Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Renegade Craft Fair: A celebration of all things handmade

Renegade Craft Fair / This annual event has become one of my favorite
San Francisco things to do.

The Renegade Craft Fair at San Francisco's Fort Mason is a celebration of all things handmade in a variety of media. Last weekend's annual Renegade event provided hundreds of artists and craft makers a chance to escape their studios and step into a relaxed, festive and lively atmosphere.

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 seven U.S. cities (Austin, Brooklyn, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle) plus London. The San Francisco summer happening comes in mid-to-late July. I've been a Renegade Craft Fair goer for the past five summers, and it's become one of my favorite San Francisco things to do.

BambuEarth / Natural, sustainable, ethical, vegan, local
handmade soap.
From new and traditional to modern and innovative, there's always a diversity of art and style at the Renegade Craft Fair and this year was no different from the past. For me, I find it truly 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, my wife and I were among thousands gathered inside both the Herbst Pavilion and the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason to see over 450 modern makers of art.

There were arts and crafts enthusiasts, a poetry store, media scouts and taste makers -- even savvy shoppers stocking up early on unique, artist-created gifts for the end of the year holidays.

Of the 2015 Renegade San Francisco craft makers, one in particular garnered my interest and attention: Jordan Graves, a young, twenty-something artist from Savannah, Ga., whose Repeat Offfender -- yes with 3 f's in Offfender -- whose multi-disciplinary approach to art "generates patterns with digital artifacts for surface design, jewelry, and motion graphics."

According to her website, the multidisciplinary work of Repeat Offfender grew out of Graves' work towards a B.F.A. degree in Motion Media Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Sprouted Spirals / 3D printed jewelry by Jordan Graves.
Graves greeted my wife and I with a cute and polite smile as we perused her creative and colorful stud earrings -- she calls them "Sprouted Spirals."

They came in a variety of cool colors, including: white, black, red, blue, pink, purple, orange and yellow.

We were excited and so was Graves.

I asked what inspired her art and without any hesitation, Graves answered my question with interest and enthusiasm by saying it was her interest in textile design combined with a passion for digital roots -- you know, mathematics. Thus, Graves' combination of interests morphed into her unique creation of 3D printed jewelry.

Perusing Graves' website for Repeat Offfender is not only enjoyable, it's also about taking a deeper look into how she bridges her motion graphics background into her work and to see what is influencing her new collections. It's all about happy bright colors.

Photographs: BambuEarth by Michael Dickens ©2015; Repeat Offfender booth and Sprouted Spirals courtesy of 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Yountville: Come for the food and wine, stay for the art

A New Spin / Napa Valley artist Freeland Tanner's 2014 sculpture is
comprised of Cedar and Redwood grape stakes and repurposed poplar wood.

The town of Yountville is quickly becoming synonymous with art as it is with food and wine. Look around and you'll see how the influences from vintner culture, wine industry, culinary and arts converge in this lovely destination situated along Highway 29 in the heart of California's Napa Valley, about 60 miles outside San Francisco.

Bouchon / One of Yountville's
 world-class dining experiences.
While French Laundry and Bouchon brought Michelin stars and accolades -- and helped transform Yountville into a world-class destination for food -- there's been a push to show a creative, artsy side in a very public and profound way thanks to the installation of outdoor sculptures. The output of artwork doting Yountville has been very inspiring and has helped turn this wine country town into an outdoor art gallery.

Balance by Sherry Tobin.
Locals or tourists who walk along Yountville's Washington Street, the town's main thoroughfare, will notice about three dozen pieces of outdoor sculpture. The town went on an art binge beginning about three years ago by installing sculptures by local artists and some internationally-known ones, too.

While some of the sculptures are subtle in their quality, most are quite colorful and grab one's attention. Each is a welcome sight and during a recent visit, I noticed, many were magnets for both serious photographers as well as tourists stopping to take selfies.

Trellis Way to the Sky
by Freeland Tanner.
Each sculpture is well signed with information such as title, artist and composition. And, best of all, each is for sale with a percentage of the sales benefitting the Yountville Arts Fund which helps provide continued support for arts related activities and events in Yountville.

As someone who has returned often to Yountville to enjoy its culinary aspects, at Bouchon as well as Ad Hoc and Redd Wood, I've seen the town evolve nicely over the past 20 years. Now, the outdoor sculptures have become an essential and enjoyable component of the Yountville experience just like the puff pastries and macarons at Bouchon Bakery.

Indeed, come for the food and wine, stay for the art.

All photographs by Michael Dickens © 2015.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On baseball: At San Francisco's retro AT&T Park, free knothole area offers fans unique view of players and field

The Giants' AT&T Park / A jewel of a baseball park along San Francisco Bay.
Tickets to see the San Francisco Giants play along the water's edge of San Francisco Bay in their jewel of a baseball park, AT&T Park, are both pricey and tough to obtain. Winning three World Series during a five-year span easily caused the demand to exceed the supply.

So, the Giants offer a free standing room viewing area at AT&T Park. It's one-third of the view but for none of the price.

