As much as I love to host a good dinner party, my preference would not be Christmas dinner. It's a long day, and a hard tour of duty in my small kitchen and house. First of all, you are jolted out of bed at some ungodly hour when you have a youngster around. My 72-pound darling jumped on top of my up-too-late and deeply sleeping body, raring to rip through all the packages under the tree. I barely get through that first cup of coffee before it's time to start receiving the guests, serving the brunch, then the snacks, making drinks. More people, more packages and paper, clearing and washing of the endless dishes. Pretty soon, the egg nog, wine and what have you starts to kick in and as my sister Lia's friend says, "Gaggino in Italian means loud," and boy is it ever. I love to see my boisterous clan having a good time, but I'm starting to get tired. Then I see across the room the very thing that reminds me why it is good to have cause to celebrate, no matter what. There is Wyatt, oblivious to the chaos, quietly locking and unlocking the antique tea box I gave him for Christmas. Turns out he was taking a break from his cousin who had just pissed him off about something to do with how he didn't eat his vegetables and how come he gets to have dessert. And rather than get into that ongoing feud, I say skip the vegetables, have some dessert and would he like to hear a good story about the tea box or the truth. Child after my own heart, he chose a good story. So I told him about a place called Hell's Kitchen, that sits on an island where the misfits, mavericks and mystics live. They don't have our big regular stores, because they aren't regular people and don't like all that regular stuff, and there isn't any room on this island anyway. Instead they sell their wares on blankets and out of boxes right on the city streets. They don't look regular either. One guy favors a one-piece hot pink spandex leotard, closely held clutch, big glasses and thinning hair in a pony tail. These big guys with thick accents looking rough in their greasy coveralls don't even give him a second look. Meanwhile I'm wondering how to move those 300# cast iron industrial bases they brought and what exactly they are saying in their lively wise-guy- sounding conversation. I do my best impersonation which makes Wyatt laugh as he eats his ice cream. I draw a picture of all the fantastic things I've ever seen in the countless shops and flea markets I've traipsed through over the years, put them all in this story. I tell him how my gimlet eye catches the glimmer of a diamond and it's this ancient tea box all the way from China. Half buried, I see it gleaming there. The real black lacquer, a dozen layers painstakingly applied one at a time. Real gold paintings of emperors and shrines all over it. The box still has it's key, a miracle really, which kept the valuable and highly-prized tea safe. Inside it has two elaborately etched aluminum containers each with an inner and outer lid to seal and keep fresh the precious and flavorful leaves. Wyatt is now old enough to boil the water and he makes himself the tea which he has just learned to like, generously spooning in the thick honey I wrapped up with the box. He noticed the repair to the foot, but only because I'd admitted it was broken when I bought it. He didn't say anything about the cracking lacquer. I eventually told him the true story, that someone had brought it by my shop right here in Royal Oak, but he wasn't listening anymore. His cousin had come up with some new game and Wyatt was off to play it, the feud forgotten, his mother left with an empty ice cream container and half-finished cup of tea. It was a little sweet for her taste, but she smiled and drank it anyway. She then said uncustomarily, to heck with it, and left the cup in the sink, and refortified, took her place once more at the adult's table.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
There's something primal about the attraction of things in multiples. I liken it to that promise of plenty: enough food to feed the herd, the never ending wine supply. It's quite likely it's the mathematical properties seducing our brains. The heaping bowls of oval soaps in the fancy bath stores, the orderly rows of identical objects in gradational color code. There's nothing I love finding more than a really good thing in a large quantity. Like why didn't I get all those differently colored springs in 10 sizes? It's on the list now. I did have the good sense to take the whole box of porcelain lab crucibles. Simply elegant, the thinnest porcelain, beauty and high function. I'd have been happy with 5 and yet, here's this whole box, an embarrassment of riches really. Can you imagine thimble-sized with it's own tiny acorn-like lid up to shot-glass size with perforated bottoms? I think of it as baby toys for adults. Pour the little one with truffle oil into the big one with olive oil, count 7 almonds into individual bowls and line them up with glasses of wine. Here's this jar of cigar bands on the other hand….look, man, hoarding is an art form! Can we thank those beautiful, smart, tortured people(me and you for instance) that can't part with a simple little wrapper cause it still looks like the ring you pretended it was when you were a kid? Of course the first thing I did was open the jar and try one on…it still fits! It must mean I'm to have them. I got not one serious idea for their use, I just like looking at the jar of them. And the funny, emotional thing is I only want to sell them to the person who understands that it's about the whole jar and our soulmate who saved them for us. Then there are all those worker's name badges. I nearly had a heart attack when I opened the bags and saw the hundreds and hundreds of them…with weird old names like Alvin, Dudley, Wendell and Scooter. It became a kind of physical therapy to separate out the 50 "Slim" from the 75 "Mick" and should I keep all the Sids and Sidneys, Pete and Peters separate or do you think the formalists will be ok in the same drawer with the upstart abbreviators? Can you say…O.C.D? I am trying to remain functional, so I just stuck names starting with the same letter in that file drawer unit I love…the one with the multiples of the same grass green, identical-sized file drawers. So far I managed to partially cover a pair of jeans with names. Now I want to sell them at a show cause it's getting a little claustrophobic. Can I off them in Ziploc baggies of 8?12? Same names or varietals? Could somebody please just buy a bushel basket and make a quilt with these? I need room for my new toys, that nice group of trophies with the same WWII airplane on it and richly-hued velvet-covered buttons. And no, I am not ready to share them...yet.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
This is my first holiday in 18 years that I'm not racing around in retail madness. Okay, it's not like I was ever Macy's or anything, but I tried to give dissenters a place to buy their friends "the deal gone wrong" shredded money ornament from Detroit. You can still have one, this time around the good news is that you get to have me make one or 20 (it was a lot of money) and it's a simple phone call. Chances are good I'm close by since I only live 4 blocks away. I know I keep making excuses for not having regular retail hours. The truth is I work better if I can just focus all my attention on you. When more than one person came into the store, I didn't have the opportunity to figure out what a good gift would be for the best friend who hates Christmas (funeral flag with magnet that sticks to your car or fridge) or the gay sister who just came out to a hostile home crowd (tooled leather holster, brown bag). Now I have the time to drive around, find that giant Christmas tree sign and take it to your condo, because you work all the time. Of course you had to get it for your sister who goes crazy at Christmas with 7 trees packed with ornaments and every room decorated with vintage Christmas. I can't imagine how you are going to wedge the 3'x6' sign into that display, let alone your little Honda. But then,when you are John Arnold and making display magic for all the best dressed homes and stores in town, making the impossible happen is all in a (very long) day's work. That's why they fly you across the country to decorate their homes, cause you made the ones here so brilliant with an actual 8 Mile Sign you salvaged for a backdrop to the outlandish Christmas trees you created. Had I not brought that sign over tonight, I would have missed your blessed mother shrine which you so lovingly adorned with the melted dolls from my store that look like angels (well to you, me and Julie at least). More importantly, I would have missed you thanking me again for finding them so that your friend who understands your aesthetic and mine could so generously give them to you as a gift. And, she would have missed how much we appreciate her because I was over and snapped that picture on my phone to send her and tell her so. So many good gifts and it isn't even Christmas yet. While you are making it beautiful for all of them, I will make a few things for the people who make it beautiful for me, while I leisurely hang around my store this Saturday welcoming the interruption to find that elusive gift for a very special someone. Of course, if that doesn't work out for you just call me, I'd rather wait until there aren't any distractions and it's just the two of us.