I like to brighten up the short, dark, days of Winter by placing shiny reflective objects around the house. The twinkle of reflected light does wonders to lift the spirit of the room.
There are lots of great, inexpensive knock offs of silver, mercury glass and mirrored things in circulation right now, so keep an eye out. I found this container at Home Goods, for a song. I'm not sure what's its intended use would be, but I was looking for a shiny silver container for my paperwhites, and this is perfect. And it was cheap!
Maybe you already knew this, but I just figured it out. You can use a glass frog as a pen and pencil holder. Glass frogs, in case you are wondering, are made to go in the bottom of vases to hold the stems in position. Some of the older ones a beautiful as objects, which was what drew me to this particular one when I saw it in an antique store. But then I realized it would hold pens, stylishly.
This is a guest post by my historian sister, Holly Shulman, who recently presented a paper at a conference in Amsterdam. While she was there she visited the Ann Frank Museum, hosted by one of the curators, Dienke Hondius, who later asked Holly what her thoughts were about the museum. This is Holly's response.
Here is an attempt to answer your question as to why I found the Anne Frank House Museum personally disorienting.
The nub of the question is what are we doing when we remember (and commemorate) Anne Frank: something about the Jewish experience, or something about the human experience?
When I was a child the holocaust was talked about in our house, but it was not the subject of general conversation – in society, in politics, in literature – that it later became. That, of course, is the subject of Hasia Diner’s book, We Remember with Reverence and Love. Perhaps 1945-1968 (with the publication of Arthur Morse’s When Six Million Died) was a kind of limnal or marginal period of remembrance. In my house we talked about my parents’ German backgrounds, especially my mother’s. She remembered my grandmother trying to find who might still be living among her German relations, but could locate no one. Her family on both sides had arrived around 1850 as part of that general wave of German emigration to the US, and like so many Jews had steadily moved West until they reached Chicago. One of their relations sent home letters during the American Civil War that remained extant and are published as A Jewish Colonel in the Civil War. And like so many immigrants, my mother’s family kept many German ways, especially their food, but also the practice of Christmas, which was, after all, a German holiday by way of England. Many German Jewish families had Christmas meals and presents, and as the German practice was to buy a tree on Christmas Eve, so it was the custom of my grandparents and my parents.
By the late 1930s, after my mother’s family could discover no living relatives in Germany, my mother and my grandmother joined an organization to sponsor Jews trying to flee Hitler. My mother even received a letter (in German) from Albert Einstein after they tried to save two mathematicians and their son (unsuccessfully).
So I knew about the holocaust. It related to the history of my family, and I felt both gratitude and guilt that I had been born in the United States – a sentiment I think shared by virtually every American Jewish child of my age.
But reading about it as a child was not simple. There were no books, as there were by the time my daughter Rebecca was a child. By then there were a ton of memoirs and stories from survivors and children of survivors. But in the 1950s we simply and only had Anne Frank. There were no movies that I remember, or radio shows, to which we still listened. We were, as many have written, very concerned with being American, even as American a family as mine, and swept up in the universalism of the era.
The story of Anne Frank had a huge impact on me as a member of a German-Jewish upper middle class family who wanted for nothing and who were on the one hand politically and socially Jewish but on the other totally alienated from Judaism as a religion. (My father’s side was a bit more complex in its background – but that is another story for another time.) This mixture of no religion and complete Jewish identity – at least with their German Jewish past – is central I believe to any understanding of the meaning of Judaism in the post enlightenment world. Being Jewish is more than a religious belief. It is being part of a people and a history. What in Hebrew is called Am Israel, the Jewish people. As a child the holocaust was there, always there, but always distant. It was The Diary of Anne Frank that made it all real. Not the camps, of course, but the fears and the hiding and the drumbeat of threat. I remember reading the book so clearly. I must have been 10 or 11. I took it to bed with me to read at night, and after I shut off the light the fears and shadows of the book were like a fog wrapped around me, they crept inside of me and stayed somewhere in of my body. With Anne Frank I knew, I KNEW, I was Jewish and that I would remain Jewish, and that Hitler would not win. Anne Frank cemented my identity as a Jew. Reading her Diary was an act of affirmation.