Indeed, it's a priceless experience that not only offers a unique view of the field -- close enough to smell the grass -- but also a chance to shout out a "hello" to Giants right fielder Hunter Pence.

The knothole area provides a viewing portal through a
chain-link fence into the Giants' ballpark.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, my wife and I took advantage of the opportunity to stroll up and stand in the "knothole" area under one of the three arches at the base of the 24-foot high brick wall in right field that provides a viewing portal through a chain-link fence into the Giants' ballpark.

The knothole area underneath the right field arcade is one of many retro features that arrived when AT&T Park (then known as Pac Bell Park) opened in 2000. None of the other 29 Major League ballparks across the country include such a viewing section as part of a built-in feature. From what I've learned, the idea behind the knothole area was to attract passersby to drop in from the adjoining promenade who might not otherwise be inclined to watch.

The view from the knothole / The Giants'
Hunter Pence at bat with Joe Panik on base.
There are few rules for watching from this area -- no cursing, no folding chairs, no alcohol, no pets -- and it can accommodate up to about 75 fans at a time.

When necessary, such as when this is a sought-out spot during the playoffs and World Series, fans are rotated in and out every three innings. On the day we visited, we could have stayed as long as we liked. The knothole area was only about one-third full.

There aren't many amenities, so if you plan to stay a while you may wish to bring along your own snacks or purchase something from the nearby Yard at McCovey Cove, which features a variety of food and beverage options.

With our backs facing the boardwalk along McCovey Cove, we stood and watched as various Giants players -- among them, Pence and Madison Bumgarner -- warmed up for the game.

Madison Bumgarner / Everyone wanted to take his picture.
Pence ran wind sprints across the outfield while Bumgarner, the MVP of the 2014 World Series, threw to battery mate Buster Posey in the Giants' bullpen. We also saw several other Giants players -- Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Mike Duffy -- come out on the field to run sprints and play catch.

At 1:05 p.m., it was "Game On." We stayed for the first inning and absorbed the view. Then, it was time to head into the breezy San Francisco afternoon in search of lunch and other adventures.

All photos by Michael Dickens © 2015.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

An imperfect rendition: "... how sweet the sound"

President Obama / An imperfect rendition of "Amazing Grace
brought the room to its feet and resonated with an entire nation.

Last Friday, President Obama moved a congregation -- and a nation -- when he broke out into spontaneous song, singing "Amazing Grace" at the conclusion of his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine slain members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, South Carolina.

That President Obama broke out in an imperfect rendition of this most spiritual of American songs was so unexpected. His surprising ability to make the music connect reaffirmed for us that music is, indeed, a ministry, one of the deepest expressions of the Christian faith. 

"Music is almost to me an echo of the sounds of the divine world, and when you hear these sounds, it stirs something deeply spiritual within you," said Grammy-nominated gospel singer Wintley Phipps, who has sung for every president since Ronald Reagan and who sang at President Barack Obama's National Prayer Service following his inauguration. In a 2009 interview with PBS' Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program, Phipps went on to say: "Music also is the most powerful way of impressing the human mind with hope."

In describing "Amazing Grace," the newsweekly magazine Time wrote: "Amazing Grace was written by an Englishman who in the early part of his life was an outspoken atheist, libertine, and slave trader. John Newton was born in London in 1725, the son of a Puritan mother and a stern ship commander father who took him to sea when he was 11 (“I am persuaded that he loved me but he seemed not willing that I should know it,” he later wrote).

"By 1745, Newton was enlisted in the slave trade, running captured slaves from Africa to, ironically, Charleston, S.C. After he rode out a storm at sea in 1748, he found his faith. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1764 and became an important voice in the English abolitionist movement. At that time he wrote the autobiographical 'Amazing Grace,' along with 280 other hymns."

President Obama embraced race and religion in his moving address in Charleston, saying: "As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we've been blind. He's given us the chance, where we've been lost, to find our best selves." He named each victim of the church shooting and declaring each "had grace."

At the conclusion of his eulogy, President Obama turned to "Amazing Grace" -- a go-to hymn at American funerals -- as a means of comforting the grieving families. It's been said that the African American spiritual teaches each of us that we're going to come up rough sides of mountains, and from time to time experience difficulties in our lives. However, we learn, faith gives us the ability to weather any storm.

"As the president segued from the words 'amazing grace' into the musical notes of 'Amazing Grace,' the audience members could be heard murmuring their surprise," wrote the Los Angeles Times. "So unlikely was it that a leader of the free world would try singing his way out of a eulogy that many weren't sure whether to believe he was. The fact that Obama's singing was a little off-key only seemed to help the cause, inspiring the audience to join in instead of just sitting back and listening."

Indeed, as we observed, President Obama's "Amazing Grace" moment showed us all what a little music could do in the right context. It was a moment in which he notably brought the room to its feet and resonated with an entire nation.

To see a video of President Obama singing "Amazing Grace":

To learn more about "Amazing Grace":

Photo: Courtesy of and Google images.