Monday, January 19, 2015

A BOWL FULL OF NAILS Mixes fact & Fiction to tell the story of a fiery idealist, who flees 1960's Berkeley for a mountain refuge, where the political becomes the personal



BERKELEY, May 15, 1969--Riot police carrying shotguns killed one bystander and wounded several protesters. When interviewed at the hospital, one protester observed, "getting shot in the ass has certain strategic connotations. One, it suggests that you had pissed somebody off. Two, that you are running away from that somebody. And three, that somebody has got the guns and you don't." All of those things were true at People's Park on Bloody Thursday.

This is the factual event that begins the fictional odyssey of Gus Bessemer, antiwar activist in Charles Degelman's new novel BOWL FULL OF NAILS (Feb, Harvard Square Editions). Gus, who goes to People's Park to protest w/guerrilla theater, is stopped in his tracks by the "Blue Meanies," riot police with shotguns and live ammunition. The next morning, while his girlfriend, Kate, is tweezing birdshot pellets out of his butt, Gus realizes it may be time to leave town. The "Man" is sure to come after him. Then Kate confirms he's on the list of protesters to be incarcerated in a new jail. He's strangely proud to have made that list.

In this fiction no stranger than the facts, Gus, a kind of '60's everyman, has vowed to end the Vietnam war. He is furious about General Westmoreland's call for the " slaughter of teenagers,"and the authorities' constant references to "fighting the war at home." Gus is indignant that antiwar group are treated as a threat to national security. "They mean us, the mobilization, the Panthers, the mess of hell-no, free city outlaws," he begins, but is cut off, when Kate observes that he's full of useless rage, since the powers that be have battleships and guns. She adds that he only wants to get back at them. "They're not your father," she points out, and later, she serves him a bowl full of nails--her view of where the rancor leads.

Gus leaves Berkeley for a carpentry job in a small Colorado town that comes with a cabin. He figures on R&R in nature, working with his hands. With Kate's two dogs, his guitar and some tools, he hits the road, not a minute too soon. The FBI and local police came looking for Gus, ransacking Kate's house. When she tells him not to return, her kids were freaked out, he feels unmoored in a strange town. But he enters the local bar, seeking help for his suffering dogs--filled with the quills of defensive porcupines. Surprisingly, he finds help.  Before that, setting up the cabin, a friendly neighbor with a chain saw, cut up the wood he "liberated."

Hard-edged survivors of the winters, crazy and kind, welcome Gus with his eccentricities. When Hazel, the old lady who's his boss, entrusts him with her "commercial property," a broken down storefront, he hires a couple helpers to salvage wood for a new structure. Gus decides to just do the work and  keep to himself. There are cops in the next  town asking too many questions. There's lovely Jewel, who gives him more than drink and sympathy but his heart's with Kate, So the company of the dogs seems the ticket. And he develops a strange relationship with an irascible old miner, who may or may not be a ghost.  He does have some mysterious connection with Gus' deceased dad.

Then a hippie bus with a peace/love group arrives with Georgia, who's origins are as elusive as Gus' own. Later, gathering wood, he discovers a corpse, who Georgia identifies as from the Weather Underground. When police try to pin the murder on peaceful activists, who they say are burning power lines, he and Georgia, along with their town's one lawman, look for the facts. One disastrous night they find the town's "snitch" but the orders come from on high.

Discrediting the antiwar movement was a national priority. Here's info from Wikipedia about a program, which too few people know existed:
COINTELPRO (an acronym for COunter INTELligence PROgram) was a series of covert, and at times illegal,[1][2] projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations.[3] National Security Agency operation Project MINARET targeted the personal communications of leading civil rights leaders, Americans who criticized the Vietnam War, including Senators (e.g., Frank Church and Howard Baker), journalists, and athletes.[4][5]
The official COINTELPRO label took place between 1956 and 1971.[6][7] The FBI's stated motivation was "protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order."[8]

A BOWL FULL OF NAILS is a very funny re-creation of a deadly serious time. While many people think the era is the way it’s been depicted by Hollywood; a lot of self-indulgent hippies doing too many drugs and having promiscuous sex. It was more than that. The antiwar movement grew out of the civil rights and economic justice movements of the mid-sixties. 

