Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Project Mayhem

Project Mayhem


GEE’S BEND, AL – (September 23, 2009) – Just in time for the holiday season Gee’s Bend and Baum Textiles/Windham Fabrics announce a partnership to present four quilt kits and 19 Gee’s Bend solids. The kits and solids will be shipping to quilt stores worldwide in November 2009. The quilt kits include instructions, fabric for the quilt tops and binding; batting, backing; thread, needles, and thimble are additional. The suggested retail price for the quilt kits is $60 to $70 and the suggested retail price for Gee’s Bend Solids is $9/yard. For a full list of colors, kits and retailers please visit or “It is our pleasure to encourage every quilter to be inspired by the vision and courage of these modern quilting pioneers, and create their own masterpiece,” states Windham Fabrics.

Based on designs by acclaimed Gee’s Bend Quilters, Mary Lee Bendolph, Mary L. Bennett, Qunnie Pettway and Rita Mae Pettway, Windham Fabrics encourages “every quilter to be inspired by the vision and courage of these modern quilting pioneers.” The four quilters will share a percentage of the royalties with The Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective and The Gee’s Bend Foundation.

According to Windham, “we have recreated the genius that this group of quilters in rural Alabama has made famous. Every bit of the distinctive style that has made these remarkable quilts come alive is now available in a kit from Windham Fabrics.”

The Strips and Strings quilt kit is based on Mary Lee Bendolph’s design of that name. The manufacturer’s style is # 30552 and the final quilt measures 75” x 50”. Mrs. Bendolph (b. 1935), the 7th of 17 children, descends from generations of accomplished quilt makers. She learned to quilt from her mother, Aolar Mosely and a network of aunts and female in-laws. She worked in the Alabama fields and attended school intermittently until she was 14, when she began her own family. Bendolph was one of many Gee’s Benders who accompanied Martin Luther King Jr. in his march at Camden, AL in 1965. Her quilt making style marries a flair for improvisation to traditional construction techniques that emphasize rectangles and squares. Her minimalist patches, small compositions of cloth, build to create intricate overall compositions that contain humorous touches and autobiographical references.

Housetop 4-Block Variation is 57” x 65” and styled after the work by the same name by Mary L. Bennett – manufacturers style # 30550. Mrs. Bennett (b. 1942), granddaughter of Delia Bennett (1892-1976) ancestor of many quilt makers in Gee’s Bend. Mary L. Bennett pieces primarily “Housetop” and “Bricklayer” compositions and imaginative variations on them. “I was born down here in Brown Quarters and got raised by my grandmother. I started out working in the fields for my uncle Stalling Bennett. I didn’t get no schooling – every now and then a day here and there. Didn’t nobody teach me to make quilts. I just learned it by myself, about 12 or 13. I was seeing my grandmamma piecing it up, and then I start. I just taken me some pieces and put it together, piece them up till they look like I want them to look. That’s all," states Mary L. Bennett.

Lazy Gal Variation, based on the design of the same name by Qunnie Pettway measures 52 “x 62” – manufacturers style # 30549. Mrs. Pettway (b. 1943) is the great-granddaughter of Dinah Miller who is said to have arrived in the United States aboard a slave ship from Africa -- the Clotilde that docked in Mobile Bay, Alabama prior to the Civil War. Qunnie learned to quilt House Tops under the tutelage of her mother, Candis Pettway. In 1960 after she married, she found her unique artistic voice and began making patterned quilts including Wedding Ring - which she learned from her sister - Chestnut Bud, Bear Paw and Crazy Z. Qunnie's daughter, Loretta P. Bennett is one of the youngest quilters actively creating extraordinary quilts today.

Housetop, measuring 52” x 64” is based on the same titled design by Rita Mae Pettway – manufacturers style # 30551. Mrs. Pettway (b. 1941) made her first quilt at the age of 14. She was raised by her grandmother, quiltmaker Annie E. Pettway, and still lives in the house that her grandfather built for the family in the 1940s. "Onliest thing we did after everything else was done, we sit by the fireplace in the wintertime and piece up quilts. Me and my grandmama Annie. She didn't have no pattern to go by; she just cut them by the way she know how to make them," says Rita Mae. Piecing quilts, according to Rita Mae, was done individually but quilting "we all did together." Rita Mae, along with her ancestors and her daughter, renowned quilter Louisiana Bendolph share a penchant for creating strip quilts in concentric squares resulting in Housetops or Hog Pens, each artist though has a unique style and variation on the theme.

About the Gee’s Bend Quilters

Gee’s Bend, a miniscule rural community, is nestled into a curve in the Alabama River southwest of Selma, Alabama. Founded in antebellum times on the site of cotton plantations owned by Joseph Gee, the town’s women developed a distinctive, bold, and sophisticated quilting style with a geometric simplicity reminiscent of Modern Art. The women of Gee’s Bend passed their skills and aesthetic down through multiple generations to the present and in 2002, an exhibition of 70 quilt masterpieces from the Bend, organized by Tinwood Alliance of Atlanta, Georgia, premiered at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Since then, “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” exhibition has been presented at more than a dozen major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Newsweek, NPR, CBS News Sunday Morning, House and Garden, and Oprah’s O Magazine are just a few of the hundreds of print and broadcast media organizations that have celebrated the quilts and history of this unique town. Art critics worldwide have compared the quilts to the works of important modern artists, such as Henri Matisse, and the New York Times called the quilts “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.” For more information, visit

About the Manufacturer

A family run business since 1955, Baum Textile Mills, Inc. has produced the finest quality WinterFleece™, flannel and Flurr™ fabrics for the home sewing industry. In 1995, after recognizing a need for more quality quilting and crafting fabrics, Baum began to add beautiful cotton sheetings to its collections and saw the popularity of these lines grow rapidly. In response to this growing market, Baum decided to focus its efforts on the needs of the independent quilt shops and introduced a new division, Windham Fabrics. Working extensively with quilt historians, industry experts, an in-house design studio, and well-known designers from all around the world, Windham Fabrics has become a leader in the marketplace. Known for its authentic reproductions of antique fabrics, Windham also offers florals, textures, retro and many other fabric collections exclusively for quilt shops only.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Quilts of Gee's Bend and Baum Textiles Introduce Quilt Kits

The Quilters of Gee's Bend and Baum Textile Mills announce their collaboration on Quilt kits based on designs by Mary Lee Bendolph, Qunnie Pettway, Rita Mae Pettway and Mary L. Bennett. The four kits and 19 Gee's Bend solid fabrics sold by the yard should hit stores late November/early December. More than a year in the making we are thrilled that this has come to fruition. A percentage of sales will be given (as a royalty) to the four women, the Gee's Bend Quilters Collective and the Gee's Bend Foundation.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform

Healthcare reform plays a major role in discussions and the media today, but it is confusing, overwhelming, boring and seemingly unsolvable to most people. Howard Dean presents the problems and solutions in plain language in his new book, Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform. For Dr. Dean’s appearance schedule please visit the publisher’s website

Hear someone utter the word Healthcare and the emotion that rises up and continues to spiral nearly out of control is anger. Dean writes, “according to a recent report from the Center for American Progress, in March 2009 alone almost 11,000 workers a day lost their health insurance.” Do the math and the anger turns to outrage – 341,000 people lost their health insurance in a 31-day period.

