This post – part of our new “Real Women” series for 2013 – is dedicated to two of the most “real” women I know: Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva of The Kitchen Sisters. Without their dedication to telling the “real” story, I would not be the designer, or the person, I am today. Lost and Found Sound changed my perception of storytelling in the Autumn of 1994. I remember the first moment I heard their tracks: in the third story of a rented house on a green square in Savannah, Georgia. Boom. Life changed.
Ira Glass said of their work, “The Kitchen Sisters have done some of the best radio stories ever broadcast. I know people who got into radio because they heard Nikki and Davia’s work, and had no idea anybody could do anything like that on the air.”
These women are my heroes. (Along with a slew of others you will meet this year.) They continue their storytelling on real women with their series: The Hidden World of Girls, and a new series entitled: The Making of…
Through a Peabody Award winning Lost and Found Sound broadcast, The Kitchen Sisters spurred my interest in this relatively unknown, yet groundbreaking group of women.
“1000 Beautiful Watts.” This was the slogan for WHER Radio – 1430 on your AM dial in Memphis, Tennessee. In October 1955, Shoals native and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips and his wife, Becky, took an original concept and made it reality: an all-female radio station. Though the station wasn’t technically the first female station to exist, it proudly referred to itself as the “First All-Girl Radio Station in the World.” As such, WHER broadcast for 17 years in the Memphis, Tennessee market.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, to view “Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial.” I spent forever moving from one quilt to the next – leaning as closely in as I could without being reprimanded. No matter how many times you see those beautiful pieces, they never fail to amaze and inspire. The quilts, while spectacular, were meant for everyday use and were made with whatever materials were available. The personal stories associated with each quilt drove that point home. Each was described by the maker in simple terms and plain language, as if what they produced was no big deal, as though anyone could do it. I was particularly taken by the quilts of Missouri Pettway, both intricate and simple in their constructions. One quilt, made from her husband’s work clothes, demonstrated the love that went into each and every one of these works of art. I felt a lump rise in my throat as I read the description, as told by the quilter’s daughter, Arlonzia:
“It was when Daddy died. I was about seventeen, eighteen. He stayed sick about eight months and passed on. Mama say, ‘I going to take his work clothes, shape them into a quilt to remember him, and cover up under it for love.’ She take his old pants legs and shirttails, take all the clothes he had, just enough to make that quilt, and I helped her tore them up. Bottom of the pants is narrow, top is wide, and she had me to cutting the top part out and shape them up in even strips.” Continue reading →
Last month, I had the incredible honor of hosting a studio visit from three amazing women who have inspired me for years. On a beautiful summer day, Rosanne Cash, Gael Towey, and Maira Kalman arrived in Florence for a two day sewing workshop and adventure. The idea for the trip was hatched on a spring afternoon in New York City and I can hardly believe that it actually happened. With incredibly busy schedules, these three women cleared their calendars, bought their tickets, organized their lives, picked up their daughters, and headed south. Gael Towey (an incredible woman who has shaped the look of modern life as we know it) wrote about their Alabama adventure for Martha Stewart’s “Up Close and Personal Blog”. I spent an amazing afternoon with Gael talking about all things design and inspiration… that post will be coming in the next weeks.
Magpie + RUTH, my son Zach’s catering company, made a fantastic lunch for us each day. The bread pudding recipe below was a favorite with the entire crew, our Alabama Chanin team, and the photo above a favorite with our Facebook followers.
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.
From what I’ve gathered, Taos is a Magical Place. Natalie made a trip there not so long ago and came home breathless with tales of beauty and enlightenment. She was especially enthralled with the story of Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.
Her experience inspired a new series of workshops called Weekend Away.
Natalie wrote in the introduction to this series:
“I had the opportunity to visit Taos not so very long ago and, as I much as I was looking forward to the trip, nothing could have prepared me for the experience. In a word: incredible. My stay at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, my time in Taos, the breath-taking mountain backdrop, all left me feeling rested, energized, inspired.
I have always felt that our workshops have a sort of healing property and, while we love hosting weekend workshops in our home @The Factory, we also feel that it is beneficial to visit the “homes” of others for an extended stay. We are beginning to seek destinations that nourish the soul and calm the mind. Taos seems the perfect place to begin.”
We all encounter bumps in the road, but with encouragement and tenacity, we persevere.
Back in 2001, I faced one in my life. I returned to New York to continue developing my life’s work into what is now Alabama Chanin. At the time, I was living in the Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street while I was developing the line, working with partners, and sorting out production issues. One Sunday morning, I woke up feeling extremely frustrated. Continue reading →
I used to go sit at Tom Hendrix’ wall to think, particularly on days when I thought I couldn’t take running my business anymore. I would ask Mr. Hendrix over and over again, “Where do you find the passion and will to continue creating 25, 26, 27 years into your work?” He would patiently listen to me, laugh, and tell me to go sit in the prayer circle. It always worked. Eventually the wall came to change my entire life – but that is a story for later. Come back in a few weeks to read the rest. This is the story of “The Wall,” as I know it.
Most of you who follow this blog know that when I returned to Alabama over 11 years ago, I didn’t have a grand plan to build the company that is now Alabama Chanin. Any plans I may have had seemed to fall away into something far larger than I ever anticipated. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in such a position and I readily admit that, at times, I was incredibly overwhelmed. However, as the initial “project” morphed into a business, I learned how to run it on the fly – one day at a time. I have often said that I am not a quick learner, but I finally realized that my community has such a wealth of knowledge as to the workings of cotton AND manufacturing. These two things had been part of the vernacular of this community for a century. So while it took time for me to understand, I finally realized I just needed to “go to the well” to draw upon that information. Here in Florence, Alabama, that “well” was Terry Wylie.
I made a flight to Berlin this year with her book, Composed: A Memoir, and could not put it down. There was a moment in the Berlin airport I was streaming tears, book in hand, and oblivious to the other passengers looking my way. Butch leaned over and said, “You okay?” “Yes,” I replied, “it’s just SO beautiful.”
More on that coming soon…
Today, Nov 17, 2011 (4:30pm CT/5:30pm ET), Rosanne is In The Room with Krista Tippett (who I also adore and follow).
Krista Tippett’s podcast, On Being, has spurred many conversations and thoughtful moments in my life. I listened to the episode, Civility, History & Hope – Vincent Harding in conversation with Krista Tippett – in August and I just can’t seem to get it out of my mind. On my recent trips, I listened to it at least four more times and each time it resonated with more clarity. I have since read the entire transcript and I continue to contemplate the message.
From the program:
“Vincent Harding is a wise voice of history — the history of civil rights. This hour, as part of our Civil Conversations Project, he helps us imagine how the lessons of that time might speak to contemporary American divisions. Martin Luther King’s vision, he reminds us, was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; he aspired in biblical words to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society. And Vincent Harding possesses an infectious hope for the continued unfolding of that possibility, even now. He’s spent recent decades bringing the elders and lessons of civil rights into creative contact with new generations. As we navigate rancor in our time, he says, we can look both to history and again to the margins of society, to young people of courage and creativity.”
I come back over and over again to the thought of the “beloved community,” the feeling of Dr. King and Vincent Harding that the term “civil rights” is not enough – that we as humanity are bigger than that.