Largely campus-based around the burgeoning Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the antiwar movement can trace its roots as far back as the Ban the Bomb movement of the 1950s. SDS, at the core, made a decision in 1965 to shift focus from economic justice programs like JOIN (Jobs or Income Now) to the Vietnam War when the Johnson Administration began bombing the north and building up troop strength in-country. Over the next few years, the anti-war expanded to include labor unions, the black and Chicano liberation movements, religious groups, and the powerfully committed returning Vietnam vets.

The Vietnam Veterans Against the War, were influential in the grass roots antiwar movement. Rather than the myth of the spat upon veteran returning to no respect--and in fact there is not one case of that ever occurring--the truth is that veterans of many wars were active in the antiwar movement. For factual reading there's Jerry Lembcke's THE SPITTING IMAGE published by NYU Press. Lembcke, a vet, who became a professor, spent years tracking that myth.

The marches to end the war happened all over the country. Young people joined with older people, families and veterans. The generation of the 1960's at great personal cost, was the only one to join across class and race to end a war. This is Charles Degelman's second fiction about this too often discredited time. Gates of Eden, his other novel, looks at the fate of individuals, caught up in the upheavals of social and political change.

S.W.







Saturday, January 17, 2015

Group F.64 by Mary Street Alinder shows why the group that revolutionized American Photography was more than the sum of its famous parts.

GROUP F.64: Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham and the Community of Artists Who Revolutionized American Photography

I was given the book Group F.64 (Bloomsbury 2014) as a holiday present and found it richly satisfying. Mary Street Alinder's thoughtful, well researched history of a pivotal group of West Coast photographers is respectful and slyly humorous. Here is the ever-charming Edward Weston, stilted but stalwart Ansel Adams, the acid-tongued and generous Imogen Cunningham, among the founding members of the iconic group that defined  modern photography. Strength of character and  artistic purpose evolved along with their iconic imagery.

Edward Weston, elder in years and, at first, skill, lived a frugal ethic of "straight" photography, allowing nature to reveal itself. Even his vegetables were animated and provocative with no artifice. Ansel Adams, who started as a  serious musician and amateur photographer, reversed that emphasis. He learned from Weston but applied "straight shooting" to capture the grandeur of nature.  Adams wrote influential articles, defining the new photography and challenged "pictorialists,"the dominant group of  photographers.
From a well-to-do family, Adams opened the first gallery in San Francisco to show the new photography.

But the lesser known Willard Van Dyke, who worked in a gas station, is credited with the name Group F 64, the initial manifestos, and getting the group shown in exhibitions at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco and a gallery, in Oakland, he founded with photographer Mary Jeanette. Connie Kanaga, Brett Weston, Alma Levinson, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, were also part of the original group.  Interestingly, women were shown on an equal basis. Though some were in romantic relationships, like Sonya with Edward and Mary Jeanette with Willard, their work was judged on its merits. In fact, Dorothea Lange, who was earning her living as a commercial photographer, was not considered evolved enough, with an original purpose, though she was included in later exhibitions.

When Group F.64 was formed. the dominant  "Pictorialists" were not exploring the capabilities of the new medium. Instead, they sought to create effects equivalent to painting with fuzzy filters and collage. Printed on buff or gray textured paper, these photographers aimed for works of "art." They were contemptuous of the new photography, which wanted to use the medium to express real life on its own terms. Group F.64 used filters to enhance dense textures, rich tonal values, and sharp edged imagery, They celebrated the truth a photographer could express with a camera. Glossy white paper was the surface for their prints.

Mutual artistic objectives, shared techniques and the practical need to exhibit and sell their work, inspired Group F.64. Acceptance and respect was crucial, since they were mostly excluded by pictorialist aesthetic from exhibitions and galleries. Though as the Group gained in status and their ideology matured, subject matter and intentions increasingly diverged. Members, like Willard and Connie Kanaga, went East. Williard traded photography for film making. Ansel also made a pilgrimage east to New York, where he sought out the demi-god of modern photography, Edward Steichen. This was a major turning point.

