Three Recipes, Three Kitchens, Six Cooks – It’s The Wiggly, Jiggly Vintage Gelatin Cooking Challenge

It’s either fondly loved or fearsomely loathed. It’s a hodgepodge of color and creativity. It’s wiggly and jiggly. It’s sweet or savory, saucy or solid. And depending on how you prepare it, it’s silky and smooth or chunky and lumpy.

Today in the Vintage Kitchen we are talking about gelatin. That powdered concoction of collagen that originated in the boiled hooves of calves back in the 1700’s and now can be found in slim paper envelopes, dry and granular, in grocery stores around the world.

Vintage Jell-O ad

Food suspended in a translucent, quivery clump doesn’t necessarily sound or look appealing to our modern selves but there was a time in history when this type of dish was considered the essence of elegance. For centuries, gelatin has been used in cooking but in the 1930’s aspics, mousses and molded gelatin salads began to rise in mass popularity among both the upper class and the lower class for two entirely different reasons. Affluent, upper-class society enjoyed such dishes for their delicate and artistic composition while lower working classes, struggling to get through the Great Depression, valued gelatin as an inexpensive source of protein that came with an added bonus of being able to disguise and transform leftovers.

1933 Jell-O Cookbook

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are not big on wasting food nor on cooking up unappealing vintage recipes for the sake of mocking their unpleasant attributes. For decades throughout the 20th century people of all ages, income levels, races and genders ate and adored gelatin recipes, so it is in that vein, that we set out to explore these beloved concoctions to see how they might stack up in today’s foodie-conscious culture. Will our modern palates love them just as much as they did decades ago? Or have we become more finicky in the way we approach, prepare and taste our contemporary everyday fare?

In this post, we are diving head first into three vintage gelatin recipes steeped in the culture of mid-century America. Gelatin may have seen its rise to fame in the 1930’s, but its absolute height of popularity came in the 1950’s where two of our recipes originate.  In that decade, more women worked outside the home than ever before making time a newly juggled commodity. Gelatin-based salads, desserts, and main entrees were quick to prepare, could be made well in advance of the dinner hour and retained their shape and consistency for days in the refrigerator. This was the perfect meal-planning solution for busy women acting as wife, mother, career professional and caretaker all in one. Companies like Kraft Food (makers of Jell-O) responded to the demands of mid-century women by continuously creating and rolling out a plethora of newly invented flavored gelatins during the 1950’s that, in-turn, spawned thousands of unique recipes ranging from sweet to savory. It was a heady decade full of potential and possibilities for both gelatin companies and creative home cooks!

Vintage Jell-O Ad

By the 1960’s, the novelty of putting odds and ends into a gelatin mold had worn slightly.  Gelatin aficionados were getting a little bit more sophisticated in their creations as well as their flavor pairings. They weren’t as apt to throw-in the leftovers, or disguise a boring vegetable but instead were creating recipes that were more about flavor than thrift. Food pairings were suggested, wines were recommended and serving situations thoughtfully addressed.

Tomato aspic filled with potato salad and served alongside corn bread muffins circa 1961

It is these two interesting decades in food culture that became the foundation for our very first experimental food challenge featuring four blog readers (plus two from the Vintage Kitchen), three states (representing the East and West Coasts) and three mid-century gelatin recipes.

Our goal for this challenge was to fully embrace the experience of making and tasting these past populars.  Would we discover that they were difficult, time-consuming and confusing?  Or would they be effortless, creative and full of flavor? Each team received the same recipes with the same ingredient list, but each team could choose whatever food brands they wanted and whatever specific types of ingredient they wanted. For example – one recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese, which left it open to interpretation as to what type of cheese.  Finished product presentation was also left up to each team, even though some recipes offered serving suggestions or style notes.

MEET THE COOKBOOKS…

MEET THE VINTAGE RECIPES…

– Jellied Cheese Ring Salad (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955)
Molded Cucumber Mousse (from The Blender Cookbook, 1961)

Spanish Cream (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955)

MEET THE TEAMS…
 

The only requirements for this project were that each team take one photo of the ingredients they used in each recipe and one photo of their finished product. They also answered a set of questions about the experience, since working with gelatin in this format was something rather new for everyone involved. The teams did not communicate with each other at all during the process of making each recipe, nor had any collaborative influence over food styling or interview interpretation, which made for an interesting variety of visual appearance when it came to the finished products. Let’s look!

RECIPE No. 1: MOLDED CUCUMBER MOUSSE (from The Blender Cookbook, 1962)

 

Harpie & Manny, RetroRevivalists from New Jersey,  made their Cucumber Mousse using bottled lemon juice and dried parsley and decorated it in a ring of cucumbers with sliced tomatoes.

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we used fresh lemons and Mediterranean sea salt along with parsley and organic cucumbers from the farmers market. We added our own bit of color by styling it with purple cabbage and fresh parsley. Just like Harpie & Manny we also used cucumber slices in the finished presentation.

Note how Harpie & Manny’s cucumber mousse has a lovely even consistency throughout. Our mousse in the Vintage Kitchen, had a two-toned effect with a bright green gelatin ring at the top. Not sure, why this happened but it did give our mousse an extra dose of wiggle.

Overall this recipe was very interesting. It was light, airy and creamy.  Harpie thought it was a breeze to whip up in the blender but found the ingredient interpretation a bit tricky when it came to the onions. “The directions are challenging to interpret: should we add a slice of a medium onion, or slices of a medium onion? I settled for something in the middle.”

In the Vintage Kitchen we struggled with this same issue, was it one thinly sliced medium onion or one thin slice of a medium sized onion? For the VK version we finely sliced a whole medium onion, but after tasting the finished product, would definitely cut way back on the onion to about one slice. All that onion led to a strong taste which wasn’t terrible just tangy! Having said that, if you are a fan of cold cucumber soup then you would love this recipe. It’s refreshing and summery and pretty in color. The original recipe suggested pairing it with cold poached salmon or trout, which would be really good. It would also be delicious served on of top of smoked salmon and crackers or smashed with avocado on multigrain bread with lemon and fresh herbs. Both Harpie and Manny and the Vintage Kitchen would make this mousse again, experimenting next time with a bit less onion. Harpie thought it made an excellent alternative to lettuce leaf salad.

RECIPE No. 2: JELLIED CHEESE RING SALAD (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955 edition)

 For this recipe, you’ll note that the cheese was left up to interpretation. Marianne and Olivia,  a mother/daughter duo from Redmond, WA used honeyed goat cheese and topped their ring with orchard peaches, prosciutto, and fresh basil.  Very creative!
 

In the Vintage Kitchen, we made our ring salad with Havarti Dill cheese, organic farm eggs and milk and smoked paprika. We also chose not to ring this one since we initially thought about cubing it and serving it on top of crackers. We decorated it with a simple sprig of rosemary and served it on an age appropriate plate made by Garden City Pottery in San Jose, California in 1951.

We loved how Marianne and Olivia added a bevy of extra flavors to their cheese ring, which really opens up the possibilities of offering a sweet or savory appetizer or hors d’oeuvre. In the Vintage Kitchen, we hemmed and hawed over various cheese possibilities (blue, cheddar, gouda, cream cheese, brie, camembert, parm etc etc etc) for this recipe for an entire day before deciding on Havarti dill. There was a lot to consider here as far as color, texture, and taste, and while we had big hopes for it, the jellied cheese turned out to be pretty uninteresting in the flavor department. The Vintage Kitchen version had the consistency of a slightly damp sponge and had absolutely no smell. The combo of the smoked paprika and the dill made it taste sweaty like room-temperature buttermilk or old socks. Definitely not quite what we were expecting!

Marianne and Olivia said their version featuring goat cheese made the ring somewhat grainy, so that wasn’t ideal either.  While they didn’t hate it they wouldn’t rush to make it again. Perhaps it’s easier and more delicious to just eat a piece of cheese, in this case, instead of ringing it in jelly! But here in the Vintage Kitchen, we love a good challenge. We haven’t quite given up on this guy yet. The right cheese and the right mix of spices might yield something magical, so we are going to continue working on this just to see if we can come up with something palatable for football snacking season.

RECIPE No. 3: SPANISH CREAM (from the Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book, 1955)

Creativity really ruled the roost with this recipe  Harpie and Manny added an elegant drizzle of chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries to theirs.

Marianne and Olivia topped theirs with a dollop of homemade blackberry jam and served it on a gorgeous antique plate.
 

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we topped our Spanish Cream with the last of this season’s sweet Ranier cherries. We served it on a vintage JAJ Floral Pyrex plate that was made in England in the 1960’s and dusted each piece with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Each team agreed that the Spanish Cream was by far their most favorite recipe of the three and definitely one to be made again and again. Harpie loved that it was sweet but not too sweet in taste, silky smooth in texture and refreshingly cool in the heat of summer.

Marianne liked the fact that this recipe was made up of a few simple ingredients that turned into an eye-catching, delicious treat. “I think jellied foods first appealed to people because they were pretty and a bit of a novelty. Take the Spanish Cream for example. All you need is milk and a few eggs to make a really special looking dessert. Top it with some fresh berries or jam and you have an elegant dish from ingredients most would have on hand.”

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we loved that the consistency of the Spanish Cream was light and airy, making it a great dessert choice following a heavier meal. In taste we found it to be most similar to flan or rice pudding but not as dense in texture. Marianne likened it to a cold marshmallow or even a tapioca pudding.  Because of its simple combination of basic ingredients, there is lots of available room to add your own creativity by adding extra flavor enhancers and playing around with the styling, which makes this dessert completely customizable to each cook’s preference.  Next time Marianne and Olivia make it,  they will be experimenting with a coffee version. Harpie and Manny will throw in an extra dose of vanilla and top it with maraschino cherries. And next time we make it in the Vintage Kitchen,  we will be experimenting with a local honey and Greek yogurt version.

So enjoying two out of three of these vintage recipes wasn’t so bad! Each of us embarked on this challenge with our own pre-conceived notions about jellied foods. Harpie and Manny weren’t sure that a gelatin dish could taste good if it was anything other than sweet. “Could savory jello recipes be tasty? Or are we too ingrained in that jello is supposed to be sweet and fruity? Coming from the 1990’s baby background that the Retro Revival staff was born in, jello desserts were only fruit flavored. Anything that wasn’t fitting of that description was considered unpalatable. Once we tried the cucumber mousse (which was the first recipe we made), our feelings immediately changed. Unlike what we expected – suspended savories in a flavorless blob – we got a light and tasteful alternative to boring green salads.”

Marianne addressed the preconceptions about the congealed consistency factor.  “I think many people are afraid of gelatin or they don’t realize that it can be used to create something of a creamy texture. The expectation is that it will create something solid and jiggly. But it has so many uses beyond fruit gelatin desserts. Initially, by participating in this challenge, I was interested to see what kinds of textures would be achieved. Would jellied cheese be better than it sounds? Would I find the next “wow” dish to bring or serve at my next dinner party?”

Here in the Vintage Kitchen we were excited too at the possibility of discovering something new in these old recipes. We were curious to find the attraction of this type of cooking and to understand why people would prepare and eat jellied foods. We went into this project thinking that vintage gelatin dishes were going to be primarily a flavorless mix of strange ingredients.  We were pretty certain that our modern palate, so trained on enjoying and seeking out fresh whole foods, would reject the idea of tucking into a quivery conglomeration of cold cut-ups.

 Surprisingly though, after completing the challenge, we were all pleasantly enlightened.  Gelatin was no longer the oft-putting substance we once thought it was and it taught each of us a new way to look at how it ties together the consistency of food in a variety of formats. It was also really fun to work with. Each recipe was quick to make and exciting to style. Like blank canvases, gelatin offers an artistic form of expression combining simple, tactile arrangements of food, texture and color. As you can see from our above photographs each team presented their finished dishes in entirely different ways. Other than decorating a cake there are not that many types of food that yield such widely diverse creativity in the presentation department.

 

Marianne brought up a good point about the availability (or in this case the non-availability of ingredients back in the 20th century that aided the aspect of artistic merit. “Vintage cooks used everyday ingredients to make something special. Today we are so accustomed to getting exotic ingredients from all around the globe. Vintage cooks didn’t have that option. So, for special occasions, they used what they had and elevated them to a new level with gelatin. Appearance must have been very important. By today’s standards, the original recipes aren’t what most people think of as visually appealing but you have to admit they are all kind of show stoppers.”

Would we rush out and buy boxes and boxes of gelatin tomorrow and eat it every day from here on out? Probably not. But we wouldn’t run away from it now either. In this cooking experiment, we discovered a valuable place for the humble gelatin recipe. The powder package still holds up (no pun intended!) carrying with it the same essence of possibility and potential that it had in the 1950’s and the 1930’s and the centuries before.

Harpie and Manny thought we were still a few years away from seeing a gelatin resurgence in popular American cooking. Marianne and Olivia thought that with a good marketing campaign and better names for dishes (for example, Honeyed Goat Cheese Mousse with Yakima Peaches, Sliced Prosciutto and Basil instead of Jellied Cheese Ring Salad) that people would be more willing to experiment with and accept a jellied food dish. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we think this is the perfect time to see gelatin rise in popularity again. Watch any episode of Chef’s Table…

and you’ll see professional cook’s experimenting with all sorts of materials to elevate their food to a new level of sensory experience. Gelatin has all the attributes of attaining something truly marvelous with a modern approach. We may not be as apt to enjoy Jellied Eggs with Prunes or Olive-Studded Ham Loaf but we don’t HAVE to eat those combos anymore either. As Marianne said we have the world at our finger tips so the set of ingredients for our next jellied dish is limited only by our imagination. And that, dear readers, is the true novelty of a good gelatin.

Cheers to our brave and industrious kitchen experimenters Harpie & Manny and Marianne & Olivia, for joining us on this fun-filled cooking challenge through the wiggly world of gelatin. Keep up with Harpie and Manny on their Retro Revival blog here.  Find both of the vintage cookbooks (plus many more unique mid-century ones!) in the shop here.

A Special Note on the featured cookbooks in this post: The Blender Cookbook (1962) features over 275 pages of vintage recipes intended entirely for creation in the blender. You will never believe the wide range of inventive and innovative recipes that these two Paris trained Gourmet magazine food editors turned authors came up with for all meals of the day! The Silver Jubilee Super Market Cook Book (1955) celebrates the 25th anniversary of the opening of America’s first supermarket. We previously featured this cookbook in a post about supermarket founder Michael J. Cullen, which you’ll find here.

