Tag Archives: art

Burlington, Vermont, the Creative, Resourceful, Lumbersexual Capital of America

I’ve been married to a lumbersexual all these years and didn’t know it until we were walking around downtown Burlington, Vermont, and I lost count of the bearded, bespectacled, flannel-wearing fellas—some bearing ink, some not—crisscrossing our path. Mike was thrilled to know a look he’s been rocking for over two decades has finally become hip. He was home-brewing and coffee-snobbing and being particular about how the bacon was smoked and preferring higher-end flannel and a well-trimmed beard long before whippersnappers made it trendy.

And me? I’m donning my Iceland wool, my hand-knitted scarves, my black boots and feeling at home, too, even though there isn’t a name for whatever it is I am or am doing. I’m just walking around as the proud wife of a lumbersexual.

It’s nice to look around and see your tribe. Since moving to the New Jersey suburbs over 11 years ago, my husband and I have felt like fishes out of water. We live less than 10 miles from midtown Manhattan but it might as well be Antarctica or rural China. New Jersey has a reputation for over-development, bad driving, bad attitudes, killer pizza, and being home to Pharmaceutical Row. All of it is true. At the diner near our old apartment, we ate breakfast with the mob, old guys with Italian-American accents and pinky rings kissing each other on the cheek and talking about contracts. Back in the day, we used to see casting calls for extras in “The Sopranos” . To top it off, Manhattan’s competitive, helicopter versus free-range parenting styles have seeped into our community. No wonder Mike and I are viewed as the neighborhood hipsters; that’s not hard to do in our stuffy ‘burb.

Why rant about New Jersey? Because it explains what lures us to Vermont and why we keep schlepping up here, snow (which is what it is doing now), rain or shine.

A high population density of lumbersexuals aside, what draws us to Vermont is the state’s independent-thinking and commitment to local entrepreneurship. I know that might sound like marketing-speak, but dangnammit, it’s genuine marketing-speak. Where else can someone sew wool pillows, sell them for over a $150 a pop, and become so in-demand that your studio is by appointment only? Where else does someone take old cheese graters or rusty farm equipment from Virginia and make funky light fixtures? Where else are sap buckets reimagined into planters? Everything is reclaimed and repurposed, and it’s not a fringe movement, it’s mainstream business here.

Sap buckets
(Sap buckets as planters in the lobby of Hotel Vermont, which features Woolly Mama Fiber Arts pillows throughout the hotel as well as the work of many other local Vermont artisans.)

(Photo courtesy of Woolly Mama Fiber Arts)

And that’s just the stuff the Vermonters want you to buy. Switching gears to what they want you to eat, the grassroots philosophy continues. Agribusiness is big business, and although there are fewer than a thousand dairy farms in this state of 626,562 people, its output of artisanal cheeses is exemplary. Every cheese here comes with a story. Everything you eat here is farm-to-fork. Every menu seems to have a listing of local farms so that you can find out where your cow grazed before it was either squeezed or slaughtered. Even our Mexican takeout tonight from El Cortjo featured farm-to-table tacos where you get a listing of who made your cheese, your chicken, your vegetables, your cilantro! Is outsourcing illegal in Vermont or does it come with some steep penalties, either financial or shunning by neighbors? One wonders.

(Conant Metal & Light will take any scrap of anything and turn it into something illuminating and beautiful.)

To go back to New Jersey means greasy calzones, cream cheese for bagels made from who knows where, or, my favorite, “farm fresh” eggs that look and taste like grocery store eggs because the chickens are fed the same cheap bulk feed instead of being able to run loose and scoop up backyard worms or eat table scraps like our chickens did back in Taos, New Mexico (I’ve got a thing about chickens I’ll go into another time). Though running loose in New Jersey, no matter what species you are, comes with its own risks, so maybe Jersey chickens prefer the coop.

We feel at home here in Vermont (and we were married here) even though our home is about 250 miles south. We don’t abandon it all to raise chickens and sew wool pillows—as nice as that sounds—because although we’re both dreamers, Mike has a sweet corporate gig that honestly, in this economy, you hold on to until someone from HR says otherwise. So we stay. Because it’s good for the long-term. It’s good for our kid. We’ll cash out and join the lumbersexual masses eventually. We know where to find them.