Where Edward Weston refused to bow to Steichen's dominance and Imogen was completely ignored, Ansel became a protege. Eventually, Steichen and Adams achieved nothing less than the acceptance of photography as an art form, sealed in the creation of MOMA's photography department--the first in a major museum. Adams' work was also promoted by Steichen in exhibitions at his gallery, An American Place. It was the epitome of modern photography, unchallenged before Group F 64.

One of the delights of this book is the feeling you are dropping in on a group of friends. Here they are brainstorming philosophy, strategizing future shows and ways to earn money. You see them falling in or out of love.  You are at a party, where Weston, a womanizer, was said to dance the tango in drag.  There's Dorthea Lange, who shot ads for women's beauty products, stopping her car on a rainy, muddy road to shoot a woman who caught her eye--a migrant with her kids, hungry and tired. Here's Connie Kanaga, seconds away from injury or death, shooting a violent worker's strike. There is Ansel developing his Yosemite photos in his darkroom in his parents' house.

While knowledge of this group may be old news to art students, who knew about them as people?  Flaws--romantic fickleness, posturing, dogma--and strengths--pursuit of ecstatic visions and social justice--are just part of this inspiring story.  Instead of deifying individual "greatness," Group F.64 shows why the whole became more than the sum of its famous parts.

S.W.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

THE LIGHT IN CUBAN EYES, Never before seen together, photos from Cuba's "special period," published in U.S. & in bilingual Editions in Cuba



This is a story, begun in 2000, with an intrepid collector, Madeleine Plonsker. In Cuba on a cultural exchange trip, she discovered amazing photography. She returned in 2007 and continued to come. Her collection grew and no longer was she collecting 20th century European works. Plonsker was captivated by Cuban photography and the courageous artists, who often worked in secrecy. 

Photographic sculpture that from a distance appears as an antiquated T.V. screen; Havana’s Revolutionary Plaza photo shopped so as to appear underwater; a Russian nesting doll book that depicts the “good” Cuban citizen dressed in various Soviet guises; a satellite dish camouflaged in a huge black trash bag; a decaying classical building in old Havana, strangers pressed together on a traveling bus; a schoolboy weighted down with much more than his school bag.


These are images from Cuba’s “Special Period,” 1992-2012, when the former Soviet Union withdrew its economic support and Cuba was plunged into an extended period of deprivation. Embargoed away from the world with few cameras and expired film, the photographers of Cuba emerged from the shadows to show what was happening to their country.
The new book, THE LIGHT IN CUBAN EYES: Lake Forest College’s Madeleine P. Plonsker Collection of Contemporary Cuban Photography (March, 2015, Lake Forest Press), brings this work for the first time to U.S. and Cuban audiences. This is the first book entirely devoted to contemporary Cuban photography highlighting both emerging and established artists. The bilingual publication—the first book granted full support with permission to be distributed within Cuba by the Cuban Ministry of Culture—will be released in Cuba during the opening of the XII Bienal de la Habana in late May 2015. The Robert Mann Gallery in New York City will host a March launch in the U.S.

The story of THE LIGHT IN CUBAN EYES begins in 2002, when Madeleine P. Plonsker embarked on a cultural exchange trip to Cuba. Plonsker, a Chicago-based collector of twentieth-century masterworks on paper, thought she might collect a few souvenirs. She did not know the compelling works she uncovered would expand to the whole passage of a society in transition. THE LIGHT IN CUBAN EYES encapsulates this inspired vision.

Plonsker explains, "Cuban Photography has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past twenty years. Cuba's contemporary photographers are poised to reach a broader international audience, and the intent of my book is to bring you their story."





