Tuesday, June 23, 2009

City Life is Busy (Not in Smallville Anymore)

Chicago looking like Metropolis

I keep getting in situations where I think I am in Metropolis instead of Smallville and any minute now Superman is going to swoop down and save me. I have lost my city mojo. In the past, it always returned as soon as I walked city streets, but now it seems to have abandoned me. Nothing dangerous has actually happened, but it is annoying to watch your train come in and go out while you are trying to figure out what direction to put the card into the gate so you can access the train. Walking back from exploring the other side of the river, I crossed the river and the road went into a long underpass. I knew I should climb the steps there and go to the upper roads, which I knew, but I wanted to see if there was an exit to Randolph from the under road. Not a good decision when you are tired and carrying groceries. It was kind of creepy down there and when I got to under Randolph I could see the road coming out, but walking down led to a long walled road with no pedestrian exit probably until Madison--too far. So I went back under and walked towards the lake. Several people were approaching me and we met at a place that turned out to be a staircase up--which we all took. I was surprised to find myself almost fainting when I reached air and sky--I guess I was more panicked than I realized.

Segway tours are popular here

Next morning I walked through the park and along the lake to the Field Museum. The walk the day before showed me some contrasts between regions of the country. No Keene's on people's feet in Chicago, whereas they are practically the only shoe you see in NM and VT. Besides the pair on my feet, I have only seen one other pair in Chicago--and I think those were imitations. On the other hand, I have never seen a segway anywhere except in Chicago, and now you see groups of them since segway tours are very popular. There are windows of shoes in one of the displays at the Field so I took this picture to show the type of shoes I am seeing on women here--flip flops are in fashion.

Display at Field Museum

I used to like the Field Museum but this might have been my last visit there. Most of the exhibits have been made "playful" and interactive for kids. It feels dumbed down and numbingly simple. I liked the displays chock full of items where you never could see everything at once and you felt you had to return to look again. I liked getting exhausted by so many interesting objects that I couldn't grasp or see anything else. But a sign said that displays like that are no longer acceptable modes of display in museums. It must be another sign of the decline of the American empire. If it doesn't toot or light up when you turn a faucet then it is obsolete. One display of the innards of a giraffe had several children holding their hands over their mouths in disgust. It looked like modern sculpture to me.

Field Museum display of innards of a giraffe

The last really satisfying visit to the Field for me took place during a mini-gathering in Chicago of friends from my graduate class at Cranbrook. It must have been 15 or 16 years ago. Liz Billings was teaching at SAIC and some of us gathered at her apartment for a few days. One day we went to the Field, and went separate ways. in grad school we always had notebooks at hand and really used them. In fact, on a trip to Mexico as a class, we were assigned to fill our notebook with images, rather than take photographs (photographs were acceptable as additions but the sketchbooks were primary). After a couple of hours, when we met in the lobby (there was seating there then and the museum was less busy), and we looked at each others sketchbooks, three of us had drawn the same basket. Considering that there must have been a zillion objects on display and we had all gone off in different directions, this was an amazing coincidence. That basket was hot! (Was that the sign about the future--the three of us, Liz, Marianne and I, all live near each other in Vermont now?)

So I had a mission. Find that basket. I knew approximately where it was, but with so much rearranged I wasn't sure it would still be there. In fact, i was quite doubtful about finding it. I had a clear memory of a shape that was wide at top and tapered at the bottom and of a weave that went from large elements at the bottom to smaller ones at the top, and that it was on the main floor. I started at the North American Indians and proceeded through that whole display and found the basket in the Northwest/Alaskan section. I almost missed it but there was this really big basket behind it. In fact, at first I thought, is that it? It is so large. Then I realized that a sign was placed in front of the prized basket and it was impossible to really see it. For me that was the last straw. The Field is now on my list of places that I will relegate to memory. I took some pictures to show you.

Two whaling baskets in the Field Museum

Attempt to show you bottom of front basket where weave elements are larger than at top

Sign is impeding view of basket that i searched to find

After several hours in the Field, I decided to find the small Powell's bookstore which is located in Printers Row area--another past memory. The first time I taught at SAIC the apartment Mark and I and Montgomery (our cat) stayed in was near that store. It was incredible and I think I spent my entire salary there. On the way over to Wabash I passed the Magdelena Abakanowicz sculptures in the park, which had not been there on my previous Chicago visits. Walking among them I felt really small, in contrast to the exhibit of soil at the Field where I was suppose to feel like a particle of soil but just felt stupid.

Magdelena Abakanowicz sculptures

Sunday I had an appointment to attend Anne Wilson's bobbin winding session as part of her Local Industry, Chicago to Knoxville project. Several of my SAIC students also attended. I never was very good at making paper bobbins but Anne gave clear directions and we all sat and made them for two hours. I left with new skill and a paper pattern so I can make them in my own studio. You can see Anne below with Tali Weinberg on the left (she is going to start graduate work at NYU this fall and is currently in my SAIC class) and Emily Nachison on the right. Emily is a graduate student at Cranbrook spending the summer in Chicago assisting Anne on this project.

Anne Wilson in center directing bobbin winding, Tali Weinberg on left and Emily Nachison on right

Plastic bins that were empty at the start are filling up with colorful quills of yarn

The rest of the day was really busy. I had lunch with Judith from my class at Wishbone and she pointed out Oprah's building where she does her show. I was a groupie and took a photo (but not posting). Then i met Laura Foster Nicholson who was up from Indiana for the day and spent the night at my apartment. Her daughter is taking summer school at SAIC. We went to a few interesting stores, shopped at Trader Joe's, and then had appetizers at Whole Foods. I do miss both those stores, which were my main grocery stores in Santa Fe, and sitting in Whole Foods eating great bread, drinking wine, and talking to a wonderful friend felt like grace. At the Crate and Barrel outlet near Trader Joe's I was able to buy two sets of dishtowels designed by Laura. I love using items designed by her. Then we met our friend Nick Cave for dinner. Nick and I were in the same class at Cranbrook and it is always a joy to see him and watch the success he has achieved. He is one of the hardest working people I know, always has done two or three things simultaneously and done them all to perfections. He teaches in the Fashion Department at SAIC now and at the same time has a thriving career as an artist. After dinner he gave us each copies of the new book on his work--Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the World. This is one of the great things about getting old and having a history--that one can meet someone early in their career and be sure that they will be successful, and then watch the unfolding, and see it happen in a path expected but even more beautiful and wonderful than anticipated.

Laura Foster Nicholson talking to SAIC class about her work, including her ribbon collection

Monday, Laura came to my class and gave a generous talk to the students about her career, which spans work as an artist, designer, and creative maker. She does it all. I have a small collection of her ribbons and brought some to show, and she brought the rings of samples that had most of the designs. Since students had learned weft brocade, they had some idea of how the ribbon designs are executed in weaving.

After Laura's talk we had a review of the work done the first week in the class. You can see the TC-1 jacquard cloth before it was cut into sections. They wove a bit over 8 yards. Now the sign-up sheet is filling in and lots more will be woven this week and next. It means constant work for Janette Ramirez who has the job of taking care of the technical aspects of the department. She has been so helpful and the weaving studio is in great shape due to her efforts.

First pieces off the TC-1

Janette Ramirez getting ready to retension the TC-1 warp at SAIC


  1. What a wonderful post! I feel your pain about the Field and the trend in museumology. And your class is going great guns. How you ever have the time to blog with a schedule like that is beyond me, but I'm glad you do, as I love reading it.


  2. Great to read about your time in Chicago! I loved seeing Anne's winding underway and look forward to using some of those, possibly, when I schedule weaving time at KAM next year.