Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Renegade Craft Fair: Out of the studio and into the spotlight

Handmade petite paper flowers by Blooms in the Air artist Ji Kim
were on display at the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco.

The Renegade Craft Fair, which came to San Francisco's Fort Mason last weekend, brought out hundreds of artists and craft makers from their studios and into the spotlight to celebrate all things handmade in a variety of media.

Since its debut in 2003, the Renegade Craft Fair has showcased the best and brightest in Etsy indie craft and design, and it's become a major player in a booming DIY (Do It Yourself) craft movement in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Each year, the Renegade Craft Fair visits five U.S. cities (Austin, Brooklyn, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco) plus London. Here, and in other cities, Renegade Craft Fair events are held in both summer and winter months. The San Francisco summer happening comes in late July while the winter event occurs in early December, just in time for the Christmas holidays. I've been a Renegade Craft Fair goer for the past three summers, and it's become one of my favorite San Francisco things to do.

From new and traditional to modern and innovative, there's always a diversity of art and style at the Renegade Craft Fair. It's interesting to see what's new and hip in the areas of art, clothing, jewelry, photography, quilts, toys and other knick-knacks -- and to be able to meet and mingle with the artists behind these creations.

On Sunday, thousands gathered inside the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason to see over 250 modern makers of art. There were arts and crafts enthusiasts, bloggers, media scouts and taste makers -- even savvy shoppers stocking up early on unique, artist-created gifts for the end of the year holidays.

Among the hundreds of handmade goods I perused at this year's San Francisco Renegade Craft Fair were:

  • fresh butter crunch treats from p.o.p. candy;
  • neat things for the house from the recoverie
  • handmade greeting cards "sure to make 'em laugh" from Julie Ann Art
  • handcrafted leather goods and jewelry focusing on creating beautiful, functional and timeless accessories from btwn wind & water
  • handmade jams and pickles from lemon bird
  • completely conscious clothing created with sustainable materials from field day
  • beautiful, functional things for the curated home from Nell & Mary.  
Of the 2013 Renegade San Francisco craft makers, two garnered my attention for different reasons:

Mass transit made art by LinePosters.
First, LinePosters, a popular Brooklyn, N.Y.-based poster and apparel group co-founded by Cayla Ferari and John Brezicky, whose moniker "mass transit made art" drew me in because of my interest in mass transit and city maps.

LinePosters creates posters, letterpress cards and t-shirts of "highly stylized mass transit maps from iconic cities around the globe." Among them, transit maps of Chicago, New York, San Francisco, London and Paris caught my eye. (Earlier this month, I rode the Chicago "L" trains; I regularly ride BART to go back-and-forth between Oakland and San Francisco; and I love the London Underground and Paris Metro!)

As I bought four LinePosters letterpress cards (London, New York, Paris and San Francisco), I briefly chatted with one of the co-founders, Cayla Ferari, to learn more about what inspired her to turn mass transit maps into art. Then, I took the time to congratulate Cayla on what I thought was a truly original idea. In turn, she shared with me about how Oakland reminded her of Brooklyn, because both shared an up-and-coming art, food and culture scene despite often being over-shadowed by their bigger, neighboring cities of Manhattan and San Francisco.

Second, Blooms in the Air (aka BITA) is a petite and whimsical handmade paper flower shop created by a young and free-spirited southern Californian artist, Ji Kim. In visiting Ji's booth, it was evident that her flowers not only are pretty; they are always in season and in style, too.

On her website, Ji describes her art of paper flowers and what inspires her to create them. "The shop came to life when a desire to create something beautiful using my own two hands grew too big to ignore," says Ji. "BITA believes in the simple, honest joy that flowers give and hope that the inspired arrangements will leave you and your loved ones smiling."

In talking with Ji, I learned how she blends her creative talents with her attention to detail that enables her to create simple, well-crafted floral keepsakes. It explains why she describes herself as an archi-designer, an architect and designer who is a creative type, too. Although I did not buy any paper flowers on this day, I gained an appreciation for why Ji loves her art and enjoys talking to those interested in learning more about the beauty and joy of her art making.

Photo of Blooms in the Air by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013.
Photo of San Francisco mass transit made art courtesy of LinePosters.com.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On pop culture: A great design that's always making a fashion statement

The Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneaker

In recent years, the colorful, unisex appeal of Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers has become quite noticeable, especially among teens and young, college-aged adults.

After all, great design never goes out of style. Sometimes, it just gets a little edgy and interactive.

I learned this first hand last week while perusing a Converse Store during a walk along Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, which houses the largest collection of Converse footwear (which includes Chuck Taylor All-Star and their companion sneaker Jack Purcell) and apparel in the world.

Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers have come a long way since their basic black and white styles were once the elite footwear of choice for generations of basketball-playing Americans. Their popularity predates Adidas and Nike. In the 1970s, the iconic American punk rock band The Ramones gave the Converse brand a worldwide counterculture status. Other notables who've worn the Chuck Taylor All-Star brand include Kurt Cobain of grunge rock Nirvana fame and British actor David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, in the BBC television science fiction series Dr. Who.

Today, thanks to their casual appearance and variety of bright and vivid colors, the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers are a "must-have" for a new generation of sneaker wearers. While they are now known more for their vintage fashion appeal than their athletic use, there is still a "wow" factor and a casual sense of coolness attached to them.