Monday, December 15, 2014

Breaking up is hard to do, what would happen if health care divorced the insurance industry? http://maglomaniac.com/breaking-hard-health-care-industry-might-consider-divorcing-insurance-industry/

http://maglomaniac.com/breaking-hard-health-care-industry-might-consider-divorcing-insurance-industry/

POLITICS AND NEWS
0

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Why Our Health Care Industry Might Consider Divorcing The Insurance Industry

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Why our health care industry might consider divorcing the insurance industry–a marriage of great inconvenience. A contrarian look, as the deadline nears for the new year of the health insurance marketplace. It was always an uneasy marriage, brokered by the Nixon Administration, when its patrons in the life insurance […]
health-insurance-policy
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Why our health care industry might consider divorcing the insurance industry–a marriage of great inconvenience. A contrarian look, as the deadline nears for the new year of the health insurance marketplace.
It was always an uneasy marriage, brokered by the Nixon Administration, when its patrons in the life insurance industry wanted to get into Health Care. “We could make a killing, if only…” was probably the line. And they continue to do so, perversely from the public’s view, by denying benefits, while escalating premiums and underpaying doctors.
This is a view perhaps felt most intensely by those, who are not recipients of employer medical programs, such as the self-employed not poor enough for the breaks of the Affordable Care Act; yet not rich enough to pay large deductibles and monthly costs of not so affordable plans. For these people, coverage boils down to minimal use of health care that is also difficult to access. In the brave new world of HMO plans, updated provider lists are a rarity. For the middle-aged self-employed or recently unemployed, “Holding on for Medicare” has urgency. Dental care, of course, is the catastrophe in the wings and most coverage not worth the premiums.
How did this happen to one of the richest nations on earth? Ironically, we also rank high among nations in our spending on health care. To understand the complexities, a good place to start is TRACKING MEDICINE: A Researcher’s Quest to Understand Health Care, a book published in 2010 by Dr. John E. Wennberg (Oxford), who spent 4 decades investigating how health care is actually delivered in America. His work, the foundation of the Dartmouth Atlas, charts the nation’s health care delivery state by state. His prescription for reform is profound.
“Reforming our health care delivery system requires a translation from today’s mostly disorganized care to organized, coordinated systems of care, and from delegated “rational agent” decision making to shared decision making and informed patient choice. This will not be easy. After all, it requires transforming the culture of medicine and engineering, an industry that accounts for nearly 18% of the U.S. gross domestic product. But such is the eye of the needle through which we must pass to achieve significant reform.”
Wennberg had great hopes for The Affordable Care Act, as a giant step toward reform. It has covered the uninsured poor and the young, though progress for reform is elusive. Overuse of medical care is probably down, unless you are a member of Congress. But over proscribing remains a profit center for some doctors. And insurers are still implementing “one treatment fits all” for most conditions, though patients are unlikely to demand state of the art treatment.
The equation of insurer, provider, and patient, can be simplified. A look at the Kaiser System and doctor co-ops, where patients buy insurance directly from their providers, is hopeful for the future. Because patients pay nothing when they need medical care, there’s an incentive for preventative care and none for a hospital to fill empty beds. Recently, I heard of a Brooklyn doctor co-op from a young doctor, happy that he could determine the length of an office visit.
What if the great teaching hospitals of the East Coast started issuing their own policies? Who knows what might come out of the wilderness of hospitals offering insurance! Maybe a renaissance of the profession for disillusioned doctors. For patients, no more worry whether you’re getting poor treatment, because the doc’s underpaid. There’s also satisfaction in knowing your money goes directly to the guy who treats you.
I grew up in an era before medical insurance existed. Doctors were all proprietors. Medical care considered both the ideal treatment and a patient’s finances. Patients talked it over with the doc and their family. Could that resemble “shared decision-making” and “informed patient choice?” Can you imagine a medical world with no paperwork? What about house calls?
Nostalgia aside, the costs of medical care began to escalate for a variety of reasons. Managing it became a priority. But what if instead of the insurance model, where an industry profits from withholding payments, the model was a cooperative, such as a tax-based public library or volunteer fire company? What about a country club or pre-school financed with annual fees? Efficiency might be the same. Undoubtedly, profit would be higher without the expenses of the multi-billion dollar insurance industry. Is breaking up so hard to do?
Susan Weinstein

Monday, December 1, 2014

Never heard of Dorothy and Otis, couple who designed the American Dream? What about Wrigley's Gum & the Chicago Cubs?

