Recent advances in the speed and amount of information creates an overload that leads us to believe the world is in turmoil and change more intense than ever before. Tapping into fantasy and the imagination is one way of turning from anxiety and toward enchantment. The art and architecture we find around us helps to clarify and replace disconcerting memories and images.
Susan kae Grant, a photographer and friend of Stephen B. Chambers Architects, is one artist who takes her inspiration from collective memory and filters the imagery through the modern sensibility of her lens. Ms. Grant meticulously creates three-dimensional settings from street, field, and alleyway detritus and re-purposes them to conjure up dream-state photographs. Hula hoops, baby dolls, plastic bats and rats, rusted wire fencing, sticks and fabric are hung by thin wires from the ceiling and, through the use of strategically placed lighting, these found objects cast eerily soft long shadows onto an enormous sheet of white paper that she photographs. The result is inventive narrative photography with the appearance of late eighteenth century silhouette portraiture.
The resulting prints suggest dense childhood memories, dreams, and schemata, which whimsically spring from the imagination of a mature, self-actualized woman. Ms. Grant mines her subconscious and transports us, the viewers, into a world fecund with poetic imagery and playthings juxtaposed with objects of fear. We recognize these reveries as similar to our own nighttime excursions into involuntary underworlds of past and present snapshots of memory.
The day after visiting Susan's fascinating workplace, I read the NYT obituary of Geoffrey Crawley, the English photographic scientist. Mr. Crawley systematically debunked the 1910 Cottingley Fairies Hoax. It occurred to me that Ms. Grant's process of making art and the fairy mystery share a common thread
The atmosphere in 1910 Britain was every bit as jarring as it is today. The mystery in Cottingley emerged when two English schoolgirl cousins claimed to have taken photographs of fairy folk residing in the glen near their homes. It started with Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths deciding to play a prank on their parents by borrowing a glass-plate camera belonging to Elsie's father. They developed a photo, which showed a swirl of whitish figures surrounding Frances, the younger girl. Their parents dismissed the image as childish trickery. The girls stuck to their story and, on another occasion, snapped a second photo of a gnome who appeared in the same glen.
The images remained a private family affair until Edward Gardner, a leader of theosophy in England, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a trained physician, intervened. Hoping to advance spiritualism and the cause of the Theosophical Society in Britain, which believes in the existence of spirit life, Gardner and Doyle declared the images to be absolutely real. Impassioned champions of the photos, the men engaged a darkroom technician to create better negatives that produced more realistic-looking fairies. They asked the girls to ‘take' three more photos and the men began to use them in lectures and magazines to illustrate this epoch-making proof of human beings encountering fairies in everyday life. It took the rigorous empirical testing of Geoffrey Crawley 60 years later to deflate this tall tale of the Cottingley fairies.
But, his writings dispelling the hoax display tenderness about a nation captivated by an idle boast of magical creatures during a time of tumultuous war and enormous change brought about by global modernization of society. Mr. Crawley gently states, "of course there are fairies, just as there is a Father Christmas, the trouble is making them corporeal. They are fine poetic concepts taking us out of this, at times, too ugly real world."
We need the Cottingley fairies and artists like Susan kae Grant more than ever. They remind us that our spirit world needs as much nurture as our material one. The poet Denise Levertov once said it this way, "one is in despair over the current manifestation of malevolent imbecility and the seemingly invincible power of rapacity, yet finds oneself writing a poem about the trout lilies in spring woods."
Susan Kae Grant inspires the imagination and artist in all of us to persevere, allow our dreams to inform our consciousness, recognize the beauty in the discarded elements in both the real and subconscious worlds. Just like an airy skybridge between two elegant pieces of architecture, the intersection of the two is a magical place to invite dreams.
