Villa Maybeck, My Cabinet of Curiosity

An old house has an old soul, and you get the sense that all the souls that have passed through its doors since its construction are speaking to you, the current beneficiary of its many gifts—and, sometimes, its troubles. They speak to you every time you decide to alter the house in some fundamental way—and especially vocal is the architect. You wonder, “How would he or she react if I add this, remove that, or cover over this?” The responses are heard deep within.

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The Art of Looking

Through my photography, I delight in the discovery of perspective, a new relationship between light and shadow, the dialogue between the man-made and the natural. And if I am lucky, I get a glimpse into the unseen whole. This is how you, too, can pursue the art of looking.

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A Video Guide to Craft

The word craft indicates strength or skill. It also means “to make something with one’s hands.” In this issue of Reinventing Home, we’ve heard makers describe their process. Now it’s time to show you how they do it.

We begin with a trip to The American Folk Art Museum in New York which showcases work by people whose skills are self-taught or whose craft was passed on through the generations. Their medium ranges from cloth, wood, and paper to clay and metal. Folk art expresses the identity of a community rather than the individuals. This five-minute film gives an overview of the museum’s collection and shows the range of items–from samplers to hand-carved whirligigs, flags and quilts to decoys and weathervanes, that we have come to think of as uniquely American.

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The Bathroom, Flush with Ideology

In the summer of 2009, I went on a pilgrimage. My destination: The John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan Wisconsin, celebrated for its artist-designed washrooms. The institution itself has a long history of bringing together art and plumbing through its Arts/Industry program, which offers artists the opportunity to produce work in the company’s pottery (one of the world’s largest), iron and brass foundries and enamel workshop. In this sense, the Kohler washrooms can be seen as the consummation of the company’s interest in uniting the most basic of human needs—the need to urinate and defecate—with the most elevated of our faculties—the ability to appreciate beauty.

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The Quilt as Art

How quilts have evolved from homely, practical bedcovers to a celebrated art form is an intriguing tale. The skills and traditions of quilt making came to America with African women brought here as slaves. They pieced together quilts for their families’ use from “Negro cloth” (mandated for slave’s clothing), and from the scraps of the garments they sewed for their owners, along with bits of sacking. Tiya Miles, who won the National Book Award for her beautifully researched volume, All That She Carried, notes that enslaved Black women crafted the finer patterned quilts that their owners draped across polished mahogany bedsteads.

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Spirit of the American City

When admiring art, we often imagine standing where the artist once stood. Here we share works by some of our favorite printmakers, ranging from the teeming masses of humanity by Benton Spruance to the lonely solitude of Edward Hopper. Drawn to urban sophistication and glamour, most artists embraced a romantic vision of the city even though their prints were created during the trying times of the Great Depression.

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The English Folksong

I know there is an art in the singing of folk songs, but I’m not sure that I can explain it. One night a singer sings a song and gets great applause, the next night, the same singer sings the same song, in the same way, but gets, at best, a muted reception. On the second night, the singer failed to connect with the audience. Why? It is one of the intangibles of performance.

My own story of how I fell in love with folksong began at school, right after World War II. One of the songs we sang was “Barbara Allan.”

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As Good as I Can

My town dump has a used book shed. I take a quick look after my weekly dump run. It is mostly an assortment of romance novels, self-help, and diet books. There are a few gems. I once found a large format book with excellent photographs and historical text about the canyon lands near the four corners of the American southwest. It was written by a geologist and published in 1962. He first hiked and camped in this area with his father in the 1930s. The acknowledgment page was a single sentence: “To my father who taught me not just to look but to see.” If I ever publish a book, I would add, “To my father who taught me to not just build, but build as good as I can.”

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Hand-forging Decorative Ironwork

My career as a blacksmith began with my decision to attend trade school after college instead of going to graduate school. As a student majoring in anthropology, I romantically imagined myself conducting fieldwork among exotic cultures in foreign lands. To do that, I would have to earn a PhD and become a professor, which I fully in- tended to do — I was genuinely interested in the subject matter, and it seemed like a good way to travel, to see the world, and to have a comfortable life. By the time I graduated, however, I felt I needed a break from academia, so I enrolled in a trade school program to learn farriery in my home state of New Mexico. It was a bit of an obscure trade, especially since I had not spent much time around horses up to that point in my life, but the decision didn’t seem too outlandish at the time. I honestly didn’t really think I would stick with it for more than a year or two before resuming my studies and going on to graduate school.

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