Thursday, September 30, 2010

Speaking of Craft

I was asked to speak in Edinburgh last month by CraftScotland about marketing craft online. The audience was gallery owners, artists, and arts enthusiasts. Here's the presentation, broken down into 3 parts.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Slippers: A Love Story

Behold the simple knitted, felted slipper. While knitting is used as a symbol and metaphor all the time, (you know, knitting life's loose ends together or ripping out the knitting and starting again, etc), for me it is an enjoyable, relaxing, sometimes challenging creative outlet which provides me with an object at the end. I have gone through years of being a self-described serial knitter, yet stopped completely for much of this year. The zen of knitting was impossible while I was in the throes of a romantic roller coaster ride. Happily, knitting is back, as is my equilibrium.

So about these slippers. I started knitting and felting slippers a couple of years ago, when one of my two best friends (also a knitter) decided she wanted a basket full of slippers for people to put on when they entered her home. She and I knitted away like crazy, enjoying the wacky color combinations we produced and the wabi sabi nature of felting, where the chemistry of wool and abuse produced results outside of our control. Her pile of slippers grew and another seal of epoxy was added to the bond of our friendship. We laughed, loved and cursed over those damn slippers!

I did digress during the process, and made slippers for a few loved ones as well. Especially important to me was making a pair for my other best friend who had admired the pair I made for myself. Alas, those poor slippers got caught up in my affair, ignored and almost finished for months, staring at me like accusing eyes. I know I read the accusing eyes part into those unfinished slippers because both of my best friends, these two women for whom I would do ANYTHING in life, hated every report of the nature of my far-too-consuming-to-me romance. They knew better than I was able to see that my moratorium on knitting was one of the more tangible indicators that I had lost a part of myself in the affair.

With the visit to San Francisco this week of my dear friend, I knew it was time to finish the slippers so I could present them to her, present her with a symbol of my love, a symbol of my understanding- as only a best friend can- that her feet get uncommonly cold, a symbol that she was there before, during, and after the affair, a symbol that I'm back. We laughed like crazy as she tried them on in her swanky hotel lounge last night, knowing that her feet were now wearing my love letter to her.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Radical Art

Having recently made the acquaintance of a man who is influential in the world of contemporary theater, I am now getting exposed, often times vicariously, to performances which normally would fly below my radar. My friend is always out scouting for new theater which advances and stretches the art, and he gets as wildly enthusiastic about new performances as I do about discovering a visual artist previously unknown to me. Not all of M's recommendations are for hits; he and I will probably laugh for as long as we know each other about the performance with thrown and smashed tomatoes we both saw in Edinburgh. But with eyes wide open, I find myself considering the possibilities of new theater as I had not before he came into my life.

This past weekend, while my friend was watching a performance of GATZ in NY, a radical 8-hour reading of every word in "The Great Gatsby" by actors, I was viewing a different version of radical theater and considering the performance which I had been ready to dismiss. My performance of Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" by the San Francisco Opera was, at first blush, a straightforward, traditional night at the opera. Originally I found myself rebelling against the idea of a performance which cost $250 to attend (What? Art only for the wealthy?), and then I was dismissive of the plot, content that the plot was simply an excuse for great music. But then I learned more; that this opera was radical in its time for mocking the noble class; that, in fact, its performance was banned in Vienna in the 18th century for its satire; that what seemed tame and perhaps silly to me was radical in its own time.

My not knowing the background of what I was viewing colored my opinion, possibly limited my appreciation, allowed me to focus fully on the music, and forced me to return to the age-old debate about how well informed does one have to be prior to observing art to fully appreciate it. How much does preknowledge color one's observation? Should work have to resonate with the viewer/listener whether or not he/she has been educated about it before experiencing it?

