Walking in Memphis

Memphis is hot right now. And I don’t mean just temperature wise. We are getting ready for Memphis in May, a month long celebration on the banks of the Mississippi River. Since 1990, Memphis has been hosting  the Beale St. Music Festival and more recently the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. And The American Queen Riverboat now docks in Memphis. You’ll be able to board in Memphis and cruise on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers with stops in Chattanooga, Louisville, Pittsburgh and New Orleans.The Memphis Grizzlies, our NBA  team are in the playoffs this season. Go Griz! So now is the time to follow Marc Cohn’s advice to go “Walking in Memphis”.

And when you are downtown, check out the storefront at 75 So. Main at the corner of Union. The Downtown Memphis Commission is sponsoring the work of local artists that will be exhibited in downtown windows on the trolley line.  Members of  the  The Memphis Association of Craft Artists are exhibiting their work in the windows at this location. So if you are headed downtown, whether it is to take part in a Memphis in May event, a basketball game, or to enjoy one of the many fine restaurants in the area, take a moment to see what local craft artists have been working on. Here is a glimpse of the work displayed in the downtown windows.

Some of the artists whose work you will see here are textile artist Marilyn League, jewelry artist Mildred Schiff of DreamCasters Originals, glass artist Lisa Butts of Elucido Glass, Cheryl Hazelton of Studio Woodworking, and MemphisWeaver’s own handwoven scarves and handbound books. Many of the other artists whose work are on exhibit in the Downtown Windows can be seen on the MACA website. Indeed, walking in Memphis will reveal the delights of a world class city.

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Ode to a Mensch

Turkey Scratch, Arkansas is just a few miles across the Mississippi River from where I am now sitting in Memphis. It is where Levon Helm grew up amid the cotton fields and the fiddlers playing a blend of gospel, country and hillbilly music that would eventually find its way to Memphis and evolve into the blues, rockabilly and rock and roll. Levon and The Band defined the music of my generation in the 60’s and 70’s. He provided the foundation that contributed to my growth as a human being as much as my family of origin did. Growing up near Boston, Massachusetts was as far removed from Turkey Scratch as one could be in 1968. But it was Levon and his generation of musicians that played a vital role in my upbringing.

And it was my brother and the legacy of  his tragic death in 1966 that left me hanging on to the music he loved. The music we shared was a way for me to stay connected to the memory of  our listening to the tinny sounds of Motown and Bob Dylan on his transistor radio. My brother was also a guitarist and I still have and treasure the sheet music that he used to learn to play some of his favorite songs.

And that is how I fell in love with the music of Levon Helm. As I grew up listening to the music that my brother would have loved, I found that I always gravitated back to the sounds of Bob Dylan, and eventually “The Last Waltz” became my favorite album of all time. All the artists featured on the album were those that defined my generation:  Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Emmy Lou Harris. And of course the fine band that played with them.

I regret that I never went to a Midnight Ramble, most notably the Ramble at the Ryman in 2008 just up the road in Nashville. But I was fortunate enough to see Levon Helm and his band, including his daughter Amy perform in Tunica, Mississippi two years ago. And it was a memorable performance.

And so that is how I will remember Mr. Helm. Playful and serious as a performer and always, always talented. Thank you   for the music that will forever remind me of the early days in 1966 – sharing a love of music with my brother that became the seed for embracing the music of my generation.

Chagall Windows

The color palette for my handwoven scarves seems to be changing lately. My scarves this spring are not as dark and muted as my previous scarves. This year the colors are lighter, somewhat pastel, but also with a smattering of jewel tones. This change may be due to the fact that here in Memphis, we experienced  unusually warm weather in March. Our azaleas, dogwood and hyacinth appeared suddenly well before the first day of spring.

 My backyard on the first day of Spring

And so in March I have been weaving lightweight scarves that can be worn year round as I prepare for the Spring Show.

Post Card for the Spring Show

Once again our collective of local artists and craftsmen will be exhibiting and selling our work at the Shops of Saddle Creek in Germantown, TN – a location that has worked well for us the past two years. Beside my handwoven scarves, I plan to sell more of my handbound books including  blank books made from 45 rpm vinyl records. And this year, there will be some Elvis sightings. But I digress. Here is the color palette that I have been working on with this most recent series of scarves.

