Blacksmithing The Zero Waste Knife

I have mentioned more than once about my brief blacksmithing experience. I have a respect for the profession. I have a new level of respect for this particular blacksmith featured in Matthew Weaver’s article below, so would encourage you to visit his website by clicking the image to the left:

Tim Westley making a zero-waste knife at his forge. Photograph: Xavier D Buendia/XDBPhotography

‘My customers like zero waste’: the blacksmith recycling canisters into cult kitchen knives

Tim Westley takes up chef friend’s challenge to transform laughing gas litter

Discarded nitrous oxide gas canisters. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

The little steel bulbs that litter parks, roadsides and city centres – the discarded canisters from Britain’s second favourite drug, laughing gas – cause misery to many communities. But now one blacksmith has found an innovative use for them: turning them into handmade kitchen knives.

The prevalence of the canisters has prompted some councils to impose local bans, while the home secretary is keen to outlaw them nationally. But Tim Westley’s handmade kitchen knives are gaining a cult following among environmentally conscious foodies after being endorsed by chefs committed to low waste. Continue reading

Tiles, Heritage & Conservation

Joan Moliner with some of the 1,600 tiles he has found in builders’ skips. Photograph: Stephen Burgen/The Guardian

When we were working on the project that became Xandari Harbour, articles like the one below, or any about architectural preservation, were the type we most enjoyed sharing. It has been too long, so here goes:

A man on a mission to preserve Barcelona’s decorative floor tiles

As 19th-century apartment blocks become luxury flats, Joan Moliner is saving part of the city’s heritage

A tile display with Moliner’s Brompton bicycle. Photograph: Joan Moliner

Each morning, from the moment when Joan Moliner unfolds his bicycle for the ride to work to Barcelona city centre, he is on a mission, one eye on the road, the other on builders’ skips. His quarry, if that’s the word, is cement floor tiles.

All over the city, 19th-century apartment blocks are being made over into luxury flats. In the process, a vital part of Barcelona’s heritage – its decorative tiled floors – is ending up in a dump.

Conservation of the architectural heritage rarely extends beyond listing the facade, despite the wealth of interior detail in buildings erected at a time when Barcelona was a mecca for artists and artisans. Continue reading

Making Things, Giving Things & Keeping Things

A northern fulmar in flight near Boreray, an uninhabited island in the archipelago of St. Kilda. Photograph by Philip Mugridge / Alamy

Last week I read an essay explaining the allusive power that human-made objects can have. It got me thinking about St. Kilda. Reading four years ago about that place and its people spurred my imagination sufficiently that the following year I committed to a challenge. The challenge was created by the speed of change impacting travel culture, and the tendency of travel retail to homogenize over time.

Things you might see in the Authentica shops

Local artisans all over the world were finding their goods displaced in shops oriented to travelers by things made in faraway factories.

Specifically, the commitment was to support local artisans by creating a venue for selling their goods to travelers. Perhaps utopian is a concept too big to apply to this commitment; anyway, maybe the word quixotic is more apt. Authentica offers human-made things for travelers to take home with them, within the context of a travel-retail complex that operates with very different resources and intent.

We understand why the replicas are made, and why people buy them. We refuse to confuse understanding with acquiescence.

The scoop and the bird clip in the image above, two such things I also wrote about two years ago, are examples of local culturally relevant artifacts that we hope will not be outsourced to a factory in another part of the world. The coffee in that image is another example, with a twist. What I like about coffee as a memento is that it is at the intersection of tangible and intangible. It is quintessentially Costa Rican, but once you enjoy the entire bag you no longer possess that thing. As you consume it, it tells you something about Costa Rica. When it is finished you possess a memory of the coffee, and of Costa Rica.

Smithsonian Craft Show

Some of the crafts we carry seem museum quality to us, but we offer them in the context of commerce.

We would love to attend this show at the Smithsonian, primarily to see the work of Jessica Beels, whose work is showing in the Mixed Media and Paper section of the Show. Her website is full of reasons to see more of her work.