I really don't have a firm answer to these questions, and (sorry) think it's a 50/50 thing. Education certainly influences the experience, often heightens it and gives the viewer/listener a way in, an understanding of what the artist was intending that might make the work more accessible. On the other hand, viewing/listening with no preconceived notions allows the viewer/listener a kind of clarity that can make the work intensely and personally meaningful. I support both approaches, as long as they make room for the new and radical without automatically dismissing it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

American Talent, neither Red nor Blue

Remember when Obama first captured America's attention with his inspirational point that there was neither a red America nor a blue America, but rather one America? I found myself thinking about this in another context as I viewed the Spring 2011 fashion collections of small American companies, companies where the clothing is designed by Americans and produced in small studios or homes, not factories. The fashion I saw yesterday was outside the mainstream, sometimes quirky and perhaps arty, and while not classic and buttoned-down, was nonetheless as American as apple pie.

As a left-leaning voter, it has seemed to me that American-made as a rallying cry, just like the American flag as a symbol, has often been co-opted by traditional, Republican-leaning politicians and voters. I remember that one of the positive after-effects of 9/11 was the return of the American flag as a symbol for ALL Americans, Democrats and Republicans, left and right, red and blue. We waved our flag together in our common grief and pride.

Similarly, I have noticed that American-made, when applied to art, craft, and fashion has no political connotations. I share a common love of American art with some Republican friends, and my personal tastes and preferences diverge with friends of my party. The commonality is the work, and the appreciation of creativity as an integral fiber in the cloth of our country and culture.

American fashion, when designed and produced in the United States, expresses so much that is great about us as a nation- creative, expressive, optimistic and ambitious. Models wrapped in unusual styles exhibited as much national pride as if they were wrapped in a flag!

Note: The black "Beth" dress is by Lynn Mizono, and you can see more of her work at Bottom photo is of sweater designer Amy Brill just having fun!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

50% Perfectionism, 50% Procrastination

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
—Mary Heaton Vorse

I discovered this wonderful quote as I started doing research about procrastination. Why was I doing the research? Because I thought it might help me with my lifelong issue. I really could be the card-carrying president of an organization called Procrastinators Anonymous if it existed!

In the process of avoiding (unfinished)work awaiting me, I learned a few things. On subject, I learned there is an apparent link between procrastination and perfectionism. I don't think of myself as a perfectionist, but when I state that out loud to close friends or colleagues they usually sputter in disbelief. It is interesting that these two "P" words are so linked, as
procrastinating guarantees failure, but apparently it helps perfectionists maintain our belief that we could have excelled if only we had tried harder. I am afraid that this rings a little bit too true for my comfort and I am hoping that this knowledge will help pry me out of my block to finish and prepare properly for my task at hand.

In addition, I also tracked down more information about Mary Heaton Vorse. After reading this quote, I decided to try Maira Kalman's approach of following a trail about an unknown-to-me but intriguing individual. Mary Heaton was certainly one of those - a woman of privilege turned art student (apparently untalented) turned writer turned social justice activist. She received the United Auto Workers first Social Justice award, and was lauded by Eleanor Roosevelt for her accomplishment. Quite a role model, she was, and nothing I could find indicated that she was a procrastinator, though her quote above indicates she might have known a thing or two about the subject!

Whether for a term paper or a college application, a board presentation or a competition submission, the sad truth is that postponing getting work done does nothing more than delay the work. It doesn't get easier; it doesn't get better. I should know this by now. And by the way, doesn't Mary Heaton look like a woman you'd like to know!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In the Freezer

I got some advice today from a close friend. I could feel that needy feeling coming on, that feeling that arrives when self-doubt starts creeping up, when insecurity wants to rise to take command of my emotions. I know what some of my past coping mechanisms have been for this feeling, and am not very proud of many of them. Tonight my wonderful friend suggested an alternative. "Put "Needy" in the freezer", she said. "What?" "You heard me. Put "Needy" in the freezer. Get her out of your sight, out of your universe, out of the realm of possibility". And so I did, as portrayed here in this most unglamorous photograph. It sounded rather hokey to me, an Oprah-like solution, a solution that others turn to but not me-who-can-always-hold-it-together-in-a-sophisticated-way. And yet, here I am, with "Needy" tucked away in the freezer, releasing me from behavior I might have come to regret, with insecurity iced for one night.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Just Breathe

At a fantastic art show I attended this past weekend in San Francisco, the Ceramic Arts Annual, I came across the work of Amber Aguirre. I must admit that at first I was put off by her work as her imagery seemed disturbing at best, sexually perverted at worst. But there was something about the work which drew me in, and the more I looked at it and talked to Amber and learned her story and her intentions, the more attracted to it I became. Ultimately, I bought the little piece pictured here. Why? That’s where the stories – hers and mine – come in.

