Homes and Gardens
Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In
Well God really is on Facebook (see Hiatus below). Before leaving for California, I wrote this Status Update:
“Carol Diehl is flying to SF in the early morning, off to Big Sur for son Matt & Michelle's wedding. Sun predicted for the Friday nuptials (yeah!), tomorrow heavy rain and high winds—just the thing for driving down Highway 1.”
"hi carol, it’s your old neighbor from greene st! i now have a ranch about an hour south of sf right off of hwy 1. the winds and rain are supposed to be formidable (60-80mph sustained!!!). here’s my number if you need a pit stop. you might and it would be great to see you. best jane"
I got the last available room in an absolutely lovely airport Marriott with a balcony looking out on trees and the smell of eucalyptus in the air (“Toto, we’re not at JFK anymore”), and the next day on the way to Big Sur stopped off at Jane’s. “I want you to see what a loft on Greene Street will buy in California,” she’d said, her words echoing my mind as I navigated the steep dirt road to the house at the top of the mountain with vistas all around, where Neil Young is her nearest neighbor.
“My lover is a place not a person,” Jane says, “I’ve never loved a man as much as I love this property—I’m romantically involved with it, I hate being away from it, and I want everybody to meet it.”
Giving up the loft, the art world, her friends—all New York meant—to live on a mountaintop with her dogs (and now horses, although she doesn’t ride) took a tremendous leap of faith. In so many ways Jane was convinced she’d committed career suicide. But her sculpture, always nature-based, took on new life in the fresh air, and through many connections to regional galleries, her career is thriving. “I didn’t want to be Queen of the Art World,” she says, “I wanted to be Morris Graves and make work until the day I died. I wanted to show people the story in nature so they wouldn’t fuck it up anymore, so found other ways to do business and make the best work I can.”
Recycled Provencale limestone, discarded cut-offs from stone used for building, waiting to turn into sculpture
In that she is enthusiastically assisted by Alex Rohrig and former student Sebastian Ages, who made us a wonderful lunch of fresh, local produce—after which, eager to get back to work, Jane sent me on my way.
Jane with Alex and Sebastian
While the top of the mountain was sunny, the beach at the bottom was still gray from the storm.
I love your place. Such artistic order. Carol's Blog reminded me of a story about my friend Peter in Stuttgart. I was staying with him about 4 years ago and was struck by how impeccably the place was organized. He doesn't have your artistic sense so it was just super neat and very clean. When we left in the morning, after the beds were made, the dishes cleaned and put away, the sink wiped down with a fresh, dry rag (who wants those unsightly stains on the stainless steel?), he stopped in the doorway and turned around one last time to make sure everything was in place. Sharing with me that he "doesn't like it when things are too perfect", he went back inside and took a coat off of one of the hooks by the door, walked over to the couch and tossed the coat on the armrest. Not happy with the way the coat had fallen, he picked it up again and threw it a second time. Ahhhh. Now, for him, the place was imbued with just an air of the casual.
Note to manically tidy self: go downstairs and throw some magazines around.
Scott Cole is often mentioned in my posts, sometimes as Scott Who Knows Everything, as he’s frustratingly multi-accomplished. Musician, painter, and chef (Scott owns
When I’m there I’m always taking pictures and the only challenge is editing—basically you can point the camera anywhere and get a beautiful vignette. For instance you can guess what vantage point I took this from. But really, isn’t this just the world’s sexiest toothbrush?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s Scott, preparing the dinner he made last night for a few friends, in his kitchen which, except for the black cat lurking nearby, is white and innocent:
Because it fit him perfectly, I gave Scott this kimono, which was made for my uncle when he served in China during World War II. He wore it once for Halloween, then hung it on the wall:
And outside, the hand-carved pickets on the fence that came with the house. Even they tell a story:
Even if you didn’t know Kurt was German, the siting of his cottage in the forest would make you think of Hansel and Gretel, but then you go inside and the fairy tale feeling is complete. Both rustic and elegant, it could be Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house—provided Grandma had exquisite taste and a penchant for Biedermeier furniture.
