Stevie's Artisans Etsy Shop

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Feasts - Part 2

          After celebrating the Festa dei Gigli, at the end of June, I flew to Salemi, Sicily, a medieval hill town of steep and narrow cobble-stoned streets, located an hour’s drive south of Palermo’s airport.  I had come to see old friends and revisit St. Joseph’s feast, celebrated throughout Sicily but most quintessentially in Salemi. 

Salemi Street
Salemi with Castle in Background

The giglio feast is about sacrifice and homecoming and St Joseph's feast is about sustenance and survival. It honors Sicily’s patron who, according to legend, ended a severe drought that devastated the island during the Middle Ages. Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph and after the rain finally came and the drought and hunger ended, Sicilian villages prepared banquets to thank their saint, who is also patron of the home, family, carpenters and pastry chefs – truly a multi-tasking saint. Sicilian immigrants brought the feast traditions to New Orleans, when they settled there in the 1870’s. St Joseph altars are still created and banquets are served in many churches, community centers and private homes throughout New Orleans.

At the top of this hill town of 12,000 people, at one end of Piazza Alicia, sits an imposing 12th century Norman castle. At the opposite end are the ruins of the “Mother Church” destroyed by an earthquake in 1615 and now used as an open-air theater. Gaetano Scomegna, community liaison, walked with me through the areas ruined by the 1969 earthquake and pointed out what had been the thriving Jewish ghetto when Salemi was an Arab outpost. “These were the houses the mayor wanted to sell for one euro as a way to get people to rebuild the ancient town center,” he said.  It was the idea of Vittorio Sgarbi, a former cultural minister and former mayor of Salemi. Many houses have been renovated and those houses had sweeping views of the valley below and the rugged hills beyond.

Altar Festooned with Laurel and Breads

(Unbaked) Roses & Grapes
Fava Beans
Nadie Vultaggio

          Women organize and make this feast. They prepare the foods and create the signature folk art of this feast - bread, crafted in myriad designs, shapes and forms, that decorate the altar and banquet table. Six years ago, when I spent a month working with several Salemi women, learning to make the simpler ritual breads, I asked master bread-makers Anna Catalanotta and Nadie Vultaggio who had taught them to make the incredible designs. Anna answered, "You learn from your mother or by doing it with other women." Nadie nodded in agreement. Now I was back at family dinner at Nadie's house, reminiscing  as we looked at photos from this year’s celebration.

Anna Catalanotta

Three Tiered Altar with Jesus, Mary & St. Joseph Breads
A wonderful cook, Nadie served breaded pork cutlets, potatoes mashed with cheese and then baked, salad from Nadie’s garden and home-baked bread. I told her as delicious as the meal was, I was sorry it wasn't pasta with sardines (pasta con le sarde) a dish she and Ann had taught me to make. She reminded me that meal had taken all of a Saturday morning to prepare. But what a lovely family lunch that had been.

 Looking at photos of the town-sponsored altar, I remembered how I was first stunned by the artful creation made by Anna, Nadie and the other women.The St. Joseph banquets of the Middle Ages were simple affairs; tables set up in the town squares, laden with food provided by the landed gentry to feed the peasantry. Today’s celebration has evolved into an elaborate mise en scene. In Salemi tall arches (errected by men) festooned with laurel leaves, citrus fruits and decorative breads in the shapes of spring fruits, vegetables, birds and animals framed the altar (three-tiered to represent the Trinity) overflowing with flowers, prepared foods, wine and pastries - representations of fertility and abundance.

Orange & Breads on Laurel Covered Altar Frame
 On each tier were three large breads, each decorated with iconography (made of bread) of the members of the Holy Family. St Joseph's bread was decorated with carpentry tools, Jesus' bread with the cross, crown of thorns and other symbols of the Passion and on Mary's bread were seamstress' tools and roses. Interspersed were bowls of breadcrumbs to represent the sawdust of St. Joseph the carpenter.