Amber uses two animals in much of her work; she has created characters of bunny-woman and horse-woman, with each character having distinctly different personalities. To her, the rabbit symbolizes an animal that people think of as cute and soft and cuddly but may have more going on than that. Amber’s bunnies tell conflicting stories, from the jihadist bunny in sexy lingerie to the one dumping out the box of her fate: dice and carrots. As she explained it, Amber employs whimsy to draw viewers in to stronger messages.

My bunny is wearing a gas mask. The title is, “Just Breathe”, and this piece struck a very personal chord for me. Throughout this past year of upheaval and roaring emotional tides, I have often been advised by friends and loved ones to “just breathe”, to “just be” rather than obsessing, planning, performing, and trying to make sense of my roller-coaster post-married fears. Just breathing and just being are a lot harder than they sound, and what I have tried to do is learn to breathe this new single air yet protect myself. Like this bunny, I’ve been learning what protection I need and when to wear it, and when to take big full gulps of air without any armor.

So thank you, Amber, and welcome home, bunny.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The "C" Word

(Please note: As a cancer survivor myself, I am far too aware of an alternate, more common use of the phrase "the C-word" in that dreadful association. This blog in no way means to celebrate that virulent disease.)

Next month is the first celebration of "American Craft Week," an ambitious endeavor with the sole mission of raising awareness of craft and its makers across America. This celebration rings close to our hearts at Artful Home, since it is work in traditional craft media and techniques, such as ceramics, glass, fiber, metal, and wood, that have been part of the foundation of our business since we launched our website and catalog just over 10 years ago. We salute this occasion, and are helping sponsor it with a celebration of our own. Just last month I had a party with 65 artists, serving handmade food on the most beautiful plates, all created by Artful Home artists. What a glorious celebration it was!

As a lover and buyer of beautiful things, I find it both interesting and discouraging that arguments and discussions abound about the differences between art and craft, about the relevancy of craft in our modern world, and about the meanings of the words "artist," "maker," and "crafter." Two weeks ago I was speaking at a conference in Scotland, where this discussion was so lively that they organized a show and film called "The C-Word." While the Museum of Art and Design in New York removed the word "Craft" from its former name as if it was a stigma, other, bolder museums such as the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design, the Portland Museum of Contemporary Crafts, and the Fuller Craft Museum outside Boston proudly use the name in their respective identities. My alma mater, formerly known as the California College of Arts and Crafts changed its name, too, removing "Craft" as if it was that same stigma. In my opinion, the issue that most needs attention is preserving, supporting, and encouraging the making by hand of original work, regardless of medium or name.

There is going to be an exciting, free 2-day conference, "Crafting A Nation" at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. on October 8 and 9. I will be speaking there, and I hope some of you can make it. More info is at If you are interested in local celebrations of American Craft Week close to your home, please visit and feel free to send me any pictures or accounts of celebrations you create.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bird Of Fashion

It is Fashion Week in New York this week, with runway shows of the major and minor designers and the comprehensive all-city party event known as Fashion's Night Out. And I couldn't care much less, which is odd for someone who spent much of her career in fashion and is known for her sense of style.

This might be a stage of life thing; after all, neither my career nor my lifestyle requires looking as if I know what's going on in fashion, and I no longer have the income to support the fashion habit. But I know it is more than that, that the relevance of new fashion and finding one's own style seem more and more in conflict to me.

I think one of the people who best exemplifies an outstanding balance of personal style, delight in fashion, passion for art, and irreverence is Iris Apfel. At 88 years old, she is one of fashion's muses after living a life in her own distinct style. Comfortable mixing haute couture with street cart faux, this year her inimitable collection was featured by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute.

