Category: Book Recommendations

Books Make Great Gifts 2021, Part Two: Novels, Art Books and the Like

2021 has brought us a bumper crop of book recommendations. In Part One, we looked a biographies and autobiographies. This week. in Part Two will look at a broader list — novels, art and reference books, politics and philosophy and a charming children’s biography of Ruth Asawa that we didn’t discover until after Part One was posted.

Nocturnes by Kazue Ishiguro and Netsuke Soseki And Then
Putas asesinas / Murdering Whores

Novels:

Wlodmierz Cygan recommended Nocturnes, Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Tamiko Kawata is rereading another Japanese novelist, Soseki Netsuke, while on an exercise bike — currently SorekaraCarolina Yrrazaval is finding  Putas Asesinas by Roberto Bplagno, Murdering Whores in English, “very interesting.”

Bauhaus Textiles, Art for the built environment in the Province of Ontario
Soft Art and Te Aho Tap
Beyond Craft: the art of fabric and Anna Albers on Weaving

Art and Reference Books:

Young Ok Shin offered us a sampling of favorite books from her bookshelf — those of lasting import:

Bauhaus Textiles (T&H, London, 1993), by Sigrid Wortmann Weltge (who wriote the essay in our catalog, Lenore Tawney: celebrating five decades of work); Art in Architecture, Jeanne Parkin (Visual Arts, Ontario 1982); Soft Art, Erika Billetier (Benteli 1980); Te Aho TapuThe Sacred Thread, Mick Pendergrast (Reed Publishing, NZ, 1987). This book is based on the Te Aho Tapu exhibition of traditional Mâori clothing, mainly cloaks, put on by the Auckland Institute and Museum; Beyond Craft: the art fabricMildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen (Van Nostrand Reinhold Co, 1973) and On WeavingAnni Albers (Wesleyan University Press, 1974).

Basketry and The Grotta Home by Richard Meier

Stéphanie Jacques has a classic that she returns to again and again: Hisako Sekijima’s  Basketry, projects from baskets to grass slippers (Kodansha USA, 1986).

Woman Made and Japandi

The Grotta Home by Richard Meier: A Marriage of Architecture and Craft (Arnoldsche, 2019) remains Dawn MacNutt’s “fave and inspiration.” She kindly shared a comment on the book from her correspondence with the late Jack Lenor Larsen: “Have you seen the newest Grotta Book?. It’s spectacular and a durable tribute to Son and Author.” Well, we can’t argue with that! At browngrotta arts we recommend Women Made: Great Women Designers (Phaidon 2021). The Wall Street Journal says it’s: Thoroughly international in scope… a compendium of disarming surprises.” We’d also recommend our Japandí catalog (Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences, browngrotta arts 2021our best-selling catalog of the year.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary

“Recently, I had to discard our family dictionary that I’ve depended on for 50 years,” Wendy Wahl, writes. “I could no longer engage daily with my trusted lexicon because every time I turned the pages to discover a new word it released its microbial matter causing me to sneeze. As much as I loved this book I knew it was time to let it go. This Webster’s Third New International Dictionary has been temporarily replaced by a two-volume World Book Dictionary set from my collection of encyclopedic materials reserved for artwork. Fortunately, WTNID, while not cloth bound, is still in print and available from amazon.”

Craft An American History

Annette Bellamy and James Bassler both recommended Craft: An American History by Glenn Adamson (who wrote the essay in our Volume 50 catalog in 2020). “Well worth reading!,” says Bellamy.

Undinge and Say it Loud

Politics and Philosophy:

“The most important book for me this year is Un-Dinge written by the philosopher Han, Byung-Chul,” says Heidrun Schimmel (Ullstein, Berlin 2021)There are some essays about ” our hand”, meaning “working by hand,” today in our digital world, she says. “This fact is very interesting for me as ‘craft artist.'”

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Say it Loud by Randall Kennedy (Random House, 2021) is Polly Sutton’s choice. It’s a collection of provocative essays exploring the key social justice issues of our time—from George Floyd to antiracism to inequality and the Supreme Court. The New York Times says Kennedy is “among the most incisive American commentators on race.” James Bassler has just begun Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House, 2020) highly recommended last year, too, by Gyöngy Laky.

biography of Ruth Asawa

One more biography:

While gift hunting this season, we discovered Andrea D’Aquino’s biography of Ruth Asawa (A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa (Princeton University Press, 2019) for children. It is lovely and informative. D’Aquino is an artist. The book is charmingly illustrated, describing Asawa’s interest in spider webs and education in wire work in Mexico. It includes additional factual information in the back and also an activity guide.

To a Year of Good Reading in 2022!


Books Make Great Gifts Part One: the Lives of Others

We don’t know about you, but we’ve gotten a sort of voyueristic pleasure out of seeing people’s kitchens, living rooms and even bedrooms on Zoom calls and tv interviews for the last year and a-half. We’ve enjoyed seeing the art and decor and occasional cat, dog or child walk by. Is that the same impulse that spurred browngrotta arts’ artists to go heavy on memoirs and biographies this year? We can’t say for sure, but they surely have. Here are their recommendations and one of ours, as well.

Fate and Art

Gyöngy Laky wrote eloquently about her re-reading of Fate and Artthe illustrated autobiography of pioneering Polish sculptor, Magdalena Abakanowicz, whose organic installations explored the politics of space in presciently fresh ways.

This work it is not a woven Abakan nor a Bronze Crowd,” writes Laky. “It is Abakanowicz speaking to us directly herself in a most intimate and electrifying way.  The first edition of Fate and Art, a monologue in her own words, was published in 2008.  This second edition was initiated and overseen by Mary Jane Jacob, renowned American curator, writer, and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  It was published in 2020 in the midst of an unexpected and deadly virus pandemic that is responsible for the deaths of nearly 800,000 Americans, more than in all the wars in which the US engaged since 1898.” In the current struggle, Laky sees an echo of WWII’s horrific conflict. Abakanowicz was 9, growing up in Poland, when the Nazis invaded. “Experiences that might have defeated others forged an artist whose works express the power, intensity and mystery of human existence,” Laky observes.

“Abakanowicz writes in English, an adopted language – every sentence honed to poetic perfection with each recounted episode providing the strong intellectual and emotional impact so characteristic of the muscle and might of her sculptures and installations,” says Laky.

“She was absorbed by the physical world around her.  She writes of her childhood, ‘The urge to have around me, to touch, to hoard —twigs, stones, shards and bark— continued.  They embodied stories with which I wanted to live.’  Those stories she absorbed and magnified to build the large themes of her work.”