The Colorful World of Collecting: A Vintage Tea Towel Interview

Martex Textile Champagne Tea Towel, 1950’s

Chances are you probably haven’t given much thought to your kitchen linens. You’ve got them tucked away in a drawer somewhere that you access only when you have a party, a holiday or a big giant spill to clean up. They sit in those drawers in an assortment of sizes from small to large. Place mats, tablecloths, towels, drink coasters, napkins, tray coverings either plain and functional or decorative and delicate. They are hand-me-downs your grandmother made back in 1920 or they are ones you bought last week on sale at Target. They are in pristine condition because you barely use them or they are spotted and shabby because that one celebration that one time was the wildest party of the year.

Kitchen Towel featuring Household Staples, 1940s

You haven’t thought about them much because they are always there – new and old and reliable. You use them to impress and inspire and make an impact on a bread basket or a tea tray or the handle of your oven. They sit under drinks and dessert plates,  line the cocktail cart and add some color to the picnic basket. You gift them and grab them in a last minute flurry of preparations and like any good coat of paint, they instantly brighten up the atmosphere, and you think to yourself… why don’t I use these more?

Main Street Table Cloth 1950s

Designed to sit pretty and decorate and then clean up afterwards,  kitchen cloths are the unsung heroes of cook spaces around the globe.  In today’s post we discuss the colorful world of mid-century kitchen linens with Cindy from Neatokeen, the internet’s best-kept vintage linen shop and discover her passion for mid-century tea towels. This is a bright and whimsical slice of the vintage kitchen that showcases the creative, quirky styles of the 1950’s and 1960’s that have evolved with charm and individuality to fit modern day appeal.

Iconic American chair designer Charles Eames  once said…”The details are not the details. They make the design.” This is particularly true of the bold graphics and jaunty sentiments of mid-century fabrics. Today, Cindy explains her favorites, what she looks for when stocking her shop and why these vintage kitchen helpers are still so compelling to our modern sense of style.

What are some common misconceptions about vintage linens? 

Linens were mass-produced in the mid-century and there is an assumption that they are plentiful and easy to find. If you look on Etsy and Ebay, that appears to be the case; however, it is extremely difficult to find them in excellent or mint condition. Most of them that saw heavy kitchen duty were relegated to the rag pile. Many linens that you see today are flawed with spots and holes. The real trick is to find those that were unused and stored away in a drawer or cupboard for 50 years. I am super picky about the linens I buy and probably pass by 99.9% of those I see. 

Do you have a favorite designer? 

It’s difficult to choose one! I will name my top three:

 

George Wright

 

Milvia

 

Tammis Keefe

I also have to give a shout-out to all of the uncredited artists and in-house designers who created amazing designs but were not able to sign their work.

Is there a type of linen or a specific company that you prize most and, if so, which and why? 

I began collecting all types of vintage linens: tablecloths, tea towels, napkins, handkerchiefs and table runners. Storage space for my collection was at a premium, so I had to make a difficult decision. I decided to hang onto my tea towels. I love the compact printed designs. I am particularly fond of the cheeky designs from the Dunmoy Linen Company and the detailed designs of the Ulster Company.

 

Dunmoy Linen Company, Flower Truck Delivery, 1960’s

 

Ulster Linen Company – Medieval Renaissance, 1960s

 

Tell us a little bit about caring for vintage linens. Do you have to store them differently or use special washing procedures? 

 

I learned early on that I was rubbish at removing spots in spite of the copious amount of stain removal advice and tips on the internet. This is what lead me to collect linens in near mint or perfect condition. I typically do not wash my linens and simply press them gently, if needed. I store them in a closet with open shelving covered by white cotton cloths. I know a lot of people store them in plastic bins, but I’m a bit skeptical of contact with plastic over time.

  

Which are the top three favorite items in your shop right now?

I love the London People towel – the characterization of 55 people and animals is charming. Another favorite is the “Wine & Spirits” towel by George Wright for the interesting composition and bold color choice. I really enjoy Hilary Knight’s angel towel. He was the illustrator of Eloise and I believe it’s the only towel he ever designed.

 

Wine & Spirits Series by George Wright, 1950s

 

Hilary Knight Christmas Angels, 1950

Why are vintage linens so appealing to people?

 They evoke a feeling of nostalgia and the printed designs can be gorgeous, whimsical, striking or even comical.

 

 

In your shop bio you mention that you sell to a wide variety of customers from gift-givers to celebrities to collectors. What is a fun buyer story that you can share?

 

I’m fiercely protective of my customer’s privacy, but I’ve sold linens to several movie and theater companies. They always need the items “yesterday” and have requested express shipping every time. In fact, the shipping has been a lot more expensive than the items themselves!

 

Dinner Party Scene Tea Towel, 1950s

Rare 1950’s Mid-Century Modern Tablecloth

If you could invite any person to luncheon (living or dead) and serve them on one of the tea towels currently offered in your shop which would you choose and why?

I would invite my late father and serve him dinner on the amazing Calder-esque mobile tablecloth that is in my shop. We would talk about the abstract design and then we’d discuss the act of collecting. My dad was an inveterate collector of many things and I never collected anything while he was alive. I’m fairly certain the collecting gene was transferred to me when he passed away. I now completely understand his compulsion to find the next best thing, the perpetual upgrading of a collection and the quest for a holy grail. He would get a big kick out of my passion for linens.

Cindy with her dad in 1964

Were linens a prized possession in your family growing up?

 My mother sets a beautiful table and has some lovely lace tablecloths, but printed linens were something I discovered much later in life.

 

Matching Linen Placemat/Napkin Set – Red Cherry Design, 1950s

Would you prefer to see one of your vintage tea towels in active daily use or framed behind glass?

 

When I started selling my linens on Etsy, I was taken aback at what people did with perfectly good linens; however, I have really mellowed and now enjoy learning about the creative ways my linens are used. I’ve seen pillows, children’s clothing, tote bags, quilts and even copies printed on canvas. Most people buy them to collect or use and I’m happy they are being enjoyed and not languishing in a forgotten drawer. Framed behind glass is good too!

 

Which types of linens are your bestsellers? And what makes them a bestseller – is it fabric, color, graphic appeal, size, age etc.?

 

I’ve sold 99% of my tablecloths and hankies and steer away from buying more because there are so many sellers that carry them. I specialize in vintage tea towels which is a more unusual category. Tea towels are my bestsellers. I think the colors and graphic appeal of the designs are what attract people initially.

 

Floral Linen Tea Towel, 1950’s

Other than traditional serving/entertaining purposes, framing and gift wrapping have you come across any non-traditional ways in which we could use vintage linens in our modern-day lives?

 

I mentioned a few above, but the most inventive use of linens I’ve seen is a winged armchair upholstered with vintage souvenir tea towels from London. The effect is a feast for the eyes.

 

Alternate ways to use vintage tea towels (clockwise from top left): as an apron, windows curtains, framed wall art, market bag/tote, footstool cushions.

When you are sourcing your materials for your shop do you generally find them one at a time or do you uncover treasure troves of personal collections?

 

I usually find them one at a time or occasionally in pairs. I’ve actually never found a big collection of linens which is the stuff of my dreams; hence, the hunt continues. I look high and low from estate sales to flea markets, near and far from coast to coast and I will continue to seek linens as long as it remains fun!

 

Tammis Keefe Angel Tea Towel, 1950’s

One of the things I like about vintage linens is that each and every one seems so unique. I don’t think I’ve ever come across the same design twice (matching sets not included of course!).  Have you seen a lot of repeat patterns come through your shop?

 I primarily sell duplicates of towels that I have in my own collection. Some designs are relatively easy to source e.g. the Tammis Keefe angel towel is common, but there are several designs that I’ve run across exactly one time in my 12 years of collecting. Since I’ve been collecting a relatively long time, it’s become easy for me to tell if the design is rare or fairly commonplace.

 

Are there any types of vintage linens that don’t appeal to you and if so, why?

 

I like all types of linen, but I’m partial to printed linens. I steer clear of damask, lace and embroidered linens. There are plenty of experts in those categories. Also, I think floral linens are lovely, but my eye tends toward unusual or quirky designs. Thankfully, they are often the ones left behind.

 

Mother’s Apple Pie Ingredients, 1950’s

According to the school of thought that one thing always leads to another – have you discovered any new interests or passions (or collections!) that have stemmed as a direct result from your pursuit of seeking out vintage linens? 

 

Yes! I really like the kitschy mid-century graphics found on vintage wrapping paper and novelty fabrics. I felt myself slipping down the collecting rabbit hole again but was literally saved by Pinterest. I started “pinning” items to designated boards. Pinterest feels like having an organized collection but without spending a dime…brilliant!

 

Modernist Textile Fabric, 1960s

I don’t know about you dear readers, but I’d be fine following Cindy along on her trail of discovering vintage wrapping paper and more vintage fabrics. She has a wonderful eye for the lighthearted unusual – the fun side – of finding old artistic illustrations that still seem so relevant today. Perhaps in the future we’ll be lucky to see more along those avenues. In the meantime I hope this post encourages you to take a look at your own kitchen linen drawer and march all those retro patterns out into everyday use regardless of their age. Don’t save them for a special occasion or a holiday, give your kitchen space a happy exclamation point by incorporating your tea towels and tablecloths, napkins and tray liners into everyday life.  If you have yet to own any vintage kitchen linens, I hope this post inspires a new collection.

 

Vintage Bridge Score Pads from the 1920’s

In addition to decorating your own space, vintage kitchen linens also make great gifts. As we roll through the month of May with Mother’s Day and Memorial Day just around the corner, Cindy is offering readers of the blog an additional 20% off all orders using the coupon code VINTAGEKITCHEN.  In her shop you’ll also find delightfully interesting mid-century (and earlier!) collectibles and paper ephemera with fantastic retro graphic appeal like the art deco bridge score pad above.  Keep up with Cindy on Pinterest, Instagram and in her shop. You won’t regret any moment spent learning more about vintage linens.
 If you have any additional questions or comments for Cindy or thoughts on vintage linens themselves please post a message below.

 

This was the set design for Julia Child’s kitchen for the movie Julie and Julia. Notice the proud display of kitchen linens!

Culinary Creativity: Recipes From Our Prize Winner!

By day they are executives in New York City but by night (and most weekends too) they are culinary wizards adventuring their way around the inventive kitchen. Meet blog reader Michael, one of the winners in last month’s Spartan Souvenir giveaway and his lovely wife Renee.

reneemichael

As soon as their prize of Greek olive oil and wild mountain oregano hit their mailbox they started day dreaming about what they could make. Possibilities abounded of course, but it didn’t take very long before they settled on two Mediterranean style dishes that highlighted their new winnings and captured the simple fresh flavors of their farmers market palates.  In a lovely spirit of community, these two home chefs not only sent back a follow-up note on their gift receipt but also included recipes and photos of everything they made with their Sparta samplings. Fantastic! Here is what they made…

greekdishes2

“The olive oil has such a nice  fruitiness and the oregano is slightly floral and delicate,” shared Renee. “We love it!”

Long-time connoisseurs of make-it-yourself pizza they first prepared a Mediterranean style Greek pizza with homemade dough and an inventive brussels sprout topping. Next, (just in time for Fish Friday) they made a simple Greek style baked cod using local fish and an array of herbs.

Michael and Renee’s recipes couldn’t have come at a better time in our calendar year. If you are still entertaining holiday house guests the Greek Pizza makes for a fun party pleaser and can be doubled or tripled in size to fit all appetites.  Or if you find yourself ready to put the heavy plates of the holiday season behind you then the Greek Baked Cod would be just the ticket for a light and refreshing meal. Both recipes highlight the unique flavor of the olive oil and oregano from Sparta, Greece which you can find at thespartantable.com All other ingredients can be locally sourced from your grocery or market.

pizza3

Greek Pizza

Note: Michael and Renee followed Jim Lahey’s lead on the pizza dough preparation. You can find a step by step guide here which includes a casual video on the making of it all. If you have never made homemade pizza dough before don’t feel intimidated, it’s very easy and this is a no-knead recipe which makes it even easier. If you can’t sacrifice the time for the dough, start out simple with a pre-raised dough ball from Trader Joe’s or the fresh bakery department at most supermarkets.

(for the dough)

3.5 cups all-purpose flour ( M&R veered slightly from the dough recipe and incorporated some whole wheat flour as well. This recipe reflects their version.)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 1/2 cups water

(for the topping)

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and placed in a bowl, covered with water for at least 30 minutes, then drained and dried

1 Serrano chili pepper, thinly sliced (remove the seeds and veins if you are adverse to heat or if your chili is super strong)

8-10 raw brussels sprouts, shaved

1/4- 1/3 cup (plus more for topping) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table wild mountain Greek Oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Extra Virgin Greek olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare dough as directed. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Add pizza stone about one hour prior to baking. Mold the dough into a circle on a pizza peel lined with semolina flour to prevent sticking and for easy sliding.

Place all topping ingredients together in a bowl and mix in olive oil and salt and pepper to coat.

pizza2

Scatter your toppings evenly on top of the dough. Bake until bubbly and slightly browned about 10-12 minutes. Depending on your oven, this could take more or less time. Finish with olive oil,  sea salt and extra Parmesan cheese.

pizza1

 

Greek Baked Cod (serves 2)

Fresh, local cod  (enough for two portions)

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table Greek oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Greek olive oil for drizzling and finishing

1  quarter of a large organic lemon, thinly sliced

1 half of a medium shallot, thinly sliced

1/4 quarter cup of thinly sliced fresh fennel (from the bulb)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced, for finishing

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Add cod to two pieces of foil paper (doubled so that it doesn’t leak) placed on a baking sheet. Drizzle fish with the olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper. Arrange the shallot slices on the bottom of the foil, place the cod filet on top with the fennel and lemon slices.

fish1
Close the foil (like a packet) and bake for about 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven and size of the cod. Ours took about 20 minutes to cook. Finish with an extra drizzle of the oil, sea salt and parsley.
fish3

In the land of Ms. Jeannie it is very exciting to have such an enthusiastic (and delicious!) response to a blog post. Hopefully Michael and Renee’s recipes will help pave the way for more culinary adventures discovered by our readers. Having come full circle with an interview that originated months ago in the faraway, mystical olive groves of Greece and ended up finally on the kitchen table of two New York foodies, this post feels a bit like magic. Even though a zillion miles separates us from Sparta and  Nashville and New York we now share a commonality in the history of a food. And our cross-culture community feels a bit more close-knit.  As Homer said “the journey is the thing.”

