S2 Learns Paper Making in Asia

Hi Friends!

Happy Labor Day! I hope this email finds you all well, happy, and healthy!

Today, I’m writing about an adventure more important than an endurance event, my three month plus trek to Asia to study paper making. For those of you who aren’t already aware, in 2009, while finishing my travels in Italy, after completing the Rome Marathon and the death of my father, I had a dream that inspired me to start my stationery and design company, S2 Stationery and Design. The dream was followed by signs along the way, with the ultimate sign being an image of a tree with the saying, “le papier c’est la vie” while waiting to change trains to Paris. I still have that piece of paper, as it has more meaning that any of the other signs I have been given in my life.

My friends, so many of YOU, have been incredibly supportive and encouraging these past three years. Many of you have purchased stationery from me, or have come to me for projects that have left me humbled.

When I started S2 Stationery and Design, my original goal was to be as eco-friendly as possible. To use paper with high recycled percentages and from upcycled fibers. The more I worked with paper and different paper companies, I realized that they just weren’t cutting it for me. While some papers from bamboo and cotton are awesome, their process of being made may not. It made me wonder about the process of taking a tree from a lumber farms and the process to make it a single sheet of paper that we use every day regardless of it’s form. As I began to do research, the more I got involved in looking at handmade papers and a lot of my projects took on inspiration from those papers. Handmade papers from countries like Thailand, Nepal, India, Japan, Vietnam, and even China have woven their way into my heart and now I’m set to learn. Which is where you guys come in.

I am using all my savings and investments to make this trip happen over the next three months. If I can raise a bit more money (see my indiegogo campaign) then I will take myself beyond Japan to South East Asia to paper making communities in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Cambodia to learn from their paper artists as well. I don’t have a return flight yet, but that’s because if in January, I leave Japan and head to South East Asia, I won’t be back until April or May.

As of now, my itinerary (and my money) is for Japan. I am leaving New York on October 1, 2012 and flying to Istanbul, Turkey to visit a friend before heading to Japan. I will arrive in Tokyo, Japan on October 10th and will spend a few days with one of my best friends in the entire world. On the 15th, I will travel West to a town named Echizen, which has a rich paper history and a washi paper museum to boot. I will be working with a paper artist, Rina, who helps coordinate and manage the museum, who has had her paper art displayed in cities around Europe. We have already discussed collaboration and have shared our excitement to work together. From Rina, I will learn paper making, Japanese and art and from me, she will learn marketing tips for the museum, English, and anything else I can share. Rina has also asked me to teach a week’s worth of classes in December while she travels to Nepal to work with an artist there (Jealous! Nepal is on my list of eventual countries to get to to study paper making.)

This may be one of the best experiences of my life, but I won’t be able to do it without your help, support and encouragement. As you know, I am a huge believed that my life is enriched by each of you. Every minute of contact I’ve had with you has helped make me who I am, as much as my parents, grandparents, siblings, and family members. Every step of 26.2 miles that I took in each marathon, I carried all of you with me. Not just those that donated to the cause, but those who lent encouragement and support. All of those, who stood outside along the road with signs, or even just sent a mention on facebook the morning of my race. It is all those moments that really matter.

If you can’t donate to this endeavor, then I ask that you spread the word and send me some kind words. I’m not sure what my connection will be while in Japan. I plan to disconnect as much as possible, while also updating my blog regularly and sending short email updates of where I am and where your donations and support have gotten me at that point.

My campaign on Indiegogo, S2 Learns Paper Making in Asia has a video of me (ugh, a video!), providing the same details that this email has, but a way for you to contribute along with a list of items you’ll receive when you do donate. They will come from Japan and everyone who donates will get an email from me letting you know that they are being mailed out to you and your home.

This trip is very much about my development growth for my business and my passion, but it’s also a journey that you will come along with for the next three or more months. I will be as open as you know me to be every step of the way.
Thank you!

Scenes From A Weekend With Friends and Sol LeWitt

This past long holiday weekend, I went to Albany, New York, to visit a good friend.  One of my best friends from high school, actually. She’s married now and an amazing environmentalist, who enjoys cooking and hosting. I’ve been promising her a visit to her various homes and finally made it happen.

The trip up was uneventful, but I did manage to finish reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The rest of my time with my friends, Dawn and Mert consisted of lots of good eats, a walk through downtown Albany and then the Christmas lights display in the Park across the street from their home, a trip across the border into Massachusetts to visit Mass MoCA‘s (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) exhibit on Sol LeWitt,  knitting, and movie watching.  It was the perfect weekend!