Laky recommends that, if you did not read this captivating book in 2008, you should read it now.  “Given the magnitude of the struggles we face today, Abakanowicz’s life and art will renew inspiration to hope, to act and to create.  This monologue will regenerate belief in human resilience, so well expressed through her stirring and thought provoking narrative and in her art.” 

Everything She Touched: the life of Ruth Asawa and Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fugimura

Tamiko Kawata also recommended an artist’s biography, Everything She Touched: the life of Ruth Asawa. Mary-Merkel-Hess did, too: Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fugimura. “I have been following Makoto Fugimura,” Merkel-Hess writes.. He is a Japanese American, a Christian, a writer as well as an artist and recently had a show at the High Line Nine Gallery in Manhattan. As a Japanese artist and a Christian he was an advisor to Martin Scorsese during the filming of the movie Silence based on the 1966 novel by Shisaku Endo also called Silence. Both the book and the movie tell the story of the martyrdom of Japanese Christians in the late 17th century.” Fugimura’s book Silence and Beauty is an extended reflection on Endo’s novel, the nature of art and how Fugimura’s faith journey overlaps with Endo’s. Fugimura recently published another book called Art and Faith: A Theology of Making (2020).

Anita Pittoni's diaries and articles

Stéphanie Jacques has been reading Anita Pittoni’s diaries and articles, Anita Pittoni: Journal 1944-1945, and a postface by Christina Benussi, Journal 1944-1945 (Editions La Baconnière, Genève). The author was a textile designer,  an artist, a writer and an editor. The book is in French, but she provided us a translated passage: “For me, writing is made exactly like a fabric, it brings me back to my humble artisan work (…); the same law governs me, makes me perform the same movements, so that the material and the structure of the fabric, made of stitches that are linked rather than tight threads, follows the thread of my thought.” Also on Jacques’ nightstand, a memoir of Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Incarneune abstraction /Embodying an abstraction, bilingual edition French-English (Actes Sud, 2020) summarizing her career and artistic aims. Shaped by 40 years of research and risk-taking, she takes the reader on a journey — each chapter is inspired by major encounters: from Constantin Brancusi and Trisha Brown to Johann Sebastian Bach and Pythagoras.

The Luminous Solution

Lizzie Farey is reading The Luminous Solution by Charlotte Wood (Allen & Unwin, 2021) “Drawing on research and decades of observant conversation and immersive reading,” Farey writes, “Wood shares what artists can teach the rest of us about inspiration and hard work, how to pursue truth in art and life, and how to find courage during difficult times.” Charlotte Wood is one of Australia’s most provocative and gifted writers, Farey notes, an award-winning author, and, just happens to be, Lizzie’s cousin. In the Preface, Wood writes, “A rich inner life is not just the preserve of the arts. The joys, fears and profound self-discoveries of creativity — through making or building anything that wasn’t there before, any imaginative exploration or attempt to invent — I believe to be the birthright of every person on this earth.  If you live your life with curiosity and intention – or would like to — this book is for you.”

Poet Warrior

Poet Warrior is a beautifully written memoir by Joy Harjo, the first Native American to serve as U.S. poet laureate, recommended by Annette Bellamy. Harjo shares with readers the heartaches, losses, and humble realizations of her “poet-warrior” road. Poet Warrior reveals how Harjo came to write poetry of compassion and healing, poetry with the power to unearth the truth and demand justice.

Michelangelo in Ravensbruck

Polly Sutton referred to us Michelangelo in RavensbruckThe inspiring and beautifully written memoir records a neglected side of World War II: the mass murder of Poles, the serial horrors inflicted by both Russians and Nazis, and the immense courage of those who resisted. The memoir is of Countess Karolina Lanckoronska, a professor and wealthy landowner, who joined the Polish underground in 1939, was arrested, sentenced to death, and was held in Ravensbruck concentration camp. There she taught art history to other women who, like her, might be dead in a few days. 

The remarkable life story of the pioneering surgeon, Samuel Pozzi, is the subject of The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes, which was recommended by Włodzimierz Cygan. Pozzi was a society doctor, free-thinker and man of science with a famously complicated private life who was the subject of one of John Singer Sargent’s greatest portraits. Barnes’ story of Belle Epoque Paris features Henry James, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Proust, James Whistler, among others and holds more parallels to our own age than we might imagine.

, (Nina M. Schjønsby (ed.) Arnoldsche). This monograph tells the story of Sætrang (b. 1946) and he

We would add to this list, Bente Sætrang, (Nina M. Schjønsby (ed.) Arnoldsche). This monograph tells the story of Sætrang (b. 1946) and her 40-year commitment to the medium of textile. She is known for her intensive investigation of trompe l’oeil drapery, bold textile printing, monumental abstract color studies, and charcoal drawings. She was Norway’s first professor of textile art, and her political engagement and unique knowledge of color and textile qualities permeate her work. Through essays, poems, interviews, montages, and rich imagery, this monograph sheds light on the different phases of Sætrang’s artistic practice.

1000 years of Joys and Sorrows

Last, but certainly not least, Ai Weiwei’s much-anticipated memoir, 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir (Random House) is just published. It tells a century-long epic tale of China through the story of his own extraordinary life and the legacy of his father, the nation’s most celebrated poet and is, according to Michiko Kakutani, “an impassioned testament to the enduring powers of art.” Edward Snowden’s notes on the book and what it has to tell us about freedom (“The message that emerges from Ai’s work is that the truest resistance to the oppression of conformity is the riot of human diversity,….”) can be found here: https://edwardsnowden.substack.com/p/culturalrevolutions

This list may offer you enough reading inspiration for all of 2022, but there are more recommendations on the way! Watch for Books Make Great Gifts, Part Two: Novels, Art Books and the Like on arttextstyle next month.


Books Make Great Gifts 2020 Edition

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures
Photo from Amazon. The book was dampened
and inoculated with Pleurotus (oyster mushroom) mycelium. The mycelium then digested the pages – and the words – of the book, and sprouted over the
course of seven days. Pleurotus can digest many things – from crude oil to used cigarette butts – and is one of the fungal species that shows the most promise in mycoremediation. It is also delicious when fried lightly with garlic and will make it possible for the author to eat his words. Photo Credit: DRK Videography

Book sales are up nationwide and the artists promoted by browngrotta arts have done their share of reading this year. Polly Sutton pulled Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King (Penguin) off her shelf where it had been sitting for years. “Worth it,” she says. Nenna Okore recommends 50 Women Sculptors, from Aurora Metro Books. The book, which challenges the perception that sculpture is a male pursuit, features Okore’s work and that of Louise Bourgeois, Ruth Asawa, Yayoi Kasuma and others.