Again, a big thank you to Jehny and George for carrying on the family tradition of olive-growing in Greece and to Michael and Renee in New York for inspiring us with two new recipes fit for a feast.

If you missed the interview with Jehny and George from The Spartan Table find it here.  If you have any questions regarding Michael and Renee’s recipes post them in the comment box and we’ll get them answered ASAP.

Cheers or opa, as they say in Greece, to the final days of 2016. May they be both merry and bright.

kitchen prep

The Real History that Inspired Stars Hollow: An Interview and a Getaway, Gilmore Girls Style

View of Town Hall from Hickory HIll Washington, CT

View of Town Hall from Hickory HIll Washington, CT

If you are a serious fan of the show Gilmore Girls you already know that the fictional town of Stars Hollow was inspired by the real town of Washington, Connecticut.  That’s the spot where show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino spent a magical weekend dreaming up the culture, characters and community of all things Gilmore.

At the time of her visit in the late 1990’s, Amy was in a little bit of a tricky spot. She had just pitched five television show concepts to a major tv network all during one meeting. The network passed on the first four – but in a last ditch effort to end the meeting on some sort of satisfactory and productive note, Amy threw out a vague concept about a show she was still muddling about in her mind. “There is this single mother and her daughter who act more like best friends than parent and child.”

gilmore_girls2

“Okay great. That’s interesting. We’ll take that one, ” said the network (in a simplified nutshell). And then Amy panicked. She had no formal flushed out material for this snippet of a show idea. She didn’t know where it took place and at what time period. She didn’t know who the supporting characters were or the dynamics of these two feminine lifestyles. All she had was this mother and daughter jumping up and down in her head. The script was needed by the network ASAP. So she fled to Washington, CT  – a place she had never been – for a quiet weekend of major thinking.

gilmore1

In a stunning stroke of serendipity, Amy saw Washington and then she saw her setting. Thanks to this 237 year old town with its historic villages, convivial atmosphere and captivating residents, this think-tank weekend laid the foundation for the show’s central cast of characters and the community in which they all circulated. Luke’s Diner, The Dragonfly Inn, Doosie’s Market,  Chilton, the Town Square along with a host of other well-loved landmarks in and around Stars Hollow were all inspired in part on the equally charming real life landscape of rural Litchfield County, Connecticut.

washingtonct_collage2

Throughout all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, town history has played an active role in the show with storylines that ran the gamut from quirky to sentimental.  In today’s post we are chatting with Louise Van Tartwijk,  museum director at the Gunn Historical Museum in Washington, Connecticut to learn more about the real history of her enchanting small town,  the Gilmore Girls impact upon it and what it means to work as a modern day gatekeeper to the past.

Meet Louise - along with Gunn Historical Museum curator Stephen Bartkus (on her left) and Museum Council member Nicholas Solley (on her right)

Meet Louise , pictured here along with Gunn Historical Museum curator Stephen Bartkus (on her left) and Museum Council member Nicholas Solley (on her right)

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  Are you from Washington, CT? If not, what brought you there? How long have you worked at the museum? 

My husband and I moved to Washington, CT, in 2010, from the Netherlands in order to give our four daughters an American prep-school education. I am American-born, but married a Dutchman, and we lived together in the Netherlands for 25 years where our children were born and spent their earliest years. Subsequently, our girls have attended the Westover School in Middlebury, CT and The Gunnery School here in Washington.

gunnhistoricalmuseum

The Gunn Historical Museum, Washington CT

Tell us a little bit about the history of your town and the museum’s role in it.

Washington has a rich and multi-layered history. There is archaeological proof that Native Americans lived in the area along the banks of the Shepaug River, over 10,000 years ago. The first Europeans settled in the region in the early 1700’s and named the town Judea. Early Washington was largely a family-farming community, small mills developed along its streams and rivers, small businesses populated the center of town that was known at that time as “Factory Hollow.” The Congregational Church, the institution that founded the town, sat prominently up on the top of the hill, on the Green, together with The Gunnery, a school begun by Frederick Gunn in the mid 1850’s.

washingtongreenlg1

When the Shepaug Rail Road brought the train to Washington in the 1870’s, Factory Hollow became Washington Depot. The arrival of the train suddenly connected Washington with New York and other regions, and with this came the arrival of wealthy, artistic and community-minded summer residents from Brooklyn; and the rise of a local dairy farming industry.

Railroad Depot, Washington CT

Railroad Depot, Washington CT

The flood of 1955 devastated the town and as a result of the subsequent rebuilding, Washington Depot has the more modern yet quaint look that it has today.

Flood of 1955, Washington CT

While the train has not run in Washington since the 1940’s, New Yorkers are still drawn to Washington as a popular “hidden” weekend and summer retreat; and Frederick Gunn’s school still sits on the Washington Green together with the Congregational Church.  Today, education is the main “industry” of Washington.

At the Gunn Historical Museum we see ourselves as the custodians of this rich history; keepers of the town’s past, responsible for the preservation of its archives, artifacts, photos and personal stories. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously because we know that understanding Washington’s past is the only way to truly understand what makes our town so unique today.

We know from the stories behind Gilmore Girls that Amy Sherman-Palladino modeled Stars Hollow after Washington and the experience she had there while writing the script. Do you feel the spirit of Washington translated to the TV show? 

On the set with Gilmore Girls - the Stars Hollow town green

On the set with Gilmore Girls – the Stars Hollow town green

I don’t feel qualified to speak about how Washington was an inspiration for the Gilmore Girls, as I haven’t seen enough of the show. But, I do know, that this is a very unique town, as anyone will tell you who lives here. Washington is a very eclectic, talented and interesting community of friendly and very civic-minded people.  The town has a very special subtle magic that draws people to it and makes them feel at home in a way rarely found anywhere else.

We all know each other in town, and to give you an example, there have been times when I am going into the Washington Food Market accompanied by my youngest daughter who in all seriousness instructs me outside the store to,”Not talk to anyone.” This is because she knows I will know nearly everyone in the store and suddenly a 4-minute grocery run will turn into an an-hour-long social event.

washingtonfoodmarket2

To give you another example of what it is like to live in Washington, my husband and I recently found a letter in our mailbox simply addressed to us as “Hans and Louise, Washington, CT 06793” (no last name and no street address). It made it easily to our mailbox!

There are some people who refer to Washington as “The secret center of the Universe” and others who refer to it as “Brigadoon.”

Are you, yourself a fan of the show? If so, who’s your favorite character?

To be honest, I have maybe only seen one or two episodes. So I can’t claim a favorite character yet. But what I do like about the show is its quirky humor.

The complete cast of Gilmore Girls

The cast of Gilmore Girls

Have you ever met Amy Sherman-Palladino or any of the gang from Gilmore Girls?

No. But I would love to.

Has Gilmore Girls impacted tourism to your neck of the woods and, if so, how? Has the museum benefited from such attention?

The Gilmore Girl impact has not happened yet, although we are anticipating substantial impact on the town for that weekend. {Note: Louise is referring to the Gilmore Girls Fan Festival which was just held in Washington, CT Oct 21st-23rd, 2016} The Museum was not included in the main GG tour. However, we do resemble the Stars Hollow Museum in the episode “Live or Let Diorama.” We are just the kind of small New England museum that people associate with the show and idyllic concepts of the American small town.

starshollow1

A screen capture from the Gilmore Girls episode Live or Let Diorama.

For the Gilmore Girls weekend, we will have a preview of our upcoming exhibit, “Washington Speaks,” a history of Washington. There will be guides and docents on hand to walk people through the exhibit on that weekend.

We received a $100,000 grant from the State of Connecticut last year to create this exhibit. We are very excited about this preview of the exhibit and will use the Gilmore Girls weekend to show off what we are doing.

History states that George Washington traveled through Washington on several trips. Do you have any artifacts or items in your museum collection from his journeys? 

No we don’t. But he did actually pass through the town and stayed a night at the Cogswell Tavern here in New Preston, one of Washington’s five “villages.” The General recorded this visit in his diary.

N.C. Wyeth painting of George Washington from the February 1946 edition of the Saturday Evening Post

N.C. Wyeth painting of George Washington from the February 1946 edition of the Saturday Evening Post

What is your most favorite piece in the museum today and why?

We have any number of very interesting artifacts that become even more interesting when you get to know the town and the stories of the people who have helped shaped Washington over the centuries. At the present, my favorite artifact is the Jonathan Farrand Revolutionary War musket that was donated last year by his descendants. Farrand was an early Washington resident, back when the town was named Judea. He was a farmer, soldier, businessman and town official. He had seven slaves. I find that interesting. People do not know that the North had slaves. One of Farrand’s slaves, Jeff Liberty, fought in the Revolutionary War and became a free man. The Farrand musket is a beautiful artifact, full of symbolic significance. It will feature in the “Washington Speaks” preview at the Museum on Gilmore Girls’ weekend, as will the stories of Jonathan Farrand and Jeff Liberty.

What is one part of Washington, CT’s history that has most surprised you? 

Probably the slavery issue. No one ever thinks of New Englanders having slaves.  Several families who were among the town’s first settlers in the 1700’s had slaves, as did people in other Connecticut towns. And even in the 1840’s, while slavery no longer existed in Connecticut, abolitionism was not popular.

Frederick Gunn, who founded The Gunnery school here in town, on the town Green, was an abolitionist and as a result was forced out of the Congregational Church and even had to flee town for a while because of his abolitionist opinions.

Bill of Sale of a man named Peter in 1762 in Woodbury, CT. Image courtesy of the Mattatuck Museum. For a detailed timeline of slavery in Connecticut from the 1600's - 1800's click here.

Bill of sale for a slave named Peter in 1762 from Woodbury, CT. Image courtesy of the Mattatuck Museum. For a detailed timeline of slavery in Connecticut from the 1600’s – 1800’s click here.

Tell us about a typical day in your life as the museum director.

For over 100 years The Gunn Historical Museum has been a part of the Gunn Memorial Library. In 2015, the board of the Gunn Memorial Library and Museum decided to transition the Museum into financial and managerial independence, so as to allow it to become an independent 501(c) 3.

Gunn Memorial Library in the early 1900's (left) and pictured today.

Impressive in its sameness. On the left, The Gunn Memorial Library pictured in the early 1900’s and on the right, as it stands today.

This past year has consequently been a very busy one for me as we are moving into unchartered territory. A typical day for me involves, working with our curator and volunteers to oversea the work on our collections inventory, and work on our new permanent history of Washington exhibit. At the same time, I find time to do things such as writing for our Museum publication, heading up our Friends of the Gunn Museum membership drive and working on fundraising initiatives, which have become rather important given our push for independence from the Library.

A sampling of items in the museum's collection including a drum owned by revered local New England architect (and local Washington resident!) Ehrick Rossiter,, an old-fashioned seed spreader, antique photographs of local residents and buildings. Pop-up exhibits around town help keep history in the spotlight.

A sampling of items in the museum’s collection including a drum owned by revered local New England architect (and local Washington resident!) Ehrick Rossiter, an old-fashioned seed spreader, antique photographs of local residents, buildings and events. Pop-up exhibits around town help keep local history in the spotlight.

What are some of the challenges you face as a museum director in today’s world?

The expectations of sophistication and modernization. We want to move forward and yet, we want to keep our authenticity to the town and its inhabitants who’s world we preserve and reflect. The challenge is to find a good medium between keeping small-town charm, informality and coziness while accommodating the possibilities that keep unfolding before us in the fast-paced technological modern world.

If you could acquire one artifact from history (with expense not being a factor) what would you acquire for the museum and why?

Cogswell Tavern, New Preston CT

Cogswell Tavern, New Preston CT

Well, we can only acquire artifacts that have a tie to the town of Washington; so, I would follow-up on the rumor that the chair that George Washington sat in when he visited the Cogswell Tavern during the Revolutionary War, is still in the possession of a descendant of the Cogswell family. That would be great to acquire!

What museum events do you have coming up in the next year that will appeal to history lovers? Does Washington have any celebratory plans for the November release of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life? 

At the Museum we are anticipating the opening of our permanent history of Washington exhibit. We have no opening date as of yet however. In the meantime we will continue to have smaller pop-up exhibits in town and museum programs dedicated to different aspects of the town’s history.

Gosh, I don’t know about the town’s plans for the November release.

If our readers visited Washington – what are the first three things they should do (other than visiting the museum of course!). 

Hike in Steep Rock, our beautiful land trust. Have a coffee at Marty’s Cafe, a true town ritual. There are people in town who even have their “claimed” morning spots at Marty’s Café, and everyone knows this and will leave those spots open.  Attend a Gunnery school ice hockey game at the Linen Rink on campus and share in the excitement at Mr. Gunn’s School.

gunn_collage3

Clockwise from top right: Marty’s Cafe, the Gunn Historical Museum, Steep Rock and Gunnery School ice hockey.

One last question… if George Washington rode into town today do you think he’d recognize it?! 

Yes, I do.  Probably the biggest difference besides telephone poles, cars, paved roads, and a few more homes, is that we have more trees and less open farmland.

Washington, CT tucked among the trees.

And there you have it, dear readers.  A small town in rural Connecticut that has been inspiring both locals and out-of-towners for centuries from the Native Americans who first settled there, to U.S. Presidents who journeyed through, to Emmy Award-winning writers who captured its colorful spirit and to Louise who protects its significance and integrity every day.

Get caught up in the magic of this small town yourself by following Louise’s lead and visit: Steep Rock (a 2700 acre preserve made for hiking and camping in the bucolic Shepaug River Valley); Marty’s Cafe (where you can channel your inner Luke Danes) and the gorgeous Gunnery School campus where you can pretend you and Rory are heading off for a day at Chilton.

Pictured clockwise from top left: Hopkins Vineyard, Arethusa Al Tovolo; The Mayflower Grace;

Pictured clockwise from top left: Hopkins Vineyard, Arethusa Al Tovolo; The Mayflower Grace; White Silo Winery and Haight-Brown Vineyards.

