Homemade Indonesian Pickles and the Importance of Personal Possessions

A couple of years before the words covid, coronavirus, and pandemic were ever a part of our regular vernacular,  there was a school of thought that was running wild around the internet regarding personal belongings. It was a trend, at that point, to say that possessions no longer mattered. That experiences enjoyed out and about in the world were all that was important for an engaging existence. Fill your life with experiences not things. Have stories to share, not stuff to show. Do you remember this? These statements could be seen emblazoned on t-shirts and mugs, travel bags and inspirational posters, wall decals and photographs that ran all over Etsy and Pinterest. Collect moments not things.

It was an interesting, carefree idea. One that adopted a bohemian-type spirit and encouraged a minimal, slightly nomadic lifestyle cut down to the barest essence of tangible materials. Experiences not things was (and still is!) a popular catchphrase that could be hashtagged on social media (#experiencesnotthings) alongside photos of exhilerating experiences like friends gathered at a crowded restaurant laughing their way through a meal…

Photo by Kraken Images.

and snapshots taken of exotic travel to places like Iceland to see the stars or to the Maldives to snorkel or to Bali to find some inner peace. It was a mantra that valued people and places, conversations and connections, over the seemingly trivial day-to-day objects that shared the space of life in our living spaces.

Pekhri, India. Photo by Rahul Dey.

At first, it sounded like a liberating idea. Unburden yourself from the unnecessary stuff that was weighing down your life. It went beyond Marie Kondo and her idea of tidying up, of keeping only the things that brought us joy. This experiences-only viewpoint of life was a bit more enthusiastic. Devotees of this philosophy liked the idea of owning one bowl, one spoon, one plate, one cup. That’s all that was needed in the kitchen cupboard. They liked the idea of one lamp, one book, one plant, one couch. That’s all that was needed in the living room.  Two pants, three shirts, two shoes, one suitcase. Life wasn’t meant to be lived at home after all, so how many things did we actually need anyway?

Photo by Annie Spratt

 It an ambitious viewpoint. It meant a bland environment at home, but an exuberant, colorful experience out in the world. It placed meaning on an ever-changing horizon and made joy dependent on other people and other places beyond one’s own control. If you valued experiences over things it meant that you weren’t materialistic or a hoarder. It meant that you were adventurous, a thrill-seeker, a bon vivant and on the go-getter. It was exciting. The point of this school of thought was meant to propel you out into the world to live an exuberant adventure-filled life, somewhere between Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and a dogged travel journalist hunting down the next best place to visit, thing to eat, event to participate in. It meant a life that was awe-inspiring, sensational, and worthy of a beautiful Instagram feed.

Then Covid happened followed by lockdowns and a second-guessing of the safety of the outside world. Suddenly experiences weren’t happening.  Home was happening. And suddenly the things in our homes mattered, more than ever. Possessions mattered.

Overnight, our interior spaces took on a sentimental glow and objects soothed and comforted our spirits. The wildly adventurous experiences out in the world from the “before days” dimmed and seemed like far-away fantasies tempting, taunting, reminding us of what we were missing out on. Memories of those past experiences enjoyed out in the exhuberant and colorful world were not propelling us forward during Covid with joy in our hearts, they were reminding us of what had been lost. During lockdown, I wondered about the devotees of the experiences not things philosophy. How were they coping in spaces that consisted of one spoon, one bowl, one plate? How was it going with one book, one, plant, one lamp?

Life in the pandemic kitchen!

 

During the last eighteen months of pandemic life, the things that have comforted me most, apart from my friends and my family and my pets, were the things that the experience philosophy easily dismissed. It was my pots and pans and my deceased dad’s apron. It was a seasoned tomato-red dutch oven and a pair of vintage green plates that look like lily pads. It was Edith Piaf singing on Alexa from far-away France.  It was a cutting board put to work every day, a 100-year-old mixing bowl speckled with age, and my grandmother’s gold and green teacups, survivors from the Great Depression. It was fridge magnets that my neice made in the early 2000s – ones that now hold little love notes and words of encouragement sent between my husband and I. It was recipes bound in books from other cooks of decades long ago.  It was this blog, and the hunting down of stories for it. It was heirloom items collected for the shop. It was finding connections to things from the past that signaled we weren’t alone in the present.

Fill your life with experiences not things. Have stories to share, not stuff to show. My one curiousity with this philosphy was in the riddle ran around my mind. Isn’t it the stories of our stuff that we want to share? Don’t our things lead to experiences and our experiences lead to things? My grandmother’s tea cups were part of her wedding china when she married in 1933. My tomato red dutch oven saw more action on the stovetop in 2020 then it had in its entire life.  My dad’s apron was over 35 years old and contained more memories woven into its fabric than a photo album could ever hold. Each time I opened a cookbook last year, it ignited a new culinary adventure. One that led me down paths to other people and other places. Wasn’t that an experience in and of itself?