St. Joseph's Bread

Jesus' Bread

            Three children portraying Jesus, Mary and Joseph, were served a multi-course meal, each course announced with a drum roll. No meat is served because St. Joseph's feast falls mid-Lent, a time of fasting and meatless meals for observant Christians. After the three children were served, dishes were passed to the clamoring townspeople - a reenactment of hunger. The children's meal ended as all good Italian meals do, with cafe. In this case, I beleive the children were served mostly milk touched with coffee. Finally, everyone was served a traditional meal of spaghetti, olive oil and cinnamon, sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs. Although some breads are saved as souvenirs, most are eaten and new breads and new altars are recreated each year. Like the gigli this feast’s folk art is also ephemeral.

            Although I spent a month, six years ago, watching and helping the women make the hundreds of breads needed to decorate the altar, I never became adept at it. But then, they spend their lives learning to make these breads. Mostly I cut circles that they fashioned into roses and I rolled little balls of dough that became clusters of grapes. When I downplayed my contribution to the final effort, Anna pulled me to the altar and pointing out every rose and grape cluster, said, "Stefania, those are all yours."
Anna's Hands
Anna & Nadie's husbands applying the Laurel to the Altar Frame

Now there is a Bread Museum with an altar, banquet table and vitrines displaying examples of the breads and descriptions of their significance to the feast. There is also a display altar at the new Hotel Villa Mokarta, located just outside town on the road to the Villa Mokarta archeological dig – site of a Bronze Age village dating to 1250 B.C. The hotel has spacious rooms, wifi, a pool and a superb restaurant where I ate the best meal of my trip: spaghetti with sautéed zucchini and shrimp, a salad of local tomatoes, grilled swordfish seasoned with thyme, ripe melon drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a glass of a very good Nero d’Avola (€25 or around $33.)

Doric Temple at Segesta
Within a half hour’s drive are lovely beaches, a Greek theater and temples to rival any in Greece. To the south is Selinunte, where five temples in varying degrees of ruin sit on a high plain overlooking the crystalline sea. In spring one walks through fields of fragrant wildflowers to reach them and in summer you can cool off at the golden beaches below. North of Salemi, Segesta’s massive Doric temple is sited on a hill in the midst of rolling green countryside. Hike up or take the tram to the top of nearby Monte Barbaro to reach the Greek theater, now a venue for plays, concerts and other events. Its back-drop opens onto a sweeping vista of the vineyards and rolling hills of the western Sicilian countryside. 

Sicily and Campania, the region of Naples and Nola, are still quite agrarian and as my Salemi friend Gaetano reminded me, “The feasts aren’t celebrated like this in the big cities. Here they are remnants of a time when it was easier and necessary for people to work together.” Standing on the stage of that 2000-year-old theatre, I reflected on my path from the raucous festivities of the giglio feast honoring sacrifice and a very good deed done for a widow to a grand Sicilian feast where I  was allowed to play a small roll. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Tale of Two Feasts - Part 1

This past June I had the opportunity to revisit two of the sites of my Fulbright research done in Italy in 2006. With a travel grant from the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, where I work as an administrator, I was able to see the Gigli Festa in Nola and spend time with friends in Salemi, Sicily. It was also interesting to see the changes I had read about and what had remained the same. Part 1 is my report on my travels to Nola, where I ate fabulous Southern Italian cuisine of Campania and again marveled at the paper mache folk art.  

"Emotion" Giglio
 Late afternoon, in the still brilliant sunshine and intense Southern Italian heat, a small group of Americans were cooling off poolside, eating home-made fig cookies which we dipped in tumblers of local wine. We had come to Nola, Italy, for the Festa of the Gigli, celebrated for more than 1500 years, likely making it Italy’s oldest saint’s feast.  Almost every southern Italian town and village honors its special saint with a festival and in Nola the feast day of its patron, San Paolino, is celebrated with raucous music, exquisite folk art and amazing demonstrations of physical strength.

Everyone in Nola, including my new Italian-Americans friends, Ersilia Iorio Graziano and Anthony Casalino, loves to tell the story of what San Paolino did for the town. “Very simply, he won freedom for his people,” Anthony told me. The legend goes that in 409 AD, Nola was sacked by the Goths and many of its men were carried off to North Africa as slaves. Bishop Paolino ransacked his church, selling anything of value to ransom the enslaved Nolani men. When a widow implored him to get back her only son, Paolino offered himself in exchange.  After three years  in captivity, Paolino won freedom for himself and the village men. The grateful women of Nola, each waving bouquets of lilies (gigli,) met their returning boat.

