29 November 2015

Theatre of Dreams

Glittering Tree toppers at Wendy Addison's studio Theatre of Dreams

A cold, clear holiday weekend,  and what better way to enjoy the beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area than to escape the city and have a short adventure to Port Costa?   It's been far too long since I last visited Wendy Addison's studio, and today the Theatre of Dreams is open!

Theatre of Dreams holiday shop in Port Costa;  Bob's roasted nuts being sold outside

Port Costa is a charming little place on the Carquinez Straight, at the end of a windy canyon road,  and it's utterly beautiful in a frozen-in-time kind of way.  And today it was nearly freezing so the Maestro and I  began with a warming drink at the Warehouse Café, which in the summer is usually full of bikers, but was at that hour perfectly deserted. Then we went to visit the shop, which is housed in an old flat-front Victorian with a double wrap-around porch. 

inside the Theatre of Dreams

Inside the Theatre of Dreams is dark and twinkling with glitter ornaments, gift boxes, and mysterious shadows.  Wendy's creations are made from antique ribbon, old sheet music, German glass glitter, letter-pressed phrases, vintage ephemera.  Her work is as much about atmosphere and memory as it is about tactile beauty.  Visiting her studio is a wonderful and inspiring experience.

a small diorama by Wendy Addison

For a couple of weekends just after Thanksgiving, the Theatre of Dreams is open as a holiday shop.

Of course we ran into our old friend Kathleen Crowley there, another creative spirit and maker of beautiful things whose studio is in just downstream in Crockett.  Weren't we supposed to make tiaras and just start wearing them all the time?

We lingered admiring the glittering décor and another warming drink at the Warehouse, and then wandered across the street to the refashioned  Bull Valley Roadhouse for some excellent comfort food.

More nostalgia:  more photos of the Theatre of Dreams in this previous post (2011)  Cirque de Nöel.

A paper memento mori and Halloween gift boxes
gift boxes displayed under the watchful shadow of a large faerie.

The  Theatre of Dreams  annual holiday open house
Friday-Sunday  November 27-29  and  December 5-7
#11 Canyon Lake Drive, Port Costa, California
(510) 672-1900

a piano vignette inside the Bull Valley Roadhouse

all photos in this post by Lynne Rutter - click to view larger

25 November 2015

Exterior Color: Alameda Queen Anne

Morton St. Queen Anne with a new paint scheme by Lynne Rutter

Alameda, California is a lovely small town on its own island, and home to the best flea market on the West Coast.  I counted as a good sign that my clients called me from Forbidden Island, Alameda's famous tiki bar, asking for help choosing paint colors for the Victorian house they had just bought.
The house is a fabulous 1890 "Queen Anne" style, set back from the street with a front garden.  It had been painted with a bachelor-pad color scheme in the late 1980s, and it seemed to me the feminine aspects of the architecture got a bit lost in the process. 

Before: "bachelor pad" color scheme or brown and beige

Walter Crane "Swans" by Bradbury and Bradbury

With a major restoration and interior upgrade already in progress,  the exterior painting was a ways off, but it often feels like the light at the end of a long tunnel to have the colors worked out in advance, and to have that to look forward to, as well as to help us focus on what this house - what the experience of living in this house -  will be "about."
I was asked to give her back her dignity, as well as some of her sass, like a well-dressed lady who is also fabulously smart.

Meanwhile, awkwardly-added gutters and downspouts were reworked or replaced, and the balcony rebuilt; a large number of window sashes were replaced as were many of the cedar shingles.

Our new color scheme was inspired in part by an Aesthetic Movement poster, printed by Bradbury and Bradbury Art Wallpapers, on a swan design by Walter Crane. The gold ochre, the terra cotta... even that little bit of black.  So this is where I started.  Th gold, ochre, and bronze color all look so different at various times of day.  I meant to use two of them, because normally I approve of painting the shingles differently from the shiplap, but in this case the texture difference was enough.
The blue appears not only in the sky but on the ceiling of the porch and the underside of the eaves.  Gold leaf embellishes some features, including many that are visible from inside the house, through the upstairs windows.

Morton St Queen Anne with its new paint scheme by Lynne Rutter

I have been involved with the interior of this home as well, and may share that later. But for now I want to point to those amazing giant thistle lace sheers, custom-made using a fabric by Timorous Beasties. With such prominent windows the choice of window sheer had an immense effect on the exterior.