Take the pickles for example.

This pickle recipe is not the traditional refrigerated pickle recipe full of vinegar and dill and salt and sugar that gets passed around each summer when cucumbers are growing out of the garden at gangbuster speeds. This vintage pickle recipe dating to the 1970s is a touch more exotic. First off it comes from Indonesia –  the next stop on the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Secondly, the pickles were not only a food to be eaten but also a travel ticket to explore a country, a cuisine and a culture that I knew little about. That exploration led to not only discovering a unique cultural Indonesian tradition but also shed light on a powerful understanding of the importance of posessions. How they add context, inspiration and value to our daily lives and our living spaces.

The Tour has been on hiatus for much of the spring and summer due to a special surprise that has been brewing for many months. Hopefully soon, I’ll be able to share more on that front, but in the meantime, when I passed the cucumber baskets at the farmers market each Saturday this summer, and saw them overflowing with pride, I knew it was time to dive back into the Tour with a recipe that featured a mighty grower from a country that understands the value and the power of preserving an abundant life.

Indonesia is home to many interesting things including the komodo dragon, the corpse lily, over 17,000 islands and the second-longest coastline in the world. But one of the most fascinating things about it has to do not so much with its beautiful natural landscape but with its artistic attributes.

In religious sculptures and icons, in the details of interior and exterior architecture, in giftware and decor items, in functional products and even in jewelry and fashion accessories, stylish craftsmanship abounds in Indonesia. Most eye-catchingly in the form of intricately carved art ranging in a variety of mediums from stone to bamboo.

Incredibly artistic in all formats, there is one special type of Indonesian wood carving that carries signifigant meaning in the form of a posession.  In the hills of South Sulawesi, artisans make carved icons in the unique likeness of their ancestors.

A tau-tau ancestral portrait figure from the design book Tropical Houses by Tim Street-Porter

 

These icons, known as ancestral portrait figures, are part of a deeply-rooted funeral tradition that has been occurring in certain areas of Indonesia since the 1800s. Believed to protect the living, they usually stand guard at the entrance to  gravesites or tombs signifying the spirit of a deceased person and the presence of a life that once was. Carved from jackfruit, sandalwood or bamboo, depending on the financial status of the person they represent, they are called tau-taus, each one completely unique.  Many tau-taus from the past century can be seen in crowd-like fashion tucked into the nooks of cliffs in the South Sulawesi area, near where their human counterparts are buried. Tourists to this area of Indonesia have remarked that seeing all these faces poking out from the cliffs is both a strangely sobering but also comforting scene. Serving as everpresent reminders that past ancestors are always part of present day life, the tau-taus with their companding physical presence and life-like faces watch over, protect and bestow good wishes on the living.

Photo courtesy of Tropical Houses by Tim Street-Porter

In the late 20th century, looting of gravesites resulted in many tau-tau statues being illegally removed and sold on the open market where they have since become collectors items, sought after around the world for both private collections and public museums. It is a haunting notion to think that some of these spirits are now roaming the globe instead of protecting their families back home in Indonesia, but much like a treasured heirloom or an old recipe that gets passed down through generations or traded between countries and cultures, these relics of history have become valued possesions and stories in other people’s lives now. They offer a unique view on an old way of life. One that we may never have known about had they not been jockeyed about in the world. Like present day cultural ambassadors, they humbly illustrate of a way of life that is unique and specific to a particular place and person in time. These are posessions that propel us. They help us understand where we’ve been and where we come from, so that we know where to go in the future.

If we abandoned all of our posessions, all of our stuff, all the things that we identify with in the space we call home in exchange for experiences out in the world, how would we understand ourselves each time we finished an adventure and came back home? In the quiet times, when thrilling experiences are not coming at us from every angle, how would we keep true to what we valued and keep inspired to live a life that holds our interest? That’s the power of a good posession. That is the sentiment we would miss if we didn’t surround ourselves with objects, with things, with stuff that holds meaning to us. Experiences are fantastic, stories are important to share, but its the posessions that we select and care for and hold onto that glue these those two nouns together. If we didn’t have  experiences we would not have things. If we didn’t have meaningful things in our life, we wouldn’t have meaningful stories to share. If we didn’t have meaningful stories to share we wouldn’t have meaningful experiences to seek. 

This seems like a long road to get to one pickle recipe, but history emits light in unusual ways around here sometimes! And sometimes an abundance of things (whether it be cucumbers, or philosophical conversations, or ancestral artifacts) are exactly what you need to navigate the world during these pandemic times. If you agree or disagree, please send us a comment below so that we can continue the conversation. In the meantime, pickling awaits!