But finding such a house in the middle of the Catskill woods isn’t the only incongruity. The other is that Kurt is an architect, a designer of chic store interiors (such as those for Diane von Furstenberg and my favorite department store, Bon Marche in Paris) and blindingly white loft-like spaces. Obviously he has range. How many modernist architects do you know who proudly display a cuckoo clock?
One of the many distinctive aspects of Kurt’s house is that there are no screens—“How European,” a friend said. Yeah, except northern Europe doesn’t have insects (a Swiss friend once told me it was because they wouldn’t allow them) and this is New York State, where mosquitoes rule. Kurt, however, is uniquely oblivious—or impervious—to mosquitoes, and one summer evening I ate in his dining room largely untouched—even though the room was buzzing with them—because his dog, sitting next to me on the bench, was incredibly efficient in snapping the insects out of the air with his mouth.
The massive, elaborate antique furniture is from his family, and when I asked Kurt how he got it into the house he said, “Oh, it was easy. It came from Europe in a container, which was left on the main road, and I rented a U-Haul…” Clearly what’s easy for Kurt would be challenging for a normal person—he's also moved hundreds of rocks from the woods to form patios and walkways around his house. I hope to do a summer update on the extensively gardened exterior which, when everything is in bloom, is as magical as the interior.
A corner of the bathroom:The upstairs studio:
And outside, the Hudson, still bleak in early April:
The living room:
The dining area:
Einar at work:
So Monday came, and after several hours of panting up and down the three flights from the basement to my studio and back again, the very nice repair guy fixed everything—for now. After all, the last guy thought he fixed everything, too.
Tuesday I got a voice message from Debbie, at the local company that provides me with propane, telling me that even though I’d signed up for their “budget” plan, where they deduct a predetermined amount every month from my credit card, the number of which they have on file, I would still need to call her each month to “remind” her. I did not make this up—however the delivery guy, who came the next day, was able to go back and set her straight (I get my tank filled 3 or so times a year, for a total of $2200 to heat about the same number of square feet. He told me he has a client he goes to every week. “It’s a big house.” OMG.)
Wednesday it was Design Within Reach. I’d phoned ten days before to say that the replacement bulbs they sent me for my Cortina Table Lamp didn’t work, yet hadn’t heard from their tech department as promised, nor did I get an answer to my “Contact Us” email—so tried Customer Service again this afternoon where I got J., whose only proposed “solution,” which she repeated over and over, consisted of sending me another set of the same bulbs, because those were the only ones they had listed for that lamp. After hearing that one more time than I could stand, I hung up.
So while I’m not quite ready to entirely give up on designer lighting, I’d advise anyone who’s willing to shell out that much money for it to be aware of the possible pitfalls—and stock up on lots of replacement bulbs.
Most people who call customer service, including me, are among the “Situationally Difficult”—people who are irritated because something isn’t working, for whom an apology and a little empathy would go a long way. Suppose J. at DWR, instead of insisting over and over that they sent the right bulbs so therefore they should work, end of story, had said: “I am so sorry no one called you back; I’d be very frustrated too. Let me see what I can do to help.” And then, of course, she’d actually have to call the manufacturer, as I ultimately did, but is that really too much effort to keep a loyal customer?
When he came to fix my line, the Verizon guy was empathetic. “No one should have to go through that,” he said, referring to the voice prompt system. A friend, who had had the same experience, likened it to the Bush administration, and after a couple of days of thinking about it, I see what means—people who say they care when they don’t really give a shit—as with Katrina, or the returning injured from Iraq. When the people at the top are insincere and unaccountable, it has a trickle-down effect. What a difference it could make—will make—to have a president who could actually be a role model.
Wow, I had no idea where this was going; it’s turned out to be my longest post ever when, really, I was just sounding off about Verizon. But you know what? I just tried to publish it and discovered that the DSL light is blinking again, and I can’t go online….
During: a random slide show of Joe's photographs documenting the trip. While not all artists make good photographers, Joe's photographs are gorgeous. More pictures and the story on their blog.
Sculpture with extras:
Where the magic happens: