Some of us fell in love with Mark Twain the first time we read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and some of us understood his genius much later on, when we were finally old enough to appreciate his humor and satiric commentary on humanity. Twain’s polished use of irony is ever-present throughout the brief book, Advice to Little Girls, re-published this year with beautiful, and equally provocative, illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky. I loved it immediately.
Whether or not Twain intended this book to fall into the hands of sweet little girls, we’ll never know. And I’m undecided about sharing it with Maggie. Of course, I want to raise a creative, independent thinking, strong daughter, but somehow I think Twain’s “advice” might give her more ideas than she is (and I am) ready for. She’s already managed to exhaust me with her picky eating habits, her refusal to brush her hair, ever, and her snail’s pace at doing just about anything I ask of her.
I think it is pretty safe to say that midwifery is one of the first DIY skills in human existence. Certainly, the human body knows instinctively what to do when the time comes to birth a child. Still, I can’t imagine that we would have gotten very far as a species without someone learning how to assist in childbirth, give guidance to a mother, provide assistance to a newborn, and generally know how to take care of business.
It appears that learning the art of midwifery is flourishing both in the US and abroad. A recent story on public radio discussed how clinically trained midwives in rural Mexico might be a real healthcare solution for mothers living in rural areas, far from hospital care. Officials are hoping that by training professional midwives in basic nursing, gynecology, and obstetrics, they can not only help mothers without access to healthcare, but ease the burden placed upon the country’s overwhelmed hospitals. Worldwide health organizations have the same hope for other countries where physicians are scarce or far from rural communities.
This week, we’ve been exploring Finnish design company, Marimekko, well known for creating colorful, often bold patterns and fabrics. While their designs were first made popular in the 1960’s by Jacqueline Kennedy, the bright and vibrant garments remain classic choices, appropriate for any generation. Personally, I love to add a bold pattern or color to my regular wardrobe from time-to-time, and re-visiting the Marimekko story inspired this Tunic.
This pattern is a variation of our T-shirt Top, available in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design cut to tunic length. The tunic has a bit of a flare starting at the waist, which makes it comfortable and forgiving. We also have variations of tunics – the Camisole Tunic and the Tank Tunic – available as patterns in Alabama Studio Style.
For Marimekko Week, we wanted to make (and eat) one of the delicious Finnish dishes on the Marimekko Feeling Festive blog. Armi Ratia has been an inspiration to so many, myself included, for decades. The clean lines and graphic look of Marimekko patterns are both simple and exciting to the eye and the bold, bright colors exude confidence and happiness. I feel a distant kinship with Armi and the Marimekko process. There exists a shared desire to create beauty in things that will last a very long time.
That colorful simplicity of Marimekko design finds its way into the Festive blog recipes. This Carrot Butter was well loved by our staff on a very cold, grey day.
“One has to dream. And one has to stand out from the rest.” – Armi Raita, Marimekko creator
I’ve been wearing Converse sneakers for years. They’re comfortable, durable, inexpensive, and I love them with our hand-stitched garments. Just in case I wasn’t standing out from the rest already, Marimekko + Converse should grab some attention, right?
This week, we highlight the Finnish design company, Marimekko. As a long-standing leader in the fashion and design worlds, Marimekko has created timeless and colorful prints for over 60 years. I’ve followed the company from my days at NC State University and, as a designer, I have deep admiration and respect for Armi Ratia, the founder who created an empire by seeking beauty through design.
After World War II, Armi Ratia, a one-time weaver who was trained in industrial design, took interest in fabric printing; she wanted to bring happiness and color to distraught, post-war Finland. Working with full-time designers and buying from freelance artists, she began printing designs on fabrics that we now identify with an era, a culture, and a lifestyle.
I don’t want to overstate the obvious, but most of you would know that I am neither a New Yorker nor a fashion expert. While I enjoy style and design and I’m somewhat awed by the city, it’s clear to any observer that I’m native to neither. But, there’s something about Bill Cunningham that makes me feel comfortable with both. He lives and roams in the intimidating worlds of fashion and Manhattan, but manages to do so in an unpretentious way.
This weekend I re-watched the feature-length documentary Bill Cunningham New York, which profiles this prolific photographer and wise fashion observer and, once again, this eighty-something gentleman captured all my heart. Sometimes, as a fashion outsider, I imagine that NY style begins and ends on the runway. Bill Cunningham is a firm believer that this notion is not true. “The best fashion show is definitely on the street – always has been, always will be,” he assures us. His “On the Street,” column in the New York Times is a collage of on-trend people, items, movements, and real-time style progressions. In the film, Harold Koda, Curator of the Costume Institute/Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains that Bill attempts to “tease out trends in terms of the reality of how people dress.” Cunningham himself demurs, “I don’t decide anything. I let the street speak to ME.”