As an adult I thought about her and her book less and less. I read more Jewish history. I sent my children to a Jewish nursery school and we joined a synagogue. Being Jewish became part of the daily pattern of my life, even while struggling with the notion of a God and becoming an atheist. The most recent books about Europe and fascism and the destruction of the Jews that have meant a lot to me are more like Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands and Jeffrey Veidlinger’s In the Shadow of the Shtetl.
It is against that background that I saw that Anne Frank House – at your gracious invitation and marvelous hospitality. What I saw was an Anne Frank who is no longer a symbol of the destruction of the Jews, and of the always recycling hatred of the Jews, but a generalized emblem of victimization, of the problems of power and authoritarianism, of the results that can occur when ordinary people are too afraid to speak up.
In that light, I suppose I felt that Anne Frank now belongs to the world, but in a sense not to me. You may think this a very odd comparison, but let me contrast Anne Frank for a moment to Queen Esther. Every year Jews remember Queen Esther for saving the Jewish People, and Purim became a very important holiday in Europe because all the cycles of destruction and attempted destruction became folded into that one story. But Purim was and remains Jewish. There is no holiday celebrating Anne Frank, but all those visitors are commemorating Anne. Esther is particular, ethnic, and globally irrelevant. Anne is for everyone.
After visiting with you I felt a bit dizzy. Part of me celebrates that Anne Frank can become such a potent figure of dignity and the fight against oppression. But part of me experienced a loss – of a childhood figure who had once crept into my body as I lay in warm sheets falling asleep and told me stories that changed my life.
You don't have to spend a fortune to hang curtains. Be the first on your block to bring Office Supply Chic to your home. All you need is push pins or nails to secure small binder clips to the top of your window. It's best if your fabric is wider than the window. Gather it to make small drapes along the top. Experiment. So easy to change.
Office Supply Chic. Window curtains using binder clips.
Use a second set of binder clips to tie back the curtains. You can drape them, as above, or bunch them, or whatever you like. I've used very sheer white fabric here for summer. But come Winter...I've got some very nice flannel buffalo plaid fabric to use. Wait and see.
De-clutter your table top with an easy DIY cord wrangler,
I couldn't stand all the cords and cables sitting on my table...chargers for my iPhone, tablet, computer and speaker. So I found a nice old cardboard box I had put away, and made it into a cord wrangler. It's an easy DIY to help de-clutter.
I cut a rectangular hole on the bottom of the end-side, just big enough to insert the surge protector/extension cord. Make sure your box is long enough.
Then I cut enough holes for three of the cords that I need on the side, the iPhone, the tablet and the computer. Then I cut a hole on the top for the speaker-charger, because I keep the little speaker on top.
The holes only have to be big enough for the ends to go through, not the plugs.
Yes, it would have been neater if I'd had a little drill or a good little saw. But I didn't, so I used a scissors and a kitchen knife. Good enough.
Time to make it: 15 minutes, once I'd found the box.
Ethan Murrow, 2006, large scale drawing from Pinto Brothers Series, for sale
This beautiful, large -scale drawing by Ethan Murrow is now for sale.
I bought this piece in 2006, when Murrow had a show at Burlington City Arts. Ethan was raised in Vermont, and has many friends and admirers here. I hadn't know Ethan when he lived here, but I had been somewhat friendly with his father when we were kids because his father (Ethan's grandfather, Edward R. Murrow) was very good friends with my father, Lou Cowan. The small-world effect of the Cowan family has ceased to surprise me.
But that's not why I bought this piece. I bought it because it's that good. THAT good. I bought it to sell, because at the time, I was running Pine Street Art Works. I had it framed by my favorite framer, Jennifer Koch of Frames For You And Mona Lisa Too, and it hung at PSAW for several years. Finally, when we closed, I had no place to hang the work, so I loaned it to the University Of Vermont, where it has been on view at the Davis Center, much to the delight of the thousands of students, faculty and visitors for the past 5 years.