This recipe known as Atjar is a traditional staple in Indonesian cooking, but it is actually a popular componant of Dutch cusine as well. Dutch colonists had control and influence over Indonesia for three and a half centuries, which finally ended in the mid 1940s when Indonesia declared its independence. Up until then, Dutch influence seeped into all aspects of Indonesian life, including cooking. If you ate Atjar in the Netherlands, it would be made with cool season vegetables like carrots, cabbage and cauliflower, but those crops didn’t grow well in Indonesia’s heat and humidity, so the Indonesian version of Atjar evolved to include warm weather ingredients like cucumbers and peppers. Either way, essentially it is a pickled dish of vegetables. The Indonesian version has a simpler, more relish-like consistency while the Dutch version is more salad or chutney-like due to the inclusion of chunkier vegetables and additional spices.

A breeze to make (less than 10 minutes prep time), this recipe is best enjoyed cold from the fridge and can be modified as far as spice level based on your personal preferences. I used a purple onion to add a little additional color, but really any type of onion will do wonderfully well here. 

Atjar – Indonesian Pickles

Serves 6

1 cucumber

1 small onion ( I used a purple onion for color)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

salt to taste

1/4 cup white vinegar

4 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 small hot red pepper ( I used a serrano pepper)

Peel the cucumber and split it in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and cut the cucumber into thin matchlike sticks.

Peel the onion and slice it as thin as possible. Add it to the cucumber then add the garlic and remaining ingredients. Chill until ready to serve.

These pickles last in the fridge for a week or longer. If you use purple onions too, please note that they will eventually turn all the ingredients in this recipe a pretty shade of pink after a few days. The longer they marinate, the more dramatic the color change.

Just a little sweet, a little spicy and a little tangy, we loved these pickles best served on fish tacos and turkey sandwiches. Hope this recipe provides new inspiration as you celebrate the abundance of end-of-summer cucumber season!

Cheers to ancestors that protects us, posessions that inspire us, and pickles that add a little zest to life! Join us next time for Week 24 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour as we head to Israel for dinner and dessert – a special two recipe meal to make up for our long absence this summer. If you are new to the blog, catch up on our previous International Vintage Recipe Tour posts here, beginning with Week 1: Armenia.

Can A Painting Inspire Dinner?

Can a painting inspire dinner? Absolutely! That’s exactly what happened when I found this tropical painting while out curating items for the shop. It’s a petite folk art landscape scene from Haiti with a handmade wooden frame and stretched cotton cloth instead of canvas. The colors are so vibrant…

and the brush strokes so full of energy.  The whole scene sings with the colorful island vibes that the Caribbean is known for.  Immediately it made me think of the 1960’s cookbook in the shop – The Art of Caribbean Cookery – another midcentury treasure that also sings songs of colorful island life.

The painting hails from Haiti, just one of the 28 islands that make up the Caribbean, but the cookbook, written by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, includes all the cultural influences of all the islands… Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, etc.  Carmen is Puerto Rican herself and grew up in a traditional island household of the 1920’s, a world where servants cooked and children were not encouraged to help.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 1920s. Photography by Charles Martin courtesy of National Geographic

As Carmen explains in the introduction of her cookbook,  it was deemed improper for well-brought-up young ladies to perform menial household chores, cooking included. “Only occasionally was I ever allowed to enter the vast room where food was actually prepared, and how I regretted that.”

Carmen and her family’s house, Casa Aboy, in Puerto Rico,  including a photo of the dining room. These images were taken in the 1980’s by Felix Julian Delcampo

This is the house as it appears today, bright and pretty. Photo via pinterest.

But things changed once she met her husband, Luis, in the late 1930’s. Luis was an unashamed food zealot – an eater, a cooker, and a recipe collector.  He had a day job in engineering but on nights and weekends, he and Carmen crafted their time together around the glorious subject of food. Bolstered by one another’s support and enthusiasm,  the two indulged their culinary interests in a fun and curious way, which turned out to be the only encouragement Carmen needed to realize her life-long passion for cooking. What used to be forbidden was now a freedom.

carmen-aboy-valldejuli-and-luis-valldejuli
Carmen and Luis – the Carribean’s cooking dynamite team. Luis was always in charge of the cocktails.

Carmen took on this new interest with gusto. She and Luis dined their way through the islands, exploring offerings at family tables, fancy restaurants and everything in between. They traipsed around sugar plantations and farms and fruit groves. They listened and questioned and learned from everyone they encountered about cooking methods and techniques, about family stories and recipes passed down through generations. After each escapade, they’d return home to their own kitchen in Puerto Rico ready to dissect what they had discovered. As Carmen learned first hand, cooking in the Caribbean was a vast wonderland of food, flavor, and influence from other countries far from the tropics.

Vintage Caribbean travel posters from the 1950s and 1960s.

Floating between the Gulf Of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, with the United States, Mexico and South America acting as surrounding neighbors, the Caribbean is made up of an incredibly diverse population – an exotic tribe of people from Europe, Africa, Mexico, the Mediterranean coast, the United States and the U.K.

