GIFTS OF THE SEASON

Driving into the city this morning, I was greeted by a most spectacular sight – the snow-capped Olympic mountains in full view, rising majestically against a clear blue sky.  

It took my breath away, but also filled me with delight.

“What a gift!” I thought  to myself.

Apparently, the ritual of shopping for, and wrapping gifts was on my mind. ‘Tis the season after all.

In the whirlwind of holiday activity, it’s nice to slow done once in awhile and appreciated the simple beauty of nature, or the familiarity and warmth behind our annual traditions.

In a few days, families across the country will be gathered beneath the Christmas tree, enjoying the end result after weeks of shopping and holiday preparation – including, of course,  the unwrapping of presents.

Have you ever noticed that there are various ways to unwrap a gift?

For example, some of us might tear into the package with gusto, leaving a pile of shredded paper and ribbon on the floor. Others are known to unwrap a present ever so carefully, with the intent of saving the paper and bows to be used again next year.

On a recent excursion to a museum, I was introduced to the ceremonious creation of a Japanese scroll painting.

Compact and lightweight, a Japanese scroll hangs effortlessly on a wall. Yet it is preceded by a complex process.

This unique work of art – carefully rolled up and tucked inside a custom made box – is subsequently removed from its’ box in a ceremony steeped in tradition, very much like the unwrapping of a present.

It might surprise you to know the effort that goes into producing this exquisite art form.

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ARE YOU EVOLVING?

“These objects have a lot of baggage coming with them. They have a lot of stories.”  Do Ho Suh, artist

Seattle Art Museum is currently hosting a fabulous exhibit titled “LUMINOUS, The Arts of Asia”.

Based entirely on the SAM’s own, internationally renowned collection of Asian Art, this show – on view until January 8, 2012 – is not be missed!

The above quote references the ancient objects in the museums’ collection, and the fact their condition has deteriorated over time.

Not only that, the location has changed as well, along with the original meaning and purpose.

Indeed, everything has shifted along with the original meaning, and the stories behind them have been lost to us over the centuries.

And these objects do have stories have to tell, something which isn’t immediately noticeable in a museum setting.

Most of us never give this a second thought, but here’s the thing.

Of the many works of art housed in museums, we rarely consider the fact that we are viewing them out of context, far from their original location and purpose.

Take for example, a Buddhist sculpture, an object of worship that would have been housed in a sacred temple centuries ago.

Today, viewed in a museum setting, the sense of sacredness has been diminished. We know from the accompanying labels what the object is, plus where and when it was made, but little else.

We need to be reminded that this sacred Buddha – viewed against white walls and under electric lights – is a far cry from the dark interior of an ancient temple, dimly lit with candles and burning incense.

If only these objects could speak, the mystery of their past lives would unfold before our eyes!

Of course, in the absence of ancient works of art that can speak, museum curators and archeologist do the work, analyzing and exploring the evidence before them.

And the stories begin to reveal themselves.

“Like humans, objects also have baggage, and the more ancient they are, the more encumbered they become.”  Do Ho Suh, artist

Likewise, the objects in our homes can encumber us and weigh us down.

In this sense, an interior designer is a little like a museum curator, analyzing and exploring the evidence laid out before her.

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THE BEAUTY OF GLASS

I’ve always been fascinated by the process of glass blowing.

"BlueBackwash" by Canlis Glass

Ever since I was a child, when my family first visited the famed Cornish Museum of Glass, I’ve been captivated by the experience.

I remember very little else about that trip. We lived in Toronto at the time, and I’m not at all sure how we ended up in New York State.

To my young mind, the glass museum was clearly the highlight of our trip.

Glass blowing is an ancient art, indeed, dating back to the 1st century BC. Its discovery, during the time of the Roman Empire, is believed to be purely accidental as so many discoveries are.

As the story goes, some sailors, while cooking a meal over a hot fire, were surprised to see that sand – buried beneath the hot coals – had melted into a liquid stream.

A stream that, when cooled and hardened, turned into the substance we know today as glass.

Of course, this is just a story, and no-one really knows for certain how glass first came into existence.