Susan Kae Grant received a B.S. in 1976 and a MFA in Photography and Book Arts in 1979 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a Professor and Head of the Photography & Bookmaking Program at Texas Woman's University and teaches workshops annually at the International Center for Photography in New York City. Grant's photography is in permanent collections of various national museums including the George Eastman House; the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; the J. Paul Getty Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Susan is represented in Dallas by the Conduit Gallery. Her website is: http://www.susankaegrant.com
Dallas architect, Steve Chambers, recently visited the historic Domino Sugar Factory in New York City. He studied and photographed it in order to contrast the public dialogue surrounding its reuse with the recent demolition of the 1611 Main Street in Dallas, Texas. Preservationists in Brooklyn, the site of the vintage sugar factory, stirred spirited debate and rallied support to save at least a portion of the five-blocks of antique structures along the East River in Williamsburg. Construction and preservation are just beginning in New York, the results not yet realized. But, the contrast with Dallas' recent razing of an 1885 Romanesque Revival structure couldn't be more stark. In Dallas, a real estate developer was able to demolish a 129-year old terracotta façade treasure into history without allowing anyone with a clue of its value to Dallas' architectural heritage to enter the conversation. It took a single day to erase its lively history and make way for the retail expansion of The Joule Hotel.
History of the Brooklyn Factory
Built in 1856, the Domino Sugar Factory is a New York City architectural icon that dominates the East River waterfront of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was the first of many sugar refineries that contributed to the emergence of the Port of New York as the industrial center in the nineteenth century. By the turn of the century over half the sugar in the world was produced in Brooklyn.
By the end of the Civil War, the factory was the largest sugar refinery in the world. After a fire in 1882, it was completely rebuilt to include the two grand brick buildings and distinctive smokestack that still stand today. The immense “Domino Sugar” sign was added to the East River side of the building in the 1950s, transforming the 90,000-square-foot complex into a landmark of the city.
Decline of the Sugar Industry
Eventually the market pressures from artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup and cheaper labor costs led to a decline in demand from the Brooklyn plant and on January 30th, 2004 all factory operations at the Williamsburg site ceased. At the same time much of the Brooklyn waterfront was rezoned for high rise residential development making the old refinery site an attractive property to real-estate developers.
The Community Opens a Dialogue With the Developer
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio led the standoff against the developer, insisting the developer increase the amount of affordable housing units at the site. In return, his administration would grant approval for taller towers at the site.The Save Domino! campaign intensified and The proposed design for the reuse of the sugar factory by developers, Two Trees, stirred conflict with preservationists over the fate of the site's existing structures and land use. With historic buildings along the Brooklyn waterfront rapidly disappearing, preservationists wanted to protect the industrial heritage of north Brooklyn and save the refinery structures from demolition. the $1.5 billion redevelopment of the sugar factory reached the breaking point mere days before a vote to seal its fate.
The developer increased the number of affordable housing units to be built in the development and made an effort to preserve salvageable relics from the refinery, including the Domino Sugar sign, in the new site and building designs. They also decided to build accessible waterfront parkland and a school as part of an agreement with the city.In addition to what the developers are voluntarily preserving, the Landmarks Preservation Commission granted Landmark Status to one of the Domino Sugar Buildings to protect it in perpetuity. Topping the more ornate upper portion of the building, the renovated structure will have an added four stories of glass clad offices. Once finished, the Filter, Pan and Finishing House will be used as office space marketed to creative tech industries.
Sweet Goodbye, Hello to Re-Use
In late spring of 2014, the building was given a two-week "goodbye" party. Kara Walker, an artist and faculty member at Columbia University, was commissioned to create her first large-scale public project within the walls of the sugar factory. Walker responded to the building's history and sited her massive, sugarcoated female sphinx, alongside the sprawling industrial relics inside Brooklyn’s legendary Domino factory. The sphinx’s “skin,” was coated in thirty tons of sugar and titled, A Subtlety, the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans who refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the New World on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.
Dallas, A City in Contrast
According to the National Register of Historic Places, 1611 Main Street was one of downtown Dallas’ oldest buildings, but had no local historic designation and thus no protection from a wrecking ball. Now, this piece of Dallas history is history.
