By Jill Brooke
In honor of National Stepfamily Day for September, here’s a success story about a family you may know and admire.
When Charlotte Moss, the stylish doyenne of elegant design, married her husband Barry Friedberg in 1986, she became the stepmother of two young sons, including artist James Friedberg, who specializes in creating glass sculptures, vases and installations.
“I benefited from having two creative women in my life and the benefit was not oppositional,” says Friedberg, who calls his stepmom “Char.”
While his mom English Austin took him to galleries, his stepmother would bring him and his brother Ben along for adventures exploring museums around the world – the Norton Simon to the Metropolitan, the Louvre to Versailles. She shared stories about the hieroglyphics in Egypt with lotus blossoms and palm trees, the carnations and tulips of Iznik tiles, the ceramics in Istanbul, and of course, the master glassmakers of Venice.
“Charlotte brought so much to our family,” he says. “To this day, I know my sensibility of having good manners, how you treat someone you don’t know, interacting with people’s parents, and presenting yourself to the world was influenced by her.”
At 14, he was captivated by sun catchers, and how the stained glass caught the interaction of light, glass and color of these good luck charms. A passion was sparked.
“I found myself having a primal connection to the material,” recalls Friedberg who lives in California with architect Gabriella Jiungato and counts Moss’ famed fragrant East Hampton rose garden as one of his favorite spots.
After studying with multiple masters of glass, he started experimenting with his own designs, sensual shapes with an airiness that was rooted in classicism. Soon, galleries offered to exhibit his work. In addition, he created glass design for nonprofits and taught youth art education programs.
Like his stepmother, he has both a curious mind and an affinity for teaching. In lively discussions at family dinners about the history of vases, an idea was formed for Friedberg to contribute and create vases for “Charlotte Moss Flowers,” her 11th book.
But working professionally together carried risks.
For many families, step-parenting is a lot like gardening a bed of roses. Instead of getting to dig deep and attach yourself to the rootstock, stepparents are often only allowed to skim the surface, never penetrating the topsoil. If you grab the flower the wrong way, it can be prickly.
It can all feel like walking on jagged glass. With an estimated 113.6 million Americans in a step relationship and approximately one-third of all weddings of America today forming stepfamilies, the Friedberg’s offer a sustainable model to make it work: respect, love and inclusiveness.
This family created a garden of hybrids, something akin to what Luther Burbank, the divorced 19th-century botanist invented by mixing different seeds and creating something totally new. When families blend and expand, they are no longer solely determined by biology but by mutual interests and history.
In fact, this project created a new branch of their familial relationship
Friedberg said it made him respect his beloved stepmother even more.
“While we designed this product line I learned how Charlotte goes about designing, and it has informed my process,” he says. “We found a common design language that has brought us closer together and has expanded the depth of our day-to-day conversations.”
For one occasion, Moss said she wanted to do an amphora shape with handles.
“I asked how tall and I came up with the shape of the handles, vase, and foot,” he says. “Sometimes I was given a style with design elements and we would find the rest of the form through drawings and samples which I would make.”
Other times, she had a vision, a picture she found in her legendary research process that captivated her eye.
For example, Moss loved a Roman gold cup with a wooden column that she imagined would make a beautiful vessel for flowers.
“Columns were the beginning of this idea for Charlotte,” he recalls. “For years, we had discussed designing the piece and as always Charlotte had beautiful images for inspiration.”
The end result is one that they both treasure since it is an alchemy of two talents sharing separate ideas and forming a unified vision.
“He’s so talented,” says Charlotte Moss, who now also sells Friedberg’s vases.
As for the future, Friedberg is currently at the ‘Liquid Dreams’ show and will be showing in the ‘Fireside Art Series’ in Alameda, California.
He’s busy creating new work and hoping to elevate and inspire students while expanding the appreciation of glass artistry beyond Dale Chihuly. “It’s so perishable and perhaps why more people don’t value it,” he says, noting that the light and beauty and yes, the fragility and vulnerability, are all life metaphors to savor moments and appreciate art more fully.
Another family project, he says, is replacing the glass sculpture he made as a teenager that presides at Charlotte and Barry’s house. “Can you believe that they still have it in their house?” he says. Well, yes, makes perfect sense for this family that values sentimentality as well as elegant design.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD and floral editor for aspire design and home magazine
Photo Credit: Charlotte Moss