Nonetheless, glass making has been coveted throughout history. In more recent times it has become a popular medium for expression, akin to paintings and sculpture.

And like paintings, sculpture and other works of art, glass art typically has a story to tell.

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TAKING A GAMBLE

Does your home speak to you?                                       

Does it have a story to tell?

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of re-visiting the Gamble House, a turn-of-the-last century Craftsman style home in Pasadena, California.

This 100 year old gem of a house was designed by the architectural geniuses Greene & Greene.

I have to admit, I admired this home just as much the second time around, both for its turn-of-the-century simplicity and its incredible attention to detail.

I use the word ‘incredible’ – yet, this doesn’t adequately describe what the house has to offer.

Astounding is more like it.

The effect of these rooms bathed in a golden light, is almost magical. It literally takes your breath away.

From the moment one first steps into the darkened entry, you realize you are in for a treat as your eyes gradually become accustomed to the light.

You notice first, the lovely image of an oak tree etched into the leaded glass panes of the front door, its limbs stretching far and wide into the transom and side light windows.

You notice it in the smoothly rounded edges of the polished Burmese teak, framing the grand central stair.

You notice it, too, in the delicate silhouette of a lantern in the shape of a crane, a bird that – in Japan – represents longevity.

You notice the repetition of certain motifs – trailing vines and the ever-present Chinese ‘cloud-lift’ – everywhere you look.

It’s present in the leaded glass light fixtures, the carved mantle and friezes, in the stair rail and even the carved inlays on a bed frame.

Good design relies on repetition.             

Designers and architects alike know this, and rely heavily on such simple tools to create an innate rhythm of beauty and celebration throughout a clients’ home.

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LIVING WITH ART

“I don’t think there is anything that communicates better than art. It is quicker than language and clearer than philosophy”. Frederick R. Weisman, Founder of the Frederick R Weisman Art Foundation

***

What do art, travel and this picture of a gardener have in common?

That’s easy.

The gardener – who isn’t real, by the way – was spotted in a private art collection, during a recent trip to Los Angeles.

The trip, taken with a group of Seattle Art Museum Docents,  was very similar in scope to last years’ exploration of Chicago.

As you can imagine, our whirlwind tour of the city focused on art. We were not disappointed.

I was particularly intrigued by the monumental collection of modern art amassed by the Philanthropist and art collector Frederick R. Weisman.

This impressive collection, housed in a privately owned Mediterranean-style villa, located in Beverly Hills, is not for the faint of heart.

Now, I am not a huge fan of modern art.

Yet, when I stepped inside the front entrance I immediately knew I was in for a treat.

Perhaps it was the ultra-realistic, life-size figure of a woman, dressed as an American tourist standing off to the side, obviously there to amuse and greet us.

I couldn’t get over the feeling that we were being watched, or that I might step on her toes.

She was not the sole human-scale sculpture in the house, I might add. My favorite one, apart from the gardener, was of an elderly gentleman asleep in his chair, book in hand.

Which once prompted some workers to call 911 because they couldn’t wake him up!

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HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT YOUR OoM’S LATELY?

An artist friend of mine, Julie Doane Roberts, creates what she calls OoMs. Otherwise referred to as Objects of Meaning.

We all have them, these OoMs.                                               

In fact, our OoMs are one of many reasons that we tend to collect so much stuff. Unless you are immune to this condition, you will know what I’m talking about.

Yet there is a big difference between the stuff we’ve collected over time that we really don’t need, and the many treasures we simply couldn’t live without.

Sentimental value, after all, is something we can’t put a price on.

Some time ago, I wrote an article about being the Artist of Your Life. I took a tongue-in-cheek approach to curating your various collections, in much the same way that a museum curator oversees the collections he or she is in charge of.

Be discerning, I said, as you sort through your possessions.

Once sorted, I advised you to display them prominently, with adequate lighting and an appropriate backdrop.

What I’m suggesting today is another alternative.

As the artist of your Life, why not curate your collection of memorabilia and treasures and re-purpose them into something that is a work of art, in and of itself?

I’m all for re-purposing, as you know. (It’s the 21st century buzz-word!)

