FLW in Reverse

While the Wright Walk was my first Wright adventure of the summer, beginning with the Oak Park Home and Studio is most appropriate.  For FLW fans, this summer has overflowed with new Wright experiences:  the Laurent House in Rockford, the Johnson Research Tower in Racine, and the Inside Wright’s Studio Tour with a visit to the studio balcony.  (Sorry, no pictures.  I didn’t pop for the indoor photo pass and forgot to take a few outside shots.)

Wright used his home to solidify his architectural beliefs:  revising, reshaping, and ultimately abandoning that home and office.  During this particular visit, I was again struck by Wright’s ability to design at all eye levels.  Regardless of your height or sitting/standing position, your eyes feasted on shapes, colors, and ingenuity.  An hour exploring each room would still be insufficient time.  Cherie, our guide, pointed out the smaller details that we otherwise might have missed, like the reversed gender roles in the Native American murals in the Wright’s bedroom.

The excitement of the tour was seeing the studio balcony, previously not open to the public.  The bird’s eye view of the studio floor was entertaining; the fireplace was the only unobstructed view.  (Oh, FLW, I love your commitment to your causes.)  The hidden treasure is the ability to see the roof lines of the other wings of the house.  His evolution from a pitched roof to a flat roof was visible.  Again, even looking out the windows at the roof, the small architectural details and the art glass caught your eye.

The balcony also contained three electronic panels with information about the architects who studied with Wright – a welcome addition to the interpretation.  Our group eagerly reviewed the panels and would have loved more biographies.  Once again, Alfonso Iannelli was ignored.  The circumstances of Wright’s departure from Oak Park were also sidestepped – a common criticism of the Trust’s interpretation.  Your eyes are so busy that your brain really isn’t processing audio, which would probably delight FLW.


Thread Wrangling

For the needleworkers and organized people in the crowd, Mary Corbett shared her thread cabinets on her blog and reiterated the right tools-right job concept.  Other readers have shared their systems.  Here is mine.  I store most of my fibers, frames, fabrics, and kits in this one closet.  I do have some small decorative chests that also hold thread, including all my DMC.  I also found a map cabinet on clearance, which I use for fabric – satisfying my desires for 1) a map cabinet and 2) flat fabric storage.  Half of the closet contains a portable coat rack and shelves.  The other half contains the following series of cabinets.

Here are the fiber drawers.  Originally CD drawers from Bed, Bath, & Beyond (I think they have been discontinued 😦 ), they allow you to store your skeins flat and are handy for storing rolls of tape.

Yes, I also have a wooden tackle box.  Got it at Marshalls for $40 or $50.  The drawers are felt-lined and contain my soie d’alger and miscellaneous items/tools.  To the left you see three storage cube units, stacked on top of one another.

I store framed needlework projects, empty frames, kits, fabric, and patterns in the cubes. As you see, the pre-made fabric drawers are handy, but optional.  When Target put them on clearance for $2, I bought a bunch.  You don’t have to use them in the cube system.  I use them on regular shelves.  When I don’t need them, they collapse and are easy to store.  I did splurge for my Kreinik and other spooled thread storage.

Sadly, I was unable to purchase the spooled thread holders on clearance.  You can get lucky with Jo-Ann’s coupons.  You don’t always see the big racks in the stores, though.  I don’t like plastic, so I try to use wood as much as possible.  Plus, I like to see my pretties. Michaels, Hobby Lobby, AC Moore, and Jo-Anns also go through phases of stocking fabric lined chests of various sizes.  Use the coupons to your advantage and troll the stores every so often.

My advice for folks is to focus on the items that you are going to store, not on the type of container.  Beaders have used watch boxes for years, because the form fits the function.  My continually trolling of Home Goods, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls has yielded nice faux leather office desk drawer organizers that I actually use in my bathroom drawers.  Bed, Bath, and Beyond has jewelry drawer inserts that can also be used to hold small items, like beads or charms – using your 30% off coupon.  Know what you want to store, how you want to store it, and then look for container that fits your needs.  I spent a decade working on my system.  I’ll probably tweak it, but I am now reasonably satisfied with my set up.  If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them.


Summer Reading for Historians

Yes, we are all ecstatic that the semester is over.  For those history grad students pondering the link between history and fiction/literature (shout out to Derrida), here are a few non-history tomes to keep the juices flowing over the summer.

As a blanket statement, all historians should read War and Peace.  In 1869, Tolstoy published his rumination on the nature of history.  Believing that history belonged to the people, not just generals, politicians, and kings, Tolstoy was basically trying to write a social history – comparing the life of the military with the life of the civilian.  His humanizing portrayals of the tsar, Napoleon, and the Russian generals will forever alter your perceptions of those folks.  I know W&P can be scary, so our other 5 books are perfectly manageable.