Ersilia, a petite, attractive woman in her mid-60’s, was born in Nola but moved with her family to the Bronx when she was a child. “My family has been involved with the feast going way back – my father, my grandfather, my uncles,” she said. “I used to come for the feast when I was a teenager and then as an adult. I brought my son Marc when he was six years old and this year I had to show the feast to my fourteen-year-old grandson, Daniel, and again to Marc.”

Boat in Piazza Duomo
I told Ersilia and Anthony that I discovered the Giglio Festa seven years ago when I heard a CD of the festival songs for the celebration in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the great-grandchildren of Nola immigrants continue the feast traditions. I remember staring at the picture of a seven-story tower, decorated with paper-mache images of angels, saints and flowers. The base was a platform holding a twelve-piece brass band and singer performing Neapolitan songs. This four-ton   structure was carried on the shoulders of 120 men. It was preposterous and fantastic and I wanted to know more about it, so I went to Nola in 2006 as a Fulbright Scholar, to study the giglio, and to Sicily to study the St. Joseph feast, also celebrated in Italian-American communities in the U.S.

I’m not Italian but my Puerto Rican and French Canadian families also celebrate holidays and family events in ways dictated by traditions and customs passed down through generations. I’m really drawn to the community spirit, the drama and the special foods of the saints’ feasts.  My interest began with the giglio song, “O Giglio e Paradiso” and eventually encompassed a fascination with the folk art of both feasts.

Hotel Bel Sito
Inviting Hotel Pool

This is the tenth year Anthony has come to Nola to participate in the giglio celebration. He explained, “My family has been involved in the giglio for hundreds of years, in Italy and then in Brooklyn after they emigrated to the U.S. in the 1890’s.  So it’s easy to understand my love for this feast; it’s part of my DNA.” Anthony’s massive shoulders and muscular arms fairly scream “lifter” and he does lift the giglio in both Nola and Brooklyn.

A half hour drive from Naples, Nola lies on the other side of Vesuvius to the northeast, in the plain between the volcano and the Apennine Mountains. I arrived June 20, four days before the day San Paolino is honored with a procession of eight 85-foot wooden towers plus a large boat (symbol of the boat that brought Paolino and Nola’s men home), carried on the shoulders of teams of men. I arrived lunch time at the Hotel Bel Sito, a lushly landscaped oasis, located on the outskirts of Nola on strip mall-like Via San Paolino Belsito. The pool was incredibly inviting in the torrid heat but I was anxious to get into town to see the gigli. First I dined at the hotel – a no-brainer and a delicious one at that: pasta con frutti di mare (fat pasta rings in a light tomato sauce with tiny clams and plump mussels), grilled tuna bathed in olive oil and a mixed salad with shaved fennel.  The prix fixe menu (lunch or dinner) was 20 (about $25.)

Now I was ready to see the boat and the eight giglio towers, scattered throughout town in various piazzas where they had been erected. These spires, taller than most of Nola’s buildings, are giant representations of the bouquets of lilies first offered in gratitude to San Paolino. Walking through Nola, I met an old friend, Antonio Napolitano, director of La Contea Nolana, a volunteer cultural society concerned with all things giglio.  

Paper Mache piece at Bottega Tudisco
         He took me to see the three bottegas (workshops) that produce the paper-mache facades for all the giglio towers. I struggled to keep up with his pace and stride, as he explained the evolution of the gigli and boat from the simple bouquets left at the cathedral after Paolino’s death to today’s ornate constructions. He told me that first the bouquets were mounted on poles; eventually a base was created to support the poles and then the top was crowned with a statue of S. Paolino. Nola’s citizens proceeded through the town carrying candles, torches and the now-mounted gigli. I asked Antonio why eight gigli. He told me, “A crazy competition began during the Middle Ages and carried on into the Renaissance when eight trade and artisan guilds vied to create taller and more magnificent gigli. So now, eight gigli for the eight trades and guilds.”