Vintage 1960s travel poster designed by Paul Loweree

Originally there were the first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, but then came the British, French, Dutch, Danish, and Spanish settlers along with slaves from Africa who worked the sugar plantations and ex-pats from America looking for escapism. All these cultural influences grew diversity on the islands and greatly layered the cuisine of the Caribbean, making it not just one type of food, but a blend of many nationalities.

the-art-of-caribbean-cookery-carmen-aboy-valldejuli

In the painting, there is no sign of food, but its very essence pulls your imagination towards sandy beaches, tropical drinks, coconuts, rum, pineapple, papayas. Carmen is quick to explain that cooking in the Caribbean is not all “roast pig and ritual,” that food varies from island to island, built upon six centuries of history and the cohabitation of many cultures.  It was with that in mind that I chose, a recipe from Carmen’s cookbook that is an authentic Carribean dish marinated in generations of foreign influence. For today’s post, we are making a recipe that combines elements of Spain with two Caribbean staples – olives and capers. The dish is called Pescado Dorado or Golden Fish and it is a lovely meal to wrap up the end of summer with since it shines best with garden tomatoes fresh off the vine.

Carmen’s recipe recommended using a whole fish but I used cod filets instead since I couldn’t find a whole tropical-looking fish at our neighborhood market.  The recipe serves 8 but if you don’t want to make a big dinner out of it, simply cut all the ingredient measurements in half and you’ll wind up with a smaller serving for four.

PESCADO DORADO – GOLDEN FISH

(serves 8)

1 fish weighing 4 lbs, cleaned (or 4lbs of fish filets – I used cod)

2 large limes

2 tablespoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced

2 bay leaves

12 green olives

1 tablespoon capers

1 tablespoon liquid from jar of capers

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed

1 1/4 pounds tomatoes

2 canned pimientos

If using a whole fish, wash it inside and out. Ignore this step if using fish filets.  Cut 2 slight gashes on both sides of the fish or filets. Place the fish in a baking dish. Squeeze the juice of the limes over the fish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Arrange the rest of the ingredients from the onions to the tomatoes on top and around the sides of the fish.

Preheat oven temperature to 550 degrees.* Bake fish for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 25 minutes longer, basting fish occasionally.

Heat pimientos and serve as a garnish on top of fish.

*A note on cooking time and temp – In 1963, Carmen’s oven reached 550 degrees. In 2018, the hottest my oven gets is 525 degrees. I cooked the fish at 525 degrees for the first 15 minutes and then reduced it to 425 degrees and cooked it for the remaining time with no problems.

Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s Pescado Dorado

What emerged from the oven, after it was done baking, was a flaky cloud of codfish that was swimming in a salty citrus sea. To say that this dish was anything but delicious would be an understatement. Sometimes fish dishes are very light and leave you still feeling hungry, but this one is robust in flavor and is filling enough on its own.  I paired this fish dish with a handful of sauteed spinach and garlic but rice would also work or a side salad. Dessert was kept equally simple with a fresh fruit board that included pineapple, mango, papaya and fresh coconut.

We also had a little musical accompaniment during dinner from Harry Belafonte, one of the most iconic singers of Caribbean folk songs in the world. About a month ago, I heard the song Cocoanut Woman for the first time…

and instantly loved it. Further discovery led to his Calypso album, a bestseller full of Caribbean folk songs that was released in 1956. In its first year, this album sold a million copies landing Harry on top music charts and making him an international superstar. If you are unfamiliar with his work, the link below is the full album of his 1976 record The King of Calypso, which packs all of his most famous hits in one album including the Jamician folk song Day-O about dock workers loading banana boats and the island love song, Jamaica Farewell.

Between the three – painting, music, and food – this dinner felt like a mini island vacation all in itself.  If you find that your summer has come and gone and left you without the chance to relax as much as you wished, try spending the evening with Carmen and Harry and Emmanuel (the painter) and see if your spirit can’t be soothed by a little slice of creative paradise. A glass of rum helps spread the cheer too.

Incidentally, I tried to find out more about my muse for this post, the artist named Emmanuel who painted the Haitian landscape that started all this to begin with. But he was elusive. As it turns out, there are LOTS of painters named Emmanuel in the Caribbean. That’s okay, though, it doesn’t matter that he can’t be tracked down further.  Muses aren’t exactly known for their easy accessibility.  Bob Dylan believed that the highest purpose of art was to inspire. In that case, Emmanuel certainly fulfilled his role, at least during dinner time in the Vintage Kitchen. As for Carmen, she went on to become an expert, the expert, of Caribbean cuisine, publishing several cookbooks throughout her life. Even though she died in 2005, she is still regarded as the classic authority on Caribbean island cuisine.

So as you can see, a painting can indeed inspire dinner and also a little more. Hope this post inspires you just as much. Cheers to soaking up the essence of the islands without ever leaving home.