Additional area suggestions from two of our blog readers who just road-tripped to Washington in early October include: wine tours and tastings at these three local spots- Hopkins Vineyard, White Silo Winery and Haight-Brown Vineyards (raise a glass to Richard and Emily Gilmore while you are there!);  dinner at  Arthusa Al Tovolo  farm-to-table restaurant (Sookie would totally recommend this place and Jackson would be happy that you supported local farmers) and indulge in an overnight stay at The Mayflower Grace (we know how a few nights  there turned out for Amy Sherman-Palladino – just imagine what it could do for you!).

And of course please stop in at the Gunn Historical Museum and say hello to Louise!

Early 1900's postcard of Washington, CT

Early 1900’s postcard of Washington, CT

Additional photo credits: R. Burns, Gunn Historical Museum, Gunn Library, Mattatuck Museum. 

 

Reviving Ophelia: An Interview with a Modern Day Pinner

op1

From the pinterest boards of Ophelia’s Renaissance

“And for your part Ophelia, I do wish

That your good beauties be the happy cause

Of Hamlet’s wildness; so shall I hope your virtues

Will bring him to his wonted way again…”

– Queen Gertrude from Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Poetic, romantic, cinematic, storied these are just a few words that Ms. Jeannie would use to describe one of her most favorite pinners on Pinterest – Ophelia’s Renaissance. Beautifully melancholy, just like her namesake, the picture boards of Ophelia’s Renaissance tell a million timeless stories.  From board titles like …

op1

Picked and pleasantly arranged…

op2

op3

and

op4

to the actual images themselves, Ophelia’s Renaissance is an incredible example of a well-curated theme. Part literary, part history, part high fashion and part dark art, this week we’re stepping behind the screen to learn about a prolific pinner and what inspires the brain behind the boards.

From the board Let's Find A Place Where We Don't Care

From the Ophelia’s REnaissance board Let’s Find A Place Where We Don’t Care

Ms. Jeannie Ology: How long have you been on Pinterest?

Ophelia’s Renaissance: Approximately four years, I believe.

{Ophelia’s Renaissance at present includes over 75 boards and over 100,000 individual images. Clearly this is not something built up in a weekend! That is the wonderful thing about Pinterest and pinners like OR – they represent an exercise in intuition performed in small steps over vast time. It’s putting together a gallery of personal tastes and possibilities. It’s a cultivation of ideas and aesthetics, of conversation and curiosities. It’s a veritable art gallery of thoughts and emotions view-able by anyone anywhere around the world.}

From the board All The World's A Stage

From the board All The World’s A Stage

MJO: What are three words that describe your style?

OR: Elegant, classy, and traditional.

From the boards of Ophelia's Renaissance

From the boards of Ophelia’s Renaissance

From the board For the Home

From the board For the Home

MJO: What do you look for in a pin-worthy picture?

OR: It needs to be visually appealing, or provide some insight.

From the board: Libraries

From the board: Libraries

{Naturally, Ms. Jeannie is drawn to the library photographs!}

From the Board Libraries

From the Board Libraries

MJO:  Tell us a little about yourself (anything you like) work, hobbies, etc.

OR: I am a high school English teacher who enjoys reading and writing. I also love to decorate.

{Pinterest is so inspiring that way! You can gather ideas, dream the day away or simply just pause for a minute and admire  a moment in time captured by a camera. Whether spur of the moment or staged, photography requires thought.}

From the board

From the board

MJO: Of your own boards, which is your most favorite at the moment?

OR: “Resuscitating Ophelia and Virginia” or “Nascent Phase”

op8_collage

Resuscitating on the left, Nascent on the right

(Okay, Ms. Jeannie confesses she had to look up the word nascent which means just coming into existence or beginning to display signs of future potential. A fantastic word! Nascent is O.R. children’s themed board. So clever. This is exactly why Ms. Jeannie is such a fan!}

MJO:  Regarding other people’s Pinterest accounts – which board or person do you most admire?

OR: I honestly don’t have a favorite. I look to different boards for different interests. If I am scrolling through Pins and I am not finding anything, then I revert to those I consider my favorites.

From the board Evoke

From the board Evoke

MJO:  How does Pinterest influence your daily life?

OR: Before I was on Pinterest, I would look forward to receiving my home decorating subscriptions such as Veranda, Traditional Home, Southern Accents, Martha Stewart, Country Home and Country Living. I would escape into these beautiful rooms and cut out pictures so as to try and emulate the designs that caught my eye. I would create binders, so I could remember what it was I wanted to create for my living space. When I was really young, I would cut out beautiful pictures from magazines and post them on my closet doors. Pinterest offers the same escape and allows me to gravitate towards things that I find visually appealing. It also affords me an opportunity to post everything else I enjoy such as books and music. It is just my preferred pretty hang-out when I need to rid myself of stress.

From the board: Evoke

From the board: Evoke

{So well said. In our modern day and age, Pinterest is everyone’s closet door. It’s an escape like Alice in Wonderland’s looking glass or Dorothy’s tornado dream of Oz. It transports you to places you naturally want to go. And just coming off an introspective study of The Artists Way, Ms. Jeannie understands that Pinterest can also serve as both a catalyst and a definitive of who you are and where you wish to go.}

MJO: What’s the story behind the name Ophelia’s Renaissance?

OR: I always wanted to own a store and imagined this as the name. Ophelia, is one of my favorite characters in Shakepeare’s Hamlet. There is something about those who are driven to commit suicide, either in life or fiction, that disturbs, and simultaneously intrigues me. So here, on Pinterest, I have created the rebirth or revival of one of my favorite characters.

From the board Resuscitating Ophelia and Virginia

From the board Resuscitating Ophelia and Virginia

MJO: If you could fall into any Pinterest picture and spend some time there which one would you choose and why?

OR: Again, there are so many pictures that provide a lovely escape, I would find it difficult to pick one.

{Understandably so! The boards of Ophelia’s Renaissance are not for the fly-by-nighters who have just one second of free-time. They are boards meant to be explored and discovered, appreciated and enjoyed.}

Like Hamlet’s tragic heroine, Ophelia beautiful both inside and out, knew the right time – her own time – to make the story her own. Centuries later her quiet impact still inspires.  A fantastic thumbs up to Shakespeare for creating such an indelible character and for modern day English teachers for keeping her spirit alive! Never underestimate the power of pinterest!

From the board The Effect of Fairy Tales

From the board The Effect of Fairy Tales

If you are not familiar with pinterest, Ms. Jeannie highly encourages you to take some time and poke around the site here. Take a little tour around Ophelia’s world here. Find Ms. Jeannie’s pinterest boards here.

From the boards of Ophelia's Renaissance

From the boards of Ophelia’s Renaissance

Do you have a favorite pinner on Pinterest dear readers? If so, please share links and thoughts below!

After Paris: Following Up with a Bestselling Author

parisletters2b

One of the most fun and inspiring reads of 2014 was Paris Letters by the effortlessly engaging Janice MacLeod. If you are unfamiliar with this book (now #7 on the New York Times bestseller list!) it is the ultimate manifesto for the creative spirit. A true, real-life story about how one woman dared to dream and then dared herself to really live that dream.

In Janice’s case, the dream was quitting a corporate job in California and traveling abroad to find fresh perspective and a renewed zest for life.  Not unlike Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, Paris Letters is an inspiring memoir of a spiritual journey that transformed one life in a 360 degree manner, but unlike Elizabeth, Janice isn’t hashing out her past along her journey – she’s finding her future – and detailing it one small step at a time.

Literally, by book’s end, you know how Janice got from point A to point P (Paris!) because she tells you specifically in 258 pages of detail how she did it with a satisfying and surprising one-thing-leads-to-another  trajectory of events. Paris Letters is part serendipity, part planning, part passion and part blind-faith. Along the way, you’ll laugh, you’ll sympathize, you’ll understand. As you begin the last third of the book you’ll begin telling yourself that you know how the book is going to end and you’ll feel happy that Janice found what she was looking for. But this is a real-life story and real-life endings never dissolve into the sunset in the same tidy way they to do in a movie. Paris doesn’t become Janice’s be-all end-all, there are new adventures to be had and she eludes to the possibilities of a new life in Canada in a city that Christophe (her Parisian/Polish love!) became smitten with in the same way that Janice was smitten with Paris.

And so a move was made! This is where Ms. Jeannie picks up the story. What’s life like now for Janice post-Paris Letters, post Parisian romance, post France?

MS. JEANNIE: At the end of Paris Letters you imagine a life in Canada… a house, a lake, a garden, little Janice’s and Christophe’s… now that you are living there is your daydream still the same?

JANICE MACLEOD: Before Paris, I had BIG dreams of exploring Europe. Right now my daydreams are smaller and seasonal in theme. For example, in the autumn I dreamed of hiking along paths of golden autumn leaves. Did it! Then I dreamed of having a gorgeous Christmas tree. Did it! Now I’ve got dreams of spring and gardening on my mind. I’m starting to drool over seed catalogs.

It may not be the historic streets of Paris but, as the seasons kiss in Calgary, you can sense just as much romance in the landscape! Photo via pinterest

It may not be the historic streets of Paris but, as the seasons kiss in Calgary, you can sense just as much romance in the landscape! Photo via pinterest

MJ: How has your move to Calgary broadened your point of view?

JML: I’ve been pondering the idea of the pilgrimage. Life in Paris was a sort of pilgrimage because 1) I did a lot of walking and wandering 2) Everything was more difficult. Language, administration, maps… EVERYTHING. Now that I’m in Canada, everything should be simple but really the pilgrimage has just become more of an internal exploration. The outer may be easier but more intense inner work is beginning. I’m still on that pilgrimage.

photo via pinterest

Traveling the roads of calgary via pinterest

MJ:  For those of us who have never been to Calgary can you sum up your new city in a sentence?

JML: Four seasons of splendor inhabited by shiny, chatty people.

janicemacleod

Janice and Christophe!

MJ: What are you most attracted to about life in Calgary? Has Christophe found his Paris?!

JML: Definitely the four distinct seasons is the most attractive quality of Calgary for me. Calgarians like to play in all seasons, too. They don’t huddle up in winter. They hit the slopes and polish off their skates. I’ve revisited skating. Oh how I adore skating. And I’m delighted to announce that Christophe has found his Paris! He loves the wide open spaces here. It’s big sky country. Very different from Europe which, in his view, is more cramped.

Paintings of Janice's adventures in Paris are available for sale by clicking on this image

Paintings of Janice’s adventures in Paris are available here

MJ:  Do you think you will ever live in Paris again?

JML: Never say never. Though for now, my intention is to flourish in Canada. Now that we are settled in, it’s time to let the flourishing begin.

Photo courtesy of thedailybeast.com

The recently discovered 1920s Paris flat that was left untouched for almost 100 years. Read the amazing story here. Photo courtesy of thedailybeast.com

MJ:  Recently on your blog you posted the news article about the 1920s Paris apartment discovery. If someone came across a time capsule of your space in Calgary what might they find?

JML: HA! They would find thousands of photos and paintings of Paris. I’m currently sifting through all the art I did in Paris and will be posting it to my shop. It’s a big Parisian whirlwind here in my Calgary home.

Capturing the essence of Paris. A scene snippet fresh from Janice's blog.

Capturing the essence of Paris. A scene from the St. Paul Metro fresh from Janice’s blog.

MJ: What inspires you about the view from Calgary?

JML: I live along a river here in Calgary so I spent a lot of time just staring at the river. It’s an open-eye meditation. If you’re not moved by nature you’ve got problems. Then when you drive half an hour west BOOM! There are the Rocky Mountains. Those mountains were here long before I arrived and will be here long after I leave. Knowing that helps me not sweat the small stuff and to just be grateful to behold them here now.

MJ:  Do you feel as strong a need to share with people about your daily life in Canada? Is there a sense that life there is as equally entertaining as life in Paris?

First scenes from Calgary! Photo via Janice's blog.

First scenes from Calgary! Photo via Janice’s blog.

JML: I haven’t shared much about Calgary simply because so much of it has been administration-focused. Do people want to know about me changing my drivers license and health card? Do they want to know about my visit to the dentist? The doctor? It’s not quite as difficult or funny as it was in France. I spent my first season here just settling in. Plus, my brain went quiet after writing and promoting PARIS LETTERS. It will take some time to restart that part of my brain and then we will be back on, entertaining the masses one blog post and letter at a time.

Subscribe to Janice's beauiful Paris letters project for one month, six months or 12 months here

Subscribe to Janice’s beautiful Paris letters project for one month, six months or 12 months here

MJ:  One of the most inspiring things about both your book and your blog is your confidence in pursuing whimsical endeavors. Is that something you find you must continuously develop and encourage or is it just a part of your natural makeup?

JML: Ah yes, I’m sure there will be some whimsical moments as I attempt to become outdoorsy here in western Canada. I write to amuse myself, so that’s likely to continue. Then if it’s good writing I share with the world via my letters, books or blog posts.

MJ:  Of all the attention you have received from the Paris Letters journey, what is one of the most surprising experiences that has stemmed from the project?

JML: Two things. First, my book, the travel memoir PARIS LETTERS made it on the New York Times Best Seller list this month. I didn’t expect it at all. Total delightful surprise. Second, people who write me telling me the letter I sent them made their day. There is a lot of tough stuff out there to deal with in this world. The letter in the mail helps ease some of those burdens. I love when that happens and someone feels compelled to sent me a note in thanks.

janicemacleod4

Each letter is prettier than the next!

MJ:  If you were the recipient of a painted letter from anywhere in the world, past or present, where would it hail from and who would be the author?

JML: I would hope to get a painted letter from Percy Kelly, whom I learned about when I traveled through the UK. It was his painted letters that inspired my project. To get a letter from him would be dreamy, but he passed away years ago, so it would also be super weird.

MJ:  What’s the next day dream?

JML: Sharing my photos and paintings. I created so much art in Paris but didn’t share it since I was busy making it. Now is my time to curate, edit, refine and share. It’s going to be great! I’m so excited to share it. There is a lot of pretty Paris art in my collection.

janicemacleod7

MJ:  Just out of curiosity, did you ever meet up with Mary in Canada? [Note: Mary was a Paris Letters recipient who turned out to become penpal to Janice. She’s mentioned throughout the book.]

