunch of artists who presented the "Winkle Workers Art Shows" annually.

"People who work here are a real family," Enid explained in a 1990 Pacifica Tribune article.

Deb: “I noticed that one of your Winkle Workers was a grey tabby CAT. A working cat! Who was that?”
Enid: “That was Big B (for Big Baby). He lived in the gallery. We’d gotten him from a lady named Wanda Spellman. He moved with us to all of our locations – Pedro Point to Linda Mar, and Eureka Square. He was so mellow, people could come up to him – he would jump up on the framing table, and customers would say: ”Oh, he likes me! But he liked everybody.

When we moved to Linda Mar, I accidentally shut him out – I didn’t mean to – but he went back to the Point, and we didn’t know this - he was gone for two weeks. His picture was even on the front page of the Tribune! Everybody was looking for him – they were just heartbroken. Finally, we had had a meeting at the Firehouse, and I heard a meowing at the door. I went over and opened the door, and everybody screamed....he was o.k. When we finally moved to our last Palmetto gallery, we took Big B home to live.”  
Enid, with a photo of Big B, the Cat

Deb: Tell me about the other Winkle Workers.
Enid: “The first of the Winkle Workers was Sarah Gates, who, at 13, was hired to teach macramé after school to kids. She obviously had skilled hands, so I taught her to frame. She worked off and on, depending upon her school hours. In Eureka Square, she became our “midnight” framer. We left a stack of orders, and they were all done the next day. This worked well for all of us. Sarah studied for three years in the University of London's Textile Conservation Program. Following that, she worked as an intern at the de Young Museum's Textile Conservation Lab for 5 years. After that, she was hired and is currently the head of the new Marie Hecksher Textile Conservation Center.” 

Below: Karen Bash & Sarah Gates at the Palmetto gallery, 1970s.

                                      
"When we shifted from Art Supplies to Office Supplies, and then to gifts, we brought Kay Scott in. Lionel taught Kay framing. Kay was a meticulous seamstress – she was wonderful! So, Kay did all of the sewing jobs. She worked for us for quite a few years. I remember one time, she wanted some thread, so I told her that I had some in a great big sewing box, and gave it to Kay – my sewing box was a complete jumble. Well, Kay took that sewing box, and cleaned it out, wrapped the thread perfectly – very organized, bless her heart. Kay is no longer with us. In fact, the last time I saw all of the Winkle workers was at Kay’s memorial."


News photo of The Winkle Workers, on the job.

Winkle Worker Deb House moved to Pacifica from Hope Valley, Connecticut. We were delighted to hire her, because she fit the character of the Winkle Workers: good with people, great sense of humor, and liked to act goofy once in awhile.
This reminds me of an incident at Periwinkle Prints and Gifts in Eureka Square. One night, Big B had been nervous around a chest with one big drawer. Deb, Shirley, Donna and I were getting ready for a Winkle Worker show. Someone looked out the back door and saw a police car parked there, but thought nothing of it. We finally opened the drawer, and a huge rat jumped out. What do four women do when seeing a rat? They scream at the top of their lungs. Deb trapped the animal, by slamming a waste basket over it. The screams continued as we took the captive to the dumpster. Oddly, the police did not come in, and were gone after the dumpster lid closed. Anyway, Deb moved back to Rhode Island, and has been working as a shipkeeper at the Mystic Seaport  for several years.

Other workers included Donna Reid, who was one of our longest-term employees – about 18 years. She lives in Tahoe now.  She used to take the orders, & was the fitter (the fitter is the person who washes the glass, nails the artwork into the frame, covers the back with paper, and wires it)."
Donna Reid, today.

Reid is currently an oil painter in Lake Tahoe, and is a member of the Tahoe Art League. "Painting is not my work, it is my love, my leisure, and gives emotional balance to my life," Reid said in a 2005 article in the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

"Shirley Petersen cut mats and did fittings. Sandy Kavanaugh was also a fitter, and took framing orders – I mean, everyone took framing orders."

One of the former Winkle Workers, artist Karen Bash, wrote of her time with Periwinkle: 

“I remember my days at the Periwinkle very well. My dad remodeled their kitchen/dining area when I was a kid and I remember going over to their home quite a few times. I loved all the cool original art work they had and their two very fluffy Huskies. So, one day when I was a junior in high school, dad came home, and said Enid was looking for someone to work at the new gallery out on Pedro Point that he, Dale and my brother Rich were remodeling. I loved the idea of working at an art gallery, as I was an artist myself. (My maternal grandfather was a commercial artist and I had been drawing, and later painting, for as long I could remember).

