Thursday, April 29, 2010

Loving Things...

I have three books I'd like to discuss. I am always amazed at how the columnist David Brooks in The New York Times gets many of his columns. David reviews books. (I always smile thinking I am the only one on to him.) I don't use this device that often, but here are three books I'd like to talk about.

The first was a birthday gift this year: The Way we Live with Things We Love by Stafford Cliff and photographs by Cilles De Chabaneix, published by Rizzoli. You guessed it--it has a very European point of view. For those of us who adore beautifully composed photographs, this book is a delight. It is a feast for the eyes and not really meant to have you go to a local flea market and find exotic things to discretely place about your abode. I am especially intrigued by a chapter on antiques. The advice for the reader is to find the best use for your treasured possessions. I'm all for that--but few of us have grand headless statues and alcoves to put them it. I did enjoy seeing the wall of great family portraits, however--each in a similar frame and each with a printed scroll above it.

We can all find ideas any and everywhere, and there are ideas in this book. Take for example the daybed in a house in Budapest--the assortment of embroidered and printed fabric pillow sent me right to Pottery Barn to see if I could find ones like it! Of course they are there--not as marvelous as those in the book, but I suspect not as pricey either. Bless You PB.

The second book, I just received. It has the amazing title Living with What You Love. We all know you can't copyright the title of a book. (I could write Gone With the Wind and get away with it if I'd dare try) but I did do a double take. This book by Monica Rich Kosann, published by Clarkson Potter is definitely American. Like most American-style decorating books it is designed to instruct as well as inspire. The cover tells us that we are going to learn to decorate with family photos, cherished heirlooms, and collectibles. One lesson is called Have Fun With Your Clutter. To illustrate, a rather grand staircase wall is adorned with every family snapshot in the owner's archive--school moments, sports events, and a grandmother or two or three or four. (The staircase, by the way, was designed by Stanford White, one of America's great architects.) Create a Multidimensional Collage is another helpful hint. Basically, this means putting a lot of things on a small table in what you consider an artful way.

The reason I am pointing these things out is not to be critical--I know it may sound that way. After all, I edited a magazine and have produced books dealing with things in exactly the same way these two books are doing. And I'm sure there were readers who said, "You've got to be kidding." Now that I am on this side of the fence, I am at least opening up to the possibility that maybe we pay too much attention to our things--and maybe we love them too much, especially in publishing.

In that regard, you might want to pick up a fascinating little paperback by Richard Todd called,
The Thing Itself--On the Search for Authenticity. It got me thinking about things, especially after just having spend a week with Wendi photographing the things that I LOVE. On antiques, he writes: "Old things sustain me in a way I know not to be wholly rational."

Todd's thesis is way more complicated and I'll leave it to you to delve further if you wish--with compliments to David Brooks--but I think all of these books get us thinking about what we love and maybe more importantly, why we love them. I'm sure you'll find inspiration in both the picture books--and this afternoon take all your teacups and arrange them in some amazing way on that little round table in the library. But maybe we should all think about our loving of things rather than the love of things a bit more. I'm going to--how about you?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Second Mothers

I am still thinking about the delightful time I had at Mendham Books in Mendham, New Jersey. First, it is always wonderful to actually meet with the people who buy your book. We were fortunate that day to have My First Best Friend sell so well. One person, whom I didn't get to meet, bought 25 books. Another had me sign 13 books she wanted to give to a group of 40-year-old friends celebrating 27 years together. Being part of of such a fun time made me very happy.

One of the gentleman who came with his wife and both their families reminded me again of how important mothers are in our lives--and not just our very own. His mother's first best friend was also his, he said. He could often talk to her about things that maybe he wouldn't bring up with his own mom. It was a special secret society. Another friend recently told me the same thing about his mom's FBF. "I'd stop by and see her often," he said. "And we talked about so many things."

My sister and I had a family friend, Julie, who was our "very own" keeper of secrets. Julie never had children of her own, so she "adopted" us. She was a part of our lives for a time. I used to walk our little Scottie dog to her house and sit in her immaculate white kitchen while she made wee mince pies. I got one right out of the oven. There always seemed to be some wonderment in that almost magic cottage.