Of course, when you take the time to create something even more beautiful out of your many treasures, you will be doing several things at the same time:

Creating Order Out of Chaos

Do you live in a clean, organized space full of positive energy?

We all know how we feel when our lives are out of balance. Exhausted, confused and overwhelmed.

There is a definite link between the clutter and disorganization in your home and these feelings of overwhelm.

Clearing Out Clutter

Have you ever noticed how an organized space, free of clutter, can literally free up your mind?

The theory behind this is that a cluttered home (substitute life, schedule, desk, etc) usually reveals a much deeper problem.

Recent studies have even proven a connection between clutter and excess weight, and even clutter and stress.

How amazing is that?

Freeing Up Space

Many of us have the inevitable spare room, where we discard unused, and unneeded items.

What is the energy emitted from that room? Does it weigh you down or lift you up?

Which would you prefer?

Are you ready to create some OoMs?

"GOGH"ING TO CHICAGO

Thorne Room Collection - miniature 18th century English Entrance Hall of the Georgian Period c.1775

Miniature 18th Century English Entrance Hall

Well, I am not so much going to Chicago as returning.

Last week I traveled to Chicago with a group of  fellow docents from the Seattle Art Museum.

As you might imagine, our trip was heavily focused on art and architecture, due to a shared love of art and design.

With a few goals in mind, we set off to explore the city, beginning with a scenic tour on the top level of a  double decker bus.

As the tour guide talked, the wind kicked up a storm. (I would suggest bringing a hat, except that it would likely not remain on your head for very long).

Still, this trolley will take you anywhere you want to go. You can get on and off at will, and continue the journey at whatever pace you choose.

Did you know that Chicago’s nickname “The Windy City” has nothing to do with the weather?

Seems the term “windy” was in reference to some rather windy politicians. It was ironic to hear this tidbit of information while the wind was blowing off the lake and whipping our hair.

It was an educational moment.

Our next stop was the Art Institute of Chicago, a museum that has been high on my list for many years. Up until now, I’d never had the opportunity to see it.

So many famous paintings and other treasures were on view, that it literally took my breath away. I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon browsing through gallery after gallery, taking in one surprise after another.

The Van Gogh painting of “The Bedroom” below, has been an all-time favorite of mine.  What a delightful surprise it was to find that it was at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Being the Van Gogh fan that I am, I don’t know how this small detail eluded me.

VanGogh 'Bedroom' at the Chicago Art Institute
VanGogh ‘Bedroom’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

This famous painting is an intimate portrait of Van Gogh’s bedroom, when he lived in the Yellow House, in Arles. This is the same house that he shared, briefly, with Gauguin before their famous fight that ended with Van Gogh cutting off part of his left ear.

Yet it is a simply furnished, tranquil room that offers no hint of what was to come.

I am such a fan of this painting, that I even have a miniature version of it in my home.

Speaking of miniatures, I have to admit that the absolute highlight for me was viewing the Thorne Rooms, located on the lower level of the museum.

I first learned of these miniature rooms many years ago, and vowed that I would eventually have the opportunity to see them in person. Well, I finally had that chance, and it exceeded my wildest expectations.

Suffice it to say, that the level of craftsmanship that went into creating this collection of 68 period rooms, all in miniature scale, is absolutely incredible.

But then, Mrs. Thorne, the woman behind the visions, had the financial means to do so. She employed the best artisans to carry out her designs, and never settled for second-best.

The amazing result transports one to a different world, where you can travel back in time to 16th century France, England, or even early American homes, dating back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, if not before.

In every room, there are clear signs of an unknown occupant. For whatever reason, that person has just vacated the room, leaving behind a teeny tiny book resting on the sofa, with a pair of miniscule spectacles nearby.

A table is set for tea, complete with teapot and porcelain teacups. On the sideboard, there might be a silver coffee service, with an interrupted embroidery project resting near a window. A multitude of miniature books lines the bookshelves.

Every room contains one or more windows, and the attention to detail extends to the views outside. Trees provide much needed shade in the heat of summer, and flowers bloom in the garden. We can see a hint of the house next door, or a city street in the dead of winter.

It is a place where imaginations can thrive.