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
I am sitting here on this cold winter morning eating breakfast and reading about the puppet collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. How nice for the plumber to come first thing and bring me a much more interesting idea to consider(and I love puppets, really). He has come because there is a back up somewhere from the kitchen to the bathroom to the laundry room, what amounts to the sole extent of our small water system. The plumber is now performing one of his regular rituals; methodically going line by line to solve this timeless problem: where is the block and where is the water going or coming from? The usual suspects: a plug, a vacuum, a volcano. I have no doubt he will solve the problem with our plumbing today. He is smiling, he must think so too. I discuss this philosophical notion he brought to me today. We agree that we both enjoy the logic and surety of the solution to be had on the other end. Of course it's despsicable, blockages are messy. But I am deriving such pleasure from having this rational exercise to begin this day, I think it's a great gift. I know this sounds weird, but before you write me off as just, well, off, consider that joy might be underneath a lot of crap (you knew I'd work it in). Try to forget the false promise of pretty packages, look for daily gifts in and amongst the crap. Ignore the relentlessly perky melodies or worse, the loop of disappointments playing in your head. Focus on a job you might do well today, deliver the gift of a small kindness. Joey just gave me one, and there's the mess all over the bathroom floor to prove it. I just called his boss Bob, owner of Royal Oak Plumbing. I told him Joey fixed the problem and that I'm happy and love his crew. He laughed, said he loved me too. I know, how queer and sappy. Think what you will, this really got my day off to a good start. I have a little painting job for a client's new store that just opened, I'm gonna finish it now and deliver it to her today. I have my crew replacing some workers at another new client's job. I am pleased to have his confidence and determined to do a good job and help him out of a jam. I still have a store to rearrange, the Christmas stuff is still in boxes. It's the hardest part of my day, I'm putting it off, writing instead. The holiday thing isn't really my bag, but I'm working on it. I know in advance what will and won't get finished, I am well aware it's a blockage. I will perform my daily ritual. It won't be cleared the way Joey cleared our plumbing, but pleasure like water, will find the open path. I will do my best to clear a path for joy, no matter how small. And once you get a line cleared for it, even a small trickle of it? Well it's the daily ritual to try and keep it that way. Hell, I'll give you Bob and Joey's number, maybe they can help you too.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
It always starts with the first lap,"ugh..36 laps, it's too hard, I wish it was over." I say this practically everyday. I go to the pool, I complain, I swim the 36 laps, I always feel better afterwards. It's a ritual, complain, swim, complain, whatever. Another of my many charms. Ha! Taurus, does that explain it? Stubborn, it's frustrating but it's not all bad. The huge mess from New York, two weeks later, that's another hard one. The shop, that one with no retail hours, has to look a certain way, impossibly time consuming because I have this involved process that requires moving and removing the same things and it's heavy and there's a lot of stuff. Ugh, my patient husband offers to help me the day after Thanksgiving. I work through it, he lets me grumble, moves it twice, says nothing, what a saint. Perfect, I'm chasing my tail. He's an artist, how well he knows the process. I want the store to look as beautiful as that booth, I want that feeling to come home. It isn't going to be the way I see it in my head, not on this day. It's Thanksgiving weekend and I have invited my mailing list to come by and see all that great stuff I talked about. Plus, people person that I am, I miss them. I know, I know, no more retail hours, but it's about balance and this is how you find it, by trying something new, in small bites. Staying with a narrative, not finding out what happens at the end of a story. Adjusting and readjusting. I open the door to my imperfect world Saturday and promptly break the first rule of sales; apologize for the mess. But you know what I've consistently found? My customers don't see it that way. They love the hunt as much as I do. They like digging and poking and finding a surprise. It's a bright menagerie of interesting things to their fresh eyes, and though I worried they wouldn't, they did come. Though I worried they wouldn't shop, they did. As one new customer said to me, it's like the white fire surrounding the letters of the Torah. Magic happens around the words, in the interstitial spaces and margins of what isn't spoken, seen or planned and holds an important key to life. I wanted to have the perfect shop I had in my head, and it was perfectly imperfect and me, I just don't get that it's ok that way. I expected familiar faces from my list, but most of the ones I saw were new and just happening by. I was a little disappointed at first and then these great new people came in and what a wonderful unexpected feeling, the store still draws new people and with them fresh energy. You aren't suppose to say anything that isn't positive, but I can't help but tell them, my business model is messy. It isn't necessarily a bad thing. I got what I needed, the shop and I are o.k. just the way we are. And then a few familiar faces came in that made my heart smile, like long time antique dealer Jim Secreto and designer Steve Knollenberg, who let me know that what I write, mattered to them and that they thought my new business ideas were good. Yes, I'm not mainstream, the show circuit sounded crazy because it is, but beneath it they understood that it's my passion and they admired my strength. Jim said go back to the Pier Show, be myself wholly, and don't flinch. And yes, I need to balance the hard work required with the quiet acceptance that it's time for something easier, like making better use of the internet and asking for the help I need. Ultimately, it's the only way to make my business and my life better, and the life of those I love and the people I have the privilege to do business with. I could go on, but I think I've made my point. More importantly, I haven't made it to the pool yet today. 36 laps, boy will that feel good…just as soon as I finish. By the time you read this, I will be there and be glad.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