Nowhere on that site do  we see works like these three bird figures. We favor birds in art, wherever it may be, and when the medium stretches boundaries as these do, all the more interesting.

The Human Touch

The Economist offers this brief thinkpiece on what to make of the recent uptick in interest in craft-made products (unless you are a subscriber to the magazine you will need to sign up for free limited access to the magazine’s website):

Can human creativity prevent mass unemployment?

The market for artisan goods is likely to grow. But organised craft could lose its charm

In “THE REPAIR SHOP”, a British television series, carpenters, textile workers and mechanics mend family heirlooms that viewers have brought to their workshop. The fascination comes from watching them apply their craft to restore these keepsakes and the emotional appeal from the tears that follow when the owner is presented with the beautifully rendered result. Continue reading

Transporting Via Words & Photos

On the Madison River in Ennis, Mont.

Thanks to the author and her publisher for taking us there:

In Montana, the Art of Crafting Fly-Fishing Rods

“One thing about Montana,” says Matt Barber, an owner of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a custom fly rod shop in Bozeman, “is if there’s a moving body of water, there is probably a trout in it.”

Photographs and Text by

Shiny agate stripping guides — through which the fishing line will run — are wrapped (attached to the rod) using garnet thread and brass wire.

I live only a few miles away from Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, a custom fly rod shop in Bozeman, Mont. But entering the workshop feels a little like stepping off a plane in a foreign country.

A row of rods ready for handle-shaping.

The language that circulates around the shop catches my attention. Continue reading

Hats, History, Heritage

Mr. Espinal, 52, is widely regarded as the greatest living Panama hat weaver. All photographs by Roff Smith

Having lived and worked in Central America and South India, weaving with palms for shelter and adornment has been part of cultural norms. But in most cases, the craftsmanship has been simplified versions that lacked permanence – for the sake of festivals, traditional artesania , or with the knowledge that the woven shelter would last several seasons of rain before requiring replacement.

The artisan ethos described here mirrors both the fine work and collaborative efforts of Kerala sari weaving communities like Chendamangalam. In all cases, the “stuff of royalty.”

A Glimpse Inside the Workshops of the World’s Finest Panama Hat Makers

Creamy as silk and costlier than gold, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion.

Creamy as silk, costlier by weight than gold, the color of fine old ivory, a Montecristi superfino Panama hat is as much a work of art as it is of fashion. The finest specimens have more than 4,000 weaves per square inch, a weave so fine it takes a jeweler’s loupe to count the rows. And every single one of those weaves is done by hand. No loom is used — only dexterous fingers, sharp eyes and Zen-like concentration.

“You cannot allow your mind to wander even for a second,” says Simón Espinal, a modest, soft-spoken man who is regarded by his peers as the greatest living weaver of Panama hats, possibly the greatest ever. “When you are weaving it is just you and the straw.”

Mr. Espinal’s hats average around 3,000 weaves per square inch — a fineness few weavers have ever even approached. His best has just over 4,200 weaves per square inch and took him five months to weave.

The 52-year-old Ecuadorean is one of a dwindling number of elite Panama hat weavers, nearly all of whom live in Pile, an obscure village tucked away in the foothills behind Montecristi, a low-slung town about 100 miles up the coast from Guayaquil.

Continue reading

Threads

The threads of handloom speak to me every time I enter my closet, despite the fact that it’s a rare occurrence for me to wear a sari now that we no longer live in India. Even without that particular garment, half of my wardrobe is comprised of beautiful pieces of extraordinary workmanship, in handloom, shibori dying, and embroidery; designed in Kerala by Sreejith Jeevan for Rouka, and crafted in collaboration with numerous weaving and dying clusters.

Anoodha Kunnath and the Curiouser team once again bring this craft to life in inspiring ways. The excerpt above is from a longer film shot for Sahapedia, an online interactive encyclopedia on the arts, cultures and histories of India (and broadly South Asia). It aims to highlight the interdisciplinary and interconnected nature of cultural expression that cut across various domains.