Now it is for sale. If you are interested, or know someone who might be...just click this link to my online store, Small Equals.
The piece is avaiable framed, but I'm also willing to have Jennifer Koch take it out of the frame, for much much easier shipping and delivery.
I bought this wooden dollhouse from a friend in Woodstock, NY in the early 1980's. She was about to move, and it was just too big to lug around. Now I have lugged it to two different houses in Woodstock, two apartments in Brooklyn, and one house in Vermont. I'm about to move again and was considering selling it, since I'm downsizing by a lot. I took it down from atop the fridge, where it has sat for 13 years, to take some photos of it. And I fell in love with it all over again. I guess I'm keeping it.
I was planning to teach a class at Winooski Circle Arts, a store I managed, about using Facebook for business. Since WCA is closed, I thought I’d share some ideas here. The examples are from two Facebook business pages I created: Winooski Circle Arts and Small Equals.
I've framed this for business pages but the ideas hold true for any professional pages: art, writing, publishing, theater, cooking classes, or anything.
The four key ideas are:
Image + Story
+ Acknowledgement + Engagement
1) Use images:
You can use vintage images on your facebook page. Add text with imaging software like PicMonkey, which is free online.
Use images as often as you can. It’s best if you can shoot your own. iPhone or smartphone pictures are great for this. Better still - take an extra few minutes to crop, frame, and add text if you want. Remember to add your logo, and add photo credit if the photos are not your own, or even if they are. I use online photo editing software, PicMonkey and think it's a great program. There is a free standard version or you can upgrade for more versitility.
Take pictures of your product, your office, studio, employees; take pictures at the craft or business fairs you attend. Take photos at events you speak at. Take pictures of the equipment you use to make your product, and the people who are using the equipment. Take pictures of your customers interacting with your product - but only use them with permission.
Old images are great too. Take advantage of google image searches to find a vintage image that is no longer under copyright. These are fun and people enjoy them. Do not use images that are copyright. Rule of thumb, stick to images made before 1925. That’s not precise, but good enough.
Story sells. There’s always something to tell about your product or service. Do you make something that uses ingredients or components? Write a paragraph or two about them. In my business, Small Equals, I like to write about how my bags and placemats are made by Flashbags in Burlington, VT. Or about the boxes that are made for me by Vermont Wooden Box. Go to your supplier, ask some questions, snap some photos. Link to their websites. Do this often.
Did you start working with a new manufacturer, with a new tool, a different paint? How is it different? What does it look like? Where did you get it?
Unless you go into the woods and chew down trees to make your paper, your supplies are made somewhere. This is interesting when you think about it. Your customers will think so too; even more so if you actually do go into the woods and chew down the trees.
Did you read an article or see a film that inspired you? Even if it is only tangentially related to your business, your readers might like to know about it too. Remember, your customers are well-rounded people, and they want to hear about your ideas as well as your product.
If you’ve written a blog post about anything related to your business, make sure to link it on facebook. And, of course, make sure you have a facebook link on your blog.
3) ACKNOWLEDGE EVERYONE
Acknowledge your employees. Saturday shopkeeper, Willa at front desk.
No business, maker or artist works completely on their own, nor do they get their ideas out of thin air. Did someone give you a terrific idea that you put into production? Were there books that inspired you? Tell your customers about it. They want to know, and the person who gave you the idea deserves credit.
Is your product being sold in a local store? Go there and take some pictures, or at least write a little post about them. Make sure you link to their facebook page, too. This lets your customers know where they can get your product, and builds good relations with the store. This is very important. Do this often.
Did you consult on a project with someone? Tell your readers. You have an amazing accountant, fed ex driver, editor, publicist? A customer who was particularly encouraging or funny. Share the story.
Write about your employees, mention their birthdays, or if they got an award or had a baby or if they accomplished something interesting or important for your business. Everyone likes to be recognized, and your readers will like peeking behind the scenes.
This is all about building good will with your customers, friends and employees.
This is also known as building community. It matters. A lot.
4) ENGAGE WITH YOUR READERS
respond to your readers. If they don't matter to you, you are in the wrong business.