Frank Lloyd Wright "Prairie Style" Home

Frank Lloyd Wright "Prairie Style" Hom

On our final day in Chicago, we took a two hour Architectural Walking Tour, that wove thru city streets and told the story of Chicago’s architectural history.

The architectural styles changed from classical to Art Deco, and hints of something in between. The tour included the Auditorium building by architectural firm Adler & Sullivan -currently hosting the Joffrey Ballet.

Next we took the subway out to Oak Park, IL  for the second architectural tour of the day, this one featuring the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in an up-scale neighborhood of leafy trees and manicured lawns. This is where Frank Lloyd Wright got his start as an up-and-coming architect.

This house was one of his earliest works, designed in his “Prairie” style: horizontal emphasis, obscure entryways (i.e not obvious from the street where the front door might typically be), and small, compact interiors with more open floor plans than what had been the norm up until that time.

Another surprise awaited us, as a small group of us walked a different route back to the train station. Rounding a corner, we came across Wright’s famed Unity Temple.

We climbed the steps to the front door, which to our delight, was unlocked. Within seconds, a guard appeared, telling us the building was closed for the day.

“We’re here from Seattle” we lamented, “We’re headed home tomorrow – please could we take a quick look?”

The guard studied us a moment, then relented. “I’ll give you one minute”, he said.

But it was enough.

We entered the sanctuary of the church, drew in our breath at the stillness and beauty of the space, then left.

It was a wonderful trip and I hope you have enjoyed these little snippets.  To see more photos, visit my Chicago photo album at my Facebook page!

LIFE IMITATING ART

‘You are the Artist and your Life is your Work of Art’ Christine Kane

I love this quote.                                               

You see, I grew up in a family of art historians, artists and antique dealers, and we were surrounded by Art 24/7. My father was a museum curator so I also knew my way around a museum from an early age. Relating to art comes easily to me.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of art-related terms sprinkled throughout the world of interior design, fashion and even accessories for the home.

For example, did you know that your home could be curated in the same way a museum curator oversees a valued art collection?

As curator of your home, you would need to be very discerning as you sort through your possessions, be it furniture, artwork or accessories. As you select your favorite pieces, these will become the stars of your collection. Be sure to display them prominently, with adequate lighting and an appropriate backdrop.

Create a catalogue, if you’re so inclined.

You can even have curated dining. The idea here, is to set your table with museum bought china, glassware and cutlery that is based on historical designs from the country, or century, of your choice.

You could immerse yourself in something French or Italian, for example, and set your table accordingly.

High quality museum replicas are available at most museum gift shops. You can peruse catalogues or visit them online.

Likewise, your wardrobe can be viewed as a ‘canvas’. By starting with your basics, say black and white, you can dress things up, or down, at whim. Add a bold accent color, or two, a bright accessory, and you’re good to go.

Now back to that quote. Did you ever consider that you are the sole artist of your Life? I mean, if not you, who else would be responsible?

Unlike your typical work of Art, which becomes a ‘fait accomplit’ as soon as the artist lays down the paintbrush, your life, and your home, is yours to design as you wish. Over the course of your lifetime, you can add, or take away, and embellish however you choose.

It is never quite done, but is still your masterpiece¸ imperfections and all.

To subscribe to my eZine, and receive a FREE copy of my ebook Living Green:  12 Simple Steps for Creating an Eco-Friendly Home, please visit my website at harmonydesignsudio.com .

PRINTMAKING 101

Last week, I attended a printmaking class.             

I call it Printmaking 101, because the actual hands –on process  of creating a print was very new to me. I admit, I’m a Novice.

Not that I’m new to the world of Prints – I’ve been a fan for many years, and I’m fairly well-versed in the various processes of woodblock prints, etchings and engravings. I’ve long admired such masterful artists as Rembrandt, and Durer and their contemporaries.

What I haven’t done, is actually made a print myself. However, I can tell you it was a lot of fun!

I came to class armed with nothing but my imagination. I hadn’t received the e-mail reminding me to bring a picture, or drawing, for inspiration, and to wear old clothes, but I had figured out the latter on my own, and ended up winging it on the former.

