Is Stickley is the New Ikea?

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You’ll have to pardon the breakout of bungalow fever on the blog this week, but I’ve vowed to spend the summer patching, painting and fixing up things around our almost 100 year old house. One of my projects is an all out war on ugly furniture. Sorry, Ikea, but you’re out. Stickley is in.

Thanks to the folks at Archive.org you can download a copy of Gustav Stickley’s 1909 furniture catalog as well as Gustav’s brothers Leopold and John George’s 1910 catalog. Gustav and his brothers enjoyed their fifteen minutes of fame between the years 1900 and 1915. Furniture trends changed during and after WWI and Gustav’s company went bankrupt. It wasn’t until the 1970s when interest in the Arts and Crafts movement returned.

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We were lucky to have picked up an L. & J.G. Stickley rocker #811 this week that now graces our living room. At nearly 110 years old, the rocker looks a whole lot better than the disposable Ikea couch it faces. If one were to amortize the cost of a well made piece of furniture versus something cheap and disposable I think it’s obvious what’s the better choice.

Screen Shot 2017-06-23 at 8.42.24 AMCraftsman furniture seems to have fallen out of favor again with the ascendancy of mid-century modern mania. I’m hoping for a Stickley revival. To that end, please note that L. & J.G. Stickley seem to have manufactured the world’s first futon couch and it’s a lot more handsome than the ones I see discarded on every other block in Los Angeles.

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Lastly, I’m trying to think of the lifestyle adjustments that would justify a weekend in the garage making a copy of the L. & J.G. Stickley dinner gong. How exactly would a dinner gong work out in our 1,000 square foot house occupied by just two people? Would its existence prompt more inspired daily meal prep? Would reheating a frozen Trader Joe’s meal (what a friend calls the Ikea of food) in the microwave justify a bang on the gong? Would it cause the cats and dog to scatter? Should I develop a gong app instead?

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My attempt to craft a longer blog post with a clickbait headline, “Is the Dinner Gong the New Killer App?” failed due to lack of source material, but I’d like to share this bittersweet object: a French dinner gong crafted from a WWI artillery shell.

3 Mules the Movie

Back in 2012 Kelly and I were running an errand in the neighborhood when we encountered a man with three mules walking down busy Sunset Boulevard. I put up a quick blog post with a few photos. Thanks to Google, for the next two years, my blog post became a place to comment on the whereabouts of the “mule man” whose real name is John Sears.

Through that same blog post we met a very talented local filmmaker named John McDonald who has been working on a documentary about Sears. I had the great privilege of seeing a short work in progress version of the film McDonald would like to complete.

It turns out the story is more complex than I would have imagined from my first encounter with the mule man on Sunset Boulevard. Sears is making a point about public space and our rights to travel and use the commons. It’s a stance that often puts him at odds with law enforcement, local governments and, perhaps, modernity itself.

You can see some excerpts from McDonald’s film on YouTube and make a tax deductible contribution towards completing the project. You can follow Sears via his Facebook page 3 Mules. McDonald’s website is 3mulesmovie.com.

The Fertile Ground of Bewliderment

It’s Memorial Day in the U.S. which means that most of our domestic readers are probably not reading Root Simple blog posts. For those few of you who are, allow me to suggest a podcast to listen to while you recreate, garden, or mix a cocktail. It’s a lecture by Charles Eisentein delivered last year at St. James Church in London. He begins with the need to stop the paradigm and language of being at war with everything: bugs, people, germs etc. My favorite bit comes during the question and answer session when Eisenstein addresses a concept of interconnectedness he calls, “interbeing.”

Interbeing is the truth. You can only suppress it at great and growing effort, temporarily, until you become exhausted. It’s like a parking lot covered in cement. If you don’t constantly maintain it in a state of ugliness, then beauty will erupt. Dandelions will come up, it’ll crack, and in fifty years it’ll be beautiful. And we are getting exhausted now at maintaining an ugly world.

You can read a transcript of the lecture here and listen to more of Eisenstein’s podcasts here.

Changing the World One Party at a Time

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Artist’s depiction of Jennie’s monthly neighborhood party. Extra points for finding our new dog in the painting.

Once a month, our neighbor Jennie Cook (our guest on episode 50 of the Root Simple Podcast) hosts a cocktail party for neighbors. She started the party ball rolling by sticking handwritten invites in mailboxes up the block. Usually, around twenty people show up.

I’ve come to believe that the most revolutionary acts in our lives are those that reduce separation and loneliness. The philosopher Hannah Arendt called totalitarianism, “organized loneliness.”(1) As Arendt implies, this loneliness is by design. Facebook, Google, Nextdoor, Apple et al. make money when we’re sniping at each other on our phones and keyboards, not when we have a cocktail glass in our hands.

This weekend, in South Pasadena, I’m giving a presentation on the subjects we cover in our blog and books. The organizer wants me, in particular, to address the legalities of keeping chickens. But even if chickens are legal where you live, neighbors can start a ruckus in the henhouse about them and about a whole host of other contentious issues such as parking, trees and landscape maintenance. But if we already know each other socially, these sorts of fights are less likely to start.

But I think it would be a mistake to throw neighborhood parities with utilitarian goals. The party is an end in itself. One shouldn’t put a price on fun, joy or a well mixed libation.

I could go on, but I’m going to cut this post short so that I can start the process of getting our house in to shape so we can host a few of these neighborhood parties in the future. And I want to close with a plug for Jennie Cook. She has a cookbook, Who Wants Seconds, full of recipes that will make everyone at your party happy. And if you live in Los Angeles and need a caterer for any event large or small, I can’t say enough good things about Jennie Cook’s Catering.

Now, go forth and throw a party for your neighbors!

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The Call to Create: Marguerite Knutzen 1925-2017

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My mom passed peacefully in her home last week. She was a loving, kind and patient mom. To her I owe my life’s calling: the joys of making, doing and teaching.

My mom taught junior high art, crafts and ceramics before I was born. She took a break to raise me and then went back to teaching as an elementary school aide.

Teaching at the junior high level is no easy task. Schools dump students with academic and home problems into the arts classes just to keep them busy. My mom’s call to be a teacher wasn’t really about how to turn a pot on a wheel.

I’ll let my mom explain. In a stack of her papers I found this note:

As a former teacher of 30 years working with junior high (now called middle school) and elementary students I was always challenged to keep the art activities of crafts, ceramics, drawing and painting “on the move.” This age student is very active and has a spontaneous ability to create and be uninhibited. That is how God created the teenager.

In later years I had the opportunity to work with adults who tend to toss creating aside by saying, “I can’t draw a straight line.” Inhibition sets in. The truth is God created us to be creative and we all have it within us. Our lives are enriched by the activities involved in creativity around us. Not just in the art of drawing but in dance, theater, writing, reading a story to a child, entertaining in our homes, gardening, workshops, singing, playing an instrument and on and on.

People are stimulated when encouraged and often find new abilities they never thought they had.

I will miss my dear mom. But it gives me great comfort to know that she touched so many lives.