Lynne Rutter designs color for interiors and exteriors in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as by email for homes all over the world!  Contact her here.


16 November 2015


detail of an inlaid wooden ceiling in the Mudéjar style, la Alhambra, Grenada

I lingered under this Mudéjar ceiling in the Nasrid Palaces of La Alhambra for some while.  The Moorish star pattern is inlaid with  floral ornament, gilt and painted to resemble damasquinado or damascening.  It's this interaction of European and Arabic design that makes the Mudéjar style of ornament so fascinating to me.  

Mudéjar inlaid wooden ceiling, la Alhambra, Grenada

photos by Lynne Rutter, October 2015
click on images to view larger

02 November 2015

Cuento de La Alhambra

In which we foolishly drive ourselves to the brink in search of ornamental bliss.

A dreamy ceiling with mocárabe vaulting, Nasrid Palaces, La Alhambra

We are in Malaga, Spain, with the ulterior motive of a conference, and whose proximity to Granada is impossible to ignore. I have always wanted to see the Alhambra and so after our first full day here we decide let's go tomorrow. Yes I had researched how to get there, it's only about 2 hours drive away, maybe less, but somehow I missed that you really must have reservations fairly well in advance, like months in advance.  Or maybe I did know that but had been so busy before we left on this trip that I failed to actually make a plan.  Undeterred, both of us pour over websites and blogs giving advice about how to get into the Alhambra despite not having advance reservations. This, the most visited sight in Spain, has extremely limited admissions and it's widely reported that that entrance times on reservations are strictly enforced, especially with regard to the Nasrid Palaces, whose famously ornamented walls and ceilings have been calling to me for years.

Erling learns that a limited number of tickets are sold at 8 each morning, only a half hour before the Alhambra opens its gates, and if you get there early enough and the queue isn't too bad you might just get lucky.  I find one travel blog with the great tip of using the credit card-only kiosks for which there is typically no wait at all. However, we are uncertain our credit cards will work in these machines, as Erling's card was rejected at the parking garage earlier in the day.  We decide we need to be in the queue by 6:30 AM, set our alarms for 4.  We are bold and adventurous. 

Just before going to bed, I check the batteries for my camera, and realize none of them has a decent charge, so I plug one into my charger, hoping to to swap it out for another battery after an hour.  Trying to sleep is pointless. I keep turning over to see if the charge is complete, but the light never turns green. Erling wakes up and asks me if I am ok. I tell him I am freaking out about having no batteries for the camera. By then it is 3:30 AM.  I have 76% on one battery and 28% on a second one, the third is totally dead, and have been searching "power-saving tips for the a7r" on the internet. Between the jet lag and this anxiety I am wide awake. But, I tell him, this isn't about photographing every inch of a much-photographed monument.  For me it's about the experience of seeing the place and enjoying being there.  Let's go now, he says, we're awake.
It is just starting to spit rain outside.

Google Maps recommends we take the Eastern route, which involves somewhat windier roads but gets us there 15 minutes sooner. The clouds over the mountains are glowing in bursts from lighting which I find beautifully distracting while Erling nervously makes our way in the dark. I check the weather report and it promises Granada will be overcast but pleasant.  Wow, I comment, the lightning show is becoming more spectacular... and we are driving right into it. Slowly we realize we are headed into the largest electrical storm either of us have ever seen, and then it begins to rain, hard, hard enough to make me wonder aloud if maybe we'd picked a bad day to go and whether we should just turn around, or maybe hide the car under a bridge or something.  Erling says those people who die in flash floods are usually trapped in their cars under bridges, citing recent examples, and quoting possible headlines back home:  "Local artist and unknown male companion found trapped in car in flooded Spanish ravine."  
"Tragedy in Andalusia: Composer dies trying to pull wife's body from lightning-riddled rental car."

Lightning is being thrown between one cloud and another several times per second with occasional ground strikes and Erling suggests checking the hand-held oracle to find out if being in a car during a lightning storm is the safest place to be. So I read aloud an article stating that an all metal car with the windows up is pretty safe owing to the Faraday Effect, but all the same this is just a bit too exciting and for a good solid hour I cannot help but mark the location of each and every lighting strike and whether it was horizontal or vertical and then mentally inventory each part of the car to see just how much metal we have surrounding us and at this point we have no cell service so I cannot read more about this supposed Faraday Effect or how much car metal is required for this to be a factor.  Meanwhile, "Faraday" strikes me as a good name for a model of car.

