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Decorating with Agricultural Art
Tasteful decor in agricultural tradition
Even before you enter the archway of the 11-foot-tall oak double doors to the Pasquinelli Produce Office, you can guess that agriculture is its theme. Your first clue surrounds the door: an 18-inch-wide synthetic stone bas-relief sculpture depicting farming scenes, designed by Doug Forsberg.
The dream of the company's owner, Gary J. Pasquinelli, the office is built not only for its functionality but also for its esthetic beauty, of which agricultural art from the company's history plays a large part. With an indoor and outdoor fireplace, lofty ceilings, a large patio and plenty of art, the spacious office complex could be the envy of any corporate executive.
Entering the doors with their long brass handles that resemble rough timber kindling, you will see concentric circles of composite stone embedded in the center of the lobby floor. These contain 32 high-resolution digital replicas of cantaloupe box labels. Enhanced by the pale maize travertine tile surrounding them, these vibrant labels represent the history of Yuma cantaloupe shippers.
Directly in front of you stands a recessed alcove some 15 feet tall, wherein are two replicas of the Pasquinelli family's original lettuce crate labels and a melon crate label from Pasquinelli's extensive collection of lithographic art.
“Yuma at one time was the biggest cantaloupe area in the world — 92,000 acres in the '50s and '60s — big, big acreage,” said Pasquinelli. “These labels represent all the shippers from the late '20s all the way through to the late '40s, when they switched from wood to cardboard. And then they had print cardboard boxes, and so they needed these labels.”
Pasquinelli termed the office a “labor of love” when it came to selecting all of the wood and designs. He said it took quite a long time to figure out how to embed the labels into the floor without making them slippery. He said they were sandwiched between a clear, non-slip material and then cut out and inlaid into the mocha circles of the composite material.
“Lithography is an original American art form,” Pasquinelli said in reference to the shipping labels. “They all had to start with an artist's drawing before they made these. The citrus labels are just incredible. The 11-by-12s are just amazing when you see the art involved in those.”
The lobby's mission oak furniture, a product of Stickley from Manley's in New York, sits beneath two wall-to-wall sepia photo murals on the north and south sides, depicting produce harvests. Beneath the murals, receptionists' windows on each side of the lobby welcome visitors. The murals, 20 by 5 feet, extend from the ceiling to the oak paneling beneath them.
“That's exactly what these crates looked like,” explained Pasquinelli, pointing to the mural from the 1940s on the south wall. “Those little labels on them,” he said — referring to the 7-by-9-inch labels on the boxes in the mural — “the whole thing was when they were in the terminal markets, they wanted something that would pop — something that the buyer could see.”
Then he pointed to the sepia mural from circa 1972 on the north wall, in which a young man (with an Afro hairstyle and kneeling among other field workers) holds a head of freshly cut lettuce. “This is me back in the '70s,” he said with a chuckle. “Afros were big then.”
He explained the contrast in packaging and harvesting in the two murals. “You can see the difference. We were packing those cartons that come folded in stacks on that machine,” he said, pointing to the equipment in the background.
“Then they put them on post stitchers with wire staples, and they stapled the bottoms of them right out in the field. Then the workers came and nested them and spread them out, and that's what they packed the lettuce in.”
On a round oak table to the left of the lobby's entrance stands a bronze sculpture of an eagle titled “Marauder,” about three feet tall, by Lorenzo E. Ghiglieri.
The lobby is only the beginning of the office's artistic and agricultural heritage. As you begin your tour to the office's interior through a door on either side of the alcove, you will find yourself in a hallway filled with more art relating to local agriculture. For instance, large paintings both there and in the main conference room present close-up faces of field workers.
“These are commissioned from actual pictures of our farmworkers that a local artist painted,” said Pasquinelli, referring to Pamela Drapula. “To pay tribute, without these folks none of this is possible — without their labor out in the fields and what they do.”
The artwork depicted in the lobby's produce label motif is carried throughout the halls of the interior office, where it is embedded in some of the tiles on the floor. Reduced-size labels adorn the drink coasters in the main conference room and elsewhere.
“These are all the significant Yuma vegetable shippers,” said Pasquinelli of the floor labels, “whether it's carrots or cabbage or lettuce. These are their labels, which is part of our Yuma heritage.”