It was also the perfect way to usher in the new year. The night before, New Years Eve, I attended a concert with a good friend and didn’t get home until 2am. The concert was crowded, noisy and well, awesomely fun, but every excitement requires downtime and that’s exactly what I got. I realized during the weekend that I need more weekends like this.  I need more time to sleep in and relax. When I do this, I’m quite abuzz with creative juices. Prime example, I woke up Monday morning from a dream where my S2 Manifesto (yes, I’m creating a manifesto) was literally screaming at me; it practically completed itself in my sleep. I love when my design work comes about in that way.

As I mentioned above, part of the weekend included a visit to Mass MoCA in Massachusetts. It took us maybe 30 minutes to get there and proved to be one of the best parts of the trip.  My friends had been there several times and thought I would love to see the Sol LeWitt exhibit. They were correct.

Everything about Sol LeWitt’s art pulled me in– the colors, the simple use of lines, the sequence of patterns, the amazing amount of detail each piece clearly took, and the similarities and differences of each piece. The other bit I love about his work is that even though he created the concept, terms, and rules of and for creation he never felt that he had to be the only one to create it. In fact, he created the rules and terms so that other artists could replicate the work leaving their own mark on his work. Talk about crowdsourcing! This is the case of the exhibit itself. Sol has nothing to do with the art aside from designating the terms in which it had to be done. A variety of different artists came in to help prepare the space, draw the lines, and paint the details. Can you imagine just how profound that experience is? To know that you helped create the work of a renowned artist? To know that your hand in fact helped create a masterpiece, instead of just viewing it and thinking, “wow, what a piece!”?  In my mind, Sol is a genius!

I love when I learn something new about design and art that really rattles my bones. Picasso’s guitars exhibit last year at MoMA is a great example of this. It’s a moment where I am shaken to the core and my perspective shifts sometimes dramatically and sometimes just a small bit, but either way it is enough to cause a reevaluation of my own art and processes.

Now, I’m not saying that Sol LeWitt’s art will change my art, or the products I create, no, but it did remind me that sometimes the most stunning work is simple. Simplicity often mesmerizes and inspires and that is my goal- to mesmerize you with my craft, service, and details. To produce a finished product that makes you wonder at the amount of time it took and maybe what tools and materials I used.  Or in the case of my friends, inspires you to replicate the art to decorate your own home.

The last picture in the series below is a photo of a dinner invitation I designed and created for them for Christmas 2010. It was their first Christmas together and they wanted to invite family and friends over for a special meal. My inspiration then was a Christmas tree ornament in different shades of purple (my friend’s favorite color) with glitter and ribbon for a special effect. You can imagine my pride and surprise to find one ornament hanging from their tree.

When I designed that particular piece, I kept second guessing myself. My friend stated from the beginning that she loved what I did for their elopement and wanted to support me and therefore would let me create. She did choose the idea of an ornament like invitation, but other than that, she let me be.  Even with loving her for trusting me enough, I second guessed myself the entire time. I wondered whether I should create a pop up/three dimensional invitation. In the end, I stuck with the simple, one dimensional, two-sided invitation and embellished it as already described.

I shared all of that with you above just to say that seeing my invitation boldly displayed on their Christmas tree made me think of the incredible art of Sol LeWitt and the reality that simplicity goes a whole hell of a longer way when designing and creating than the complex, no matter how pretty it all looks.  Maybe Steve Jobs was inspired by Sol LeWitt, too?

This casual weekend was not only inspiration, it helped further usher in this idea of simplicity that I had decide to practice for 2012.  Simple is as simple does.  I’m off to a simple evening.

Those of you who are interested in visiting Mass MoCA, should definitely do so. The museum is hosting the Sol LeWitt exhibit through 2033. I’m happy-I can go see it a few more times between now and then-yay for extended planning!

More soon! Like tomorrow, soon. Hooray!

Muppets On Display! The Fabulous World of Jim Henson.

Where do I begin on this posting…

I could start with Jim Henson was a genius! But I think that’s a bit too obvious.

I could instead opt for Jim Henson was an innovator! But I think that’s too obvious as well.  While I do believe that his work was innovative, I tend to think of it more as “art begets art” – he westernized an art that was considered “old-country” and “out-dated” (puppet making and acting) and blended it with his own perspective and immeasurable amount of passion.

Which means that I’ve decided to state the following about Jim Henson: “Jim Henson was an artist for the ages.”