Ticket booth at the Alhambra opens at dawn. photo by Erling Wold
As we near Granada the weather eases up and I think maybe it will stay in the mountains. When we arrive at the Alhambra in the pitch black morning it's dry outside and fairly warm.
Parking at the Alhambra is easy at 6 AM as there are several lots and all seem deserted.   At the ticket office there is already a queue of about 70 people and just as we arrive to take our place it begins to rain quite suddenly and deliberately.  I hear a variety of languages being spoken but most people are sullenly looking at the ground or at their phones. After 5 minutes I am soaked through and fairly miserable at the thought of two further hours of this.  In those same 5 minutes the queue doubles in length and with every passing minute a further 30 people arrive. Thankfully an enterprising man approaches us with cheap umbrellas and bottled water. Both Erling and I purchase umbrellas, and I leave him in the queue and go look for the credit card kiosks I read about, which appear to be located at the far end of the book and gift shop in a separate building from the ticket sales windows.  A queue has already formed waiting for access to these and I take my place in it, under an ivy-covered eave. Moments later an Australian woman joins me and is likewise relieved to be partially out of the rain.

I text Erling "I thank Allah for this ivy-covered shelter."  My Australian Comrade says her husband is also waiting in the other queue just in case, and debates whether she should tell him she has a bit of an overhang to hide under, as the rain is really quite relentless at this point and we are feeling bad about our menfolk being left out there, bravely holding their places.

Others line up behind us; eventually we see our secondary queue is wrapped clear around the other side of the building. We wonder if we are wasting our time, we wonder why the Alhambra doesn't have a better system for dealing with this.  At 7 AM the café opens. People next to me promise to save my spot while I get hot tea. I remark that we did stuff like this in the 1980's like the night before Prince tickets went on sale but I totally laugh at people waiting overnight to purchase a new iPhone. Prince, says My Australian Comrade, was totally worth it.

By 7:30 the area is closely packed with soaking wet people and morale is sagging. I imagine myself marching up and down shouting encouragement to each of the souls waiting in the rain, we happy few... but think better of it. And so we wait.
At 8 AM the ticket booths open, and so does the bookstore.  We can hear a collective, audible sigh, then chatter, and just as it stops raining and the sky begins to brighten, the sound of hundreds of umbrellas being lowered and shaken.  It's a sign!  We have earned our reward with our patience and determination and now we will all enjoy the fragrant gardens of the Generalife in the sun!
At 8:04 a uniformed employee unlocks the door to the credit card-only kiosk. Our line condenses as people crush forward and word is passed back that only three of the ten machines are functioning. One by one, two by two, victorious queue-sitters emerge gleefully brandishing their hard-won tickets and we rejoice for them. By 8:20 the whole area is swarming with tourists from the many large buses that have arrived, just as I make my way to the kiosk. I dip my Visa™ card into the machine, and it works! and while I wait for the authorization I text Erling "got them!" but before I can complete my transaction an Agitated Spanish Woman waves money in my face, imploring me to help her as her credit card isn't working.  She is also soaking wet so I know she's been waiting with the rest of us, and though I speak next to no Castilian I totally understand her frustration. She asks me to buy cuatro más (the limit is 10) and I agree, so she all but shoves me out of the way and presses some buttons and immediately 6 tickets spit out the bottom. Outside I hear yelps of joy from those who have their tickets and are reuniting with the rest of their parties.  The Agitated Spanish Woman pulls me outside, grabs her tickets and stuffs money in my hands and then runs off.  I call Erling. He is next in line but abandons his spot and runs over to where I am.  We examine the tickets and find a nice easy 10:30 reservation for the Nasrid Palaces.

At 8:30 as the gates open, it is announced all tickets are already sold out for the entire day.  Now that it is light out I can see the faces of nearly a thousand disappointed tourists, slowly turning to leave.  Understandably a few linger in disbelief, or try to buy tickets from others, or plead with the employees for some hint as to how to manage an entrance. 
We get a bit of food and hot drinks at the café. Erling goes to the men's room to dry his clothes with the hand-drier.  I see My Australian Comrade, reunited with her husband, the two of them grinning and skipping out of sight. 