Find the cookbook and the painting in the shop here and here. Find Harry Belafonte’s music on our Vintage Caribbean Vibes Spotify playlist here.

Interview with an Etsy Art Buyer: What’s She Searching For?

Ms. Jeannie has this lovely friend Tuny who has lived one of those adventurous sorts of lives here and abroad.  She’s fun to spend time with because she’s always got something interesting to say. Last time they got together they were talking about the royal wedding and trying to determine William’s last name. Tudor?  Windsor?  Wales? They were determined not to look it up online yet try to figure it out by going through the lineage of the royal family. They got about 20 minutes into that and then decided to consult Google.  (In case you are interested it’s a hypenated name, Mount Batten – Windsor!)

Anyway, in trying to guess the right name, their conversation took all sorts of twists and turns. There were references to Tuny being engaged to a Spanish bullfighter, her years spent as a librarian, her travels, her books, her artistic endeavors and her love of cats.

Cats – yes most definitely. Tuny might just be one of the biggest collectors of cat art that Ms. Jeannie knows. Specifically she loves cat folk art, which Ms. Jeannie can understand since she is a big folk art lover herself!

Each August, Ms. Jeannie anticipates the Slotin Folk Art Festival held in Norcross, GA (this year it’s August 17th-19th). If you have never been – it is quite an experience of color and creativity – so much so – by the end of the day, Ms. Jeannie’s brain feels swimmy with pageantry. Tuny would love it here!

A glimpse into the festival. Photo courtesy of blackartinamerica.com

It just so happened that the first piece of folk art Ms. Jeannie ever bought was at the festival in 2008…a small 4×4 painting of a bird. Here’s a photo of it…

The start of Ms. Jeannie’s folk art collection.

Ms. Jeannie loved the flowers and the colors. The fact that it featured a bird made it even more perfect. It is by far the most colorful piece of art that Ms. Jeannie owns.

So thrilled, Ms. Jeannie was, of her new acquisition, the artist wrote a personal little note on the back and signed her name.  Ms. Jeannie’s glad she bought it that day as she hasn’t seen this artist at the festival any years since and she can no longer read the name of the artist’s signature. It’s one of those long scratchy, crawly names that she wrote upside down with a faded marker pen. This makes Ms. Jeannie cherish her folk art bird even more so. A special memento from a special day.  Periodically, Ms. Jeannie will move Bird about  the house  to spaces and places that need a little extra brightening. Bird is good at offering that extra bit of light. Art is good at offering at that extra bit of bright.

So when Ms. Jeannie chats about cats with Tuny she can understand how her love of all things feline plays such an important part in her life.   Read on as Tuny sheds some light on what it means to be a collector …

Ms. Jeannie: What is it about cat art in particular that appeals to you?

Tuny: Well…partly it is that cats themselves appeal to me; I like being around them, interacting with them, learning about their individual personalities, and enjoying their appearance, which brings me to a second, and perhaps more important, part, in this context: It’s a cliche that some people can toss a scarf or throw onto a sofa and have it transform the sofa, as if an experienced interior designer had done it. Cats are so well designed that no matter what they’re doing, it’s art. They can sprawl, curl up, stretch out, etc., and always look as if it were deliberate, because they form a pattern. But even more than the above, I love them and want to celebrate them.

Ms. Jeannie:  How did you discover Etsy?

If you are unfamiliar Etsy.com, it is an online international marketplace devoted to the sale of handmade crafts and vintage finds.

Tuny: MANY years ago, before I knew much about online activity, I must have been searching for “cat art” and came upon a kitty puppet that I wanted in the worst way–but it said to Sign in to Etsy, and I didn’t understand what Etsy was or how to go about that…especially as the only computer I had was my work computer, and I didn’t want to sign into anything on it. It wasn’t until several years later, when Etsy became better known, that I figured all this out.

Screen shot of the Etsy Home Page

MJ: What do you like best about Etsy? What do you like least?

T: Perusing Etsy’s like being let loose in a really cool art festival, in the comfort of my own house, where I have access to art from around the world–that’s the best. Least are two things: when searching for something, odd things that have no relevance often turn up in the results. I understand, in most cases, why this happens, but I wish there were a way to put in limiters, such as “no prints” or “no cat-eye beads.” The other thing isn’t a real dislike, but I wish one could purchase an Etsy gift certificate that would be good for a shop of the recipient’s choice.

MJ:  How did your interest in art develop?

T: Because I come from a very talented family, I always thought that my own efforts in that direction weren’t worth the effort, as it were, but when I was in my late 20’s, living abroad in a country with a long tradition of leather book binding, I started making little illustrated books for a friend, and had them bound. When I discovered how much fun painting was, talent or not, I was hooked.

