Art and About
Engaging with the creative force in everyday life

October 28th, 2007

The Inspiration is in the Mail

Posted by christina in Web Columns

I have trained myself to see art just about any place I look, but even I still get surprised when and where it pops up. Looking at a wine bottle as a piece of art is not too much of a stretch. I know countless hours of thought and experimentation by every vintner go into shaping bottles for visual appeal and product display. Although my palate has never developed much of a taste for wine, my eye is often drawn to a striking label and the endlessly creative imagery on the bottles.

I was at Costco and found myself drawn to several bottles of red wine, primarily because they were in the under $10 category. All of them were new to me so I admit, I was picking the ones that looked prettiest. An Australian wine called Red Pillar Box with a simple, clean design and bright red label appealed to my eye and my wallet. I stuck it in my basket and continued on to the produce section.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later and the pouring of a second glass of the Pillar Box Red that I noticed an unusual amount of writing on the back of the label and around the bottle’s neck. The label read:

“Bronze, Gold, Green, Blue and Chocolate Brown were all colours applied to pillar boxes. In fact, their livery mainly depended upon the personal choice of the district surveyor. That is, until 1874, when pillar box red became the standard colour for the highly decorated mail posting boxes.”

How’s that for a bit of education with my quaffer? I have admired Australia, and the British Isles, for their bold red mailboxes but I admit, I never thought about the fact that at some point, someone had to make the design decision that all mailboxes would be red. It’s one of those touches of color in the daily lives of millions of people that they no doubt take for granted. As an American accustomed to the dark blue mailbox, I find the red variety in foreign lands to be whimsical and charming.

My eye was then drawn to the writing around the neck of the bottle:

“The first pillar box was erected in Australia after the introduction of postage stamps in the 1850s. Several of these elaborately designed receivers still exist as stoic reminders of a time when beauty could be found in the most mundane – even in the posting of one’s letters.”

Can you picture a world with unique and highly decorative post boxes? It would be a world with a little more color than we have now. I understand the need for standardization, but I smile at this historical link to our collective creative past. People really do find a way to express themselves when and where they can.

The wine took on a different flavor for me once I knew where the name had come from. The hints of green wood and concentrated dark cherry in the bouquet were enhanced by my imagery of 19th Century Australia and the time before the taming of the pillar box.

For those of you who do actually care about the art of winemaking itself, the 2006 Red Pillar Box is from Padthaway, Australia. It is a second label from Henry’s Drive comprised of 42 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 50 percent Shiraz and8 percent Merlot. I don’t know anything about Henry’s Drive as winemakers, but I do know they are masters of the enticing and enlightening label.

October 21st, 2007

The Pillars of Our Society

Posted by christina in Web Columns

Our house is all about art. There are barely enough vertical surfaces in our main living spaces to accommodate all the 2-dimensional artwork we want to hang on them. Our entry way and a section of our living room are devoted to music. We converted a bedroom into a library that we packed with shelves bursting with favorite pieces of literature. Our smallish bathrooms are just the right size to showcase smaller works of art. The hallway to our bedrooms is the gallery of our children’s artwork. My husband’s office houses his Asian art collection. The laundry room is in the process of being designed to show off the art that thematically doesn’t fit anywhere else in the rest of the house. Even when doing the laundry, we want to be surrounded by displays of beloved creativity.

Those in the know about design say that the front entrance of your home should reflect the personality of the homeowners — that is should be a little hint of what a visitor is going to find inside. Upon the completion of a major redesign and some minor remodeling last year, we looked at the front entrance of our house and decided it said nothing about the inside. Although our house is painted bright yellow, we never want to make a vanilla first impression on anyone coming to our door. We needed an art statement about art.

Ideas flew between my husband and me for months, ranging from decorative painting of the front doors, to stenciling “All the world’s a stage” on the top of the doors’ trim. We had two sidelight windows we needed to close up, and we considered punching in copper the symbolic representations of all the arts and shining light through the panels to literally enlightened visitors.

One idea after another was shot down due to expense or practicality. Besides, none of them were really the true expression of what we wanted to say. What did we want to say, anyway?

The answer, though a long time in coming, was actually very simple. We want to encourage the world (or the very small portion of it that visits our home) to imagine and create. Those are two of the tenets we parent with, they are what I espouse in Art And About, and they are what my husband and I frequently are found preaching about to anyone willing to listen.

Imagine and create are the pillars of our family culture and for our entryway art statement, we turned them into literal pillars. We had two 6-foot pieces of wood from an old header removed in our master bedroom remodel. We sanded them a little, but mostly left them knotted and imperfect before staining them the rich redwood color of our front doors. From copper flashing, we cut out the letters to make the words “imagine” and “create” and nailed one word vertically down each pillar. The kids cut squares out of the flashing (it cut very easily with scissors) and we nailed those to the back of the pillars. On each square, we mounted a brass or silver bell. The bell theme was echoed in large metal wind chimes we mounted on the Douglas fir slabs, which was our eventual choice to close up those two sidelights.