Erling in the center courtyard of the Palacio de Carlos V
Once inside we are marveling at the view and the lush gardens. The Renaissance palace built by Carlos V is the first building we visit. Its oddly out of place, but I adore the round courtyard surrounded by columns, like a bull ring.  Inside the palace is a sweet little museum filled with household objects and fragments of architectural features that have been excavated during restoration efforts. Then we run over to the Alcazaba to explore the towers and take in a magnificent views of Granada and the mountains.  At each spot our tickets are scanned and an employee asks "where from?" with genuine interest, and a smile when we respond "San Francisco!" Every so often I catch sight of a soaking wet person and we nod at each other, acknowledging that our strange and soggy ordeal was well worth the effort.

A beautiful view of Granada from the Nasrid Palace of La Alhambra
At 10:15 am we dutifully attend the queue for the Nasrid. Only a limited number of people may enter; every half hour or so another group is admitted. A couple with reservations at 9:30 are not allowed in, but told to go to the museum in the Carlos V palace and ask to have their reservations changed to a later time (good to know.)

The Nasrid Palaces are truly wonderous: room after room is encrusted with carved plaster ornament and inlaid wooden ceilings. It's not at all overrated and no photos will ever do it justice. I make eye contact with an American woman in a red hat and can see her face is filled with joy.  She says "We're really here!"  to me, as if we know each other. Yes I chirp, we really are here! Areas are being restored and we read that thousands of swifts had to be relocated out of this palace where they have been nesting for centuries. We overhear tour guides telling their stories into their Whisper® systems, and in the Hall of the Ambassadors a man giving a private tour to an elderly couple is telling then some half-lies in an attempt to entertain them.

A window niche of the Hall of the Ambassadors, La Alhambra
We chat with a well-traveled Canadian in a bright yellow parka with a nice Lumix camera. He and I talk camera gear for a moment. He had been a journalist and has been everywhere.  I tell him my batteries are low and  I am being a bit conservative. He says put the camera in airplane mode – yes I already did and it's making a huge difference!  In every room I watch him as he picks the best spot from which to shoot. He knows what he is doing, and like me, is lingering a bit longer than perhaps necessary, letting the larger groups pass by to enjoy just a brief quiet moment in an uncrowded space before taking his next shot.

Patio of the Lions
In some spaces I stay put as waves of groups come and go. English, French, Chinese, and Dutch groups pass through.  A guide brandishing a Norwegian flag leads her group through the ornamented halls and chambers at a measured pace without stopping.  I change the camera battery and for the 4th time say hello to the American woman in the red hat who is following the same path we are. One room bears a majolica plaque honoring Washington Irving and his time living at the Alhambra and writing there.  I thank Erling for bringing me here and tolerating my obsession.  I lose track of the Canadian in the yellow parka and wish I had given him my card.

Daraxa's Mirador:  restored carved and polychromed ornament.
The Ornamentalist, Sated. photo by Erling Wold

After nearly three hours we reluctantly leave the Nasrid in search of a snack and a place to sit. Remarkably my remaining camera battery is not yet dead, but I am nearly exhausted. We take a lovely break lounging on the ramparts enjoying cold Coca-Colas and a sunny view, then meander slowly through the gardens and to the car to take a nap, spending a delicious hour lying in reclined seats with the windows down, shaded by the trees planted all through the car park.  Overall our vehicular siesta is perfectly nice and afterwards we make our way down the hill into town, to visit the cathedral and the Alcaiceria, and wander about the beautiful old city of Granada.

Stay tuned... More about of the ornament of Andalusia will be posted soon!

worn mosaic tiles at La Alhambra
Make advanced reservations to visit La Alhambra
Day-of tickets are sold at 8 AM on site but the queue is quite long at all times of year. Check in the bookshop for canceled reservations or ask the concierge at your Parador for advice.
The Generalife, a beautiful part of the Alhambra with lovely gardens, is easy to visit and requires no set reservation. 

Battery saving tips for the Sony a7r.    "put the camera in airplane mode" DUH!
Maybe you need more than one battery charger.  Perhaps even one that charges in the car.

Washington Irving's "Tales of the Alhambra"

Images in this post by Lynne Rutter except as otherwise credited.
click on images to view larger

12 October 2015

The Dream of the Apothecary

Antique apothecary staged in the shop window of Luca,  Florence.