DOROTHY AND OTIS: Designing the American Dream by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel (Harper Design, November) includes over 330 four-color prints of seminal design art by people I never heard mentioned in art school. As amazing as the discovery of this work, is the text that accompanies the book. Instead of dry art book prose. Hathaway and Nadel, who had access to the couple's archive, were able to conjure both the idiosyncratic personalities of Dorthy and Otis and their excitement at creating a visual language for their America--1920-1940.

The book begins with Otis "Shep" Shepard, a poor Midwest boy, who teaches himself to draw. He leaves home at 14 to work odd jobs, including itinerant actor and set designer, and free-lance sign painter. Young Shep even meets Jack London in San Francisco and learns about carousing. Still in his teens, he gets into the real fight of  World War One and draws vivid scenes from an air balloon and down in the trenches. Shep's portraits of his fellow soldiers are equally affecting, enhanced by his singular style. When he returns, theater posters, programs, other graphics show his humor and sophistication, as he reinvents himself as a raconteur and commercial artist.

Dorothy Van Gorder, the precocious daughter of an Oakland Professor, graduates high school in three years and repeats the feat at California College of Arts and Crafts. Dorthy's an early bohemian feminist, wearing art school black, designing costumes in a modernist style probably influenced by the Ballet Russe. Her drawings have a freshness and sensitivity of line, married with abstract design.

While Shep's realistic style, a kind of iconic approach to billboard design, ensured his employment in commercial work, his jaunty personality meant he was soon manager of teams that produced such work. There were artists who specialized in hands or glasses, but he was the overall concept guy and, eventually, an account exec, who would sketch ideas in meetings with clients. In 1927, when Dorothy and Otis met, he was working for the most important billboard design agency in the country. Shep was looking for graduates from the California College and Dorothy fit his requirements. Not only was she technically adept with innovative design ideas, she also was enamored by modernism.

Shep, again self-taught, was starting to adapt modernist ideas. Dorothy, was already excited by the new style happening in Europe. Unafraid to try new ideas, she became the first important female designer in North America. Though she always said she "rode on his coattails,"the style they evolved, working together and later separately, was a cross-fertilization of design sensibility, elegance, and humor.

Print communication was at a zenith, and large-scale billboards were treated by them as sophisticated murals with a purpose. Drawing the eye was everything but how they did it--with evocative shapes and images--evolved. In Shep's work, at first copy was equal to image. Then the image predominated, changing from realism and sentimentality to sensual abstraction. Often lettering only appeared on a package to identify a product. Both Dorothy and Otis were brilliant in their use of abstract design and color. Dorothy was in her element with patterns and Shep was a pioneer of the airbrush finish.

Superstars of their time, they left the agency and worked out of rooftop studios in Manhattan, San Francisco and pre-world war II Europe. Like modernist friends, Joseph Binder, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Laslo Maholy Nagy and the movie stars Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Johnny Weissmuller, they were both of their time and developers of it. Dorothy and Otis designed sports teams, chewing gum (Wrigley's and the Doublemint twins), resorts and Islands, (The Biltmore and Catalina Island) and the world's largest neon sign.

Their love and work were at first inseparable. Mutual respect and inspiration fueled accomplishment and fun--hard partying, glamorous lives, amid the rigors of war and the great depression. Much of it they documented with beautiful photographs. Their story also includes the difficult facts of raising children with the demands of career, and then the toll of aging. Over time with personal tragedy, their emotions toward each other changed. They lived apart and then, like the deep friends they always were, found each other again.

I was moved by this story of working designers, commercial artists, who had wonderful exciting lives but despite fame in their time, were unknown before this book. The aspirations of Dorothy and Otis, like many artists who toil anonymously, was to make great work. I thought of my grandfather, a master sign painter, who scaled his billboards by hand and could draw straight lines on a wall. Among his papers were the original logos for Grayhound and Canada Dry, designed as part of a sign,
Craft brought satisfaction with no thought of publicity. Now, if he had been able to copyright those images, who knows? Financial stability might even have followed.