A bonus in doing the research for My First Best Friend was hearing the heart-warming stories of love and attention from "second mothers." The "mom next door" was often an endearing presence, contributing in quiet and unseen ways. Just ask JoAnn, (page 92) who credits her FBF Bernadette's mother with being her role model for mothering her own three daughters. "She never raised her voice," JoAnn remembers. But it is far more than that; a little girl remembered of her little friend's mom--it was the open heart beyond the open door.

With Mother's Day approaching, share your stories of that second mother whose love enriched your life. I'm sure they will enrich us, too.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A rose by any name..

My neighbor Janet, an art director herself, introduced me to the work of Karen O'Neil, an Ulster County, New York artist. Even though this time of year we all yearn to be outside with real flowers, I can't resist beautiful renderings. Karen seems to understand the soul of a rose in her paintings...and teacups. The nice thing about Karen's very professional work is that her fees are quite reasonable. Keeping fine art in reach is something I applaud.

Last week a lot of my possessions came into clear view again. How many things we have that we look over or around. One small treasure unearthed was a vintage copy of the poems of Robert Burns. There is no date on my volume, which is very fragile, so I assume quite ancient. The cover seems to have a print of roses applied over the binding. Burns wrote a lot more than the two songs that most of us recall.

What better love song can there be than My luve is like a red, red rose/That's newly sprung in June...? It's a statement of simple perfection. Burns wrote the poem in 1794, two years before his untimely death. Burns is beloved in his native Scotland, and around the world. Could there be a New Year's Eve without a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne? Graduations, around the corner, are also an occasion when we use this hymn to the memory of old times to commemorate the friends we are about to separate from. Written in 1788, it's just one of the many, many songs and poems in my book. It even has a section with the correspondence to and from Robert Burns. Thank you Hurst and Company Publishers, New York. I shall keep the book within reach now.

With a tip of a hat or bonnet to Burns, my mind wanders to The Bard who paid this tribute to the rose--lines written for Juliet:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.

Are there roses strewn in your path to share? A favorite rose poem or painting?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Accumulated Life

Last week the delightful and talented Wendi Schneider traveled from Denver with her magic camera to record moments in what I call "my accumulated life." We had four days of of putting together a variety of photographs of the things I love in my Hudson River digs. Ames, Iowa to of these days. Having two homes, at least, means dividing what you love around the country!

Try as I may not to, I am still acquiring--and yesterday's find can be almost as powerful as the ones you've grown accustomed to. One of the things that became apparent as Wendi delved into the cabinets and saw things perched on shelves that are so a part of the scenery I almost think of them as permanent fixtures is that many were gifts of one kind or another. I have been living with the love and largess of others--and how fortunate I have been to have people in my life who seem to know what makes my heart sing.

Amazingly, many friends over the years have said to me, "You're so hard to buy a gift for." With all the loot that Wendi and I photographed, I have to doubt this. Of course, my Victoria days did engender many lovely things that friends, colleagues, and associates have been gracious with. Take my crown collection, for example: I did not buy even one for myself. Over time, crowns, mostly pins, just keep finding a place in my "tower" of jewels. I, myself, find it refreshing when a friend has a signature piece--it makes gifting challenging. Is there a heart that Ann does not have? Is there one unique and will touch her own tender heart in a special way?

My friend Kim Shaver at Hooker Furniture has asked me to jot down some of the ways in which we live with the things we love for a project she is doing. Kim is a big believer in the idea that how we furnish our homes includes a large dollop of love--that when we invest in a piece of furniture it does more than occupy space and provide function. So, I'll be looking at my own accumulated life for Kim. And I'll have to give thanks to the legions who have helped me with gifts ranging from candlesticks to teapots to artworks to the books that have been written by the people in my life. I think of being especially fortunate to have bequests that make my homes
ever more meaningful--a gallery of generations who stitched and crafted leaving a legacy that means the world to me.

