When thinking about classic European destinations guaranteed to deliver maximum yuletide joy for the lead-up to Christmas, cities like Vienna, Nuremberg, Munich and Salzburg immediately come to mind. And for good reason, because most of the traditions, symbols and characteristics that we now associate with Christmas were born in the Germanic countries, with some traditions, like Christmas trees, originating way back in the Middle Ages.
But Christmas was too good an idea to keep bottled up in the German Empire forever, and it eventually found its way out of mainland Europe and across the channel in the luggage of Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel (Prince Albert) on his betrothal to Queen Victoria. Yes, almost everything you now know as “Christmas” really comes by way of the English. Maybe that is why my favorite Christmas is an English one. So, for your classic Christmas extravaganza, stock up on Christmas crackers, don your paper crown, pop a threepence in the plumb pudding, and book your ticket to London.
There’s a bevy of activities available in London during the holiday season with various festive markets popping up around town. But one thing you should definitely plan on is a visit to the Somerset house ice skating rink. This year Somerset house collaborated with famous purveyor of the best seasonal goods, Fortnum & Mason, who turned the halls of Somerset house into their own Christmas market, of sorts.
Situated on the Strand next to Waterloo Bridge, overlooking the River Thames, the Somerset House foundations date back as far as the 16th century. It was once home to Queen-in-waiting Elizabeth the First, daughter of Henry the Eighth and Anne Boleyn, during the reign of Queen Mary the First.
After that the palace saw its fair share of renovations and additions due to the many different “lodgers” that followed. After the English Civil War, Parliament attempted to sell the property but nobody wanted to buy it. So it was taken off the market and put to various governmental uses. Legend has it Lord Nelson worked in the building for a while when it was partially occupied by the Admiralty. And as testament to the legend, the meeting room that Nelson might have visited has for a long time been called the “Nelson Room”.
In the late 20th century it was decided that Somerset House will be a centre for the Visual arts, and now houses several exhibition spaces and a few restaurants, all focused on the central courtyard, used for various events and activities, like ice skating.
The ice rink appears at the beginning of November and remains until early January. Booking is available for hourly slots, with skate rental included in the price of admission.
Every hour, admission is limited to 220 ice skaters so it never gets crowded on the ice. Plenty of room for you to show off your twirls and glide around the rink backwards. Each hour the ice is cleaned and smoothed for another round of holiday skaters.
The afternoon we visited there was a good mix of skating skills on display, from total beginners to advanced skaters. And for the little tykes, something to lean on is provided to steady the glide, in the form of small polar bears and penguins. They are very popular but remember, they’re only for kids! You adults will have to find someone or something else to lean on.
As dusk set in, the lights came up giving the courtyard a wonderfully festive glow, capped off by the “SKATE” sign on top of the building. Opposite is an enormous Christmas tree with tables underneath where you can sit and enjoy warm drinks and treats from Tom’s Skate Lounge situated on the east side of the rink. Or if you are not in the mood for refreshments, it’s a great place to just sit and watch the people glide by.
After an hour of skating, time to head indoors to investigate the Fortnum & Mason Christmas Arcade installed in the West wing of the building. F&M has outfitted each room with classic English Christmas treats. Truffles, Christmas puddings, special Christmas teas and an array of great gifts for family and friends. The F&M Lounge just next to the Lord Nelson Staircase is particularly good for a cozy drink.
I mentioned Christmas Crackers earlier. These are one of my favorite English holiday traditions. You can pick them up in one of the F&M concessions. They were invented in 1840 by Tom Smith. Originally he sold his bonbons in a twist of paper with love messages inside, later adding the “crackle” to represent crackling logs in the fire place. Finally, Mr Smith let go of the candies and replaced them with little trinkets, including the now iconic paper crown and a selection of really bad jokes. It sounds absurd but you can really get a party going with a few paper crowns and some bad jokes.
The English are famous for their dry subtle wit. My personal theory is that the reason for this is because they all grew up on these bad Christmas cracker jokes. Practice makes perfect. As an aside, did you know that the British royal family has special Christmas crackers made for them each year? I wonder who writes those jokes.