The bookbinding episode was in Portugal–I didn’t learn bookbinding; I went down to one of the binderies, which were small operations, and told them what I wanted to do, which was to paint some pictures and have them bound into a small book. They gave me the paper of the right size, and when I finished the paintings, I took them back and they bound them into a small leather book. I made several of those. What I did learn, also in Portugal, was to make what are called tapetes, or carpets, of Arraiolos, in a very simplified form…a sort of long-armed cross-stitch done in wool on a burlap-like background.

Antique Arraiolos Portuguese Embroidery Panel from Helena Alexio Glamour

MJ: What type or types of art appeal to you most?

T: Folk art and illustrations in children’s books

Playing House by hottamaleart

Vintage Children’s Book Illustration “Dali’s Russian Dream” from MissQuiteContrary

Siamese Cat Folk Art Painting by 3crows

Vintage Children’s Book Illustration Alphabet from nesstiques

Ghostly Cat Halloween Clay Folk Art Ornament by KilkennyCatArt

Vintage 1950s Child’s Book Illustration from kelleystreetvintage

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

T: None; I prefer admiring from a distance.

Le Chat Noir Photo Cafe by Jessica and Holly

MJ:  As a world traveler, exposed to many different cultures, how has travel affected your viewpoint on art?

T:  Travel has enhanced my appreciation for indigenous/folk art of various countries.

The Traveling Cat Art Print by TheSmokingCat

MJ: What is your most favorite museum?

A. Honolulu Academy of Arts

Honolulu Academy of Arts (Honolulu, Hawaii) Exhibition Hall

and the Folk Art Museum in Lisbon.

Museu de Arte Popular in Lisbon, Portugal

MJ: As a painter yourself, what do you hope to express with your work?

T: As all I paint is cats, then, an appreciation for them.

Love Song: Every Heart Has Its Song for Those Who Would Listen by Tuny

MJ: Explain your ideal art buying experience. Would you like to meet the artist face to face, get to know them, understand their motivations and their inspirations, their back story, or do you like to buy art and imagine your own stories surrounding a piece?

T: I enjoy meeting artists, particularly if I encounter them repeatedly at art shows, etc., but I like their work to speak for itself.

Irving Ponders the Nature of Consciousness by Matte Stephens

MJ: If money was no object, name 10 pieces of art that would be in your collection.

T: I enjoy looking at, experiencing, if you will, fine art, but my affinity is with folk art, most particularly cat folk art–so an unlimited collection of that would be lovely.

Original Folk Art Cat Woman Painting by LindaKellyArt

MJ:  Who is the most interesting artist you have met so far?

T:  Hard to answer, because they all have something interesting to contribute.

(Ms. Jeannie’s side note: Incidently, Tuny’s niece, Diana, has an Etsy shop dVineArt which combines two of Tuny’s favorite mediums: cats and illustration! This must run in the family!)

Santa Paws Christmas Pendant by dVineArt

MJ:  As you transition through different stages in your life, do you find that your taste in art transitions with you or do you find yourself returning to the same artists, the same types of art, the same themes over and over again?

T: Basically I continue to like the same kind of art, see above, that I always have, but it’s exciting to see and learn about the many, many kinds of art that are out there. As I transition, I continue to meet different kinds of art, and it’s like stumbling on gold.

Nice Kitty Found Object Assemblage Sculpture by CastofCharacters23

14. What book are you currently reading? What is your most favorite book?

Currently re-reading Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill;

Rudyard Kipling’s fabled tales about the hidden history of Old England

all-time favorite: Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Auston’s most popular novel and her most favorite. It has been adapted for both television and screen many times. One of the most cinematic versions is the 2005 Focus Features film version starring Keira Knightly.

MJ:  As an avid reader, what art books would you most recommend? 

T: Right now, my main interest in art reading is to learn how-to’s; I tend to review the myriad of books one can find by searching under “collage,” ” paper making,” or whatever, in Amazon, and then reading the reviews to see what’s worth pursuing, purchasing those that seem appropriate.

MJ: What is your favorite way to view art? Online? In a gallery? On the street? At a craft show? At a museum?

The Observing Cat by liatib

T: All of the above.

MJ:  Explain a situation where art has directly affected your life.

T: When I retired, I joined one of our local art groups and have been busy ever since, volunteering, teaching, occasionally entering the art challenges–in effect, acquiring a whole new life.

MJ: What is one of the most interesting displays of creativity that you have seen in the last five years?

A. In our art group was a young man, an excellent artist, who had been in the group for some years before I came, and had, evidently, grown considerably in his talent during that time. By the time I came along, he was still developing, constantly experimenting and pushing himself, in all sorts of exciting directions. And then it was discovered, too late to do anything about it, that he had cancer. Yet he kept on with his art, pushing and experimenting, in the few months he had left.

Cat Proverb Art Print by GoingPlaces2

MJ: If you could travel to any city on the globe, solely to view a piece of art what city and what piece of art would you choose?

T: The Terra Cotta Warriers!

The Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta Warriors are indeed fascinating! Ms. Jeannie would like to see them for herself as well. To read more about how they were discovered by a Chinese farmer who was digging a well and to see more photos of the thousands of them in them unearthed and reassembled for display, click here. Ms. Jeannie wonders iof there are any warrior cats in there?! If so, I bet Tuny would find them!

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:

A Trip to Paris 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/

BLOG UPDATE: So it seems my dears, in one of these fabulous conversations with Tuny something went awry. There was no love of a Spanish bullfighter in her life – how could Ms. Jeannie have b4en so confused?!  Although Tuny did have an experience with a bullfighter, as she tells here

“The closest I ever came to one, except at a bullfight, was on a train that did a night run between Madrid and Lisbon. Whilst in Lisbon, I went to Madrid to visit some friends, and on the return journey, established myself in one of the little compartments with facing seats. Shortly thereafter I was joined by two lower-echelon members of a torero’s entourage, and we dozed from Madrid to Lisbon.” 

Okay so it’s not a Romeo and Juliet love affair but it’s interesting just the same:)

Mexican Folk Art: How Circumstances Affect Creativity

Oaxaca, Mexico has been in the news a lot this week because of the earthquake that struck the region on Tuesday. It measured 7.4 magnitude on the Richter scale and has damaged close to 1,000 homes in the area.

Ms. Jeannie was saddened to hear this news, because ever since discovering that the black clay pottery listed in her Etsy shop (pictured below) came from that area, she has been learning quite a lot about Oaxaca.

Mid-Century Black Clay Mexican Pottery from MsJeannieOlogy

This type of earthenware vessel, also called barro negro which means black clay, is handmade using ancient traditions indigenous to the Mexican culture in this area.

Primarily formed into utilitarian objects like jars and pots, Mexican artisans have been working with the black clay for centuries. And surprisingly, you can feel that somehow when you touch it.

In this close-up of the vessel you can see how smooth the texture is…

The only place in the world to find this black clay is in the rugged mountainous terrain of Oaxaca, which is located in the Central Valley area of Southwestern Mexico.

Map of Mexico

Since there are  are no navigable rivers in the region,  Oaxaca is an isolated community, which, while limiting at times, it is also the reason why the Mexican-Mayan culture,  languages and traditions have been able to survive.

In this fascinating and soothingly hypnotic video below, watch Oaxacan women demonstrate how they make tamales using  traditional methods.  Ms. Jeannie loves watching these kinds of videos because you not only get to see how regional food is prepared but you also see how local people dress,  interact and communicate with another. It’s like an 8 minute mini anthropology vacation to Mexico!

Ms. Jeannie really likes the cotton dresses and skirts these ladies are wearing too! They remind her of these, that she recently saw on Etsy.

Cotton Aline Skirt from ellainaboutique

Buttercream Triangle Sun Dress from SparrowCollective

There are also beautiful more traditional Mexican embroidery style clothing on Etsy too. Like these two examples. It’s folk art that you can wear!

Embroidered Party Maxi Dress by AidaCoronado

La Bandida Mexican Folk Art Top from mybonny

The movie Frida starring Selma Hayak and Alfred Molina also offers a beautifully cinematic look into the life of Mexico and it’s artisians, particularly folk artist Frida Kahlo. The movie came out in 2002, but if you missed it, here’s the trailer:

In 2008, a traveling exhibit of Frida’s work went on tour…

Ms. Jeannie went to the exhibit with her sister at the Philadelphia Art Museum. It featured about a quarter of Frida’s painting collection and her never seen before  personal photograph collection, which was a really intimate glimpse into her life.  Of course all her photos were in black in white but after viewing her paintings,  Ms. Jeannie could imagine all the colors of mid-century Mexico.

This is Ms. Jeannie’s favorite Frida Kahlo painting. She likes it for many reasons, but primarily because every time she looks at it she gets something different from it. Also, Ms. Jeannie has a black cat that looks just like this one!

Frida’s inspiration was really born out of a life of crippling health problems. Artistic achievement seemed to be one of the few ways she could emotionally and physically deal with her broken body. In expressing herself in that way, she had a positive effect on millions of other artists and collectors of her work.

To Ms. Jeannie, Frida Kahlo is a genuine example of making the best of your situation and focusing on your strengths instead of your weaknesses.

In that way she is similar to the clay artisians of Oaxaca. They may be  limited because of their location and their lifestyle but those very limits are actually their gifts. And that is what sets them apart from everyone else.

Mexican folk art is a personal favorite of Ms. Jeannie’s. She likes the bright color combinations and the symbolism behind the art.  She also likes how it acts as an emotional bridge between artist and audience in a demanding way that says “pay attention to me now.”