One of the many inspiring artisan shops in the Oltrarno district of Florence is the unique and fascinating design atelier of  Luca  (via de Serragli 16r.)   I snapped these shots last May when the front of the shop was filled with the above fantastic scene from an apothecary's dream.  Any time you get to Florence, please go visit Luca and see what wonderful moody stories are being played out among the furniture creations, art, and vintage treasures.

matching containers filled with magic
Yes, I stared at this vitrine every time I passed; during those weeks we were staying just across the street; yes, 12 times a day I would estimate, silently calculating the cost of shipping this entire thing home,  visualizing my ebonized  wunderkammer kitchen - or is it my workshop?-  with carrara counters, brass pulls, matching canisters.  Oh, yes.  

Florence, as you might know, is full of wonderous speziale, historic shops specializing in remedies, spices, herbs and teas, and other ingredients like catechu or borax, medicinal elixirs, fragrances, pigments, or other esoteric powders and potions, often displayed in ancient glass-fronted cabinets. 
The oldest of these, Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella which has medieval roots, and  Farmacia SS Annunziata  founded in 1561, now create gorgeous herbal and fragrant products.  AquaFlor is a lovely fragrance shop built on this legacy and of course the amazing D'Alessandro Bizzarri truly carries on the speziale tradition with everything from tea and dried fruits to raw pigments and photography chemicals, to poisons and explosives (see my previous post about this shop.)

How would you set up your apothecary?  Would you fill it with reagent bottles, tins, or perhaps colorful maiolica jars?


10 September 2015

Studio Visit: Jennifer Carrasco

Ship of Fools:   Chinosierie mural detail by Jennifer Carrasco*

So a couple of years ago, I get this email from my friend Jennifer Carrasco asking about canvas for a big job... I love talking shop with my fellow muralists and I was happy to dump all sorts of advice on her whether needed or not.  For the next year or so there was a lot of back and forth about the technical and physical challenges of this huge commission of Chinoiserie, which Jennifer designed in a highly personal style including many details that resonated with her client's personality and philosophy.  The 20 foot high mural panels were painted for a fabulous home on Vashon Island, creating a truly over-the-top fantasy rivaling anything you can find in Brighton or Drottningholm. 

Jennifer Carrasco in the fantastic Chinoiserie mural she created for her client on Vashon Island*

As I am a huge fan of Jennifer and her work I was very excited to get a chance to visit her Seattle garden studio after Salon 2014 was held in Seattle last May,  just after this stupendous mural had been installed.

Jennifer in her studio, scale drawing of her Chinosierie mural
Surrounded by her garden,  Jennifer's studio is a charming and compact creative space cleverly outfitted to her needs thanks in large part to the carpentry genius of her partner, Phil.

Large projects require enormous amounts of organization and planning, especially when being produced in smaller spaces.  The entire chinoiserie project was designed and laid out in a scale drawing overlaid with a carefully numbered grid, the staggered panels were measured and cut in a large sail loft, and then sent to a commercial paint shop to be spray painted with the gradated colors of the background, then the grid transferred to the canvas.

Phil designed an ingenious system to allow Jennifer to paint these 20+ foot high mural panels in this studio, by devising  two stations with "drafting table" style painting areas and  pairs of rollers to dispense and roll up the canvas.  This way Jennifer can paint seated at a large, angled table rather than standing on ladders, or sitting on the floor or any of the other difficult postures we  have to assume when doing large pieces   Jennifer bragged to me early on that this set up "has added years to my mural painting life."

Inside and outside, Jennifer Carrasco's garden studio in Seattle
This clever mural painting set-up allows for comfortable ergonomic painting while seated.*
behind the mural painting wall is beautifully organized storage 

I really loved the storage opportunity that was built into the back of the painting wall.  I'm afraid I am the type to get rather too excited about such things.

In addition to this charming style of Jenoiserie, as she calls it, Jennifer is well known for illustration work and for painting  fearlessly colorful murals and environments such as the famous ballroom of the Seattle restaurant The Ruins.   Her work is infused with humor, nature and pure joy.    You can see more of her paintings at her beautiful website.

Selected Jenoiserie is also available now via Spoonflower in fabric, wallpaper and other printed items!!