1.  Babel Tower – AS Byatt.  For the linguists in the crowd, Babel Tower explores themes of language.  The third book in the Frederica Potter quadrilogy has our intrepid heroine forging a life for herself in the intellectual circles of 1960s London.  Gender and women’s historians will enjoy the re-creation of the limited choices intelligent women had during that time and can debate how much has changed since.  You don’t need to read the other books in the quadrilogy to understand this book.  The Frederica Potter quadrilogy is a rarity in literature, with its headstrong, generally unsympathetic heroine who makes some horrible choices but never compromises her intellect.

2.  The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood.  Any Atwood is worth reading.  Historians may be more familiar with Alias Grace or The Blind Assassin.  Again for the ladies in the crowd, I will merely quote the blurb on the back:  “Ever since her engagement, the strangest thing has been happening to Marian McAlpin:  she can’t eat. … Marian ought to feel consumed with passion, but she really just feels … consumed.”

3.  Cycles-The Science of Prediction – Edward Dewey.  Economists typically study this book.  Humanities folks may be a bit overwhelmed by the formulas and graphs.  You can skip those pieces.  The key point is that human behavior/events occur in predictable cycles.  Yes, history repeats itself.  You may disagree with Dewey, but his arguments and evidence are fascinating.

4.  A Summer of Hummingbirds – Christopher Benfey.  That’s right.  Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, and Harriet Beecher Stowe all moved in the same circles.  Benfey’s book is part biography, part analysis of the creative process, and part social history.  He explores the impact of post-Civil War life on American art and artists.  Learn how artists incorporated their lives into their works.

5.  Speak, Memory – Vladimir Nabokov.   A classic of Russian pseudo-biography, Nabokov actively explores how we remember and recreate memories in this memoir of his childhood and early adult years.  Nabokov explains how he uses his fiction to memorialize people but is concerned that his personal memories slip away after he has fictionalized someone.  Make sure you get the Everyman’s Library edition with the extra Chapter 16.  Nabokov writes a review of Speak, Memory in the voice of a literary critic.


The Art of Cemeteries

Cemeteries aren’t the first place that springs to mind when looking for art, especially nowadays when tombstone design is expensive.  Finding stonecutters can also be problematic.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, renowned architects and sculptures did create works to memorialize a client or themselves.  These memorials were also a way to show that a family was prominent and deserved respect even in death.  Each cemetery can restrict the type of monuments or memorials allowed.  The art in Bohemian National Cemetery and Rosehill Cemetery reflect their founders intellectual and artistic beliefs.

Born from a battle where the Catholic relative of free thinkers was denied burial in a Catholic cemetery, Bohemian National maintains an inclusive attitude towards memorials, tombstones, and mausoleums.  The memorials contain examples of limestone statuary, photography, Art Deco imagery, and Chicago Cubs logos.

The limestone trees are the most striking memorials in Bohemian National.

Each tree is unique, although certain symbols are repeated.  A cluster of houbys appears at the bottom.  The bent branch references a life ended.  The oak leaves symbolize strength.

The mausoleums tend to reference Art Deco.  The most famous person buried at Bohemian National is buried in one such mausoleum:  Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago assassinated in 1933.

The torch imagery references a life snuffed out, as well as an eternal flame.  Bohemian National is replete with dual life/death images.   Clasped hands can mean “together forever” or “good-bye”.  A broken branch means a life cut short, but oak leaves and acorns symbolize life.

Porcelain ceramic photographs are also prominent on Bohemian National tombstones.  As long as the photographs are not broken, they withstand the elements quite well – better than the limestone statues.

Rosehill is a bit more staid.  Developed by Masons, Rosehill does contain its share of obelisks, including the legendary John Wentworth memorial.  If he could have created a monument larger than the Washington Memorial, he probably would have.

The sculptor Leonard Volk, known for his Lincoln life mask and hands, is buried alongside a statue of himself.

Rosehill was proud of its celebrity clientele, starting with General Thomas Ransom, killed in the Civil War.  Prominent Chicago families like Peck, Dick, Lill, and Kedzie have impressive plots.  One of the more unknown but arguably more consequential is George Bangs who created the post office mail train car.  George went with a limestone tree that included a train carving.

Before city parks existed, people would picnic at cemeteries.  The rolling lawns, peaceful settings, and beautiful sculptures are a prototype for the parks created by Olmstead and others.  Sculptors and architects like Thomas Boyington, Leonard Volk, and Anton Heller produced stunning works that are not trapped in museums or private collections. These are works meant to be appreciated and seen through the generations.

Twisted Sisters or How I Spent National Women’s History Month

So March is National Women’s History Month.  I don’t have any particular celebrations but did note that my recent cultural activities involved female protagonists.  Thus my latest random cultural events roundup will cohere around that theme.

