the colloquialist

September 7th, 2013

rudebeckia, erigeron, epilobium

What do you do to a garden and if you can’t stomach the hardscape, yet you’ve determined not to change it. For example the path to the front door is a material that’s hard to maintain or looks a wee bit cheap, or conversely cuts away at the heart of the garden, the parts that already work. Don’t panic, there may be a reasonable solution. In this case ask yourself the tough question.

Why, yes, WHY – the good go to for any rainy day. It can actually be some fun pinpointing what it is that throws something askew. For example you’ve got a grey house with white trim and a pink and grey cinder-block path and beds. Yes, somewhere this exists, let us remember to count our blessings. Now how to work around said issue. Let’s start by finding a good plant. The next problem is how to choose the right plant.  What is wrong or ugly… the pavers are too pink, they have gaps that let weeds in. Then maybe this is your handle. Like rock climbing, jam your hand in there and get some leverage. In this case THINK pink (or gray)! Think size and shape – what will fit in those cracks – keep the weeds out and the pretty comfortably situated. Now, also try placing the plant strategically near those problem areas. If the path is narrow and you want it to feel welcoming get a handle on the entry. Try placing it in a zig-zag pattern on either side of the path and keep the profile low. The eye will read the plant as a part of the path, yet your feet will always know where to step for sure footing. Why is this gonna look so good? Cause this is the way it is in nature, look at any roadside and this is the formula for success.

Okay, you got the idea, then where are you gonna find this great plant! Start your search by observing the garden as it is. What already thrives in your micro-climate and fits the bill we described above. If this doesn’t solve your problem walk around your neighborhood and see what similar houses have to suggest for your little garden puzzle. At first sight this may not be the plant you would pick out at the nursery that says “Look a me!” It could be more like the friend you didn’t like at first. Often what you choose as a stand alone is not what you want repeated visually over and over. And your gonna want it to get along with everyone else in your garden. So always remember what you like about your garden. If you’re still ambivalent maybe you don’t like the choices that have become the norm. Architectural parlance would say your concept or motivating principle hasn’t clarified yet. This will only reveal itself with time and repeated garden visits, so make friends with the watering can and use it as an opportunity to step away from the garden and observe it closely and regularly.

When you feel frustrated find a way to access your wonder. This may be akin to stepping off the path for a moment. The masters may have amazing technique (see Making Waves about Piet Oudolf as an example). But you don’t really care do you, go you’re own path. Since thinking on this topic I’ve had a chance to go for a few garden walks myself and I’m just amazed by the gardens I’ve been seeing this summer. Many have that Classic Italiante or Provencial French feel that is tasteful and understated with out being too self conscious. I’m really impressed by peoples innate sense of style.

Since my work seems to be done here my next suggestion would be sculpture and contrast. Something with a little punch AND get’s you thinking. A suggestion for Seattleites, get over to the Sculpture garden at SAM. Develop your narrative about what looks smart by checking out some big players they will get you thinking out of the box.


the city

August 23rd, 2013

If babies, all kinds, need us. Kittens, less of a burden NEEEED us. Books, handbags go clattering to the floor like armor, hands freed for hand to heart clasping and covered mouth gaping and gasping.  Worldly goods are hastily gathered up later, to clear space for the battle of the most fit mother, all signaled by comments that suggest the cooing ritual is over.

Timing is everything, you feel it. I knew if I wagged my position I’d lost her. Better to overstate and retract later than regret the moment forever. This was full on crazy baby battle. My coworker Steve, let’s call him Steve, of course anticipated the crazy babyness. You could catch it in one swift look of a knowing eye. His normal cool a tad more serious to hide his secret elation… his eyes and lips drawn a little tight to hide any quiver or smirking. Ahhhh what pure joy it must have been for him standing at that moment of mayham with the introduction of one pitiful starved pair of eyes trembling at a cold cruel world! There is no finer show than the one you pull from your own pocket, I know.

I swivel around in my chair as other hopeful mothers pass by… Kitten proudly displayed in lap – don’t pet her she’s mine the subtext of placement and relaxed happy smiles. Later she makes her way behind my laptop. Like a science fiction cyborg mother, I want her to have everything, and maybe more. I’m the ‘top banana’. At least for the day. The first to swoop down wings and talens extended to grasp what was already swaddled and extended… Yet wait, before I get carried away, this is hardly about ME, or the kitten for that matter… who was later in life sadly moved to the big apple not to be seen or heard of again. If anything this is a story about Steve. Wait, who’s Steve?