At Converse's Third Street Promenade flagship store, you can even design your own creative, one-of-a-kind pair of All-Star kicks in what is billed as Converse Customization. Through the use of iPad technology and over 150 customization graphics, including collaborations with local Santa Monica artists, customers can channel their inner Jackson Pollack or Andy Warhol in expressing their own personal and artistic style -- from abstract expressionist to modern pop art.

The Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers remain a great design, always making a fashion statement.

Photograph of Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Uplifting our mind: Finding inspiration in religious and sacred art

Johann Koerbecke / The Annunciation (1457)

The artistic imagery of religious or sacred art is intended to inspire us and uplift our mind. Whether Christian, Islamic, Catholic, Buddhist or Hellenistic in nature, there is a path of spiritual realization and beauty worth discovering throughout the world's cathedrals, mosques, chapels and art museums.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of visiting the Art Institute of Chicago while on holiday in America's "Second City", and I made a point to look for the museum's religious and sacred art. The Art Institute's permanent collection of religious and sacred art includes a variety of works created by German, Dutch, Spanish and Italian artists. There is also a wing devoted to Indian and Islamic art, which included some religious and sacred artifacts.

Some of the earliest surviving Christian art goes back to near the origins of Christianity. Meanwhile, an example of Islamic sacred art can be seen in the Great Mosque of Kairouan (also called the Mosque of Uqba), located in Tunisia. Built in 670 AD, the upper part of the prayer niche (known as the mihrab) is decorated with 9th century lusterware tiles and painted intertwined vegetal motifs. And, Buddhist art has its origins on the Indian subcontinent and followed the life of Siddhartha Gautama from 6th to 5th century BC.

Among the most common Christian themes found in religious or sacred art is that of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus and also of Christ on the Cross, and the Art Institute's collection includes many examples of both themes.

Fortunately, the Art Institute allows non-flash photography in many of its permanent galleries. Thus, I have the pleasure of sharing with you a sample of some of the religious and sacred art spanning the 15th through 18th centuries, which I saw and photographed during my afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Colyn de Coter /
Virgin and Child Crowned by Angels

Burgos Cathedral /
The Birth of Saint John the Baptist (c. 1525)

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo /
Virgin and Child with Saint Dominic
and Hyacinth (1730/35)

About the paintings:

* In Johann Koerbecke's "The Annunciation" (oil on panel, transferred to canvas), the German painter depicts one of eight scenes from the life of the Virgin decorating the inside of the wings of his masterpiece, the altarpiece on the high altar of the Cistercian abbey of Marienfeld, near Münster in northwest Germany.

* Colyn de Coter's style and subjects, as shown in his "Virgin and Child Crowned by Angels" (oil on panel), reflected the traditions of the great 15th-century Netherlandish painters. In his painting, a comfortable, bourgeois interior underscores Christ's humanity, all the while angels crown the Virgin as the Queen of Heaven.

* In "The Birth of Saint John the Baptist" (polychromed and gilded wood) from the Spanish Burgos Cathedral, the figure of the infant Baptist being passed between his mother, Saint Elizabeth, and a kneeling midwife are depicted in this relief. During this period, painted wood sculpture was popular in Spain, and it is assumed that this relief probably came from a carved altar dedicated to the life of the Baptist.

* "Virgin Child with Saints Dominic and Hyacinth" (oil on canvas) by Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo is an altarpiece that, according to the museum, was likely destined for a church in Venice. "Tiepolo transformed the traditional subject of the Virgin and Child with interceding saints into a light-filled vision. Supported on golden clouds, the Virgin and Child appear atop an altar table with a richly embroidered hanging."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Urban design: A public market complete with a "green living room"

Ping pong, anyone? / A green living room
at the Emeryville Public Market

The Public Market sits just across the bay from San Francisco, wedged between Berkeley and Oakland, in Emeryville, Calif. This 14-acre, mixed-use site is an urbanist's dreamscape. It has good office, retail and dining space, a cineplex, and good access to public transportation. The Public Market has undergone an urban transformation over the last year thanks to a new, private ownership group (Center City Reality Partners) that has infused fresh money to match its new look and changed attitude.

While there is still an international food court that's always bustling most weekdays at lunchtime, there are some new retail shops -- Guitar Shop and Urban Outfitters --complemented by a Peet's Coffee & Tea shop that always seems to be abuzz with activity.

According to the San Francisco Business Times, the new owners received a Catalyst Communities Pilot Project grant of $1.35 million to pay for "electric vehicle charging stations, a solar carport, models of recycling and composting, environmental education and a science display on the project's green features." Much of this grant has already come to fruition since the beginning of the year.

One thing which I find very appealing about the new-look of the Emeryville Public Market is the transformation of a once under-utilized patio space outside the former Border's Books into a snazzy and colorful urban park.

With the brick facade of the recently-opened hipster Urban Outfitters clothing store as its backdrop, this expansive urban park space, which also includes a lush, green grassy knoll, is complete with a ping pong table, colorful red and blue Adirondack-style lounge chairs, and a variety of brick and wood benches. It's a very inviting space to come and relax, whether enjoying a cup of coffee or a snack, reading a summer best-seller, or merely soaking up some Bay Area sunshine.

The Emeryville Public Market is located at 5959 Shellmound Street, Emeryville.

Photograph by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013.