Wednesday, June 29, 2016

fran williams wagner - mid-century dynamo

"You have to see her work Lisa," said Jody Darrow emphatically, "it's wonderful and you'll love it!"  I'd gotten to know Jody and a number of her resident friends from Masonic Village who regularly patronized the gallery, but I have to admit I was skeptical.  There is hardly a day that goes by in the art business where someone isn't being touted as the must-see.  I have built Lynden Gallery on long-term relationships with established artists and their collectors and rarely follow through on these suggestions, but Jody wasn't taking my complacency for a "no".  

A couple of weeks later I received a call from Jody.  "Are you there?  I'm coming right now with Fran's work."  And in she marched several minutes later with a friend, their arms full of large sketchbooks.  I met her at the consult desk and we started to page through the books of Fran's mostly figurative sketches dating back to the mid-century.  I didn't have to be nudged further and immediately began to form ideas in my head for an exhibition around this body of work.  

I learned early on in the gallery business figurative work is often how artists hone their skills, no matter the medium in which they work.  Fran's sketchbook pages were often rich layers of images - sometimes two to three to a page, or the reverse side bleeding through.  She played in graphite, marker, colored pencil, pastel and charcoal depending on the mood and what was at hand.  

Plans for an exhibition came to fruition after meeting Fran for the first time - I found myself intrigued by her stories and wanting to know more about her and her work.  "From the Journals of Fran and Flo: Fran Williams Wagner and Florence Starr Taylor"  opened at Lynden Gallery in February 2007 as our popular bi-annual Chocolate, Jazz, and Figure show in honor of Valentine's Day.  The exhibition featured work from the sketchbooks of these two artists - most of which were displayed suspended from the ceiling for images to be viewed on both sides.  

The show was a rousing success with Fran in attendance accompanied by her caregivers and well-wishers, and we mutually decided the gallery would continue to represent her work.  In 2010 at the age of 93 Fran passed away and I was contacted regarding her remaining work.  Once in possession of her numerous scrapbooks, sketchbooks, and a few ceramic pieces (I suggested the Village disperse her needlework to her numerous caregivers, though I do wish now I'd kept one for myself!) I had the opportunity to immerse myself in learning more about this remarkable woman.  

I knew that Fran had been a ceramicist as a few of her wallhangings still hung in her small room at the Village when I visited her, but I hadn't realized the scope of her work until I began reading through her scrapbooks.  Miami Herald Art Editor, Doris Reno described her terra cotta and red clay figurative sculptures when she exhibited as a member of the Miami Art League in the 1940's -  "highly intriguing, fresh and clever and definitely different from other work in that medium we've seen displayed."  In 1951 Nelli Bower, covering an exhibition at Miami Beach Art Center said of ceramic and stone figures "...fine simplicity of line and unusual glazes stamp her as one of Miami's foremost artists in the field."  

By 1953 Fran was beginning to exhibit tile wall hangings.  A quote in Florida Home Magazine described the work: "without exception the pieces exhibited by Fran Williams show a versatility and a master of color and form in addition to an exceptional ability with glazes."   She had begun by then to teach ceramics, focusing on her unique glazing techniques, and quickly found her work included in articles and on covers of decor publications.   She caught the attention of major architects and designers and by the 1960's was sought for commissions of large scale mural work - a partial list of clients can be found on our website.

The details of the individually designed and fired tiles are striking to be sure, and the few remaining works I have in my possession are truly spectacular as miniature examples of her larger works.  The sketchbooks provide insight into her working process, determining coloration and proportion with determined line - almost deco-like in it's feel and purpose.

The 1970's continued to be fruitful years for Fran's mural work, taking her to Puerto Rico, Washington DC, and New York City.  In the February 8, 1970 addition of the Sunday Miami Herald her work was lauded on the front page of the Home Section with a full article by Kay Murphy, Home Furnishings Editor and included photographs showing her at work on a mural for the National Airlines Ticket Office, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, New York.  

