Saturday, August 25, 2012

Look Again

Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club
I joined the Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club! This might not seem newsworthy to you but it shows a shift in terrain for me. Holly Jennings (third from left in the photo above) is the founder of the club--amazingly patient cook (read her past posts), photographer, and alumni of same graduate school as me. That's how we met--introduced via email by a mutual friend from school. I couldn't quite believe that someone else from Cranbrook had moved to this small town, but she had. When we first met, and she told me about the cookbook club, I was definitely interested in joining; but that was a period when I was pulling back from everything. I remember telling her that I had a tendency to join and then quit, so I would save us both the trouble and just not join. That was several years ago, and though I didn't join, I did read her blog and even bought one of the books and cooked from it.

Holly and Wendy (second from left in photo above) stopped by our porch during the town's July 4th parade and Wendy was very enthusiastic about the cookbook club and encouraged me and Marianne (left in photo above) to join. Suddenly it made sense to me. I love cooking (sometimes). It is one of the few things that really gets my attention these days, and I want to learn more about it, I want to get better. I even want to go back and get a degree in baking, though I doubt I will do that. So I said yes. And then I did it. I actually signed up on line and bought the current selection, Ripe by Nigel Slater. In fact, I actually bought a different Ripe first--amazed that it was so much less expensive at Jessica's Biscuits than on Amazon--not noticing that it was a different price because it had a different author. Both books are pictured above.

I think of Slater's book as a non-recipe book. It is a beautiful book--inspiring pictures, luscious words, and simple instructions. Sort of, wash a peach and eat it. But I used it (and Cheryl Sternman Rule's book) for many dishes (his blueberry pancakes made with ricotta cheese are excellent, and once I made them with glutton-free flour and they might have been even better than the first round which were also delicious) and felt that both books had something to offer. But when I went to the pot luck last week I was amazed at how wonderful the meal was--how every dish enhanced the other. Nothing was too sweet. Everything tasted fresh and satisfying. I think the other people (Melanie is 2nd from right, and Tamara is on the right) all felt the same. Maybe this book (Slater's) has more to it than I gave him credit for. I can't wait to read Holly's evaluation on the blog. By the way, she encourages people from other areas to join, and to start their own group for potlucks. I love the idea of communities of cooks gathering together all over the country comparing dishes they made from the same book.

I often don't spend money on anything except the monthly bills (boring and annoyingly regular) but I do spend money on food shopping and books. For awhile now I have managed not to buy books--and the Kimball Library here in Randolph is fantastic about getting books that are requested (and the staff are super excellent)--but I admit that a perk of joining the club is that I now can legitimately buy cookbooks. I have to--library loan just won't do for something like this (so I say). You should see my wish lists on various sites (but I think I made them private).

Beyond Craft: The Art Fabric by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen
(Top Right: detail of Space Hanging by Lyn Alexander; Middle Left: detail of Orange Weaving by Olga de Amaral; Middle Right: detail of HUM by Susan Weitzman; Bottom Left: detail of La Visite Di Aldebaran by Jindrich Vohanka, Bottom Right: detail of Raumelement, Yellow by Moik Schiele)
I had a visitor the other day who had some questions about fiber processes and during the discussion I pulled out my copy of Beyond Craft: The Art Fabric by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen. Most of you know this was the first definitive book on fiber art. I have looked at this book hundreds of times. Some works, like Susan Weitzman's HUM, have always left me breathless. She is one of those mysterious artists who made such an impact on people but who removed herself from the spotlight, something else drew her attention. But what she contributed has withstood the decades of change since she made that work. It still pulls me in and holds my attention. Other works are just invisible to my eyes and sensibilities, though I recognize their ambition and creativity.

But I must say, this is a time to pull that book off your shelves again and look through it. It is full of the most amazing work, by artists who truly were pioneers, working with materials in ways no one had thought of before and in a scale that is, even now, mind-boggling. I have just put a few details of works above, pieces that have great subtlety, simplicity, imagination, and skill. None of them tell stories per se. They are not the works that would have attracted me (except Weitzman's) when I first saw the book. But WOW--they sure look interesting to me today. And of course, the great tragedy, in this current time of anything goes--where fiber seems to be the material of choice for many young artists--the works in this book are not known. So pull that book off your shelves and start showing it to everyone you know who says they are interested in art. It really is a book that has retained its relevancy.

Nomad (Panels 1, 2 and 3) by Bhakti Ziek, 2010
Just a final note to say that I have completed re-finishing my six panels of Nomad. I don't have a wall large enough to photograph the six panels together so I had to do it three by three. No lights either, but....The Fuller Craft Museum has posted the exhibition information: Grand Tales of the Loom: Four Master Weavers. The exhibition will run from September 22, 2012 through January 20, 2013. There will be an artists' reception on Sunday, September 30th from 2-5 pm and all of us (myself, Cyndy Barbone, Deborah Carlson, and Fuyuko Matsubara) will be there. The four of us "came of age" as artists in the 1980s, a generation after the artists in Beyond Craft. We stayed with the loom, really mastering its possibilities, rather than working away from it, as did most of the artists in that book. We had our own "time" and as artists and teachers, we influenced others. I do hope this show will again prove that working at the loom in a careful, thoughtful way is still relevant.

