MFK: The Street Artists and the Food Writer

There is a group of graffiti artists in our city called the Metal Fingers Krew. They make these spectacular giant wall murals of their initials all over town on the sides of industrial buildings. Every time I pass one I think of the food writer MFK Fisher who shared the same initials.

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (1908-1992)

The work of the Metal Fingers Krew is elaborately designed and really beautiful. They make their mark mostly on warehouses that are nondescript or in a state of shabbiness, so they add a bit of pizazz to the landscape with their color and their big 4-5 foot tall font faces.

MFK Fisher (1908-1992) made her mark on the 20th-century literary scene writing about food and how it looks and tastes and feels over the course of 30 books. Considered one of the most beautiful prose writers still to this day, she wrote her way through her own experiences… of men and marriages, of cross-continent moves, of motherhood and memories and of making food to eat.

The Metal Fingers Krew works like traditional graffiti artists – under the cover of night. One day you pass a blank brick building and the next day it is magically decorated. In a city that has a lot of murals but not a lot of graffiti, street art really stands out. The thing I notice most is not that this talented batch of artists defaced a building (which may or may not be exciting to the property owner) but that they’ve added a layer of creative flourish to what is otherwise a very linear and industrial part of town.

MFK Fisher also added her own flourish. Writing about food and life with such poetic, descriptive detail you can practically taste her words, she was famous for saying that she just wrote the facts of things.  But in doing so she also wrote the feelings of everything. Even the unglamorous sides of cooking… the dirt, the dishes, the heat, the nonsense, the dueling perspectives, the disasters.  Like when you are canning fruit in the summertime without air conditioning you get hot and sweaty. Or like when you pull butter and lettuce out of water from the spring house storage you get cold and shivery. That was all just part of the process of eating and experiencing, not an indelicate act or sensation that should go overlooked or unnoted because it was unattractive to talk about. Every bit was important.

The Metal Fingers Krew talks the same language in their own way too. They point your gaze at a typically unattractive building and make you look at the detailed beauty of it simply by adding a swatch of color. They call attention to the plain-Janes of a shed row, or the slow decay of a factory, or the burnout of a building left vacant in the same way that MFK Fisher draws attention to eating the everyday foods that we mostly take for granted.

I think MFK Fisher would have loved the passion behind the Metal Fingers Krew graffiti art just as much she liked describing her passion with food. They were two artists working in two different mediums but had the same initials and the same sole purpose of expressing oneself.

“One of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”  MFK Fisher

What do you think? Do you see other stories or other artists in the face of graffiti? If so, please share your comments below!

In the meantime, cheers to painters and food preparers and the perspectives they bring!

Passion Flower: Discovering the 20th Century’s Most Popular Female Writer

As you know from Ms. Jeannie’s previous posts – she’s got gardening on her mind. So she thought this would be an appropriate time to do a little further sleuthing on one of the flower themed items in her Etsy shop…

The 1930’s era women’s fiction book, Passion Flower.

Passion Flower book from msjeannieology

Written by Kathleen Thompson Norris, one of the highest paid literary writers of her time, her books mostly told stories of the women of upper-class society. Passion Flower in keeping with that theme, details the story of an elite women who falls in love with her chauffeur.

Kathleen Norris in 1925

Kathleen was born July 16th, 1880 in San Francisco, married fellow writer Charles Norris (1881-1945) and published over  80 novels in her lifetime. She also wrote four collections of short stories, one play and 10 non-fiction books. Goodness gracious, she was one busy lady!

Author Ann Douglas, in her book Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhatten in  the 1920’s described Kathleen’s work …

“Kathleen Norris was the most interesting novelist of feminine and matriarchal sentimentalist essentialism in the 1910s and 1920s; vastly popular, with a curious literary style that seems to owe a good deal to Henry  James, she developed the themes that would dominate the soaps of early radio, aroused the ire (and perhaps envy) of Dorothy Parker, was adored by Alexander Wollcott (always a fan of the matriarch), and took acre of Elinor Wylie’s stepchildren (they were related by marriage; forgotten today, she is well worth in-depth study. “

In addition to being a writer, she was also a strong feminist, promoter of women’s rights, joined Charles Lindbergh in the 1930’s to oppose US ships carrying supplies to the British, called for capital punishment and campaigned for the outlaw of nuclear rights.

Kathleen Thomson Norris – photo courtesy of Garver Graver

Kathleen spoke sensibly about following dreams and achieving goals. Clearly this philosphy was working for her!