We took the pillars and stuck them into cement we poured in painted terracotta pots. They now stand as sentinels on either side of the entryway. To complete the artsy look, we purchased two hand-painted sisal rugs from Brazilian artist Claudia Oliveira and hung them like tapestries on our two front doors. They are abstract paintings entitled “The Melodious Harp” and “Modern Geometry.” It is absolutely intentional that those themes represent the creative in both the arts and the sciences. To top it off, we had a doormat custom made to read “Ars Gratia Artis,” or “art for art’s sake.”

Shortly after we erected the pillars, my kids asked me what they meant. I explained that we want to share our view with everyone that the most important thing you can do for yourself and the world is to imagine and create. At ages five and three, they gave me a look that made a clear statement all its own: “Duh!”

October 14th, 2007

Lutherans Don’t Dance, or Do They?

Posted by christina in Web Columns

I was born and raised Lutheran, the next generation in a long line of Lutherans on both sides of the family. I share blood with Lutheran ministers in the Missouri Synod, and for those of you in the know, that is about as Lutheran as you can get.

My children are genetically half-Lutheran, being that their father comes from an equally long line of Episcopalians. I’ve been hanging around my husband’s family for almost 20 years, and although I wouldn’t say I’m fully bi-denominational, I have learned to be comfortable in an Episcopalian church and to not constantly compare my tradition to theirs.

Besides, we have one huge thing in common — we all stand absolutely still while we’re worshiping, singing, or praising God in any way. The Episcopalian monikers of “God’s Frozen Ones” or “God’s Frozen Chosen” seem equally applicable to my Lutheran heritage.

It was May of 2006 and my then 3-year-old daughter, Allyndreth, had already well established her inherent love of music, movement and rhythm. (I am in awe of the ways she can move and manipulate her body. I never quite got my limbs to be anything less than gawky before, during or long after puberty. I have often wondered if I was given an extra rigid set of bones when body parts were being handed out. ) We were at a choir concert at my parents’ Lutheran Church when Allyndreth felt the urge to dance. She went right to the middle of the aisle in a Lutheran Church and started dancing to the choir music!

Stiffly, I reached my arm into the aisle and tried to pull her back to our pew. She took a few steps in our direction, but didn’t stop dancing. I didn’t know what to do. I cautiously scanned the faces of the people sitting near us, carefully moving only my eyes, not my head, for fear they would see I was gauging their reaction. The only face I was really able to read was my husband’s, which clearly said, “Make her sit down.” Of course, without moving my head I couldn’t see the people behind us, who I was sure were mortified at the freedom this child was being given and were undoubtedly whispering behind my back about how I was a bad mother.

That choir piece ended and my daughter sat down, albeit it still in the aisle, and I thought, “Oh, good. She got it out of her system.” But then the next choir came up to sing and they had guitars and drums with them and I groaned, “Oh, no.” Sure enough, they started smiling and rockin’ out about Jesus and my daughter started rockin’ out right along with them. With the more contemporary style of music, I felt a little more at liberty to turn my head slightly and see how the people behind us were reacting to the little girl in the aisle. No one was whispering, but no one was groovin’ to the music either. Not even another child. Once again, I tried to persuade Allyndreth to sit down in the pew, but realized that I would be unsuccessful unless I physically rose from my seat and went and got her in the aisle. My repressed self would NEVER get up during a concert, so I sat there and started praying for the night to be over.

The concert finally did end, and I sheepishly stood up and collected our things, hoping to make a quick get-away with my family out the side door. Another exchanged look with my husband confirmed he was thinking the same thing. As I turned to collect my daughter, I saw she was surrounded my audience members, praising her for her dancing and saying that they, too, wished they could get up and dance.

The arts advocate in me was immediately in conflict with my strict adherence to all things Miss Manners. Shouldn’t anyone who wanted to dance feel that they could get up and do so? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate form of self-expression, as well as sending a huge compliment to the musicians that they had hit their mark and, literally, moved another person’s soul? But we’re supposed to sit quietly at a choir concert so that everyone can enjoy it, right? What message do I give my daughter?

I’m still struggling with this question a year later. I have continued to let my daughter dance and groove when the spirit moves her. I know that her time to do this when other people will accept it, no doubt thinking that it’s cute, is limited. I also hope to give her the emotional strength to get up and dance beyond when it’s “cute.” I’m just working on mustering the strength to smile encouragingly instead of ducking under the pew.