          Eventually the height was set at eighty-five feet and when the brass bands and festive music were added in the seventeenth century, the gigli began to dance as they were carried through the streets. The emotion-filled singing, a vocal style combining bel canto operatic tradition and street vendor cries, and the booming music resounding from different directions through the narrow streets, adds a cacophonous note to the spectacle. Antonio thinks music contributes a feminine element. He told me, “When the giglio dances, it moves like a woman and we all dance with it.”

At the Bottega d’arte Tudisco, family-run for nearly three hundred years, Antonio introduced me to its director, Gaetano Tudisco, who happily showed me the plaster molds in which paper and glue are layered to make the paper-mache elements - angels, saints, baroque arabesques, etc. – used to create the magnificent facades. The workshop was strewn with pieces of unpainted paper-mache and Gaetano said of course, I could take some; rejects to him but prized souvenirs for me.

Giglio di Pane
I mentioned to Gaetano I had also studied a feast that used bread as a decorative element and he excitedly told Antonio, “Take her to see my giglio for panettiere (the baker’s guild).” Charming and delightful, this giglio was surrounded by a paper-mache village, starring the bread maker pulling loaves from his oven.

Paper Mache bakers
           The celebration began just before noon. Sound equipment was put in place and the singers and the twelve-piece bands mounted the platforms of each giglio. The men put their shoulders under poles inserted in the platforms and at the command of their leader, raised the massive towers off the grounds for the all-important “aizata” or first lift. Per tradition, baba au rhum and coffee provided by the giglio’s sponsor were served to people gathered at each giglio. The first lift is a dramatic moment. Ersilia told me “Daniel was absolutely amazed. I can tell you my Nola cousins wept.”

One by one each of the eight gigli and the boat were carried into Piazza Duomo - so full of people that the boat seemed to navigate a sea of heads and waving arms as it made its way to sit in front of the Municipal Building. The eight gigli were lined up, facing each other, four each flanking two sides of the Piazza. After they received a blessing from the Bishop, the paranza went off to eat and then rest before the start that evening of the gigli’s all-night dance. Ersilia told me that when she was a girl, “the paranza’s always ate sandwiches filled with beef braciola and drank red wine sipped through fennel stalks, like straws. For strength. It was always served in people’s homes but now the paranza go to restaurants.” (Of course, I got Ersilia’s braciola recipe.)

Tattoo Arms
Men are the protagonists of this feast and pass on the traditions, father to son. They build the towers and prove their strength and stamina by carrying the huge gigli. Working in concert, supporting each other’s efforts, the strain evident on their faces, the lifters endure pain and fatigue in their body-punishing labor. Wives, mothers and girlfriends support their awesome performance, by following with towels to mop their sweat and water to quench their thirst. As I photographed a giglio carried by a team of lifters called “Fantastic Team,” a beautiful young woman, wearing a dress better described as lingerie, handed me a big pink button boldly inscribed: “Fantastic Team Girl” and declared, “Sono fantastico, si?”  I thought about my conversation the day before, at a café with Dr. Katia Bellanchino, an anthropology professor at the University of Rome. Katia, who earned her doctorate studying the Giglio, had confided, “I really love these guys. I love the beautiful tattoos of San Paolino and the giglio blazoned on their powerful arms and legs.” With all its religious aspects, the feast atmosphere is also charged with lots of testosterone and sexuality. Think Mastroianni and Loren.
San Paolino Tattoo

Antonio, fiftyish, and not especially muscular, lifts when given the chance. He said, “I can’t describe the emotion I feel when I lift the giglio. It’s a way to elevate our souls.” Nicola Vecchione proudly showed me the calloused bump on his shoulder, his badge of honor as a cullatore (lifter) and explained that term to me. "Cullatore means to rock a baby and we both lift and rock the giglio.) Anthony Casalino lifts to pay homage to his immigrant grandparents. “The heavy weight of the giglio and the soreness to my shoulder pales in comparison to their hardships. It’s my small token of gratitude.”

