We’ve Chosen Carol Benson-Cobb Works for Kennon-Green & Co.
I have become enamored with the work of an abstract artist named Carol Benson-Cobb.
This is interesting to me because, thinking back over my life, I have never been an especially strong fan of abstract art as I am far more moved by real, tangible objects that combine technical mastery with beauty – e.g., I could spend hours staring at that boulle chest, manufactured circa 1700 to 1720, which I showed you during a visit to Chicago Institute of Art, or the wooden Japanese Buddha from 775 A.D., or John Quincy Adams Ward’s The Freedman bronze sculpture, made between 1862 and 1863. I could spend days wandering through museums looking at ancient pottery or 18th century dinnerware, or paintings such as those by Bierstadt. Really well-made furniture causes my heart to soar. Even historical clothing and fashions. Recently, I came very, very close to bidding on a pair of candlesticks at a major auction house that I not only found stunning, but had one of the most interesting business connections I had encountered; an item directly tied to a gilded age steel fortune. Ultimately, I opted to invest the funds, instead, partly because I am obsessed with buying a specific security that I believe is extremely undervalued relative to the potential long-term payoff and which has consumed much of my attention this year.
I think it’s because, in the deepest part of my soul, I love people and humanity. For all of our challenges and failures, faults and mistakes, when we set our minds to it, we launch rocket ships to the stars and invent the printing press, compose symphonies and write great literature. These tangible things are a way to reach across centuries and millennia; a way for generations to speak of love and loss in transcendence of death. That is, it’s not the thing itself so much, although that is part of it. It’s what the thing represents and the feelings of admiration and wonder they make me feel.
Yet, despite this longstanding personal bias, a funny thing happened a couple of years ago; something I never would have expected nor believed if it hadn’t occurred. I came across a mixed media canvas called “Tahoe” by a Texas-based artist called Carol Benson-Cobb. It was an embellished and signed giclée reproduction of a painting she had created, an abstract landscape, and it contained some of my favorite colors. It filled me with joy in a way that is hard to describe. It was calming, soothing, and rich at the same time; soft and quiet but imposing and present. It made me feel like a really nice, medium to thick cashmere sweater does. Or Christmas movies. Or family dinners with delicious food.
I was at a complete loss to describe my affection for the work – I can’t quite put it into words – because it differed so greatly from everything else I had ever enjoyed. My feelings were powerful enough that I told Aaron I wanted it for my office; that I would regret not getting it as the happiness and utility it brought me was more than I could get from an alternative use of the funds. I thought about that old Kathryn Hepburn line when she remarked that after buying a truly great (in her case, piece of furniture), you never remember the cost. It brings you enormous pleasure year after year. (I also discovered around this same time, to both my shock and delight, that Carol was the same artist who had painted a work to which I had a particularly strong emotional connection for personal reasons I don’t want to get into at the moment but that was, in every sense of the word, life changing.)
And thus, that is how a copy of Carol Benson-Cobb’s Tahoe came to be bought, shipped from Dallas, and, a month or two later, installed in Newport Beach where it has been for years.
That decision turned out to be one of the wisest we have ever made. Since the moment we hung it on the wall in what was then my home office, and throughout the duration of the multiple subsequent relocations and offices I have occupied, including the office at 5 Park Plaza and now at 520 Newport Center Drive, the Benson-Cobb has almost always been near me or within my line of sight. The joy it gives me has never gotten old. I get the same dopamine hit every time I see it, without exception. It’s so crazy that I’ve even joked with Aaron we might want to buy a couple of backup copies to keep in a dark, preserved archive in case anything happens to ours so we can immediately swap it out without me missing a day of seeing it.
We Immediately Short-Listed Benson-Cobb Studios When Thinking About the Kennon-Green & Co. Office
Now that you have part of the history, providing context, on to the present.
Aaron and I have been slowly making progress on preparing the Kennon-Green & Co. offices for hiring employees next year and welcoming in-person private clients post-pandemic. You already know this. However, note that I say “slowly” due to our work and home responsibilities. Choosing accent chairs and coffee cups has fallen to the bottom of our list despite the joy we usually take in creative projects. There are too many new regulations to review, trade tickets to execute, annual reports to read, and vendors to consult. This is on top of keeping a hawk eye on the bills being proposed in Congress and making their way through committee as some could have far-reaching second-order and third-order effects that are truly terrible for the country. (The natural sciences are instructive here. It reminds me of the decision in some countries to introduce the Gambusia holbrooki, also known as the eastern mosquitofish, as it was hugely successful in destroying mosquito populations, reducing malaria infections and saving lives. However, by not thinking through the action, first, good intentions unleashed chaos. it didn’t take long for it to become apparent that the fish were consuming not just mosquito larvae, but all sorts of other life, resulting in a biodiversity holocaust that has proven almost impossible to stop.) Ordinarily, we’d tackle this sort of thing late in the evenings but parenthood to two new babies, while wonderful, is characterized by abrupt chaos. We have no personal time right now. The kids take anything that isn’t already claimed by Kennon-Green & Co. Some nights are calm and wonderful, other nights are like a circus.
Yet, somehow, someway, over the past few months we’ve been able to inch forward, often in blocks of ten minutes here or thirty minutes there. We made a few giant leaps ahead recently thanks to help from Aaron’s parents and my mom coming to stay with us for a visit. I think I’ve mentioned the redundant fiber lines are installed to provide fail-over service incase one commercial internet provider experiences an outage. The copy machine is delivered, installed, and functional. The kitchen has been rebuilt to accommodate our refrigerator. Extra built-in bookcases to fit in our offices and the conference room have been manufactured and installed. Our address has been updated almost everywhere with just a few exceptions to be crossed off when we have a moment. Our insurance policies are modified and undergoing additional review for the planned expansion. Most of the telephones are still in boxes, as are a bunch of the computer equipment for the future employees (we over-invested in our technology needs as a defensive move due to the microchip shortage). We’re chipping away at the mountain. In retrospect, the gains have been material even if they don’t feel like it on any given day.
During a management meeting, Aaron and I were discussing one of the final items we knew we would need to decide and agree upon given the influence it would have on the feeling of each room: What went on the walls. At present, the only thing we had deemed good enough was the Benson-Cobb Tahoe mixed media canvas I wrote about at the start of this post. This was a big question. The office is where we would spend a huge portion of our day. It is where our kids will remember coming and visiting us as they develop their first memories. It is, to think of it in movie terms, the set of our lives. It had to be right. If we didn’t like how the “set” felt, it would drive us nuts. I even went so far as to buy books on color theory and gather papers on military research into the psychological influence of various color schemes.
We realized that the solution was simple. We loved Carol Benson-Cobb’s work so much, and the Tahoe mixed media canvas had brought us so much happiness, we should try to work with her studio to have other mixed media canvases put into several rooms, keeping the design language consistent across the space. This would have the added benefit of directly supporting the artist, which is important to both of us.
After some planning, and a few back-and-forth conversations, an agreement has been reached. Aaron and I settled on a list of five mixed media canvases from her body of work, along with locations where we would want them in the office. It will take a couple of months for everything to arrive from the Benson-Cobb studio and be put on the walls by professional installers – but the final decor choices are … drumroll …
Ascension by Carol Benson-Cobb
Innuendo No. 3 by Carol Benson-Cobb
Promontory by Carol Benson-Cobb
Dune by Carol Benson-Cobb
Innuendo by Carol Benson-Cobb
I am so excited and happy about this turn of events. As Aaron said to me, Carol seems to paint moods. It’s like she captures a feeling and then somehow finds a way to use color and shape to make you experience the essence of it.
Now, we need to turn our attention to reception chairs and some other items because, as you can imagine, when people stop by to see us they will need somewhere to sit. The Irvine Company has let us use a few temporary chairs as a workaround but I’m eager for our own furniture to be in the space. The thought that goes into this is extensive. You need something that not only works with the office colors and design aesthetic, but it must be the right height for most people (including older clients who may have mobility issues) as well as lack sharp edges for younger clients who may stop by with their kids to chat for a few minutes – the last thing you want is a toddler diving headfirst into a corner that could hurt them. Ultimately, we are thinking about these soft, oversized lounge seats, either in leather or this fabric blend that includes alpaca so it’s really gentle. Samples are on order so we have to wait to see what they look and feel like when they come in before we can commit, though.
We also need to get the computer monitors on arms so they free up more desk space, create automated workflows for checking and reordering office supplies so that we aren’t, say, out of a specific color highlighter when I go to grab one, we need to buy a vacuum (the building maintenance staff cleans all the common areas but our offices are off limits, plus if anything ever spilled while we were there, we need a way to clean it up) … all the things that would have happened organically over time, only we are trying to approach this with the efficiency of a corporation scaling up a new space, going off the equivalent of punch lists. Even small details, like ensuring there is always something to drink if someone stops by and is thirsty.
That last one is an example of how past projects still benefit us. Some of you might remember our big personal project “Addition by Subtraction” back in 2016. One of the things we did was model our then-home refrigerator with the level of organization seen on the set of Do Min Joon’s apartment in My Love from Another Star, which was our favorite Korean drama at the time. It made life so wonderful and easy that it’s something we work to maintain as it made a permanent, positive impact on our day-to-day experience. For example, as of this morning, this is what the office refrigerator looks like if you open the doors …
With the supply chain issues the world is facing, and the fact we can’t focus on the project except in the odd moment here or there as we have more important things to consider, the office itself probably won’t be truly finished until the end of 2022. That said, it will get done in the end. That’s what counts. I finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. One afternoon, Aaron and I were working and he walked into my office. It was so peaceful, and felt so calm, that I told him I think it was the first time I felt as truly settled as we were in Missouri as all the moving parts were falling into place.