Historic preservationist and architect Marcel Quimby, a former member of Dallas’ Landmark Commission, refers to this latest demolition as a “desecration.” The building was “representative of what was in Dallas 130 years ago, and like everyone else I am stunned that it was done without any public discourse and with a lack of appreciation for Dallas’ heritage,” said Quimby. The recent demolition signals to us at Chambers Architects that Dallas is still behind the times in community dialogue and public policy that governs new development in the fabric of its historic urban landscape. Link to Dallas architecture critic article: "We regret to inform you that your city has been destroyed." by Mark Lamster
Inside the Domino Factory at Night
Video Homage to the Factory
Proposed Plan for the Domino Sugar Factory
In the gallery, below, photos of the five-block area in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that includes the historic Domino Sugar Factory and other surrounding snapshots of the mixed-use neighborhood. Photo credit: unless otherwise noted, Stephanie Chambers, Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc.
We’re among the travelers who’ve toured Europe’s ancient cities in the last decade and lamented the rapid gentrification of all the central city squares. Increasing property values attracted real estate developers, who acquired the most valuable properties in each city core. Wealthy fashion giants and corporations were lured to plazas and square, squeezing out quaint boutiques and artists’ studios. Our visit to Florence this year proved that even the small and lovely birthplace of the Renaissance was not immune to this structural shift in culture.
But a chance meeting on LinkedIn with Fiorenza Bartolozzi restored our faith in the tenacity of the arts to thrive in times of seismic economic change. Senora Bartolozzi invited us to visit her atelier, Bartolozzi and Maioli, in Florence. Her shop is tucked in a neighborhood just a few blocks from the Pitti Palace, on the southern edge of the Ponte Vecchio. This neighborhood is one of Florence's best-kept secrets: a warren of ateliers and workshops whose handcrafted arts make you feel as though the city never changed. As thousands trek through the Florence’s famous religious, artistic and commercial buildings, where we did our share of walking, there are smaller, but just as attractive treasures, to be found tucked in other neighborhoods of the city.
Florence’s historic New Town was brought to life in the 12th century when the old Roman settlement outgrew its borders. This southern outpost at the time, Oltr'arno, "the other side of the Arno," spilled into land that had once been home to vineyards, olive groves, and market gardens. Smaller merchants, choked out of their old quarters near the main thoroughfares north of the Duomo, found plenty of space in Oltr'arno. The district was soon populated by them and the people whose livelihood depended on their patronage: servants, laborers, shopkeepers, and most importantly, skilled artisans.
Bottega d'Arte Bartolozzi e Maioli is led today by Fiorenza, the daughter of Fiorenzo Bartolozzi. She maintains a continuation of the typical Renaissance workshop in Florence, where her atelier is one of the most famous woodworking studios. Its restoration of monuments like the Monastery at Montecassino badly damaged in WWI, The Quirinale in Rome and the Kremlin in Moscow allowed its two founders to amass a staggering collection of carved wooden elements from dismantled churches throughout Italy. The reference collection allowed them to understand and follow traditional Italian woodcraft and plaster arts, methods they employed in countless restorations. The remains are scattered throughout this showroom off the Via Maggio.
Walking through the rooms of collections is a bit like walking through Florence’s historical artistic periods. Carved madonnas share the space with Moors and elephants. Monkeys and swine hold up candlesticks and signs. A tangle of fanciful chandeliers hugs the ceiling. It’s hard to tell what is truly old and what is their faithful reproduction. Fiorenza has done numerous projects in the United States. We were proud to learn that she has a Texas connection as well. A number of years ago, she collaborated with well-known San Antonio architect, Roger Rasbach, on furniture for a modern home.
In the darker back rooms religious statues and reliquaries are stacked in between the workbenches that are still occupied by aging colleagues of the original masters, Bartolozzi and Maioli. Today a second generation oversees the business side of things, but the scary part is that there are few young apprentices eagerly learning the arts of carving, design, and restoration. We’re thrilled to have been invited to Florence by Fiorenza and hope that Bartolozzi e Maioli may continue to pass on the traditional handicrafts of Italy’s early tradition. We don’t want it to go the way of fantastic places that exist only in our memory, giving way to an Italy that has no time for making things by hand.
