Reviving Ophelia: An Interview with a Modern Day Pinner

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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 …

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Picked and pleasantly arranged…

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and

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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”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Interview with a Daily Creative: How One Artist Documents Her Mindset

Dear readers,

you know that feeling you get when you  just happen upon something wonderful and magical and you get that little tingle in your brain that says – oh yes – this is something quite marvelous?

So marvelous indeed, that it  makes you want to pause for a minute and try to figure it all out, take it all in, get lost in for just a little bit in someone else’s imagination?

Daily Drawing: September 13, 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings

Well, that’s exactly what happened when Ms. Jeannie stumbled upon the daily drawings of Patti Roberts-Pizzuto of Missouri Bend Musings.  What a wonderful, daunting, ambitious project to take on – this idea of documenting your each and every day –  in a drawing. Ms. Jeannie was so fascinated by this concept she just had to get in touch with Patti about her project.

Think of this interview as a mini stroll through an art gallery with the artist at your side. Patti is full of conversational artistic wisdom that is intuitive, thoughtful, real…

Ms. Jeannie:  I love your idea of one a day paintings. How did you come upon the idea?

Patti Roberts-Pizzuto: I like to have balance in my life, which is very difficult to achieve as we all know! One of the things that helps me is a daily ritual of some sort….my husband and I do yoga most mornings before breakfast and going off to work and that’s a daily ritual, but I was looking for some kind of studio ritual to keep me grounded.

I did have a practice making 10 very quick meditation drawings each morning on cheap copy paper as a way to stay in touch with my inner language, so these daily drawings were an outgrowth of that. They began as something a little more “finished” than those morning pages, as I called them. I began with adhering a teabag to a sheet of Bristol and using that space for the daily drawing. After a couple of weeks, it dawned on me that these “dailies” could be the beginning of a new shop and MissouriBendMusings was born.

At the beginning of the project. Daily Drawing: January 25th, 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings

MJ:  Where do you draw inspiration from?

PRP: I work very intuitively and have always said that I think through my hands. My inspiration never really comes directly from looking at something and wanting to capture it on paper, but rather from watching, listening, experiencing life and letting it filter through me….what comes out on the page is most often a reflection what I am thinking or feeling deep inside. I don’t expect anyone to be able to decode it and often I don’t have a real idea what the drawing is saying, but when I am most centered and have a balance that allows my interior life to open up, I know exactly what the work is saying.

Daily Drawing: June 28 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings

MJ:  In your welcome shop banner, you say that your work is defined by the unfolding of time and the accumulation of memory (so nicely stated!), what is your process of calling up these memories?

PRP: As mentioned in the previous answer, it’s such an intuitive process that it is hard to describe. When I speak of the accumulation of memory, I am speaking more of collective memory….that is, the memory of our collective human history, which we all carry within us in some form or another, along with the accumulation of our own history and memory.

They all melt together inside us, interwoven like a tapestry. It is very difficult to pull out specific memories in their entirety. I am very aware of time passing, and of the shortness of our days, but I try to keep in mind that we are, in the end, another essential link in the unfolding of history. I suppose at the bottom of it all, I make art so that I can leave a trace of my having lived and passed through this moment in time.

Daily Drawing: March 20 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings

MJ:  The colors in your paintings are beautiful – do you dream in shades of red and grey and neutrals?

PRP: I’m much more comfortable with neutrals. I think they are filled with subtleties that allow for more reflective gazing. Bright colors are a flash and for me, working with subtle, muted colors is very exciting….to see how one color plays against another….there is more nuance there for me, somehow.

MJ:  Explain your physical work space.  

Patti’s Studio
Patti’s Studio

PRP: As I sit here in the studio typing, I am looking around this big studio space and am very comfortable with all the color, with the fragments gathered from here and there tacked to the wall, surrounded by books and artwork and yet part of me longs for a totally stripped down space….one large room, painted white, with one simple table in the middle. My husband (a printmaker) and I built this house and the entire lower floor (which is a garden view basement and only ½ underground) is studio space. There is a large shared space and we each have separate 12’ x 24’ studios.

