Over the past months, we have been exploring heirlooms through ongoing Journal posts. Our intention is to look at the things we hold dear and examine how we find meaning in our personal heirlooms and mementos – even if those things don’t necessarily have great monetary value. The Heirloom series is meant to celebrate things that last and the things that we assign meaning to in our lives. This week, we look at the process of creating something with intention – the act of making something designed to last and assigning a meaning to that object from its inception. Our friend and Journal contributor Sara shares stories of her late father-in-law, told from the perspective of some of his children: A few months ago, my family suffered a loss with the passing of my father-in-law, who we all called Mike. It was a heartbreaking time but, as is often the case, the painful loss provided the opportunity to share memories, spend time together, grieve, and heal. The ironic part of the rituals surrounding a death – the preparations, family gatherings, storytelling – is that you constantly look at one another and think: He would have loved to be here… He would have loved this. My husband, Kory, has six siblings. They rarely see one another. We don’t live terribly close to most of them and, though we might have great intentions of visiting one another (or at least calling more often), inevitably life happens. Days and weeks and months and seasons pass with only brief “hellos”, the occasional text message, or the rare visit. When Mike passed away, we all found ourselves in the same room, thrust upon one another in the middle of life. We were brothers and sisters, spouses and children, nieces and mothers and aunts and uncles – together with one terrible agenda settling in over the room. But, as happens, there are things that must be done, plans to be made, decisions to ponder, meals to cook, and logistics to navigate. You begin the tricky balance of working, grieving, and healing. Your loss is personal and it is also communal. Continue reading
Do you remember your first day of school? I don’t remember the actual day, but I do have photos of myself, standing outside my first grade classroom, smiling, wearing a plaid dress and knee socks. I do remember my children’s first school days—the nervous excitement they showed and the bittersweet pride I felt at witnessing this important milestone. While I don’t take those moments for granted, there was never a doubt that those moments would come. It’s common now to see Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram light up with school photos that document every moment of our children’s educational lives. A few months ago, I received an email from an old friend that provided some much-needed perspective.
The email offered a link to a Ted Talk by a woman named Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder of SOLA—Afghanistan’s first all-girl boarding school. The word “sola” means “peace” in the Pashto language, but it is also an acronym for School of Leadership, Afghanistan. Shabana was 6 years old when the Taliban took over Afghanistan and made it illegal for girls to go to school. So, for five years, her family dressed her as a boy and sent her to a secret school to learn. Even at this young age, she understood the risks that she—and her parents—were undertaking. She would walk for 30 minutes, even an hour, to schools. The locations would move, and she would walk different paths each day; sometimes class would take place in the morning and other times in the afternoon.
Not quite terra cotta red; not exactly pinkish; not really coral, but really red.
Pinkish: an adjective meaning somewhat pink.
Coral: also an adjective meaning a reddish yellow; light yellowish red; pinkish yellow.
On a recent outing scavenging local thrift and antique stores, I stumbled upon a set of children’s encyclopedias, titled Childcraft: The How and Why Library. Although an incomplete collection, the books were in good shape and decently priced so I happily acquired the lot. (I am a known collector—hoarder, lover, gatherer—of books.)
While modern encyclopedias have existed for around three centuries, the first set aimed at children (aptly titled the Children’s Encyclopaedia) appeared in the early 1900s. The Childcraft books were first published in the 1930s, with updated versions produced throughout subsequent decades. The editions I found were copyrighted 1976, and I was particularly intrigued by the volume titled Make and Do, which is full of simple, kid-friendly crafts, including sewing projects aimed to make learning (and doing) fun.
Here at Alabama Chanin, we continue to be drawn to the distinct and historical Dust-to-Digital catalog. Dust-to-Digital is a unique recording company that serves to combine rare recordings with historical images and descriptive texts, resulting in cultural artifacts. We have previously written about several of their collections that resonate so well with our brand. We believe in preserving traditions, and Dust-to-Digital truly speaks to that with their historically rich albums.