S.W.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Making of A.D.D./A.D.H.D. another perspective besides the Savannah analogy & techology

POLITICS AND NEWS
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The Making of A.D.D./A.D.H.D.

I want to offer another perspective on the origins of this much diagnosed disorder, besides the Savannah analogy and the effect of technology, both old “saws” recently offered in an NY Times Opinion piece.  The Savannah theory holds that the DNA of those with the disorder is really a genetic throwback to hunters, whose”hyper” qualities […]
adhd
I want to offer another perspective on the origins of this much diagnosed disorder, besides the Savannah analogy and the effect of technology, both old “saws” recently offered in an NY Times Opinion piece.  The Savannah theory holds that the DNA of those with the disorder is really a genetic throwback to hunters, whose”hyper” qualities enhanced survival. The effect of technology, speeding up young minds, an occasion for hand-wringing, has no change in sight.
I want to underscore some practical history. At the end of the 19th century, many schools started girls in kindergarten at 5 and boys at 7. Now we know the part of the brain that governs understanding of social systems develops later in boys. Without the capacity to scan brains, educators observed that boys were “fidgety,”better able to deal with school at at a later age. Rather than assuming it was a deficit in boys, the schools made requirements fit children.
tom-sawyer
Consider also that great 20th century classic, Tom Sawyer, a figure Twain considered the prototypical American boy with the restless entrepreneurial spirit of his young country. Tom Sawyer was more than fidgety, he lied and swore, he cut class, and, when there disrupted it–behind his teacher’s back. Today, he would be drugged for ADD/ADHD, he would be in “special” classes and in therapy for defiant behavior syndrome. His behavior would be considered off the “normal” chart and perhaps on the autistic scale, because of his constant collections of bottle caps, rocks, whatever he could trade.
In the mid 20th century, before the diagnosis and labeling of children for easier classroom management, there were dedicated teachers who went into the profession with the idea of reaching every child in a classroom–no matter how difficult or disruptive. The movie, “To Sir With Love” was a popular 1960’s tale of a black teacher in a hard-luck English classroom, who inspired kids to turn their lives around..
My great aunt, a public school teacher until the late 1970’s, considered the “bored” and alienated her biggest challenge. Before retiring, she lamented that the student teachers, who worked with her, were schooled to teach a very narrow segment of kids and to refer for evaluation all who posed challenges. As the medical and educational sectors merged, children who did not fit the narrow categories for success–based mostly on academic progress–learned to think of themselves as not just failures but disabled people, who had to be “fixed” with drugs.
Consider the late 1960’s, when the U.S. battled Russia in the space race. Money was poured into science after-school programs. There were garage computer labs, which acted as  incubators for the innovative science that became our computer industry. And of course, many of the kids, who lived for after school, were “bored” in school. There was also money for art, drama and music now rare in public schools–though sports continues as the accepted outlet in wealthier districts.

inside of classroom
In 2014, we have schools increasingly focused on academics with conformity to the Common Core. There is scarce money for Art, Music, Science that’s inspiring. Though it’s been shown that kids, when engaged emotionally, can do intellectual work to equal adults, they are considered unusually “gifted.” Instead kids that don’t conform are labelled and treated, and their potential is compromised. Worse yet, anxiety, which is very common, is often misdiagnosied as ADD/A.D.H.D. Very few schools, where referrals are made by teachers with little psych training, and psychologists/psychiatrists, do brain scans to confirm this diagnosis.

And the stimulants used for ADD/A.D.H.D. are a disaster for kids who actually have anxiety. But rather than thinking of alternatives to drugs, when classroom management is the main goal, psychiatrists proscribe “toppers” to calm them down. Though the drugs often come with suicidal thoughts and are admitted to block creative thought, specifically drawing ability, this cocktail is widely disseminated.