MJ:   You recently moved from Florida to South Dakota – that’s a big difference in geography:) What do you like about your new town? What do you miss about Florida?

PRP: I love the landscape here in southeastern South Dakota. We live right on the Missouri River and are located nearly at the border with Iowa and directly across from Nebraska. It is a gently rolling farmland, full of amazing subtle color! People think that Florida is so full of color, but I’ve been amazed how much gorgeous color there is in the landscape here in all four seasons. People probably think of the winter as gray and dead, but the reds and yellows of the grasses and shrubs against the snow is really quite amazing, not to mention the variety of blues, browns, etc.

Burbank, South Dakota. Photo by sstuckel

We still have friends that we miss in Florida (seven years later), but as a place, we are much happier here. We also really appreciate the four seasons we have here, each one with it’s own unique pleasures, so we can look forward to new things happening all year long, knowing they are only a seasonal thing. It is very rural here, so we’re at least 45 minutes from any real city (our address of Burbank is just outside our real town of Vermillion which is only 10,000) and that is often a drawback….but not when you think that many, many people drive that long or more just to get to and from work each day!

MJ: What book are you currently reading?
PRP: Orhan Pamuk (I recently finished the Museum of Innocence, one of my all time favorite books and am currently reading The Black Book, but finding very little time to read these days).
Also reading Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.

Patti’s bookshelf

Reading is an essential activity for me….like food. I’m feeling out of sorts these days because I don’t have time to read. I have to have new ideas and language to feed on, otherwise the well runs dry. Reading is a slow activity and allows time for reflection, essential for the creative process. Our contemporary life doesn’t allow for much of it.

Side Note: The Museum of Innocence is on Ms. Jeannie's bookshelf too (waiting to be read). Interestingly enough, Orhan Pamuk opened his own Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, based on the book,  which catalogues the everyday life of  the people of Turkey.  A fascinating concept - book turned museum. This makes Ms. Jeannie wonder what other good books could become their own museums. Hmmm.... what do you think?
Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence in the Çukurcuma neighborhood of Istanbul.

MJ:  Music – wise, what are currently listening to?

PRP: An eclectic mix of classical, folk and ethnic. Right now, here in the studio, Patti Griffin is on the CD player, which replaced the Norah Jones disc. Upstairs, we’ve got Monsters of Grace (Philip Glass) and the Bach Cello Suites loaded on the player. We’re so old fashioned, we still buy CDs! I’ve never been one to download music and put it on an ipod….I need the object itself.

MJ:  Do you collaborate on ideas with your husband?

PRP: We have done collaborative projects together, a couple of times with visiting artists. We’ve been invited by Johntimothy’s colleagues at other universities to do a collaborative print project together and that’s worked out nicely. We both contribute to the drawing and the imagery, but he handles all the technical and print-related aspects. We also did a collaborative exhibition of a series of mixed media pieces on panel a few years ago. Generally though, we confer we each other from time-to-time on questions with our work and we definitely support one another through the ups and downs, but our work and creative processes are pretty distinct.

MJ: Do you feel pressure to work under your one a day concept? What happens if you are stuck in a creative rut one day or if life interferes with your painting schedule?

PRP: The daily project has nothing to do with being in a rut….it is a process of balancing, being in the moment and not ultimately about making art. Sometimes life does interfere and I don’t get up in time to get down here to the studio and it doesn’t happen until the next day….I just make two the next morning. It feels like cheating, but it’s also that pull of making something for the marketplace (my Etsy shop) that sometimes short-circuits the actual intent. 

Daily Drawing: September 18 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings

MJ: Do you have an ultimate end date for your painting a day project?

PRP: It’s very difficult to keep up with the project as a shop (all the photography, posting, etc.) so I’m not sure how long I can keep it up, now that I am working 30 hours a week. I wasn’t working when I started and it was much more doable. I want to keep it up at least a year, so will go til early January and then will rethink things. I may merge them with my first shop, MissouriBendStudio, but we’ll see how I feel by the end of the year. I’m sure I will continue some sort of daily practice, such as this, but they may not see the light of the day….or find their way to the marketplace.