There. That is how I’ll describe Jim Henson, his vision, muppets and legacy.

Currently, the Museum of the Moving Image over in my old hood, Astoria, Queens has an exhibit about Jim Henson and his world of muppets titled, “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World”. It runs through January 16, 2012, which is good because I may just return for a second view.

I had no idea what to expect regarding this exhibit. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be huge on displaying muppets, film, or what, if anything else. What I found was a small, tightly woven display of Jim Henson and the way he worked. The display is heavy on his art and sketches. There are plenty of snippets from films he worked on as well as television commercials (where he got his start). There aren’t many muppets on display, but there are quite a few that made me gasp in shear joy (Miss Piggy in her wedding gown), Bert and Ernie and Rowlf!  I also really enjoyed the attention they paid to the lesser known work of his: Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.

Of everything they showed, what I enjoyed the most, nostalgia aside, was his doodles. They had posters from his days in college that he created by hand and using silk screening techniques.  I don’t need to express just how excited that made me – the designer and the typography lover in me was just as excited as I was when I saw Miss Piggy.

I love seeing how an artist creates.  I’m not talking about tools and techniques here, I’m talking about the inspiration and the initial stages-the sketches that take a thought to the full end result.  Jim Henson was a genius with just his pencil. He was able to create images that later shaped the world.

In the early section of the exhibit, it is noted that Jim Henson traveled to Europe and watched puppeteers make and use puppets as a median to tell stories.  It is easy to see how years down the road the exposure to such a timeless art combined with his passions led him to the means of achieving his dream.

I took his history as a sign that even though I am working with an “out-of-date” art, it can be worked on, changed and made into something new that does help people and the world at large. Or in other words as my favorite quote by Jorge Luis Borges says, “Everything Touches Everything”.  Art is all around us and produced by many people from many perspectives. The key is how an artist takes that inspiration and makes it his own.  It was no mistake, and this exhibit shows this, that he designed the muppets that stole our hearts as witty commentators of culture on the Muppet Show just as easily as a creative means to teach children the alphabet, numbers, song, dance, acceptance and the power of an open mind with Big Bird and friends on Sesame Street.

One thing that has stayed with me since seeing the exhibit is his belief in creating something that was going to help shape minds.  The Sesame Street that I grew up watching is an amazing example of this desire and belief. I know I remember episodes of Sesame Street now at the age of 30. I also know that I identify now with “Animal” more than any other muppet, but as a kid it was always “Miss Piggy” and how no matter what, I will always love kind-hearted and soft-spoken Kermit-the-frog. I also know that every Christmas season, I listen to the John Denver & The Muppets “Christmas Together” album on repeat (heck, I may even listen to it now for Christmas Card inspiration!).  On the road trip I took with my youngest brother last month, we discussed our other brother’s love of the movie, “Follow That Bird“, about Big Bird being moved from Sesame Street to live with a family of dodo birds. Yes, I am talking about nostalgia in its true form, but I’m also talking about how Jim Henson’s passion, craft, kindness and art has stuck with me for 25 years! That is an amazing feat! Especially in a culture now where time moves quickly and art is generated rapidly to the point that we often don’t remember what we saw or when we saw it.

As I walked through the exhibit, which is short (it doesn’t take longer than 30-45 minutes to get through), I felt the energy and spirit of Jim Henson as if he had been alive and in the room. Yes, his spirit was in the room thanks to his sketches, interviews and muppets, but it was more than just that. Maybe the reason is that the Museum did a great job of executing the display?  Again, I think it is more.  I realized that as much as that room with all of Jim Henson’s items holds the essence of Jim, I, too, carry Jim Henson.  His muppets, songs, ideas are still in my mind now as they were in my youth. That is his legacy and it is true of any genius/innovator.  His shoes will never be filled- his memory, presence and mark linger and will continue to do so.

When people knock the idea of changing the world, I can only suggest they look at Jim Henson – his work changed the world and more importantly the way media and humans interact.  I highly recommend seeing this exhibit if you live or are visiting New York. I also recommend it if you’re an artist; we all learn from each other, after all, especially if we hope to be an artist for the ages.


“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new; an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking, is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto, “Anyone can cook”. But I realize — only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.” – Anton Ego, Food Critic

Those are the words from Anton Ego, Food Critic and amazing character in the Pixar film, Ratatouille, in his last review of Gusteau’s restaurant.  That entire paragraph is amazing, no? Yes! It is an elegant and well written letter.  It is so beautifully crafted that it rocks me to my core.