An excellent description of her work is included in this article: "She either paints designs with glazes on tiles, then fires them in one of the three kilns in her two-story studio - in all three if it's a rush job.  Or she works bits and pieces of tiles, brick, stone, cork or wood into the mural she has in mind.  Partition blocks and other ceramic forms frequently show up in her three-dimensional art.  Occasionally she leaves a few bits and pieces unglazed - for contrast." 

"When I say bits and pieces in reference to Fran's work, I'm using these words loosely.  Most of these bits and pieces are precision cut - or shaped - with a diamond saw.  Some of the things she puts in her murals retain their original shape... and others must fit around them.  Installers have no trouble solving her puzzles.  She mounts tiles on wood panels, leaving exposed those areas where mural is to be bolted to the wall.  Tiles that go in these areas are numbered so installers know exactly where they are to be placed." 

Fran's enthusiasm for life is evident as one pages through her old photographs - this is one of my favorites.  Kay Murphy captured her in the end of her article saying, "Fran is not an early riser 'by nature.   The cats wake me early because they want to be fed.'  After coffee and the Today Show on TV, Fran usually moves to the studio.  Here gardening tools hang alongside the 'tools of my trade.'  She relaxes by poking around in the plants - or by reading, although much of the latter is 'required research.'  At one time she was an avid shell collector.  'Another time I chased butterflies.'  

The screen-enclosed first floor level of the studio is a pleasant place to work because it overlooks the garden... Wind chimes tinkle in the breeze.  The sound of music drifts from inside the house.  Cats purr-talk occasionally... And the artist works surrounded by what she loves - and does - best."

No wonder I liked her so much.

Fran Williams Wagner's sketchbook selections are on display and for sale at the Arts Hotel Gallery, Lancaster Arts Hotel, Lancaster, Pennsylvania from July through October 2016.  Additional drawings and block prints by Fran will be included at the Lynden Gallery's Mid-Century Modern exhibition featuring works by Picasso, Miro, Goya, Lautrec and more.  An Opening Jazz Reception will be held Friday, July 15th from 6:00 - 9:00 pm.  More information about the exhibition can be found at

Friday, June 19, 2015

intrigue and delight in the natural decay of things - Jeff Bye and David Zimmerman

Part of what I love about this business is that sometimes the most delightful connections come together by happenstance.  I've learned whenever I'm planning an exhibition to leave myself open to being directed in the process, discovering as I go how to best present the work.   

I'd been looking forward to the upcoming exhibition of paintings by JEFF BYE since last year when we scheduled it.  And with a recent visit to the gallery's long time stable artist, DAVID ZIMMERMAN, I found myself thinking they both find intrigue, surprise, and delight in the natural order of decay - Jeff in painting spaces, and David in creating wood sculpture.

David's workshop is chock full of sculptures from the earlier part of his career, work in progress, tools, paints, and slabs of wood waiting to be called forth.  Sunlight was pouring into the space that day, slicing through the created inhabitants, a formidable play of shadow and light. 

I was fortunate that day to have long time friend TOBY RICHARDS and his camera along with me to document and capture the work and the space in ways even an I-phone and Instagram can't.  There is something to be said for a professional photographer, his trusted eye, and his understanding of what's really going on in the camera.  I still find my Nikon D80 and all it's buttons and menus befuddling, despite numerous tutorings from savvy photographer friends like Ed Huddle, Andy Schoenberger, and my father-in-law Gene Clemens.  

Between the combination of David's delicious trappings and stocking of worked and reworked pieces stowed in every corner and rafter, Toby's watchful, talented eye, and the ensuing conversation between the three of us, this series of photos is really a feast for the eye.  A gift really - thanks Toby!

Anyone familiar with David knows his numerous series of explorations - boats, spirals, cocoons, benches, tables, bowls, and vessels.  Typically we think of the larger than life pieces like the 11' cocoons that hung from the massive ceiling space of the Marriott in Downtown Lancaster for awhile.  But he plays with miniature versions of these too, exercising what must be an enormous amount of patience, not to mention dexterity for a tall, lumberjack of a guy, and puts them in shadowbox dioramas crafted of salvaged wood.  