Taos, New Mexico, made me rethink how I look at doors, which hadn’t really been on my mind much at all until I walked around Taos and realized almost everyone had a brightly-painted, beautifully-adorned door. No doubt this added to the welcoming vibe throughout Taos. I wondered if our own doors back on the East Coast were too plain, too cold, too formal? All we seem to do to our doors here is toss a Christmas wreath or hang a wooden pineapple sign. What does it say to guests approaching a door lined with a chicken statue and a Buddha figurine? Even the door at Taos Mesa Brewing Company wasn’t just a door, but an artistic commentary. Maybe an orange door would look out of place here in the dark, obsessed-with-black Big Apple region, but I came home looking at our own doorway differently. Maybe some funky metallic flowers? Maybe my own Buddha figurine? Or a chicken? (Copying is the highest form of flattery.) Doors are gateways, welcome mats, first impressions, smiles to visitors, UPS and pizza delivery guys, and, yes, even Jehovah Witnesses knocking on your door ready to share “The Truth.” Doors are mirrors, revealing more about ourselves than we probably are aware.







Chasing Chihuly

Experiencing Chihuly in a museum in downtown Montreal and experiencing Chihuly in the Phoenix desert surrounded by agave and cacti are equally amazing and completely different even though some of the works of art overlap. Now through mid-May the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is showing a selection of artist Dale Chihuly’s pieces that are situated across the grounds as if colored glass–instead of Arizona’s hallmark colored rock–had pushed through sand overnight.



Two pieces were saw in Montreal and that also appear in Phoenix are works from “The Boats” series and “The Sun.” How is that outside, glass takes on a whole different meaning than it does when behind walls? Inside, it’s something to step gingerly past to avoid breaking. Outside, amid flora plucky enough to beat the heat, the glass appears less fragile and more vigorous. Chihuly’s glass works, when viewed outside in the desert, imply water where there is none. I compared the Montreal exhibit we saw last fall to snorkeling through glass, for Chihuly’s pieces take me below sea level and evoke the colors of the Caribbean. In Phoenix, I felt like his art brought the sea to the desert, as if lifetimes ago, back when meteors were striking Arizona, heat and glass and color had bubbled up from the depths of Sonoran rock, and the residents of Phoenix simply built garden walls around their discovery.





Tickets are $22 for adults, and the exhibit is best enjoyed starting at sunset, a time when Arizona shines. Silhouettes of cacti are everywhere as you walk through the garden, and sunset colors ricochet off Chihuly’s art before disappearing altogether and letting you view the garden in magnificent darkness (and all those stars in the Arizona sky! Wow!). We were lucky to be there during the holiday luminarias, which added even more beauty to an already spectacular evening. The 140-acre garden, established during the height of the Great Depression, is home to about 21,000 plants, including many indigenous plants that are being threatened by mass development (drive around suburban Phoenix and very few homes look older than 20 years). Paths crisscross through the greens and pass traditional adobe buildings. The Desert Botanical Garden is the American Southwest at its finest; that fierce love and respect for nature is encapsulated there and meshes beautifully with Chihuly’s art. I felt a bit rushed since we were there with little kids, but I soaked up what I could. If I lived nearby, I’d return to this exhibit at sunset again and again and again until I knew the names of the all plants that lived there and they would come to recognize me, that giddy Yankee gal at the gate ready to skip through a manicured piece of desert.




Land of Enchantment

“You’re going to love this,” our host, Richard, told us as we wheeled our luggage into the casita. “Taos is really a magical place.”

That word——magical——was uttered several times by strangers during our week in Taos, New Mexico. The artist I interviewed said it. The gallery attendant said it. The lady next to me on the ski shuttle said it. The state adopted the motto “Land of Enchantment” before World War II, and continues to live up to this creed daily, and remains fiercely protective of its natural resources and cultural traditions. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains (Blood of Christ) comprise the southern end of the Rocky Mountain Range, and circle the tiny town of Taos, home to the historic and beautiful Taos Pueblo, about 5,700 people——many of them artists, skiers or both——80 art galleries, several mules and horses, and lots of chickens. Taos requires wheels, which is one of the best ways to experience the town as well as all of New Mexico’s enchanting mountains and valleys, for the landscape is the kind found in art galleries. That’s why there are so many hot air balloons dotting the sky; you want to breathe in New Mexico and experience it slowly.