There are “47 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. But the healthcare debate should also focus on the fact that 25 million working-aged Americans have health insurance but still cannot’ afford to see a doctor,” states Dean in his introduction. Terrifying statistics compounded by information from the Commonwealth Fund, “many go without needed care, not filling prescriptions, and not following up on recommended treatment.”

Howard Dean is eminently qualified to write about healthcare reform for several reasons. He is graduated from Yale in 1971 with a BA in Political Science. He received his medical degree from Columbia University during which he spent one month at the American Medical Association following Senators Jacob Javits and Ted Kennedy as they attempted to create a healthcare bill during President Carter’s first term. His was elected the first Democratic Governor of Vermont since 1853. His efforts during his Governorship insured that 99% of Vermont citizens under the age of 18 had access to healthcare coverage, expanded prenatal care, community health centers and dental clinics in schools serving low-income children.

But it is his one simple statement at the end of the preface that says it all. “All change grows from the grass roots. Real healthcare reform won’t happen without you.” He is clearly directing his thoughts at the everyman/woman – he is writing for the people who need healthcare insurance or worry that their insurance will come to an end due to loss of job or steep rate increases.

Dean clarifies, finally a politician that realizes what the people want to hear and how they want to hear it, the difference between healthcare reform and health insurance reform. “So, the real debate about healthcare reform is not a debate about how large a role government should play. The real issue is: Should we give Americans under the age of sixty-five the same choice we give Americans over sixty-five? Should we give all Americans a choice of opting out of the private health insurance system and benefitting from a public health insurance plan?”

He further states, brilliantly making his point absolutely current, “Americans ought to be able to decide for themselves: Is private health insurance really health insurance? Or is it simply an extension of thing that have been happening on Wall Street over the past five to ten years, in which private corporations find yet new and ingenious ways of taking money from ordinary citizens without giving them the services they’ve paid for?” Does the Madoff ponzi scheme ring a bell here? Money invested with absolutely no return on investment not to mention complete loss of all funds. Who hasn’t paid for insurance month after month and not received coverage when they needed it the most?

Dean details the profit vs. care issue and succinctly discusses the problems with private, for-profit insurances companies that “must meet two obligations that are often mutually exclusive.” These private behemoths are responsible for maximizing profits for their shareholders while shouldering the responsibility for good service to their customers. Is this even possible given the way private health insurance companies are structured coupled with the lobbyists who ensure that they have more or less free-reign with blatant disregard for the welfare of their enrollees.

Chapters cover the trials of small business owners and individuals and uses real-life examples to drive home the point. He strongly states that “America most shift from an illness-based healthcare system to a wellness-based model.” He writes of the necessity to change the national lifestyle toward one of prevention and healthier living. A goal that neither political party nor business or individuals could argue with – who wouldn’t want to be healthy?

Dean covers the challenges briefly but completely and spends a good portion of the book providing solutions. “Americans need real healthcare reform, not just insurance reform, and nobody should mistake the two,” he states. “Real healthcare reform should offer coverage to the employed, the unemployed, the sick, the healthy, the young, the old. Everyone.”

He puts forth five sound and achievable principles that “real healthcare reform must include.” Everybody In, Nobody Out; No more Healthcare Bankruptcies: Take it to Go; Choose or Lose and Improved Care, Quality and Efficiency. He reviews President Obama’s healthcare initiative; how to control costs; developing a revenue stream to pay for the initiative; and “who’s been standing in the way.”

Dean avows that change is possible through the citizens, calling for change and action. He writes of how this affects people in different walks of life and details, “What you deserve, and should fight for.” He staunchly recommends how citizens can and should take action; educate themselves; contact their local and national officials; contact corporations and organizations and keep the conversation going until change happens.

The last sentence makes Dean’s position clear, “Fights like this are won by ordinary people who decide that they care enough about something to fight for it.” Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform should be required reading for every American over the age of 18. This is the most comprehensive and accessible presentation of a situation that deeply affects each one of us.

About the author:

Physician Howard Dean is the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He served six terms as Governor of Vermont and ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2004. Dean founded, Democracy for America, a grassroots effort that organizes community activists, trains staff and endorses progressive candidates.

Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Cover Design: Peter Holm

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Skin & Bones

A month had passed and I had learned enough Spanish and been to the supermarket enough with my husband that I could venture out on my own to shop for lunch – or so I thought. One of the cultural traditions that I truly enjoyed in my adopted country was the siesta – a two hour break each day for lunch when husbands would return home – this phenomenon cut the loneliness that pervaded my early days living at the end of the Baja peninsula in 1995.

Setting off down the street toward the one traffic light in town, I drove my white VW around chickens, roosters and the neighborhood strays. San Jose del Cabo, the “real” Mexican town on the other side of the 15 mile corridor from Cabo San Lucas of “Love Boat” fame was a hamlet of unmarked streets without stop signs – perilous for most and unnerving for a New Yorker.

Arriving at the one supermarket just west of the Pacific Ocean, I parked and entered feeling confident and wifely. Fresh vegetables and fruit were a snap, I just selected what I wanted – no conversation needed other than an infrequent “permiso” if I wanted to get by another woman. Other than the workers there wasn’t a man in sight. A handful of Serrano peppers and the divine Mexican tomatoes and a large white (really white) onion – the three basic ingredients of salsa needed to make a meal complete – were easy to scoop up and put in the basket. I started to feel at home. Certainly easier than running a New York City public relations & marketing agency – this life seemed to be a snap.

Off to the deli counter to order some cheese – I just needed a bit but suddenly realized that the only weight for sliced goods that I had learned was “un quarto.” But a quarter of what? A pound, a kilo, I had no idea. Soon enough I had a quarter kilo of soft creamy ricotta-like cheese, enough for the entire convent located just across the street from my home.

Standing still in the middle of the aisle – sneering looks coming at me like arrows – my black jeans and t-shirt obviously inappropriate in the middle of the day – was I the only woman in the market wearing pants? I considered the in-store bakery or the panaderia closer to home and probably fresher. But the 112º heat of the day was fast approaching – it was past Noon – lunch didn’t begin until 2pm – there was no way to leave the groceries in the car without the air-conditioning and so the bakery a few aisles over was my next destination. It was easy enough to order cuatro bolillos – the soft crusty rolls that the middle and upper classes ate with meals instead of tortillas.