I recently watched (a day ago) the movie and had an “ah ha!” moment while cutting out matte for a frame project I was working on.  I think it was mostly because as an artist, I sat there and felt the powerful connection of  Monsieur Ego’s statement, ” But I realize — only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere, ” with my own life.   I sat there totally understanding that sometimes a person without “training” can learn and prove to be great and come from anywhere.

I am, and have been for some time now, in love with Pixar. Ever since Woody, Buzz Light Year and Co. stepped on the scene, I have been smitten with the stories and characters created by Pixar. As a matter of fact, I dragged my best friends in college to go see Toy Story 2 with me for my birthday the year it came out. That same year I asked for Christmas figurines of Toy Story characters. My Mom obliged with several, but my favorite was the dinosaur. They moved around with me until I moved from VA to NY almost five years ago.

In 1995, at the age of 15, I had no idea the impact Pixar would have on my life, or animation for that matter. Now, computer animation is main stream and Pixar has released several films, as has Dreamworks and yet, I always prefer Pixar. To be fair I do enjoy some Dreamworks films, such as Kung Fu Panda (That movie is amazing!), but Pixar has always left me amazed by its creativity and its deep communication with viewers young and old.

For example, in November of 2009, I went down to Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile to celebrate my birthday. While on the way down, the airplane showed the film Up. I cried the entire film.  There I was watching a film about an older man seeking an adventure to South America after his wife’s passing and all of the opportunities that present themselves to him, while I was traveling to South America seeking my own adventure after my father’s death. I took the film as a sign and the moment as another notch that Pixar had won in my heart.

Of all the Pixar movies my favorite is Ratatouille. This was a difficult decision because Monsters, Inc is also up there as is Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Up, and Wall-E.  Oh, how I LOVE the message in Wall-E, but the fact remains that Ratatouille is my favorite.  I watch Ratatouille at least once a month. No lie.

One of the main reasons behind this love is my love of/for Paris.  I love the  Paris back drop mixed with the power of love, passion and food (all things very much associated with Paris). Paris is my second home. I’ve has the pleasure of visiting four times now and the last time I went, I felt more comfortable than ever before. I took the metro with ease, I walked around streets that I remembered and most importantly, I was welcomed by friends.  The city is one of my greatest inspirations.  I design French themed stationery thanks to my obsession with Paris, but also all of France.

However, that’s not the only reason. I love everything behind the movie – the characters (Remy is awesome!), the fact that a rat loves fine food,  the graphics, and the message that you can be true to yourself despite your background and against all odds. I love the second message that “anyone can cook.”

I also love how much they stress the power of dreaming.  I love how they show that with good comes bad, but as long as you stay true you will find your path and happiness.  I love the moment that Anton Ego eats ratatouille and smiles, sways, and digs into his food. Finally, I love Mr. Ego’s final review of Gusteau’s restaurant after eating Remy’s ratatouille (posted above).

While listening to the reading of the review, I sat in my seat, not working on the framing project, but instead with my arms wrapped around my legs and goosebumps all over my arms. I don’t presume that I am a great artist, but I do know that being an artist requires determination, creativity, faith and a dream-all things I have.  I am not creating stationery that is new to the world, but I am pursuing my designs with the fire in me and that is what counts.  Remy’s meal of Ratatouille was not something new, as Colete  says, “it’s a peasants dish,” but the way HE interpreted and served the dish, created a sense of new.

As I said earlier before rambling about Pixar and my favorite films, while watching the movie I had an “ah ha!” moment. My “ah ha” moment is this- much like Remy, I’ve taken what I love, which happens to be something I’m good at, and made it a reality. Critics come and go, but by putting my work out there, I’m making things happen, regardless of my lack of a design degree or experience in an Ad agency or a design company. Now, granted my background isn’t as humbling as a rat, but what I am getting at is this: I don’t have formal training, I just have a hunger to learn and a passion to create. To put it even more simply-if I can do that (take something that is not so new, but interpret, create and share to create a sense of new without the degrees and formal training)with S2 Stationery and Design, then I can and will succeed.

Mr. Ego also mentions friends to the new and he couldn’t be more correct. Over the past year, I’ve become more active and involved with my Etsy team, The {NewNew} (I’ve mentioned them before) and it/they have been the best thing that has happened to me.  I have gotten to know and work with some amazing and talented artists and entrepreneurs. This team is completely separate from the many amazing friends that I have in my life that are encouraging me constantly. These women are just an amazing source of knowledge and experience and I am fortunate to have them in my circle for what I hope is forever.