I first encountered New Mexico’s infinite and astounding vistas sixteen years ago this week, when I spent nine days driving from Rochester, New York, to Seattle, Washington, and made stops to visit friends and sights along the way. (This would become the first of three cross-country road trips, so far, for me.) I remember cruising in my 1994 Geo Metro with my cat Nigel, years before iPhones and iPods, relying on local radio stations to keep me entertained as we inched along Interstate 40, which stretches from North Carolina to Southern California. I had chosen a southern route for my drive, since it was the thick of winter, and I had wanted to see the Grand Canyon. But New Mexico made me want to stop the car and take a look around.



Up until crossing over the state border, I didn’t really know anything about New Mexico other than it was there between Texas and Arizona, and that it was one of the “Four Corner” states where you could straddle four state borders at once. During that 1998 trek, I drove through New Mexico on to the Grand Canyon making a promise to return to the red mountains. Fifteen years after that drive, I read a Travel & Leisure article about spending Christmas in Taos, and plans started to take shape. We arrived in Taos on December 22, and spent the week at Casa Gallina, a place that rivals five-star hotels and is managed by Richard Spera.

Taos, New Mexico, has been an artists’ colony for over a century, but in 2013, the town and its artists continue to reel from the 2008 economic downturn; when money gets tight, art is often the first luxury to go. While some artists have begun to reemerge and reopen galleries along Kit Carson Road, they still struggle, and many galleries remain closed. Yet the landscape always inspires painting and sketching no matter what is happening to bank accounts. Artists cull stones from the earth to piece rock into jewelry or whip earth into clay to mold pottery. Old soda cans are twisted into flowers. Glass and color are heated into portraits and ornaments. Locally-made artwork adorns Taos municipal buildings, the hospital, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and gas stations. A gallery attendant told me many artists in the area live on $10,000-$20,000 a year, yet this undercurrent of rural poverty is haloed by glorious paintings, sculptures, pottery and jewelry. Artists in Taos create to just create, and if income comes from that, well, all the better.






Creativity was everywhere in Taos Christmas week, including in the two evergreen trees that stood like sentinels in front of St. Jerome Chapel, the 19th century church at Taos Pueblo. Taos is a poor, yet resourceful town, and the two evergreens were decorated with compact discs sprinkled with glitter and hung with string. They caught and reflected New Mexico’s abundant sunshine beautifully. Inside St. Jerome Chapel, the flowers were plastic and the small aisle was decorated with the kind of tinseled garland you can find at any convenience store. After all the opulent cathedrals I have visited across Europe, this small, humble church in the mountains resonated the most with me. Christmas is when Taos mixes Christian with Native American traditions, and the best time and place to experience this is on Christmas Eve at Taos Pueblo when the priest and congregation of St. Jerome hold a procession around the Pueblo while residents guard bonfires that were easily three stories high. Luminarias line Pueblo rooftops and walkways throughout the reservation and a few miles away throughout downtown. I feel that nothing I write can do justice to what I saw in Taos on Christmas Eve. I choked up and just watched the silhouettes of men, women and children move around the light being thrown from the many luminarias and bonfires, the edges of those high yellow flames reaching for the countless stars above us, as if sending a reminder to the heavens that we were still here, below, celebrating how lucky we all are to enjoy this planet and all its enchanting beauty.




Do Museums Inspire You to Change?