Now for the challenging part of the expedition, ordering the chicken from the butcher. Time and again I had watched my husband (now my ex) order skinless, boneless chicken breasts. Waiting my turn I practiced in my head, “por favor, dos pechugas des pollo, sin hueso y sin piel,” I chanted. Soon I was up at bat and repeated the phrase I had committed to memory. The butcher smiled and nodded. I murmured “gracias” as he handed me the package wrapped in neat white paper. Score! I had done the shopping and was soon in line to check-out. Who says a New York Jewess couldn’t move to a rural town in Mexico, learn the language and chill out while making lunch for her new husband? I was queen of my world and couldn’t wait to return home and start cooking.

Arriving home I quickly stowed my bounty in the refrigerator and took Chloe, my shih-tzu for a walk – my best friend in this desolate town –she deserved this and so much more. The hum of women cooking and the luscious aromas sailing out of kitchen windows was around us challenged only by the bougainvillea that grew like a majestic weed throughout Mexico. For the first time in weeks my breath was unlabored and the anxiety that had become my constant companion seemed to abate.

Back home I removed from the refrigerator the items necessary to make lunch, starting the water boiling for rice and washing the vegetables and fruit. It was then that I discovered the secret of the white wrapped paper package – I had a bag of bones and skin – not a sliver of chicken breast in sight. Tears rolling down my face I thought of calling my mother but our phone hadn’t been installed yet (this took 3 months and $2,500 to accomplish). What to do?

There wasn’t enough time to run back to the supermarket, I needed to make a meal now. I then heard the soft singing of our housekeeper, she came daily and usually was in and out so quietly I hardly knew she was around. I found her in the master bedroom changing the sheets. She looked at me and said, “Si Senora?” But I found myself struck dumb, could I tell her what I needed? I had failed miserably at buying lunch, what made me think I could explain this to her and ask her advice. Pulling myself together, I muttered through tears the dilemma. A smile spread across her face as she announced, “cuando tiene piel y huesos hay solamente una causa que puede hacer, sopa de pollo.” Of course, chicken soup, why didn’t I think of that?

A pot, some water, the skin, bones, onions, tomato, cilantro, salt, pepper and the stock was boiling. When the rice was finished I tossed this into the soup pot, stirred and added a little more salt. I cut tortillas into strips and toasted them. Avocado cut into chunks, grated white cheese. Now it was time to set the table, an extraordinary wood and glass dining set that had been a wedding present from my husband’s friends at work. Chop the Serranos trying not to rub my eyes as I excavated each and every seed, then mixed with chopped onion and tomato and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. Lunch was nearly finished as the key turned in the door.

Many months later I told my husband the tale of the first lunch I made totally on my own. Just one of many insane or hilarious, or were they insanely hilarious moments, that peppered my time in Mexico, not only a country away from the United States but a world away from my culture, my city, my beloved New York.

# # #

Savannah on My Mind

Arriving in Savannah, Georgia mid-afternoon on an unseasonably cold and rainy day in October the warmth of the taxi dispatcher washed away the aura of anger reverberating from my fellow flyers. Hearing my accent, the dispatcher - Norman Whipple – knew I was from New York and presented me with his business card indicating that he was Georgia’s Regional Director of The Guardian Angels. Suddenly I felt at home – now I had two angels in Savannah; Mr. Whipple and the renowned statue that graces the cover of John Berendt’s true crime tome, “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil,” that brought international acclaim to this sweet southern town. This was just the first in many coincidences.

The Catherine Ward House was my first outpost. Leslie the proprietor, who is warm and offbeat, puts the quirk in quirky, but her knowledge of who to see and where to eat are encyclopedic. The bed & breakfast is idyllic, beautifully appointed, the rooms and baths spacious, clean and luxurious and centrally located. Each morning chefs studying at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) arrive to prepare breakfast for the lodgers; fresh fruit; orange walnut French toast – hard to put my fork down but reminding myself I had many more meals to go before the day was over.

Visiting a long list of museums, historic homes, art galleries and Savannah’s amazing culinary trail what comes to the fore rather quickly is the residents fervent protection of Savannah’s legacy coupled with Southern eccentricities. The 2.5 square miles of the Historic District of Savannah may sound diminutive but a week is not nearly enough to walk through every park; dine in each exceptional restaurant; drink at each bar; shop; sightsee; visit museums and get to know the people who make the town tick. Savannah takes its role as the belle of the south quite seriously and private and government funds and elbow grease have been dedicated to restoring and up-keeping of, according to the Convention & Visitors Bureau, is the largest urban historic district tin the United States with its stately homes (many open to the public) and 22 lush green public squares and parks.

Each square has a unique style that tips its hat in homage to local, national and international heroes as well as local scandals. From Troup Square (new-age-y in feel) to the classic Bull Street (the dividing line between east and west) Squares, lovingly captured in “The Movie” shot on site in 1997, just one of the 20 movies filmed in Savannah. On a morning stroll I encountered a trio of women deep in search of “Forest Gump’s” bench. With a pride that came out of nowhere (Savannah had apparently wrapped me in her loving arms) I explained that this was indeed Chippewa Square where the bench was located in the movie, but that it was now on view at the Savannah Historical Museum. The Spanish moss dripping from the majestic oak trees shade the squares from the southern sun creating a dramatic green canopy over the city.

Just a few days before Halloween, it was clear to see how much fun the locals have (any reason to celebrate is welcome in Savannah) – dogs and cats dressed to the nines sauntered through the squares and shops, urging their owners along to the next outstretched hand bearing a treat.

To say that dogs are important in Savannah is an understatement after spending an hour with attorney Sonny Seiler – owner of Uga, the English bulldog mascot for the University of Georgia – his attire is hand sewn by a professional local seamstress. Don’t make the mistake of calling Uga cute in Seiler’s presence – noble, tenacious, strong are terms better suited and nearly demanded by the imposing elder statesman. When not attending games and writing books about Uga (I came away from the visit with an autographed copy of “Damn Good Dogs!”) Seiler is a prominent attorney best known for defending Jim Williams who was tried for the murder depicted in “Midnight of the Garden of Good & Evil”; though Seiler played the role of the judge in “The Movie.”

I had the temerity to ask Seiler to name another case that he would like to be remembered for and he cited the intellectual property trial regarding the trademark Vidalia Onions; properly pronounced “Vie-dahl-ya” according to Seiler. As with so many experiences with Savannah personalities, spending time with Seiler was like peek inside an exclusive men’s club with a character right out of an ante bellum novel. “Williams – who died of congestive heart failure eight months after being released from prison -- was “being tried for being homosexual not for murder,” stated Seiler who worked diligently reminding the city of how much Williams did to restore the many buildings including Seiler’s elegant office. Near the end of our visit Swan, Seiler’s daughter, Director of Public Relations for Georgia Power, popped her head in to say hello and a softer glimpse of this good ole boy brought the hour full circle. “We’ve got it all right here in Savannah,” says Seiler more than proud of his hometown and his family including seven grandchildren – none of which are attorneys.