The beautiful wooden giants, rising above the roof-tops, proceeded along the narrow, winding streets teeming with Nolani and visitors following the gigli.  From their balconies, people showered the towers with confetti, flower petals. By early morning the gigli and boat were back at Piazza Duomo where they remained on view for two days, until the “abbatimento,” the knock down and destruction of the gigli and boat. There’s no place to store the towers so, sadly, they are destroyed and built anew each year.

Knock Down
Although the giglio festivities are pretty all-consuming, there are other attractions in the Nola/Naples area. The Circumvesuviano railroad circles Mt Vesuvius to connect Naples, Nola, Pompeii, Ercolano (the ancient Herculaneum) and access to a hiking trail up the ever-present volcano.

            There are a few less expensive B & B's in Nola center but the Hotel Bel Sito’s pool, wifi and air-conditioning make it an attractive choice (doubles are around 100, including breakfast.) Nola offers many restaurants specializing in seafood and classic Neapolitan pizza.  O’Cellario, a pizzeria/trattoria near Piazza Calabrese serves Marguerita pizza, classic or, my favorite: crudo style with slices of sweet San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufalo and fresh basil on a crust brushed with fruity olive oil (€5.) The succulent, huge grilled prawns at La Cicerenella on Via Tansillo were a knockout for 12. Dining in its garden, under the canopy created by banana palms, olive and citrus trees, I knew if I could, I would return every year to experience the giddy, sublime joy of following the crazy dance of the gigli.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Porto and the Duoro Wine Region

Bridge over Duoro in Porto

Then it was on to Porto for more art and more Fado. Our visit was very short - one day - but we walked down to the river port and admired the iron bridge built by an Eiffel disciple. (I drank a glass of chilled white port as we watched the boats sailing by on the Douro River. As Martha, Ian and I walked up and down the hilly streets we admired lots of fantastic tile facades and decorative ironwork on the balconies. Porto is a very lively city with a vibrant contemporary art, music and design scene. I saw lots of gorgeous tile work, ceramics and fused glass. It was explained to me that the tile and ceramic traditions trace back to Arab influences and the glass art traditions stem from Roman influences. In a crafts shop near the river port, I bought a fused glass pendant and two fused glass rings. I plan to send them to my niece who makes fused glass plates and candle holders.
Tile and Iron Railings in Porto
Although there are lots of Fado bars and clubs near the river, we went to a restaurant down the street to see Joanna Costa, who was really terrific. She gave an extended performance/concert that lasted close to an hour. My dinner was a bacalau dish my Puerto Rican grandmother used to prepare - one of my favorites. It was a simple preparation of cod with boiled potatoes, sauteed onions and a hard boiled egg - all bathed in olive oil. This is definitely an example of cucina povera - uncomplicated comfort food. I will return to Porto anytime: beautiful, interesting city with good food.

On to the wine country in the Douro River Valley. We drove the very long, time-consuming scenic route and while the views were breathtaking, the trip took way longer than we expected. We didn't realize that the highway would have cut the trip in half and we still would have seen some scenic views towards the end. Next time!

Quinto do Pego
We arrived at our winery hotel around 5:00 - just in time for a quick swim, a little rest and then dinner. The Quinta do Pego is a working winery with a boutique hotel of 10 rooms (but one is always reserved for the Danish owner) reception rooms, dining for the guests and an infinity edge pool with a view of he river and the terraced hills. The hotel is sited in the hills so the rooms command views of the Douro and the vine covered hills. The landscaping includes lush flowers, fruit trees and lots of seating areas for relaxing and enjoying the river vistas.

Pool with a View
Each morning Martha and I would begin with a hike into the hill-side vinyards, then a swim because it would begin to be quite warm by 10:00 - 11:00 am. Then a lunch of smoked meats, cheeses and fresh fruit on the terrace followed by excursions: mostly tastings at the local wineries. Our hotel arranged a private lunch/wine tasting at a nearby winery - Quinta do Vallado. We were told the menu offered two entrees: cod with corn bread or roast beef. Martha and I said we would have the cod and our husbands would have roast beef. Quinto do Vallado, one of the oldest wineries in the valley, sits just a bit above the river with its vineyards climbing the hills to the rear of the guest rooms and the winery. We were seated in a vine covered pergola. We started with olives and sliced hams and cured sausages. Then a course of a Portuguese speciality - duck rice - a pilaf layered with slices of roasted duck. I guess we misunderstood them because we were each served the Portuguese speciality - baked bacalau with a cornbread crust. The cod was suculent and the cornbread topping was buttery and heavenly. Then we were served a beautifully rare filet of beef with a port jus, accompanied by sliced roasted potatoes and salad. Simple but absolutely fantastic. Then a platter of luscious peaches, apricots and cherries. All of this paired with the Quinta's very fine wines.

