Category Archives: BEAUTIFUL LIFE + INSPIRATION

REPORT FROM PENLAND: MONDAY 7/9/12

I flew out of hot and dry North Alabama on Saturday afternoon and woke up in room #2 surrounded by the cool mountain airs of Penland, North Carolina.

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THE HEART: TNT FIREWORKS

Once home to Tee Jays Manufacturing Co., the industrial park where our studio – which we call ‘The Factory’- is located, is also home to many other manufacturers and distributors. Often it has been written that our community collapsed under the weight of NAFTA and the departing textile industry; however, that simply isn’t true. There are many strong companies that still find their homes here in this park on the edge of Florence and one, especially relevant to the upcoming 4th of July celebrations, is TNT Fireworks.

As Independence Day approaches, TNT’s Tommy Glasco took time from his busy schedule to talk about the company and their work. Founded in the late 1950s by Charles Anderson, TNT evolved from a former company called Alabama Sparkler. Anderson, founder of a successful book and magazine business, was seeking to sell seasonal products as a way of expanding his business. Fireworks were a successful fit. Over the years, TNT has become the largest distributor of consumer fireworks in the nation, possibly the world; however, they continue to maintain strong local roots.

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FIREWORKS + THREE LAUGHING MONKS

While searching for historic parade images in our local library, we came across these beautiful photographs of fireworks. Taken in 1976, they capture a quality of ephemeral beauty and celebration that sweeps our nation (and backyard celebrations) each year.

As a child, I was fascinated with fireworks for their patterns and colors. I watched in awe each July 4th as the displays brilliantly lit up the sky before fading away. Back at home, I reimagined their shapes and recreated them with paper and crayons. Maggie has been decorating our house for weeks now and will, I am sure, come home to paper and crayons the same as I did so many years ago.

As the holiday approaches, we all look forward to days filled with cooking, laughing, and celebrating with friends and family. My neighborhood’s 4th of July parade is followed by the annual Kids vs. Adults Baseball game, a cookout, and a grand fireworks spectacle to conclude the day’s events.

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DONNA KARAN

When I was a design school student at the end of the 1980s, there was one name that you found in all of the magazines and on everyone’s lips: Donna Karan. She was changing the way women dressed. She wanted to “to design modern clothes for modern people.”

Karan became a presence in the fashion world as the women’s rights movement found its footing in the 1970s and women began working in the business world in greater numbers. Most designers didn’t know how to dress this burgeoning new population of professionals. You saw women dressed in double-breasted suits with tight skirts, wide shoulders, and, often, pin stripes. Virginia Slims adverts of the time showed images of women in suits – straight, lean, no curves, nothing womanly at first glance. The models could easily have been men.

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RED, WHITE, AND BLUE CERAMICS

When I was working on our Heath Ceramics collaboration, we worked with colors rooted in the Southern vernacular and my upbringing in the 1960s and 70s in Alabama. When I look at the dishes, I see parts of my childhood in the shades of red and blue.

The chosen red is appropriately called red clay, as it was inspired by the color of Alabama soil. This miraculous color used to bring tears to my eyes as I would fly in from my time living in Europe.  As a child, our summer clothes were stained with the color. The bottoms of our feet were permanently red clay colored after the temperature reached 78 degrees.  Gillian Welch’s song “Red Clay Halo” cannot say it any better:

All the girls all dance with the boys from the city,
And they don’t care to dance with me.
Now it ain’t my fault that the fields are muddy,
And the red clay stains my feet.

Being a barefoot child who played in the garden, I knew this color intimately. This is the color of hard-working farmers and farm wives; it is the story of a community.

Southern musicians have written about Alabama’s red soil for decades. EmmyLou Harris’ “Red Dirt Girl” is another iconic example.

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MADE IN AMERICA

As we move towards Independence Day, we’d like to highlight some companies who are making great things in the United States. We encourage you to share with us any companies we should look to for ‘Made in America’ excellence and quality.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of purchasing domestically and shopping locally. We must support the businesses and companies who strive for excellence in craft and manufacturing, those who provide fair wages and proper working conditions for their employees, and companies who take pride in their products.

These are types of companies that, at one point in time, were abundant in my North Alabama manufacturing community.

I frequent A Continuous Lean, and am always moved by the beautiful images and stories. A recent post about Huge, a Japanese magazine whose June issue focuses on products and manufacturing here in America, is beautifully inspiring. Huge shares with readers some companies doing great things.

One featured company is Archival Clothing, whose manufacturing is based in Oregon. They make an array of stylish bags, varying in size and function. Their company values resonated strongly with our team at Alabama Chanin, as they believe, “Perhaps over time, our efforts will help to stimulate the domestic market and encourage US manufacturers to expand their offerings. We hope you will help us with that. We stand behind all of our products, the ones we make and the ones we offer in our store.”

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BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY

I’ve always been a little obsessed with parades. I scoured the internet trying to find out where parades originated, or why. What I’ve found is this: nobody knows. There are cave drawings from over ten thousand years ago that depict prehistoric men marching wild game home to cook in a wild and celebratory manner. Perhaps it is human nature – a group of people with a common cause just tend to rally around one another and rejoice.

When you think about the concept of people, musicians, floats, horses, waving pageant queens – it seems as though one would be overwhelmed at having every sense stimulated all at once. But, I’m not.

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