Savannah is home to more than 10 major festivals annually and October features the Savannah Film & Video Festival (produced by SCAD and citing attendance of 40,000 this year) and Oktoberfest. In the spring Ron Gibson runs the music festival which is “absolutely fabulous,” according to Esther Shaver. There’s a yuletide tour of Historic Homes (Jingle Bells was written in Savannah); the infamous St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March; the Gay Pride Parade and many more. Savannah lays claim to being the city that invented the “to-go” cup as the law allows one to drink openly in public and the locals and visitors enjoy this option with abandon.

Savannah has been dubbed America’s Most Haunted City. And, I was informed that my room at the President’s Quarters (a luxurious duplex suite) was haunted. Had a ghost arrived in my room he would have found me in a deep sleep from all the walking and dining. If ghosts, goblins and ghouls intrigue you then Savannah serves up the right pinch of otherworldliness with walking lantern tours, rides in a converted hearse; a haunted pub crawl and the thousands of ghost stories told by those who dwell among the spirits.

The only time a car was needed was for a brief day-excursion to Tybee Island – via the Bonaventure Cemetery, where the brave were having cocktails on All-Hallows eve. I had the best “low-country boil” at The Crab Shack in Tybee. Also known as Beaufort Stew or Frogmore Stew, this simple one-pot meal includes shrimp, potatoes, corn, onions, and sausage – and each chef has their own secret ingredients which none would divulge.

Savannah is the culinary capital of the American South and has its own unique way with local fish and spices realized in recipes handed down from generation to generation at places such as Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House; The Lady & Son’s (Food Network TV’s Paula Deen’s family run boite) to the Pink House, home-made chocolates and roasted pralines with southern flair. The Mellow Mushroom is the best pizza shop in town and dinner at Alligator Soul is a must if you are celebrating as the chef serves dessert amidst a highly creative flaming circle. Dining at Chef Chris DiNello’s ringside table in the kitchen is just one more reason to visit. Dinner and live music at Jazz’d Tapas Bar is also a relaxing way to end the day or rev up for an evening of live music at several venues.

Arrive early to stand on line at Mrs. Wilkes as lunch is the only meal served and reservations are not accepted. Lunch is $16 for all you can eat and cash is the only form of payment accepted. At 11:30 a.m. on the dot the staff leads the diners in prayer and the onslaught of hearty dishes served family style descend on the table. This meal is worth every calorie and every penny. One of my table mates, when noticing how shy I was about asking for the dishes to be passed stated that it was okay, “to reach across the table as long as one foot remained on the floor,” – must be where the term “boarding house reach” evolved from. The menu that day included a true southern repast: fried chicken, black eyed pea, creamed corn, red rice, collard greens, raisin, carrot & pineapple salad, butter beans, beef stew, mashed potatoes, okra, biscuits, cornbread, the list goes on including a superbly light and not overly sweet banana pudding for dessert. But the staff doesn’t let grass grow under the diner’s feet as customers “bus” their own dishes back to the kitchen before lining up to pay for the meal.

Several cooking schools offer programs for locals and visitors. I joined a group at the 700 Kitchen Cooking School at the Mansion on Forsyth Park (ultra-luxurious hotel). Chef Darin Sehnert leads one of the most entertaining and instructional hands-on classes this writer has ever attended. “No grits, no cake” is his cri de Coeur and the Yankee in me rebelled until I hesitantly tested his truly creamy grits. In any case the students and I would have spooned up dirt in order to get to Pecan Praline Angel Food Cake for dessert. Chef Sehnert, with a wink, says that “the Pecan Glaze constitutes Georgia’s four major food groups: butter, flour, maple syrup and pecans – just add bacon for a full day’s nutrients.”

After several years as director of food services at SCAD, Chef Joe Randall opened his cooking school in a one-room cottage just outside the historic district. A u-shaped counter serves as seating for students and the friendliest man not born in the south teaches everything from the basics to the ins and outs of southern cooking. “Low country cooking is rice-based,” says Chef Randall. “Africans were brought to the south to plant, tend and harvest rice and rice was served at every meal,” he continued. One-pot meals are a southern staple and Chef Randall’s Purlu stew elevates the one-pot to a gourmet meal including rice, oysters, shrimp, ham and bacon all simmered together. Georgia’s oldest African American community is in Savannah where the Gullah and Geechee people, descendants of African slaves, infused the area with their own food, music, religion and culture. A third cooking school is ensconced in a superb shop, Kitchens on the Square, features group and private classes.

SCAD, celebrating its 30th year, is a vital catalyst in the community bringing students and visitors from around the world to study at largest art school in the United States. SCAD injects creativity, youth and vigor into the community. The Gryphon Tea Room is one of four restaurants owned and operated by SCAD. The school’s Executive Director of Communications, Leanne Hand, met me at The Gryphon where we discussed the film festival over coffee and discovered that we lived just blocks apart in Atlanta where SCAD opened for classes in 2005. It’s the place for incredible macaroni and cheese on a cold afternoon and flakey croissants in the morning. Walking back in the early evening from a student art exhibition at Alexander Hall, Lulu’s Chocolate Bar was an oasis of plump, sweet dark chocolate covered strawberries a perfect interlude before dinner.

Culture, most specifically art, architecture and garden tours are one of the highlights of a trip to Savannah. 45 cultural and historical attractions include the Telfair Museum of Art (the oldest art museum in the South); the world-class contemporary art-filled Jepson Center for the Arts where Gospel Brunch on Sundays is the only place to be and the museum has several excellent children’s exhibition areas and an outstanding museum shop. The Telfair’s Executive Director, Stephen High, returned to Savannah in 2006 to take the post. During our visit he mentioned that his first job as a student was at The Telfair – another coincidence and one more person who has left the area and returned to participate in a city that is continuing to grow while maintaining strong ties to its history. The mission of The Telfair is to collect and exhibit art from the three centuries of Savannah’s existence and a $15 pass admits one to all three buildings (The Jepson, The Telfair and Owens-Thomas House). There is also a civil rights museum and a maritime museum in town.

The people are Savannah’s greatest treasure and on a sunny afternoon I met Stratton Leopold whose family has been in town since 1919. A successful Hollywood producer (Mission Impossible 3 – Paramount’s largest budget film ever made), Mr. Leopold has re-opened his family’s ice cream shop on Savannah’s main boulevard, Broughton Street. “Savannah is home,” said Leopold, “it’s what grounds me.” Chatting while he scooped ice cream for his guests, “made with cane sugar, no trans fats and egg yolks as emulsifiers instead of chemicals.” Following a shrimp sandwich of locally caught shrimp, I tasted the homemade coffee, pistachio and SCAD’s commemorative flavor, Sourwood Honey amidst Hollywood posters and old fashioned movie cameras. As one conversation leads to another, Leopold mentioned his favorite Greek Restaurant in town, Olympia Café on River Street. And the talk turned to Avgolemono soup, a recipe for traditional Greek Chicken soup that I have been perfecting over the years. Leopold and his wife Mary are of Greek descent and an invitation for dinner was proffered for a few days hence. It seems in Georgia that a stranger is just a friend one hasn’t met yet.