Nomad (Panels 4, 5 and 6) by Bhakti Ziek, 2010

Okay, one comment more about Joan Didion's book, Blue Nights. I read the book straight through yesterday. At the back of the book, a library book, was a page where readers could leave comments. The first commenter felt she had never encountered a more self-centered woman, and added, "get a life." The second comment noted how sad the book was. I wasn't going to add anything but just couldn't help coming to Didion's defense, so I added something to the effect that she talks about truths that others want to ignore, deny, or hide from. The loss of her husband and daughter within 20 months of each other is almost too sad to bear. The way she keeps repeating certain phrases over and over reminds me of the way our minds gloam onto something and get stuck, the way records used to do. A life full of memories but always the same few come back to haunt us. And her writing about aging, so stark and honest, is almost terrifying. I note in my own life how 66 is nothing like I imagined it. It is both better and worse. And honestly, I don't think my friends who are younger can understand until they get here. I might think I am 12 inside, but when the young man at the liquor store tells me I shouldn't waste my money on an expensive (we are talking $20 here) bottle of wine because "older people can't taste things anymore" I admit that I am shocked at both his rudeness and the fact that he sees me as old. So Didion's experiences of vulnerability and insult are ones I can hear. I haven't read much by her, but I found this book compelling. And the shift of terrain I mentioned at the start of this post is something about aging, and finding new ways to engage with the preciousness of time.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Navigating Truth

Here is a picture of the top of the Chinese chest that is in our dining room. Does it look like I am someone who would enjoy craft fairs?

Some objects we have collected in our travels.
Ethnographic fairs--YES--but craft fairs....? Yesterday, however, I dragged my husband away from painting the house (thunderstorms) and down to a famous one in New Hampshire. Once again I find myself thinking that I should try to make functional textiles; that the economic climate is only good for the .000001 percent of the artists who are showing in top NYC galleries; and that $25 is probably the price point of what most people are willing to spend on non-essentials. I thought maybe I would get inspired by seeing what others are doing. Instead I found myself thinking of one of Fran Lebowitz's statements in Public Speaking (the Martin Scorsese excellent documentary on this outrageous and brilliant writer). She was telling an audience that just because you think something doesn't mean you have to write it--in fact, please don't share it with us. If I remember correctly, she even specifically mentioned blogs (I do note her words, even as I ignore them and write). So change writing to THINGS and you know how Mark and I felt at the fair.

There was a bright spot though in the middle of the tents, where Sarah Heimann had a booth of her beautiful, incredibly intricate carved ceramics. Seeing her work was worth the price of admission. One of her pots would look very good indeed on our Chinese cabinet top.

Sara Heimann with her wonderful hand carved ceramics.

This might not seem related, but I have been busy reading cookbooks and chef's memoirs this summer. Have you read Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton? I might not want to become her close friend (and what is the likelihood that I will ever get a chance at that?) but I loved her book and the truths she writes. I related to so many things she wrote about, relating her chef's experiences to my weaving experiences--being invited to a panel on women's chefs and getting quieter and quieter as she internally compared the reality of her life to the bromides of enthusiasm the others were throwing out; or her "lack of enthusiasm" as she approached Vermont thinking about people in cars going the other way "...fellow travelers, people like us who enjoy other human contact and human activity and who don't need to be secluded on a hundred acres without even a house pet..." And now I am almost done with Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. I know I could never keep up with his drugs, and drinking, sex, and rock and roll but I really get it when he talks about good chefs failing when they stop doing what they do well and think they can do everything. So maybe I won't go the functional textile route, other than for my own use, or if I do, I will have to stay close to my personal likes and my strengths, and ignore the market research of finding out what others are selling.

Scale model of upcoming exhibition at Fuller Craft Museum
(work by Fuyuko Matsubara on back wall, Deborah Carlson on side wall, and Bhakti Ziek's Nomad on right wall)

In light of that wisdom to stay true to one's self ("Follow your bliss" is the way Joseph Campbell put it), I am refinishing the six panels of my weaving Nomad. I am going to be in an exhibition at The Fuller Craft Museum opening September 15, 2012 with an artists' reception on Sunday, September 30th. Cyndy Barbone, Deborah Carlson, Fuyuko Matsubara and myself will be exhibiting together. Cyndy and I put together a scale model of the exhibition and decided I should put the panels together. That led me to decide that I should stretch them onto bars so I can exhibit them taunt--the way I see the cloth on the loom--the way I like seeing the work as I make it--the way I intend it in my mind. It was going to cost almost $700 to purchase frames and canvas, and they still would have to be put together (by Mark, of course) so I was thrilled when he said he could make them from scratch (another words, stop painting the house for a week and work for me). So it is only costing one-quarter of the purchased price and it is much better because these are exactly the size I need.

Panel 2 (of 6) from Nomad by Bhakti Ziek, 2010

When I was weaving Nomad, thinking about how large the world is, how vast the ocean, how dark the deep waters on a night without the moon, remembering living on an island in the Yucatan for eight months where the sound of the waters was always with me, I could see that the words, which map places I have lived or travelled and that take the shape of the continents of the earth, were very subtle, floating in and out of the ground water. I decided to give myself permission to be as subtle as possible, to create an experience where one has to sit with the piece and look long and hard before the piece revealed its secrets. I know I have created a difficult work for these times, where looking seems to need big panels of explanation next to a work, or a voice tour that you access as you tour an exhibition, or those recently ubiquitous QR codes. But I hope the new installation will invite some people to look, experience, and be inspired. A dark night, moonless....just you and the vastness of the ocean, the sky, the air, your memories, and your thoughts.

Just want to end by saying I had a wonderful day at King Arthur Bakery last month, the gift of my generous friend Steve Ford (superb baker and artist extraordinaire, partner in Ford/Forlano). He took me to a sour dough bread workshop (Amber Eisler was the excellent teacher), and Mark to a rye bread workshop. They have remodeled their facilities and the class room was terrific. I still have to learn my way around the new store, but I am sure I will.

Amber Eisler teaching sourdough bread making at King Arthur; Steve Ford and Clive in middle picture left; the classes beautiful results bottom right.