Pensive and quiet, David appears to listen to each piece of wood, communing with it, rather than pulling out saws, sanders, and blades determining ahead of time what he wishes it to be.  Every decision from removing a branch or filling in a knot, to applying legs to a table or bench and a simple coat of finish require a deep understanding of what will enhance the sensibility of each piece.  

One of my favorite things was a series of three flat boats hung together above a door.  Probably made from the same fir tree trunk, they keep quiet company together and simply must remain that way.  Looking for a perfect wall somewhere in your world, perhaps!  We're bringing this never-been-seen-publicly work into the gallery for the exhibition, along with some brand new gorgeous wormy maple, organic slab tables…and... 

a selection of old favorites - like the "boat with fishtail" - 110" of maple that was originally displayed in a pop-up gallery in a downtown Lancaster abandoned tobacco warehouse just before it went under construction to become the Lancaster Arts Hotel.  A collection of photographs by Toby from that exhibition in 2005 are available in a limited edition catalogue from the gallery.   

Early this month, I completed a trio of visits to JEFF BYE's studio in preparation for this exhibition.  What is found was a feast of color and introspection still blooming like ready yeast - works completed, and numerous canvases in varying states of completion.  Of course those are always my favorites, as I love, love, love seeing the process beneath an artist's work, though they all deny me the pleasure of watching them actually paint.  Must be a solitary thing.  Even my husband drops his paintbrush as I approach him working at the easel.  

I couldn't help notice two new pieces, both of which showed boisterous color on decaying walls, exposed ceiling joists, and his characteristic narrative light and perspective of an interior.  But what else caught my eye?  Crystal chandeliers hanging from the rotting ceiling, like proud expensive pieces of jewelry on a woman who wears purple.  And the splashes of bright lime green, turquoise and orangey red - just perfect for some of today's popular interiors' pallette - opposite of the Benjamin Moore or Farrow and Ball trendy, neutral grays.

A peak into Jeff's working studio space yields exactly what I'd expect - a penchant for architectural salvage and nostalgia.  Stuffed book stacks, some books lying about open to favorite artists works, journals (I forgot to ask him if he sketches, writes, or both…?), punctuated with a world globe,  a collection of cowboy and indian figurines about 4" tall lined up precisely along the top of the shelving, and an enviable collection of vinyl records.  I found numerous craftsman reimagining furniture design for the storage of LP's, turntables, and speakers on a trip to the Architectural Digest Home Design show in NYC earlier this year, and noticed just last week a new area in Barnes and Noble dedicated to vinyl.  

Why does this trend just make me extremely happy?  It's a bit like hearing on NPR recently that independent bookstores are proliferating and seem to be thriving amidst the digital reworkings of our age.  Even magazines and newspapers seem to be making a comeback, albeit slowly.  This tells me Art too, will continue to thrive.  As I read recently in the Sunday NY Times Magazine… 

"Why art?
  Because you will never have to change batteries or remember passwords, 
  or read instructions or fear obsolescence."  in an ad for Questroyal Fine Arts, LLC

A Brooklynite for several years before coming to Pennsylvania, JEFF BYE still basks in the afterglow of the city streets, decrepit buildings, and past lives.  He says of his work, 

"I am fascinated with how these spaces have weathered over time and the beauty that they withhold.  These abandoned spaces are now a mere reflection of their past.  What draws me to them initially are the facades of the buildings.  Some…have a haunting presence that is hard to ignore."

Jeff's light-filled studio, on the other hand, is anything but haunting, rather full of life, color, stories, and laughter.  His distinctive, contagious laugh and easy smile fill the space, like his work, with fun.  You are just happy being in front of these paintings, seeing something you missed before, each time you revisit them.  I'm looking forward to a couple of months living with the work in the gallery.