That six foot tall man who held the kitten out to me grinning! If we all inhabit a version of The Office, then Steve was just that combination of coworker and friend, that resides somehow in a corner of the heart usually reserved for family, or extended family. Er well, I mean you see these people every day, AND you didn’t choose them. When do you first begin to feel those chords being played, the ones that feel strangely familiar? For me that first moment when that public life morphed in a surreal way… was with Steve and my real mother.

I wasn’t there, for the meeting that is, how wrong is that, I only heard about it later. So the story goes that Steve’s wife’s sister was several months pregnant but still dating, not living with the father, and yet wanting a family for her child. They weren’t able to imagine giving the baby up to someone in the city with deep pockets and lots of degrees, yet not a stitch of family near them. So Steve stepped in, “shouldn’t they raise the expected baby”… Someone in another division at work had gone to my mother for counseling an adoption and thus Steve was ushered into the elite – or at least the expensive world – of adoption. Expensive when you stop to consider how little it takes sometimes for that first moment of baby to happen.

So here’s Steve adding another child to his already big family list. Commuting in to the city an hour each way so that he could live with his wife and kids in the country. This guy, Steve, is also the one to bring in real bear meat for lunch, and tempt us with novelties of our own country, stuff he caught with his hands! There was really nothing like him for the rest of us peeps. He was a story teller, a prankster, a hard worker, a loyal husband, a devoted father. In short he was a well rounded person, without listening to indie-rock. I sat kitty corner him in the office and when I wasn’t busy with work I sometimes secretly hoped he’d swing the door wide and invite me hunting like one of the guys. A sort of tet-a-tet (french right?) for never getting to go with my family, those that flaunted their Birds Unlimited memberships or some such thing. But bear hunting wasn’t in the cards.

The kitten was in the cards and I seemed to be warming to the suggestion. Who needs to surf pet adoption sites or make links to hello-kitty blogs when you’ve got the real thing prancing and purring and needing your sweater. Okay, honestly now that we are off the hyped up tread mill of the introduction my absolute fondest memory was just walking to work every day for an hour both ways. For I had this little kitten tucked into my jacket. In the morning the sun would be rising – I could feel her little heart beating – and when I looked down she was looking up at me. It’s been years now that I can’t call her my own. The boyfriend and the kitten gone yet this is what I want to remember.

 

- some new fiction


signs and the soul

August 16th, 2013

You only have to listen to Hamlet’s poem “To be or not to be” by Lawrence Olivier to occupy the feelings of a man caught in one of life’s riddles. A riddle like a lymric should be spoken out loud, expressed, or lost forever inside. Yet lately when I hear Hamlet’s words my mind actually wanders to an encaustic painting I did some years ago. Perhaps you have a connection that comes to mind yourself. My own piece started to assemble it’s self after my daily shower. Hair would gather around the rim of the drain of my claw foot tub. I’d then pat each clean rounded form dry and add it to a collection. And they collected, the days, the months, the years. It was a ritual, a talisman, and also a promise that some day they would be of use and I would know what to do with them.

It takes time for thoughts and experiences to make sense. It is necessary to be patient with ourselves if we feel truly stuck. For some reason I was unable to do art at the time… This was a first step. All this hair that I wanted to manage to do something with, to not just disappear into nothing and go nowhere found its voice in a wax painting. A piece about waiting. Waiting beyond what seemed reasonable or sane. And that is perhaps why we need metaphors that help with the practice of waiting, to come to terms with it. To define ourselves in contrast to the world we are waiting for, something that has a drum beat of its own and yet we long for.

The souls metaphors abound, the knot is a good starting point. Like brushing a messy nest out of ones hair, or carefully unwinding necklaces that have somehow gotten thrown into a jumble. These drawings are also then about recognizing a project and beginning the painstaking process of sorting. It can be meditative, a practice as elemental as woolgathering. Like Celtic knots unfurling ecstatically, songs and stories are told, and the important work of connecting is awakened.