“If you’re curious about the weird wonderful world of mushrooms and how we are related to the Fungi Kingdom, then Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures (Random House) is a literary journey to take,” writes Wendy Wahl. “Merlin Sheldrake stitches together a story of our co-evolution offering scientific and historical analysis in a captivating and thought-provoking way. The author transports the reader into the Fungi Kingdom revealing the mysterious maneuverings of this powerful part of nature’s network and the filament threads that binds us together. In two hundred and twenty five pages followed by chapter notes and bibliography, this is a book with doors to unusual discoveries and pathways of connecting in all directions.”


Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (independently published) is excellent”, says Gyöngy Laky. “Difficult and painful… a must read for every adult person in the U S… should be mandatory reading in high school.” 

L’art du fil, by Marie-Madeleine Masse


Randy Walker recommends a new book from France, L’art du fil, by Marie-Madeleine Masse, published in October by Alternatives press. From the book’s press notes,  photos and embroidered ceramics, arachnean sculptures or totem tapestries … the thread never ceases to inspire contemporary artists from here and elsewhere, as superbly evidenced by the 80 international designers selected in this book one of whom is Walker. “The book is inspiring to me,” he writes,” because it exemplifies how fiber-based work is translated to many scales and contexts and that small, gallery-scale work can and should be celebrated alongside larger works.” 


Objects USA 2020

At browngrotta arts we took note of three beautiful art books that arrived in 2020. First up, Objects USA 2020 (Monacelli Press), with essays by Glenn Adamson and others. In 1969, the Objects: USA  exhibition opened at the Smithsonian Institution, travelling to 22 venues. The exhibtion defined the American studio craft movement. Objects: USA united a cohort of artists inventing new approaches to art-making by way of craft media. Objects: USA 2020 revisits this revolutionary exhibition and its accompanying catalog–which has become a bible of sorts to curators, gallerists, dealers, craftspeople, artists, and auction houses–by pairing fifty participants from the original exhibition with fifty contemporary artists representing the next generation of practitioners to use–and upend–the traditional methods and materials of craft to create new forms of art.

Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock

Another visually striking volume, Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock (Arnoldsche) traces Amaral’s career over five decades, features more than 40 key pieces of work, and examines the artist’s oeuvre through the lens of contemporary and fiber art. Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock celebrates an artist who for decades has gracefully produced across traditional divides: fine art and craft, local and universal, ethereal and material. Published to accompany an exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills (US), between 19 November 2020 and 7 March 2021, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (US) between 27 June to 19 September 2021, and at Museum of Arts and Design, New York (US), between 21 October 2021 and 27 February 2022.

Signe Mayfield

Published in 2018, but new to us is Anchors in Time: Dominic di Mare by Signe Mayfield (Fine Arts Press). The book includes insightful essays, but much of it features full-page photos of DiMare’s meticulously crafted constructions and detailed oil paintings.The book was produced in conjunction with an exhibition of DiMare’s work at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, California in 2018. 

Agneta Hobin

Last but nowhere near least, Agneta Hobin oversaw the publication of Agneta Hobinthis year which features lush photographs of her work, a passel of family and historical photos and text in English and Danish. You can puchase the book at browngrotta arts http://store.browngrotta.com
/agneta-hobin/.


Books Make Great Gifts 2019 Edition

From Tapestry to Fiber Art: The Lausanne Biennials 1962-1995

We’ve gathered another year of varied and interesting book recommendations. Gyöngy Laky recommends From Tapestry to Fiber Art: Lausanne Biennials 1962-95 by Giselle Eberhard Cotton and Magali Junet of Fondation Toms Pauli, Lausanne, Switzerland, a book bag recommends as well. “The book describes and illustrates the worldwide exuberance of an art movement that burst, with new energy, onto the world stage of avant garde art in the 1960s and 70s,” she writes.  “The title might fool a reader into believing that the artwork within is traditional weaving, but the cover shouts the excitement to be found within its pages. Nearly 6,000 miles away in Berkeley, California, my artist friends and I were inspired and energized by the sculptural works the Biennales Internationale de la Tapisserie presented at the Musee Cantonal des Beaux Arts.  Not only were many of the works exhibited monumental, they were also breaking with traditional forms and expanding what this astoundingly flexible art medium could be.” The first of Laky’s friends to be included in one of the Biennales, she recalls, was artist Lia Cook. Several years later, in 1989, Laky’s seven-and-a-half-foot high sculpture, That Word, was exhibited in Lausanne. It’s now housed in the Federal Courthouse in San Francisco.

Cotton and Junet are joined by other contributors who, together, give a thoughtful and well-researched view of the development of this art form from the early Biennales to present day.  “Reading this book and viewing the illustrations will provide an understanding of how this movement became so dynamic and why it continues to be so today,” Laky predicts. “Holland Cotter is quoted from a review in 2014, ‘The major art critics are acknowledging what artists have always known, that textile materiality with all its gravity, responsiveness and connections to life and loss holds tremendous capacity to speak to issues of our human condition.'”

Overwhelmed: Literature, Aesthetics, and the Nineteenth-Century Information Revolution


Earlier this year Princeton Press solicited an image of Wendy Wahl’s Branches Unbound, aninstallation at the Grand Rapids Arts Museum 2011, for the cover its forthcoming book by Maurice S. Lee. Wahl writes that she received her copy of Overwhelmed: Literature, Aesthetics and the Nineteenth-Century Information Revolution and, “I am completely delighted. My not-quite-natural trees of deconstructed Encyclopedia Britannica volumes are a fitting image for a book with chapters titled Reading, Searching, Counting and Testing. The author’s historically grounded exploration of the 19th and 20th centuries’ intersection of literature and information offers new ways to think about the 21st century digital humanities.

The Songs of Trees
The Overstory by Richard Powers


We received four recommendations from Chris Drury: The Songs of Trees by David George Haskell, The Overstory by Richard Powers, Underland by Robert MacFarlane and The Wisdom of Wolves by Elli H Radinger.

Underland by Robert MacFarlane
The Wisdom of Wolves

I’m really enjoying The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History by Kassia St Clair at the moment, reports Laura Thomas.

The book offers insights into the economic and social dimensions of clothmaking―and counters the enduring association of textiles as “merely women’s work.”

A House in Norway by Vigdis Hjorth


Stéphanie Jacques is reading A House in Norway by Vigdis Hjorth, a novel in which the main character is a woman who is also a textile artist. “You follow her,” she says, “in her creative process and in the difficulties with her neighbors.” Jacques also recommends Hisako Sekijima’s Basketry: Projects from Baskets to Grass Slippers.

Basketry: Projects from Baskets to Glass Slippers

“Not really a new one ;-),” she says, “but for me this book is a gift to get back to basketry in the spring.” 