I have been advantageous enough to not have critics, that I am aware of, write or share scathing comments like Anton Ego in the beginning of the film, but with a little bit of charm, kindness, and  faith in yourself good things will and can happen. This isn’t just something that happens in movies either. Sometimes movies imitate real life. Pixar has shown with the case of Pixar (rat aside) that it is just tackling real life issues in a cute/fuzzy way (I have a whole theory on how Monsters, Inc. is a lesson for energy and gas companies) and I will continue to enjoy them. I will just be a rat or a fuzzy blue Sasquatch like monster or hopeful romantic robot.

Art. Courtesy of Alexander McQueen and The Barnes Foundation

Oh, Art. How I love you. I don’t know that I loved you as a child, but I know that I love you now. Sometimes I love you with such an intensity that I didn’t know existed that I’m overwhelmed. This has happened on several occasions in the past and I find that it is continuing to happen. Each time that I’m overwhelmed, I  am also inspired.

Most recently, I found myself inspired by two very separate exhibits, in two different venues and cities, with two different friends and in two extremely different state of minds.

The first exhibit is the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.  I don’t know what I expected upon entering, but I  know that I did not expect to the outrageously long line, nor the amount of people who wanted to see this exhibit. I also did not expect to love Alexander McQueen.

Now, going into this exhibit, I knew of Alexander McQueen. My mother is only a fashion designer/seamstress. I remember during her days at the Virginia Marti College of Fashion Design in Cleveland, Ohio talking about him being an amazing designer. I also remember her devastated reaction upon learning of his death.  That is where my knowledge begun and ended. Until viewing the exhibit.

As I battled the crowd and waited patiently in line, I made my way into the entrance of the exhibit and was left shocked to my core. The dress made of microscope lab slides painted red on top and dyed feathers on bottom is one of the most unbelievable pieces of dressmaking I’ve ever seen. For a minute, I stood there stunned that someone could sew together microscope lab slides.  Then I realized anyone with talent, creativity, and genius can sew together microscope lab slides, pair it with dyed feathers and have some one wear it down a runway.

I walked into the next room to find a heavily nautical themed room full of well-tailored jackets. Not suit jackets. Not dress jackets. Not spring or winter jackets either. Just symmetrical and asymmetrical jackets. Jackets that are worn with pants and skirts. Jackets that define your outfit that day. Jackets that maybe simply define the person wearing them, but offer no form of protection. These jackets are definitely candy to the eyes, but not because of their color, instead because of their structure, texture and very well-tailored seams. Again, as the daughter of a seamstress who kicks ass, walking through that room took me back to sitting in the basement of my house as a child and talking to my mom as she sewed pieces of cloth together. As I write this, I can hear the hum of her sewing machine, inherited from her mother, my grandmother, another talented seamstress, stitching pieces together.

I am by no means comparing my mother to the wonder of Alexander McQueen, but I’m explaining how in a 25-30 minute walk/dodge around hundreds of people, I experienced both awe and nostalgia.  I have always worn dresses made by my mother. From the time I was a small child she sewed dress upon dress for me. She still sews me clothes now.  Often times, people mistake her clothes for designer garments, or better yet compliment me on her craftsmanship.  Which makes sense that the entire time I spent gazing at this man’s genius, I also understood the power of well made clothes and the ability to share a story through them.

Every room displayed a piece of Mr. McQueen. Every piece shared his emotions, expressions, desires, politics, sexuality and sensuality, and most undoubtedly, his tortured persona. I didn’t know Mr. McQueen, obviously, but I wish I had.”  It is so easy to say of famous people, “I wish I had known them,” but it is rare that I see/hear the work of someone and think this. Instead, I appreciate their work and move beyond.

The odds of Alexander McQueen and I meeting were slim to begin with, but I’ve noticed that the artists I find myself wishing I had known are the artists that had problems, couldn’t deal with the fame, had dark backgrounds and most importantly have managed to reach the dark place that resides deep inside my own heart.

I don’t want to scare off anyone here, because I’m not a crazy person. Well, okay, I’m crazy, but in a good and positive way. What I’m getting at is that for all of my optimism and good intentions and desires, I also have a place that is sad and cold and dark. A place that allows me to wallow some days. It’s a place that allows me to see the injustices of the world and try to make statements out of them. It’s a place that I look to when I approach my own art. Not everything is rainbows and happiness. Alexander McQueen got that and designed upon that.