View of the Duoro  with Grape Vine
It started to drizzle so we moved inside to the dining room for dessert - a baked cream (much like panna cotto) with a burnt sugar topping - panna cotto brulee? Of course, this was paired with a delicious port. Then we were led to the sleek, modern winery to see the barrels and bottles stacked in the underground cellars. We purchased a few bottles to bring home and paid our tab for lunch - 50 euros or about $65 each. Amazing. The menu wasn't particularly fancy or inventive, but everything was prepared and presented with utmost care and near perfection.

Because Ian doesn't drink, wine tasting doesn't hold much fascination but great food does. Impressed by our lunch, he was eager to try a restaurant touted by the food critics - DOC - just down the road from our lodgings. DOC is housed in a modern, jewel box building right on the Douro river. Its floor to ceiling windows offer stunning views of the river and the surrounding vineyards. The riverside terrace offers al fresco dining in warm weather or is ideal for sunset cocktails. Rui Paula, the star chef of this contemporary restaurant offers food that is a far cry from traditional Portuguese cuisine. His forward-thinking menu offers octopus carpaccio, juicy veal, superb foi gras, and traditional salt cod with Mozambican prawns. Those of us who drink, enjoyed great regional wines with our dinner. Ian was very happy. The "wow" factor of DOC is huge but I didn't feel the joy I experienced at our lunch at Quinta do Vallado. Maybe because our lunch had been a private affair, with total pampering.

Our last day was spent on a  leisurely boat trip up the Duoro. The steep banks are terraced with vineyards and here and there are wineries and hotels. We sipped a chilled white wine provided by our captain as we gazed at the gorgeous scenery and the gray green waters of the Duoro. I love the Tuscan wine countryside with its outcropping of hill towns amid the rolling hills but there is something quite majestic about the Duoro as it slices and winds through the steep hills of this valley. It is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Martha & Ian

Monday, January 9, 2012

Festa, Family & Food

Before I started Stevie's Artisans Urban Fok Art, I curated for and managed the gift shop at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. And before that, I spent 9 months in Italy as a Fulbright Scholar researching a project about folk art, cultural traditions, music and food.

Of course, I have tons of photos and lots to say about my project so I have begun doing presentations. My project, Festa, Family and Food, is a study of continuity, change and identity manifested in three saints' feasts celebrated both in Italy and in Italian-American communities in the US. The key themes of all three feasts are sacrifice and redemption, suffering, survival and communal rejoicing and celebration. The feasts honor three heroic and charasmatic figures (saints) who rescued their communities from destruction and ruin.

Women and their daughters make bread, crafted in myriad shapes and forms, as the principle element used to decorate the altars and banquet tables created to celebrate the feast of St.Joseph in Sicily and New Orleans. Papier-mache is the art form used to create ornately sculpted facades for the 85-foot towers - the giglio - carried on the shoulders of men through the streets of Nola and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The towers dance to music, all in honor of St Paulinus, who in the fifth century, rescued Nola's men from slavery at the hands of the Saracens. The Ceri is a race through the streets of Gubbio and Jessup, Pennsylvania of three Baroque wooden towers born on the shoulders of a nine-man team, to honor St Ubaldo who saved his town in the eleventh century from sack and ruin by the Vandals.

This past November 17, I gave a presentation - commentary and power point photo presentation at the Italian American Museum in New York's Little Italy. I'm going to be presenting at the Brooklyn Historical Society on March 29, 2012. That presentation will focus on the giglio celebration in Brooklyn with background information of the celebration in Nola, Italy. Danny Vecchiano, leader of the Vecchiano Festival Band and archivist of American tradtional giglio music will join me. I wrote an article about Danny - Born to Giglio - for "Voices" the New York Folklore Society magazine. I am hoping Danny - a superb trumpeter - plays giglio music for us.

