Monday, we wrote about artist Tilleke Schwarz’s New Potatoesas inspiration for the week. However, Tilleke’s textiles have been a source for inspiration for me for years. When New Potatoes landed on my desk about a year ago, we started the skirt you see above as homage to Tilleke and her work.
We have produced narrative work over the years in the form of our Story Quilts. With that series, we take vintage quilts, refurbish them, and embroider oral histories onto the fabrics. You will find a Textile Stories Quilt project in Alabama Studio Stylethat describes this series. However, this series is small in comparison to the beautiful narrative work of Tilleke Schwartz.
Once there was nothing but paper and pen. Not so long ago (a little over a decade), before the email, the text, the tweet, or the Facebook post, there was simply paper and pen.
Think about how special it feels when you get an actual hand-written note in the mail. When you were a child and wrote that super-secret note to your pen pal, covering the envelope in stickers – think of the pure excitement when a response finally arrived. When I was young and corresponded with friends, summer camp bunk-mates, or cousins, I remember watching as they grew and their handwriting changed: a visual representation that we were getting older. As we moved through junior high and high school, the passing of the note in class became high art. As we got older, silly little love notes were left under car windshield wipers, tucked into coat pockets, left on pillows. Some were sappy, some embarrassing, some beautiful – all with one intent: to express affection.
Last week, I was on the phone with my dear friend Lisa who talking about Dr. Ruth and organizing a book reading with the famed doctor in the mattress section of a well-known store. Genius.
Dr. Ruth was suddenly on my radar and, in the process, I discovered her Twitter account (follow Dr. Ruth; you will thank me). So, as one thing leads to another on the internet, I follow one of the links to the video below, which brings me back to literature, specifically erotica:
So, I admit that when the Fifty Shades Series arrived on my radar, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Many women today are reading this series openly. I see school moms posting about the characters on Facebook and little old ladies sitting in coffee shops with the book proudly lying open beside their tea. So while I am thankful that erotica has found its way out-of-the-closet, I found the series (ahem) not as engaging as some of the classic tomes from my earlier days; however, I ADORE Dr. Ruth’s take:
All of this in a round-about-way to say Happy Valentine’s Month ahead of us. Here’s to a bit of literature (erotic or otherwise)–perhaps read aloud to a loved one.
These days, I mostly enjoy Ivy and Bean, recited aloud by my budding reader (if I can stay awake long enough).
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
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.
You know how we at Alabama Chanin feel about open sourcing. We offer our techniques and the information necessary to recreate our products, should you decide that you want to do-it-yourself. After three books, countless DIY Kits, and an amazing array of workshops, we have learned some important things: people will take your ideas and run with them; what you put into the world will come back to you in ways that you never imagined; the world is a creative place; and you never know what people are capable of until you give them the tools and the opportunity to create.
That being said, I think we’ve found a kindred spirit in the musician, Beck. While listening to one of my podcast staples, All Things Considered, I caught an interview where he described his newest album – an album that he, himself, hasn’t actually recorded. Song Reader (published by, awesome, McSweeney’s) is a set of 20 songs that Beck has released only in sheet music format. His hope is that other musicians will take the material and record their own versions. After releasing so many solo albums, he said that crowdsourcing his music seemed like a way to make the process less lonely.
From All Things Considered: “When you write a song and make a recording and put out a record, it’s kind of [like] sending a message in a bottle,” Beck says. “You don’t really get a lot of feedback. This is a way of sending that song out, and you just get literally thousands of bottles sent back to you.”
There are plenty of artists that have taken up this artistic challenge. You can hear many of them at Beck’s Song Reader website. Maybe, you’ll find your own inspiration there.
To hear the entire interview and some of the songs that have been recorded, listen to the All Things Considered segment here.
There’s a cluster of Polaroids in our production office that never fail to captivate our visitors, and even though they’ve been there for the better part of a decade we still find ourselves staring. They’re so beautiful. It’s hard to look away.
Those Polaroids are from our first fashion show— 8 years ago—a cast of women assembled by the amazing Jennifer Venditti of JV8, Inc. Jennifer, a director and pioneer of selecting models whose beauty is far from typical, introduced us to a group of ladies whose poise, confidence, and style were unmistakable.
Mimi Weddell was among this incredible ensemble, a vibrant actress and New York fashion icon. She was most known for her lifetime obsession with hats. We love that her words are the introduction to Ari Seth Cohen’s book, a celebration of personal style at any age, Advanced Style:
“I can’t imagine going without a hat. The only romantic thing left in life is a hat.”
If you’ve spent any amount of time at The Factory you know a thing or two about biscuits. There’s at least a dozen different recipes in the Alabama Chanin library, and Natalie can make some of the most flakey mouthwatering creations you’ve ever tasted with no measuring cup in sight, all while wrangling a six year old.
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.