9 months in to a 12 month project. Each square represents one month of drawings in the Missouri Bend Musings Daily Drawing project. The blank spots represent the months still to go.

MJ: What do you hope to accomplish with your daily markings of time and place?

PBP: I hope to have it be a daily reminder not to take anything for granted. It’s a way of creating the illusion of slowing down time and bringing myself back to a quiet place… in the moment, rather than living life according to all the things that must get done….which is the other 98% of my day.

MJ: . There are so many favorites in your shop, but if I had to narrow it down to my top five, I would choose:

Daily Drawing: September 3 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings
Daily Drawing: April 29 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings
Daily Drawings: August 19 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings
Daily Drawings: August 20 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings
Daily Drawing: August 31 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings

Can you explain a little bit about the subject matter or events surrounding each?

PRP: Now that I’ve looked back at each of those pieces, I think mostly the common theme is the notion of writing, text, and the page. The August pieces are more like ledger pages, which was the point at which I was realizing that these drawings were like a counterpart to the Notes From the Ancestors series and could be seen as notes TO the ancestors.

The ledger page is a kind of accounting and a way of taking stock….a metaphor for trying to find balance, so to speak. There is often a notion of the book page and an illusion to text in my work, which shows up because of my love of the book and the importance of writing and of language.

I have spent many years of my work life (outside the studio) as a library cataloger and the intimacy and small scale of my work is a reflection of that. My work is meant to be seen as if looking at a book page….a one-on-one experience and often harkens back to the look and feel of the book page. The work I make does not hold up across the room, but hopefully will draw you in from across the distance to have an intimate experience with the subtlety and nuance of the marks and surface. Some of the works you mentioned are very spare and minimal….a reflection of my need to say what is essential and leave the rest out. It’s all about balance, finding it in the work and in life.

MJ: Which is your most favorite painting so far?

PRP: Although the early dailies on the teabags utilized more acrylic paint, I always think of my work as drawing rather than painting. For me, drawing is a more direct expression somehow. I know there are many others who wouldn’t agree, but each person has their own creative process and mine is based in drawing….the extension of my hand moving across the page.

There is no favorite really. I try to remind myself that the goal is not to make “art”, but to make honest marks and not think so much about what is supposed to happen as I make the piece. Having said that, looking back after having made the pieces, there are some that I am much more satisfied with as pieces of “art” than others. I won’t list them here, but I’ll also say that some of the pieces that have sold surprise me as they are not my favorites….but that’s the beauty of it….each person will experience them differently!

MJ: Do you ever feel like you haven’t gotten the day right on paper, as you see it in your head? Do you go through multiple draft paintings for the day or just one draft?

PRP: I now make these drawings in the morning….very early before we do yoga, which is also before breakfast. It’s the beginning of the day, rather than the end of it and I’m not trying to capture anything….the goal for me is not to think, but to let go and let my hand begin making marks, letting the drawing unfold as it will.

Daily Drawing: April 26 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings

It’s more a conversation rather than a one-sided goal-oriented process. I hope it doesn’t sound dismissive to say, but they are what they are….there are no real revisions. The drawings now are much more spare and I am in a place where I am having a conversation with history, with the collective ancestors, so to speak.

Daily Drawing: September 27 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings

I have another series of work, posted on my website (www.robertspizzuto.com) called Notes From The Ancestors….and these little daily drawings have become, for me, the other side of that, so they are, in a small way, Notes To The Ancestors. It’s a way of saying, “I am alive….this is what life is like here in the early days of the 21st century.” Again, it reminds me of my place in the continuum.

Daily Drawings: February 9 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings

MJ:  Why did you choose to work with tea bags as your paper medium?

PRP: Partly, I am a tea drinker, although I drink loose tea for the most part (and have to depend on others to keep up my teabag supply needs!) so have an affinity for all things tea. I love the warmth of the subtle tones and the surface….and especially placed against the white of the paper. I moved away from the teabags for awhile, but am reintroducing them in this week’s drawings as I place just fragments of them on the Japanese paper.