The threads have to be strung across an open field before 8 am at least, so that they are dried by the morning breeze and warmed just enough by the tender sunlight found only at those hours. Street warping, just like everything that is done with great love and care, is painstaking; so much so that the author Sethu compares it to caring for a child. Continue reading

Ceiba @ Authentica

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Ceiba2.jpegIt is equally rewarding to introduce new friends here as it is to talk about old friends. I already mentioned Ceiba recently, but I chose one of their more esoteric (if extremely useful) products to highlight in that post. This group of artisans had our attention sufficiently with the beauty of their products when we first met them last year. When we brought some of the products home to test them out in our own kitchen, the utility factor added to our decision to carry their products. But a third factor, which is our extra attention to coffee and coffee culture as essential parts of Costa Rica’s identity, made their products among my personal favorites. So here I am providing a second look at their work.

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This simple bird motif carving is a clip to hold your coffee bag shut after opening. I use it every day.

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I also use the coffee scoop every morning, and while I love all their products it is these two coffee-centric ones I appreciate the most. Even for someone living in Costa Rica these are lovely little reminders of this country’s commitment to conservation, considering where Ceiba sources their wood, one of Costa Rica’s most important renewable resources. That makes me think these products are particularly well-suited to offer value as a takeaway for visitors to this country.

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Biesanz @ Authentica

BB1.jpegWhen we moved to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s one dimension of my work required analysis of the handicrafts sector as part of the nascent tourism industry. That led to my getting to know one of the country’s pioneering wood turners, Barry Biesanz. We have been friends ever since, and as we started planning for what is now Authentica, a range of Biesanz wood products were the first we committed to.

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BB3.jpgAbove is a bowl not currently on display in Authentica, but it is a favored part of our home collection. Last year one of the old trees behind our home came down in a storm. Barry sent a few of his workmen to help clear it away. Months later this bowl was gifted to us, one of many bowls he had been able to craft from the wood from that tree.  In the sign we have placed with his work, note the reference to defects. You can see those in the bowl above. During the last year Barry also introduced us to other Costa Rican artisans, and we have featured their work alongside his in the two shops.

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When Life Gives You Lemons

Juicer at Authentica, as seen in front of the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen

To make the best use of the citrus in your life, visit Authentica and find this item. You may already have a fancy electric gadget that can perform the same function as this juicer, and it may seem self-evidently superior.

I beg to differ. First, on the experience: the mix of metal, plastic and/or glass of the electric juicer, designed for speed, eliminates any inherent satisfaction that either the fruit or the tool might provide. Holding this wooden juicer is a form of time travel. It resembles one I first saw in 1969. And that one likely resembled juicers in use in that village for hundreds of years, typically made of olive wood.

Secondly, I beg to differ on utility. Electric juicers may get the job done quicker, but this juicer gets another, more important job done. Its carbon footprint is a tiny fraction of the electric one, starting with construction and finishing with the use of electricity. And this is made by a group of craftsmen in Costa Rica who work with wood that has been recycled from previous use–timbers or railings from old homes–or wood from trees felled by storms. Experience + utility + sustainability = an authentic Costa Rica takeaway.

Creative Conservation, All For Artisans

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Authentica opened the first of its two shops last week, and this post is a quick statement of what occurred to me while looking across the shop once all the displays were set up. Back in early June I thought that two words simultaneously riffing off the concept of creative destruction, and our two decades of practicing entrepreneurial conservation, was enough of a tag line for saying what we are doing.

But now three more words seem worthy of adding to the mix. Because across this room it is clear that the pursuit of creative conservation is contextual and very specific; we are doing this all for artisans. I do not mean that just in the sense that we are completely motivated to do what Authentica is doing, for the sake of artisans, though that is true. The variety of items on display–colorful totems of Costa Rica’s culture, design-forward textiles, sensuous ceramics and turned wood objects, specialty coffees and artisanal chocolates–made clear now that Authentica should be more explicit. Say clearly that all proceeds from every sale in Authentica get reinvested back into building a better economy for artisans.  Maybe it can be said in fewer than five words, the way 100% Forward says all that Organikos needs to say. Brevity is the soul of wit, and wit is a powerful currency. I will work on it in the days to come.