Photography credit: Stephanie Chambers, Chambers Architects; matching chairs above and in gallery below from the website of Bartolozzi e Maioli
Doors are fascinating to all of us. Some of the most significant events in our lives occur when we walk through or close a door. They invite us to wonder what lies behind them and how others live. They are functionally and symbolically important. It’s one of the few parts of a structure with which we interact on a personal basis. In addition to welcoming guests and keeping out intruders, the door creates the first impression of a building, providing a sense of arrival, welcome, security and peace.
There are barn doors, sliding doors, automatic doors, security doors, French doors, jailhouse doors, fire doors, hatches and gates. But the symbol and mystery of a door resides in its ability to keep our hearts in expectation and uncertainty. Portals like doors, gates and windows entice us to move beyond our daily lives and into the realities and experiences of others.
It’s difficult to walk around Santa Fe without noticing the vast array of doors and gates. They play a significant role in this southwest city’s home design, providing the “welcome mat“ to visitors. Because of the type of construction in adobe buildings, there are many walls and fences and very little fenestration in the street façade.
The Spaniards integrated many of the Pueblo style elements into their missions and colonial haciendas. Homes in New Mexico were added onto year after year. Doorways are typically low and floors rise and fall with the natural contours of the earth. Hacienda-style homes were built without windows facing outward, with many small rooms and doors opening out to a main interior courtyard.
Here are some of the portals that charmed us in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Photo credit: Chambers Architects
Please scroll through the two galleries, below, to see our walkabout in search of Santa Fe portals.
What is it about Santa Fe that inspires us every time we go? Is it the cool dry climate, its mood-altering altitude, artists that push the creativity envelope, stark landscape with brilliant splashes of color, the ethereal nature of the Native American and Spanish aesthetics, or its local characters? Whatever the inspiration, the community appears to have an unusual sensitivity for embracing the creative impulse, providing a respite for the eyes and hearts of all.
The city officials, as well as the community itself, demonstrate that they appreciate the arts and artists by using community funds on public arts and support the development of New Mexico artists. Its leaders support differences by their apparent ability to integrate the state’s varied cultures. The tension that comes from embracing diverse ideas feeds the creativity. They provide abundant opportunity for the community and visitors to interface with the arts. The work we see invites a dialogue. Only a person who’s lost a connection to his senses is immune.
The results speak for themselves. The art scene doesn’t promote one style or genre. Consequently, visitors find a spectrum from ancient and ethnographic artifacts to modern work where ‘the paint is still wet.’
The City of Santa Fe Arts Commission’s Community Gallery is one such special public space. Through creative programming and inspiring exhibitions, they provide the public with exciting opportunities. At the same time, they support professional development for New Mexico's artists and artisans. High quality art is for sale there at all price levels. It’s a win-win for artists and visitors to the gallery and everyone is elevated by his/her involvement.
The Community Gallery even solicits suggestions from the community for its exhibition themes. A goal of the gallery is to offer the broadest inclusion for all artists and involve a large portion of the population by offering more than the just display of artwork. For more information about the gallery and a wealth of knowledge about the exhibitions, contact or make arrangements to visit:
Rod Lambert, Community Gallery Manager, City Santa Fe Arts Commission
Physical address: 201 West Marcy Street (at the intersection of Marcy and Sheridan), Santa Fe, NM
Featured in the two galleries below: additional photos of the functional and whimsical chair designs by New Mexico artists for the exhibition Sculptural and Functional Chairs; the glass installation, The Flight of Bees by artist, Elodie Holmes. Photography credit: Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc.
On the day we arrive one of the hotel guests, in the process of checking out, hears our English. He turns to tell us that we must eat dinner at a nearby casual ristorante called Perbacco, which he only discovered his last night on Ortigia. We walk the narrow uneven cobblestone passageways searching for the address he gives us. The streets names are hard to find and specific numbers even less so. But, the smells of fresh seafood arriving and arancini toasting in olive oil are unmistakable.