The Buried: An Archaeology of The Egyptian Revolution

“My favorite book this year was The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution by Peter Hessler,” writes Mary Merkel-Hess. “The author is well known for his previous books about living in China. In 2011, he moved to Cairo with his wife and infant twin daughters to learn Arabic and write about the Middle East and soon found himself caught up in the Arab Spring. This book is about that political upheaval but also a very human story about living in Cairo, exploring ancient archaeological sites as well as navigating the political unrest of modern Egypt. I had the great good fortune to visit Egypt for several lengthy periods in 2007-8 and this book explained much about a culture that I found fascinating, baffling and at times, frustrating.”

Mrinalini Mukherjee

were two books that we were pleased to add to browngrotta arts’ library this year. First was Mrinalini Mukherjee by Shanay Jhaveri. Mukherjee’s work, which is on exhibit in the new galleries at MoMA, was not exhibited in the US until after her death in 2015. As the book notes explain, “Within her immediate artistic milieu in post-independent India, Mukherjee was an outlier artists. Her art remained untethered to the dominant commitments of painting and figural storytelling. Her sculpture was sustained by a knowledge of traditional Indian and historic European sculpture, folk art, modern design, local crafts and textiles. Knotting was the principal gesture of Mukherjee’s technique, evident from the very start of her practice. Working intuitively, she never resorted to a sketch, model or preparatory drawing. Probing the divide between figuration and abstraction, Mukherjee would fashion unusual, mysterious, sensual and, at times, unsettlingly grotesque forms, commanding in their presence and scale.”

Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe

The second was Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe, Karen Patterson, Editor. The book notes, explain that Tawney was known for employing an ancient Peruvian gauze weave technique to create a painterly effect that appeared to float in space rather than cling to the wall. She was known, too, for being one of the first artists to blend sculptural techniques with weaving practices and pioneering a new direction in fiber art, in the process. Tawney has only recently begun to receive her due from the greater art world. She is currently the subject of a four-exhibition retrospective at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. This book accompanies the exhibition and features a comprehensive biography of Tawney, additional essays on her work and two hundred full-color illustrations, making it of interest to contemporary artists, art historians and the growing audience for fiber art.


Books make great gifts

We received many good suggestions for this year’s book round up and have added two of our own.


Rereading works of particular power was a theme for several of the artists who replied. Jo Barker tells us that she returns again and again to The Thinking Hand: Existential & Embodied Wisdom in Architecture by Juhani Pallasmaa (Wiley, 2009). “As a maker who works in an instinctive way,” she writes, “this book was a revelation. It is often so difficult to talk about and explain embodied knowledge. The book’s subheading may seem misleading, as this is a book of interest to artists, musicians, and writers as well as architects. In fact, anyone interested in the process of creativity, and making. It consists of a series of illustrated essays moving from the physical to the abstract, from the hand itself to emotional theory. The author – ‘one of Finland’s most distinguished architects and architectural thinkers’ – writes concisely. Every paragraph has meaningful content and for this reason is a book that can be picked up and read in short bites, as well as an engrossing long read. At its heart is the importance of the hand as a tool, movements of the hand and development of the mind and imagination. All of this rings true for me as a tapestry designer and weaver.” Barker also recommends Findings by Kathleen Jamie (Sort of Books, 2015). “For anyone interested in Scotland, nature writing, travel, the human condition, this small book is so thoughtful and beautiful. I have given it to several friends.” Kathleen Jamie writes essays and poetry. Findings is a book of 11 short essays. “She writes with clarity and precision,” writes Barker. “Every word counts. Neolithic buildings, birds, the streets of Edinburgh, remote Scottish Islands her family: she really makes you notice tiny details and her thoughts stay with you long after the book is finished.” 

Barker notes that her prior book, Sightlines: A Conversation With the Natural World (The Experiment, 2013) includes observations on the restoration of whalebones, the aurora borealis, cave paintings, bird colonies, an archaeological dig and “is equally absorbing, broad ranging and magical.” 

A favorite book that Jennifer Falck Linssen finds herself rereading is Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas Tallamy (Timber Press, 2009). “Returning to Wisconsin six years ago after being away for close to 17 years, it was clear just how the woods and meadows had changed – and not for the better,” she observes. “My husband and I have spent the past six summers battling invasive plants on our land. Just when I think we’ve beat the invasive non-native plants back, they creep forward again. The good news is that in this case it’s been two steps forward and only one step back. And it’s worth the effort to see the beautiful native woodland plants reappear. Doug Tallamy’s book reinforces those efforts by sharing with his readers how important our native plants are and the wonderful creatures they support.”

She recently finished reading The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan (W.W. Norton, 2018) after a fellow artist-friend, equally interested in water health, recommended it. “Growing up along the shores of Lake Michigan I knew a great deal of the history and some of the challenges the Great Lakes have dealt with in the past and at the present,” she says. “Dan Egan writes about how each change and challenge to the Great Lakes has led to a new one. It’s a chain of events both fascinating and frightening – one that I hope will help more people realize just how important both land and water health are to our overall ecosystem.” 

Gyöngy Laky returned to The Box Project: Uncommon Threads (Cotsen Occasional Press, 2016)In October, The Textile Museum at George Washington University announced that it is the recipient of an $18.4 million gift of more than 4,000 textiles (including The Box Project), an endowment and equipment to support the textile collections. Lloyd Cotsen, the donor, was former CEO and chairman of the of Neutrogena Corporation and a prodigious collector of textiles, baskets, books and more. “Lyssa C. Stapleton, the curator of the Cotsen collection and editor or the catalog, described what captivated Cotsen about the textile works he collected,” writes Laky: ‘the flexibility of the medium, it’s dexterity and ability to fill space, to be rigid or pliant, to cover walls or floors, to be sculptural or flat, are what made him a passionate patron.’ Among Cotsen’s collecting projects was The Box Project. “Over several years 36 artists were commissioned to create artworks that would be housed, but not necessarily contained, in two sizes of archival boxes,” writes Laky. “The catalog is a hefty 5 pounds. It is just smaller than the smaller of the two archival boxes that the selected artists could choose to house the artworks that Cotsen commissioned. It is bound in subtly textured indigo fabric and, most strikingly, and metaphorically, it has a window in its cover. It is not only a beautiful object and fascinating read, it is also a window on the field. I read the catalog in 2016, but it stayed vivid in my mind. With the announcement of the gift to GWU, I re-read the thoughtful and thought-provoking essays this fall.” 

“For me,” writes Heidrun Schimmel, “one of the most inspiring books was 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Harari Yuval Noah (Spiegel & Grau 2018).”It’s not an art book, “but one nevertheless very important for my work.” In it, the author conducts an important conversation about how to take on the problems of the 21st century.