From a UK Guardian article on Ms. Apfel earlier this year,
"The days when she felt insecure are long gone. "You learn as you grow up, if you're intelligent – or even three-quarter witted – that there's no free lunch. You pay for things in various ways. Living, loving, everything else is a matter of the same principles: you learn to work with what you have. And there's nobody today who can't do something to help herself."

What's more, being unconventional has had lasting benefits. "If you can't be pretty, you have to learn to make yourself attractive. I found that all the pretty girls I went to high school with came to middle age as frumps, because they just got by with their pretty faces, so they never developed anything. They never learned how to be interesting. But if you are bereft of certain things, you have to make up for them in certain ways. Don't you think?"

I love this rare bird of fashion, and salute her during this Fashion Week!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Midlife Dating 2.0

When I started this blog, my intention was to explore and share the road I'm traveling, the road of style and art and love and self discovery, the road that this 57-year-old, single now for one year after 33 years of marriage, busy yet introspective woman (me)is negotiating. This has never meant to be a tell-all and I will always respect the privacy of the people in my life, but some details are too delicious to ignore. Like dating.

I have purposely titled this post "Midlife Dating 2.0" for two reasons: the first is to take an admittedly immature potshot at the ex-girlfriend of a man I was crazy about and dating for several months. This woman wrote nastily and publicly about me in her mean-spirited, narcissistic blog, a blog with, ahem, a similar title in its URL. And when she did, I obsessed for weeks about it, wondering how and if to respond until I realized it didn't matter at all what some other wounded, spiteful stranger had to say about me. It didn't change who I was nor what my relationship was with this particular man, and obsessing about her was yet another way to keep from dealing with the bigger issues of life and love.

And then there is the whole matter of dating itself. The questions of where and how and why to date in midlife have certainly occupied a good deal of my thinking as I have confronted head-on my desires for connection and fears of being alone. In the course of this year I have dabbled in online dating, been set-up on blind dates, and have met men through the serendipity of life (my favorite way). I've been crazily in love (emphasis on crazy!) and equally devastated; I have walked out on bad dates and gone home with good ones.

I'd like to believe I am learning - and laughing - along the way. One of this week's learnings has been that my iPad and remote wireless device are better guy-magnets than any dress I have ever worn at airports! More importantly, I am learning that I can enjoy the experience of meeting new men without hanging my self-validation nor my happiness on it. I know, that's what I'm supposed to say, especially at this point in my life, right? But as I savored the first exploratory hours with two different wonderful new men over the past weeks and continued to explore friendship with the man who I had once fallen so hard for, I realized that my approach now was so different from when I went tumbling blindly into an all-consuming adolescent-like obsession nearly a year ago. What a pleasant surprise to find that along with the wrinkles there actually is some midlife maturity taking place.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fly Away, Little Birds

As parents, one of the cruel truths is that the strongest evidence of our having done our jobs well is the ability for our children to successfully leave us. That 50/50 proud/pain moment of watching your young child march off with lunchbox in hand into pre-school is just the beginning of what turns into a lifetime of proud/pain moments as your child ventures forth into an independent life.

My two oldest and best friends are both watching with pride and anguish as their grown birds fly off. One was the first of any of my acquaintances to have a child, and so I have always paid keen attention to the milestones of her eldest as markers to which I’ll look forward. Even though her daughter is adult and grown, her move across country today for a wonderful new opportunity is wrenching to my friend.

Now my eldest is talking of his intention to move to a distant city, off on his own. I have cheered for him, looked forward to the time when he would feel confident enough to make this move, yet found my heart sinking when he told me his plans yesterday. It’s not as if I see very much of him; between my frequent travel, the fact that he lives independently in a separate apartment, and our very different lives and schedules, we don't spend much time together. But knowing of his proximity to my home has been comforting both of us, and now he is about to fly.

On this Labor Day I have no school supplies to buy, no planning of lunches for the week, but am experiencing a different kind of September excitement and wistfulness, watching these grown and capable children leave, off to feather their own nests, so to speak.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Home, Alone

Once again I returned home to San Francisco after weeks away, late at night due to a much-delayed flight. After grabbing a cab (no one anxiously awaiting my arrival at the airport), lugging my (always-too-heavy) bag up the stairs by myself, examining the (non-existent) contents of the refrigerator, and pouring myself a (needed)glass of wine, I breathed a big old sigh of relief, exhaustion, happiness and fear all rolled in one.