As a result, which is the case with most geniuses, he is no longer with us.  Which leaves me trying to view the exhibit many more times and trying to get my hands on everything that can help me learn more about him and his talent.  The only way to get that education is by viewing as much of his work as I can. His talent and skill reside in every piece he’s ever put his hands on and I will find inspiration from them.

On a completely different note and one that is not so dark or deep, the second exhibit I checked out was Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modern collection of art at The Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania (just a few minutes from downtown Philly).  I learned of The Barnes Foundation after watching a fantastic documentary called, “The Art of the Steal” about the city of Philadelphia’s theft of the art collection at The Barnes Foundation.

Now, when I first wrote about this, I was impassioned by the film. I can’t deny that I tend to get excited about things I like and/or care about to levels that most people don’t often experience.  What I mean by that is that I get excited at least once a day. This isn’t too common. Yes, there are pros and cons to this type of personality, but what I think matters the most is that my excitability allows for me to keep learning old and new things. It broadens my horizons and often times leads me to things, places, countries, languages, and culture such as The Barnes Foundation.

Going to Philadelphia, I was full of passion. Passion against the city of Philadelphia, to help keep The Barnes Foundation in its current location and most importantly, for the art.

Last Saturday, I picked up my friend at the airport and we jumped in the car and drove to Philly. We had a 2:30 reservation (I wrote a whole long blog post the other day about getting lost and the lessons it taught me), but didn’t arrive until around 3.  At that point, I was stressed out, but all it took was entering the main room of the exhibit to relinquish all anxiety.

This collection is astounding. It is jaw dropping and excessive drool worthy. It is simply amazing!That one man could collect the works that he did and mount them in the way he did to subtly move the viewer is an art unto itself.

I can’t tell you what was my favorite piece because there were so many, but I can tell you that I absolutely adore and appreciate Cézanne in a way I never thought possible. His Peasant Standing with Arms Crossed is the piece that I kept looking back to.  But then it gets much more complicated. There are so many of my favorites in five small rooms– Monet, Matisse, Picasso (including a Guitar piece that I would love to have for myself), Modigliani, Degas, and Van Gogh. He had so many other artists that I don’t even remember!

What I can tell you is that I sat in the room looking at a piece by Matisse, I thought, “I could sit here forever.”  My heart-felt so full in that moment.  Much like the scene in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, where his heart grows so large and breaks the box. I know it may seem silly that I got so excited and full off of art, but isn’t it the point of art after all? Aren’t we supposed to react to the beauty behind each piece?

As an artist, this is how I would want people to feel about my work, so I’m glad it is the way I felt about the art of these legendary contributors to culture and society.

If ever I felt a moment of my butt being kicked in the direction of motivation, it was here, in the rooms of The Barnes Foundation, surrounded by talent and the genius of one man who made it his legacy to collect art for the ages.

I am thankful that I had the opportunities to see both exhibits at least once. The Barnes Foundation collection is being moved to a new facility in Downtown Philadelphia within a year, I believe. I won’t be making a point to visit it then. The Alexander McQueen exhibit closes August 7th.

Go and feast your eyes. You won’t be sorry if you do; you will be sorry if you don’t.

The Barnes Foundation

WE need to save the Barnes Foundation!

I should warn everyone that I’m prone to fits of passion and I’m about to fly full force into this one. Yes, brick wall, I’m aware that you’re there. Yes, glass ceiling, I’m quite aware you’re there as well. BUT we need to save the Barnes Collection. When I say “we,” I mean WE-the entire entity of art lovers on this planet.

When I wrote the above blurb, I was angry. I was so angry as a matter of fact that my roommate asked if I was okay. See, I was sitting in my room watching a documentary film called, “The Art of the Steal” and before I knew it, I had curses flying out of my mouth. I sat there calling people in the film all kinds of dirty names.

My ire has since calmed down, but the situation has not left my mind. In fact remains I am still very angry about the situation of the Barnes Foundation.  It doesn’t help that I’ve also joined the facebook page and get signed a petition through the website for Friends of the Barnes Foundation, an organization of neighbors and citizens in Merion, Pennsylvania, a few short miles from Philadelphia that are fighting to keep the wonderful collection of art in its proper home.