The Scottish author and artist Scott Kilgour thought about this kind of work a good deal and called it interlace or knotwork. Here these continuous line drawings were meant to describe a melody when super imposed upon the strings of a musical instrument. With each knot a chord was played, transforming the place where the song was sung. This pre-medieval interlace looks kindly on the humble knot as song and transformation story. In the lineage of art the continuous line drawing is also the first optical illusion of a third dimension on a two dimensional surface. Notice how the line weaves in front and behind itself creating the experience of fore and back ground. It wasn’t until 1420 that Brunelleschi would create the law of perspective we are so familiar with in painting and photography. His was one of several epic transitions that seperated the east from west.

Another came just before this during the Iconoclast controversy in 726 when literal depictions of people were banned in Constantinople. While in Rome the Iconophiles pushed further to celebrate specific powerful individuals. Slowly ornament and mosaic disappeared throughout Europe and by the 15th century artists like Brunelleschi were focused on the figure in space. Yet this was only the beginning! Braque and Picasso revisited the great divide with cubism. Here again perspectives shifted towards new forms; orphism, surrealism, futurism. The percussive sounds of the telegraph, telephone, train, and automobile setting the tempo for reinventing our own rythms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


behind the scenes

May 15th, 2013

Looking back at a drawing I did of myself here… it makes me look about twenty years younger than I am, about the same age as my students. The best age, around seven to ten years, before puberty when something remarkable and regrettable happens. Up to this point best friends are best friends – boy or girl – and there is an eagerness to learn about life that is completely intact. What happens? Having run the gamut of school experiences; public, private, and home schooling I sometimes contemplate how little it seemed school sought to help me discover the best version of myself. My private and public schooling experiences were much more about passing tests and proving competency in subjects, valuable skills in an orderly world. However, a long way down the road from making me an avid learner or impart the sense that I was building competencies towards a greater goal.

I often thought I liked learning in spite of much of what I was taught or how it was taught. I held tight to what I thought I had some say in, which sometimes meant I had to do it on my own. If it’s any comfort to examine mistakes it has at least encouraged me to want to go back to that age I liked so much and see if I could revisit it. Smile and high five the kids that rock it and sit with the quieter ones and hear about their interests. I teach part time because I like going back and finding myself again in the context of another age. It’s like time travel, but better, cause you don’t need the machine.

But if I were to experiment with sci-fi and a little time travel though… I’d like to see what school’s would be like for kids in twenty years. Will they still have physical education or art classes? (Certainly not these beautiful booklets I made…) What about the public and private school dialectic? I hear people talking about radical changes and they aren’t anything like what I would have wanted for myself as a kid. Who wants radical change as a kid anyway, just give me my mac-n-cheese the way I like it pleeease. It’s the little things that count. One of my most memorable times was actually sitting in the car on the way to school, listening to NPR, hearing my neighbor talking to his mom about politics or economics. This was that transition point between school, family, and life that felt the most vital – because of the friction – the small differences that set your mind to thinking. These types of conversations on the way to this or that – regardless of the school you belong to – are where it’s at.

 


sensory experience

May 11th, 2013

calluna vu. 'robert chapman', spirea bum. 'gold mound', bronze fennel, delphinium 'guardian blue', existing lillies, perovskia 'little spire', daphne ordora 'marginata', calamagrostis ac. 'el durado', sedum 'autumn joy', agastache 'summer glow

So sorry… a few more seasonal pic me ups here… writing in late winter certainly requires imagination. I’m convinced garden magazines with their big glossy spreads are really best appreciated as a winter activity. After all the true pleasures of summer can only be compared adequately to the unique misery of its absence. In winter I imagine myself like an infantry man in trench coat smoking his rationed cigarette and looking at a favorite pin up. There is nothing so life affirming as imagining where you would rather be… Pay no head to my wheezing laugh, it is the picture of healthy. Besides… imagining where you’d rather be is part of how you get there. Sometimes the grass really is greener.

Yet, in the kaleidoscope of memory how do you keep track?

If enjoying the garden is the mathematical fine line you tread between your expectations and the difference in outcome what about the slippage the mistakes and the surprises? How do you account for them, can you even learn from them? What has been problematic for me over the past ten years of gardening is keeping track of all the changes. My dreams become faded by the present reality and I wonder how I actually got to the current design and the problems I presently face. Case in point this last year I decided to spend more time following my own footsteps in the garden. I had always kept track of the emerging new cultivars in a list of favorites. I also drew up an original plan for my clients gardens and usually took plenty of pictures of their seasonal color for myself some of which I share here on the blog. Still there was that undefined space between what I thought would work in a plan and then what actually occurs.

