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'Art on the menu' at the Tehachapi Museum


Photo courtesy of Gene Stirm

Gene Stirm shows some of the menus he has designed that will be on display at the Tehachapi Museum starting on First Friday, June 2.

A collection of some of the most beautiful and expensive menus ever produced in America will be on display this summer at the Tehachapi Museum, beginning June 2. Tehachapi resident Gene Stirm created all of the menus. Included on display will be the menu from the Edwardian Room, that Gene did for Donald Trump and seen in several films including Concerning Henry and Big Business. Also, the Pagoda menu, one of the most expensive printed menus ever produced, to put into full service. Gene will be on hand at the museums First Friday, June 2 from 5 to 8 p.m. to meet and greet, along with a showing of some of his other art displayed on the porch of the Errea House.

"I never started out to be a menu designer." Gene Stirm jests, "Just an artist." Born Jan. 6, 1945, in Portland, Oregon, his father had temporarily relocated to work in the shipyards, Gene considers himself a California native. His parents moved back to Central California by the time he was 6-months old. Born into German families of artists, builders and engineers, the most famous being sculptor Charles Niehaus. "Art and creativity is in my blood," Gene declares.

In 1963, with diploma from Buchser High School in Santa Clara, California and a scholarship from the Bank of America for Fine Arts, Gene headed to West Valley College to become an artist. His father's sage advice was, "You will starve." So while at college he worked as a cook, figuring working in a kitchen he wouldn't starve. He ended up in other restaurants and even owning his own before graduating art school.

He apprenticed as a newspaper/commercial printer, at the Sanger Harold, after which he took a position as an artist with a full-service advertising agency and then art director at Jostens Yearbooks in Visalia. It was at that time he married Patricia Button and started his family. "Along the way, I did create a few menus," he adds.

In 1979, he relocated to Orange County California, where as he puts it, "I was now a very little fish in a very big pond." He soon caught the eye of Orange County Menu Printer, and was hired as the art director and general manager. His restaurant experience gave him an edge. Working at O.C. Menu Printers, he over saw the design and production of thousands of menus and wine lists.

In 1987, with urgings of Richard Swig, owner and chairman of the Fairmont Hotel Management Company and a family friend, Pulitzer Prize winning restaurant critic Herb Caen, Gene started his own menu company, Stirm/Collen's and Associates Inc., in Anaheim. Besides doing all the Fairmont's work, Gene's other clients included, Gene Autry, The Bel Air, The Honokalani, Beverly Wilshire Hotel and The Plaza Hotel, New York, where he worked directly with Ivana and Donald Trump.

Gene sold the menu business in 1996, in order to follow other creative interest, including film work, sculpting, jewelry making and lapidary, and of course painting. Along with his wife Patricia, they moved to Tehachapi in 2003, where he did video production, photography and authored five books, including Oscar Goes Camping, with Chelley Kitzmiller.

The Tehachapi Museum and Errea House Museum are open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m.

For more information on the "Art on the Menu" exhibit, call the Tehachapi Museum at (661) 822-8152.


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