Chinoiserie peonies by Jennifer Carrasco*

color samples and sketches at Jennifer Carrasco's studio

Photos in this post by Lynne Rutter
and *courtesy Jennifer Carrasco

International Decorative Painters Salon

03 June 2015

Grotesque Obsession: Uffizi East Corridor

detail of grottesca ornament, East Corridor, Uffizi

I have had this recurring dream in the past few years, that I would encounter Rick Steves and his team in the East Corridor of the Uffizi Galleries, and that I would run over to to them, shove Rick and his fanny pack well out of the way with great conviction, then the grab the camera and point it at the ceiling.  Yes the Uffizi is crammed with fantastic Italian art, but if you don't look up once in a while, you are missing something truly special.

East Corridor, Uffizi Galleries

Last year, I spent three months in Florence, and as a card-carrying member of the Association of Amici degli Uffizi, which has helped fund the restoration of this and other areas of the museum, I made numerous trips to study my favorite quirky ceilings, and it is still one of the first places I go whenever I return there. Photography is allowed in this famous museum (as of May 31, 2014) and so I am thrilled to be able to share a sampling of these images from my most recent visit.

The East Corridor ceilings were frescoed in 1580-81 by Alessandro Allori and his team  of decorative painters, in a high Mannerist spin on the popular grottesche style of ornamentation.  Each ceiling section features a different theme and unique color scheme, as well as a wealth of ornament and figural elements ranging from the charming to the bizarre. Too easily dismissed as silly decoration, a careful look at any of the details reveals a spirit of discovery, and an almost frantic catalogue of the knowledge and concerns of the times.

typical layout of each of these Uffizi ceilings: grottesche arranged symmetrically around a center element.

The ceilings are painted with intense and beautiful colors on white plaster, and remain light and airy despite the busy compositions, all of which follow a similar arrangement:  an X that connects each corner to a central element, while other designs are arranged in pairs symmetrically on either side. (These ceiling sections are shallow coves, the designs would work just as well on a flat ceiling.) Mythological creatures, allegorical and humorous figures and animals populate a framework of garlands, borders, fans, piers, and cartouches with landscapes or narrative scenes.  Some themes are serious or religious, but the overall effect is that there is a huge party going on overhead. Like a giant thought bubble, brimming with ideas.

detail of a one of the grottesca ceilings in the Uffizi, with Manneristic figures and colors
Grottesca ornament remained popular in Tuscany long after the Baroque took hold in other areas of Italy.  This group of ceilings represents the very height of the Florentine grotteche style, incorporating the colors and techniques of Mannerism and all the references and interests of the Medici era.

symmetry balances with cacophony on the Uffizi ceiling

I am desperately in love with the gamboge yellow pigment used in this painting.
Lynne's Uffizi tips:
Florence can be exceedingly crowded especially with busloads of tourists who come in just for the day. Yes, you may make a reservation to get in but  then you have to share the museum with a million others all shoving each other to get a glimpse of the Birth of Venus.  Let it be known those people  follow their tour guides out and get back on the bus by 5 PM.  If you hate people are agoraphobic like me, this is the BEST time to go visit the Uffizi. No line to get in, no people in the galleries. Enjoy a blissfully empty museum for two hours.  Stroll through and experience what you like, and don't worry about seeing it all in one go.

Take note of special hours and free admissions times. The Uffizi has added special hours several days a week to help reduce crowding. The Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia Gallery and the National Museum of the Bargello will remain open late some evenings in the summer months. 
Check the Uffizi website for hours and special events.

Take this awesome virtual tour of the Uffizi Galleries via Google

Check out the fantastic virtual tour of the Uffizi via Google Earth

Amici degli Uffizi
If you plan to be in the area more than just a few days, consider joining the Friends of the Uffizi. This membership gives you for an entire year, unlimited front of the line admission to the Uffizi as well as all the other State museums in Florence including the Pitti Palace and the Bargello, while supporting restoration efforts.  With a pass like this you can go by for a stroll through the Uffizi every day (except Monday) on your way to your favorite enoteca.

Grotesque is French, and the spelling most often used in English
In Italian it is called  la Grottesca, or le Grottesche (plural)

all photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, May, 2015

14 April 2015

The Private Bathchamber of the Grand Duchess

a clever detail in the Grottesche ornamentation of the bath at "La Ferdinanda"

Corner of the bathchamber

Last March we ventured outside of Florence to visit the   splendid Medici Villa of Artimino known as "La Ferdinanda."   The villa was built for the Medici Duke Ferdinand I (1549-1609) as a hunting lodge and summer residence.  A World Heritage site, the estate currently hosts private events and features a winery and a hotel.