What I created was the equivalent of a woodblock print, but lucky for me and everyone else in the class, we were able to lean into the process by carving a piece of eraser-like rubber, called Easy Cut, rather than a hard-to-carve piece of wood.

While carving my design, I had to think in terms of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’. The positive areas were the parts of my eraser pad that remained raised and would receive the ink, compared to the sections I was carving away thereby termed ‘negative’. (The negative areas of the carving medium essentially end up below the surface, and are therefore untouched by the ink).

In design, when we refer to positive and negative space, it is a very different concept. The positive space that interior designers are accustomed to, refers to the furnishings in a room – positive space– versus the lack of furnishings in a room – the negative space, or what I like to call ‘breathing room’.

This is because every room needs a place for the eye to rest.

The same holds true for Art. Regardless of whether you are an artist, or designer, anyone who is skilled at their craft knows when to pull in the reins and stop. Stop carving, stop painting, stop designing. Know when you are done.

In the end, what an artist ‘leaves out’ of the final work can be just as important as what you DO see.

I had to keep this in mind while carving my little masterpiece. I use that term loosely, of course. Everyone at my work table was in agreement that our first efforts would probably NOT be masterpieces.

Every so often, someone (including myself) would mutter ‘ooops’ as they slipped with the carving knife. I had to re-think my design more than once.

Even more difficult was learning to think in reverse, because however the design looks as you are carving it, once you place a piece of paper over the inked block and flip the whole thing over, every detail shows up in reverse.

Tricky? Yes. Fun? Absolutely! I highly recommend this kind of brain activity, but even more satisfying is the chance to explore one’s creative side.

To subscribe to my eZine, and receive a FREE copy of my ebook Living Green:  12 Simple Steps for Creating an Eco-Friendly Home, please visit my website at harmonydesignsudio.com .

GIFTS OF THE SEASON

Driving into the city this morning, I was greeted by a most spectacular sight – the snow-capped Olympic mountains in full view, rising majestically against a clear blue sky.                                                                             MtBaringDSCN0663(1) (2)

It took my breath away, but also filled me with delight.

“What a gift!” I thought  to myself.

Apparently, the ritual of shopping for, and wrapping gifts was on my mind. ‘Tis the season after all.

In the whirlwind of holiday activity, it’s nice to slow down once in awhile and appreciated the simple beauty of nature, or the familiarity and warmth behind our annual traditions.

In another week, families across the country will be gathered beneath the Christmas tree, enjoying the end result of weeks of shopping and holiday preparation, which includes the unwrapping of presents.

Have you ever noticed that there are various ways to unwrap a gift? For example, some of us might tear into the package with gusto, leaving a pile of shredded paper and ribbon on the floor. Others are known to unwrap a present ever so carefully, with the intent of saving the paper and bows to be used again next year.

On a recent excursion to a museum, I was introduced to the ceremonious creation of a Japanese scroll painting.

Compact and lightweight, a Japanese scroll hangs effortlessly on a wall. Yet it is preceded by a complex process.

This unique work of art – carefully rolled up and tucked inside a custom made box – is subsequently removed from its’ box in a ceremony steeped in tradition, very much like the unwrapping of a present.

It might surprise you to know the effort that goes into producing this exquisite art form.

  • To begin with, a highly skilled and respected artist creates the painting, typically applying black or colored ink, onto a paper ground –  the equivalent of a Western canvas.
  • Upon completion, the painting is taken to a master craftsman, whose one and only task is to expertly mount the masterpiece onto exactly the right patterned silk background, thereby creating a scroll.
  • Next, the painting – now officially a scroll – is entrusted to another artisan, whose expertise is crafting custom boxes.  This box maker will create a perfectly sized box into which the rolled up scroll will be stored.

You might think this is the end of the process, but it isn’t.                                                ScrolliStock_000008011669XSmall

  • The box still needs to be inscribed. This is yet again, a separate artisan who is master of his craft.

When looked at in this way, the entire process is quite humbling. I can think of nothing in Western art that comes even close.

What is particularly intriguing to me about this entire process is the final ceremony of how a scroll is carefully taken from its’ box and just as carefully unfolded to reveal the masterpiece inside.

Exactly like a treasured gift.