Monday, November 10, 2008

November 10

Why, you ask, am I a slave to salvage and salvaging? Look no further than your nearest economic crisis. If ever there were an industry, and a city for that matter, armed for crisis it would be salvage and Detroit. Creative and resourceful to the corners of our crumbled infrastructure (don’t let the rough edges fool you, Detroit is more resilient than you think. Look how long the train station has been gutted and still stands as one of the top urban illegal sites to crawl around). Finally, here’s an opportunity to talk about something else other than the usual Detroit hard luck stories. I think we might just be coming into our own and who’s going to lead us there? Creative people that’s who. International creative economy gurus recently chose Detroit for their 2008 Creative Cities Summit ( check out all the cool things people are doing around the globe). So, it’s not just us native diehard creative types betting on the underdog. We are poised to lead the nation by example, cause salvaging useful matter on a dime is what we in the D are all about. Take my little shop the Heritage Company for example. When the going get’s rough, we dig deep for cool material to design with. And then we reach out to our core clientele of creative designers and artists. We inspire them, they inspire us back.

Take our long-time supporter Jolie Schiller Altman for instance. A Native Chicagoan living in a conservative Detroit ‘burb with her 3 kids. That’s where average housewife ends. She’s an artist with a sophisticated eye for way out there outsider and folk art. When she has “me time,” she heads to a national antique show to search for something wilder than the last thing she bought. Prisoner-made art, children’s art, it could be $10 or …well add more zeroes, Jolie is bold. Detroit is the perfect backdrop for a woman who lists “offensive” as one of her buying criteria. We love her courage to seek “beauty” beyond the confines of convention. Her house is a modern/contemporary/folk-art museum. A beautiful historic Spanish Mission home she added onto with a modern metal-clad wing (it raised a few eyebrows in her hood). Her idea of a party is to host a “salon,” invite an artist they love to speak and a group of interesting people they know to listen and intelligent. My favorite thing? Put it this way, I nearly hyper-ventilated and had to lie on the floor over there, it was so good. Well, I’ll take a deep breath and list a few things: a “table cloth” made out of neckties. They aren’t completely sewn together at the center so Jolie wired the ends to stick up like snakes. An embroidered x-ray she clipped to a photographic light box hanging on the living room wall. But, nothing beats the effect of a specially built two-story tunnel with skylight that houses a giant spider made of industrial parts. Now that’s inspiration for you.

I’ve been saying for years that there is such a rich pool of design talent in Detroit and so little attention paid to it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of the design magazines we have in Detroit, but they can’t possibly cover all the talent I see producing below the radar. Take clothing/space/everything designer and creative gypsy Danielle Kencik for instance. She got her legs at 15 working for pioneer clothing retailer Patty Smith in Royal Oak. Here’s a girl that can make something out of nothing, and prefers it. She recently called me on fire about a sculpture she wanted to make out of day-old bread. She’s outrageous, should be dressing Madonna and does it all out of her cavernous “garage”studio in an ancient brick outbuilding. Everything is used, garbage picked, dragged down an alley, recovered, repurposed something and when she’s done, it’s stunningly elegant. Prepare to be surprised when you look behind the proverbial curtains. She and a friend recently moved to a lower flat on the outskirts of Wayne State University, a cool block full of artists. Her living room started with a ½ gallon of someone’s leftover green ceiling paint and the dregs of some dried gold leaf paint she managed to scrape into a paste. That, and a wheat stencil she’d made for a custom job transformed the dreary plaster walls. Artwork? She restored a ripped and crumpled poster with masking tape, applied a hot iron and upholstery-tacked it to the wall. Her bedroom is a jewel box of vintage finds with deep red walls she sloppy painted to look old and faded. Her tall upholstered bed frame? A stack of mattresses left behind by the last tenants covered with a fabric remnant she hand-pleated. The effect is all Paris apartment and true to her gypsy roots, completed under $100. I’m afraid of what she and a typical suburban-design budget might do if they ever met.