Sometimes these changes were a good thing, new combinations were discovered or a plant that I thought I loved slipped from memory into obscurity, was it wrong was it right? What exactly constituted my style, how could I employ it most favorably, and why had I made those choices? These are the ramblings of a designer but not entirely without merit for the beginning gardener. With all these lists of plants I had no actual comparison over time of how they changed the garden plan. And thus could not with real authority set about improving the process. The vague half life of memory was how I was making my choices, and although it seemed to serve me well I knew I could do better. So I have started to keep more regular maps of the gardens to record the subtle changes. A sort of objective counter point to the familiarity and appreciation one naturally acquires for a garden and its culture.

A chance to play the complicated role of the artist.

In the first image you see a painting I made of a neighbors garden and then below the photo I took after the gardens completion. Sometimes my drawings take on a more informal character rather than the typical birds eye view of a designer. Which style best suits a garden calender? Already you might notice some of the drawbacks of photo realism, it’s much more difficult to convey a complete idea. Sometimes I will make a panorama of photos and do an overlay of tissue for a quick accurate sketch of a planting. There are many angles of approach.

fennel, delphinium, lillies, astilbe

Recently I read somewhere that Kathryn Gustafson – an acclaimed landscape architect – often uses sculptural clay models for her garden designs to help fully realize the spacial relationships in her gardens. I know that working in clay helped me to learn the alphabet backwards when rout memorization proved tough (memorization was always a challenge for my brother and I, we had to create alternate models). And then I also remember hearing that Richard Haag got his commissions at Bloedel Reserve because of how he engaged his clients with markers, artist easels, and large gestures, as apposed to the scientific dilatantism that can come with architectural drafts. There has been talk lately of how the Gutenberg press changed Christianity simply by printing the bible for everyone to read. Yes I admit this is a streach, yet if participation of all the senses is proven significant then gardening would be no exception to this rule. It would follow that the garden which is meant to delight all our senses could be made more ‘real’ by a process that embraces all of us.

I’ve certainly been casting about trying to find what worked best for me, having experimented with ARC and other programs for mapping over the years. Every new generation of software and computers does make me wonder how it might change the horizons of gardening. Yet the key board model does limit the way the body connects with a program as does a flat screen. Gardens in contrast are often compared to rooms with multiple walls and everything in-between. The computer add that makes me want to get to work ironically is the one with break dancing and transformers as the base theme. If only the screens could fold like origami, had pockets for a stylus, or maybe project another dimension you could draw onto! But then again maybe I’ll just try playing with clay, it feels so good in the hands anyway. Besides the fact that it is earth, like a golem, is no small satisfaction.

This question of space and time represented takes us back around to the initial problem of recording change and creating a way of understanding what happens to a garden as it evolves. The other evening I was studying the stars and their constellations and wondering what it must have been like to reference the stars for what day or month it was. This sense that everything was related to where you stood on the earth could evoke nostalgia from someone encased in a cloak of gadgets, and yet this is where the market has driven us. A resource depleting model, yet a participatory one where we vote with extended hand waiving a paper dollar.

What are the new models?

I certainly never thought I would see films get taken the way of the cloud and yet there are examples. In fact I was watching some delicious BBC nature porn, (I’m sorry but you’ve got to call a spade a spade) and going completely gaga when they started talking about the people in the landscape. What this could do for conservation models is only a guess but one that kept me up when I couldn’t sleep that night. I for one have so many memories of what it was like living with the hill tribes in Thailand as a child that continue to give me a sense of freedom as an adult that I often wonder what it would be like for more people to be able to share in this type of experience. Of course believe it or not in the 80′s the only thing the tribes really wanted from my family was medicine for the chiefs daughter who’s skin had become infected with something that could only be treated with antibiotics. At that time the cost was high for an essentially migratory people – who had existed before the borders of China, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand rose up – that still traded with beads rather than coins. For this basic penicilin treatment they would had to leave all their traditions behind and set themselves on the path to become Thai citizens and urban dwellers. Dear Le Pastur certainly would have been surprised by the social and political implications of his science.