It's a good thing I like 70's rock, cause that's all you get besides country and pop on a commercial truck rental radio. I'm bad company all right, hammering the 12 hour drive straight to Detroit, sailing through New York am rush hour drive, you know I think I fairly own this town. I'm on a mission (fueled by adrenalin) and I'm gonna use all that time to figure out how I actually make New York a regular working location while still doing business and maintaining a normal family life in Detroit. I feel so good, I'm actually pragmatic about the whole dismal return from the show. I figure it's a cheap PhD in building a new business. I did my job, created a booth I was proud of and passed out cards. All good, that is until I finally stopped, literally had to lay down on my packing blankets on the gravel in front of my shop. Oh my God I am so tired. While I was riding high on New York, all the harsh realities of Detroit and all my responsibilities at home were waiting for me. Can a middle-aged, albeit high energy, mother actually do this and not take prisoners? Of course something has to give and I couldn't drop the regular retail store hours fast enough. I'm a little impulsive, I send this newsflash out last week in between the standby flight and the next day drive out to New York. Nobody's gonna catch me and talk me out of this decision. I confess I felt a twinge not being there this first week, but then I had to stare at all that mess from unloading and more hard labor. Oh sure I'm gonna do this again? now? not! It's gonna take me a while to catch up with my own self. I'm beginning to understand that this transition will be slower and harder than I want it to be. When you are raised in a blue collar town and you've been punching a clock there (or responsible for whomever is suppose to be on the clock) for 18 years, believe me, you're gonna be looking around like you just fake called in sick when you stop doing it. There's also the promise of today being that day when someone's going to walk in and buy up the store that's still on the loop. I keep hearing "breathe" and other yoga/spiritual-type mantras…WTF!! would be more me. But you know something? I go to the new early-bird buyers club at the Royal Oak Flea Market and there's MarkyD, Dr. Art, Daya, Dennis and David with big hugs for me. Dr. Z has his new 2011 pocket calendar, one for me and one to send to Lulu. Bob and Larry are discussing socrates or the Schrodinger equation or whatever those two brainiacs discuss at their regular table over coffee. I do some shopping therapy, nice painting of death, gymnastic rings, creepy always a pick up. I got 7 hours of sleep for a change. Design projects keep coming, a new client I will secure later in the day works for the big rock station. Just my kinda client, a straight forward single guy with no crazy girlfriend, who just wants to get the place done and get on with the party. How cool is that? Tomorrow it's another project I like, commercial retail space and two brave young women opening businesses in Birmingham. My dealer friend in New York has asked me to scout stuff for our favorite Brooklyn restaurant. I send her a slew of pictures. I'm doing it aren't I? My family and friends are behind me, I got money in the bank today, what's the problem? F--k it, I take Wyatt to see the new Harry Potter movie. He holds my hand, we jump at the scary parts, eat a bucket of popcorn. "Rebel souls, deserters we are called…bad company till the day I die…" I gotta rock on.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
I've gone for baroque (see pic), jamming the machine to assemble this collection, my team, my 46 year old body. I called in every favor to get a booth at the Pier Show in New York. Only got word it was mine last week. Put Rick and his studio crew to the paces to get stuff built, including show walls (cause they cost $1000 in New York...well it seemed outrageous until we actually had to build them too). Flew home this past Wednesday from last week's trip to the NYC, literally changed clothes and went to work to help the studio finish, load (in the dark,$#%&&TYG daylight savings!), say hello and goodbye to my poor family and sleep a wink. I jumped into the van Thursday and hammered the 11 hour drive back to my friends' Adam and Andrea's couch, commandeered our friend Peter to help me set the booth up yesterday and break it back down Monday (his new mantra: lose my number lady). Then, I get to drive the 11 hours back home Tuesday, unload Wednesday, massage.... So basically it's the best booth in the entire history of booths (my humble opinion of course) Baroque and three ring circus (actual trapeze cape from the circus) crazy and I love it and this is putting hypomania to work for you. I swear soon I will lie down and not get up for days, in the meantime folks, it's showtime and I gotta get on the coffee drip to fuel this day. Wish me luck! Will have better pictures to post on the newly revamped website I'm gonna work on just as soon as I stop doing something else. Now it's Saturday, I am posting this, putting my show face on and taking the subway in to face New York! I hope everything sells out!!...but what doesn't comes back to the shop next week, so call and come see me (you come wednesday and take one end of any of this heavy shit and I promise you wonders! deals! the cure to salvage addiction!). Oh yeah, did I mention? Nor more store hours as of November 15. that stopping something else, it's retail. You like it better when I come in special just for you anyway.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Yes i've been training for years and I'm finally gonna do it. Pray i make it to the finish line, even if they have to drag me the last 50 feet…ok well not THAT marathon. I mean my parallel version of the nyc marathon where I fly into the city this weekend to check out doing the flea markets in December, fly home then turn around the next day in a loaded truck to drive back to do the Pier Show (November 13&14) that I just talked my way into yesterday. And I gotta write about this, right now? This my friends is the real antiques road show. It's an obsession and I'm a slave to it. All hands are on the bench, work benches that is. In between the new installation at the Detroit Science Center, Rick's studio is putting together the latest designs (oh no I can't just take Rhinebeck leftovers…)Remember the scraps from the Starlite lanes facade on 8 Mile Rd. The one where I was begging the demo crew to save anything for me? So far from that metal scrap, we cobbled together two 6' columns with light up stars. Those blue beauties are gonna be on the front of the booth. Then there's the void collection; simple modern furniture Rick makes from the voids left from punching industrial parts out of sheet metal plus lights we did out of industrial parts, etc. on one side. 20th century store display, signage and graphic looking stuff will go on the other and at the back some stunning pieces of historic architecture. It's the tiniest booth, costs more than my mortgage payment (a LOT more) for the weekend. It's a one-woman show and I'm taking deep breaths, but really it's me calling on all my friends to rent walls (scenic prop)borrow a bigger van (carlin construction inc.)hire crew in new york to load, set up, load out, sleep on the A team's couch (forgash photography&co) that makes it possible. I'm of course banking on bigger apple wallets and their love affair with Detroit. And what's not to love? If I could disassemble and truck the entire imagination station installation www.facethestation.com , that's what I'd really like to set up on that pier and I'd be hauling those tireless visionaries Jeff DeBruyn (president, Corktown Residence Council)and Jerry Paffendorfer (co-founders)the architect/artist Catie Newell, countless volunteers with me. Simply one of the most moving things I've experienced in Detroit. 150 people standing in a hush, waiting for the sun to set, the light at just the right angle to stream through all that wreckage art. I started the line and the man behind me finished, "There is a crack, a crack, in everything…that's how the light gets in…" Leonard Cohen.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
That the economy isn't coming around anytime soon seems to be working for some people and they are the ones making it work for me. I'm drawn to unstable ground which is what attracts me to water and sailing; the constant adaptation required to maintain balance my steady state.
