Framing Peet’s Coffee and Mr Peet’s Place In the Living Legacy of the Arts and Crafts Movement In Berkeley

My last post celebrated 50 years of Chez Panisse by featuring two recently framed David Lance Goines posters made for the restaurant. Here, also recently framed, is another poster by Mr Goines, this one made in 2010 for another world-renowned North Berkeley food establishment, Peet’s Coffee, founded in 1966, just a few years before Chez Panisse. This poster, in stained quartersawn white oak, is in a classic Craftsman form with through mortise and tenon joints.

Framed David Goines Peet's Coffee posterBelow is the same poster as we framed it shortly after it came out in 2010. This is also stained quartersawn white oak, and another mortise and tenon design, our No. 1100, which has a chamfered sight edge. The sides are 2″ wide, and we made the top and bottom 2-1/2″ wide.

David Goines Peets poster in No. 1100

No. 1100 — 2″ – 2-1/2″ on David Lance Goines poster for Peet’s Coffee

Here is the linoleum block Mr. Goines used to make the print. (Found this image online.)Printing block for David L Goines Peet's Coffee poster

Peet’s Coffee, Chez Panisse, Holton Studio, and the Living Legacy of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Berkeley

“I came to the richest country in the world, so why are they drinking the lousiest coffee?”—Alfred Peet

One day in my early twenties a friend I was hanging out with decided he needed a cup of coffee, and I went along. I was not a coffee drinker. When I was a kid in the sixties and early seventies, my parents had drunk Hills Brothers and Folgers. But when they were going to be entertaining, my mom would go down to the little shop on the corner of Walnut and Vine to get some real coffee from Mr Peet. I occasionally went with her and remember dark oak counters and cabinets framing myriad varieties of roasted beans behind glass. Too young to drink what Peet’s was selling, though, my prevailing impression of coffee came from the unappealing whiffs of bland bitterness normally brewed at home from the stuff that came in a can from the supermarket. But that day years later, standing on Vine Street, joining my friend Jeff in a cup of Peet’s coffee, that first sip brought on a revelation: Oh! This is what coffee’s supposed to taste like!

Born in the Netherlands to a family in the coffee business, Alfred Peet was once called “the Dutchman who taught America how to drink coffee.” In his own words, “I came to the richest country in the world, so why are they drinking the lousiest coffee?” His approach began with a mastery of the art of roasting and a conviction that “it was crucial to have the shortest distance possible between the roaster and the customer, underscoring the importance of freshness to flavor.”* Alfred Peet recognized that coffee had been debased by industrial farming, processing, marketing, and distribution. In other words, as an art form, it was dead, and his mission was to introduce that art form to America. I’d say what he taught America was what he taught me: that coffee was more than a caffeine fix; that everything about it, from growing and sourcing (celebrated in the Goines poster), roasting to brewing, to buying to drinking, should be done with care and integrity—and could be enjoyed. By teaching America how coffee should taste, he taught us that it matters how it’s roasted, brewed, and served.

Alice Waters, 1990

Alice Waters in the Chez Panisse kitchen, 1990

Which, in regards to food generally, is what Alice Waters would do around the corner at Chez Panisse. In the spirit of what we now call “farm to table,” Alice found good farms that grew their food carefully, as well as bakers, butchers and cheese makers devoted to their craft. Then she prepared meals in a simpler fashion that featured the natural flavor of fresh ingredients, and served her guests with the heartfelt conviviality and hospitality she regarded as indispensable to a good meal.

In the 1990’s, Alice Waters and Alfred Peet were exemplars to me as Holton Studio took shape and found its purpose. It made no difference that they were in food and I was in frames. Just as over-industrialization had threatened to debase the art of food, it had threatened to debase the art of the picture frame—along with many other arts. Like Waters and Peet, I saw the industrial system destroying an art that I knew, and turning out products that I knew to be inexcusably “lousy,” as Mr Peet said. We knew we could do better. And we knew that meant first and foremost good materials (or the culinary’s preferred term “ingredients”), because nothing we make is as good and beautiful as what nature makes; and, second, bringing the making, the actual art, closer to the customer. Those things were the vital roots and bases to which the arts had to be restored.

Patricia Curtan print, "Figs"

Patricia Curtan, linocut, “Figs,” for Alice Waters’s cookbook, Chez Panisse Fruit

Peet and Waters were, to me, champions of a larger cultural current and force, a kind of counter-modernism, that has not always been acknowledged but is always at work. That current was certainly evident in Berkeley in the ’60’s and ’70’s; we called it the counter-culture. But more deeply, its greatest and most influential expression was the Arts and Crafts Movement which had begun eight decades before as a rebellion against what William Morris called “makeshift”: a widely felt “soul reaction”** to the age of money and machines and the consequent proliferation of “lousy” stuff. If the Movement was widely believed to have faded away by mid-century, Peet’s and Chez Panisse are proof that it had not. At least for some, its root impulses were as keenly felt and avidly followed as ever. It seems to me no coincidence that these two food businesses were started by two immigrants to Berkeley who chose to frame their endeavors in a city fundamentally shaped by Arts and Crafts ideals and work (especially the work of architect Bernard Maybeck), literally framed their own work in the craftsman vernacular architecture and decor born out of that movement, and turned to the heavily Arts and Crafts-influenced graphic style of David Goines to help establish their brands and public images. Nor is it surprising that both see fit to hang our hand crafted hardwood frames in their businesses. (A Holton framed Michael Schwab Peet’s poster hangs over the condiment counter at the original Peet’s; while Chez Panisse’s decor, as mentioned in the last post, includes several mirrors and framed Patricia Curtan prints.) Peet’s and Chez Panisse are examples and expressions of the Arts and Crafts Movement’s fundamental purpose: to take back into cultivating human hands arts whose essential nature and vitality was threatened by over-mechanized production and over-commercialization.

Just as Mr Peet couldn’t understand why the wealthiest country in the world had the lousiest coffee, I couldn’t understand why in America it was nearly impossible to find a decent, well-made picture frame. What Mr Peet strove for was to show people what real coffee tastes like. What I strive for is to show people what real frames look like and how they can serve and even transform a picture. I live for that reaction from the customer I’ve just presented with a newly framed—often re-framed—picture, that revelation analogous to mine upon tasting my first cup of Peet’s coffee: that’s how a picture should be framed.


* From the Peet’s Coffee website, here…

** The phrase is from Edward Pearson Pressey: “The Arts and Crafts [Movement] is a soul reaction from under the feet of corporations and the wheels of machines.” Pressey was the founder of the New Clairveux handicraft community. (Quoted in Fiona McCarthy’s William Morris: A Life for Our Time, 2010)

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