Leopold is currently at work on a documentary (Clint Eastwood is Executive Producer) about one of Savannah’s brightest stars, Johnny Mercer, who swept floors at Leopold’s Ice Cream shop at the age of 11, for a dime a day. The film will debut next year, the centennial of Mercer’s birth, along with a series of events indicating a perfect time to plan a visit to the area.

For those who prefer outdoor activities there are more than 30 golf courses; Tybee Island (Savannah’s beach area on the Atlanta Ocean); fishing; dolphin tours; hiking; biking; canoeing and kayaking. Strolling along the waterfront on River Street where restaurants inhabit restored cotton warehouses and live music abounds.

If shopping is one’s brand of relaxation there are antique shops, galleries and shops selling handcrafted items along with City Market, a pedestrian mall, which includes the artist’s colony, restaurants and shops. Savannah Artworks is one of the most interesting shops. According to owner Beth Martin, she sells “functional, folksy art for regular folks.” Hand forged oyster knives; bags and t-shirts made from recycled materials, paintings, sculptures and other must-have items made by Georgia artists are her stock in trade. Shaver’s bookstore was a pioneer retailer in the historic district when it debuted in 1975 and Mrs. Shaver is a fountain of great reading recommendations and knowledge about Savannah. While browsing I discovered a new illustrated version of the writer’s companion, “
The Elements of Style,” and couldn’t resist adding it to my collection. A quick visit to Deborah and Shane Sullivan’s The Book Gift Shop opened my eyes to the variety of things one can create to market a brand – the shop sells all things concerning “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil” from the book, to cds, clothing, brick-a-brac and other items to silly to mention.

Harriet Meyerhoff is second generation in Savannah; a city she says was built on religious tolerance. Touring with Mrs. Meyerhoff was more like a friendly drive around town than a formal tour for which she is known. Relating facts and figures of interest (the first white child born in Savannah was Jewish) she escorted me through the synagogue (the oldest in the South founded in 1733 when a ship carrying 41 Sephardic Jews made land) and other Jewish-related icons and stops in town before dropping me off at the annual Jewish Food Festival. I sipped an authentic New York egg cream made with Fox’s U-bet Chocolate syrup, seltzer and whole milk while strolling and listening to live music. Good thing I was clocking about 20 miles a day on foot as gaining information (not weight) was the order of the day. Coincidence number 2; the gentleman who served me a hot dog was none other than Ron Schwartz, the father-in-law of a dear friend from Miami.

Just off Monterey Square is V&J Duncan’s Antique Maps, Prints and Bookstore where John and Virginia Duncan’s Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Emma and Sally, greet browsers. Like other residents, the Duncans had small speaking parts in “The Movie,” and to date has sold 12,000 copies of the book. “Savannahians are house-proud,” says John Duncan as he escorts me on an impromptu tour of his four-story home atop the shop; built in 1869, remodeled in 1897 and purchased by the Duncans in 1976. “People who live in houses with stairs live longer,” states the 71-year old Duncan. Stepping out onto the porch overlooking a sumptuous garden a bloom with roses and a bubbling fountain I am entranced and concur when Mr. Duncan avows that, “heaven will be a disappointment.” Just before leaving, Mrs. Duncan reminds me to visit The Telfair Museum where their collection of silhouette art is currently on display.

Speaking of “The Book” just one final time, a trip to Savannah isn’t complete without a tour of The Mercer House (built in 1860) the backdrop to the murder that inspired both the book and the movie. Take the guided tour with Marsha Dodd who has been a docent since the beginning. Jim Williams who singlehandedly restored many of the elegant homes designed an incredible home at Mercer House both serious and humorous in décor. His sister, Dorothy Williams Kingery, resides in the house to this day and if one is still her voice and movements above the main floor, the only part open to visitors, can be heard.

After a day of walking and films it was time for a bite and I stopped into the much-lauded 45 Bistro. While the bar was open the restaurant was closed because its culinary team was providing the fare at the film festival. Southern hospitality sprang anew when the bartender ordered a pizza from Vinny-a-Go-Go’s delivered to me right at the bar – service indeed!

Always independent I was one of the few young women for whom the Girl Scouts held no interest – but decades later after spending a few hours with Fran Powell Harold, the Director of the Girl Scouts, I changed my mind and was enamored of Juliette Gordon Low – who founded the Girl Scouts in Savannah in 1912 – one of the first truly integrated organizations in the south.

Mrs. Gordon Low – Daisy to her friends and family -- was born in Savannah and her home is now a museum and the national program headquarters of the Girl Scouts. What turned the tide was the telling by Mrs. Harold of the inception of the Girl Scouts. Mrs. Gordon Low was in London at a dinner party – chatting amiably with the man seated next to her. As the story goes, she was in an unhappy marriage and casting about for something to do that would truly make a difference in the world. Her dinner companion introduced her to the concept of the Boy Scouts which had recently formed in London and she realized that this was her answer; creating an organization that would prepare young women for a life beyond the home – a way for young women to support and care for themselves – a truly forward thinking concept given the year. Who couldn’t suddenly adore a woman who had everything, didn’t need to accomplish anything as her role in society was set and yet she put her efforts and her money into creating an organization that is still going strong internationally nearly 100 years hence?

The United States Army outpost in Savannah creates another unique group of residents – the military including spouses and children – add to the continental flavor of the city. Friendly and younger than I expected, Lt. Colonel Daniel W. Whitney, who runs the base, is very involved in the community. “Our soldiers volunteer to give back to community and many remain here long after their initial assignment because the quality of life and the superior public school system,” commented Whitney who is proud of the Base’s adopt-a-school mentoring program.

During recent months the electronic age has backfired on itself and the onslaught of bad news from the hi-tech universe of up-to-the-minute information about stock markets, banking institutions and corporations crashing creates the urge for a time and place of a gentler tone. Savannah, Georgia provides an authentic, elegant, down-to-earth genteel southern American experience that has enough to see and do to keep it truly interesting. With my return visit already in mind I keep the memories alive while replicating the recipes of Savannah’s finest chefs and restaurants in my formerly Yankee-oriented kitchen. Indeed, to echo John Duncan, heaven will certainly be a let down.