I am back to working some regular Saturday hours unless I'm doing a show. Business was slow last Saturday, but one person came in looking for design help for a new family-owned restaurant, and she hired me to come out to consult on the spot. Turns out it's her retired parents who are spearheading this venture, ran a restaurant in this space for 40 years, and hope to start a new version of it up again after a 15-year hiatus. What? Why? Because their last tenant failed, and they are covering a big nut and it seems like doing what they know or used to know is the best way to cover the bills while trying to sell the building which is their ultimate goal. Got that? The daughter is a stay-at-home mom of 4 under 13, she's trying to help save the nest egg by handling it all herself including cleaning the filthy huge place. The change in the direction of the wind is easy for me to negotiate and I put the design hat back in the bag, synthesize the facts, impressions of the family players as described and intuit the feelings of mother and daughter in front of me. I call in my man-of-action contractor, Dave Carlin and his son Allen. Cost reality check, ouch, I propose the minimalist low cost "perk" and style staging to get the place sold (which hasn't been vacant long), while making it easily adaptable for a restaurant, if that's what they want to do. I'm happy for the vote of confidence and to be of service.
Next up, I am sitting in on a design meeting between a couple opening a 7000 sf coffee shop/retail operation and their architect. It's in an 1880's building in a prominent historic area of Detroit. They want to remodel it while keeping the historic character intact. Budget is tight, new is necessary in places, but where to make style sacrifices and still have historic reference and the authenticity that enhances the customer's experience and the bottom line is the trick. The architect has designed what looks like a suburban, made-to-look-old, but is obviously not, not cheap solution. I take this all in and determine that what I've got to sell is salvage solutions strategically placed to balance budget and look. This means finding them on my time and getting paid only if they buy something, probably sight unseen. Not the smoothest waters, which means I gotta focus on the tack or my small craft will capsize.
Meanwhile, I'm fielding text messages from other clients trying to open a new retail concept in Birmingham before Christmas. It involves multiple tenants with my clients controlling the look of everyone's build-out. They want the industrial Heritage Co 2 stuff they've used successfully in their other two stores. They know first hand that creative use of salvage contributes positively to the customer's overall impression and in a fickle economy, being the kind of place people feel good to come to and support is key to survival. No, it's not as easy as ordering from the retail display catalogue. Some hand-holding is required on both our parts to convince tenants, some without the ability to visualize, how repurposing rough-looking stuff can be adapted to suit their taste and will meet their needs. This is ultimately a matter of trust, they are buying into what I say we can do. There are sacrifices of certainty with the unknown and when things change so can the cost. I have to convince them of the value of uniqueness, sometimes over savings, ease and instant gratification. It's worked well with these clients and making them look good motivates them to sell me. That's smooth sailing.
It's Saturday again and here I sit on another slow day with not much to show for it this time. I've sacrificed a day with my family to sell this package in a not easy time or town. It can look like fair weather when you set sail, but a seasoned sailor is always prepared for the storms that come suddenly out of nowhere. When it's sink or swim, you better be ready to swim.
Monday, October 18, 2010
I have no off switch. I don't even have a dimmer. Rick and I are invited to be guests of the chef for a 5 course fall harvest dinner at Goldner Walsh, Tim Travis' nursery in Keego Harbor, but I actually never sit down to the table. First of all I have a hard time preparing in advance for anything, so I'm forever making plans at the last minute. I am not prepared because I am perpetually overbooking myself. I think I can do everything, do it all myself and under estimate the time everything will really take. Only if it's a pressure cooker can I possibly get around to designing a table with those great fat posts that have been sitting around for 5 years for the show I'm about to do two weeks later. And, of course I have to express material for some artwork I'll have to frame in New York where that show is. What could possibly be the advantage of preparation and timely framing in your spacious, full-equipped studio at home when instead you can assemble them with someone else's tools in their New York apartment the day before the show?