Craft, Creativity & Visual Pleasure

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Iterations, from left, of the New Craftmen’s Brodgar chair (an unfinished lounge chair and a dining chair) next to traditional chairs on Mainland, Orkney. Sophie Gerrard

Deborah Needleman offers a short and sweet journey to a place, and with people, who I can relate to as we proceed to stock and open the Authentica shops in Costa Rica:

The Windswept Scottish Islands Producing Beautiful Artisanal Goods

One London gallery is determined to continue the tradition embraced for centuries by the Orkney chain.

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The New Craftsmen artists during their Orkney residency, Gareth Neal (far left), O’Sullivan (far right) and Butcher (second from left) with the local Orkney furniture maker Kevin Gauld (second from right). Sophie Gerrard

LAST MAY, THREE England-based craftspeople — the basket makers Mary Butcher and Annemarie O’Sullivan and the furniture maker and designer Gareth Neal — were sent by their London gallery, the New Craftsmen, for a weeklong residency in Orkney, a chain of about 70 small islands off the northern coast of Scotland. They explored Mainland, Orkney’s largest island, as well as North Ronaldsay, a three-and-a-half mile spit of land (population approximately 50) rich in farmland, marram grass, seaweed-eating sheep and Neolithic ruins. They also met with the Orcadian furniture maker Kevin Gauld and the sculptor Frances Pelly, both of whose work is deeply bound up with the islands’ history and landscape.

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Gathered Orkney straw ready to be woven in Gauld’s workshop. Sophie Gerrard

The New Craftsmen’s co-founder and creative director, Catherine Lock — who travels across Britain in search of potters, textile designers and other artisans to highlight at her Mayfair showroom — has long been inspired by Orkney’s culture, and commissioned the first piece she sold at the gallery, a collaboration between Gauld and Neal, on the archipelago seven years ago. Since then, the pair’s beautifully austere straw Brodgar chair has been a consistent best seller, with more demand than Gauld can answer.

09tmag-orkneys-slide-WJT0-jumbo.jpgBefore craft was called craft, when it was just the stuff people made from what was around in order to get by, objects were indivisible from their provenance. And in a place as remote as the Orkney Islands, that connection is still strong — but the link to the outside marketplace less so. Lock invited these three makers to “see how they might channel the spirit of this place through objects.” The goal of the project is the creation of new work — both collaborations and individual pieces — that express the spirit and traditions of Orkney, exposing it to a larger global audience while preserving and reinvigorating the distinctive skills found there.

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Local seaweed gathered and bundled by the basket weavers Annemarie O’Sullivan and Mary Butcher. Sophie Gerrard

One can understand a place by what its people make. Because trees are scarce here, Orcadians historically had to rely on driftwood and shipwrecks for timber; you can still find stone houses with roofs made of upturned old boats. The islands are flush with heather, peat, seaweed and sandstone, but locals have a special relationship with straw, which they have long used for everything from roofing and bedding to shelving, rainwear and furniture. Continue reading

Travel’s Ambassadors

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A few years ago, as we were completing work on the final hotel of our work plan in India, we had visitors from Costa Rica. They brought this little thing as a gift. Bicycle as ambassador. Knowing that we had been developing relationships with artisan groups in India, this was a small token of what had been happening in Costa Rica in the many years we had been away. Using recycled materials, one group of artisans were designing and crafting mementos like this for people to take home with them after their vacation in Costa Rica.

During my doctorate years I had mementos from one place in my office. In my office now I have mementos from many different places to inspire the work we will do next. This little thing is in a prized place.

Textiles, Traditions & Renaissance

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A collection of Kanji Hama’s beautifully hand-patterned and indigo-dyed fabrics along with tools of the craft. Credit Photograph by Kyoko Hamada. Styled by Theresa Rivera. Photographer’s assistant: Garrett Milanovich. Styling assistant: Sarice Olson. Indigo pieces courtesy of Kanji Hama

Two stories today about textile and tradition, the first more in keeping with our norm, but both heavy on the blues:

How a Japanese Craftsman Lives by the Consuming Art of Indigo Dyeing

There are some traditions that are universal. Here, we highlight a single craft — and how it’s being adapted, rethought and remade for the 21st century.