He pointed out the pinup-style labels in the men's restroom floor tile. “These are some of the really racier labels that they had in those days — this was about as racy as it got.” Labels on the ladies' restroom floor are a bit more mundane.
Pasquinelli keeps his original labels in archival binders. “Some of these wouldn't be politically correct today,” he said, pointing to one.
He explained that the size of the labels is often a clue as to when it was produced. “Whenever you see this size you know it's from the '20s,” he said, pointing out another. “Here is one from the Oberg family. Doug Oberg still farms out in Wellton. His dad was Gus Oberg. They often put pictures of their kids on the labels.”
His collection spans many years. How did he acquire it all?
“Some of them are on eBay. But the really rare ones — you've just got to know; you start to get connected with other collectors, and you start trading. A couple of individuals were able to get the archives of the lithography companies when they went out of business — get all of their file samples. Knowing those guys — they are tough to deal with but I've gotten quite a few from them. That's why they are in such pristine shape because they have been in a file.
“A lot of them are soakers — you know, they are on a piece of wood, and you've got to soak them in hot water to get them off.”
He sometimes uses the services of an archivist in San Jose, Calif., to help with restoration. “If anything ever happened to these, how you would insure them? You could not replace them. Some of these I wouldn't know where to find another.”
Much of the artwork elsewhere in the office relates to Southwestern missions.
“I feel that part of the heritage here is the early missions and the friars and the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Pasquinelli, pointing to various works of art in the hallway. “This crucifix was done by Sonny McCullough.”
About another he explained, “This is an icon of North and South American saints with the Lady of Guadalupe in the center.”
The art is not the only fascinating feature about the place. The large conference room exhibits a specially constructed table, made in El Cajon, to match the Stickley chairs surrounding it “because Stickley didn't make a table this big,” said Pasquinelli.
Local carpenter Jim Lacey made the cabinetry after Pasquinelli selected the wood to match the chairs. Resting on the center of the conference table is about a foot-long representation of “The Last Supper” — carved from olive wood from the Holy Land — a gift from the office's contractor, Leo Pilkington.
At the west end of the conference room, the top of a green marble-surfaced cabinet has a lengthy marble-covered slot, hinged at the back. When the slot is opened, a 60-inch-wide digital TV screen can be lifted up through it electronically to allow various visual presentations such as PowerPoint.
“We can also watch the Olympics on it,” said Pasquinelli, adding, “You can project on it.”
Covering the entire north wall of the main conference room is a map of the Yuma area, including Dome Valley, the mesa and San Luis, Ariz. “When we are planning or a lease comes up, it gives us an idea of where things are,” Pasquinelli said.
In front of the map, sliding panels can be pulled out from wall pockets to allow more planning opportunities — water maps of the Yuma valley, a city of Yuma land use map and three white boards. “This was site built,” said Pasquinelli. “It's low tech, but it works really well for us.”
At the east end of the conference room, accordion-style glass doors set in wooden frames open up to the larger of two patios, where two large flowering plumerias thrive. The south end of the patio features an outdoor gas fireplace. Overhead heaters provide additional warmth in the winter.
On the east side is a raised stage, complete with wiring for sound and lavaliere microphones, making the combination of conference room and patio an ideal place for event planning.
An added advantage at the northwest side of the patio is the kitchen's large serving window with a ledge from which drinks or food can be served.
“We designed this so that we could do fundraisers and charitable events,” said Pasquinelli. “It has worked out just as I envisioned it. At night these lights are just incredible. We've had some nice political fundraisers out here.”
Complete with stainless steel appliances, the spacious kitchen just off the patio gives employees plenty of reason not to eat elsewhere.
At the northwest corner of the building is the general manager's office, from which you can step out onto a second, narrower patio that spans the northern length of the building.
Leaving this office, as you stroll midway down the hall toward Pasquinelli's office, you will find yourself beside another alcove with indirect lighting. Recessed within it stands a large photo mural of the first Yuma cantaloupes being loaded onto a plane, the first in the United States ever to be shipped by air in about 1946. Pasquinelli's father is in that photo.
“That's the McLaren Produce Company, where my dad got his start,” said Pasquinelli about the company loading the plane. The photo includes Floyd Newcomer, a longtime Yuma resident, who along with Alex Dees is credited for originating the Brangus cattle breed, a combination of Angus and Brahma “right here in Yuma, Arizona,” Pasquinelli said. McLaren had the financing, but both had had the vision, he explained.
