Three long-standing IMPA members recently passed and IMPA sends its prayers and condolences to the family and friends of Ann Arnott, Phil Patton and Bruce Wennerstrom. The following are excerpted from obituaries about them:
Ann Arnott, whose many articles on women’s issues – including automotive subjects – appeared in the pages of Woman’s Day magazine and other consumer publications, died August 25 of heart disease. She was 72.
Born Alice Ann Arnott in 1943 in Blue Rapids KS, she received B.A. Degrees in journalism and home economics from Kansas State University. In 1982 the university’s Home Economics Department honored her with its distinguished service award.
After a brief stint with Maytag, she moved to New York City in the early 1970s and for nearly 30 years worked for Redbook, McCall’s and Woman’s Day, where she had a regular automotive column, “Woman at the Wheel”. According to her close friend, Kate McLeod, “Ann was covering domestic appliances when Woman’s Day decided that women drive cars! So she moved from Tide to the much more exciting world of motor oil.”
Kate recalled one particular incident, during a Jeep press event in Idaho: “Ann was driving at a 30-degree sideways angle up a steep, rutted hill. The legendary Mark Smith, who was the Jeep Jamboree guru, was in the back seat and just about to say ‘turn the wheel’ when the Jeep rolled over. There’s Ann and Mark and an unnamed passenger hanging upside down with their seat belts on. We extracted them. Later, while driving together, Ann said: ‘Now that’s what I call an off-road event.’ We laughed about it for the rest of the day”
Phil Patton, a prolific writer on design and technology who saw the deeper cultural messages in subjects as varied as the interstate highway system, Air Jordan sneakers, tire treads and Mountain Dew’s Mega Mouth Slam Can, died on September 22nd in Wayne, N.J. He was 63.
The cause was complications of emphysema, his wife, Kathleen Hamilton, said.
Phil’s keen eye for objects and their hidden significance made him a highly sought-after contributor for a host of magazines, including Art in America, Esquire, Smithsonian, Architectural Digest and Wired.
For many years he wrote on design for the Home section of The New York Times, where he originated the “Public Eye” column in the late 1990s, and The New York Times Magazine. In recent years he contributed to the paper’s Automobile section and wrote for its “Wheels” blog.
Although best known for his writing on product design, especially the design of cars, Phil could turn almost anything to account. His first book, Razzle-Dazzle: The Curious Marriage of Television and Professional Football (1984), described the way television affected the style of play and the business of the N.F.L. An abiding fascination with cars and highways led to Open Road: A Celebration of the American Highway (1986), and in Made in U.S.A.: The Secret Histories of the Things That Made America (1992), he examined common objects with the eye of a connoisseur and the mind of a cultural critic.
“He was an old-fashioned intellectual, curious about everything,” the architecture and design historian Christopher W. Mount said in a telephone interview. “He wrote a famous article about the tops of takeout coffee cups, how the indentations work. It sounds small, but he would expand these things and make them pertinent to the wider world.”
He did it with great flair. The Oakley Time Bomb watch, he wrote, “is a combination of Rube Goldberg and H. R. Giger, designer of sets for films like ‘Alien,’ with a dose of Groucho Marx’s Professor Flywheel thrown in.”
He made short work of a toothbrush holder described by its makers as “pearlescent,” which, he wrote, was “not to be confused with pearl or even mother-of-pearl; think of it, maybe, as mother-in-law of pearl.”
Lewis Foster Patton was born on March 23, 1952, in Durham, N.C. His father, Lewis, was an Air Force gunner left blind and badly wounded in a bombing raid over Japan during World War II. A few months after Lewis Sr.’s son was born, the crew member who had saved the father’s life died. In his honor, Lewis Sr. passed the man’s name, Phil, on to his son.
Phil attended Harvard, where he was the arts editor of The Crimson and earned a bachelor’s degree in English and history in 1974. He graduated from Columbia University in 1975 with a master’s degree in comparative literature; he wrote his thesis on Vladimir Nabokov.
He worked briefly as a fact-checker for Esquire and as the editor of Delta’s in-flight magazine.
But he had already begun contributing articles on art and design to a variety of publications while still in college, and he soon gave up steady employment for freelance work.
In the mid-1980s, Phil underwent a kind of conversion, becoming more skeptical about European design and more appreciative of homegrown products. Calling himself “a recovering modernist,” he told New York magazine that “suddenly, the Art Deco spires of the Chrysler Building started to look a whole lot better than the steel-and-glass outlines of the Lever House.”
Phil, who taught in the design criticism program at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, helped develop many museum shows, as either a curator or a consultant, notably “Different Roads: Automobiles for the Next Century” at the Museum of Modern Art in 1999, “On the Job: Design and the American Office” at the National Building Museum in Washington in 2001, and “Curves of Steel: Streamlined Automobile Design” at the Phoenix Art Museum in 2007. With Donald Albrecht, he was the curator of “Cars, Culture and the City” at the Museum of the City of New York in 2010.
His other books include Dreamland: Travels Inside the Secret World of Roswell and Area 51 (1998), about the subculture of U.F.O. watchers; Bug: The Strange Mutations of the World’s Most Famous Automobile (2002); and Michael Graves Designs: The Art of the Everyday Object (2004).
Serendipity often ruled Phil’s choice of subjects. He became interested in coffee-cup lids, for example, because they piled up around him in his car.
“Gathering them up one day in an unaccustomed fit of neatness,” he wrote in his design blog in 2011, “I noticed how many varieties there were, and how complex the combination of instructions and indications on them, how various and intricate the devices for opening and locking back flaps — in short, how intensely designed they were.”
Trivial? Not at all. “Coffee lids,” he continued, “show the whole vast machinery of modern culture.”
Bruce Wennerstrom, who became smitten with automobiles as a Queens teenager and, with his wife, inaugurated the annual Greenwich Concours d’Elegance competition and auction in Connecticut for vintage car devotees, died on September 30th in Greenwich, Conn. He was 88.
The cause was prostate cancer, his brother-in-law, Richard Walukanis, said.
“In their teens, a guy’s hormones and gasoline all get mixed up together,” Bruce liked to say. “Most outgrow it. I never did.”
Not for decades.
He test drove cars into his 80s. Once he even took a spin in a lunar rover — on Earth.
He owned a 1996 Buick Roadmaster station wagon (with a Corvette engine) for weekend chores, but he favored more exotic possessions: a limited edition 1957 Dual Ghia, notable for its finned, handmade body and Chrysler chassis (other owners included Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.), and his 1983 and 1985 German Bitters. (Fewer than 500 of these were made, and Erich Bitter, the designer, told him that the Wennerstroms were the only family to own two, he said.)
The Greenwich Concours is one of three such automotive events featured in the North American edition of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” AmeriCares receives proceeds from the affair.
At the most recent Concours, a two-day affair in June, Bonhams auctioned off a 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Stelvio convertible for $1.45 million.
Another outlet for Bruce’s enthusiasm was the Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving and Chowder Society, a group of car lovers founded in 1957 by Art Peck, the president of CBS Radio, and King Moore, an advertising executive. Bruce regularly presided over its monthly lunches at Sardi’s in Manhattan.
Bruce Kent Wennerstrom was born in Kew Gardens, Queens, on Dec. 20, 1926.
Bruce went to work in publishing. He became chief executive of Previews Inc., a real estate company, and, in 1984, chairman and president of Sotheby’s International Realty.
With his wife, Bruce in 1966 founded the auto competition in Greenwich, where they lived. The family has said the Greenwich Concours will continue, along with its display of eclectic exotica, which has included a World War I tank, a Terrafugia Transition flying car and a Tupolev 007 Russian amphibious craft.
Last year, Bruce piloted a 1966 two-seat Fitch Phoenix, built by the racer John Fitch, across Greenwich for the Concours. He described driving the car as “a bit intimidating — it’s the only one in the world.” The Phoenix sold at auction for $253,000.
“Cars are worth what someone will pay for them,” Mr. Wennerstrom said. “It’s the ultimate free market.”