Chris Drury also recommends a non-art book, a novel by Elizabeth Gilbert, A Signature of All Things (Riverhead Books, 2014).

Nancy Moore Bess, Polly Sutton and Scott Rothstein chose art books. Bess writes that her go-to books for inspiration and calming are all versions of How to Wrap Five Eggs by Hideyuki Oka (Weatherhill, 2008). “In total I probably have two dozen books on wrapping and gift traditions in Japan. One I own is a real treasure. It’s multiple layers of packaging let you know immediately how significant the contents are. The outer sleeve is beautifully stenciled to hint at what is inside. Plain cardboard and tissue protect the red folder that covers the book itself. This particular edition is filled with photos and illustrations not included in most editions. Gift giving in Japan is very complicated!”

Sutton recommends, Braiding Sweetgrass Robin Kimmerer: “It’s so very good!” Rothstein found interesting Jangarh Singh Shyam: The Enchanted ForestAurogeeta Das (Roli Books, 2017) that accompanied an exhibition of the same name http://artfoundout.blogspot.com
/2017/10/jangarh-singh-shyam-enchanted-forest.html.Singh was a member of an indigenous tribe from Madhya Pradesh in India who created murals, acrylics on paper, clay reliefs and and screen prints of tribal deities that had not been previously visualized and flora and fauna remembered from his childhood.


Kay Sekimachi Master Weaver


We have two picks this year. First, The Shape of Craft by Ezra Shales (Reaktion Books, 2018), a book we predict will join the list of those that readers return to again and againIt explores some of the key questions about craft: who makes it, what we mean when we think about a craft object and how that shapes our understanding of what craft is. Shales’s discussion ranges widely across people and objects: from potter Karen Karnes to weaver Jack Lenor Larsen, glass sculptor Dale Chihuly to Native American basket-maker Julia Parker, as well as younger makers such as Sopheap Pich and Maarten Baas, and to the porcelain and cast-iron sanitary ware produced by the Kohler Company, the pottery made in Stoke on Trent and the people in Asia today who weave beautiful things for IKEA.”This book is of particular value to the fine arts, where today’s practitioners are reaching out more and more into traditional craft without understanding its context,” writes Garth Clark in CFile. “The Shape of Craft lets them know that while rooted in labor, material and haptic experience (I only acknowledge craft as a verb) it can also be intellectually profound and conceptually textured.” The second, and latest, catalog of Kay Sekimachi’s work, Kay Sekimachi: Master Weaver (Fresno Art Museum, 2018prepared to accompany this year’s one-person exhibition at the Fresno Museum of Art. Kay Sekimachi: Master Weaver is lushly illustrated with never-before-seen works from the 1940s to works through the 60s, 70s, 80s, up to 2017. The curators, Kristina Hornback and Michele Ellis Pracy, aimed “to select and ultimately present artwork that encapsulates the breadth, variety, and intrinsic voice of an artist,” in order to illuminate her 77 years “of experimental and remarkable art making.” They have succeeded, masterfully. 


Happy Holiday reading!


Books Make Great Gifts, Part 2

From Tapestry To Fiber Art The Laussane Biennials 1962-1995 Bokk Spread

From Tapestry To Fiber Art The Laussane Biennials 1962-1995. Pictured works by Mariette-Rousseau Vermette, Cynthia Schira and Lenore Tawney

Two January arrivals to review and one fav from last year to highlight: We were delighted to receive our copy of From Tapestry to Fiber Art: The Lausanne Biennals 1962-1995 by Giselle Eberhard Cotton and you can order it now from browngrotta arts. The book contains many never-before-published images from the Biennials and insightful essays, as well.

At the end of World War II, the art of tapestry experienced a renewal. By organizing the International Tapestry Biennials in 1962, the city of Lausanne, Switzerland became the international showcase of contemporary textile creation. The Lausanne Biennials gradually became more than just an exhibition. but a not-to-be-missed event that bore witness to the extraordinary evolution of an artistic expression that had graduated from a decorative art to that of a truly independent art form. In the 30 years that the exhibitions were held, 600 artists participated, 911 works were exhibited. The book contains many never-before-published images from the Biennials and insightful essays, as well.

Artisans of Israel Book Cover

Aleksandra Stoyanov spread

Artisans of Israel Transcending Tradition. Aleksandra Stoyanov pictured

Another newly published title we’ve enjoyed is Artisans of Israel: Transcending Tradition by Lynn Holstein (Arnoldsche Art Publishers). Intriguing portraits of dozens of artists are featured, from a Bedouin ceramist, Zenab Garbia, who use cross-stitch patterns in her works, to Russian emigre, Aleksandra Stoyanov who creates evocative tapestries, to Gali Cnaani, whose grandparents emigrated to Israel from Romania and Slovakia and who creates hybrid textiles from meticulously modified items of used clothing. The book features studio photos and portraits of workshops and design brands.

This Way In and Out by Gyöngy Laky from the Box Project Exhibition

Both Heidrun Schimmel and Gyøngy Laky had high praise for The Box Project: Works from the Lloyd Cotsen Collectionedited by Lyssa Stapleton (Cotsen Occasional Press, Los Angeles, 2016). “This catalog itself is an art object! The essays answer very important fundamental questions in textile art and the photographs are in high quality,” writes Heidrun Schimmel. “At the risk of being shamelessly self-promoting,” Gyöngy Laky also recommended the catalog/book that accompanied the unusual, traveling exhibition, which includes Laky’s and Schimmel’s work among that of many other artists.

“The five-pound book, “ Laky writes, “is not only a work of art itself with its indigo cloth cover, exquisite binding, gorgeous photography and elegant design, but, also, presents informative, important and engaging scholarly research. In addition to the background on the formation of this unique collection, the essays eloquently discuss the provenance and role of this field and its current manifestations, as well as describe the medium’s place in the contemporary art world context.”
Laky continues, “My participation was one of the most fascinating engagements with a collector commissioning a work that I have ever experienced. Lloyd Cotsen (of Neutrogena) was assembling a collection of works by contemporary artists in an extremely strange way.  He sent a small archival box to each of the 36 internationally acclaimed artists he selected, asking each to create a one-of-a-kind, three-dimensional, work that fit within the confines of the box. The 36 ideas resulted in remarkably diverse works – some residing within the boxes and some emerging from them to be large-scale works of all kinds when installed in a gallery. The Box Project showcases the dynamic, and often surprising, results.
My work for the box, This Way and That, is composed of eight separate small sculptures – four rectangles and four triangles – that can be arranged in a myriad of ways and has been installed in each venue in a different arrangement.
This inventive way of collecting resulted in an in-depth, thoughtful and provocative scholarly treatise associated with an equally intriguing and extraordinary exhibition.  The artworks are compelling demonstrations of the inventiveness and richness of this realm of the visual arts today.”