Having called ahead to explain our project and ask permission to photograph, we were warmly greeted and allowed to explore the villa and its decoration, much of which was done by the artist Domenico Passignano as well as Bernardino Poccetti.

Hidden away in a corner of the first floor,  is the “Stanzino del Poggiale” a small bathroom also called the "Ricetto del Poggiolo"  which was created for Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine, the wife of Ferdinand I. It is completely encrusted with painted grottesca, oval landscape insets, and wild, colorful faux marble painted by Poccetti.  Closed up for hundreds of years, the room is preserved in spectacular condition.

Alison and I could hardly contain our excitement. I fumbled about with my camera.  Erling, who has long maintained that I should have my own TV show,  took a spontaneous 2 minute video with his iPhone. Which I have posted here for you.  Because you understand, don't you?

It was very difficult to photograph this tiny space (especially while hyperventilating.) Once I got a hold of myself,  I removed the giant halogen torchère from the room and inspected the charming details of the decor using only natural light, so that the true colors could best be seen. I marveled at the color palette, which alternated warm earth colors with  a cool purple and sea green.  This led to a discussion of the color of that purple, and the pigment that may have been used to make it. Is is caput mortuum?  Well not that actual "mummy brown" pigment but the hematite that makes that cardinal-robe purple.  What about that green? Malachite, of course. Sigh.

Window bay in the bath chamber- the purple borders have completely faded away

Not your usual Tuscan color scheme-- purple and seafoam green make for a cool and serene effect

Cupid and other putti on the ceiling, a later addition painted by Domenico Passignano

Passignano designed the ceiling areas with trompe l'oeil balusters and bits of sky peeking through.  Though faded, the effect is still quite convincing.   
More details:

a trompe l'oeil gold medallion with a bathing scene

lovely perspective detail with hints of gold
tiny grottesca panel over the doorway

I hope to be posting more from this beautiful villa soon.

Visit:  Villa Medicea di Artimino
photos by Lynne Rutter
video by Erling Wold
thanks always to Alison Woolley

05 April 2015

UKSUS a surreal comic adventure

Roham Sheikhani, Nikola Printz, Laura Bohn, and Duncan Wold perform an OBERIU play within the opera UKSUS. Costumes by Laura Hazlett.

A few weeks ago Erling Wold's Fabrications staged the U.S. premiere of UKSUS, a surreal comic chamber opera based on the life and work of Russian absurdist writer Daniil Kharms.
UKSUS was originally commissioned by the Klagenfurter Ensemble in Austria, and the libretto was written by Felix Strasser and Yulia Izmaylova, who also there directed it in December of 2012.  I attended several performances of that production and really enjoyed myself, in part because I don’t speak German and had no idea what was going on and could therefore approach it with a totally open mind; I felt like a kid watching a Punch and Judy show.  I loved the music, the energy of the band,  the bizarreness, the smoke-filled bar in the smoke-filled lobby of the theater, the paintings of the trumpet player Richie Klammer, the snow outside, the embarrassingly long applause of the Austrian audiences.  Everyone fell in love with Erling and everyone wanted to do the show again and again and everyone wanted to come to San Francisco to do it again.

The cast of UKSUS:  the downtrodden cheer three times for Stalin
For the U.S. debut of UKSUS, it became obvious as time passed, that bringing over the Austrian cast was unfeasible.  A new and local cast was assembled with Jim Cave directing.   Jim is not afraid of nonsense, wackiness, surreal or absurd anything. He and Erling have worked together so many times they nearly finish each others sentences.  I was asked nicely to be involved with the scenic design, and was even offered a  budget.   But when Jim started talking about the lunatics putting on a play in the asylum my eyes rolled into the back of my head and stayed there until he changed the subject, and so began our collaboration.  Erling asked for three backdrops.  The guys went and rented a theater that required  the set to be struck every night to make room for the next day's classes,  necessitating a lot of portable bits rather than something grand and unwieldy.  