Perbacco isn’t open yet for the evening, but the neighborly manager invites us to sit on their sofa in the courtyard and sip some wine. We asked for the vino locale and he said, "when you’re in Sicily, you must try Neros.” Already one of our favorite wines at home in Dallas, we agree with him and say that we’re in love with it. He appears confused. “You know this wine? How can you? The mainland of Italy refuses to drink it. So, we keep it to ourselves.” “Si, si, we assure him. We know it and buy it at home.” “Okey dokey, you get the best.” And we do. A beautiful bottle of Nero d’Avola arrives, accompanied by a gratis plate of arancini, the local delicacy of crispy fried risotto with red pepper sauce. What an introduction to the real wealth of Sicily, its alluring cuisine, wines and hospitality.
The sensuousness of Sicily’s surrounding Mediterranean coastline, cool evening breezes, clear light and temperate weather extends its aura to the food and drink. Ortigia’s fresh produce and seafood market is near Via de Benedictis, just beyond the Greek Temple of Apollo. Shopping there initiates a courtship with Sicilian food. The vivid colors, tastes and feel of everything available to eat and drink make us hungry for the country. An extensive variety of fresh produce, spices, sauces, cheeses, oils and vinegars are found year-round in local markets that burst with saturated color and exotic smells.
The restaurants with talented chefs, whose training begins at home alongside their parents and grandparents, locally source fresh supplies from these markets to produce the featured dishes on their seasonally changing menus. We dive into each plate put before us from breakfast until late at night: luscious heirloom tomatoes; blood oranges; smoked and grilled cheeses; sausages and eggs; tiny potatoes bathing in olive oil; fresh seafood, large and small, with or without shells; creamy risottos; olives; bright green fresh peas and beans.
The next evening, we encounter the first aloof person on the island. The tiny restaurant’s maitre d’ also serves as our waiter. He is frantic and hurries us along with our order. Overwhelmed by the unfamiliar menu, we tell him “just bring us your favorites.” Once again, we appear to confuse the waiter and he knits his eyebrows in a question, using two of the few English words he appears to know, “okay, yes?” Before long plates brimming with cheese, figs, seafood and fresh vegetables begin to appear. There is not enough room on the table for all of it. We look at each other and think uh oh big mistake, we’re going to get everything on the menu. The Frito Misto Frutti di Mare, a mixed platter of sardines, anchovies, tiny ‘popcorn’ squid, octopus and other unidentifiable small fish fried in olive oil makes us swoon when it shows up. We stack plates and clear a place for it. Thinking the bill will make us faint, we ask the waiter to stop. “A little more,” he says firmly. We don’t argue and welcome lemoncello, aged grappa and cassata, a Sicilian layer cake.
“It’s finish?” he says removing the stacks of plates on plates. As in the rest of Italy, we “own” the table until we’re ready to leave. So we say, “it’s finish” and ask for the bill. The total is embarrassingly small. We do something typically American, but out of character for us. We tip heavily. The waiter takes away il conto and turns back to us on his heels. “Senor, not okay.” “Si, si,” we assure him. “Wowa, grazie molto bene” is all he can say and smiles. “Molto bene, it’s very okay,” we cheer.
The beautiful food is a result of an amalgam of cultures, which established settlements on the island of Sicily over two millennia. Although its cuisine has a lot in common with Italy, Sicilian food also has Spanish, Greek and Arab influences. The use of apricots, sugar, citrus, sweet melons, rice, saffron, raisins, nutmeg, clove, pepper, pine nuts, cinnamon (along with fried preparations) is not often found in Italy.
Much of the island's cuisine encourages the use of every item in their fresh bounty: eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, and fish such as tuna, sea bream, sea bass, sardines, anchovies, cuttlefish, swordfish and a variety of exotic shellfish. Very few recipes have more than five ingredients, taking advantage of seasonal variety in produce and seafood. All of it is so fresh that it takes very little to deliver a profound and memorable depth of flavor. We hope the gallery below will seduce you as it did us to look forward to many more trips to this unforgettable island.
SEAFOOD MARKET IN ORTIGIA SICILY