MJ: What artists inspire you?

PRP: Kiki Smith, Paul Klee  and Cy Twombly, to name some well known names.
I’ve met so many amazing artists on Etsy and through the blog world that are just too numerous to name….they all inspire me. And the work of my husband, Johntimothy, is absolutely an inspiration to me….even though we work much differently.

Top: Cy Twombly. Bottom Right: Paul Klee. Bottom Left: Kiki Smith

MJ: If you could sit down and lunch with any famous person living or dead who would you choose and why?

PRP: I ask a very similar question to the artists I interview on my blog! I love the idea of this question, but now that I am put in the place to have to provide an answer, I am dumbfounded! I think I would have to have a small lunch gathering with Bill Clinton (I’m reading an article in Time magazine written by him….what a hopeful outlook!), Orhan Pamuk (contemporary Turkish author and Nobel Prize winner), and let’s say Kiki Smith, one of my favorite contemporary artists. I think we could make lots of connections between global thinking, the essential nature of collective memory and the role of the arts in the possibilities for a better future. There are so many possibilities, it is difficult to choose!

Lunch with Patti would include Kiki, Orhan and Bill. That’s some interesting conversation for sure!

MJ:  I’m noticing that your more recent paintings are more abstract then previous paintings from early in the year.  Do you see a transition in your thoughts as you progress?

PRP: There is always a transition….life evolves and unfolds in surprising ways and the works I make are always a reflection of my current life. Yes, the daily drawings change and shift over time. I often write about this in my blog posts at www.missouribendstudio.blogspot.com. I think it is important as an artist not to tie yourself to the marketplace or only to make what you think people will want to buy or expect you to make….otherwise you are making production work….which is fine if that’s what you want to do. But, for me, remaining true to myself as an artist means that the work has to remain honest and know that it must evolve as it wants to over time.

On the left: A drawing from January 2012. On the right: on Drawing from September 2012.

MJ:  Will you sell batch prints of your work or will they remain strictly one of a kind originals?
PRP: I will never turn them into “prints”  for many reasons. Not to disparage other artists, but I have very strong feelings about this. I am married to a printmaker and a printmaker is someone who makes prints, which are each hand-pulled unique works of art from a hand made matrix (carved, etched, etc.).  Many artists will make reproductions of their work, which in today’s marketplace are called prints. But, they are really just a picture of the original work. I believe in the handmade work of art, each of which represents a unique moment of time and the hand of the artist. So, the short answer is that my work will always be one-of-a-kind.

MJ: When you sell one of your dailies – do you feel a twinge of sadness in seeing them go, like a day now unaccounted for in your collection?

Recently sold – Daily Drawing June 27 2012 from Missouri Bend Musings

PRP: Sometimes, the very slightest twinge, but mostly I am happy to know that there is someone out there who connects with the drawing enough to want to live with it. I’m honored by that and all too happy to know that my efforts communicate to others in some way. I’ve found the connections I’ve made in the online world through my Etsy shops and my blog especially, have been absolutely amazing. While my sales are not huge, I have sent work to many locations across the globe and am grateful to meet all the like-minded souls who let me know the work has meaning for them.

Ms. Jeannie hopes this interview has given you time to pause and think about your own life. If you could record your daily life in some way – how would you do it? By the way, Patti’s having an Autumn Sale in her shop with 15% off! Use coupon code AUTUMNSALE upon checkout to receive the discount.

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 on the following links:

Interview with a Niche Etsy Art Buyer – What She’s Searching For? https://inthevintagekitchen.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/interview-with-an-etsy-art-buyer-whats-she-searching-for/

A Trip to Paris with Yann Pendaries https://inthevintagekitchen.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/a-trip-to-paris-with-photographer-yann-pendaries/

Sunday at the Diner with Luncheonette Vintage https://inthevintagekitchen.wordpress.com/?s=luncheonette+vintage&submit=Search

Discussing Rustic Home Decor, Beer & Movies with Designer Frick & Frack Scraps https://inthevintagekitchen.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/discussing-rustic-home-decor-beer-movies-with-designer-frick-and-frack-scraps/