Don’t just post and run. Make sure to respond when someone comments on a post. A “like” will be the barely acceptable minimum. A “thank you, Sally,” is quick and easy. If someone asks a question, answer it. If someone’s comment inspires you to write back, do so, even if it's brief. Conversation is engagement. Conversation lets your customers know that there is a real person there and that you care about them. If you don’t care about your customers, you are in the wrong business.
Sometimes your readers will post a comment you disagree with. If it's truly offensive, if it uses slurs or attacks, you certainly have the option of deleting it, and often that is the best thing to do. But if readers are responding with a genuine concern or interesting idea, even if you don't agree, try to think of this as an opportunity for engagement. You lose credibility by ignoring or deleting comments that don't tell you how wonderful you are, or that don't parrot your own ideas. Eventually your readers will figure out that you do this, and will realize that what you have provided is not a community but an echo chamber. All but the diehard fans will leave, and this is not really something that will help you promote your business.
These suggestions mean you have to check in to facebook regularly. I’d say minimum of once a day. Keep posting, keep responding to your readers. Engage! This is an important part of your job. Just do it. And have fun with it.
Your business is not just about you. It is about relationships. Build them.
PS: I wrote a post several years ago about reciprocity in business that covers some of the same topics. Find it HERE
Winooski Circle Arts is not open right now, but here's the Facebook Page.
I can't imagine a more perfect blend of people, ideas and art. Here's a clip from the 1947 flim Dreams Money Can Buy, produced and directed by Hans Richter, Dada/surrealist artist. The film, which follows a story line about a man with the talent of seeing into people's minds to help them craft dreams, features segments by Surrealist superstars, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Fernand Leger. Here's the Leger segment:
Mannequins...Fernand Leger. Be still my seesaw heart. But there's more.
The song, The Girl With the Prefabricated Heart, was sung by Libby Holman, a Jewish, bisexual, broadway star and chanteuse and a huge supporter of civil rights, anti war and environmental causes. She may be obscure today, but in mid 20th Century America, she was a superstar. Known not just for her stage and recording performances, but also for a scandalous and difficult personal life, as well as for her serious and deeply held committment to political causes.
Libby Holman in 1931
One of Libby's great loves, Louisa Carpenter. Here, in 1941. Deleware Public Archives.
I'm just going to imagine for a moment that Libby Holman and my mother, Polly Cowan, must have crossed paths at least once in New York City or Connecticut, where they both owned homes.
The soundtrack in the clip above differs slightly from the one in the original. Same song, same singer, but a different recording. Both include Josh White, a now-famous African American folksinger, who Libby worked and sang with, sometimes at great peril to both of them.
Libby Holman and Josh White, 1944
Hans Richter on the set of The Girl With The Prefabricated Heart. Photo Arnold Eagle.
New from my company, Small Equals, three new products using vintage images. These are made in Vermont by Flashbags, using recycled paper, plastic laminte and machine stitching.
four seed pack vegetable placemats
Faithful readers of this blog will know that I have been collecting vintage ephemera for years. These images come from seed packs in my collection. The originals were produced using stone lithography, a process which, because it is printed using tiny dots of color, allows for enlargement beautifully. I think the images are very exciting as they grow larger. I hope you agree.
Set of four flower placemats
set of six place mats with yummy vintage Jell-O images
My love of vintage Jell-O images is well known. I have used these images for place mats before but they were out of production for a few years. Now back, in limited edition, these will certainly create conversation and inspire the appetite.
Two cat woman guardians Drawing in cray pas. Liza Cowan 1990
Way back in 1989/90 I studied Art Therapy with Dr. Erika Steinberg at The New School For Social Research in New York City. Dr. Steinberg had us all keep extensive journals of drawing exercises, dream and meditaion notes, and the process of drawing. It was an amazing class, with some extraordinary students, including a gifted and now- famous psychic/intuitive practitioner who subsequently became a best selling author, but during that year was just beginning her career, and, for those two semesters, was a good buddy of mine. Her insights amplified our work in many ways. The class met twice a week for two semesters, and it was the environment in which I rediscovered how much I liked drawing and the process of making art.