Crowds lining up for the opening reception of The Box Project at the Fowler Museum. Photo by Tom Grotta

The exhibition opened at The Fowler Museum, UCLA, in September, 2016, traveled to the Racine Museum of Art and is now on view through the end of January  2018, at George Washington University (https://museum.gwu.edu/boxproject).  Additional works by each artist are included in the exhibition.  The Box Project was organized by the Cotsen Foundation for Academic Research with the Racine Art Museum and curated by Lyssa C. Stapleton and Bruce W. Pepich.

Books Make Great Gifts: 2017, Part 1

Book: What Happened Hillary Rodham Clinton

Book: Vitamin-Clay-Ceramic-Contemporary-Art/dp/0714874604/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1513259535&sr=8-1&keywords=Vitamin+C%3A+Clay+%2B+Ceramic+in+Contemporary+Art+%28Phaidon%29

Another wide-ranging selection of books selected by browngrotta arts’ artist this year. Mary Merkel Hess: recommends What Happened by Hillary Clinton (Simon and Schuster). “Have you ever wondered what Hillary Clinton’s favorite snack is?,” Mary asks. “Me neither, but now I know. I listened to the audio version of this book read by Hillary herself. Hearing the book in her own voice made it ‘up close and personal.’ Her detailed description of life on the campaign trail, from a feminine perspective in an unusual political year, is fascinating.” Mary also has an art book on her list: Vitamin C: Clay + Ceramic in Contemporary Art (Phaidon). “For those of you who enjoy a book of luscious photography in coffee table size,” says Mary, “this is for you. Vitamin C is a medium-specific survey of more than 100 ceramic artists nominated by international art world professionals. A disclaimer: My son, Matthias Merkel-Hess, is included in this book but I am enjoying the photos and short essays enough that I am reading the other entries too. Some larger lights in the ceramic world like Ai Wei Wei and Betty Woodman are included as well as younger artists.”

Book: Chance-and-Change-by-Mel-Gooding,Chance and Change by Mel Gooding, about the nature artist Herman de Vries (Thames & Hudson) “is a wonderful book,” says Lizzie Farey. “It appraises De Vries’s work with beautiful images and argues that a proper contemplation and experience of nature is essential to living in any meaningful sense.”

Book: Oryx and Crake“Today’s world is so utterly filled with alternative facts and a reality of denial that for reasons unexplainable,” Wendy Wahl writes, “I decided to immerse myself in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian trilogy. While not new on the literary scene, I recently finished the first book, Oryx and Crake (Anchor), and am absorbed in The Year of the Flood (Anchor) which will be followed by Book: MaddAddam (The Maddaddam Trilogy)MaddAddam (Anchor) to close 2017. Atwood brilliantly takes us on an idiosyncratic journey with her keen wit and dark humor combining adventure and romance while forecasting a future that is at once all too recognizable and beyond envisioning. I highly recommend this environmental, philosophical and spiritual work of science fiction as a parallel view of the current global crossroads.”

Scott Rothstein recently receivedBook: Jangarh-Singh-Shyam-Enchanted-Collection Jangarh Singh Shyam: The Enchanted Forest Paintings and Drawings from the Crites Collection, by Aurogeeta Das (ROLI), a “truly remarkable” book from the collector of this work, who Scott knows from Delhi. You can read more about the show here: http://artfoundout.blogspot.com/2017/10/jangarh-singh-shyam-enchanted-forest.html, and read a great interview with the collector here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh1JhXAebGc.

Ambarvalia アムパルワリア 旅人かえらず, by Nishiwaki Junzaburo 西脇順三郎“I’m reading a poem book by Japanese poet in Japanese….it is wonderful and strong,” says Tamiko Kawata. Sorry, not in English!!! “ It’s title is Ambarvalia アムパルワリア 旅人かえらず, by Nishiwaki Junzaburo 西脇順三郎 (Kodansha Bungei Bunko). “I hope someone will enjoy.”

Book: The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the AirNancy Moore Bess’s contribution is The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air, Elisa Urbanelli (University of California Press). It is the 2007 catalogue from the traveling exhibition of the same name. “Perhaps you saw it when it was at Japan Society,” she writes. “I missed it at the deYoung, but I was lucky to catch it shortly thereafter at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. The book is an inspiring documentation of her life, work, values and sense of community. There are drawings, which I had never seen before, photos of her with her early work and with friends. And then the stunning photographs of her later work. When the deYoung opened its new (and very controversial) building in 2005, over a dozen of her pieces were installed at the base of the tower. They are lit in such a way as to reveal how important shadows are to complete each piece. The photographs in the book really capture the installation. Buy the book and then come see the work in person! Prepare to stay a while and take it all in. Recently friends visited – Leon Russell from Seattle and Nancy Koenigsberg from New York. Both are now living with the book! Ruth died in 2013, but she is still revered in San Francisco – both for her artwork and for her commitment to children and the community. So wish I had met her! My great loss.”

Book: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis“The book that moved me and opened my eyes to a world that I knew superficially was Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance,”writes Kyomi Iwata. “This book explained in a way why people chose the current political leader. I had a casual conversation with a Southern lady during our visit to the William and Mary College Art Museum in Williamsburg, Va this spring. She was a stranger who was holding the book and saying she did not like the book. It was the reading recommendation from her book club. At the end of our brief encounter though, we both agreed that knowing something which is not familiar is a worthwhile read. This book emphasized the importance of education and getting out from a familiar situation even though it is scary sometimes. The author felt this way and eventually went to Yale Law School. Afterwards he came back to the community to help others. Oh yes, he is a white man.”

Book: Mark Rothko: From the Inside Out, by his son, Christopher RothkoRachel Max has been reading Mark Rothko: From the Inside Out, by his son, Christopher Rothko. “Rothko’s meditative sensitivity and use of colour inspires me and this is a personal and engaging analysis of his father’s work. I was particularly interested in the chapter on Rothko and Music and of the emotional power of Rothko’s paintings and its parallels to music. Music was hugely important to Rothko and his son draws similarities between Mozart’s melodies and his father’s transparent textures, clarity, and purity of from in order to give what he calls greater expression – for both artist and composer alike nothing was added unnecessarily. Rothko’s application of paint and varnish allows us to see layers which would otherwise be concealed. He also draws comparisons between their artistic power to convey complex feelings and to what he describes as the coexistence between ecstasy and doom. He also describes how they both had the paradoxical ability to create an intimate and yet grand space. Christopher Rothko doesn’t draw the line at Mozart, he makes comparisons to Schubert’s shifts in tone and of the interplay between Rothko’s pigments, and to the relationship between Rothko’s sense of space with Morton Feldman’s use of silence. Rothko wanted his paintings to affect us in the same way he felt that music and poetry does – an absolute means of expressing what perhaps cannot be explained in words, “ she writes. “I grew up surrounded with music. The relationship between music and weaving is something I have been exploring and this particular essay resonated with me, but the others are equally personal and thought provoking.” Rachel has also been given copies of
From Tapestry to Fiber Art (Skira) and Books Make Great Gifts: Rooted Revived Reinvented: Basketry in America by Kristin Schwain and Josephine StealeyRooted Revived Reinvented: Basketry in America by Kristin Schwain and Josephine Stealey (Schiffer) and she can’t wait to read them!