Back to the experiments at hand, hopefully this map making will help refine my creative process, that is only conjecture. If anything it will have been a test to see how savvy a gardener I was before I got started. When I think about garden history aesthetic changes are a fascinating thing.  I’m looking forward to seeing how a design model or two unfolds based on these explorations. I’d certainly love to check out some of Jekyll and Lutyens garden plans at the UC Berkley archives some time. When I think of any great designer like Jeckle or our own dear Olmstead, or any plantsman for that matter – today we might look to Chatto or Oudolf since we have no real American equivalent – you can see how important their plant bent early on was. There is something greater informing their choices than we might try to quantify or capture with discourse on design, yet I will say it looks a little like faith.


i am here

February 9th, 2013

When appreciating the quality of a place we are often not alone. Walk a few steps and usually you will find some kind of shrine nearby. Nestled in some rocks, hidden in a tree trunk, off to the side of a waterfall. Maybe it’s a gathering of figurines, gems, flowers, a stash of little gifts that say to you, and this place here, you are treasured.  It says this place is hollowed, this place is sacred, observe and be reverent and you will be rewarded. I suppose we don’t need the treasures to tell us this, we already feel it, and yet we still feel inclined to make an offering. This might be the urge from which sculpture first arose, a karn on the side of the road marking a spot that in time becomes something much more. It seems a far cry from a Alexander Calder or a Noguchi which may occupy or even over take a spot, and yet they are of the same family. As a girl I remember tramping about the woods to come across shrines and being truthfully frightened. The forest felt deep even impenetrable and here were signs of life that seemed to exclude me if not purposefully at least practically. There was a very dangerous edge I could feel – not unlike like the edge of a knife – treading on somethings meaning. Even ordinarily gentle objects like a doll could take on a new character or disguise depending only on which side of the circle you stand.

Having built some of my own shrines now the weird vacum of such places seems to have lifted. I see a shrine like this and I know that someone else cares as much as I do about the spot. The old religions know something about who we are in this regard, you can see it and feel it in the high desert country of a place like Mexico or perhaps also in Nepal, where resting stops and shrines are near the path. There’s a language of walking in these places that accommodates a hand held out to touch a stone.  Taking note of the spot in your mind and body and then moving on. This orienting of self to place, of soul to place is more difficult in a car. We have to strive to be more like the machine than ourselves – keeping our eyes on the road – in order that it function smoothly. We make our language about ourselves also to be about our cars. And yet there is some disconnect, my body is more like a tree than a machine. The veins, the nervous system, the reproductive organs, the pollination… “Filling  up my tank” doesn’t quite convey all the subtle needs that are experienced when I sit and have lunch with friends. A car certainly doesn’t need a glass of wine, or does it? On a fine walk home I contemplate whether alcoholism might not have been singled out as an issue unless cars had entered the picture. They really have changed so many facets of our life in this way.

Therefore gardening today has a whole new set of problems than it did only a century ago. It is often the one opportunity in a hectic life of running to and fro to not be a stranger to ourselves, and rather signal “I am here”.

 


discovery park

February 6th, 2013

Several years ago someone tempted me into going for a walk in Discovery Park and I eventually found myself drawn off the beaten path. An extensive park so close to the city it is surprising that you find areas that are quite uninhabited like this spot here. What was once the domiciles for army men and their families, the homes had long been removed and the cul-de-sac road slowly over grown. I fell for the spot immediately. There was a kind of echo of the past in the landscape that played upon the senses. Strangely you didn’t miss the houses entirely… the view was somehow more grand with the gentle nod to hedges and topiary, the wild seeding of achillea, dandelion, and long grasses, and the warm sun on the back. A sort of memory gone to seed… wild mixing with the cultivated hybrids of past gardens.

This park is a place with unexpected history. You find all sorts of buildings that suggest a past out of context in a lazy ramble about the hill side. You turn a corner and find a lighthouse on the beach swept up on a spit of sand, army barracks and a water tower as you crest the first of several hills in a row, or a small church hidden in the crease here between body and arm of earth on your way back down. Sometimes a walk through history is just what you didn’t know you needed. Just writing this makes me think it’s about time I make it over there again. I salivate a tiny bit at the thought. Do they say an apple a day keeps the doctor away? It should be a ramble… In fact “A RAMBLE A DAY” could be the prescription on a bottle of pills sans the pills, spelled out in caps – “TO BE TAKEN WITH MEALS” and kept in the bathroom as a choice reminder. Or maybe a picnic basket by the front door full of wine glasses, napkins, and a small piece of paper with the name of your favorite park written upon it in cursive.