Merry Christmas everyone
< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.
Those who seek out what’s new and unique, and are willing to endure the hardship that is often necessary to achieve such aims, are said to have a “pioneering spirit”. I thought about this on a recent trip to Seattle as I strolled through Pioneer Square. Once the bustling center of a frontier town, the center shifted long ago and Pioneer Square has since struggled to transform itself into a new version of its former glory.
These days there are signs that Pioneer Square may have finally found its new center, with a variety of interesting entrepreneurs taking the historic infrastructure as a backdrop for their visions. Along with general store E.J Smith Mercantile, and long-time purveyor of fine ceramics, Laguna Pottery, one of the most prominent new merchants driving the Pioneer Square resurgence is epicurean and household-goods purveyor, London Plane. With several businesses already anchoring the area, they have recently opened a new flagship store at 300 Occidental Avenue South, to rave reviews.
But on this day I was in the mood for a light lunch and a great glass of wine. And for that, I still like smaller, tried-and-true, Little London Plane, just a block south. In true London Plane style there is a wonderfully eclectic collection of food, dishware, cookbooks and home and garden products on offer.
Conveniently, my favorite coffee brand, Cafe Umbria, has their Seattle outpost right next door. Don’t forget to stop by for a coffee after lunch.
< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.
As Virginia Woolf aptly put it, “Melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night”. And as the Northern Hemisphere heads into the winter season, I thought the Bearleader should look into some places to go that will cheer up winter’s cold-grey days.
A while back in New York I started noticing women wearing fabulously thick and colorful scarves when the temperature sank well below cold. Looking into it, I discovered that the source for these fabulous accessories was a store in Soho called Loopy Mango.
Some of you who have lived in or visited New York City may recall what it used to be like to shop in individual boutiques: totally unique establishments where the owners’ trades or specialties made shopping in that store unlike any other; the goods on offer, the character of the shop existing only in one place. Entering Loopy Mango, you feel like you have stumbled into that kind of special shopping experience.
Owners Anna Pulvermakher and Waejong Kim have an eclectic and diverse style on full display with an array of carefully curated vintage art objects, signage, jewelry, and fabrics. Emerging from this menagerie of style is their signature product, Loopy Mango’s oversized yarn, knit-for-yourself kits.
I started chatting with Anna and Waejong about their idea for Loopy Mango and how they eventually spun their yarn into a business. Hailing from parts of the world far from New York, the two ended up meeting at FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Anna was born in Russia and, as a girl, moved with her parents to Seattle. She eventually studied to become a mathematician and started on a career in technology with stints at Microsoft and Expedia. Not entirely satisfied with that path, she abandoned the corporate world and moved to New York City with her sights set on Fashion.
Waejong hails from Korea and moved to the New York to pursue a career as an interpreter. Also unsatisfied with the direction her career was taking, she took a break and enrolled at FIT to pursue a fashion degree.
Great ideas generally don’t arrive fully formed. They need to steep awhile, absorbing the right combination of elements that will eventually lead to their success. And so it was with Loopy Mango. When the store opened in 2004 they sold fashion but there was no yarn in sight. But one of the things that united Anna and Waejong was an interest in a hands-on approach to fashion and knitting seemed to be a natural way of developing that idea.
Initially they just sold yarn and looked for ways to encourage their customers to take up knitting. However they soon realized that the bar was too high for a lot of young people. They would need to find a way to make knitting more accessible for a generation of men and women that were unfamiliar with this ancient craft.
When I was growing up my grandmother was still knitting socks and gloves and mended them as well. I am out of practice, but I can still knock out a scarf, or mend a sock in a pinch. With DIY and craft all the rage these days, knowing how to knit helps you to fit in with your crafty friends.
Learning that customers were intimidated by their lack of experience with knitting and not always patient, Anna and Waejong developed a way to make knitting fast, easy, and, of course, stylish. Thus the knitting kit was born, complete with oversized yarn and their signature giant needles.
Over time they have perfected the kit and their yarn is now 100% domestic merino wool. