//Ad libs: 'What would Matt do?'

Thursday, May 14, 2009

'What would Matt do?'

A new San Francisco exhibit calls him "Artist and Educator," but Matt Kahn is just as often thought of as "Mentor." You can't read about him without seeing that word.

It's perhaps the best legacy one could have after teaching at Stanford for 55-plus years. Over
and over, people say that Matt Kahn taught them how to appreciate the role of design throughout the world. A few years ago, IDEO design firm founder David Kelley told the Weekly that every day when he works on projects he thinks: "What would Matt do?"

Textile artist
Jean Ray Laury also called her former teacher "encouraging, demanding, insightful and fun." She added, "I learned more about quilting from him than I ever learned from anyone else, though I'm sure he never held a needle in his life."

As for me, I never studied design. When I interviewed Kahn for another story, I just liked his crinkly-eyed smile.

The current show, held at the San Francisco Museum of Craft+Design, also showcases the ways in which Matt Kahn helped shape the Bay Area's art and design in the 1950s and '60s. Besides teaching at Stanford, he also worked for Eichler Homes, the developer whose houses are ubiquitous in Palo Alto.

The exhibit includes his designs for Eichler homes as well as works in furniture, textiles and metal, with weavings by his wife, Lyda Kahn. Fittingly, special events include "Matt Kahn: Teacher and Friend," in which designers
talk about how the professor influenced and inspired them.

Pictured: Two works by Matt Kahn from the exhibit. Top: "Pair of Tripod Chairs," ca. 1965, oak. Above: "Lidded Box," ca. 1965, wood with enamel on copper lid.