I’ve written a couple of times about what happens when your heroes and heroines become friends. For me, it brings about a feeling of connection to the ever-expanding universe; all things are possible. A girl from the countryside in Alabama can dine with royalty (in all its meanings). The picture above is proof. When I look at this picture, I laughingly think of The Death of Roy Batty in Blade Runner: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain….” However, those moments will not be lost. Knowing and dining with Les Blank gives me a connection to the stories and tiny details of human nature that make me a bigger, and better, person. His contribution to the genre of documentary film is exceptional; his contribution to my life is priceless. His clear vision of humanity (like that of The Kitchen Sisters) helped mold the designer, story lover, and human being I am today. I am so sad to write that my friend, and hero, is very ill with a protracted cancer. The City of Berkeley, California declared January 22nd the official Les Blank Day and wrote this: “With a soft spoken demeanor, an eye for beauty, an insightful mind and great enthusiasm, Les Blank has captured the essence of aspects of American culture,” and “through his respectful, quiet presence, and non-didactic style created films that allow his subjects to reveal their true selves in a unique way.” Well deserved. The world is a better place because of Les Blank, visionary wayfarer. P.S.: Photo above with Les and Alice Waters from April 2008 at The Edible Schoolyard (where Les first filmed and then cleaned everyone’s plate).
These days, you don’t think twice about hearing a woman’s voice on the radio. There are surely female deejays or journalists on your local station. NPR broadcasts the voices and stories of women like The Kitchen Sisters or Terry Gross among others. Alabama Chanin favorite, Elizabeth Cook has her own show, “Apron Strings,” on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country. But, once upon a time, it wasn’t so common to hear a female voice over the airwaves. For those in the Shoals area, Becky Burns Phillips was one of those first voices to be broadcast.
In 1942, Rebecca “Becky” Burns Phillips met her future husband, Sam Phillips, while they were both working at WLAY radio station in Sheffield, Alabama. They were both in high school. She, 17, had a radio segment with her sister where they played music and sang; he was a 19-year old radio announcer who was on his way to making rock and roll history. The Kitchen Sisters, in an article honoring Becky, quoted Sam as saying, “I fell in love with Becky’s voice even before I met her.” Becky described her first encounter with Sam to journalist Peter Guralnick: “He had just come in out of the rain. His hair was windblown and full of raindrops. He wore sandals and a smile unlike any I had ever seen. He sat down on the piano bench and began to talk to me. I told my family that night that I had met the man I wanted to marry.”
The two were married in 1943. Sam worked feverishly to establish Memphis Recording Service and, later, Sun Records. It is said that, during that time, he suffered two nervous breakdowns – which Becky gracefully helped him through. Becky and Sam had two sons, Jerry and Knox, but motherhood never took away her desire to work in radio.
Sam proudly spoke about how Becky’s talent inspired him to co-found WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, referred to as “The First All-Girl Radio Show in the Nation.” He would say that he wanted women, wanted his wife to have a chance that no one had ever given them before – and he co-founded WHER with the money he made from selling Elvis Presley’s contract. He would say, “Becky was the best I ever heard.”
Her son Knox remembered that, at the time of WHER’s conception, women weren’t even allowed to attend the Columbia School of Broadcasting. “But, because of my mother,” he said, “when Sam started the station (WHER) he made it all female: all female air talent, all female executives and sales staff,” he told The Commercial Appeal.
At WHER, Becky was able to shine – writing scripts, organizing segments, managing the station, and presenting in her own beautiful way. She was in charge of approving each record that was played. Though her husband was a rock and roll legend, there were no rocking records at WHER. And there were NEVER to be any curse words allowed over the airwaves. Over the years, she hosted a number of radio shows and carefully curated every day’s segments. Becky told the Kitchen Sisters, “I played music to work by – all the beautiful music like Jackie Gleason and Doris Day, and I gave household hints.”
Phillips broadcast on the radio for over 40 years, until the mid-1980’s, always with her distinctive sign-off: “A smile on your face puts a smile in your voice.”
Mrs. Phillips died in September of 2012 at the age of 87.
Becky Burns Phillips carefully preserved WHER’s record library for well over 40 years. Many of those recordings can be heard on the Peabody Award winning segment by the Kitchen Sisters, “Lost and Found Sound: 1000 Beautiful Watts.”
Listen to Becky Phillips talk about her husband, Sam, and WHER Radio for the TV Segment, “The Lives They Lived” here:
There were few like her, a true pioneer in her field. Her fearlessness and her devotion to her family and her profession are inspirational. We are proud to be part of a community that fostered a woman like Becky Phillips, a pioneer in spirit and part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.
P.S.: I never met Becky Phillips. After moving back home in 2000, I was “busy.” Building a business and sorting through my own life, closed me off to some of the great treasures (and families) of my own community. My loss. Resolution: take time to work less and belong more. xoNatalie
*Photo above found on The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee
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.