Purvis Young - Art & Opinion Magazine

Arts and Opinion
Vol. 6, No. 3, 2007

[Purvis of Overtown is the name of the DVD that introduced me to a most remarkable artist -- Purvis Young. His art is not only vibrant, lively, and colourful, it’s also very difficult to categorize. I invite our readers to visit Purvis’s paintings on the internet at as did I did; it will be a treat. The following article is by Dindy Yokel, a Florida art collector/agent and friend of Purvis Young. I thank her for taking the time to answer my questions about Purvis, his creativite life, the sort of life he leads and who collects his remarkable creations. Ed. Lydia Schrufer]

The Art of

In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.
Franz Fanon

Dressed in a paint-splattered Hawaiian shirt, Purvis Young is relaxing in an Adirondack chair at his studio in Ft. Lauderdale just 28.5 miles north of his studio in his town of Miami -- a place he longs to return to once his law suit with former business associate, Martin Siskind, is settled. The brilliant sunshine is no match for the smile on Young’s face. He is five months past his kidney transplant, feeling fit and looking far younger than his 64 years. He’s painting and there’s lightness in his voice, his touch and his being that hasn’t been there in decades.

The Rubell’s have recently donated 90+ pieces of Young’s work to the Tampa Museum of Art where they’ll be on exhibit until July 22, 2007. Other retrospectives are in the works as are major books chronicling Young’s career. Purvis of Overtown, released in 2006, is a superb documentary that has already garnered several well-deserved film festival awards.

Young is thankful for what he views as a second chance to do right by his father and the world around him. He is tired of listening to others and painting what they want – it’s his time to paint what he wants, how he wants. “I can't solve the world's problems. I paint the world's problems,” says Young.

In considering Young’s work, William Arnett, an expert in African American vernacular art and co-editor of Souls Grown Deep, Volume’s I and II (along with son Paul Arnett) says, “Almost every day, Young searches the streets of Overtown for materials to incorporate into his artwork.

Young’s paintings are more than paintings. They are assemblages made from an array of urban detritus carefully selected by the artist according to his sense of their aesthetic and philosophical compatibility. His haul may include plywood, broken furniture, mirrors, window shades, carpet scraps, splintered wood, metal trays, record albums, wallpaper samples, glass and paper correspondence, manila folders, bank statements, bills, memos -- thrown away by small manufacturing plants and offices still remaining on the fringes of the community. The materials are chosen for more than texture, colour, and form: Young considers each object’s original use, and in his final creation -- gathered, selected, arranged, nailed or glued together, painted, and framed -- each component carries its own subtle and highly esoteric definition.”

Environmentally conscious and unwilling to contribute to further deforestation, Young's canvases are made of recycled products including found wood, discarded library books, old political posters, used furniture and various surplus items from construction sites. Young's paint includes latex, acrylic, enamel and combinations of new paint blended with the old that he has had for over 25 years.

For decades people -- including Robert Man and ‘Papa’ -- have brought Young what many would consider trash; however the items are carefully culled according to the artist's specific needs. Even though he has plenty of raw materials stored up, he does not turn anyone away for in most cases they have walked many miles with these heavy items in tow; and in the case of Man and ‘Papa,’ they have been providing Young with the materials for 40+ years.

There are many who say that Young is too prolific, but in his own words, "people don't say that birds fly too much, that Shakespeare wrote too much or that opera singers sing too much. But, it don't bother me that they say I paint too much, I just paint what I see and feel."

Dr. Bernard Davis (deceased in 1973), owner of the Miami Museum of Modern Art, was among the first to collect Young's work and sponsored his very first exhibition. Davis discovered the artist in Goodbread Alley and became his champion, ensuring that he was well-stocked with painting supplies.

Out of necessity, Young has developed a complex painterly langauge in order to express what he sees and experiences in the world around him in all its unpretentious stark reality. His symbols convey the on-going economic and cultural divides so prevalent in Miami and beyond, through recurring images of black and white horses, pregnant women, highways and overpasses, convoys of trucks and trains, railroad tracks, airplanes, angels and Zulu warriors (whom he considers his tribe).

"My feeling was that the world might get better if I put up my protests (in the form of paintings)," said Young, in Bill Arnett's Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art. "Even if it didn't, it was something I had to be doing. I make like I'm a warrior, like God sending an angel to stop war, like in my art."

In 2005, after 14 years of blindness in the left eye, surgery performed by Dr. Carol L. Karp at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute has restored Young's sight. Young also had a pacemaker installed in 2006. Despite his varied illnesses, Young painted and studied the world’s history without stopping, so consumed with his art that he rarely saw the light of day.

* * * * *

Born on February 2, 1943 in Miami's Liberty City to Vera Mae Wright, Young learned the art of drawing as a little boy watching his maternal Uncle Irving, a figurative artist. This corrects the previously held belief that Young is an outsider or self-taught artist. His brother David, who passed away 10 years ago, was a cartoonist and painter: clearly art is an integral part of the family heritage.

Young attended school up to the 8th grade during which time he swam at Dixie Park (now called Gibson Park) and he was invited to paint a mural on the Overtown Library, adjacent to the pool. With the guidance of two of Miami-Dade Public Library System's finest, Barbara Young (Librarian Curator of the Permanent Collection, Art Services and Exhibitions Programs) and Margarita Cano (Administrator of Community Relations), Young buried himself amongst the books, hungry for knowledge that could explain the world to him.

Young, who prefers to be known solely as a painter, has recently been called an Urban Expressionist painter, a category much better suited to his body of work. When thinking of an outsider artist, the term generally reflects one who is naïve, isolated and disassociated from contemporary life; none of these terms is applicable to Young. The artist has spent countless hours studying the masters, especially Rubens, Van Gogh and Delacroix. He is passionate about the History Channel, Public Television, National Geographic Magazine and CNN. He devours news and history as a marathon runner gulps water – it is necessary to his life and his work. "I was put on this earth to paint, not to live," says Young.

For the first 50 years of his life, Young remained within the county lines of Miami. It was not until his 6th decade that he travelled to other states and cities and learned that he was famous, a fact he missed while art dealers encouraged him to seclude himself in his studio.

"I always made my own money, didn't want anyone else to pay for anything. I worked to support my habit and my habit is painting," explains Young. "There was an old man who owned The Palate in Wynwood, a shop that sold artists’ materials. He was always very nice to me and I have never forgotten this."

Young's common law wife has four daughters whom he has called his own since they were little. Of the seven grandchildren, two have already showed an interest in art.

Today, Young's work is in more than 60 public collections and numerous private ones; in 2006 alone he had six exhibitions. His work hangs in The Bass Museum of Art (Miami); American Folk Art Museum (New York); The Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.); High Museum of Art (Atlanta): Lowe Art Museum (University of Miami); Museum of Fine Arts (Houston); New Orleans Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum among many others. On December 24, 2006, the Sun-Sentinel’s Emma Trelles named the Boca Raton Museum of Art's Purvis Young exhibition #1 in the art category for the year in South Florida

The Purvis Young Studio is located at 255 NW 23rd Street, Miami, Florida and is open by appointment by calling (786) 285-0034.