I Belong to this Band: 85 Years of Sacred Harp Recordings is a moving glimpse into the history of Sacred Harp singing and its deep Southern ties. Compiled by Matt Hinton and Lance Ledbetter, this CD features 30 recordings as varied as the earliest recordings of the genre from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. It also includes a pleasant mix of home recordings made by small groups of singers in the 1950s as well as contemporary recordings of all-day singings.
I’ve never met Roderick Kiracofe, but, I’ve known about his quilt collection for a long time. I believe that I heard his name shortly after I returned to Alabama over a decade ago. In those early days, I was working with quilters to create the garments that would make up my first collections. My neighbors supported my interest in quilts and quilting, happy that I was embracing a skill so highly valued in the community. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for me to open my door in the morning and find a bag of quilts left by an anonymous soul. They were often “garbage quilts”, as they are called around here—quilts that had seen better days. Many were shedding handpicked cotton through feed-sack fabric, worn so thin that the strings left couldn’t contain the internal batting. They were quilts that had been used to cover animals or as seat padding for an old car. But someone knew that I would see their value and appreciate their history.
Where does inspiration come from? Do ideas spring from a single stimulus? Or are they generated by a creative environment fostered over time? Of course, we know the answer is both – and many more sources.
My daughter, Maggie, is obsessed with Minecraft, which (if you don’t already know) is an open-ended game that relies upon the player’s creativity to build her own world and solve problems along her journey. The game’s virtual world is made of cubes of materials – grass, dirt, sand, bricks, lava, and many others. Players survive and earn accomplishments by using these blocks to create other materials, structures, and any three-dimensional form.
Written by Ted Ownby and Becca Walton
Situated at the intersection of necessity and creativity, southern fashion lets us ask questions about place and historical context, power, and identity. Every garment has a designer, maker, wearer, and viewer, and we can study all of them.
We can tell local stories about designers and seamstresses, farmers and factory workers. At the same time, we can see the South’s centuries-long engagement with a global economy through one garment, with cotton harvested by enslaved laborers in Mississippi, milled in Massachusetts or Manchester, designed with influence from Parisian tastemakers, and sold in the South by Jewish immigrant merchants.
It isn’t clear where to start, and that’s exciting. The term “southern fashion” doesn’t seem to be clearly defined by terms or limits, so we may not need to spend energy overturning conventional wisdoms. Do we start with creative reuse, with Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” or with Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress? Do we start with osnaburg, the so-called “negro cloth” of the 19th century, or with farm families wearing garments cut from the same cloth, or with women who did sewing every day but Sunday?
In 2005, photographer Leslie Williamson made a wish list of all the houses that she hoped to visit in her lifetime. The homes belonged mostly to her favorite architects and designers, who had offered her creative inspiration throughout her career as a photographer. She was curious to learn what inspired them in their home and studio environments, and since there was no book containing images of these spaces, she decided to take on the project herself. The result was 2010’s Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Midcentury Designers. Her book’s success surprised Williamson and showed her that she was not alone in her curiosity about environment and inspiration. She then set out to create a “library of these designers and how they lived for future generations”.
Her recent follow up, Modern Originals: At Home with Midcentury European Designers, is another beautifully photographed book featuring the private spaces of European architects and designers. The book—funded in part with a gorgeous Kickstarter film—provides an intimate look into the at-home design choices of notable creative minds, showing not only their design and architecture choices, but also illuminating some aspects of their lives. Williamson writes that she felt she was “meeting these people as human beings through being in their homes and learning about their everyday life.”
Over the past thirty-five years, public radio producer Jay Allison has accumulated a wealth of inspiration in his extensive audio archive of human experience. A personal hero of mine, he has brought innovative storytelling to the forefront of radio journalism. His new project, Transom.org, won the first Peabody Award ever given exclusively to a website. This site provides resources and community for young journalists, diarists, artists, and reporters by combining the power of the recorded spoken word and the internet. It also brings otherwise unheard stories to a broad audience.
I discovered this inspiring piece written by artist and computer scientist Jonathan Harris on the Transom Review, a collection of written narratives on Transom.org. “Navigating Stuckness,” is an unashamed look at the journey Harris has taken to understand life’s meaning and the loss and gain of momentum in the long run. The story of his work is actually the story of his life. This may be one reason I found the piece so appealing. Our work is a direct reflection of our developing state.