Ah… to have a picnic basket packed and ready to go, if only! A walk of this sort requires provisions, no sense in not having all the delights of life there at you side. Short walks are good too, and little jaunts out and back between this or that – it’s just that this park is the size that begs for discovery and the time to do so. If you go a little deeper in you may find yourself ambling down the road to the United Indians Center as I did on my last visit. A little parcel of land with a big heart, that reminds me of what several dedicated activists can accomplish if their timing is right. Here you can see the path through the trees, native plants make themselves visible from the masses in pools of light, this one is medicinal, that one stings if picked clumsily, yet another over there is wonderful for flower arrangements. A park this size contains whole sweeps and transitions of ecological niches. Perhaps it is also special because it has large areas that are still open to sunlight where perennials and flowering shrubs can add color to our pallet. “Take only pictures’ leave only footprints” comes to mind as I want to reach out and pick. And yet it seems that there might be some middle ground here where stewardship and economy could hold hands. I ponder the huge blackberry canes – with no great self interest – at the very least they could use a nip by some unnamed avid pie baker.

So an already colorful history almost begs for new levels of expression upon the landscape… Opps! A painting by Delauney, how impertinent of me. Orphist or Cubist?. It does defy catagorization. I’m charmed by it’s eccentric personality.

And look at these funny body pillows on of the land… You could almost curl up in one of their dreamy smiles. When I got back again last year to the cul-de-sac of wild flowers it had been re-landscaped in a vision of the sustainable. All the roads and most of the topiary had been removed. Wrapped swales like these made of jute and hay had been placed to slow erosion on slopes. Sun shy little cedars were turning golden in the wide open. As you can see below only one or two of the original trees was remaining. Not that this bothered me or anything… after I made several turns around the property and murmured how “Wasn’t the landscape always changing?!” I’m sure I sounded oh so very sage… This little parcel that had become my ticket to memory lane was now finding its own story. Rather than being a memorial gently rendered in a sketch book of someones mind the place was now on its way somewhere. With time I’ve accepted that I am often more enchanted by possibilities than actualities, and yet in my favorite gardens this is not the case. In these one continues to be delighted by their many facets and angles of approach, they are sources of inspiration seemingly without any end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


container mania

January 18th, 2013

 

Looking forward to spring already! It’s rare to need a pair of sunglasses like these, this time of year.

Also, not the time of year you would expect to do much flower arranging. And yet this is the time I find I wish for it most. I’m not as busy frolicking in the sun light and celebrating the bounty of summer at markets or on road trips to my favorite places in state. Rather I’m looking at what’s close around me, the small miracles of a quieter season.

These arrangements came together last spring and are a good example of some of the materials I will get to be working with soon. Hellebores towards the end of their bloom turn pink and scatter their seed, heather is tipped in red from the frost and cold, ajuga in plum and chocolate hues brighten and glow once set near a window.

It’s good to have a few unfinished projects like these pictures here to go back to. Living the four seasons means that you get to refine your sensibility.

 

 

 


what to wear

January 1st, 2013

For several years now I’ve been contemplating a number of fashion photos from Vogue. First off look at the hair on this model. Only love and a genius at the trade can get it that big! I keep trying to tone down my hair but it gets whipped around by weather! Another reason global warming is a bad idea.

Perhaps it’s time for a make over. New years wish, a good stylist so I get to look like the woman I imagine myself to be.

It’s no big confession I’ve been contemplating this for awhile. I actually have a book of fashion clippings…this is not some evolved form of paper dolls its more like doodling in the high school year book and drawing on top of what I need to change to fit my particular reality, yearnings, and preoccupations. I’m a gardener to the bone, obviously, and this has presented itself as a problem. I seem to want a little digging in the dirt, pruning plants, or moving materials between getting coffee with friends, volunteering at the conservatory, or having a meeting with clients. The wardrobe that can do all this is what I want. Our city does do the casual thing, say wearing a fleece or a Patagonia jacket and jeans to an art opening, a sort of cool zen shorthand for a way of life in the northwest. Yet in my version of living, where I support the arts, my business, and non governmental organizations dressing down doesn’t speak to the kind of effort I like to make. For me creative moments are everywhere – our world is tumbling and twittering with new ways of seeing and doing and yet I find inspiration for how to dress farther back. Ironically the country gentleman has become my style icon, durable pieces that can be dressed up with earrings. It must have started at the Gentlemen’s Consignment years ago when I first chose items for my brother and quickly figured out that I couldn’t beat the prices for a size small cashmere sweater anywhere.