An estimated 2.4 million pounds of plastic enter the world’s oceans every hour, so Seattle-based artist Chris Jordan took 2.4 million pieces of plastic from toothbrushes, combs and all the other junk that fills modern life and created a recreation of the famous Japanese painting “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” by Hokusai. We’re drowning in a tsunami of plastic, says Jordan, whose interpretation is on display at the fiercely creative Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California aka the Central Coast.

photo 3 (5)

Seahorses and jellyfish are very cool, but the small, yet powerful plastics art exhibit had the greatest effect on me. A seagull made from plastic sporks. A collage of plastic bottles. A lamp upcycled from old plastic. What’s the message? Well, there are several. Plastic chokes the oceans and kills endangered wildlife (plastic comprises 90 percent of the manmade crap floating in the oceans). Plastic has promise (don’t just chuck it, make something beautiful from it!). Plastic is evil (got it). Change is happening, however. Thanks to Los Angeles for being the largest city in the country to ban plastic grocery bags, and now the city council at Manhattan Beach, one of my new favorite places on the planet, seeks to ban styrofoam food containers. I hope this kickstarts other coastal communities and parks into action.

photo 1 (6)

photo 2 (5)

photo 3 (6)

photo 4 (6)

This past spring I volunteered at my daughter’s school lunch recycling program and was horrified by all the individual food packaging that clogs our lives. Afterward, I recycled as much of our household plastic as possible. I hate plastic. I love art (and the oceans). As others walked by these plastic art displays, what were their reactions to what these artists were saying? Did they worry about their plastic water bottles? All the plastic trinkets attached to their kids’ strollers? Would they eat their takeout and toss plastic containers into the trash or leave it sitting on a beach somewhere? Had they recycled all their plastic tupperware, as I did, and did they wrap their kids’ lunches in biodegradable paper towels, as I did? Did they ban Saran-wrap from the house as I did? Who wants to gaze out to the flowers surrounding the bay and see floating junk? No one. We’re all responsible for our environment yet are we all taking responsibility?

photo 4 (2)

The Monterey Bay Aquarium was visionary; founded in 1984 in the heart of the rusted out fishing factory scene of the early 20th century, this museum attracts about 1.8 million visitors every year. I’ve paid admission to aquariums and museums all over the world and Monterey’s aquarium exhibits are thoughtful, thorough and visually stunning. No one wants to see a plastic water bottle stuck in the kelp forest, but is anyone questioning their individual carbon footprints when they see litter on the beach? A lot of people were taking photos at the aquarium, but I wondered, does anyone leave these museums inspired to change their daily behaviors? The aquarium addressed responsible fishing and eating sustainably-sourced fish, yet Cannery Row has plenty of fried seafood joints. Were these fish responsibly netted before being dipped in beer batter? I have no doubt I ate sushi these past two weeks that probably were not trapped with at-risk sea turtles and sharks in mind. And had I asked the waiter, “Hey, how was this fantastic and deliciously-tender chutoro tuna caught?” I’m sure I would’ve gotten a blank look.

Museums educate, entertain, and elucidate. Do they inspire? I am an over-thinky type and already spend too much time in the grocery store reading up on how a particular organic apple was farmed or whether my lavender shampoo is phthalate-free or were these bananas or this avocado fairly traded? I try to buy local and I try hard not to buy anything made in China. And now I will wonder if my sushi added to the world’s ecological imbalances. Did the tourists at the aquarium, including the guy who blocked Mike’s view and the woman who whacked me with her backpack, feel moved by the aquarium’s many messages? Will they start carrying canvas bags to stores or remember to bring refillable coffee mugs to their favorite cafe? How many of these 1.8 million visitors are now changing their minds about plastic? I don’t often agree with Margaret Thatcher, but we are a society of individuals with individual responsibilities to each other. The aquarium seeks to instill individual action and collective dedication.

Museums are love letters, like the American Museum of Natural History is a Valentine to everything that ever roamed the Earth. Other museums, like the New York Botanical Garden, remind us the importance of preserving what remains. We visited the Museum of the American West at the Autry Center in Los Angeles, which was a time capsule of what glorified the frontier. And other museums like the Monterey Bay Aquarium are stalwart advocates. At the aquarium, tourists Instagrammed photos and tweeted messages, but will this translate into real change? Will people use less plastic at home because of what they saw behind a glass case and read on a plaque? I hope so.

photo 1 (5)

photo 1 (7)

photo 3 (3)

photo 3 (7)