At browngrotta arts we are awaiting our on-order copy of Books men great gifts: From Tapestry to Fiber Art (Skira)From Tapestry to Fiber Art: The Lausanne Biennals 1962-1995 with text by Giselle Eberhard Cotton, Magali Junet, Odile Contamin, Janis Jefferies, Keiko Kawashima, Marta Kowalewska, Jenelle Porter (Skira). We have on good authority that it is a beautiful book. We are also looking forwarded to wandering through the re-issue of Book Make Great Gifts: Anni Albers On WeavingAnni Albers’ On Weaving (Princeton University Press) (shhhhh, it’s still under the tree!). Enjoy!


Art News: Publications

A number of interesting and varied press reports, books and catalogs have crossed our desk at browngrotta arts in the last couple of months. The truly glorious Spoken Through Clay,  Native Pottery of the Southwest: The Eric S. Dobkin Collection, edited by Charles S. King (Museum of New Mexico Press) is one example. The volume documents 300 vessels in the Dobkin collection in large-scale, meticulously corrected color photos, a collection that has a “unique and distinctive focus on aesthetic of the vessel.” King has organized the works into several sections: Dreamers, Traditionalists, Transitionists, Modernists, Visonaries, Transformists and Synchronicity. The Navajo artists — mostly Pueblo — provide uniques insights into the works.
The catalog from Ane Henriksen’s recent exhibition in Denmark, Ane Henriksen in collaboration with Jens Søndergaard, is another.  Visual artist and weaver Ane Henriksen returned to Museum Thy in Denmark in June, with “a handful of great pictures,” inspired by the painter Jens Søndergaard’s works. The catalog chronicles that exhibition. For a number of years, Ane Henriksen has worked with image theories, including at the National Workshops at the Old Dock in Copenhagen. For 25 years, she has lived in Thy and created woven pictures inspired by nature and culture there. Highlighting work by Sara Brennan, James Koehler and Ann Naustdal among others, the Coda 2017 catalog is the third Coda volume published by the American Associate of Tapestry. It also includes informative
essays by Lesley Millar, Alice Zrebiec and other authors.
Several recent magazines have also featured browngrotta arts’artists including Fiber Art now’s Summer 2017 article, “Marian Bijlenga: Creator and Curator” by Jamie Chalmers. Chalmers notes that Bijlenga’s works dissect individual elements and disperse them while still maintaining an order to the arrangement. “[T]he incisions in the work reinforce the notion of scientific intervention and have echoes of the natural architectural work of Andy Goldsworthy, someone Biljenga’s cites as an influence.” In the September/October 2017 issue of Crafts magazine from the UK, Laura Ellen Bacon’s elegant work of willow is the subject of a feature, which notes that she has created a new work of Flanders Red willow, “about movement and vigor and trying to show how the material is being worked,” for the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize, for which Crafts noted in its July August issue, she is a finalist.
In the fall 2017 issue of Interweave Crochet, Dora Ohrenstein explains how Norma Minkowitz has established crochet “as a legitimate tool for artistic expression ”recognized by the 31 major museums that have acquired her work, including the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in her article “Norma Minkowitz: A Life in the Fiber Arts.” And online in “Randy Walker: Thread Held in Tension,” textileartist.org shares “what fires Randy’s imagination…how his background in architecture has shaped his artistic vocabulary…and how he puts together his subtle, yet mind-blowing installations.” Look for them.

Blog: Artists Recommend Books – January Edition

Here are a few recommended books that missed the posting deadline for our previous Blog, Books Make Great Gifts. From Chris Drury in the UK, a title he considers a must in light of the Dakota Pipeline, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Beacon Press), which won an American Book Award in 2015. As an antidote, he recommends A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean (University of Chicago Press). Drury recommends two books from Korea, too, The Vegetarian by Hang Kang (Hogarth) and Please Look After Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin (Vintage).

Wendy Wahl looked at the past year in providing her recommendations. “if the world has felt as wobbly to you as it has to me during 2016 then were on the same path,” she writes. “This isn’t to say that everything that transpired has been negative though there have been several traumatic events. The positive experiences have been just as surprising and memorable,” according to Wahl. She recommends a text on classic Indian spirituality, “that provides inspiration for healing and reframing perspectives, The Upanishads, introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran (Nigiri Press). This collection of teachings is as timely now as it was 2000 years ago. Understanding the following words from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (iv.4.5) could be useful,” she says. You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny. The Mundaka Upanishad furnished the motto of the modern Indian nation, she notes, satyam eva jayate, nanritam, Truth alone prevails, not unreality” (iii.1.6).”Perhaps the global collective consciousness will awaken to this concept. I’m trying to remain hopeful.” Wahl adds that for readers interested in one of her favorite materials, Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky (W.W. Norton) is “a worthy read for a perspective on world history and a material that has had such an important role in its direction and documentation. I appreciated the author opening chapter fourteen with a quote from Denis Diderot, Encyclopedie,1 755: Indeed, the purpose of an encyclopedia is to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth it’s general system to the men with whom we live, transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come; and so that our offspring, becoming better instructed, will at the same time become more virtuous and happy, and that we should not die with out having rendered a service to the human race. Perhaps Diderot should have included – to the women with whom we live,” she concludes.


Books Make Great Gifts 2016

Another year of widely divergent books. Art, biology, history and biography are all represented in the answers we received to the questions we asked of artists that work with browngrotta arts: What books cheered you? Inspired you? Provided an escape?