Born to Giglio,
a celebration of a Brooklyn Neighborhood, will be Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 7:00 PM at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Naemeh's New Jewelry at Lily

Naemeh Shirazi's newest lace jewelry is now at Lily on Court Street in Brooklyn. Lily is a wonderful boutique on Court Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The owner, Jennifer, sells beautiful dresses by Karina ( I own two and I love them both) and gorgeous leather bags, hip jewelry, stylish sportswear and super, warm socks. It is a fabulous shop and I am so happy Jennifer wants to try out Naemeh's new "Roses" earrings and necklaces.
Last summer Lily carried some silk screened skirts and a tunic by Ivette Urbaez. Jennifer thinks the skirts will go well again so maybe two of Stevie's Artisans will be available at Lily on Court Street.
Naemeh will do the earrings,necklaces and maybe some bracelets in spring colors, as well as her graphic red and black. Look for pink, kelly green, blue and yellow. And white!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Gifts from Stevie's Artisans

My good friend Martha, who lives in England, bought some earrings from Stevie's Artisans Urban Folk Art for two friends who live in California. Bonnie received the silvery gray "Fleur de Lis" style and black "Double Asia."
Meg received "Big Red Rose" and green "Cut out Leaves" earrings.
All arrived in time for Christmas and all are sculpted from lace
by Naemeh Shirazi of Stevie's Artisans Urban Folk Art.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lace Roses in Sarasota, Florida

Last week I took a little break and visited some friends in Sarasota, Florida. Julie and her husband Vinnie are artists and designers who create museum installations through their company, Ciulla Designs. Julie makes gorgeous gold jewelry based on archaeological designs and Vinnie creates fantasy collages - bathing beauties riding manatees, water skiers pulled by NYC taxis under the Brooklyn Bridge, etc. Julie bought a couple of pairs of Naemeh Shirazi's lace earrings and suggested I visit and show some of the Stevie's Artisans' work at some Sarasota shops.

We get together whenever they are in NYC - usually dinner at Al di La Restaurant in Park Slope - but I have been longing to visit them and see the mid-century modernist home they live in. They bought and have been restoring Paul Rudolph's masterpiece, the Umbrella House. The house has an elegant glass jalousies facade with lots of built in cabinetry features inside. The "umbrella" is a trellised canopy system that shades and cools the house - remember, houses weren't as extensively air-conditioned in the 1950's and 1960's when this house was built.

I met with Liby (Elizabeth Rice) at her home furnishings gallery/shop - she loved Naemeh's silver vine leaves earrings & pendants and also really liked the Ivette Urbaez silk screened dress I was wearing (red tulip dress) I met with the manager of her apparel/accessories shop - Terra Nova and Cheryl Ralya seemed to like the lace jewelry more and agreed Ivette's tulip dress, fire escape tunic, and teal roses & thorns skirt would go well in the shop. How exciting for Naemeh and Ivette! I left jewelry samples with Julie to show to the buyer at the Ringling Museum gift shop. I think Naemeh's rose pendant and earrings would really compliment Mabel Ringling's "roses"
artwork/accessories collection.

So, what else did I do in Sarasota because I didn't go for all work and no play. Julie and Vinnie have a lovely pool in their back yard and we also swam in the Gulf - warm and a really cool green color - unlike the aqua blue of the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. Julie and I went looking for alligators at the Myakka River State Park - no gator sighting but lots of hero and oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. I sat in at a rehearsal of the Key Chorale, the community chorus Julie sings with. (For years, Julie and I sang togther and served on the board of the Brooklyn Philharmonia Chorus.) The Key Chorale are fabulous and they are performing terrific music - Britten's "Saint Nicholas Cantata."
The day before I left I had lunch with Julie and friends from either the chorus and/or her rowing group - all terrifically interesting ladies in business, the arts, and some retired. Cheryl rows with Julie & Vinnie and Mary Chadsey creates amazing majolica pottery in her studio Mariooch. We are talking about her joining Stevie's Artisans Urban Folk Art.