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I drove straight through from Rhinebeck, New York, Sunday night so I could be back in time for an underground dinner in Detroit. Don't think I don't know the risks I take. The show was no blockbuster. I was lucky to do as well as I did. Well it really isn't luck, I don't sit down. I speak to everybody and thank them for their interest. I tell them I'm from Detroit. It's not easy explaining why a 1930's photo of a dead baby in the woods is incredibly beautiful and important to share, how a medical model of a brain is an interesting thing to find in an art collection and why a set of cast iron branches from Detroit's train station are worth every penny, so fragile is our hold on this once magnificent building, on this still proud city. I can be thick-skinned, most of them will walk away and take nothing, it's cool. I'm a nighttime driver, I take naps when I get tired. I was 6 miles outside of Toledo at 7:30 am. Plenty of time to get home, sleep more, pick Wyatt up from school, throw a football, get dressed for dinner, head to an undisclosed abandoned building somewhere....The turnpike comes to a dead halt. Not a good sign, I saddle over to the closest trucker, bum a cigarette (another lousy thing that keeps you awake) get the news...Tanker caught fire, caught a second one on fire, it's gonna be an hour atleast. Oh good, I've just had breakfast, coffee and a cigarette. Sorry slave followers, you get it all, I hop the fence and head to the cornfield. I climb back over the fence, 36 hours of selling, 3 1/2 hour workout loading it all back into the truck, 10 hours on the road, 1 hour nap, makeshift cornfield facilities: figure that into the cost of goods. I'm fortunate to have prodigious energy, a low give-a-shit factor. It's not"salvage princess." I'm in bed by 10:30am.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
A friend of mine from New York referred to my ever expanding and evolving business strategies as "building my empire." As I neared the border of New York yesterday with a fully loaded van for a show I've never done in Rhinebeck, New York, this week and saw that sign "Welcome to the Empire State," I smiled at the pleasure I take in actually following through on a dream I have and, a little like a kid, so proud of my bravery. I was reminded too of another girl from my hometown, Rochester, Michigan, who similarly went to New York to follow through on her idea, and look what an Empire the material girl built. Luck and bravery is surely required to negotiate the hornets nest of traffic entering the Emerald City at rush hour on a rainy Monday. So sorry if the shot of the George Washington Bridge crossing from New Jersey lacks the backdrop of the magnificent skyline, dude it was all I could do to follow the ridiculously complicated directions to my friends' place in Queens and not destruct. The white knuckles grippin the wheel after an 11-hour drive in the pouring rain with a load so heavy it made driving the van like steering a parade float earns me a girl scout badge for sure. Not that I'm looking for a badge, truthfully I could care less about the stress. I'm feelin on top of my game and having the time of my life. I got killer shit, way to much for the 8x16 booth I have, but the show costs more than my monthly mortgage payment so I will forgo the minimalist gallery look and give them Detroit salvage as it looks in the heritage company imaginarium. As usual, the paint was still wet on the table I designed and built with Richard Gage Design Studio. Then there's the last minute electrical issues with the newly made pile of lights. Of course I had to reload the already packed van because it looked like my axles might crack. What? I couldn't get excited about dealing in say postage stamps? Like the t-shirt says, Detroit hustles harder. Don't I know it.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Call me spoiled, but all I have to do is collect up interesting parts, dream up some designs and the Richard Gage Design Studio builds it. This week we are feverishly building industrial lighting which is all the rage on the coasts. We also have in production a table we designed from old-balusters, a stand for a gladiator helmet made out of a street sign, a light-up arrow to restore and a light that spells "COOL" fabricated from a board found with a series of holes drilled through it. Detroit continues to be in the hot seat for creative inspiration of all kinds, and we've become a regular weekly feature in the New York Times ( see the article from last Sunday's NYT travel magazine titled, "Artists in Residence" www.nytimes.com/tmagazine from last sunday's issue 9/26/10). I've appointed myself the steampunk ambassadress to next week's show in Rhinebeck New York, upstate an hour and half from the city and I'm crossing my fingers the magic translates to good sales. What could possibly be easier? I get to keep my ratty jeans on and one of my Detroit t-shirts, have an excuse for my perpetually short dirty fingernails and dealer scars as if I looked that way because I just got done changing the oil in my used Chevy van. I hear it's a "decorator crowd" in Rhinebeck, all shopping for their multi-million dollar country homes and New York City apartments with their decorators in tow. Though it won't be like the good ole pre-Madoff days, even austerity has more zeroes behind it than I owe to the man. If Detroit is what they want, I'll just unpack the tool and die shops, factories and old Detroit now jammed into my shop and watch it take on that Marcel Duchamp quality it does when it's presented in a pristine white show booth. It may not look like it, but I also have a girlie side underneath the dirty blue collar and trash mouth which makes for a bi-polar design aesthetic that I manage to make work. Like pairing the factory grunge with the very beautiful cast iron laurel branches and medallion that I'm offering from that media darling, Michigan Central Railroad Station. I contend it was the far more beautiful little sister to its thriving big sister Grand Central Station which shares the same architect. Even though ours is in a ruinous state, negative attention is better than none at all and it's what's keeping it in the limelight and away from the wrecking ball. As long as it still stands, idealistic Detroit lovers like me still hold out hope it and other beautiful buildings like it, will one day be restored to something of their former beauty and purpose. The pair of vintage cast brass lions from an old Detroit estate and a copper deco pediment both in green patina remind us that Detroit still has plenty of its historic elegance. Hand-made folk art, 100+ year-old nautical carved wood fragments from a Great Lakes vessel, advertising signage and the random collection of found stuff makes for a fun display. It's a deep source of pride to come from a legacy of craftsman, designers, engineers and the hard-working skilled labor that built it all and I think that energy brings it together. It would be nice to have a big city trust fund, but I was raised with a midwest work ethic, on a GM engineer's salary and it financed a great university education so who am I to complain? I'm out there representing all of you Detroiters and Midwesterners, so wish a home girl some luck.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
And I thought I had guts…In a stunning display of self possession and assurance, 11 year-old Wyatt Gage donned his new school uniform and strode into the 2 year-old Henry Ford Academy School for Creative Studies at the Taubman Center in Detroit for his first day of middle school. Wyatt is most likely the only kid commuting from the suburbs to attend this charter school. He is definitely a minority. He left the only school he's ever known, Japhet, the 11 kids he's grown up with and many of the 80 kids who make up the entire student body there. I was leaving for Brimfield and New York the next day, and in a way I feel like I'm going back to school too...what? Mother is crowding in on this spotlight? That's pathetic. Please tell me she is not going to go into that bit about reinventing herself again…Wyatt wouldn't care less about Detroit's history of divisions as any indicator of what's possible in the future. His interest in color is on a wheel and every subject he learns at this new school is taught through a lens of design. It's all quite experimental and we aren't sure of the academic rigor, but I'm not convinced that's what's gonna make the man anyway. He's geeked about the first day's "design challenge" involving dropping an egg without breaking it. I'm worried about dropping the company nest egg and breaking the bank.