Shoes of course become the biggest issue, even if I found something I liked, men’s feet were usually bigger. And I can hardly toter around in heals while working, let’s be real. In nearly 20 years of shopping the shoe was always an issue. The best is maybe a Blundstone but the support isn’t great. Clogs slip on and off easily but are difficult on uneven ground. I just returned two pairs of well crafted men’s work shoes to an department store because no matter how many pairs of socks got piled on feet still slipped around and I’d bought the smallest size they carried! What’s a girl to do? One of my favorite actresses said that when developing her character the first thing she always imagines are the shoes, the rest follows. Certainly we can look attractive while doing what we love. They say Winston Churchhill’s mother broke her ankle while descending some stairs in heels, no thank you.  I think Coco Chanel understood the conundrum facing women at the time. She wanted the good life and wasn’t born into it so she fashioned it for herself. I think of her whenever I’m at the thrift store choosing items. She started her carrier in fashion by cutting and snipping her boy friends clothes. Later on she even created fabrics based on knits for underwear that helped define a suit for women that was flattering and comfortable. Imagine our world without the womens’ suit! La!

What about these pants above. Notice the three little button’s at the ankle, helping to secure volumes of comfort. Sigh. The problem with skinny jeans is they don’t leave much room for changes.  I’ve decided a pair of these, and a warm skirt are a womanly necessity. Keeping the feet covered and warm is of equal importance. I’m glad lined boots are spreading far and wide, like a women’s right to vote.

My ideal winter boot would probably be something sleek like a Hunter boot and lined and accessible like something by Sorel, waterproof on bottom and leather on top, easy to clean. In the mean time the tennis shoe with the slightly raised heal is always what I revert to for comfort, stick that into the soul and I’d be off and running. Now what in gods name does any of this have to do with pictures of persian sets designs? The French are one of many cultures to have had a long romance with this style of architecture. And it’s on a stage like this I can almost imagine the author Isabelle Eberhardt walking by with a book in hand. Born Swiss, a country that speaks at least three languages in as many regions, Miss Eberhardt seemed to transition easily when her family relocated to the Mediterranean near Istanbul. Once there her own fashion sense started to transform according to what allowed her freedom. Later separated from her family she traveled the landscapes of North Africa fully dressed in the flowing robes traditional to men of the region.

Taking a mans name she assumed the life she had always dreamed of for herself, eventually even finding a loving companion despite her disguise. She wrote some works that are haunting in how contemporary they feel. I have to remind myself that she was writing at a time when women still didn’t have their own bank accounts, names, legal recourse, or vote. Odd clothing choices or not, this pails in light of the freedom of thought she created for herself making her style quietly seductive to many women besides myself… I may have tamer aspirations as a gardener, after all I’m only trying to navigate between the urban and the wild, but I’d still like the right shoes.

 

 


Gee’s Bend

July 8th, 2012

Every museum has something to say to its collection. Imagine Santiago Calatrava’s Quadracci Pavilion and Reiman Bridge in Milwakee, WI with it’s high wires, wings, and wind swept contours housing the Gee’s bend collection. Years ago this is, yet completely unforgettable.

As if walking among the quilts and bed things of Gee’s bend you felt the museum it’s self was a huge clothes line. The weather and elements of the bay pouring through the windows and sweeping up the sentiments of an artistic community… Gee’s Bend, one of the most impoverished towns in America, creating some of the most jazzy, heart felt, and visceral art that you wanted to literally wrap yourself up in.

These quilts created during a period of history (1962-2006) when ferry’s were ended between the isolated black town and the more affluent white town, of course, just as voting was opening up and being encouraged by activists in the government. No doctors or professors lived in the bend, it was home to sharecroppers just a generation from living on the plantation down the road. Thus you feel the jazz radiating off of the mix of African and European that swirls together creating the quilts.

Calatrava who with swiss precision and a spanish flare for feeling often creates structures that will take you somewhere. And this exhibition was a perfect match. A structure burning for light feeds the flames. These echoes of design licking the edge of understanding.