 “Before you begin a thing, remind yourself that difficulties and delays quite impossible to foresee are ahead. If you could see them clearly, naturally you could do a great deal to get rid of them but you can’t. You can only see one thing clearly and that is your goal. Form a mental vision of that and cling to it through thick and thin.” – Kathleen Norris

Charles Gilman Norris – photo courtesy of Garver Graver 

Kathleen’s husband, Charles Norris was a prolific writer as well. Possibly best known for his book, Salt, in which F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed:

“I know Gatsby better than I know my own child.  My first instinct after your letter was to let him go & have Tom Buchanan dominate the book (I suppose he’s the best character I’ve ever done–I think he and the brother in “Salt” & Hurstwood in “Sister Carrie” are the three best characters in American fiction in the last twenty years, perhaps and perhaps not) but Gatsby sticks in my heart.”

Side Note: Ms. Jeannie’s absolute most favorite book in the world is The Great Gatsby, so she is always on the look out for any F. Scott Fitzgerald references!

Kathleen and Charles owned a 200 acre ranch in Santa Clara County, California where, as Kathleen’s novels rose in popularity, they entertained many a celebrity and Hollywood A-lister.   This is a photo of their home, located in Palo Alto.

Kathleen & Charles’ Spanish Colonial style home. Palo Alto, CA.

The house is still there today and  is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can read more about the property here, as well as see more photos and design plans.

In 1930, Passion Flower was made into a movie starring the beautiful Kay Francis, one of the most popular actresses of  Hollywood’s Golden Era.  Interestingly enough, she had something in common with Kathleen.  Kay was  one of the  highest paid actresses of the 1930’s. Her estimated annual salary was $115,000. As a comparison, Bette Davis’ annual salary at the same time, was $8,000.

Kay Francis

Here’s a photo from the movie featuring Kay and her leading man costar Charles Bickford…

By the end of Kathleen’s career, her books had sold over 10 million copies.  She died in San Francisco in 1966. Her collection of works and papers are stored at the Special Collections Departments of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Stanford University.

She was quoted as saying:

“Life is easier than you’d think; all that is necessary is to accept the impossible, do without the indispensable, and bear the intolerable.”

Interested in who the highest paid author is in our 21st century,  Ms Jeannie was surprised (sort of) to learn that it was Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, who in 2010 alone earned $40 million. Her series, comprised of four books, has sold over 100 million copies to date.

Stephenie Meyer

In one of those, if you could have lunch with anybody, living or dead scenarios, Ms. Jeannie thinks it would be interesting to sit down with Kathleen Norris and Stephenie Meyer.

Both women, highly successful in their writing careers, both having the luxury of seeing their own success, and both having the ability to connect with their readers on passionate emotional levels, would provide for some thought provoking conversation.

Kathleen prided herself on diligently focusing on goals to achieve success while Stephenie attributes her success to having the confidence to explore her dream state, which was how the plot for Twilight started.  Ms. Jeannie loves that both women achieved successful writing careers using two totally different motivations.

It is always great to have little reminders of our motivations in life. Ms. Jeannie found these two Kathleen/Stephenie approved ones on Etsy…

The Future Belongs To Our Dreams Art Poster by misterio

Goal Without A Plan Plaque from Crestfield

Ms. Jeannie thought it would be fun to imagine the writing spaces of these two very different women with the almost 100 year gap between them.  Using Etsy, as her design shopping center, Ms. Jeannie put together these two worlds… based on the information she just learned about them…

Kathleen Norris’ 1930’s inspired writing niche…

1937 Royal KHM Typewriter from MidMd

Antique 1920’s Secretary Desk from SecondRevival

1930’s Vintage Box of Gladiator Pen Nibs from kelleystreetvintage

1930’s French Writing Paper from the vintagearcade

Art Deco Brass Lamp from VintageLancaster

Vintage 1920s Blotting Papers from LuncheonetteVintage

Antique Oak Captain’s Chair from dajaxsurbanattic

1930s Dictionary Word Bundles from VintageScraps

The New Woman – 1897 Stereoview Photo from NiepceGallery

Stephenie Meyer’s contemporary Twilight inspired office…

Vinyl Decal Kit for Laptops from SkinKits

Ebony Writing Desk by JiriKalina

Twig Pencils by braggingbags

Woodgrain Writing Set by AshleyPahl

Forest Table Lamp from tansyandco

Journal with Eleanor Roosevelt Quote by watermarkbindery

Computer Keyboard Wrist Cushions by HomeGrownPillows

Mod Shimmer Chair by AryCollection

Wall Decal Twilight Quote by InspirationsbyAmelia

Wolf Dog Photograph by EmeraldTownRaven