JML: Not yet. She still lives as far from me as my friends in California. Canada is a big country. But one day I’m confident it will happen. As fate would have it, her son goes to my mom’s dental office. Can you believe that? So I’m sure at some point we will be in the same town at the same time. If not, I might just have to make a pilgrimage to Massey, Ontario, to see for myself where all her letters to me are written.

Perhaps that meeting with Mary will launch a blog post or launch a chapter in a new book! You just never know! But there is two things that Ms. Jeannie does know for certain –  However Janice chooses to document Calgary, whether it be through photographs or paintings, words or wisdom it will be beautiful and it will be entertaining just like the lady herself!

In the meantime, read Paris Letters! You will love it!

Other fascinating interviews with fabulously talented individuals can be found in the interview section on Ms. Jeannie’s blog. Stop by and take a peek here!

**** UPDATE 6/28/2017 **** Janice just published a new book all about her Paris adventures. It’s called A Paris Year and this one includes zillions of Janice’s photographs and paintings of magical, marvelous Paris . Read about it here. And grab your copy of the book here. 

Newly arrived… A Paris Year

 

Compassion Collects in the Closet: How One Helps Many

This time, Ms. Jeannie’s interview series takes us to the very big city of Chicago, to a very big closet, powered by a lovely lady with a very BIG  heart. Meet Nicole of  Dotto, vintage fashionista and volunteer extraordinaire.

Hello Nicole!

Nicole runs the sunny vintage clothing shop Dotto, on Etsy. It’s so full of personality, Ms. Jeannie can’t help but think that Nicole is bringing a much needed breath of fresh air to dusty cellars and attics all over the city. She’s the shop model, the copy writer, the clothing scout, the photographer and the coordinator behind her brand. And as if running a successful Etsy shop isn’t accomplishment enough, she also donates proceeds from her shop sales to not one but  seven local charities that she’s affiliated with.  How does she do it, you ask? Let’s find out…

Nicole of Dotto vintage modeling a 1940 Peter Pan collar dress. Click for more info.

Nicole modeling a 1940 Peter Pan collar dress. Click for more info.

Ms. Jeannie: Oh Nicole – you sound like such a fun person and incredibly nice to be donating shop proceeds to charity. Please explain a bit about how you came to make charities a theme for your shop.

Nicole: AW. I’ve been a pretty serious volunteer for years that probably started with the peace corps, but no wait. I volunteered a little in college too. When I moved to Chicago I spent the first few months going to as many volunteer orientations as I could and was blown away by how many really good- like really good- organizations there were here and at one point had to start cutting back because I was volunteering more than I was working. Anyway, I went to a small business expo about a year ago and was asked what makes my business different and I remember thinking ‘oh my god NOTHING. it’s just clothes’. I decided to show in my shop what I am able to do by making my own hours and working for myself. Whew!

Vintage 1970 Scout Leader Vest. Click for more info.

Vintage 1970 Scout Leader Vest. Click for more info.

MJ: Tell us a little about each of the charities you are involved with and why you chose them.

http://www.pawschicago.org/

pawschicago.org

Nicole: PAWS Chicago is a no kill animal shelter. I volunteer on the dog side and lately have been fostering cats!

sitstayread

sitstayread.org

Sit Stay Read is a literacy program that enlists dogs as volunteers TOO. kids get super jazzed about reading to the dogs during classroom visits, it is pretty adorable and their reading scores show a vast improvement.

826chi.org

826chi.org

826 Chicago is a creative writing and tutoring center. They offer field trips to elementary school kids during the day and tutoring to older kids afternoons and evenings. Right now I am working online with four AP history students to help them pass the exam at the end of the year.

Side Note: 826 Chicago was recently part of a TED talk. For a quick, interesting little video about how the 826 concept started click here.

keenusa.org

keenusa.org

KEEN is an exercise program for kids and teens with disabilities- IT IS AWESOME.

littlebrotherschicago.org

littlebrotherschicago.org

Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly reaches out to isolated seniors all over the city by getting them to senior parties and/or visiting them at home.

juddgoldmansailing.org

juddgoldmansailing.org

Adaptive Sailing helps people with disabilities learn how to sail. It is even more interesting than it sounds.

Side Note: If you are interested in learning more about this program, you can watch this 7 minute video. It is inspiring to see how challenges are turned into rewarding opportunities for both participants and program coordinators. And spending time on the water?! Who couldn’t benefit from that!

workingbikes.org workingbikes.org[/caption]

Working Bikes fixes donated bicycles and ships them to countries in need or sells them to the community at a low cost.

MJ: What is your process of determining how much donation goes to which charity?
Nicole: If I’ve missed volunteering with an organization that I usually volunteer with, I’ll donate to them first when extra money comes in. but I try to volunteer with each group at least a few times a month, some of them weekly. When a ‘disaster relief’ item sells, that money goes toward something that is currently going on in the world through www.globalgiving.org

Vintage Christmas Angel Nativity Dress. This is one of more than a dozen pieces in Nicole's shop that contribute to disaster relief funds. Click here to see what catches your eye.

Vintage Christmas Angel Nativity Dress. This is one of more than a dozen pieces in Nicole’s shop that contribute to disaster relief funds. Click here to see what catches your eye.

MJ: Your photographs are full of personality – do you work with a photographer or do you arrange all the sets yourself?

Vintage 1960's sheer black slip.

Nicole’s clever spin on a vintage 1960’s sheer black slip.

Nicole: I use a timed camera in all of the photos with a white background. The professional outdoor photography is done by my verrrry talented friend Rodion Galperin.

It's gard to figure out what's prettier - Rodion's photograph or the dress! Mid-century lace wedding dress. Click for more info.

It’s hard to figure out what’s prettier – Rodion’s photograph or the dress! Mid-century lace wedding dress. Click for more info.

For one year, Rodion traveled across the US with a red paper heart. Watch the beauty of this amazing project unfold here…

MJ: What’s your most favorite decade of vintage clothing?
Nicole: ooooh. It changes all the time. Currently the 1940s. I love the fitted waists and powerful shoulders that evolved with women entering the workplace.

1940 Wool Fitted Suit

1940 Wool Fitted Suit

MJ: What’s your most favorite item in your shop right now?
Nicole: The white sequin dress with pink flowers. People always ask if I wear things that are in my shop and I feel kind of weird that I don’t (except wouldn’t it be kind of weird if I did?) but it’s true. I do, however, put things in my shop that I’ve worn before… this dress is the ultimate. I wore it to a dive bar for New Years a few years ago (true story) and for my birthday one year. I am going to cry a river once it sells but I always feel a little bit like I am getting married when I wear it, so. . .

1950 White Sequin Dress.

1950 White Sequin Dress.

MJ: Every once in awhile we see a cat or a dog or another person pop-up in your listing photographs. Tell us about your fellow models.
Nicole: Oh the muffin butts? They make the best models. the dogs are from my hometown in California, they’re in the backyard photos… right now I am fostering a tabby cat from an animal shelter- he only enters the picture if treats are involved. A few months ago I fostered brother cats who looooved posing. Or sleeping along the wall by my feet while I took photos for hours, the lovers.

With kitty and the pink Mid-Century pajamas.

With kitty and the pink Mid-Century pajamas.

MJ: What is the strangest thing you have come across in your vintage adventures?
Nicole: A friend found a guy on craigslist in upstate New York who ‘had a lot of inventory’ that turned out to be a huge barn FILLED with vintage clothing. I tell you what. We thought we’d walked into heaven when we entered that barn. A dark musty old clothing filled heaven.  

Side note: This story reminded Ms. Jeannie of Julie’s interview from Fishs Eddy – she discovered a treasure trove of vintage china in an old barn in upstate New York too. Maybe these two barns knew each other:)

MJ: Ms. Jeannie loves Chicago! She has many ancestors from there and her father grew up in Oak Park. Are you from there? What are some of your favorite things about living there?
Nicole: I am with you, girl! I love this city, I moved here on a whim two and a half years ago. The architecture and snow and the Colombian Exposition of 1893 are what initially drew me here. But the FOOD! What a pleasant surprise, I had no idea it was such a dream food city before I moved here.

Chicago Photography by Rebecca Plotnick. Click for more info.

Chicago Photography by Rebecca Plotnick. Click for more info.

MJ: When you are not Etsy-ing or volunteering, what else do you like to do with your time?
Nicole: I love to ride around on my bicycle, which I initially got into to impress a guy. Ugh, good thing bikes are so awesome. Every once in a while I design and sew clothing- it’s actually why I originally signed up on Etsy. And then vintage clothing ended up taking over.

MJ:  It looks like, from your previous shop move, that you have been affiliated with Etsy since almost the beginning, back in 2007. How did you discover Etsy? How has it evolved since 2007 and why did you decide for a change from gimmeNicole to Dotto?
Nicole: I get asked about Etsy a lot and it’s kind of fuzzy. I think I heard about it through someone on Ebay. Weird, right? Remember when listing an item on Etsy used to take several pages? And you had to add photos one at a time? I remember the day they rolled out the one page listing template and everything was like MAGIC.

MJ:  What is your favorite type of vintage clothing to scout?
Nicole: I don’t have too much of a filter, I will go for anything. I physically cannot stop myself from grabbing anything neon or glittery, sheer or with matching belt. I used to get anxious when I shopped, like if I didn’t do it fast enough people would find things that I was meant to find but that has changed completely over the years. I’ll totally give someone something from my cart if they are eyeing it (okay. within REASON)

MJ: Do you wear a lot of vintage clothing yourself?
Nicole: Ugh, I don’t. And I have kept some really beautiful things since I started my shop! I’ll wear vintage for special occasions or anything where I have to think about what to wear beforehand, definitely. I love over dressing for an event. But daily, I almost always wear a t shirt and jeans or skirt.

Vintage his/hers reversible soccer shirt.

Vintage his/hers reversible soccer shirt.

MJ: It seems that your shop clothes are full of American nostalgia from camp t-shirts all the way down the line to prom dresses and ballet costumes. Do you look for items that are reminiscent of a traditional American past or does it just happen to work out like that?
Nicole: Oh it just happens to work out like that.

Vintage Ballerina Costume.

Vintage Ballerina Costume

Mermaid Green Party Dress. Possible former prom dress?!

Possible former prom dress?!  Vintage 1980’s Mermaid Green Party Dress.

Vintage Figure Skating Dress

Vintage Figure Skating Dress

MJ:  Do you sell most of your items to customers in the US or overseas?
Nicole: I think it’s split pretty evenly. I sell a lot to England and Australia, I always wonder if those places are especially void of vintage clothing or if they’re just more inclined to shop online. Stateside, more orders than I ever would have bet on are from Texas. but really, it’s just so spread out. 

Side note: Ms. Jeannie also sells a lot of vintage to Australia. She recently spoke with a customer who shed some light on the subject. It seems there is just not a lot of vintage or antique items in Australia. And what they do have is really really expensive, so for collectors it is much more cost effective to purchase vintage from the States. Even with our high shipping prices to their neck of the woods, it still works out in their favor.

MJ: Buying from your shop is almost like receiving two gifts! You give something back to the community and you receive a fabulous vintage item at the same time, do you think people respond to that and do you think that affects their purchasing decisions?
Nicole: AW. I feel like that’s split too. but always if someone didn’t notice that their purchase helps organizations around the city, they’re pretty jazzed when they find out afterward.

MJ:  Have you seen the impact that your charitable contributions have made? Is there a Nicole Cat Hospital somewhere in Chicago or a statue of your loveliness downtown?! Did the mayor give you a key to the city?!
Nicole: whaaaaaaaaaat an enormous key to the city? Who wouldn’t want that. It would have to be enormous, otherwise the deal would be off.

MJ: If we were to come spend a day with you in Chicago, and you were to act as tour guide, where would you take us?
Nicole: WELL. every old theater we could get into, most of them in Uptown. I am just slightly obsessed with atriums and glass ceilings- Harold Washington Library, the Cultural Center, the Rookery. You would have too ooh and ahh at architecture along the river with me, naturally.

Harold Washington Library Photograph by Carolyn Jane Photo. Click for more info.

Harold Washington Library Photograph by Carolyn Jane Photo. Click for more info.

Chicago Cultural Center Tiffany Dome Photograph by unfinishedphoto via etsy. Click for more info.

Chicago Cultural Center Tiffany Dome Photograph by unfinishedphoto . Click for more info.

Rookery Building photograph by photoasylum. Click for more info.

Rookery Building photograph by photoasylum. Click for more info.

MJ: And last but not least…the universal questions: What book(s) are you currently reading? And what music are you listening to?
Nicole: I’ve been listening to a lot of Lissie and old Ratatat lately and reading a book that my sister recommended called The Secret History. It’s by Donna Tartt and is pretty excellent.

Mustard Corduroy Vest.

Mustard Corduroy Vest.

With over 190 items in her shop you most certainly might find a new treasure for your wardrobe. Ms. Jeannie encourages you to help the helper, by visiting Nicole’s shop on Etsy or by passing along this post to someone else who would enjoy it. Best case scenario, you might aid in helping a shelter dog find a new home or a withdrawn senior find a smile.  Worst case scenario, you keep Nicole afloat so that she can continue to be a working wonder in the windy city.

Happy adventuring, dear readers!

A Trip Around China with Fishs Eddy: Discussing Dishes and Design with Julie

It’s unusual for things to stick around New York City. In a place that’s constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly striving to be the best and the boldest, it is understandable that the pressure is great. The city, at most, is a complicated love affair offering you treasures in the form of new favorites…restaurants, boutiques, coffee houses, galleries, apartments, friends, jobs… you lose your heart, you fall in love, you grow to need them and then one day they are gone.  It’s life lived bittersweet, but in an environment that constantly strives to out do itself, it’s to be expected. To Ms. Jeannie, that’s what makes the city wonderful. It’s addictive and adventurous and mysterious. It’s here one minute and  gone the next. But every once in awhile you get lucky, the city gods smile upon you,  and one of your favorites winds up sticking around for many, many years and many more beyond that.

