Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Taking the Show on the Road to Rhinebeck, New York

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" 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

Back to School

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

Urban Pioneers Start a Revolution

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 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.