It was a great first job! I learned to do custom framing, both in helping customers make aesthetic decisions and doing the framing itself. (I still cut my own mats and do them with Enid's precise guidelines in mind.) I also found out about all sorts of art supplies, which we also stocked. And I had the chance to see and learn about the many artists in the area whose work we showed and sold. Enid and Dale showcased many different forms of art; ceramics, photography, paintings of various mediums, jewelry, etc.

And I got to watch some wonderful musical theater that was performed on Sundays afternoons on a little stage area. We also had a movie night, and the Drama teacher from Terra Nova High School brought old 1930s/1940s/1950s films to show. It was an incredibly stimulating place to be.

The Periwinkle was certainly a gathering place for all sorts of creative folk and local characters. I remember a cartoonist named Tom Jackson (whose daughter Sue was in my grade at school) set up his work table in the gallery and drew the cartoons he sold there. He also did some great murals in the bathrooms, giving us artistic loos. Their lovely dogs were always there as well (shedding everywhere) since Dale was downstairs making frames and cutting glass, while Enid, Sarah Gates and I were upstairs helping customers and putting the artwork in the frames.

And my time at the Periwinkle also started me on a lifelong love of buying original art. Funny you should mention Galen Wolf in your first column, as one of his paintings from the one-man show we had for him was my first original art purchase. Thirty-six years later, it is still one of my favorite works from another artist. As a former "Winkle Worker" I'm looking forward to the coming column about the Periwinkle Art Gallery!” Karen’s brother, Rich, mentioned that: ”33 years ago, Michele and I married at the Pedro gallery, after Dad, Dale and I rebuilt old stucco building to firehouse chic!”  
Today, Karen is a nature-art instructor and artist (websites:www.natureandart.org) and www.karenbash.com.  Here is Karen today:



The firehouse Karen mentioned is where the Emdes and their staff put on performances. There were also movies.

Dale:
“There was this talk show on the radio, and the host was sitting in for the regular D.J. I thought, well, maybe this guy would like to listen to our Flash Gordon Series at Periwinkle, or say something about it...and so, he put it on the air (laughs), and that place was just flooded with people – jammed! And we had this whole series of Flash Gordon films....and they were really bad....but we also had lots of wine, so it somehow didn’t matter!”


Enid: Dave Campbell was the one who brought us the old films. We showed (the silent film) “Birth of a Nation”, and somebody played piano to accompany it.”

Deb: How did these films concerts and events affect business? Did they help?
Enid: ”Well, it made people aware that we were there, that we did framing & all that.....I’m sure that it helped in some way, but overall, I think it was more entertaining than profitable.”
Deb: So, that is why you moved to Eureka Square?
Enid: ”Yes. Well, that, and we tried every way we could to get people to find us from the highway. We put all these sandwich boards up, and the highway patrol would take them down. It made me mad, that I couldn’t even have any kind of a sign to at least tell people we were there.”
 
Soon after Periwinkle celebrated its 30th anniversary in 1999, the Emdes retired. As a gift to Enid & Dale, Donna Reid and Shirley Petersen lovingly put together a scrapbook of news clippings, photos, ads, postcards and greeting cards as a farewell gift for the Emdes. Within the scrapbook are cards, postcards and news items about either the Emdes, or their staff. Many of the greetings enclosed were from former Winkle Workers, who had kept in touch. Others are postcards from the various places the Emdes’ traveled, addressed to Periwinkle’s employees.

Fifteen years after Periwinkle Gallery closed its doors, the Emdes are busier than ever. Enid is just finished typing up a brochure for the Pacifica Garden Club Tour, and helped with mounting a Buster Posey jersey for one of Lionel’s framing assignments. Lionel's Periwinkle Custom Framing business is still going strong, which is no small wonder, with the example set by his parents, along with the experience he gained when working alongside them.
Dale & Enid Emde, today.

On a personal note, one reason that I was motivated to write about Periwinkle is that my husband Michael, who started Spring Mountain Gallery in Half Moon Bay 1980 learned much of what he knows about Custom Framing from Enid and Dale. Spring Mountain Gallery even has Periwinkle’s old dry-mount press which still works for us (they don’t make ‘em like that, anymore). Enid and Dale have always supported the arts and artists, and their legacy has had a positive, wide-ripple effect, ever since, for which we are truly grateful.