Such is the case with the whimsical vintage china and kitchen shop, Fishs Eddy, located at Broadway and 19th street.  First opened in the mid-1980’s by Julie and her husband, Dave, Ms. Jeannie first discovered it thanks to her brother, who had purchased a vintage Howard Johnson’s creamer there, and then went about telling all of New York how wonderful of a place it was. Like her brother, Ms. Jeannie was smitten right away. Having just moved back to the city,  from Seattle, it reminded her a bit of the market stalls in Pike Place, where everything was a feast for your eyes  in that simple, unearthed presentation way that spoke a straightforward this-is-what-I-offer language. It also reminded her a bit of the one day sample sales, she had just  started frequenting with her girlfriends. These were sort of “secret” sample sales where you had to be on “the list” and show up to a hush-hush location where designers opened trunks of clothes in near empty buildings and let you rummage through one of a kind fashions that were just retired from the runway or design studio.  Of course these were deeply discounted clothes in waif sizes but you couldn’t help but feel like an adventurer among all those fabrics and that you being offered something rare and unusual.

That’s exactly what Ms. Jeannie felt when visiting Fishs Eddy for the first time. It was exhilarating.   Barrels of retro plates and cups, bins of mismatched silverware, shelves and cabinets of affordably priced pitchers and platters, cups and glassware. And then there was their sense of humor, their quirky signs, their whimsical displays. It was all perfection right from the very beginning.

So how does one such store manage to make it in one of the toughest cities in the world for more than 25 years? Clearly it’s good business practices, but also there’s more to it then just operating the nuts and bolts of every day. Ms. Jeannie caught up with Julie to discuss all aspects of selling china in New York City. Here’s what she had to say…

Fishs Eddy in NYC. Photo courtesy of shopikon.com

Fishs Eddy in NYC. Photo courtesy of shopikon.com

Ms Jeannie: Where did your love of china and glassware begin?

Julie: After college I moved in on west 15th street. Dave was working at his cousin’s shop called the Wooden Indian. It was this quirky little store at the end of the block, they sold restaurant glassware and some dishes, along with a lot of peculiar stuff. It was a fixture in the West Village and a lot of cool artists and locals shopped there. Dave was working behind the counter, and well, the rest is history. I had graduated from Syracuse University and knew a little about Syracuse China-a major American manufacture of restaurant ware located near the campus. Dave knew a lot about restaurant dishes and glasses. He also knew how to run a shop. So he left his job and we opened our own store. The more we went out searching for dishes and glasses, the more we learned about these incredible factories and the manufacturing process and the wonderful people behind it.

Syracuse china marks from the 1890's -2009

Syracuse china marks from the 1890’s -2009

MJ: How did the Fishs Eddy concept come about to begin with? If I understand correctly, Fishs Eddy started with your barn discovery of old restaurant ware back in the 1980’s. Did you know that you were specifically looking for dishes that day or did it just happen to work out that way? If you had stumbled upon a barn full of old lamps do you think you would have then been in the vintage lamp/lighting business?!

J: Well we wouldn’t ever sell lamps because chances are, for us at least, if its something that has to be plugged in, it won’t work! But back at the shop we were already selling vintage restaurant china and glassware -because both Dave and I shared a passion for that kind of stuff. So we were searching for dishes when we stumbled upon that barn filled with “ware.” The thing is, we were always picking up odds and end, finding a dozen of anything would be a big deal…and here was a whole barn filled!

Fishs Eddy in the early years. Photo courtesy of the Fishs Eddy blog, Table of Content. Click the picture to read more...

Fishs Eddy in the early years. Photo courtesy of the Fishs Eddy blog, Table of Content. Click the picture to read more…

MJ: Did you grow up in New York? Why did you decide to open your first store location in the city as opposed to the suburbs or surrounding boroughs?
J: I grew up in Staten Island. I love art and dragged my father into the city any chance I could get to take me to museums. I always knew I would do something in the city. But I thought I would be a painter, I didn’t think I would have a business. It all worked out.

MJ: When you opened up shop in 1986, did you find that people got the mix and match concept right away or did you have to educate them about all the whimsical possibilities?

J: It’s funny how it all happened because it didn’t happen by design. Many many years ago we were hauling endless bushels of dishware out of the basements of the restaurant suppliers down in the Bowery. In those days the Bowery was the restaurant supply district. Those bushels we were hauling were filled with mixed pieces. It’s not like there were sets of anything. It was all obsolete cups and sugar bowls and mugs and plates. When we displayed these dishes in the store everything looked great together, even though nothing matched as a set. We merchandised our dishes the way were finding it, massed out in those basements. It was the best suggestive selling we could have ever done. People were excited that the common denominator was the great restaurant quality and they felt comfortable putting mixed patterns together to create something very unique. I have to say without sounding too presumptuous, I do believe Fishs Eddy was at the forefront of that whole approach to table top.

A "traditional" Fishs Eddy store display. Look at all those possibilities! Photo via flickr.

A “traditional” Fishs Eddy store display. Look at all those possibilities! Photo via flickr.

Crates and barrels and baskets all full. How could you not find at least one treasure in all of this?! Photo courtesy of timeout.com

Crates and barrels and baskets all full. How could you not find at least one treasure in all of this?! Photo courtesy of timeout.com

MJ: I was first introduced to Fishs Eddy through my brother who had bought a vintage Howard Johnson’s creamer from you guys. That was was 20 years ago and I still think about that creamer! Is there one item like that from the early days that brings back a sense of nostalgia for you?

Ms. Jeannie's brother purchased ne similiar to this one which is available online at fishseddy.com

Ms. Jeannie’s brother purchased one similar to this one which is available online at fishseddy.com (click the photo for info)

J: Hmmmm that’s a hard question because there are so many. The one pattern that I get very nostalgic for are these fantastic little cups made for the La Fonda Del Sol restaurant in the city. They were designed by Alexander Girard and had a fabulous design that was so 50’s and strikingly modern. The best part is that we’re working with the Girard family and bringing those dishes back! I still can’t get over that we’re producing a pattern that we found sitting in a basement 25 years ago, and who knows how long they were sitting there before we rescued them!

Alexander Girard (1907-1993) is an American born designer that studied in Italy.

Alexander Girard (1907-1993) is an American born designer who studied in Italy. He is most known for his textile designs for Herman Miller, but in addition, he designed the visual concept of the original La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York, circa 1960.  Pictures (clockwise top left): (1) the original menu designed by Girard for the La Fonda Del Sol restaurant, 1960.  (2) Portrait of Girard. (3) Porcelain plates designed by Girard now available at various museums. (4) The original La Fonda Del del Sol Restaurant, 1960. All photos via pinterest.

MJ:  One of the most fun things about visiting Fishs Eddy is your store displays – with the old crates and big bins of bits and pieces, it makes everything feel like a constant discovery. Like we’ve unearthed a treasure that you might not even know you had. That’s great design! How do you come up with your display concepts?

Crate full of mix and matches! Photo courtesy of absolutelynothingtowear.com

Crate full of mix and matches! Photo courtesy of absolutelynothingtowear.com

Even the cardboard boxes seem to fit right in! Photo by Heather Bullard.

Even the cardboard boxes seem to fit right in! Photo by Heather Bullard.

Quirky window displays. The wedding dress is made entirely out of spoons!

Quirky window displays. The wedding dress is made entirely out of spoons!

J: I tell our visual people that if it looks as though they spent any time at all thinking and strategizing about how a display looks, then the display is going in the wrong direction. We aren’t decorative and we aren’t “fluffy.” Every fixture in the store has a purpose, opposed to other stores that put random and useless props out to set a mood. Our dishes and glasses are what sets the mood and I think that kind of straight forward merchandising gives customers a lot of credit. People are very creative if you give them a chance.

MJ: Design-wise, who or what inspires you?

J; Without a doubt, Todd Oldham! We approached Todd a few years ago thinking this guy is never going to call us back…but he did! Todd is truly a talented and brilliant designer, watching him in action is awe-inspiring. We’ll be talking about how to lay out a graphic or something like that, and Todd will just see something that is totally unexpected, but it’s always right!

Todd Oldham (1961 - ) is an American designer with talents in a multitude of creative design fields including furniture, clothing and merchandising. Photo courtesy of poptower.com

Todd Oldham (1961 – ) is an American designer with talents in a multitude of creative design fields including furniture, clothing and merchandising. Photo courtesy of poptower.com

But what inspires me even more is that Todd is most unpretentious, giving and wonderful person ever! His partner Tony is the same way. Todd overseas the Charley Harper estate and could have given that design to anyone for dishware. God knows a lot of people would have killed for it. But he trusted this small business to do the best quality. He doesn’t make decisions based on how much money he could make. I‘m inspired by Todd as a designer, and just as much for the person that he is. How many people can you say that about?

A sampling of the Todd Oldham + Charley Harper collection for Fishs Eddy. clockwise top left: (1) Cardinal dinner plate (2) Green Jay Placemat (3) Eskimo Curlew Tray (4) Western Tanager Coaster. All items avaiable at fishseddy.com

A sampling of the Todd Oldham + Charley Harper collection for Fishs Eddy. Clockwise from top left: (1) Cardinal dinner plate (2) Green Jay Placemat (3) Eskimo Curlew Tray (4) Western Tanager Coaster. All items available at fishseddy.com

MJ: What is the most exciting item you ever discovered on your buying sprees and where was it from?

J: We’ve discovered a lot of things. But I have to say one of the most exciting pieces that we’ve ever come across was this very large punch bowl from the 21 Club in NYC. The 21 Club was a speak-easy and I always think about how that bowl was probably made for some kind of spiked punch!

Side note: To see a fun quick little video of all the “hidden” doors, vaults and prohibition- era trickery inside the 21 Club click here.

The 21 Club in Manhattan - now over 80 years old!

The 21 Club in Manhattan – now over 80 years old!

MJ: Is there a particular pattern or brand that creates a frenzy among Fishs Eddy customers?

J: Customers really love our Charley Harper dishes that Todd designed. They also love some of the crazy one-offs that we mange to get away with, like a little tray that’s Obama’s birth certificate! That was a frenzy because it came out around election time.

The Obama Birther Certificate Tray exclusively from Fishs Eddy.

The Obama Birther Certificate Tray exclusively from Fishs Eddy.

MJ: After 25 years in the business, do you think you have seen it all when it comes to china patterns? Is there a holy grail of patterns that you are anticipating?

J: Haha….a holy grail of patterns? I love anything that was done in a spray mist pattern. That was popular in the 50’s, so I guess if I found a barn filled with that stuff I would start worshiping. And trust me, it takes a lot to get me to worship!

MJ: What’s one of the best customer stories you can recall?

J: One of my favorite stories is when a customer took a photograph of the Fishs Eddy sign on the highway on route 17. They sent the photo to us and said “did you know they name a town after your store?” That town was founded about three hundred years before we were!

Ms. Jeannie consulted her 1943 vintage atlas and was thrilled to see that Fishs Eddy was listed on the map!

Ms. Jeannie consulted her 1943 vintage atlas and was thrilled to see that Fishs Eddy, New York  was listed on the map! In 1943, it had a population of 488, in case you were wondering!

It's located in the southern part of the state, right in the crook of Catskill country.

It’s located in the southern part of the state, right in the crook of Catskill country.

MJ: I absolutely love antique ironstone pottery and get so excited when I come across a piece. The older, more aged and imperfect looking the better – if it has a crack or a chip it is absolutely perfect! What sort of pieces or brands get you so excited like this?

Ms. Jeannie's most beloved ironstone pottery platter dating to 1850.

Ms. Jeannie’s most beloved ironstone pottery platter dating to 1850.

J: I love any dishes that have the original guideline markings under the glaze. There was this guy named Ray who worked forever at Shenango China factory and he signed off on all the sample plates. So we have lots of these plates with Ray’s signature. He even doodled on some of them!

Julie's favorites! This one is a Pottsville Club Sample Plate (click for more info)

Julie’s favorites! This one is a Pottsville Club Sample Plate (click for more info)

Isbell's Picadilly Restaurant Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (click more more info)

Isbell’s Picadilly Restaurant Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)

Colonial Hotel Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)

Colonial Hotel Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)

MJ: What is your most favorite piece, or collection, in the shop right now?

J: Right now at this very minute I love this funny little pattern we did with the winner of our annual design competition at Pratt Institute. We’ve been doing this competition for several years now and some of my favorite patterns have come out of it. I love student work because it’s so unfettered. Last year the theme of the competition was politics. I did get a lot of elephants and donkeys but this one student submitted a Teddy Roosevelt pattern that’s totally adorable. I was thinking, where else would you get Teddy Roosevelt dishes other than Fishs Eddy??? And, we had it made in America because of course, you can’t outsource TR! It just makes me happy to look at!

The Teddy Roosevelt Collection available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)

The Teddy Roosevelt Collection available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)

MJ: Is it ever nerve-wracking to be around so many fragile things?

J: We’ve broken some pieces of our collection that, after the damage, I just have to go and hide under a rock for a few hours -but at the end of the day, they are dishes.

So many fragiles! Photo by Heather via pinterest

So many fragiles! Photo by Heather Bullard via pinterest

MJ: I saw your recent blog post about Stanley Tucci stopping by for a book signing (very cool!), do you have a big celebrity clientele? And have you, yourself, been star-struck by anyone that’s visited the store?

Stanley Tucci's new cookbook

Stanley Tucci’s new cookbook

Stanley Tucci signing books at Fishs Eddy. Photo courtesy of the Fishes Eddy blog, Table of Content.

Stanley Tucci signing books at Fishs Eddy. Photo courtesy of the Fishes Eddy blog, Table of Content.

J: We do get a lot of celebrities. The one person I might have frozen in star “struckenness” is Bill Clinton, who came in a few months ago while I was out to lunch, of course.

Julie didn't miss out on meeting Stanley! There she is (in the glasses). Photo

Julie didn’t miss out on meeting Stanley! There she is (in the glasses). Photo courtesy of the Fishs Eddy blog, Table of Content. Click on the picture to read more about the event.

 MJ: If you could sit down to luncheon with anyone famous, alive or dead, who would you chose? And what would your place settings look like? 

J: Gloria Steinem is one person. I sat a few rows behind her once when I went to Carnegie Hall with my father.   I only watched her for the entire concert. Anyone who speaks up for gender equality is someone I want to have lunch with. And then there’s Hank Williams because I love county music. I know, I’m a big walking conflict of interest because it’s not like county music preaches gender equality.