WildClaw!’s Carmilla and Lookingglass’ Ethan Frome explore women’s power via manipulation.  Readers are probably more familiar with Ethan Frome, the Edith Wharton classic, foisted upon high school students in a misguided attempt to introduce them to great literature.  No, I am not an Edith Wharton fan.  Her “woe is me” heroines excel in their passivity.  Their falls aren’t tragic; they should have learned that sloth is one of the seven deadly sins.  When Wharton wrote, the West beckoned to men and women who lacked opportunity in the East.  A “poor relation” in the East could have moved West as a Harvey Girl – if she was ill-suited to being an adventuress.

Why did I go see Ethan Frome?  I subscribe to Lookingglass (because they are awesome).  Only Lookingglass could compel me to endure a Wharton.  Phillip Smith (Ethan) and Louise Lamson (Mattie) have been excellent in other productions, so I hoped they could give me a reason to get on board – the stage, not the sled.  While Smith and Lamson were top notch, the Whartoness was too much for me.  Having lived in New England, Wharton’s attempt to portray the lower class/poor did not ring true to me.   Zenobia, Ethan’s wife, Ethan, and Mattie are each too cowardly to act on their dreams or to admit their failures.  Zenobia manipulates Ethan and Mattie; Ethan clumsily attempts to manipulate Mattie, and Mattie winds up manipulating Ethan and Zenobia after the accident.  Yawn.

Carmilla was much more exciting on stage and in prose.  Written by JS LeFanu in 1872, Carmilla is the first vampire story and has a female as its vampire.  Born as a result of suicide on her wedding night, Carmilla lures women away from their husbands, gives them vampire power and strength, and then destroys her harems as she moves to new targets.  The men in Carmilla are the confused and mentally weaker sex.  Ultimately the strength of a man is required to actually kill the female vampires – after their betrayal by women.

Like Wharton’s female characters, Laura, the latest vampire victim is the only child of a once-wealthy family that is descending into poverty.  The family lives on an ancient estate in the woods.  The mother was already seduced and stolen by Carmilla.  Unlike the Wharton females, the Carmilla females manipulate from a position of power.  Laura may be the prototypical ingénue, but she becomes suspicious of Carmilla and instigates the vampire’s downfall.  Carmilla fights physically and mentally to retain her power.  WildClaw! created a vigorous production with lots of blood, fights, and sharp performances.  The final act of Carmilla is a dance macabre where the women lead.

The supernatural theme continued in Yuja Wang’s piano recital at the Chicago Symphony.  A Chinese prodigy, Wang is a mere 24 years old, playing with emotion and sophistication.  Her program began with Rachmaninov and Schubert, impressing the audience with her virtuosity; the second half explored the mysterious and dangerous with selections from Scriabin, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Scherzo, and Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre Op. 40.  The Scriabin selections pulled the audience into a mystical and playful dream that became sinister as the devil danced on Bald Mountain.  Shakespeare’s impish fairies chase the devil off the mountain for a short while, but Old Scratch returns to remind us that “death at midnight plays a dance tune” (Dance Macabre – Jean Lahor).

Wang attacked each piece, delightfully frightening the audience with pounding bass lines and intricate treble dances.  Eschewing any kind of orchestral support, Wang challenged her audience as her fingers manipulated the percussive and string power of the piano.  She could easily have played Ethan and Mattie to their destiny with the tree.

Lectures by Jennifer Homans, the author of Apollo’s Angels, and Liesl Olson about Harriet Monroe, the founder of Poetry magazine remind that women have always exercised power either directly or through manipulation – if they had courage.  Ballerinas embody the strength and fragility assigned to women.  Monroe used her editorial powers and friendships with wealthy donors to establish modern poetry in the United States and arguably the world.  While some ascribe influence to Ezra Pound, it is worth remembering that Monroe edited Pound – creating the power of “In a Station of the Metro” through her spacing, from Poetry Magazine, April 1913.

The apparition       of these faces       in the crowd   :

Petals      on a wet, black    bough   .

EGA Finishes

Within 6 months of class end, I have finished both projects from the EGA seminar in September.  The first finish is a goldwork piece designed by Michele Roberts:  California Golden Vine.  The leaves and tendrils are gold.  The grapes are two shades of purple and are padded with differing elevations.  The photograph is mediocre – doesn’t capture the dimensionality of the piece.  I went with natural light to avoid the weird shines from flash, which does give some sense of the layering.

California Golden Vine - copyright Michele Roberts

California Golden Vine - copyright Michele Roberts

The piece has a very rustic feel with the brown-gold duponi silk background.  I am not a fan of the Pearsall silk used for the grapes.  A bit too fine for my tastes.  The snagging was a nightmare.  Eterna is shinier.  My preferred silk vendors remain Eterna, Needlepoint Inc, and Soie d’Alger.  I fear the tendrils will be too tempting for Phoebe.  Safe display will a challenge.