On the floor in front of the alcove containing the photo is the emblem of the Pasquinelli Produce Company's logo, a pasque flower, which Pasquinelli says grows at about 3,000 feet in the high desert. The company's slogan, “Flower of the Desert,” encircles its rose-colored petals and green prickly foliage.
“They used to call my dad that as a nickname — ‘Pasque.' So that is the genesis of that label — flower of the desert. With what we are doing, what we are growing, it worked out really well.”
Above the floor's logo, an artistically designed dome with indirect lighting softly illuminates the emblem. The roof of the some six-foot-diameter dome features an actual representation of the sky, including the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper, “not just random little dots up there,” said Pasquinelli. It even has shooting stars going across it periodically when lit. The touch of a switch changes the lighting to a soft sunset color around the dome's base.
“This I was talked into by a lady who helped me with the interior design,” said Pasquinelli. “It was never in the plans, but you know what? I love it. It's a great mood thing.”
Past the alcove and continuing to the east end of the hall, you will enter Pasquinelli's spacious office, with its lofty ceiling and two windows angled at the top near the northern apex. The first thing that you may notice is the west wall's extensive bookcases, complete with a ladder that glides in front of them on a rail past a large-screen TV monitor in the center.
On the south wall, a gas fireplace is a variegated amber marble hearth, creating a homelike touch, complete with the mount of a javelina's head above it. Higher up on the south wall, a head and shoulder mount of a Thule elk looks down upon you. On other walls, more big game mounts greet you — a bison from New Mexico and a roosterfish that Pasquinelli caught off the Baja Peninsula near La Paz, Mexico.
Between the bookcases and the extensive main desk, a round table with mission oak chairs provides additional work space. Beneath these lies one of two timelessly stylish Stickley rugs that adorn the room. The simplicity and sturdiness of the oak and dark leather furnishings almost suggest an Amish style. An exterior door on the north wall leads you to the opposite end of the northern patio. On the south side of the room, another door leads to the larger main patio.
An avid Notre Dame and sports fan, Pasquinelli displays memorabilia from sporting events he has attended in addition to family photos. In fact, his desk chair displays the Notre Dame logo. Toward the southeast corner of the office, you may see a small bar area, as well as his private closet and restroom facilities, complete with a walk-in shower.
“I go to the World Gym, so I put in a refrigerator and a microwave and this bathroom so that I can work out and come here and not lose any time,” Pasquinelli explained.
Moreover, when Pasquinelli comes to his office, he parks in the built-in single garage at the northeast corner of it. Inside, he pulled back part of a large protective cover near his car.
“I've got to show you this,” he said with a smile as he partially uncovered his full-length table shuffleboard. “When I was in college, my favorite game was table shuffleboard. It's addictive. We have a lot of fun with this. I wish I could have one of these at home but my house is not set up for this.”
With all of the amenities of his office, it comes as no surprise that Pasquinelli spends a lot of his time there. He said people have asked what he was doing building a new office when at his age he should be retiring.
“I'm not ready yet. I've got some grandsons, and in about four or five more years, I want to bring them in. My wife said, ‘You should have put a Murphy bed down there' as much time as I spend here.
“We all love it. With that kitchen in there, everybody eats in. When the weather is good, they go out on the patio. I mean we enjoy it, and we've used it. All these charitable things — we've had Yuma Regional (hospital) things here. I'm so happy every time I see it. People are now starting to ask me now, ‘Hey, now can we do this?' I had someone ask for a wedding reception. I drew the line there.”
Pasquinelli explained that this is the first office that the company has ever owned, after leasing ever since they started the business in 1949. He said that the office is designed in such a manner that if the company ever downsizes, they can lease the southern half of the complex and occupy the northern half.
“All through the years, I've kind of had my wish list of what I wanted to do and what I wanted in an office. It was important for me pay tribute to the heritage of the fresh produce business.
“A lot of these things just came together. Function is the big thing. It looks good, but it all works. I couldn't be more pleased with the way we open it up. It is living up to what I had envisioned would happen. Would I change anything? I really wouldn't change a thing as far as what we did and what we wanted.”