Julie's lunch companions. Gloria Steinam is an American journalist, activist, feminist and leader of the women's liberation movement in the 1960's and 1970's. Hank Williams (1923-1953) was a highly influential American country music artist.

Julie’s lunch companions. Ms. Jeannie bets there would be some interesting conversations going on between these two over lunch!  Gloria Steinem is an American journalist, activist, feminist and was the leader of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Hank Williams (1923-1953) was a highly influential American country music singer-songwriter.

MJ: Can you name some restaurants or hotels that have utilized your food service supply line?

J: Marcus Samelsons Red Rooster, Joseph Leonard, Perla, Prune, Maialino, La Bernadine….too many to name!

Red Rooster Harlem -  American comfort food cuisine - between 125th and 126th Streets (click for their menu)

Red Rooster Harlem – American comfort food cuisine – between 125th and 126th Streets (click for their menu). Photo via flickr.

Joseph-Leonard American Restaurant  and Bar in the West Village - 170 Waverly Place. Click for menu. Photo by Daniel Krieger.

Joseph-Leonard American Restaurant and Bar in the West Village – 170 Waverly Place. Click for menu. Photo by Daniel Krieger.

Perla  - a rustic Italian restaurant at 24 Minetta Lane in the West Village. (Click photo for menu). Photograph courtesy of roundpulse.com

Perla – a rustic Italian restaurant at 24 Minetta Lane in the West Village. (Click photo for menu). Photograph courtesy of roundpulse.com

Prune - American homecooking with mulit-cultural influences. Located at 54 East 1st Street (click photo for menu).

Prune – American homecooking with multi-cultural influences. Located at 54 East 1st Street (click photo for menu).

Maialino - A Roman trattoria located at 2 Lexington Avenue. (Click photo for menu). Photo courtesy of youropi.com

Maialino – A Roman trattoria located at 2 Lexington Avenue. (Click photo for menu). Photo courtesy of youropi.com

Le Bernardin - considered to be one of the best seafood restaurnts in all of Nyc. Located at 155 West 51st Street. Click photo for menu. Photograph courtesy of tripandtravelblog.com

Le Bernadine – considered to be one of the best seafood restaurants in all of NYC. Located at 155 West 51st Street. Click photo for menu. Photograph courtesy of tripandtravelblog.com

MJ: If one of our readers was visiting NYC for the first time and you were their tour guide, what five places would you take them and why?

J: I would take them to my house, because I have the best view of the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty, and a collection of paintings that I love to show off. I would take them to Central Park, the MoMa, the lower east side, Eatly, and we would walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Why do I only get five places?

Julie's New York tour...clockwise from top left (1) Central Park, photograph by zenzphotography (2) The Museuem of Modern Art (MoMA), painting by Gwen Meyerson

Julie’s New York tour…clockwise from top left (1) Central Park, photograph by zenzphotography (2) The Museuem of Modern Art (MoMA), painting by Gwen Meyerson (3) NY’s Lower East Side at night, photography courtesy of nydigest (4) The Brooklyn Bridge, water color painting by merlyna (5) Eatly Italian Marketplace, photography courtesy of paloma81.blogspot

And of course, you’d have to visit Fishs Eddy:)  To keep up with Julie via her blog, click here. She’s a hilarious writer with lots of fun stories! If you do not live in the New York area, have no fear – you can still be charmed by FE and fill your shopping cart full via their website fishseddy.com
Cheers for being a mainstay, Fishs Eddy, and cheers again, to 25 more years in the dish business!
This interview is part of a series of interviews Ms. Jeannie has been conducting with various artists around the world, for over a year now. To read more from this series, click here.

Love from Lyon: Bookbinding Born from New Beginnings

We are in the middle of our first ice storm of the season, here in the South. The weather is so grey and dark and COLD, Ms. Jeannie thought this would be a lovely time to take a little trip. Where are we going, you ask? Why, it’s off to France, my dears! To visit a bookbinder in Lyon, who specializes in upcycled journals.

Since she was small, Ms. Jeannie has had a love affair with journals and diaries, doodlebooks and sketch pads. But it wasn’t until her early 20’s that she really started to depend on them as confidante,  emotional therapy and creative outlet.

During one particular portion of her life,  Ms. Jeannie carried a journal around with her everywhere she went. She was in her early 20’s, living in New York, attending college, working at a Manhattan publishing company and living in an old warehouse in Brooklyn.  She was exploring the city with her girlfriends, falling in and out of love with boyfriends and in the last book from those years,  fell in love with THE boyfriend, who eventually became her husband, the very handsome Mr. Jeannie Ology.

These are her journals from that time…

jo3

There are quite a few of them because she challenged herself for one entire year to put down her reading book on the subway (her most preferred activity for train travel) and to pick up her pen and just free-write in her journal. If you are unfamiliar with free form writing, basically you just start with a thought and go from there without any sort of restriction or point. A steady stream of conscious,  if you will.  For example…The train smells like onions today. There are pearl onions in my freezer, in a blue bag with a bird on it. I think the bird is an eagle, with wings outstretched. I wonder if an eagle has ever ridden on the subway. Maybe it would get on at Central Park and get off at Battery Park… maybe the eagle is going to visit the Statue of Liberty. Maybe they are friends and spend their days discussing the stresses of being national icons. (So there you go from onions to eagles to national symbolism – all in a minute with Ms. Jeannie!).

For the most part this activity occurred twice a day while she was commuting, usually once in the morning and once at night. The writing project sparked a few short stories, but mostly they were just daily observations of things going on around her…sights, sounds, feelings. Notes from a girl and a city going through their daily paces.

As you can imagine, New York is a bevy of interest and intrigue practically every moment – so there was lots of material. She started going through journals faster then she’d ever had before which meant journal shopping became a regular routine. She had this one favorite bookshop, in particular, in the World Trade Center, that she loved. They carried a whole section of handmade journals there and Ms. Jeannie loved the fact that no two ever really looked the same.  Her first book purchased from that shop was made out of recycled banana leaves, the last out of silk fabric scraps from India.  Both very different in style yet each had been made by hand. Selecting which one to buy seemed as important as selecting which words to write.

So that brings us to our little trip. Ms. Jeannie thought it would be fun to learn about the writer’s craft from the other side of the notebook. So off we go on a magical trip to Lyon, France to chat with Karen, bookbinder extraordinaire beyond the Etsy journal shop Spellbinderie …

Ms. Jeannie: Your shop really is magical – from the name right down the line to the contents. How did you decide on Spellbinderie?

Karen: The name came to me after many agonizing nights spent brainstorming with my husband. I wanted a shop name that reflected the concept of binding while also suggesting upcycling/transformation and my location, France. Finally Spellbinderie came to me while I was thinking about words that had -bind or -binding in them. This word said all I hoped my journals would be, enchanting, fascinating, unputdownable. I think upcycling is a bit of magic, it’s transformation, a second life, so the wordplay kept working, spell, craft, bind. Once I was settled on the name, my husband suggested the spelling, using the “ie” instead of a “y” for a French touch.

Lyon, France. Photo courtesy of globeimages.net

Lyon, France. Photo courtesy of globeimages.net

MJ:  Tell us a little bit about living in Lyon. Is that where you grew up?

K: I’m American, my husband is French. We met in Brooklyn just over 5 years ago and after three years together, he asked me if I’d be willing to leave my beloved Brooklyn and move to his hometown, Lyon. I was admittedly smitten with the idea of living in France and jumped at the opportunity. Plus we both wanted to have more time to create with our hands and do more traveling, instead of work, work, work. Brooklyn is an exciting place to live but it’s very much a career-oriented, go, go, go, type of city and I felt ready for a change. Lyon is a pretty city, famous for it’s gastronomy and well-located in the southeast of France. It’s a calmer pace, which I enjoy, while still being a good sized city, but I do miss coffee to go and good Mexican food!

This is a photo of

This is a photo of some vintage booksellers who sell near Karen’s home

MJ: How did you become interested in binding?

K: Honestly it just sort of happened. My romantic move to France had the ugly reality of finding a job. A big hurdle considering I did not speak a word of French. My former career was in documentary film editing but I wanted to change my path. A friend of mine back in the US  was doing really well selling vintage on Etsy. He encouraged me to do the same here. I began going to flea markets, thrift shops and yard sales, picking up this and that to sell, constantly drawn towards the gorgeous vintage books, often damaged but still enchanting. I’ve always had a passion for old books, started to collect them when I was quite young. I started to collect more here thinking eventually I’d figure out what to do with them. From there I researched upcycling ideas online and stumbled on bookbinding. I knew that was it, I just had to learn how.

journal2

French book published in 1909 now offered as a wedding registry book by Spellbinderie.

MJ:  I love how your books are actual stories within stories. Does it take a long time to concept the construction a book? What is your most favorite part of the process?

K: Right from the start I wanted to make my journals more than just blank pages. What inspires me is a book’s history, where it’s been, who’s hands held it, what were they thinking, doing, eating, sitting, dreaming? The old paper calls me with it’s soft texture and warm color and I’m absolutely smitten by old handwriting or bits of paper or cards left behind. In the end, it’s my own imagination, my need to tell stories, my love of secrets and mystery, that is my favorite part of the process. I want that to be bound right into the journal.

Mixed paper journal by Spellbinderie

Mixed paper journal by Spellbinderie

MJ: Do you have a sourcing method for all the old books and papers you incorporate into your items? Are you scouring France for great papers?!
K:  I’m scouring my section of France for sure! I have a wonderful local thrift shop and the proceeds go to help the poor and needy, so an added bonus for buying there. I also shop the flea markets and vide-greniers, or “empty attics”, the French version of a yard sale. I’m lucky that my in-laws are avid thrifters and often find amazing books for me to use as well. My vacations tend to include a bit of thrifting now too.

MJ:  What is your most favorite item in your shop at the moment?

Custom Made Art Journal Sketchbook by Spellbinderie

Custom Made Art Journal Sketchbook by Spellbinderie

K: My custom made “Layo” artist sketchbook, I think. The photos don’t do it justice, I’m limited to how many photos I can add on Etsy so kept the focus on practical matters. The “Layo” was made for a repeat customer who’s an artist and avid journaler. We always work together to create very unique sketchbooks that fit her needs and I love each and every one of them.

MJ: What’s your best customer story? Do you sell your books anywhere else besides Etsy?

K: My best customer story is related to the “Layo” sketchbook. The sketchbook is named for her of course. She is very creative and pushes me, in a good way, to be more creative and learn new things. Her orders are the most time consuming because they are never simple and sometimes I need to think outside the box to make what she wants or to find suitable material. I love the challenge and the result. She’s been a customer for almost a year now and has become a friend through our conversations and collaborations. I probably would not know this amazing woman if I weren’t selling online!

I just started to list on Dawanda but Etsy is my main focus for selling.

MJ:  Are most of your clients writers?

K: I’d say my clients are brides, next would be writers. I also get quite a few men ordering custom journals as gifts for their creative girlfriends. I LOVE that! It’s really exciting to make a special gift for someone and I have to say it, I’m impressed with these super cool and thoughtful boyfriends.

Wedding registry books by Spellbinderie.

Wedding registry books by Spellbinderie.

MJ:  Do you have an educational background in bookbinding?

K: No, I am self-taught through instructional videos and books plus lots of practice before I opened my shop. I am interested in taking a few courses in high level binding in order to improve and perfect my technique and be able to offer more variety in binding style but haven’t found the right course in my area. I’ve also reached out to some professional bookbinders for advice and found the community supportive.

Personalized Wedding Guest Book by Spellbinderie

Personalized Wedding Guest Book by Spellbinderie

MJ:  Do you have a shop bestseller?
K: My wedding guestbooks are by far my biggest sellers but next would be my Retro Journal Series which are crafted from small antique books that have a math, literature, science or geography theme. I fell in love with this type of book early on, drawn to their distressed covers and simple cream and black color scheme.

Rustic Vintage Mixed Paper Journal by Spellbinderie. This one is Ms. Jeannie's favorite!

Rustic Vintage Mixed Paper Journal by Spellbinderie. This one is Ms. Jeannie’s favorite!

Retro Journal by Spellbinderie

Retro Journal by Spellbinderie

I wanted to make them more distressed and mysterious, gatekeepers of secret formulas and agendas, by adding bits of the text, tattered reclaimed paper and burning the paper edges. I loved that it looked like it had been traveling around, maybe having a few too many drinks and a bar fight for it’s own good. When I listed the first one, it sold immediately, which shocked me because I honestly thought it would take awhile to find the right buyer. Turns out people love them just as much as I do and just like that this line was born. Which just goes to show you, ALWAYS follow your heart and your own style.

MJ:  Is there an ideal type of book you look for when your sourcing your papers?

K: I look primarily for whatever catches my eye, could be great illustrations, a beautiful cover, a wonderfully distressed cover. I stay away from anything rare or in demand as well as too damaged or fragile.

MJ: When you are not working on your books what else occupies your time?

K: I love watching movies, reading, traveling, camping and photography. I also love to cook, and eat quite frankly. I enjoy infusing booze too! I make my own bitters and infused rum, known as rhum arrangé here, which comes from Reunion, an island off of Africa. It’s delicious! Only hard part is being patient for at least three months before you can enjoy.

MJ: Are your customers mostly in Europe or the US?
K: Primarily in the US and UK, then Canada and Australia.

MJ:  Are you a journaler yourself? If so, do you make all of your own journals?
K: I’m always a bit nervous when asked this question because I am not a journaler and wonder if buyers would be turned off by that. My pleasure is in bookbinding and designing though, not in writing. I’m a storyteller but do so visually. My former career as a film editor probably seems so different from my new career but both involve taking pieces of something and stitching them together to create a new thing. Both end up with my interpretation of the story.

Rustic Wedding Guestbook by Spellbinderie. Note the vintage needlework  she included!

Rustic Wedding Guestbook by Spellbinderie. Note the vintage needlework she included!

MJ:  What is it about the art of journaling that attracts people?

K: I think I’m not qualified to answer since I am not a journaler but I would assume it’s the same thing that attracts me to bookbinding or film editing: it feels good to do and it’s necessary to do, to create.

MJ: Do customers ever send you pictures of their journals or guest books all filled out? I bet they’d look incredible!
K: I’ve been hoping someone would but I think journaling tends to be a private thing more than not. I made a guestbook for a friend of mine in Lyon and that was so exciting. I got to see the reaction of her guests to my creation and see the guestbook afterwards.

