Wednesday, November 2, 2016

brussels sprouts slaw and the warm springs bath houses

I'm still in mourning for my loft kitchen above the gallery where I had a big island in the center of a large room where everyone gathered.  With spill over in to the upstairs library or down into the gallery, there was no lack of space for even the largest gatherings.  Since April, I've been getting used to my kitchen at the house on Ridge Road.  It's a lovely space with a south window above the sink looking out onto my beautiful front yard with mature trees and perennial gardens, but a bit closed off from the adjacent dining and sitting rooms, as most mid-century ranchers were.  Will be eager to put my mark on this charming house, starting with the kitchen :)

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm happiest in any kitchen cooking for friends and family, and most recently it was at a place in Warm Springs, Virginia with longtime Bridgewater College friends.  We stayed up till all hours talking and catching up - the first time in decades we've done more than brief chatting over the din of a Homecoming football game at reunion time.  We were missing a few key people including Kim, Sharon, Ruth, and Carol, but have agreed we need to plan this on a more regular basis.

Warm Springs is just 10 minutes north of Hot Springs and this quiet enclave in the mountains is home to natural springs.  The Warm Springs Bath Houses or Jefferson Springs were a short walk from where we stayed and are constantly fed by a 98 degree mineral spring.  We enjoyed a long hour soak (no talking encouraged, bathing suits optional) in the original 1836 Ladies Pool House.  The Gentleman's Pool House was built in 1761 and is the oldest spa structure in the United States.  I can't think of the last time I just floated endlessly looking up at a blue sky with the clouds drifting by.

After a relaxing day of hiking and exploring, I made Brussels Sprouts Slaw, a recent recipe find from Food and Wine Magazine, alongside poached salmon with rosemary brown rice pilaf.  I've altered the recipe a little bit (yes, it was begging for fresh ginger and dried cranberries), and here it follows:

1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 lb. fresh brussels sprouts
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbs. limoncello jam or lemon marmalade (or fresh lemon zest plus 1 tsp. sugar)
2 tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. dark mustard
1 tbs. minced shallot
2 tsp. fresh minced ginger
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, shaved
1/4 cup dried whole cranberries
1 Ginger Gold apple (or other firm, crisp apple, preferably tart), julienned

Put the walnuts in a glass pie plate in an oven preheated to 350 degrees and toast until fragrant and browned, about 8-10 minutes.  Let cool completely.

Pare the brussels sprouts by removing any brown on the cut edge or any spoiled leaves, then cut in half vertically on the spine edge.  Cut edge down, continue to slice vertically and thinly, encouraging any loose leaves to fall off - but keep them as part of the salad.  A food processor can be used for this step, but I enjoy hand chopping, especially when friends are chatting nearby.  Place the brussels sprouts in a medium size bowl.

In a small bowl add olive oil, balsamic, jam, lemon juice, mustard, shallot and ginger.  Stir with a fork to combine and set aside the dressing.

Take a block of fresh Parmesan cheese and shave thin slices with a carrot peeler.  I got this tip from my friend Cindy, as I was always trying to simply slice the cheese paper thin with a butcher knife - not an easy feat!

Add the apple, cranberries, and cooled walnuts to the brussels sprouts, pour on the dressing and toss well.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate and serve later.  The salad is flavorful and holds well the first day or two, then starts to get a bit watery.  It's delicious served as a side with slow-cooked pork - add fresh red beets, rice pilaf, and nice Pinot Noir and you have a light and colorful autumn meal.

A trip to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia still makes my heart a-flutter every time I come around that bend heading south on route 81 just below Winchester - you realize every direction you look you are surrounded by mountains and breathtaking scenery.  And the years spent there from 1979-1983 produced life-long friendships I will always cherish.  From left to right, Lynne Hockley, Beth Feeney, Diane Garber, Cindy Bradley, me, Chris Spickler (roomie :), Kelly Kophazi, and Connie Ketchum.

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