All images © Purvis Young

Gee's Bend - Art & Opinion Magazine

Vol. 7, No. 1, 2008

Artistry We Take for Granted


[I’m talking about crafts as a creative art, but all too often summarily dismissed, that give us pleasure in our homes. Objects that, although of great beauty, are taken for granted as less important because they are utilitarian and therefore not considered art. We can derive great pleasure from these lovely objects, be it a well turned bowl or pitcher, a carving, a hand woven basket or an intricate, finely stitched quilt. We give even less thought, for the most part, to the creative artists who craft these objects so masterfully. Those artists take their works every bit as seriously as ‘fine artists’ whose work is framed and hung. It is for this reason that I was dismayed to hear about a law suit recently filed against the Arnett Family, who with the blessings of the local quilt makers, have written books, created documentaries, documented the quilts of Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective, curated museum exhibitions and organized programs that have introduced the women quilt makers and their art to the world. The lawsuit brought against the Arnetts negatively impacts the quilters by impeding sales and cancelling exhibitions. Dindy Yokel, who represents the quilters, tells it as she sees it. Lydia Schrufer, Arts Editor].



Hillary Clinton wrote, “it takes a village to raise a child.” And in Gee’s Bend it takes a village to create a body of art work spanning five generations. The quilts created by the women of Gee’s Bend have gone from beds to museums and gallery walls in less than a decade thanks to the dedication and selfless commitment of one family -- the Arnetts of Atlanta, Georgia.

But with the blink of an eye, three women have brought shame, lawsuits and loss of income to this tiny hamlet in rural Alabama, "alleging they have been inadequately compensated from royalty agreements."

In the 2nd quarter of 2007, Annie Mae Young and Loretta Pettway, two former members of the Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective, filed lawsuits* against the Arnetts. Not long after they were joined by Lucinda Franklin Pettway of Mobile, Alabama, who is neither a quilter nor resident of Gee’s Bend, but a descendant of a quilter.

Despite being mired in legal work, the Arnetts have continued their work on behalf of the quilters (45+ members in good standing of the Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective) with exhibitions currently at the Speed Museum of Art in Louisville, Kentucky and the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In celebration of the upcoming Black History Month (February 2008), the Arnetts arranged for AT&T to commission a quilt by the artists -- a glorious montage of individual squares created and quilted by all the women of the Gee’s Bend Collective -- a pure indication of what a village can do when it works together.

On January 10, the artists issued a press release showing their steadfast support of the Arnetts and their disagreement with the lawsuits and the women that filed them. The Arnetts are continuing to keep the artwork and tradition of Gee’s Bend alive and in the public eye.

* U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama - Northern District: Case # 07-317 Annie Mae Young Vs. Tinwood Ventures; Case # 07-423 Loretta Pettway Vs. Tinwood Ventures and Case # 07-438 Lucinda Pettway Franklin Vs. Tinwood Ventures.

Note: Dindy Yokel represents the Gee's Bend Foundation and the Arnetts and Tinwood.

Drumming and Dancing in Little Haiti

The sun is setting in Little Haiti at Ray’s Farm where Kepler Philippe is tapping on his drum – amidst the goats, chickens, kittens and emus -- in preparation for playing with Papaloko’s band Loray Mistik. Philippe arrived in Miami via boat in 2000 and is currently studying criminal justice. He’s known in his hometown of Jeremie (in the South of Haiti) as the “Father of the Poor” though he’s not yet 30. He along with David Sylvain (who are 100% of the Vodou faith) run a charity called Copa which both seed from their pockets to feed the poor back in their island nation. Sylvain arrived in 2007 and is too shy to speak English as yet and communicates in French, Creole or through Philippe. His has a visual arts degree from Haiti and when not painting portraits for a living he is drumming with the band. Philippe also writes poetry in English, Creole and French and wants to educate people as he sees “education as the key to open the door.”

The arranger or Maestro as the band refers to him is Clark Cajuste. He was born in Port-au-Prince but travelled via plane to New York City and then to Miami where he grew up with his family. He is among the original band members and plays drums and keyboards – visually striking with long dredlocks, Cajuste’s smile is outshone by his eyes that dance along with the music. Togbivi, known as “Bivi” is the final drummer in the group – he arrived in Miami when he was 15 -- and is also among the founding members of the band. He is currently studying at university though the music to a song honoring the spirit Ogun soon put a stop to conversation.

The drumming takes off and Papaloko – dressed all in a flowing white tunic and pants has a small white triangular cap perched on his head – begins to sing and drum. Rena Llaves, who moved to Miami from New Mexico seven years ago – begins to dance and adds a percussive beat with a rattle from Brazil. Rena, who is of Navajo and Apache ancestry, met Papaloko through dance. Her heritage of dance she believes is similar to the Haitian dances as both cultures have a similar beat (Afro-centric according to Rena) dance for nature including dances for the rain, sunshine, love and in honor of their antecedents.

The guests have brought candles from Elsie’s botanica featuring the faces of the black and white spirits Erzuli Danto (more aggressive of the two) and Erzuli Freda (the most feminine of the spirits) along with a case of Heineken (the band’s drink of choice). The band is set-up on a rustic porch overlooking the barnyard and adjacent to a wooden house in charming disrepair. Ray, the owner of the farm is well-respected in Little Haiti though none could cite his last name. He has spent his own money buying up the crack houses, renovating them and renting them to new people who are making the north end of Little Haiti the next hot place to live in Miami.

Llaves and Papaloko move to the center and dance a sensual and inviting pattern that has the guests joining in before the sun completely moved down in the sky. Joy and peace light up the band’s faces and the easy laughter and teasing moves between them and the guests creating an honor of respite from the working day as the singers opine about “La Sirena que Bailan.”

Healer Ingrid Llera

Many offer to perform traditional Haitian religious ceremonies but all in the know point to Ingrid Llera as the authentic “serviteur” or priestess/healer in the area. She arrived via boat by herself in Little Haiti at the age of 16 in 1980. The crossing took an agonizing 11 days but Ingrid had no doubt that she was going to make it, she “needed to make the journey to obtain the wisdom and respect for life,” that she passes to her three children and those who seek her counsel. Today she resides in Homestead (south Miami) with her husband, Ovia Alva (he arrived in 2004 also via a frightful boat trip) as the farming life and smaller community brings her “closer to Haiti” and yet she makes the hour drive to Little Haiti 3 to 4 times each week for cultural activities.

According to Ingrid, and echoed by many, in Vodou there’s no sexual discrimination – men and women are equals – racism doesn’t exist – spirits are black and white and even Indian – good and bad doesn’t exist. “Vodou is a place where people can express themselves and be respected regardless of sex or sexuality.” She visits all churches with her children, she wants them to be worldly and educated but “they know who they are.”

Amanda, one of Ingrid’s children, “has the calling” and will follow in Ingrid’s and her grandmother’s footsteps as serviteur. While chatting with Amanda she informs the visitor that her schoolmates ask her about her Vodou culture – some are afraid, some ask if it is witchcraft. She explains that it is a religion and a culture and she is very proud to be part of the next generation. Ingrid considers Vodou a “natural way of life that everyone, regardless of race or religion, has the energy inside of them,” she further states that Vodou is the religion of the “human race.”

