I like to find out as much as I can about the furniture I sell. So when I came across this table by Jean of Topanga, I wanted to know more.
I found a few other examples of his work, all stools of a particular design, kind of like a modernist milking stool, which he apparently made in different heights. I found a reference on a forum from a woodworker who, as a starving young man starting out, had been asked to copy what at the time were quite popular stools. He went to Topanga and met Jean, and even got his blessing for the knock off.
A Nice Guy
So here’s what I’ve learned about Jean of Topanga: His last name was apparently Stehelin; he was a highly respected furniture maker in his day; he lived in Topanga Canyon; and he was a very nice guy. It’s frustrating to think about someone working, making money, making his mark, within the hippy dippy environment of Topanga Canyon – in the freewheeling 1960’s! – and yet to be able to find so little STORY.
I was recently contacted over live chat by someone who went to school with Jean’s daughter, and as a result I was able to get a lot more info on this great craftsman. In particular, I found out that Jean Stehelin moved to Topanga in 1946 and opened a woodworking shop on Fernwood Drive. He built the furniture and his wife, Gwen, applied the finish. They had five children, and both passed away in 1978. Apparently the business continues today in the hands of Jean’s son-in-law, John Burke. It should be mentioned that though Jean of Topanga produced quite a bit of work during the ’60’s, he was not at all a PRODUCT of the 60’s, as much of his work predates those tumulous times. When I get a chance I will contact the son-in-law and see what I can find out about the ways in which Jean’s legacy lives on. Thanks so much for reaching out with this info!