Leonard Pitt calls this a structure.
Here is the story of the structures.
Pitt grew up in Detroit.
After high school he attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. He studied to become a commercial artist. He returned to Detroit after graduation and went to work as a commercial artist. Not for him!
He got on the Queen Elizabeth in 1962 and went to France.
He lived in Paris until 1970. Paris was as good as commercial art was not.
He studied with Etienne Decroux, a great master of mime.
He lived frugally, intoxicated with Paris and life – there’s something in the air of France that does a young man good. He sold sketches. And he started making structures to sell. This was his first design – bamboo and Japanese paper. It was time-consuming.
Experimenting, he made cubes and then pyramids, or tetrahedrons. The epiphany slash gestalt slash awakening was – if he bisected one angle on one side, he could stack the tetrahedrons and make complex structures.
He sold a few of the flat panels in Paris, but the structures were too fragile. He loved them and making them.
And so it is that his Grant Street home is filled with structures, resting on bookcases and suspended from the ceiling.
His love of Paris, at least the Paris of the past, is reflected in books that he has written about Paris.
And in postcards and posters and pulp paperbacks with “Paris” in the title.
What says “Paris” better than an accordion?
Nothing! He’s got two or three.
In 1970, Pitt left Paris and came to Berkeley.
In 1973 he went to Bali and studied mask-making and Balinese dance, working here with I Nyoman Kakui.
Five years later he returned to Bali and studied mask-making with Ida Bagus Anom.
Pitt carved these masks. He has collected others.
There are masks throughout the house.
Mime and Balinese dancing have informed Pitt. He has been active in the theater, changing things up.
Here he holds a postcard that he got from his uncle, showing his great-grandmother in front of her home in the shtetel of Vapniarka, a settlement in the Ukraine. It was Pitt’s mother’s childhood home.
All of what I have shown you is in the main house. There is more –
In 1996, Pitt designed and Ron Bogley built this lovely little fairytale cottage behind the house.
Amazing! The timbers are 100-year-old salvaged lumber. Travis Pratt took an adze to them to create the distressed look.
The Berkeley Chocolate Club meetings in this room. Pitt is the President.
Do you see the bookcases at the end of the room?
The one on the right serves as door to the bathroom.
It is an extraordinary, quirky bathroom.
Pitt has led – and is leading – an exceptionally creative and interesting life. He has a great website.
And a new book that has just come out. I will read it with great interest. He will be signing it in the coming weeks:
March 1, University Press Books, Berkeley, 5 pm
March 8, Mrs. Dalloways, Berkeley, 7:30 pm
March 14 City Lights Books in SF. 7 pm
March 24, Book Passage in Corte Madera, 7 pm
March 30, Hillside Club in Berkeley, 7:30 pm
I look at the points on Pitt’s compass – Detroit, Paris, and Berkeley – and think. We talked about the three cities, all of whom he loves. When he was young man, Paris and Berkeley were accessible to the young, the struggling, the creative. Now, not so much. Now we have Detroit. Pitt says without hesitation – “If I were 50 years younger, Detroit is where I would go.”
I showed the photos to my friend. He wasn’t in the mood to think about his hometown Detroit, but instead zoomed in on the structures. “Far ….. out.” What about the whole, this little glimpse of Leonard Pitt?
P.S. This is one other Leonard Pitt book.
A 17th century Irish healer. Eight years of Pitt’s life, tracking down material about Greatrakes and a copy of his 1666 memoir. Add that to the obsession list.
I love this story! Pitt is someone I have heard about all my life, but our paths never crossed.
A wonderful parade of your adventurous life, Lenny! It’s been so sweet to have you as a compatriot over all these years, going back to our Detroit, Cass Tech High School days. Now look, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself (and us) into! Xo, Harry
Fascinating life and fellow. Funny, I was thinking maybe Detroit is the place to be. NY, SF, Paris have long ago jumped the shark.
You may remember me…I am a buddy of Terrance Gelenter.
Picked up a copy of your bio at SF public library yesterday…I am only to the part about Marcel Marceau….but I realize how much I appreciate your honest writing. It takes courage to put in print so many historic things…but I do feel that honesty keeps us human and understanding of others…through out the history of the world…and about creative people who are working to find their path in the world…as we move beyond the traditional roles.