Taking one’s nose out of the books it is back to Homestead for a ceremony in Ingrid Llera’s Peristyle (a Haitian Traditional Temple) which is located in her garage. Festooned with tributes to the spirits, the room is filled with candles, potions, scarves, paintings, fruit offerings, traditional clothing and the paraphernalia for the ceremonies. The aroma of popped corn fills the air along with roasted nuts, bread, coconut and brewed coffee. Snowflake the dog winds in and out among the legs of the family members as they move back and forth between the kitchen, the outdoors where they are collecting rainwater in a large enamel bowl, and the Peristyle preparing for the tribute to St. John the Baptist as requested by the three men who arrive bearing white rum, Jack Daniels Whiskey and cigars in homage to the spirits.

After the stage is set Ingrid, her daughters and mother – called Ya-Ya but named Suzanne – repair upstairs to change into all white for the adults and summery party dresses for Amanda and Annabelle – the four women descend barefoot– their heads covered with scarves – and invite the guests into the temple. The men, dressed in slacks and button down shirts, their blue-tooth devices blinking in their ears settle in as the candles are lit and Ingrid begins to draw an image on the cement floor with yellow powder that one later learns is farina. As Ingrid pours rum into hollowed out lemons and limes the guests are instructed to twist tuffs of cotton into points and pray for whatever we wish for. These tuffs are then placed into the lemons and limes and this is then floated in the basin of rain water and the ceremony begins in earnest.

Ya-Ya takes a low seat next to her granddaughters as they select from the toasted corn, bread and coconut, seven of each item to place in the seven cups of water that they have laid out on the floor adding coffee to each cup. White wine is then added to each and a white candle is lit and affixed to the largest of the seven cups. Ya-Ya then begins to ring a bell to invite the spirits to enter the room while singing a song in Creole that translates to “St. Pierre Open the Door.” The guests are then handed the mix of charred items to be added to the cups. Ingrid and Ya-Ya gracefully kneel down offering their hands and voices up in prayer to the four stations of the room and the young daughters follow suit. The scent of basil fragrances the room as it is added to the large basin. A brown liquid resembling molasses is drizzled around the room and the sweet popcorn is passed around among all along with small bananas – sustenance for our voyage. A bottle of rum was opened, drops poured throughout the room to appease the spirits while the guests sipped from ice cold Heinekens and penned wishes on small scraps of paper which were then burned without being read.

Anticipation is heavy in the room as rum is poured on the floor then put aflame while Ingrid and Ya-Ya wash their hands with the fire-y rum and rub it over their bodies. The guests are then invited to do the same to bring energy into their bodies. Asson (casaba gourd with bell attached) in hand, Ingrid then calls to the spirits. A subtle change occurs in Ingrid as she waves a yellow scarf around like a toreador at a bullfight and then lights a cigar evident that a spirit has entered her body. “The same way the smoke rises so do our dreams. If we believe in the spirits then we can have whatever we need in the future,” states Jean the spirit ushering forth from Ingrid. After a brief tussle of Ingrid’s spirit and the masculine one that has also inhabited her mother a shift in energy thus reveals that Ingrid is now engaged by the spirit Erzuli Freda, a purely feminine vision retiring to a throne-like chair in the corner spraying herself and the men in the room with sweet perfumes while completely ignoring the women in the room. The men paid honor to Ezili Freda by bathing her feet and sitting adoringly on the floor around her.

The spirit in Ingrid sings to each guest in the room, holding hands and sighing in Creole, “we are the same blood and cannot let each other die.” This is followed by a hug and the touching of foreheads. She moves toward one of the guests and puts ashes from her lit cigar into each of his palms and places his hands in his pockets. At this point a rash of whispering goes on where Ingrid tells him his wishes for health and abundance for his family will be granted. A wave of change flushes over Ingrid’s face as the spirits depart and the lights are turned on. Guests are invited to partake of the fruit offering and to drive home safely noting that when the water evaporates in the silver bowl the wishes will come true.

Musings on Little Haiti and Papaloko

It was a steamy Miami day but the air is cool and the colors are vibrant in Jude Papaloko’s Jakmel Gallery (3501 NW 2nd Avenue). Jacmel is a town in Haiti where Papaloko’s mother comes from and it is considered the handicrafts capital of the island. The artist himself, with dreadlocks down his back, is dressed in a comfortable t-shirt, baggy printed pants and pointy boots. His quick smile and warm spirit brightens the studio and one doesn’t know where to look first, at the artist, at the paintings, the hand painted furniture or the band set-up in the far corner past the bar. While not currently located in Little Haiti, Papaloko is opening the Jakmel Art Café on Biscayne and 76th Street (scheduled for August 2008) and is fast at work designing tables and chairs for his newest venture which will serve a menu featuring Haitian and Vegetarian cuisine. When not creating art he can be found teaching drums; running his non-profit organization Papaloko For Kids; playing with his band Loray Mistik (Creole for Mystic Thunder) or painting a large piece that was commissioned for the counter at the entrance of the new Haitian Cultural Arts Center on 59th Street, adjacent to Edouard Duval-Carrie’s studio. Born in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) Papaloko arrived in Miami in 1986. As a young child he often found himself in an inexplicable trance state and around the age of 13 began painting what he saw while in this state – a surreal vision that celebrated the spirits of Traditional Haitian religion – his work continues to be informed by this today.

Papaloko (who will be 43 in October 2008) is not Jude’s given name but rather the name he assumed for religious and artistic purposes. Papaloko (the spirit) is the leading male priest in the Haitian Vodou religion and he is the one who bestows the asson (the sacred rattle used for calling the spirits which made of the calabash, filled with grains, a bell is attached and the gourd is adorned with colored beads) when others ascend to priesthood within the religious order. It is Papaloko’s responsibility to maintain relationships between the spirits and the entire community and to preserve the songs and rituals from generation to generation. Jude Papaloko continues the tradition of the spirit whose name he proudly bears through his artwork and music. His work (which starts at $4,000) is prominently featured at a Haitian restaurant located on Miami Beach called Tap-Tap.

As he guides a visitor around the studio his deep spirituality and kindness is resplendent in all that he says as well as in his work. His paintings (acrylic and fluorescent paint on canvas coated with resin) celebrate the Vodou Lwa’s or spiritual entities. The images that visitors have seen in restaurants, botanicas and studios in and around Little Haiti begin to take on life and meaning as Jude explains who they are including the Gede, the spirit of the cemetery who straddles life and “the other side;” the Simbi (spirit of the ocean which resembles a sensual mermaid); Mamazile (the mother of all female energy); Dombala and Aida Wadeau – the husband and wife snakes who are healers and protectors that also signify the circle of life and Ezili Freda (the spirit of love, abundance, refinement). The artist’s signature imagery is the branch because it “reaches out with love and respect.”