I've got less to spend at this show than I counted on and with all the bad economic forecasting we keep hearing, I am wondering what I will be able to buy now and what I will be able to sell. There's over a hundred 6th graders and Wyatt's one of maybe three white kids. What does Wyatt see? A whole world of new friends to make and I watch him as he scouts them out.
I've made some new friends in New York and the connection seems to have a good future. In this economy, I'm really hoping I can work with these people to make something good happen for all of us.
I saw Matthew Barney speak about his Cremaster series at the DFT the other night. If you've seen this work, it's quite obvious that it's all in the salesman's power to sell it, cause that is not an easy thing to sell. I go back down to Detroit to join Wyatt for lunch that first day. I spot him at the table and see he's kind of keeping to himself. I go right into worrying he's lonesome for his old friends at Japhet. To which he says, "No I'm just tired, I'm going to need to go to bed earlier." Who is this? After a few days, he tells me, "mom, I have two new friends for sure, Cameron and Travis." I board my flight and stop worrying. Suddenly flying to New York and driving to Brimfield to shop or driving back to New York in two more weeks to set up and do a show, making new business contacts in the city, finding and selling esoteric junk is no big deal despite the big deal I've been making about it. I truly believe in the power of what it is that I sell, and I put all my power into it. That I've managed to keep the crazy train on the rails, making a living for nearly 20 years ought to convince me that this works and yet I still have those crises of confidence and stress myself right out. Here's this skinny kid coming from the safest nurtured corner of the suburbs, taking on this big school in the middle of Detroit without any fuss, and I'm recycling 18 years of the same worry? Really? What we don't waste energy on while children are performing miracles every day. You need a reality check? Hang out with a kid. They have a way of cutting right through all that manufactured adult crap. Why? Because it gets in the way of having fun and that would be dumb, so they don't do that. I'm lucky I have this weird job I invented. It doesn't need reinventing, it just needs consistent leadership and seeing as its worked for me all this time, I guess I'm providing it. So I'm gonna shut up now, work and have some fun doing it.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Our client and good friend Dave Mancini, owner of Supino's Pizzeria in the Eastern Market, just celebrated his second successful year by hosting a big cookout at the Farnsworth Farm on the near east side of Detroit. If this party is any indication, Detroit might not just recover, it's gonna start a revolution. The steampunk pioneers are circling the wagons and looking to make a new model settlement on the rugged, high speed global frontier. In the middle of this untamed community garden, local urban farmers, businessmen and artists, grandpas and babies, diehard city dwellers and curious suburbanites stood in line for Dave's grilled pizzas (eyes wide when they saw the sophisticated toppings: tuscan pulled pork, just cut basil, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, etc.). Motor City Brew flowed continuously in the bayou heat and kids zipped over and under adults and on top of a giant log jungle gym. The party was a buzzing hive of new ideas. Creative collaborations are being planned and executed under our noses. It was a joyous display of creative talent, including those new to the D and the prodigal children from places like New York and Amsterdam. Detroit is a giant magnet and they come for the spectacle and find themselves staying. Music wafted from the experimental art gallery/theater/performance space squatting in the abandoned building across from the garden. Lo and behold there was my 11 year-old Wyatt on electric guitar playing with the big boys. Actually, this is a whole block (and then some) of experimental gallery/theater performance space. There's the west end anchor; full-blown farm of urban farmers Kinga and Andrew, growing and raising their children on years of city harvests before anyone else had the cahones to do it. The menagerie home of gardener/artist/chef/animal lover Molly Motor a few doors down who might be cooking, tiling or tilling at any given moment. Murals on houses and small gardens have sprung up down and around the corner. Sprouted and nurtured, Farnsworth is a living, growing community. When Richard Florida (Carnegie Professor and author of the highly acclaimed Rise of the Creative Class) talks about what makes today's cities successful, these are the sorts of people and places making it happen. I know that Detroit has been at the bottom of this list and that I sound like Pollyanna predicting yet another renaissance for Detroit, but if you had been at this party and talked to these people, you'd be as energized (and sleepless) as me. Look for more happenings like this, check out www.greeningofdetroit.com. If you wanna know what's else is going on, head down to the Eastern Market on Saturdays, check the bulletin boards at places like Supino's Pizzeria and Avalon Bakery. Or hey, come by and see me…well if you can catch me that is….o.k. well then call.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Now that I am of a "certain age", I allow myself a few breaks here and there. Like why hammer the return home from Pittsburgh in a day when I can invite myself over to the modernist museum in Cleveland that is Michael and Debbie Edwards home? I love the old traditional neighborhood, turn of the century vernacular homes with ordered lawns and of course theirs is extra special because these are people of taste and substance. It's the oldest house, the original dairy farm sitting way back from the street on a huge lot, landscaped, sculptures, how lovely for the interloper's overnight? Of course the story inside is something else. In their hands, the spaces are clean white gallery rooms, hardwood floors, original doors and woodwork. Beautiful bones as they say in the architectural parlance. But, how they've designed it, selected edited, selected, tis a modernists' dream. Everywhere you look is a statement piece of the masters, reminding you of the powerful voice post war America had in the world. I sip the prosecco they hand me and study exceptional examples of the applied arts: sculptures in wood, clay, paintings, textiles, ceramic vessels, furniture by the cognoscenti of the day mixed in with simple primitives, Michael's own ephemeral photographs and pieces of other eras that balance the collection and make it a handsome place. We compare our rustbelt cities. They say Ohio struggles like detroit but is more complacent and defeated compared to what they describe as a still fighting the fight, not backing down, scrappy Detroit. I had never heard Ohio