I love coming home. I love seeing my stuff and crawling into the nooks and crannies I think of as my nest. When my kids were little, we often read a book that had a mother bird who was forced to move her nest several times, yet sang the ditty, "I love my house. I love my nest. In all the world my nest is best." I made up a melody for that mother bird's song, and I now goofily hear it in my mind when I come home.

My home, my nest, is filled with objects I love living with. They give me visual pleasure, and despite the tiny size of my post-marriage apartment, I am proud to find my place as a representation of me. My artist-made bed with its scavenged headboard and voluptuously decadent bedclothes beckons. While I am the first to enjoy a rousing night of great fun with a man in this bed, I also love having this delicious bed all to myself, embracing me in a different way, a way that feels like taking care of myself. Truly home. Alone.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Leather Girls

When I was a teenager, one of the most emblematic clothing symbols of my burgeoning generation was sandals, leather sandals handmade by an artist from Greenwich Village. Think Fred Braun, think water buffalo sandals. Compared to the uptight Mad Men-like accessories that my parents wore, hand-made and hand-tooled leather offered a possibility of a brave new world.

So imagine my delight this week when I got to introduce two different generations of handmade leather artists. In this case, those two artists included my daughter, Zana Bayne, creator of high-fashion, slightly kinky leather accessories and Jutta Neuman, designer of marvelously sensual and colorful handbags. I needed to visit Jutta's studio in NYC, and the opportunity presented itself to bring Zana along.

Jutta's story is fascinating. She left a successful career as a social worker in order to pursue a far more financially challenging career as a fashion designer and, ultimately, leather designer. Jutta carries out her craft in her studio now as she had for the past several decades, sometimes with assistants, sometimes alone, spinning out elegantly simple pieces in the juiciest of colors. Her commitment to handmade creates financial challenges, but satisfies Jutta's desire for connection and creativity. She has shunned all offers to go mass.

Zana is at the beginning of her career. Through her creative vision and online marketing savvy, at age 22 she is crafting a very different business of her own of handmade leather goods. Like Jutta, she is committed to making everything herself by hand in spite of leading a digital life. While her designs are extreme and fashion-forward, the connection to handmade is equally important to her thousands of customers who follow her designs and lifestyle through her blog.

It is the connection to handmade, whether to flower-child boomers or digital millenials which fascinates me. Maker, designer, artist: who cares what the job title is? The urge to create and use our hands to do so is one of those driving forces of being human, knowing neither generational nor national boundaries.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cupid Strikes

It happened today. I walked into a gallery in Chicago and saw some art which knocked my socks off, giving me a feeling very similar to being struck by Cupid's arrow of love. Man, it hits and I go limp, start grinning, and just feel all warm and tingly! Once I finished breathing in the work and asking about the artist and doing the mental gymnastics about whether I could afford it (no!) or had room for it in my little apartment (no, again), I started thinking about the phenomenon of falling in love over and over and over again, something which I feel I do with art. Maybe with people, too, but not as frequently. Is it being fickle?

I have two kids. When pregnant with my second child, I sometimes wondered if I could possibly love a second child as much as I loved my firstborn, my son. That love for my son was so unbelievably strong and powerful, I really didn't know how it would be possible to love another child as much. That is, I didn't know until my daughter, my second child, was born and my heart opened up, expanded, and I discovered I had the ability to love more and more and more, that love isn't finite with limits.

Obviously, one does not have the same kind of relationship with art as with people. Sometimes art is bought and sold, shown and put away, and the back and forth interaction is, in the end, limited. But that powerful emotional response which art can evoke is its own kind of falling in love, and I know that my visual heart's power to expand and love more is as present as that of my relationship heart. I was just talking to a friend about this who works in the theater world, and was glad to learn that when he comes across a great performance, he, too, experiences that kapow!, that unmistakable expression of hope and optimism that love is truly all about. Fickle? I think not.

(Sculpture by Richard Taylor at Gallery KH, Chicago)