So where does our next generation of innovators come from to invent new industries and inspire a skilled work force? Not in a United States, where a generation of children suffer the stigma of labels. Worse yet, little research has been done on the long-terms affect of drug cocktails on growing brains. Managing a classroom for convenience is a choice that has impoverished the lives and futures of children, their families, and our nation. You have only to look at The Economist’s comparison of the U.S. and Britain, where only 2 out 10 boys are diagnosed to the U.S.’s staggering 8 out of 10. In Britain, the treatment is cognitive therapy, in the classroom and home, with a 98%  success rate.
Susan I. Weinstein, author and playwright, is working on a new play, “The Making of ADD/ADHD.” 

 http://maglomaniac.com/making-adhd/

Monday, November 10, 2014

MY FAVORITE THINGS, Maira Kalman's delightful curated life, inspired by The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum


Maira Kalman is a phenomenonal author/illustrator, painter, whose work is loved by both adults and children, with the categories often overlapping. Whether her story's about a fireboat or the Alphabet, she narrates the fantastic in the everyday world. In MY FAVORITE THINGS (Harper Design) she paints scenes that tickle our imagination with an ironic wit and affection for the secret lives of objects.

What a brilliant idea for The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum to invite her to choose objects from the Museum's more than 200,000 pieces for its inaugural exhibit. Kalman chose more than 40 objects which can be viewed in the Music Room of The Carnegie Museum. Her book weaves these objects into a story of Kalman's life made vivid with more than 50 paintings.

Maira Kalman begins with her family's fairy tale story. Her painting shows her mother drowning in a river in a Russian village  She's saved by her father's very long beard. That same wonder and fear is present in a painting of Kalman's father, in an impeccable suit, falling several stories from an apartment balcony. Miraculously, he's unhurt--right before they move to New York. He becomes a diamond merchant and she shows the serious black case he took to work. She segues from his collection to the story of Nellie and Sally Hewiit, vivacious and eccentric sisters, who began collecting when it was  the rage.

This sets up Kalman's purpose of telling stories with objects, beginning with her childhood, as she makes sense of life through smells, tastes, and sights--nature, rooms, people and their objects. Her selected objects are worked into the story with segues that are great fun. Kalman's method is lateral or associative thinking over linear. An object is associated with something that looks or feels similar. She quotes Pablo Neruda's 1959 :Ode to things." "I adore cups, rings, soupspoons, not to mention, of course, the hat.".

The hat Kalman paints is from Egypt's 13th or 14th centuries, quilted and embroidered, made of gilt parchment. It leads you to incredible stiff white hats, soaring above heads from postcards of ancient Normandy. The shape of these hats leads you the Kylix, painted earthenware from Greece, 800 BC,  And the pattern is is akin to the geometric pattern on fabric from Knoll in 1947, which relates to the design of "Loopy" Kantharos, an Italian vase from 6th century BC, There's a visual logic that associates this with the famous angular zigzag chair of 1934.

A favorite segue of mine is her  link between a sensationally ornate scribble from Holland in 1529 to a square modernist bracelet  and Fred Sandacher's square room divided with string. A similar logic occurs, when the reader goes from a scallop shape to a girl in a pink scallop dress on a lawn, that could be Kalman. She asks "What happens when you stand a long time? You get tired." This leads to the bed, "Whoever invented the bed was a genius.
When you get up from bed, get dressed in pants and socks and shoes.

This ends to a vintage wall pattern, showing a room with a bed and clothes to patterns of shoes. The Shoes are long and thin, curvy and ornate, royal and common, fanciful and elegant. You get the idea of different ways shoes,"give the ability to walk from one point to another, the glory of life. And after the walk you probably will be hungry, you will want to eat something," and of course we see a perfectly lovely inscribed silver spoon--with Wimpy's eternal plea from a Popeye cartoon,"If you buy me a hamburger today, I will gladly repay you Tuesday."

Kalman also looks at more serious objects, such as the Pall that covered Abraham Lincoln's coffin, wondering at how someone made the decision to add fringes. Feelings, somber or flights of fancy, can be guessed at, beneath the surface of what we collect. Kalman's book offers an artist's meditation on the part of our objects in our lives. Profound or silly, practical or luxurious, functional or decorative, Kalman's FAVORITE THINGS fit her criteria that the pieces be based on one thing only--a gasp of delight.

S.W.