Workshop and studio visits with artists can often be arranged, and gallery hours are available outside of posted hours - just give us a call 717-367-9236 and we'll arrange a private showing.  More information about the artists, their work, and event happenings at the gallery can be found on our website,

Art feeds the soul.  Remember to eat well, and buy more art.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

a double recipe of whole wheat raisin cinnamon swirl bread

I've posted this recipe back in December 2008, pre-iPhone convenience of photographs and can't quite figure out how to insert them into that post without completely messing it up, so posting them here.  For the original single recipe and its history, click here.  This particular day I doubled the recipe, which is typically the case - if I'm going to all this trouble, I want to have plenty to share!

Gather the following ingredients (again, this is a double recipe yielding four 5" x 9" loaves, or several small ones, as I'll show you here)
-  3 cups buttermilk
- 1/2 cup honey plus 2 tbs.
- 1 cup butter (two sticks)
- 3 cups of raisins, currants, or dried cranberries - I like to use a combination
- 4 tbs. of yeast
- 3 tsp. of cinnamon
- 2 tsp. salt
- 6 cups whole wheat flour
- 7-8 cups white occident flour

Combine the honey and buttermilk in a heavy saucepan and stir over medium heat until the milk is hot to the touch, but not scalding or boiling.  Adjust the temperature to simmer and add one stick of butter and the dried fruit.  Continue stirring frequently until the butter melts, then turn off the stove.  Let cool until if needed, until you can put your finger in the mixture comfortably.  It should feel like hot bath water.  

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl add 2 tbs. honey and 1 cup very warm water (again, the water temperature should be the same as described for the milk above).  Stir quickly with a whisk or fork, add four tablespoons yeast, stir to combine and set aside.  

In a few minutes the yeast should foam and bloom, rising quickly.  This proofing is will reassure you that your temperature is hot enough but not so hot as to kill the yeast.  If you are uncomfortable with not knowing more accurately, purchase a candy thermometer.  The liquid should be 120-130 degrees.

Grease a large mixing bowl with olive oil spray, then add half of the whole wheat flour, the milk mixture and the yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to combine thoroughly.  I like to use a large, heavy crock I've had for decades, as it holds in the warmth and stays put while I'm mixing such a large batch.

Gradually add the rest of the whole wheat flour, and some of the white flour until the dough will hold your spoon standing up and pull loose from the sides of the bowl.  It will will still be a bit sticky.

Spray the countertop with olive oil spray and generously sprinkle flour over your kneading space.  

The mound of dough may look a bit daunting at first, but this is where the real work and satisfaction begins!

Knead the dough by hand, pulling it from the far side back toward you, and shoving the heels of your hands deeply into it, slide a quarter turn around and repeat - over and over.  You will be adding in more and more flour as you go along - enough to keep your hands from sticking, until the dough is soft and pliable to the touch and no longer sticks.  This should take five minutes or so - and don't cheat it!  The success of good bread is in the temperature and the kneading.  It loves to be worked.  

Spray the large bowl once again with olive oil, return the dough, cover with a light towel and place in a warm place, free of draught.  This is a good time to clean up after yourself, as it will need an hour or two to rise to double the size.  If you get distracted and busy and aren't ready when it does, simply pound it down, or knead it a bit more, and by yourself the time of another rising.   

Once the dough has risen, put it back on the counter and knead it again for another 2 minutes or so.  Divide into four equal parts, placing three of them back in the bowl with the towel over them to keep warm.  

Divide again into equal parts based on the pans you have.  I have several 3" x 6" bread pans that I like to use for gift giving sized loaves, and one quarter of this recipe will make four of these small loaves - or eight wee ones, three 4" x 8" or one regular size loaf.  

Pound down and knead the dough once more and shape it into a elongated oval, tucking edges under so it is relatively smooth, and ready to roll out.

Roll the dough out flat and long, about the width of your pan and 1/4" thick.  Melt your remaining stick of butter and spread a thin coat on the dough with a pastry brush, all the way to the edges.  

