I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.– David Bowie
After thirty-seven amazing years on beautiful West Third Street, we are closing our doors this summer. It has been quite the journey, and it wouldn’t have been possible without YOU.
Your support over the years (almost four decades!) has allowed us to grow, to take risks, to evolve and, ultimately, to flourish. Every one of you who has come through our doors has contributed to the unique and special culture of the shop.
You have given us your creativity, your curiosity and your camaraderie. You have given us a chance to be part of your lives over the years, as you gathered our treasures to mark your celebrations, honor your traditions, and spoil your loved ones. We have seen so many of you get engaged, and then married, with rings from the store. We’ve even seen many of your children repeat the process themselves, as adults. We’ve shared holiday cheer with you year after year, as you added to your tree-trimming stashes and stocked up on gifts, and helped you ring in so many New Years, sparklers in hand.
Your steadfast support for our little store has radiated far beyond its four walls and into the wider creative community in Los Angeles. Because of you, we have been able to support a thriving and ever-expanding roster of local artists, designers and craftspeople, allowing them to make a living making beautiful things.
In short, we’d like to tell you all just how incredibly thankful we are for you. You have made this labor of love worth every moment, and have given us memories that will last far beyond the life of the physical shop. From the bottom of all our hearts, THANK YOU.
Our story began all the way back in 1982 — when Reagan was in the White House, the Billboard top tune was “Physical” by Olivia Newton John, Melrose Avenue was full of mohawked punk rockers, the median monthly rent in Los Angeles was $560, and the “athleisure” of the day was inspired by the leotards and leg warmers of the aerobics craze. Down the street from the brand spanking new Beverly Center and right next to the St. Regis liquor store, at 8403 West Third Street, a little shop named New Stone Age was born.
Fran Ayres and Susan Skinner met while working at the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum, and their shared love of unique, handcrafted artifacts inspired them to open up a boutique showcasing the work of American craftspeople. They came up with the name “New Stone Age” as an homage to the Neolithic Era, when technological advances and an improved quality of life inspired humans to make a prolific amount of art – everything from pottery to frescoes to jewelry. The 1980s was a similarly exciting decade for crafts, especially in Los Angeles. The metropolis was thriving, the economy was booming, and a spirit of maximalist optimism was reflected in the colorful, whimsical and functional ceramics, jewelry, furnishings and housewares coming out of the local craft scene. Fran and Susan were at the very forefront of the movement, showcasing work by emerging artists such as Lindsey Loch, Michael Corney, Nancy Cook Smith, Susie Ketchum and Thomas Mann. From the get-go, the store hosted regular themed group shows by these artists, bridging the distinction between gallery and store.
In 1987, Fran and Susan had an opportunity to move into the storefront two doors down, a space that was twice as big. Local artist Lindsey Loch was commissioned to create a large corrugated metal storefront sign, adorned on either side by giant leaping metal figures in her signature whimsical style. Ceramicist Susie Ketchum completed a gorgeous Day of the Dead themed mosaic around the front door, comprised of hundreds of colorful handmade tiles, which still stands today.
In addition to hosting regular art openings, Fran and Susan were inspired to start a yearly event inspired by Dìa de los Muertos. The Los Angeles craft scene at the time was heavily inspired by Mexican folk art, due in equal parts to the city’s rich cultural heritage and to the Eighties punk and goth subcultures with their reverence for macabre imagery. Many of the pieces in the store reflected this influence. Whimsical skull-shaped shot glasses and plates by local ceramicists were displayed side by side with papier-mâché calaveras and wooden nichos imported from Mexico and Latin America. The festivals held in the store were a logical extension of this aesthetic, and the eclectic altars displayed in the windows drew crowds from all over the city.
In 1990, Susan moved to New Mexico to focus on her jewelry line, Fibula Studio, and Fran became the sole owner. Over the years, Fran has used her finely honed aesthetic eye to expand the store’s scope, filling every corner with handmade and one-of-a-kind treasures from around the world. Her buying has always been intuitive, stemming from her own keen sense of delight in discovery. Her approach to sourcing is akin to that of a Victorian collector curating a cabinet of curiosities; every inch of the store is packed to the brim with beautiful and unusual artifacts, like a modern day Wunderkammer. Under her loving and attentive direction, the store has evolved seamlessly with the decades, and has remained an arbiter of quintessentially LA style. The store has also become a notable destination for unique fine jewelry by local and independent artisans, which has given a whole new meaning to the “stone” in New Stone Age. Fran has honed a talent for discovering emerging jewelry collections – many renowned designers, like Jeanine Payer, Chan Luu and Polly Wales, got their first exposure in our glass cases. While our mercurial metropolis has shifted and changed dramatically over the past 37 years, this little oasis at 8407 West Third Street has remained a constant fixture, welcoming the passerby into a world that has always felt novel and timeless in one breath, thanks to Fran’s impeccable curation.
So many amazing artists, designers and salespeople have been a part of the store’s journey, infusing their own unique skills, tastes and personalities into the space. Fran has always made it a point to hire creative individuals to work in the store; our register has been helmed by all manner of visual artists, musicians, actors, writers, makers and designers. It is hard to imagine a boss more supportive of her employees and their creative endeavors than Fran has been. She has cultivated a nurturing environment where we have felt free to express our creativity, encouraging us to make and sell our own wares in the shop, to design logos and graphics, to display our artwork, and even to take a stab at designing and maintaining a website (which the author of this post has had the honor of doing since 2013). Over the years, so many of us have left the nest of New Stone Age to pursue our passions, each of us carrying a little bit of the store, and of Fran’s support, with us. Many former employees have gone on to become successful actors, writers, jewelry designers, exhibiting artists, small business owners, and even a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient. We’re all part of an extended family, thanks to Fran, who brought us all into the fold. And we haven’t even mentioned the canine family members — Emma, Lita and Charley are star employees in their own right!
It truly takes a village to sustain a small business. Thank you all for being part of our little village for so long. We couldn’t have existed without you. A store without customers is just a room full of pretty objects. Together, we all made it a magical place to be.
We welcome you to share your own experiences, memories and favorite purchases from New Stone Age in the comments. Even better, come and say goodbye in person anytime before the end of June, shop our ongoing sale, and leave with a one-of-a-kind keepsake.
We love you all!
– Fran, Holly, Alexa, Marian, Charley, Lita and Emma xoxo