An Arts and Crafts Masterpiece in San Francisco

During a spare hour on a trip to San Francisco to visit relatives I remembered an Arts and Crafts era landmark I had only known through books, the Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco on Lyon Street in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. Thankfully, the church is open for visitors during business hours and we popped in to take a look.

The church was designed and built by team of architects and designers that included Bernard Maybeck, A. C. Schweinfurth, A. Page Brown, William Keith, Bruce Porter, and the Rev. Joseph Worcester in 1895. On the walls are a series of stunning California landscape paintings depicting the four seasons by William Keith that echo the naturalistic theme of the building. The upright and stern chairs allegedly touched off the mission furniture craze.

Should you find yourself in San Francisco this church is a must see–and it’s free! Visiting hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday. The address is 2107 Lyon Street at Washington Street. You can also arrange a tour. See the church’s website for more information.

The Walls Have Eyes

I was at the “Big Orange Store” as Eric of GardenFork calls it, looking for shelf hardware. Using their app (because human employees can be hard to find) I searched for “hidden shelf.” I was looking for something like this:

The app, however, autocompleted “hidden camera.” That’s odd, I thought, and followed the link. It turns out that Home Depot has your pervy spying needs covered.

There’s the “LizaCam USB Wall Plug with Hidden IP Camera.”

The “Revo Wall Clock with Hidden Built-in Covert Camera.”

The “Bush Baby Smoke Detector DVR Hidden Camera with 30-Hour Battery and 16GB Memory” and many more: fans, alarm clocks, power adapters etc all equipped with hidden cameras.

Could their be legitimate uses for these devices? Maybe the sight of a baby monitor offends your aesthetic sensibilities and you’d prefer it discretely hidden in a smoke alarm? Possible but unlikely. We all know but don’t want to think about these inexpensive electronics in the hands of Airbnb voyeurs. While our ancestors once scanned the savanna in the hopes of bagging a gazelle for dinner we moderns can spend our time searching for cameras hidden in our toasters and lamps.

I’ll also note how the Home Depot website has come to resemble Amazon, where every whim and thought of our collective subconscious achieves physical embodiment via an ever growing network of cheap Chinese factories. Marcel Duchamp’s readymades are seeming less like conceptual art and more like a blueprint for eCommerce. If I blog about a “R.Mutt urinal fountain with hidden camera” will they make one? How about a hidden camera with a hidden camera in it?

Truth and Beauty

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, Robins of Modern Times, ca. 1860.

Get thee to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco before the end of the month to see a spectacular show, Truth and Beauty: the Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters. The show combines works by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood alongside the medieval and Renaissance paintings and manuscripts that inspired their work.

It’s easy to forget the context of the PRB’s work: an England decimated by industrialization, coal dust and income disparity. Rather than simply looking backwards, the PRB visualized a better future, one of meaningful work, of environmental stewardship and beauty.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, 1871/1872.

The vivid colors of the PRB’s work can’t be translated to books or the web–you have to see them in person. Gardeners will love the botanical accuracy. In fact, the PRB’s paintings almost seem like they’re about to be taken over by the vines, flowers and grasses that tangle around the central figures.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we can learn from the PRB and from the English and American Arts and Crafts movements. To be frank, I’m tired of my own and my generation’s cynicism and irony and I’m haunted by Adam Curtis’ critique of self-expression in contemporary art. I think it’s well past time to get back on the the road not taken, the one started for us by the PRB.

Maplewoodshop: Saving Shop Class

In U.S. schools shop class has been sacrificed to the Moloch of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Ninety percent of shop classes have been eliminated with the exception of a few robotics programs. The result, ironically, is STEM graduates so out of touch with the physical world that they design things impossible to build.

Image: Maplewoodworking

Maplewoodshop seeks to reverse this trend with an innovative woodworking program that trains teachers to integrate hand tool woodworking into their lessons plans. Teachers who graduate from Maplewoodshop’s training get a rolling box containing all the tools they need to teach woodworking classes in any room. Maplewoodshop is a great example of not letting perfection be the enemy of the good: we’re not going to get shop classes back any time soon but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do something.

You can listen to an interview with Mike Schloff, founder of MapleWoodShop here.

A Brief History of Secret Drawers

In 1642 a young couple,¬†Robert and Susannah Jones, bought a large used chest. The couple lived with the chest for 20 years until, one day, they decided to move it. They heard a rattling inside and did some investigating, discovering a secret drawer. Out spilled a olive-wood rosary and huge amount of papers with mysterious writing and symbols. At some point their maid used around half of the papers to bake some pies before the couple decided to put the papers back in the chest. Some years later when the great fire of London broke out Susannah, now a widow, had the sense to take the papers with her. It turned out that those papers were John Dee’s account of his conferences with angels.

Secret compartments like this used to be a common feature of furniture up through the Victorian period. I’m guessing today’s paranoid tech CEOs probably have a few secret compartments in their modernist survival bunkers.

A desk, built for King Frederick William II by the Roentgen brothers takes the secret drawer idea to its zenith. This thing has secret drawers within secret drawers within secret drawers, all propelled by a complex mechanical system:

For a more recent expression of the secret drawer trope see this impressive desk by furniture maker Lonnie Bird:

The problem, both in the past and now, is that a decent burglar probably knows where your “hidden” compartments are located.