Dona Anderson, wrote that she is reading Herbert Hoover: A Life by Glen Jeansonne (NAL, New York, 2016) who calls Hoover the most resourceful American since Benjamin Franklin. “I recently had a birthday and remember that my mother went to vote on the day I was born, November 6th, and she voted for Herbert Hoover. Consequently, I started to think about what the political atmosphere was like then — as ours was so crazy and even more so now. When I went to the library in October, the Hoover book was brand new and it appealed to me.” Rachel Max is reading Materiality, edited by Petra Lange-Berndt (MIT Press, Cambridge, 2015), one of the latest additons to the Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art series. It’s a fantastic series. Each volume in the series focuses on a specific theme and contains many thought-provoking essays from theorists and artists. Materiality not only addresses key geographical, social and philosophical issues, but it also examines how artists process and use materials in order to expand notions of time, space and participation. As the publisher notes, “this anthology focuses on the moments when materials become willful actors and agents within artistic processes.” Max has also been dipping into the diaries of Eva Hesse. “They are extremely private and were never meant for publication. But, as a huge fan of her work it is interesting to read her thoughts,” Max writes.

Gyöngy Laky recommended, highly, Daughters of the Samurai, A Journey From East to West and Back by Janice P. Nimura (W.W. Norton, New York, 2016). “This book is a fascinating biographical history chronicling the lives of three young Japanese girls sent to America in 1871 by the just barely 22-year-old Empress, Haruko. Their mission was to become educated and to bring back to Japan western ideas to advance the role of women and to help Japan adopt western knowledge and technology. Haruko […”something of a prodigy: reading at the age of three, composing poetry at five, studying calligraphy at seven and plucking the koto (a stringed instrument) at 12] had earlier married the 16-year-old Emperor who ascended the throne in 1868. He had adopted the name, Meiji, or Enlightened Rule—to usher in the beginning of a new era. The new era was a plunge into modernization. Sending three young girls to the West turned out to be more enlightened than expected. Sutematsu Yamakawa, 11; Shige Nagai, 10 and Ume Tsuda, the youngest, a tender, 6, remained in the U.S. for 10 formative years and then changed the future and subsequent history of Japanese women forever.

Nimura’s skillful crafting of a can’t-put-it-down narrative of their experiences on two sides of the Pacific is a vividly rich visual, as well as historical, account. She produced for the reader, through captivating descriptions illuminating the startling differences between these two very different cultures, the contrasting worlds we could easily visualize.

Stacy Shiff, Pulitzer Prise-winning author of Cleopatra wrote: “Nimura reconstructs their Alice-in-Wonderland adventure: the girls are so exotic as to qualify as ‘princesses’ on their American arrival. One feels “enormous” on her return to Japan.” It is just this Alice-in-Wonderland aspect of their story that caught my imagination. As in Louis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it is the environment and the material culture that sets the stage for remarkable events. The tangible aspects of two vastly contrasting cultures – intellectually, technically, behaviorally and in terms of the accoutrements of every day life, express well the often conflicting, peculiar and unexpected events in the girls’ lives. The girls move from Japanese clothing, furniture and customs to western style and then back again feeling more comfortable in western settings than in their birth homes kneeling on the floor and lavishly swathed in yards and yards of embroidered silks.

In the late 19th century the US was bursting with inventions and change. Planning begun in the 1850s for the Chicago World’s Fair was well under way, ushering in the Gilded Age of rapid industrial growth, design innovation and expansion of popular culture. A startlingly appropriate time for the girls’ cultural experiment to take place. Nimura, who moved to Japan for three years with her Japanese/American nesei husband, was adept at utilizing her keen sense of design and broad knowledge of the two disparate material cultures. She skillfully brought to life the vast differences between the two civilizations through masterful and insightful descriptions of clothing, hairstyles, furniture, interiors, architecture as well as the cities in which they existed. This, combined with her extensive research, presents the reader with many insights into the relations between the two countries and their intertwined histories through the lives of these exceptional girls and their extraordinary adventures.

As Miriam Kingsberg of the Los Angeles Review of Books wrote, “Daughters… is, perhaps, less a story of Japanese out of place in their country, than of women ahead of their time.” Laky adds that while she was a professor of art and design at the University of California, Davis, she encouraged her students to study abroad. “This book illustrates how education and experience in a foreign country enhances understanding of other cultures and peoples – perhaps more important today than in the 1870s and 80s. I believe travel also greatly inspires creativity.”

The Box Project, edited by Lyssa C.Stapleton (Cotsen Occasional Press, Los Angeles, 2016), “is one of the very best catalogs I have ever seen and not only the precious book binding!,” wrote Heidrun Schimmel. “I´m still reading the important essays again and again…and I´m learning again and again…” The Box Project is a limited edition book. It will be available at browngrotta.com next week. John McQueen wrote that The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (Greystone Books, Vancouver, 2016), will change your next walk in the woods. “Trees will never seem the same again. This is a scientific study on how trees communicate with each other among many other things that I, for one, never thought about.”

Currently, Jane Balsgaard is reading The Wind is my Mother: The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman by Marcellus “Bear Heart” Williams and Molly Larkin (revised edition, Berkeley Publishing Group, New York 2012) and Diary of an Stupid Man, by Uschi Tech, published in Denmark by Forlaget Helle.
It is a sad and exciting story about a typical lonely man in today’s Denmark, she wrote. “Written in a wonderful language – so one can just imagine him, by reading it and it is just as sad as StonerMary Merkel-Hess has three recommedations. “I heard Cornelia Mutel read from her book, A Sugar Creek Chronicle: Observing Climate Change from a Midwestern Woodland (University Of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 2016), last March just after it was published” she writes. “I bought it immediately. Connie Mutel is a trained scientist but in this book she has written a very personal account of climate change occurring in her own small woodland here in Johnson County, Iowa. She has woven stories of her own life into observations of the possibly irreversible changes that are happening around us. It is a beautifully written and thoughtful book, but not a hopeless one. She ends with a discussion of things that we can do and strategies for our policymakers.”
Her second recommendation is Food Power: the Rise and Fall of the American Postwar Food System by Bryan L. McDonald. Bryan is Merkel-Hess’s son-in-law, a history professor at Penn State and long-time student of security issues. This book details how the unprecedented abundance of food mid-century was used to advance U.S. goals and values around the world. That food can influence global policy is an issue that Merkel-Hess never considered until now, but one she found fascinating.
The third book, is one for the Sinophiles and academically inclined among us, is The Rural Modern: Constructing the Self and State in Republican China by Kate Merkel-Hess. Merkel-Hess has another academic connection: Kate is her daughter and also a history professor at Penn State. This book about rural reform in China before the Communist revolution documents a desire for modernity rooted in Chinese rural traditions and institutions. Merkel-Hess found it interesting that American foundation money and the YMCA were involved in these early modernizing efforts.
We also have two limited-edition, artist-designed books to highlight: Judy Mulford: 80 Chairs by Judy Mulford and Marian Bijlenga: Miniatures, An autobiographical archive reflecting 30 years of work by Marian Bijlenga. In each case, the artist has created a reflective work — celebrating a full and accomplished career. The books are available at http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/books.php.

As always, enjoy!