Sprinkle the dough liberally with cinnamon and sugar and rub it lightly with your fingers into the butter  to cover evenly.  

Begin to roll up the dough tightly starting at the end closest to you, tucking in the sides as you go so in the end it will fit inside your pans nicely.  Place the loaves in a warm place free of draught, cover with a light towel, and let them rise to double the size.  Preheat your oven to 375.  I typically let me bread rise right on the stovetop while the oven is warming up, as long as I'm not using any burners that could catch fire to my towel!

Bake loaves this size (3x6") at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, or longer for larger loaves.  You can brush them with egg white and water (1 white per 2 tbs water) if you want a nice, glossy finish.  I usually skip this, because I like to ice them. 

You'll know the loaves are done when once released from the pan they sound hollow if you tap on the them and have a golden brown color.  If they don't seem quite ready, simply put them back in the pans and the oven and bake a bit longer.  

A festive finish, especially on the holidays, is to simply make a sweet drizzle icing.  Put about a 1/2 cup of confectionary sugar in a 2-cup pyrex measuring cup and stir in enough water that once you mix it rapidly with a fork, it will drip like honey when you pull the fork out.  

These loaves make delicious french toast if you find there is any leftover!

chicken nachos

This has become one of my family's favorite quick and easy dinners, after I created it while camping on Ocracoke Island decades ago - it was basically what I had left at the end of the week.  You'll need the following:

 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
 - one sweet Vidalia onion, sliced by not too finely
 - two or three cloves of garlic, smashed and dice
 - a pound of chicken tenders, cut into bite-size pieces
 - one can of black beans, drained and rinsed
 - a pound of shredded cheese, a combination of 2-3 is best
 - fresh tomatoes, diced, or a can of drained diced tomatoes
 - one bell pepper, diced
 - one package taco seasoning mix (or the equivalent mixture from your pantry)
 - a glass of white wine - for the cook, but you'll need some for the dish

My favorite cheeses for this include fresh cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan, but you can use whatever you have left in the refrigerator - or in my case that summer of 1980, the ice chest.  

I typically shred them on the larger size, rather than so fine.  Bags of pre-shredded, dairycase cheeses are great to have on hand the freezer - and I usually do - but I still prefer to shred chunks of fresh cheese whenever I can.

Prepare all your ingredients and set them aside within reach of the stove.  Pour yourself a glass of white wine (most any semi-dry variety is fine), and get ready.

Heat the olive oil till hot, then sauté the onion until translucent.  Add in the garlic and stir until hot, but don't let it brown, then add in the chicken.

Stir frequently until the chicken is opaque and little pink is left, pouring in a bit of wine during the process to keep everything from sticking.  

Add in the pepper and continue stirring a minute or two.  Then add in the tomatoes and beans, stirring all together until warmed through.

Add the seasoning mix or combination of spices of your choice and mix well, adding in a bit more wine or water if it seems too dry.  

The mixture should be moist but not too soupy…  At this point, read on for serving suggestions, or spoon the mixture into taco shells or roll up in a burrito and top with cheese.

Spread the mixture in a flat, greased, ovenproof pan or plate - once again, a piece of my Milt Friedly pottery collection is my go to, as it will move straight to the table for serving.  Top with the shredded cheeses.  

When my kids were home, I'd often tear several squares of tin foil, turning up the edges and lining them up on a cookie sheet for the task.  I'd layer nacho chips in the foil, top with the chicken mixture and shredded cheeses to bake.  Once out of the oven, each had their own individual serving to eat with their fingers.  

Set the oven on broil, and heat a few minutes with the oven door slightly open until the cheese is bubbly.

Move the dish to a trivet or cork on the coffee table with a bowl of nacho chips and some plates, and you have a simple, healthy, and filling meal to eat fireside or while binge-watching Netflix.  Guilty pleasures!  (and the leftovers, if there are any, always get eaten quickly)