Handwoven scarves for the Spring Show

I’ve seen these colors somewhere before. And I am reminded of a trip I took recently to the Art Institute of Chicago. One of the “must sees” that I had planned on this visit were the series of 3 “America Windows” that Marc Chagall created for the American Bicentennial.

I will need to weave more  blue scarves.

Confetti Landscapes

During the holiday show season, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Kacky Walton on Memphis’ NPR affiliate, WKNO-FM. As a listener of her radio program, I always found her to be one of the most upbeat radio personalities that I ever heard. And sure enough, upon meeting her, she proved me right! This was my radio debut and her warmth and friendliness put me right at home.

During the interview, I wore a scarf that I had woven about 10 years earlier. Kacky remarked that the scarf looked like someone had merrily thrown bits of colorful confetti on it. It was a new description of a scarf I hadn’t woven in a long time. But her observations propelled me into re-examining this scarf design and weaving a collection for 2012.

When photographing the scarves in their various stages of production, the colors and textures reminded me of urban landscapes of tall buildings with mirrored windows and banners blowing in the wind.

Hand dyed tencel scarf with novelty yarn on the loom

The warp is a hand dyed 5/2 tencel yarn from Yarns Plus in Mississuaga, Ontario Canada. The novelty yarn is Cancun by Stacey Charles.

Dark confetti scarf of tencel and novelty yarn on the loom

The original 10 year old handwoven scarf that inspired the confetti landscapes

And the wound warp chain that will be the next set of scarves to go on the loom looks more like a high desert landscape.

I am looking forward to seeing the customers’ reactions to these colorful, textured and playful scarves.

Latkes and Loempia

There’s a woman in Memphis who gets offended when someone greets her with “Happy Holidays” instead of  “Merry Christmas”.  Imagine how offended she would be if she knew that I was Jewish when I wished her a “Happy Holiday”. It’s hard not to get caught up in the celebratory spirit of this time of year no matter what your religious belief, or whether you even celebrate anything in December. So it is a month when spirits are high and there is a collective feeling of warmth amongst us. We take the time to wish each other happiness in a personal way that is comfortable to each of us. And that’s shameful to the woman in Memphis.

Jews have always had a difficult time of it in December. The commercial bombardment on tv, the radio, print advertisements, billboards, and Christmas music seems to assail us wherever we go. It is rare that one hears the “Dreidel Song” or the story of the Maccabees anywhere other than a private home, synagogue or Jewish Community Center during this time. December is the month when we feel most invisible and often unwelcome, such as the woman in Memphis would like us to be.

Though our family is Jewish, we celebrate December holidays with a nod to our multiculturalism. In our home and community we embrace, respect and honor everyone’s religious belief and their choice of celebration. Of course we light one candle on each of the 8 nights of Hanukkah and we display a lit menorah in our window as well as hang a Hanukkah banner above our front door. We also display the many Christmas cards we receive from our Christian friends, family and colleagues. We receive red and green wrapped Christmas presents from our relatives who celebrate Christmas and share Christmas greetings with our neighbors. And on December 5 we all get our initials in chocolate to remember Sinterklaas from our family’s Dutch heritage.

If we know that someone celebrates Christmas then we wish them a Merry Christmas. If we don’t know them well enough to know their religious beliefs, then we wish them Happy Holidays. It would be presumptuous and arrogant of us to assume that everyone around us celebrates Christmas.

Food is something that unites people of many different backgrounds. And in December, it shows. Of course, we make latkes, a potato pancake fried in oil which represents the miracle of the oil that burned after the destruction of the Temple during the time of the Maccabees.

Latkes cooking in oil

But  in the spirit of embracing our diversity, we also use that oil to fry loempia, a Dutch-Indonesian eggroll. The understanding and acceptance of diversity begins at home. And what better time to teach this than during the holiday season.

Loempia with chicken and vegetable filling

So to the woman in Memphis, who cannot see beyond her own bubble of church, religion, community, listen to me. December is not only for you, it is for all of us. For all of us who choose to celebrate or not.  To celebrate Christmas or not. To celebrate Hanukkah or not. To celebrate Kwanzaa or not. To celebrate St. Nicholas Day or not. To celebrate Festivus or not. Or not to celebrate at all. December is about respect, tolerance and acceptance.

When I say “Happy Holidays” to you, relax, smile, and enjoy the season.

