Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cody Theatre

          If you had to assign an architectural style to my hometown, you might call it Western Vernacular. That would cover everything from the Poverty Primitivism I remember so well growing up (tarpaper and license-plate-sided buildings and repurposed concentration-camp barracks*) to the Easty-Coasty Log-Mansionism that has gradually infiltrated Cody from second-home enclaves like Jackson Hole.

          When I was a kid, you wouldn't have used the word "architecture" in association with any building in town, except possibly the Irma Hotel, because the purpose of most of the buildings was not to impress the eye and gladden the heart, but rather simply to keep the wind and snow and most of the larger wildlife out and at least 50 percent of the heat in. Impressing the eye and gladdening the heart, as anyone who's ever had to keep body and soul together on what you can earn in a small western town can tell you, will not heat your house nor feed your kids. Cheap and practical is all that's required of public or private buildings—and it's certainly the style of architecture I remember when I think of Cody—unremarkable, but it got the job done.

          Sometimes you have to go away from a place and return to it before you see the gems it has hidden in plain sight.

          I was back in Cody for a visit a few years ago, walking down Sheridan Avenue and marveling at how touristy downtown has become (and this is saying something, for Cody has always been very touristy), when I chanced to look across the street at the movie theatre that has been in Cody ever since God was a pup.

          If you had asked me to describe the theatre I grew up going to, I would have said, "shabby." I would have added, "nondescript verging on ugly."

          I would not have said, as I stood across the street, gaping at that very same theatre, "My God, look at that lovely little Art Deco gem!" Nothing—literally nothing—has changed since I was a kid, and yet now I notice the Deco details on the building and marquee; I notice that the typeface spelling out "Cody Theatre" is a beautiful example of period type design; I notice how much care was taken in the design of the facade, and how it impresses the eye and gladdens the heart.

          And I think that perhaps I didn't grow up in such an unremarkable place after all.

*The barracks housed Japanese-Americans imprisoned at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, one of ten centers where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during WWII.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

British Museum, I Love You

          If you have a Twitter account, you should follow the British Museum (@britishmuseum), if only because right now, in conjunction with what looks like a truly excellent exhibition on Vikings, they have an amusing little doodad that allows you to Viking yourself. This doodad is also available to non-Twittered Muggles on the museum's website.

          What does it mean to Viking yourself? You give them your name and photo and you get a new Viking surname, with runic translation, and a fabulous Viking accessory. If you have a Twitter account, you can tweet them your Viking-ed photo (@britishmuseum #VikingsLive), and see yourself on their Twitter feed.

This is pretty much the perfect way to spend an afternoon that really should
instead be spent doing Very Important Things That Are Not Nearly As Much Fun.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Shriner Gothic

          So I was at a conference the other day, held in the wonderful old El Jebel Shriner building in Denver. It was built in 1928, and it has the warmth and human scale and eccentricity that you expect of old buildings, and the lack of which makes new buildings so unlovable and unpleasant.

          I would have loved this building anyway, with its period architecture and its solid sense of its own history, but then I chanced to stroll down a hall and beheld this lamp and lost my heart utterly. For who would not adore to own a truncated arm sticking out of a wall holding a mosque-like lamp? Who would not be smitten by its whimsical grotesquery? Who would not long to give it pride of place in their own house? 

          As I have said before, K and I do not always find common ground on questions of interior d├ęcor. When I showed him this photo, and merely suggested that a pair of these delights, placed one on either side of the fireplace, would add a certain je ne sais quoi to the living room, he came very near to a fit of apoplexy.

          Quietly, I withdrew my suggestion. But I am biding my time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


         I'm now in that in-betweeny period of life where items from my childhood that still seem reasonably au courant to me are considered "vintage" by the rest of the world. Frankly, I have enough things to obsess about right now without wondering when that mostly charming adjective will not just be used for Busted-up Artifacts From The Distant Past but will be applied to me personally, with the understanding that I, too, am one of those busted-up artifacts.

          For I don't feel vintage. I feel fresh and youthful and full of promise. This sign, however, with a logo that I distinctly remember from my childhood as being clean and hip and modern as all get-out, says otherwise.

Please tell me I'm aging better than this. Lie if you need to.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Words on Buildings

          I have a love affair with big words painted on buildings.

          Maybe it's the color scheme. Black, white, and red is always a powerful combination.

LoDo, Denver

          Maybe it's the size. Make something that big, and you have to pay attention to it.

Midtown Kansas City, Missouri.

          Maybe it's the wear and tear that makes them look like witnesses to a bygone time.

West Bottoms, Kansas City, Missouri.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Design of Cabbages

No, this is not a cooking post. It is a design post.

          So I was making dinner the other night and I had to stop right there in the middle of cutting up a cabbage to admire its gorgeous positive/negative space and to take photographs of it. K just shook his head; he's used to his dinner balancing precariously on the edge between food and design.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Nancy's Quilt

Wanderlust, based on the pattern Four Winds

          Although I make quilts from time to time, all the quilts in my house but one are made by other people. This is the one quilt of mine that I have kept. I call it Wanderlust because everything in it moves. There are tumbleweeds blowing, wheels rolling, leaves and wings fluttering. The design was a meditation on how much we moved house, giving ourselves up to chaos on a regular basis and then recreating order from it. I spent a lot of time graphing out the design, imposing order on the chaos of all those little squares* while trying to preserve its restless movement.

          If you're familiar with quilt patterns, you will even notice a secondary pattern—Broken Dishes. Broken dishes, as anyone who has moved can tell you, are a part of moving. They're a pattern within the pattern. I liked the idea of secondary patterns lurking within the main one, the idea that everything changes, always, depending on where you are standing and what you focus on.

          I intended it to be a comment on K's and my restless lives, but it is also the most accurate self-portrait I've ever done.

Detail of edging and binding.
*Every square in this quilt is a one-inch square. If you quilt, you will know what kind of folly this is. It's like tiling a warehouse floor using one-inch tiles. It is not a sensible thing to do.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Emma's Quilt

Nine-patch with sashing

          My great-grandma had a wonderful eye for fabric. And she was living in the era when all the pretty "vintage" prints weren't vintage at all. They were fresh and new and modern.

I love all the fabrics, but I love the polka dots the very best of all.

          This is the baby quilt she made for me.

          Something I do on every baby quilt I make is to back it in flannel, so that one side is soft and cuddly. I think some people do it, but I don't really think it's a must-do thing. I don't see flannel backs all that often. But when Mom took this quilt out of mothballs to give to me, I noticed that great-grandma backed it in flannel. I carry on a tradition I didn't even know about.