MJ: What is your design space/studio like?
K: We live in a loft like space with a mezzanie. The area of Lyon that we live in is known for these kind of apartments because this area was formerly a silk weaving neighborhood. The buildings have very high ceilings to allow for the silk weaving frames and the mezzanines were where the weavers slept or for use as offices.

Karen's studio space.

Karen’s studio space and her handmade bookbinding frame. 

My studio space is not separated from my living area which means there is no door to shut, making it hard for me to really draw a line between work life and private life. That can be tough sometimes but I love my neighborhood and my open space. As much as I’d love to shut the door and go home at the end of my work day, I enjoy having everything right at hand too.

MJ:  What inspires your work (besides antiques books, obviously!)
K: My neighborhood. I walk around looking at the architecture, I’m particularly drawn to the distressed doors and wood beam ceilings. I am also a fan of Keith Smith, a book artist. His work is very very different than mine but inspires me and pushes me to try new things.

The amazing architecture of Lyon. Ms. Jeannie loves those doors too!

The amazing architecture of Lyon, France. Ms. Jeannie loves those doors too!

Keith Smith, book artist. For more info on his work, please click on the photo.

Keith Smith, book artist. For more info on his work, please click on the photo.

MJ:  As far as gathering books for eventual re-purposing into journals, what subject matter interests you most?
Generally fiction because of the ornate covers and pretty illustrations. I love the drama, especially a darker, more gothic type. I also love geography and history books with old maps and descriptions about various places. I recently started making journals for a US buyer who spends quite a bit of time in the Alps. He’s an avid mountaineer, skier and journaler. He contacted me to find old books on the subject to transform into journals and now I am hooked on these books too. I discovered Pierre and Georges Tairraz, amazing photographers who traveled around taking incredible photos.

tairraz_collage

MJ: Do you have any new year’s resolutions? What is one thing you plan to accomplish in your Etsy shop this year?
K: Double my sales, hire a part time assistant for the spring/summer wedding rush, come up with new ideas, learn a new binding technique.

Karen is currently reading:
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. My favorite author!

1q84-by-haruki-murakami

MJ:  What music are you listening to?

K: Hmmm, I’m 44 and sadly finding I’m listening to less and less new music! My iTunes recent playlist shows: Joy Division, Bjork, Kate Bush, Portishead, Bear In Heaven, Birdie Nam Nam, Mahmoud Ahmed, PJ Harvey

Karen, the face behind Spellbinderie...

Karen, the artist behind Spellbinderie. 

Do you have questions for Karen? Post them in the comments section and Ms. Jeannie will be sure they get to her. Or you can visit her shop here.  Also, click on any of the Spellbinderie journal pictures in this post for more detailed information.

Not ready to leave the beauty of France quite yet?  No worries, my dear, read a previous interview with  French photographer Yann Pendaries here.

Or enjoy a year full of Ms. Jeannie’s other interesting interviews here.

Classic Style – A Glamorous Conversation with The Vintage Hat Shop

Funny enough, this is Ms. Jeannie’s second post dedicated to hats and her fifth mention of them in previous fashion related posts. You see, dear readers, Ms. Jeannie has a great love affair with hats, which she is just now realizing.

She only owns three herself: a bright green celery colored garden hat, a wide brim, floppy, shoulder to shoulder straw beach hat and a fancy derby hat which she recycles every year through the magic of ebay – hardly the dynamic collection of a hat lover!

But what Ms. Jeannie has come to realize is that the thing she might just love most about a hat is the ability to subtly express oneself through a color, an adornment, a slight placement of angle. Whether you want to hide from the sun under your big brim or show off your flamboyant style in an eye-catching fascinator  – a hat can speak volumes about its wearer without her having to say anything at all. Magical!   So when Ms. Jeannie came upon this quote by Martha Sliter – she could completely relate:

“A hat is a flag, a shield, a bit of armor, and the badge of femininity. A hat is the difference between wearing clothing and wearing a costume; it’s the difference between being dressed and being dressed up; it’s the difference between looking adequate and looking your best. A hat is to be stylish in, to glow under, to flirt beneath, to make all others seem jealous over, and to make all men feel masculine about. A piece of magic is a hat.”

Well said Martha! A piece of magic is a hat! This got Ms. Jeannie to thinking about the past – back to nostalgic times when women (and men!) wore hats everyday and millinery shops lined the streets of every city. Now those physical brick and morter shops are few and far between but thanks to Etsy, we can still enjoy vintage hat shopping in our new and modern way – online!

Vintage Hat Forms – photo courtesy of Greg Lang via pinterest

Lucky for us – one of Ms. Jeannie’s readers is Cindy – the dynamo behind The Vintage Hat Shop on Etsy. With over 100 hats currently for sale and over 700 hats sold in just over two years, who better to sit down with to discuss the state of the hat union than her?!  Enjoy this stroll through fashion history as Cindy gives us all a glimpse behind the curtain of a true vintage hat shop….

Vintage 1940s Tilt Hat in Gray with Bows from theVintageHatShop

Ms. Jeannie:  How did your Etsy shop come about?

Cindy from The Vintage Hat Shop: I get asked that question a lot. I knew that when I opened a shop on Etsy I wanted to concentrate on just one item. Hats just seemed to work for me—they are unique, ship easily, and I like the types of folks that buy hats. I love hunting for unusual and stylish hats.

1930’s Halo Hat Clamshell Turban from theVintageHatShop

MJ:  Explain a little bit about sourcing your hats – do you have to do a lot of mending and cleaning to do or do you look for hats that are only in pristine condition?

TVHS: I have my own certain criteria for hats—I won’t buy a hat that has a foul smell, is soiled or needs a lot of repair. I do replace elastic back bands, remove veils, do a bit of minor mending. I iron a lot of ribbons. And I go through many lint rollers.

MJ: Your shop spans many decades – do you have a most favorite time period? 

TVHS: I like the ’40s hats myself. I just think it was such an interesting era and the hats are a reflection of the times. The styles were rather “gutsy” and dramatic. So many supplies were in short supply during the war and innovation was the key. I admire and respect that. Such a variety of fashion styles are available from that time period.

1940’s Tilt Slouch Hat in Lavender with Ostrich Feathers from theVintageHatShop

MJ:  Are you just as interested in hat related paraphernalia, like hat pins, hat boxes, etc as you are hats?

TVHS: I am interested in hat related items but I seldom buy them. I have too many interests and I make myself concentrate on just hats. The hat pins that I have were passed on to me by family members.

Miniature Dobbs Hatbox – from theVintageHatShop

MJ:  Kate Middleton seems to have brought some new attention to the hat industry, are most of your clients from the U.S. or overseas?

Some of Kate Middleton’s hat collection. Photos (clockwise) courtesy of: marieclaire.co.uk, graziadaily.co.uk, allhatnocattle.net, zimbio.com, hatsca.com

TVHS: I have clients all over the world. I have sold hats to folks in 27 countries—(yes, I keep a list!) About a third of my sales are international. I have hat dealers in 3 countries that buy from me for their shops. Australia is the country to which I ship the most hats.

MJ: If you could put one of your hats on any famous head, living or dead, who would you choose?

TVHS: Some of my hats would look great on Lady Diana. Can you imagine!

Actually Cindy – Ms. Jeannie can imagine this! She thinks Diana looks splendid in your 1960’s sequined pillbox hat!

MJ:  What is your most popular selling style of hat? And most popular decade?

TVHS: That’s a good question, but I haven’t quite figured out the answer yet! There doesn’t seem to be one decade that is consistently popular. Right now I am selling 1960’s cloches that look like they came from the 1920’s. For awhile 1940’s tilts were very popular. The tilt/slouch look from the 1930’s consistently sells well.

Vintage cloche hat with 1920’s style (one of Ms. Jeannie’s favortes!) fromtheVintageHatShop

1940’s Vintage Saks Fifth Ave Forward Tilt Hat from theVintageHatShop

1930’s Tilt Slouch Hat from theVintageHatShop

MJ: At the moment, there seems to be just a few men’s hats in your shop – is it harder to find men’s hats then women’s, do they sell more quickly or do you just have a natural affinity for a more feminine style?

Men’s Newsboy Cap from theVintageHatShop

TVHS: I like men’s hats but I don’t seek them out. Men want their dress hats to fit exactly and it is very hard to size them. Most of the fedoras that I find are a small size. So I rarely list them anymore. I do sell newsboy caps which can be worn by either men or women.

MJ:  In your shop bio, it reads that one of your buyers was Polo Ralph Lauren – how exciting! Have you seen your hats in any of their campaigns?

TVHS: No, but I haven’t been looking . Guess I should check that out.

MJ: What is your most favorite hat currently available in your shop?

I like the 1930s maroon tilt slouch hat. I like the quiet simplicity with a touch of classy style. But my favorite changes often.

1930’s Maroon Slouch Tilt Hat from TheVintageHatShop

MJ: Tell us a fun hat buying story in regards to one of your customers…

TVHS: Last week I sold two hats to Loretta Young’s daughter-in-law. Loretta Young loved Lilly Dache’ hats and one of the hats purchased was a black velvet Dachette turban. The hats will be used at a Loretta Young 100th anniversary exhibit at the Hollywood Museum in LA that runs from December through April. She even encouraged me to attend!

Loretta Young (1913-2000) was an American, award winning film and television actress. Photo courtesy of fanpop.com

Cindy’s hats are la-la bound! See them on display at the Hollywood Museum. How very glamorous! Photo courtesy of thehollywoodmuseum.com. Click the photo for more info.

Two of my 40s hats were purchased to be worn by extras in the movie “42”, the Jackie Robinson story starring Harrison Ford now being filmed in Macon, GA. You can bet I will be going to see that movie!

Movie Poster for 42

Many of my hats have been purchased for vintage weddings, theatrical productions, professional photo shoots and to women that like to dress in a vintage style. Today I sent a hat to a woman that is going to a Gatsby themed wedding and wanted a vintage cloche. You just never know! That’s what makes it so fun.

MJ:  Do you have a favorite “hat” movie? “Hat” actress? “Hat” actor?

TVHS: I like the 40s movies and actresses—Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman. I can’t pick out a favorite hat movie! What guy wears a hat better than Frank Sinatra?

Clockwise from left: Bette, Katharine, Frank and Ingrid (okay Bogie – you too!)

MJ: Why do you think women’s hats fell out of fashion as a regular, everyday accessory?

TVHS: A lot of people attribute the demise of hat wearing to hairspray! When women get their hair all “dolled up” and put on hairspray so it stays in place. They don’t want to ruin their “do” with a hat. I know on the days when I go hat shopping by the end of the day I have “hat hair”. It isn’t pretty.

MJ:  What do you look for in a vintage hat?

TVHS: I look for a hat with class and style. Sometimes I buy hats I don’t like because I know there is a market for them. But usually if I just don’t like a hat at first sight, I don’t buy it. And I love most any hat that tilts.

MJ: Do you wear hats yourself?

TVHS: Now you would think so, wouldn’t you? But in reality I seldom wear hats. They just aren’t in fashion in this area. (Which makes them available for hat buyers!!). But I do come home and try on every one that I buy. Shhhh. Don’t tell the family, they already think I am hat possessed.

MJ:   Can you tell us something a little “extra” about these 5 hats from your shop (Ms. Jeannie’s favorites!)… 

Favorite #1: Vintage 1960’s velvet cloche with 1920’s style from theVintageHatShop

This hat has a great memory. I purchased it on a trip to see my family. We had such a terrific time that day. Now it is off to London.

Favorite #2: 1960’s Bucket Tilt with Coralie Faux Fur from theVintageHatShop

 I purchased this hat because the color was unusual. And the feather looked like a bird!

Favorite #3: Vintage Cloche Hat with 1920’s Style from theVintageHatShop

There is an antique shop that I stop at often, they don’t know my name, they just call me “The Hat Lady”. I found this hat there. Could anyone pass up a 1920s cloche in this condition?!!

Favorite #4: Vintage 1950’s Turban Style Hat from theVintageHatShop

Turbans are very popular right now and this is such a great color. It has more of a structured shape than other turbans that I sell.

Vintage 1960’s Tilt Slouch, Beret Style with Rhinestone Pin from TheVintageHatShop

What a classy way to do a winter hat! That beading adds just the right touch of interest.

MJ:  What was your most exciting hat acquisition story?

TVHS: Last summer I went to a local estate sale. A widow had died 15 years ago at age 90 and her nephew was just cleaning out her home. She was meticulous about her belongings. Her hats were exquisite! I got some from each decade 1910s-1950s. One of her hats was made by a local milliner, that will go to our county museum. I have two of her hats that I just can’t quite bring myself to list. I am a sentimentalist at heart. I had such a great time that day! And I was so honored to pass her hats on to collectors that would also treasure them.

MJ: You have lovely models in your shop! Tell us a little about them.

Meet the Vintage Hat Shop models…Jo & Jo!

TVHS: I had searched for months for a new mannequin. I had been to antique shows, and every shop in our area but just couldn’t find a mannequin that suited my style. I had decided to order a new one on line and just make it work. My husband and I decided to go out to a small town for a Friday night dinner and parked next to a tiny gift/antique shop. The mannequin gal with the dark brown hair was in the window! The shop was closed for the night and the next day was the last day for the season. You can bet that I took another trip back to that store early the next morn and purchased her. I went to the same shop again this spring and bought the redhead. Oh, and of course many hats, too!
It makes me happy each time I use them. I have named them both Jo—after a classy aunt.( yes, she wore hats and loved them!)

MJ:  What style advice would you give to the first time vintage hat buyer?

TVHS: Buy hats you love of course. But the real secret is to give your hat a good tilt. For the “oo-la-la” factor.

Other interesting tid-bits from Cindy’s world:

Currently on her bookshelf: 

Recommended Books from Cindy: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan, and The Measure of A Man by Sidney Poitier

Currently listening to:  Country music on the radio. 

If she could luncheon with anyone famous living or dead, she’d choose: Eleanor Roosevelt 

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) – First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945, civil rights activist, author and public speaker.

Of course Eleanor would be the one in the hat!

This interview is part of an ongoing interview series that Ms. Jeannie is orchestrating about artists, writers and musicians and their inspirations. To read other interviews in this series, simply click here.