Ms. Jeannie especially likes the following:

Angel Retablo Tropical Alta from CristinaAcosta 

Christina provided some history behind retablos that was so fascinating. She thought it was rather lengthy in description, but Ms. Jeannie enjoyed it so much she included it all…

“Retablos (or altarpiece in Spanish) are a traditional sacred art form with roots that pre-date Christianity, with roots in the Mediterranean areas that include part of what is now Italy. The art form of the retablo first came to North America with the Spanish settlers and artisans that followed the Conquistadors to the North American continent to settle what is now Mexico and the United States.

There are two types of Retablos, the Santos and the Ex-Voto. The Santos style of retablo is either a Saint (from the Roman Catholic Christian tradition) or a member of the Holy Family. Similar in concept to the art form of the Byzantine and/or European Orthodox Catholic icon, the Santos is painted in accordance with strict liturgical rules that define how the central figure of Saint or Holy Family member is represented. The counterpoint to the Santos is the Ex-voto, a no-rules, personal vision that is created to commemorate a blessing received or when a prayer has been answered.

The Ex-voto retablo is the art form I focus on. I love it! This retablo art form gives me a way to connect with the religion of my childhood, without having to get into any personal struggles with a dogma that doesn’t always jibe with who I am now.

When I was a child, my abuelita (paternal grandmother), Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta would tell me about the ancestors we shared. They were goldsmiths, soldiers and settlers who had first come to North America in the 1500’s, eventually settling in what are now the towns of Santa Fe, Taos and Abiquiu in New Mexico and Ortiz, Colorado. Though she was born in Los Angeles, she held her New Mexican roots close to her heart, importing New Mexican chilis to her home by the beach in Playa del Rey. (I updated her recipe for Red Chili Sauce, if you’d like to try it.)

I paint my retablos to express and explore my gratitude for the blessings of my life. My favorite subject is the Divine Feminine which I interpret as Madonna / Female Creator images. Because my Spanish/Mexican ancestors migrated to North America in the 1500’s, I also include American Indian symbols, as that heritage is sure to be part of my mix.

Along with the visual symbols of my work, the materials I use have personal meaning. My Ortiz ancestors where famous goldsmiths. Thin sheets of 22kt. gold leaf, copper and sterling silver glisten under and over layers of oil paint and evoke the presence of those ancestors. The antique ceramic tile mosaic is glazed with 24kt. Gold and is from a now shuttered ceramic factory in the same area of Southern California where I grew up. The wood panels are built by an artisan wood worker and mostly include re-worked lumber siding from razed timber mill buildings in Bend.

I finish each Retablo with a blessing, usually on the back of the image. In the old tradition of territorial New Mexico, the Retablo often became the spiritual focus in the home when travel was dangerous and people could not attend church. Centuries of isolation in New Mexico led to the unique form of the Ex-Voto often painted on tin, leather or wood panels.

Artists were commissioned to paint retablos that often became symbols of a family’s spiritual life. In that tradition I offer myself to paint commissions of a Retablo for you that commemorates your blessings.”     – Cristina Acosta

Side Note: To see more of Cristina’s  work or to get your house color coordinated by her (very cool!) visit her website 

Love Shrine Mexican Folk Art by calaverasycorazones

Mexican Folk Art Easter Egg from Latrouvaille

Frida Kahlo Art Print Poster by HeatherGallerArt

Tropical Accent Pillow from arribachica

Kimberly of arribachica was inspired by Mexican culture as a child living in Los Angeles and San Diego.  Frequent trips across the border, family cultural activities and her artistic folk artist grandmother fueled a passion to study art in the colonial city of San Miguel de Allende.

Side note: A portion of the proceeds from Kimberly’s exquisite pillows benefit two Mexican organizations that empower and support young children. Visit her blog for more information http://www.kimberlymaier.blogspot.com/

Vintage Tin Mexican Folk Art from Bittersweets13

Vintage Mexican Folk Art Bird from TimelessFindsVintage

Purple/Blue Folk Art Box from mimexart

Miriam of mimiexart had this to say about the inspiration behind her Mexican Folk Art Boxes.

I’m a Mexican artist and since I leave my Mexico first to go to the Caribbean now in England. It has been difficult to be far away from home, family, friends, my city and all my culture but for some great reason now I understand why Mexico is so rich country so to cure my nostalgia I started to take back my memories of colour, images, people, places and paint- as an artist- is my first tool to communicate to the world.. so this is how I started to make this little boxes and become no just a therapy for my heart is also helping people to have a piece of Mexican love-art in their home and sometimes just inspire people to create similar things.This boxes are made to keep love-secrets, treasuries, jewelry, letters……… anything that you want to be safe and away from wrong hands.”

Side note: In addition to hand-painted boxes, Miriam also makes earrings and adorned mesh market bags.  Stop by her website to learn more about this wonderfully talented artist, world traveler and teacher.

Vintage Wooden Virgin Mary Shadow Box from theVirginRose

And most importantly, Ms. Jeannie likes that folk art tells stories. Stories of it’s creators, stories of it’s history and stories of universal bonds that tie us all together.

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”  – Frida Kahlo