I chose not to become an art therapist, but the techniques of dream work and art therapy clung. I was reminded of this last night as I was listening to a radio broadcast that, almost in passing, mentioned feline guardian beings and goddesses. Of course, cats were goddesses in ancient Egypt and around the world, but I don't think I was thinking about them as I began this small series. Not consciously at any rate. The images came from dreams and meditation.
In our art journals, Dr. Stienberg had us keep notes, short ones, on three things: Environment, Process and Product. That is, what we were feeling and the physical space we were in while we were drawing, how we made the drawing, and a description of the work itself.
Cat woman guardian. Drawing in colored pencil. Liza Cowan 1990
Product: Cat/woman #1. February 19th, 1990
She is facing the world, staring right into its eyes. I love drawing mouths as circles. Like she's talking and kind of surprised, too. The boulders are from a dream I had two weeks ago, just after we got our dream-box assignment. In the dream I saw huge dark boulders and received instructions that my job was to decipher the rocks. Like, that's one of my lifetime jobs. The water is fluid and reflective. Her feet are not quite in it, or maybe her toes are just touching that unconscious substance.
Cat woman, drawing in colored pencil. Liza Cowan 1990
Product, Cat/woman #2 Feb. 19th,1990
She is still a bit stormy, but a lot more peaceful. I love this drawing. She is a solid presence. Heat or emotions rising from her, intense but rhythmical.
( I don't know what the "stormy" is in reference to.)
Mama lion and cub. Drawing over photocopy Liza Cowan 1990
Lion/woman. April 1, 1990. Woodstock
Environment: Hanging out at home in Woodstock
Process: I was looking through some magazines and came across this photo of a lioness and her cub, or a cub and her mother. I was moved by how they looked both peaceful and ferocious at the same time. I made a photo copy of the picture and drew over it with cray pas. I gave the mother lion my hair. I know that it is the male lions who have the mane, not the females, but in this case she, like me, has the tresses.
Product: Sometimes I describe myself as a mother lion when I am protecting people or things I care about. I can be ferocious in my guardianship, alert and calm. I love how the cub stands enfolded in her mothers arms and head.
The following drawing is from a week before the first cat drawings. I believe that the animals in this dream either were, or became, the cat figures in the subsequent images.
Dream of man and marsupials. Liza Cowan Feb 11, 1990
Product: This is a dream I had last night - from notes I took when I awoke from the dream at 5:30 am:
"I am at a Woodstock gathering, I have my video camera and am ready to tape, but nothing appeals to me.
Suddenly a small man is doing a "show" with strange looking animals, maybe marsupials, who are delivering ecology messages. They keep changing shapes and exit by disappearing into the ground. I get the whole thing on tape. I have no idea how this strange little man feels about my recording him. He comes over and smiles and hugs me warmly. Very lovely. He's glad I recorded it. I am going to give him my business card but suddenly everyone leaves the gathering in a big crowd and I wake up."
This drawing does not convey the eeriness of the dream. It was almost frightening, the animals were so strange and so was the man. But he was so nice that it ended up not being scarey at all.
I don't have a vivid image of the animals, so I just drew anything, figuring it was still accurate. The big eyes and stripes feel right.
Before I fell asleep I was reaing a Jungian magazine and I think it influenced ths dream.
The creatures are intense, especially their eyes, as they were in the dream. Their message was profound, but I forget it."
As summer approaches here in the Northern Hemisphere, we begin to think of trips to the beach. Here, from my collection of turn-of-the-century postcards, is a gorgeous beach scene.
The woman who sent this, Ethel W, found something funny about the card, which she set out to fix. Although the title of the card is "watching the bathers" Ethel noticed that there were, in fact, very few bathers present, none in the water, and mostly fully dressed folks sitting on the beach. So she drew some bathers into the water, and wrote on the face of the card, "I don't see many, do you? They forgot to put them in so I had to help them out."
Here's what she drew. Notice that many of the bathers are cyphers, literally question marks:
We are having a great time.
She drew in the bathers
Another detail. Most folks in full dress. A few in bathing costumes.