26tmag-indigo-slide-9B7X-superJumboKANJI HAMA, 69, has quietly dedicated his life to maintaining the traditional Japanese craft of katazome: stencil-printed indigo-dyed kimonos made according to the manner and style of the Edo period. He works alone seven days a week from his home in Matsumoto, Nagano, keeping indigo fermentation vats brewing in his backyard and cutting highly detailed patterns into handmade paper hardened with persimmon tannins to create designs for a craft for which there is virtually no market. Nearly identical-looking garments can be had for a pittance at any souvenir store.

Indigo is one of a handful of blue dyes found in nature, and it’s surprising that it was ever discovered at all, as the plants that yield it reveal no hint of the secret they hold…

The story from Japan is about maintaining traditional craft and the story about flannel is about industrial renaissance.

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Blue state: Charlie Richmond pulls yarn from a dyeing machine on the floor of the Burlington Manufacturing Services plant in Burlington, N.C. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times

I am not partial to either story. They make fascinating bookends:

The Annals of Flannel

Told that the cozy shirting fabric could no longer be made in America, one man began a yearlong quest.

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An American Giant flannel shirt. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times

Three years ago, Bayard Winthrop, the chief executive and founder of the clothing brand American Giant, started thinking about a flannel shirt he wore as a kid in the 1970s. It was blue plaid and bought for him by his grandmother, probably at Caldor, a discount department store popular in the northeast back then. The flannel was one of the first pieces of clothing Mr. Winthrop owned that suggested a personality.

“I thought it looked great,” he said, “and I thought it said something about me. That I was cool and physical and capable and outdoorsy.”…

Japan, Paper & Tradition

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Washi paper at the store Ozu Washi in Tokyo. Credit Courtesy of Ozu Washi

Thanks to Nikil Saval for asking, and to the New York Times for publishing his answer to this question:

Why Is Japan Still So Attached to Paper?

Washi is to the Japanese something like what wine is to the French — a national obsession and point of pride.

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The architect Shigeru Ban’s emergency shelters are made mostly of paper.CreditBrent Boardman/courtesy of the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF)

ONE OF THE CLICHÉS of modernity — but a cliché we nonetheless have to live through — is that new forms of technology make us nostalgic for prior ones and the eras they connote. When smartphones emerged, they brought the internet into spaces that were once free of them, so that a poorly functioning flip phone now inspires a hint of wistfulness. The pileup of digitized music since the emergence of the MP3 has prompted a retreat, however niche and ultimately minor, into the world of vinyl records and even tapes. The ransacking of the physical texture of the world — books, newspapers, retail stores, maps — has been so enormous and sudden that it becomes possible to see what we are losing and no longer regard the onrushing future as progress.

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Japan’s centuries-long fascination with traditional papermaking means there’s still a robust analog culture in a country known for its embrace of the modern. Credit Photograph by Kyoko Hamada. Set Design by Arielle Casale and Maxwell Sorensen. Altered images: Daj/Getty Images; Bernard Allum/Getty Images. Origami: Beth Johnson. Photographer’s assistant: Jonah Rosenberg

Because of the sheer accumulated weight of its past, and the velocity of its rush into the future, Japan offers these contradictions and anxieties of modernity in particular abundance. Japan was geographically isolated for centuries, so the time between the country’s opening — thanks to the gunboat diplomacy of American warships’ arrival in 1853 — and the postwar miracle of reconstruction produced a linear and especially propulsive narrative of an agrarian society becoming one defined by urban futurism. The contrast (and conflict) between ancient and modern is the primary tension in Japan’s modern literary and filmic traditions: rural families experiencing the shock of the city in Yasujiro Ozu’s films of the ’40s and ’50s, or Noh drama in the novels of the Showa-era writer Fumiko Enchi. Everything, from the perfervidness of the country’s electronic manufacturing, the proliferation of its pop culture, the aggressiveness of its building booms — even as a three-decade-long economic decline strips these characteristics of their sheen — seems to serve as a reminder that throughout the postwar era, Japan was a byword for the future. Continue reading