Whew...I was bit tuckered out after working with Wendi. And I know she was also--it's not only physical work but emotional, too, as one focuses on the true meaning behind our possessions. A tiny taste of Wendi's incredible work is pictured here. We both have a big job to narrow down the shots we want to keep--and then to decide if we have a book or other project on this subject of accumulation. We all live on our own stages--mine is filled to the brim with memories. Yours?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Victoria & Albert, Art & Love

For those of us who continue our fascination with Queen Victoria and who have poured over every detail in the current film The Young Victoria, here is special treat: Victoria & Albert, Art & Love is currently on exhibit at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace. I almost hesitate to tell enthusiasts about this...we may want to lock up our family jewels, less we sacrifice them for some of the delicious objects for sale in the gallery's shop. So promise me, before you start to read this, that you will be prudent.

The exhibition focuses on the gifts that the loving couple gave to each other. It is no surprise to those of us who have poured over Victoria's journals and delighted in her watercolors of her children, that she had a taste for art. And also not a revelation that her dear Albert, always her muse, had a most sophisticated eye. With the magic of this wonderful instrument we write our emails on, you can see many of the items the two gave as tokens of affection to one another--and at the same time, they were supporting artists in all realms.

Birthdays and anniversaries were for Victoria and Albert, as they are for all us, the occasion to delight a recipient with the most personal and meaningful of gifts. For example, for his 24th birthday, Victoria presented Albert with a portrait of his favorite dog painted by a distinguished English artist of the time. And at the birth of each child, Albert gave Victoria a charm for her bracelet...nine charms in all, of course.

Prince Albert's brilliance and talents are properly displayed at The Queen's Gallery--and makes even sadder his untimely death at 42. Victoria mourned her Prince and the nation lost a man who might have done so much more.

PS - A catalog of the exhibit is available for order on Amazon, and The Young Victoria is also now available on DVD.

Artworks shown: Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter commissioned by Queen Victoria for Albert on his birthday; Ceramic inkstand commissioned by Prince Albert; Archie and Annie MacDonald, watercolor by Queen Victoria; I know my position, Sir!, watercolor by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, with Edward Corbould

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Challenge on Reading MY FIRST BEST FRIEND

After reading your comments on the Journal these past months, I have a challenge for you wonderful writers, who are so perceptive and so articulate:

If you have read My First Best Friend, I would love for you to review it for me. Say how you really feel. (I may boohoo by myself but I will certainly appreciate all comments and take them as positive criticism.) What did you like most? What story really expressed the essence of women's friendships best for you? If you were recommending the book to a friend, what would you say to convince her? (Of course, these questions are just suggestions - don't limit yourself to these observations.)

If you haven't read the book, perhaps you'd like to comment on what kind of stories you'd like to read in such a book. Or perhaps comment on what such friendships have meant in your life.

And so, Dear Readers, I am anxious to read you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Penny Martin--Gentlewoman

Well, I have not seen this new publication, The Gentlewoman, coming out of England via a Dutch company. But I trust is will fulfill what it's editor wants it to do--a magazine that will show that women are interested in much more than just handbags.

I think Penny is a might hard on some of the current women's titles. They are interested in food, hair, beauty, home, and a variety of such topics. However, I think she hits the nail on the head with this observation:

Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, women were writing about travel and education and philosophy, and that's somehow disappeared. We have the opportunity to do these things...

Victoria magazine in my tenure did these things...but maybe not in the way Penny would do them. I often felt that there were canons to the right and left of us as we featured the beauty and dignity of women in all fields. If my memory serves me right, we even toyed with the idea of "Gentlewoman" as a title. But when we would use such a word...or heaven forbid, "lady like"...the earth shook. We were taking women back 50 years! I never thought so--I always thought it was taking women ahead to be as complete as they could be. One writer characterized Victoria as a needlepoint magazine. I was never against that beautiful art, but at the time, I don't think we'd ever done a story on it. But on women who were doing every art imaginable in new and creative ways, you bet.

Penny wants women to come away from The Gentlewoman saying that the women featured are great. That was always our goal--no matter what theater she chose to play in. Hurray for Penny beginning with her convictions. Penny is committed to redefining the term "gentlewoman" for the 21st century. However, I think she'll find that women of any time who are totally engaged in life are gentlewomen for all ages. Jane Austen, anyone? Ok, choir, sing if you like!