The UKSUS set pieces prior to lighting
I meant to write a post just about this scenic work: about the process of addressing the problems of the giant black space of Dance Mission Theater, the inspiration for the design, the tight budget and even tighter deadline;   leaving out the parts about the emotional turmoil I felt working on this project at a time when I was already insanely busy and already suffering from the all-too-familiar torture that is the lot of the long-suffering wife of a too-charming pathological liar.  Does anyone actually care that our lives were imploding while this all took place? Of course not.  After all, the show must go on.

UKSUS had only three performances in March, 2015. Despite full houses every night, lusty applause and effusive praise from the audience, especially from the younger attendees, some reviewers showed up with their cranky "Opera" pants on and just didn’t get it.  This piece didn't really get the attention it deserved, and so I feel compelled to speak up and publish these awesome photos I took.
Beth Custer is so damn cool.

Let's start with the Music.
Erling Wold's music is wonderful, transporting, by turns fun, tragic, solemn, uplifting. The orchestra gathered up like a great jazz band, rocked during the rock parts and danced through complex rhythms and delicate poignant passages thanks to our amazing conductor, Bryan Nies, whose skill is all sorts of amazing to watch as well as hear, as if everyone on the stage and in the band are strings of a single instrument, which he plays effortlessly. 
The story is ridiculous. There is no comprehensible narrative and there is no point. There is  absurdity,  nonsense, observations of everyday or imagined moments.  Pushkin makes love to his wife, an old woman falls from a window,  children are given tetanus to shut them up, the OBERIU put on a play in arty clown suits, the artist dies during one of Stalin's purges and his widow goes to Venzuela.  

Duncan Wold as Pushkin, making naughty with his wife Fefjulka (Laura Bohn)
The Old Woman falls out of a window...

These scenes are arranged in boxes; we even made hand-lettered placards to tell you which box was being opened. Erling added a somewhat pleonastic narration to the libretto, packed with context and commentary, which Jim delivered in his role as "a samovar,"  but he might not have bothered: absurdity and confusion make a nice team. 

The cast was a fantastic mix of singers and actors, mimes and clowns.  Duncan Wold, one of the writers/comedians of San Francisco’s Mission CTRL comedy troupe, starred as the poet Pushkin, who is playing the role of Kharms himself.  He approached this part as a comic actor, creating a deadpan character which added depth and contrast to his role, and it should be said that his comic timing was pitch-perfect, recalling the straight delivery a young Johnny Carson.
Our favorite soprano Laura Bohn,   with her soaring, beautiful voice, in this production got a chance to show off her physical theater skills, clowning, and dramatic unibrow.  Her scenes with Duncan were both hysterical and endearing.

Fefjulka and Our Mama (and a hand-painted Soviet-style poster)
Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz  gave a hilarious performance as both Our Mama and a gender-bending Stalin (both mustached parts) all the while thrilling us with her rich and resonant voice, especially thrilling when paired with Laura Bohn’s during certain goosebump-producing moments. 
Both our soprani are magnificent clowns, and it's refreshing to watch such versatile performers who can become their characters, without being overly concerned with how 'pretty' they look or sound.

The cast of UKSUS performing as the OBERIU

Mary Forcade as the Karabister

Bob Ernst, an actor with a face and voice so compelling he could read the label of cereal box and make you believe it the Magna Carta, declares that you must drink vinegar (uksus), and you pretty well want to do it.  Speaking of amazing faces, it’s widely known that I have a crush on Roham Sheikhani, an actor and brilliant mime who in this show added an element of sanity as well as paranoia when needed.  A deus ex machina appearance by Mary Forcade as the Karabister very nearly stole the show.

The sets were designed to emphasize the diagonal lines and  bright palette of the Russian Avant Garde painters.   I looked to Kharms’ close friend Kazimir Malevich, and the Constructivist movement, and to the splendid film posters designed by Russian graphic artists  in the 1920s and 30’s.   Costume designer Laura Hazlett  brought this concept home with her supremely colorful pieces for the OBERIU performance within the show.

Pushkin (Duncan Wold)  is interrogated by Comrade Stalin (Nikola Printz)

Closing night we danced deliriously in the side aisle while the audience laughed and sighed,  and afterwards everyone wanted to do UKSUS again and asked when can we? After the party and the vodka, we dragged the sets and costumes back to the garage where are stored the costumes and bits from the last opera and the one before that.

More UKSUS-related rants at Erling Wold's blog.

all photos in this post by Lynne Rutter