Time As An Ingredient

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Climate change has reared its big ugly head enough that I no longer count on seasonal consistency, but for now nine days in a row it has felt familiar, the greenest month of the green season in Costa Rica. And today, as of dawn, it looks like more of the same. “Some things never change” would be a real head in the sand cliché when thinking of seasons, but at least this October, so far, mornings have been sunny and by early afternoon the clouds roll in and the afternoons remind me of our 2010 to 2017 Kerala life, until dinner time. The photo above was from our second monsoon season there. Just up the hill from where I am writing at this moment, in Tarrazu–the Costa Rica equivalent of Munnar’s tea region–you might see something comparable, like this:

DCIM/100MEDIA/DJI_0482.JPG A few years ago Seth and James worked to restore a coffee plantation across the valley from the home where Seth grew up. The coffee they restored had been removed two decades earlier, a moment in time when coffee prices had crashed, even for the premium arabica that grows in Costa Rica. As it happens the same is true of the property where I am writing from, which had been a coffee plantation for most of the last century. In 2019 a restoration project will bring coffee back to this land, with tree shade for both the coffee and for the sake of restored bird habitat, and I look forward to sharing that progress here. And it is with this in mind that time, as an ingredient, is a theme for today. Work that Seth and James did demonstrated, with the passage of time, the fruitfulness of restoration and conservation. Now a replica project is ready to roll.

Time as an ingredient during green season is also a theme. Reading and cooking pass the time pleasantly during such afternoons, at least when the weekend schedule permits. Time for reading was on my mind a couple days ago, and the author featured in this podcast gets me thinking about time as an ingredient in the cooking I have been doing recently–almost all vegetarian and with the conscious effort to cook as minimally as possible to retain nutrients and flavor. As a bonus, this episode of a podcast we have been listening and linking to for two years shares the story behind espresso, so worth a listen:

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One Week to Whiskey

A Los Angeles distillery aims to speed up a 10-year aging process to a matter of days.

9781468316384.jpgWhy does fish cook so fast? What’s the “wasabi window”? And can you really make 20-year-old aged whiskey in six days? This episode, we’re looking at the role of time in food and flavor: what it does and how we’ve tried—and sometimes succeeded—to manipulate that. To explore these questions, we visit a whiskey time machine tucked away in a low-slung warehouse in downtown Los Angeles and meet its inventor, Bryan Davis. And we speak with Jenny Linford, a food writer and author of a new book, The Missing Ingredient, all about time and food. Listen in now—this one’s well worth your time! Continue reading

The Visual Shero of Afrofuturism

A still-life of accessories from various films that Carter has worked on: the headpiece of Queen Ramonda, in “Black Panther”; cufflinks for Martin Luther King, Jr., in “Selma”; and the dancing shoes worn by Shorty, a character in “Malcolm X,” who was played by Spike Lee. Photographs by Awol Erizku

In film and theatre, costume design is often as important as a setting and script to craft the sense of both character and story. It’s debatable whether non-fiction or fiction is more challenging, but Ruth E. Carter’s work carries the story for either one, with an attention to detail that brings the viewer back into history or forward into new worlds.

Be sure to click through the article for more of Awol Erizku’s dynamic photos, as well as watch the video below for more images and Carter’s own explanation of her work.

RUTH E. CARTER’S THREADS OF HISTORY

Throughout her career, the costume designer for “Black Panther” has created visions of black identity, past and future.

Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” is a rare thing: a big-budget superhero movie that is unabashedly serious about great clothes. The film’s costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, evoked the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda by melding sci-fi with global fashion history, drawing influence from sources including the color symbolism of the Maasai people, samurai armor, and the jewelry of Ndebele women. She realized her vision with the help of an international team of researchers, buyers, tailors, beaders, and engineers, and by exploring the possibilities of 3-D-printing technology. For her efforts, she has been lauded as one of the essential visual storytellers of Afrofuturism. Continue reading