Unlike many people, I was not educated on this collection until I watched the documentary. I know. I know. You may be thinking that I should not trust a documentary. Normally, I’d agree with you. As with any story, there are more sides than just one and anyone can skew a story to their desire. However, my one interest in documentary films is the passion behind them.  I honestly believe that documentary films are sparked by an intense interest in learning the multi-sides of any story. The unfortunate part is that most of the time documentaries are made because something bad has happened and it’s a way for the artist, to document it, to go undercover, to attempt to expose the truth, or at least tell the side that can’t as easily be told.

What really leaves me at this point, where I’m blogging about saving the Barnes Foundation, is that the movie made me wonder about an artist’s rights.   Before I get into artist’s rights though, I need to give some background history (which the movie does a wonderful job of presenting the full story):

Albert Barnes started the Barnes Foundation in 1922 after making a ton of money (not sure how much) thanks to his pharmaceutical company called Barnes and Hille (his partner was Herman Hille) which included the manufacturing of Argyrol, a silver-based compound used to fight infections, and discovered his love for art and started collecting.  Unfortunately, Mr. Barnes died in 1951 in an automobile accident and the The Barnes Collection now is listed at being  worth something like $20-$30 billion dollars.  From the looks of it, the collection is stunning. Simply stunning. I’d give anything to see the collection at the actual location before it is moved to Philadelphia in 2012.  I just may, too because I know without a doubt that I will never visit Philadelphia to visit this art collection once it is moved. I simply will not.

The details behind how the art is being relocated to Philadelphia (something that Barnes specifically did not want)  is detailed in the film and I highly recommend that you see it to learn more. It’s really amazing how politics, money, and the law can really go against the wishes of someone, even if their dead to get those with power what they want.   Some of the claims made for the relocation is that the Barnes Foundation building in Merion is in disrepair and that there is not enough money to keep the collection in its original home. I find it preposterous to think that 1. that collection could not raise the money needed without the help of the city and state or being relocated and 2. that Barnes left the foundation in such a state of disaster that someone with intelligence (note this is separate from greedy intelligence, or greed itself) could not come in and create an effective and efficient plan to save the organization.

Albert Barnes created the Foundation with a simple mission: “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts.”  This is where my thoughts on artist rights come in. Albert Barnes was not an artist per say, but he was an art collector and his rights are what matter.

Barnes left in his will certain requirements that include not selling, loaning or relocating the art and that document is being completely and totally ignored. As a matter of fact, one executive director, loaned the art out. The exhibit traveled the world and saw great notoriety. I don’t believe that Barnes didn’t want the world to see this art, I believe he wanted the art to be seen and appreciated by the masses that truly and deeply understand the work. Anyone can pay $15 to view art, but not every once can deeply feel it. I am not trying to come across as an elitist because I’m not. I personally do not enjoy paying to see art. I believe that art is an expression that should be open to all people, from all walks of life. However, I also don’t shell out money to see any art exhibit at any museum. I don’t travel to see art in Museums. I still remember my first viewing of the Mona Lisa. I remember looking at her and saying, “That’s it? She’s so small!” It is only now that I am more immersed in the art world that I can look at pieces and see exhibits with a broader light shining through. I see stunning pieces and it makes me want to create!

What bothers me most about the state of the Barnes Foundation is that the owner of the art is being ignored. His desire is being ignored. If I were Matisse and I sold my art piece to a buyer who took great pains to create a visually stunning display and was someone I trusted with my art, I’d want my art to remain within the guidance and will of that person. Just because someone dies doest not mean that their ownership ceases to be valid or exist.

From the sounds of it, Barnes created this Foundation with good intent. He did not buy it to make money off of it and yet that is what it all comes down to, money. This collection is said to be so timeless, so astounding that anyone would want to get their hands on it for the sheer volume of money it can bring in.

Not only is his will being ignored, but he left the Foundation in the hands of Lincoln University, or in other words, “Amended bylaws enabling the Board of Trustees of Lincoln University, one of America’s first historically African-American universities, to nominate four of the five trustees of the Barnes Foundation, upon the demise of all original trustees” (www.barnesfoundation.org).  As of now, there are no original trustees or trustees from Lincoln University. If you look at the list of Board of Trustees, I wouldn’t trust any of them.