The design is stunning, and Michele is a wonderful teacher.  Quite the Southern lady and very dedicated to teaching.  Both of my teachers this year were very good.  Phillipa Turnbull designed the second piece:  You Can’t Catch Me, based on old bedhangings.  Phillipa graciously showed us the original bedhangings and other historical pieces from her collection.

As some of you know, crewel is my first love.  I have seen Phillipa’s designs in UK magazines and was thrilled to see her teaching at the EGA seminar.  She was a blast.  Here is a photo of the finished piece, which should also remind you of a certain special greyhound:

You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

(It’s still on the blocking board – thus the pins.  I’ll turn it into a pillow.  Good Friday is going to be a finishing weekend.)  That’s right:  the dog is Preston.  During class, Phillipa suggested that we customize the dog to our own puppykins.  Great fun!  I really should have changed the butterflies to squirrels, but creating a flying squirrel is a bit beyond my skills at the moment.  The brindle was tough enough.  Let’s enjoy a close up of the real thing:

Preston's Brindle

Preston's Brindle

The brindle can be very strong or very faded.  To recreate the look, I wove the black thread underneath some of the champagne threads.

Dog Closeup - You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

Dog Closeup - You Can't Catch Me - copyright Phillipa Turnbull

I am pleased with the results. The piece was great fun to stitch.  The rhythm of crewelwork is so relaxing.  While the Tree of Life designs are classic crewel, I do enjoy the animal studies.  Furry beasts look good in wool.

Now I have to dedicate myself to WIP slaying.  I still have a few military family kissing pillows to complete.  I also need to finish the Chatelaine Misty Morning Vineyard and the Mirabilia Christmas Couriers, which will become a wall quilt.  Those two projects are quite large, so I’ll throw in a few smalls for a sense of accomplishment.

Yes, I am still waiting for my notification letter from Loyola.  Should arrive within the next week and a half.  Still on pins & needles.  Ha, ha, ha!  In the meantime, let’s chill with Serena:

Serena Snoozing

Serena Snoozing


The horror of birth is oft lost in the profundity of creation.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein graphically explores the tension between the creator and creation or the parent and the child.  Equally famous is the birth of that novel:  a child-centric summer in Switzerland.  Byron fights to see his daughter while impregnating Shelley’s sister; Mary and Percy care for their second child, prepare for the birth of the third, and silently mourn the death of their firstborn; Percy defends a local nanny accused of murdering a child.  The melodrama of these Hideous Progeny was enacted by the Livewire Chicago Theatre company.

Mary creates her monster in an act of catharsis.  The play hints at that act but is content to focus on the raw emotions among the vibrant characters.  The actors do a fine job of balancing the outlandish behaviors with small scenes hinting at the pain hidden by those facades.  The flippant word games and sexual intrigues distract from the talent and intellect of the true life counterparts, but are easier to display.

Returning to the monstrous catharsis, the play provides a context for the novel’s readers and generates the core question:  who is the monster?  The dead firstborn child?  The petty traumas inflicted by the residents in that Swiss summer home?  The difficulties of artistic creation?  The risk of childbirth in that age?  The plight of intellectual woman in that era?  The burden of surviving as a child when your mother died in childbirth?

Mary Shelley was a surviving child and the mother of a dead child and of living children.  She eventually married an artist and was one herself.  She understood biological and intellectual creation.  Her articulate, human, and rage-filled monster symbolized complete creation and the struggle between parent and child or prey and predator.

The dance between prey and predator is displayed in shadow, puppet, and human animal form in Julie Taymor’s The Lion King, at the Cadillac Palace.  Her minimal use of dialogue and music provides a skeleton for the story.  The battles among animals are the bulk of the stage time.  Taymor’s shadows, puppets, and human animals continually stalk, restlessly prowling the stage.  There is no death; there is no creation; there is no angst; there is only the circle of life.  All beings participate.

Taymor’s interpretation of The Lion King deepens the moral lessons of the film and forces the audience to recognize its part in the circle.  The joy at the birth of Simba and sadness at the death of Mustafa are tempered.  The events are expected and are to be respected.  Each creature is subservient to this lifecycle.  Taymor evokes feelings of peace and belonging, where Shelley emphasizes the mystery and violence of birth and death.  Shelley and her creation are outcasts from their families and from society at large.  They are battle-hardened, showing the scars from their dances as both prey and predator.  The consequences of their wounds are on vivid display in the play and in the novel.

Artistically, The Lion King is a complete, thoughtful piece, based on slighter material.  Hideous Progeny struggles to humanize its strong personalities, though its source material is deeper.  Both plays and their complementary works challenge their audiences.  Is birth/death a comforting, cyclic inevitability?  Or are the complexities of birth/death too horrifying to ignore?