described this way, but I sure recognized Detroit and sighed a quiet sigh of relief. I couldn't exist in that environment. I'd have built a compound around myself too, and then travelled every minute I could afford. They've closed their store which only drained resources and are working the surplus into their living museum and mostly selling it on line. I give them a lot of credit for their ability to adapt to the new paradigm in our beaten economies. I personally don't work well in that solitary business model. I've dropped in on them unexpectedly, the veritable Cat in the Hat to their Sally and I. I'm bouncing with tales of a business reinvigorated by a new movie making industry in town, design projects and art installations for better-supported cultural institutions. This has resulted in new found energy to brand my business as proudly Detroit and market it to better markets on the East Coast and beyond. I know I would not be in this expansive place if not for the positive feedback of a newly emerged buying public. So you know what this cat is thinking: I am going to New York and Debbie and Mike are on my way, couldn't I design them into the act? Wouldn't this stunning collection, their sophisticated mid century classicism make my industrial modern steampunk sparkle and dance? Forget that tired worry of…."but it's competition!…won't it steal your thunder?" Look I've been going on about this for like 20 blogs already. Huge paradigm shift, get it into your head, we can't just keep on going in this same myopic direction where it's every man for himself and you're on your own. The well is mighty dry, and either we all get just what we need or we're gonna watch people all around us drop like flies. I really believe these times were tailor-made for a middle child, a born collaborator who lives to work together with other like-minded, smart and talented people. Can you really argue with a little success? Can you really tell the Cat who is clearly having a ball up their juggling it all that it's not any fun to play with others? No my friends, you cannot.Throw caution to the wind, toss a ball in the air. Get in on this act before mother finds out what a mess you made of it all.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Anyone that thinks they don't need to pay attention to connections or have all the ones they need, should have been in the van with me today. I travelled to Pittsburgh to pick up some foundry molds for Richard Gage Design studio's sculpture for the Detroit Science Center. I'm traveling alone so it's the perfect opportunity to catch up on all the phone calls I didn't get to. I am organizing an open house at my shop next Monday for some photographer/dealer friends of mine from New York who have just been cross country buying up a storm of vintage photos, equipment and god knows what all else. I am hooking up with them in New York in two weeks time and we are going to Brimfield together. During the series of conversations, I get to talking with one of them about why they should come and photograph Detroit. It inevitably gets political and we debate universal rights the feds should govern/mandate vs. state's making up their own as they see fit and how widely it varies place to place. We agreed there was just a huge issue of migration with people flocking to the state's with the desired health care insurance, tax policy, gun rights, gay marriage, cheap cigarettes, whatever etc. And it went on from there. Here's how things got weird and wired up together. It's as if everybody encountered today had listened in and had something to add. The photographer calls me back, he had a phone call right after we hung up from a magazine customer who might have a shoot in Pontiac, Michigan of all places. Seems they have a story to tell of some former drug addict turned activist/local saviour (a beautiful Pontiac begins..?). Suddenly an opportunity to get paid to come take pictures in Pontiac and Detroit next month is tangible. An hour later I'm paying the guy at the toll booth who tells me I've entered a blue state from a red state and they can't come up with a joint policy and that's why I'm confused about having to pay two tolls 50 feet apart. I then get lost and pulled over for doing 80 in a 55 and the cop tells me Michigan is one of 5 states Pennsylvania doesn't have a reciprocal agreement with and he can't ticket me. Instead he has to take me to downtown Pittsburgh and I have to go before the magistrate and pay the fine directly or they'll put me in jail…He decides to let me go with directions to take it easy, like nobody ever let's me go. Now it's rush hour and I'm starved. I'm a picky eater and some chain factory food won't cut it. I park the car on a side street and ask the professional looking guy walking by my car if he's a foodie, cause i'm from Detroit and I want a recommendation for really good eats. Just so happens of all the guys walking around Pittsburgh today I stop the one from Detroit. In fact he just got back from vacationing yesterday in Lexington Heights, community of 400 where I have a cottage and just spent the weekend 8 houses away from him and his family. We exchanged cards in case I have more problems with cops or he needs a place to rent on the lake next summer. He sent me to the best Thai restaurant where I am writing this in a beautiful garden setting. Dude take my word for it, we are connected. You got to get out of your box and get on the universal wave length. You have inspired conversation to look forward to, trips to beautiful places, a get out of jail free pass, homeboys with restaurant recommendations, amazing business opportunities in a crap economy, happiness and fulfillment. When the hard times come, you'll have faith, good memories and real friendships to sustain you. Don't delay, dialogue today.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
In Detroit for the very first time August 12-14, DIFFA (Design Industry Foundation FIghting Aids www.diffa.org) invites local designers to design dining table vignettes as part of their big nationwide fundraiser. The first big event to be hosted at the top floor of the new Taubman Center at the Center for Creative Studies, The Heritage Co.2 and Richard Gage Design Studio took the opportunity to showcase current work Rick is doing for the revamped museum store at the Detroit Science Center and the material I continue to mine from Detroit's rich industrial heritage and offer for sale and rent at my store.
Our table featured wood foundry molds (which will be part of two sculptural front entrances for the remodeled store), steel factory table from a now defunct Detroit tubing fabrication shop, Detroit Public Works stencil "A beautiful Detroit begins with you" c. 1950, "Joe the Tinner" commercial advertisement from a sheet metal fabricator that had been on Grand Blvd in the 1940's, assortment of letters reclaimed from local commercial signage, vintage theater spot lights on surveyors stands, vintage lunch boxes.