Anniversary of an Ear

Yes, you read right.  It was nearly 40 years ago, when my friend Loretta convinced me that I needed to have my ears pierced.  We were overwhelmed freshmen in college going through our first taste of final exams, and somehow Loretta knew that I needed a break. She and I trudged through inches of slushy snow to our school’s infirmary where a kind grandfatherly physician had a small potion of steaming liquid waiting for us. He took out a long shiny needle (it must have been 9″ long) and dipped it into the potion. Then he whisked out a cork from an old wine bottle and placed it behind my ear lobe. I caught his eye in a questioning gaze and I thought I saw  a gleam of merriment in his.  Torture indeed!  Well it was over before I knew it, and I left with two shiny gold studs decorating my ear lobes.

Fast forward to 2011. I think I have allergies to all the earrings I had worn over the years. My not wearing earrings has caused my  ear piercings from so long ago to close.  And this pains me because so many of my fellow artist friends design and create exquisite earrings that I long to have to adorn my ears. This is what I’m talking about.

Handpainted earrings on ostrich egg shells by Ansley Larsson

Ansley Larsson has an etsy shop here. And then there’s this.

Hand fused glass earrings and jewelry by elucido glass

Elucido Glass’s etsy site is here. And this.

Polymer Clay jewelry by Linda Livaudais

At this time, Linda Livaudais does not have an etsy shop. However, if you are in the Memphis area, Linda’s jewelry as well as elucido glass’ and Ansley Larsson’s jewelry can be purchased at WinterArts  Winter Arts is a consortium of elite Memphis artists and craftspeople who sell their work through a retail shop during the holiday season. Please come and visit us at 2055 West Street at Poplar Avenue in Germantown, TN. We are in the Shops of  Saddle Creek South next to Talbot’s. Oh, and did I mention that I will also be selling my handwoven clothing and accessories as well as my handbound books there?

Getting back to Loretta. She had an adventurous spirit that I couldn’t quite capture at 18. Loretta didn’t graduate after 4 years as I and most of our classmates did. Instead she chose to take her senior year off and work as a concert assistant to two of her professors. They were a musician couple that went on a classical concert tour of Europe the year that the rest of us were agonizing over boyfriend angst, graduate school dilemmas, job prospects. Loretta spent the year traveling through Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and other exotic European destinations. I believe she even performed some of the lovely piano pieces that she had become known for in college. And then yes, she did come back to graduate college a year after the rest of us. And as far as anyone knew she spent the rest of her adult life in Austria and Italy studying music and teaching. Such adventure.

Sadly, a few years ago, I received a notice that Loretta had passed away at 51 years of age after a long illness. She and I had not kept up over the years, but I still felt a bit of heartache as I remember that cold wintry day when we both set out for a small challenge. And for Loretta, she chose to take the road less traveled, a road that seemed to have taken many twists and turns and certainly great challenges. So in celebration of Loretta’s life and in memory of the young woman who made beautiful music and didn’t seem to be afraid of anything, this is written for you. And I will get my ears pierced again.

Winter Arts 2011

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? There’s a good reason for that! In addition to my teaching responsibilities and a couple of small shows where I have been selling my work, I have also been developing a couple of new products.  In my work with handbound books, I have designed a series that I call “Geometrie”. They are soft cover books with designer fabric sewn to stiff interfacing and a triangular flap that slides under a sewn on fabric strip. The stitching on the spine is a triple chain link stitch which Keith Smith describes in his book “1-2-& 3 Section Sewings”

Soft cover books handbound with triple chain link stitch

And here is a detail of the front triangular flap and closure.

Soft cover handbound book with front flap closure

And my looms have all been seeing a lot of action these past few months. I have been working on handwoven vests and tops as well as more scarves. Most of my work will be included in WinterArts, a six week show that showcases regional artists and their one of a kind work. 2011 will be the third holiday season that this show has been offered to the community and it is now considered one of the most prestigious holiday shows in the Memphis Area.

Poster for WinterArts 2011

The show opens this Friday night, November 25 with a wine and cheese reception. All the 25 plus artists will be present to meet visitors and discuss their art. My space at WinterArts looks like this:

Display of handbound books, WinterArts 2011

Display of handwoven vests and tops, WinterArts 2011

Display of Handwoven Scarves, WinterArts 2011

Again, I apologize to my readers for not posting more regularly lately. And to all, I extend my thanks for your patience and loyalty in following MemphisWeaver’s blog. Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and may this be the beginning of a beautiful holiday season. Peace.