What I’m left with now is the idea of ownership. Who really owns art? As a designer, I believe I own my creations. When I choose to sell a product of mine, I am sharing my art and there is an exchange of money, but I still own the creative process behind it even if it’s out there being shared with the world. After all, I do want my creations to be out there, loved and enjoyed by all, but what if it all came down to something like this? What would I as an artist/designer want to be done with these pieces? It really is some heavy food for thought that I think all artists should consider.  Barnes had his own agenda, as did Matisse and Renoir and Cervantes, but what would they want now, if they were here watching this unfold? What do we as individuals owe the artists  for the pleasure of viewing this art? What do we as artists owe Barnes for being an incredible collector with an amazing eye? What do we, as artists, expect of our own art as we age and eventually die? Furthermore, what do we, myself included, expect of our own minuscule collections of art? I mean, I love all the pieces I’ve collected and I would definitely leave them to people who I love to continue sharing the process, but those pieces also aren’t worth $20-$30 billion.

Having said that, I’m going to check out the Barnes Foundation myself in June.  I just bought my ticket in the process of writing this. A mini-road trip to the Philadelphia area the first weekend of June is just what the doctor ordered and what this blogger needs before she can write much more about the Barnes Foundation.  Stay tuned for my thoughts on the exhibit itself sometime in June.  Until then…keep making, collecting and appreciating art. Oh and maybe try to help save the Barnes Foundation if you can.

Guitars + Picasso

This past weekend, after checking out the Harry Houdini exhibit at the Jewish Museum, my friend and I went down to MoMA. I both love and hate the MoMA. I love that it has an amazing collection of art, but I hate that it’s always crowded. This past Saturday was no different. It was crowded, but I’m glad we went.

My main goal in visiting MoMA was to see Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914 (on exhibit until June 6th). As we got ready to leave, my friend said, “I can see the wheels in Sara’s head turning quickly.”  She was so right.

I’m not sure what compelled me to see this exhibit. I’ve never been a huge fan of Picasso’s work, but as soon as I saw the photo of his cardboard  made Guitar, I was hooked. I think it may have reminded me of my constant love for the guitar. What I do know is that as soon as I saw it, I was reminded of the Bar Mitzvah invitation I designed two years ago for a client.

I should state for the record that I had not seen Picasso’s guitar work prior to this exhibit.   I have never been a fan of Picasso in general, but that changed as I walked from one piece to another completely enthralled by his use of color, materials and shape.  I loved the pieces where you could see a face of a man mixed in with the pieces of the guitar.

The guitars themselves, not the paintings of guitars, were breathtaking. I think my favorite is the one made of cardboard, simply because of his manipulation of paper  to create such a piece of beauty, but the metal one was just as striking.  If anything, the metal guitar showed the flexibility of a material that otherwise comes across as strong and inflexible.

What really struck me, however, were the last two pieces in the collection. They were guitars on paper made of a combination of things–paint, pencil sketching, wall paper and fabric. The colors used were a combination of gold and blue, one of my favorite combinations, and I loved just the way everything was overlapped. They are truly beautiful pieces. They are pieces I want to own! They are also pieces that inspired me in that moment.  It was that moment where my friend said, the “I can see the wheels in Sara’s head turning quickly,” statement and it was then that I understood just how powerful a piece of art can be.

Believe me I know the power of art. I’ve stood breathless before Van Gogh and Sargent and Miró and Calder and Gaudi, but I’ve never felt the way I felt about Picasso’s guitar before. I’ve never felt so inspired, so alive from a piece displayed in a museum. I’ve never compared my stationery to what another artist has done. By another artist, I mean not designers in the stationery field, but world known artists such as any of the ones listed above or even Picasso.

Another thing that really struck me, and made me realized that I was going to love this exhibit immediately, was reading about his methods of adding texture. For example, he sometimes mixed sand into his paint to create a sense of raised texture. He also incorporated fabrics into some of his guitar pieces and many times used pieces of sheet music, newspaper and even wall paper to add contrast.  Being that I like to use other papers, including scraps of fabric, I felt like I had found my artist kin spirit and I felt even more motivated and inspired.

As I walked out of the exhibit, I felt  ready to roar in regards to stationery design. I also bought a book about the exhibit. I want to make sure these pieces never leave me.

I recommend if you’re visiting NYC or you live here to check out this exhibit. If you’re an artist/designer/art lover, most definitely. If you love music, you should go as well.  You may not have the same experience I did, but you may just end up loving the pieces, or at the very least having expanded your mind.

p.s. I mentioned the guitar invitation I created two years ago and so below is a photo of that and a photo of Picasso’s cardboard guitar from a website. You can better see what I’m talking about.

Picasso's Cardboard Guitar


Guitar Invitation

p.p.s. If you do go, please share your thoughts on the exhibit. I’m curious!