Not done until it's over done, I stubbornly insisted on creating a "costume" to go with our installation. Much as I imagine all of those clothing designers do before a big runway event, I feverishly spent 2 hours before the opening event decorating my sister Alyssa's destroyed 1970's Levis with reclaimed workmen's badges I have in droves at the store. To think of all the talented designers and artists who have lost their lives to AIDS, it seems only fitting that at the ninth hour I should become a slave to fashion as well.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
I had 10 other things I was suppose to do today and atleast 4 topics ahead of this blog to write about (like last nights DIFFA event and my get up). But then Jon called me about Starlite Lanes being torn down and I had to go see. I tried to get out of it, I couldn't help myself. I get there, it made me ill. I forgot why I can't do too much salvage anymore. The physical labor/danger angle not withstanding, it makes me ill. Like how animals in cages at the zoo make me ill and I can't go there either. By the time I arrive, they have the marquis clean off the otherwise nothing building. It's 11 a.m. and over 90 degrees. The crew consists of two pairs of brothers and a fifth guy, all nice men, all working at this dirty, hard job. They humor the salvage lady in her new "a beautiful detroit begins with you" tank top. I tell them I save things and make things out of them. They stop the slaughter and start helping me sift through the debris. Despite the fall, there's still plenty of useable beautiful stuff, I'm feeling better. New people come and go, mostly scrap salvagers. I go get cold drinks. I ask about the boss showing up. No one seems too worried. Then the boss shows up along with some official looking man carrying his mac. They look at me. The frontend loader operator says I'm his girlfriend. The functionary proceeds to recite state clean air standards and regulations and what they, who are in violation, need to do to continue this demolition job. He talks like he's teaching a college course they've signed up for. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say these guys have had all the education they never wanted and will ever need. The upshot is that it will cost, in his estimate, $180 each to have a physical to see if they qualify for the right to do this job, to buy a special respirator and a few more items. Which, he goes on to say, they may not need at all because the air quality in the building may not be an issue. Now, he doesn't say the state is going to test this first. No, they just gotta pay this money, see if they make the cut and also fill out a 5-page questionnaire. If they don't do these things? Well, should the state come by this site, on 8 mile Road, they could be fined or put in jail. Now you might argue, the boss oughta pay for this. And maybe he should or would, except it looks like a nothing building. I really don't think he's making a big dollar on this with the fees, equipment and labor costs (and by the way, he tells me he lets then keep whatever scrap money they make). Maybe you're thinking, well what about safety? Sure, once you get past survival, safety would be next on my list. The functionary leaves. The boss says in effect, get this cleaned up and lets get out of here. Everyone gets busy, the boss turns to me, "so who are you (really?)" I tell him as I watch them crush all the stuff I wanted to save. He asks me twice if I'm a spy for the state. I tell him what I think about what I just heard. He tells me I should have told him I wanted the stuff sooner. He stops the crew, tells them to help me load whatever I want. This is so not how this goes. I tell him so. He laughs, says people like me follow him from job to job like this. He invites me to go with him to see if there's anything inside "the contaminated" building. It's empty, as clean as a whistle. I load, ask him what I owe him. He smiles, says "friendship." Girl scout's honor, he says friendship. Do you believe that? We exchange cards, I leave. In the end, seems they weren't actually suppose to take that beautiful marquis down yet. More than one party asked to purchase it. The boss doesn't act too upset about it, seems he takes a lot in stride. It's hot, these men got the call to work, they showed up ready, able and willing to do the work. This is how business is getting done in Detroit my friends. You got a better idea? I'd say run for office, but by the sound of things, I'm not convinced better ideas would survive the quality of the air in there.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Would you believe I am curled up inside my sweater right now? I am bracing myself from the wind blowing hard from the east off lake huron. The water is deeply blue and the front is driving the waves pounding into the break walls. My god it is beautiful here. I can't tear myself away. Somewhere my 3 young charges are building a fort on the beach out of brush and twigs. This is the sweet life, what a legacy. Keeping my footprint light, in every way I can, impressing this idea upon these 3 children feels like a moral imperative. Take only what you need. Waste nothing. Leave no trace of your passing so that this beauty survives you. Each of us, in this bountiful country, need to be good stewards. At Wyatt's school Japhet, their curriculum emphasizes character qualities based on the golden rule. I feel strongly about the one that says, "exercise thrift." By the looks of things in our state, in every state, we need a refresher course. Our lifestyle and values have hit critical mass and we are at the lowest point I have ever lived through. It is painfully evident that our insatiable appetites threaten our bodies, our relationships with each other and the places where we live. I am overwhelmed by the task I am asking of myself and you, so deeply entrenched our wicked ways, turning the tide so tall an order. I try to focus on breaking it down into smaller bites. Like just picking up garbage lying on the ground in front of me and teaching Wyatt to do the same. Examining what we define as "garbage" and taking the time together to sort through it, recycling everything we can. I make my living selling reclaimed materials: from building parts, to factory parts, decorative and utilitarian items to undefinable found things that intrigue me. Teaching Wyatt the idea that he doesn't need another new thing has been a real challenge. I spend a lot of time talking Wyatt out of his wants. I feel defeated when I finally just have to say the "no because I say so" line and often guilty when I give in. Surely one more thing won't matter? I"m uneasy. I try to divert attention, make up some adventure, go treasure hunting. It's a fun, creative, job and inspirational. While I'm looking for useable stuff to sell, he carries a bag to collect up scraps to make art out of, bones and things of interest to study. We wonder where it came from, it's history, it's purpose, the possibilities. A found item might entertain him for an entire afternoon, maybe more, then guiltlessly recycled the next. I can't imagine channel surfing or mall shopping offering similar satisfaction. Clearly it doesn't. The activity need cost nothing, you start out the door, never putting a key into an ignition. We find all kinds of useful things that maybe need a little cleaning or small repair. We all have natural ingenuity, if we tune into it. The skills may be dormant, but I am sure they are there, having been passed down for generations by ancestors who had to do everything themselves with what was at hand. We just got out of practice. There's plenty of help on the internet, at the library, maybe next door at your handy neighbors. Just ask, pay attention, be appreciative. If you have useable items you no longer need or want, donate them to your church or a service organization, sometimes they'll even pick it up. I know you are busier than ever. Enlist your family, work together, make it habit-forming. Try to make it fun. While your at it, pay attention to what is happening with the resources shared by your community: your water, your infrastructure, the parks and downtowns. Say and Do something about waste and contamination when you see it happening, we'll all have less work and expense later. Then stop right where you are. Take this minute to witness the natural beauty around you. Do it again tomorrow. You are making connections, you won't want to let your fellow planet dwellers down. Listen to your mother, make good choices.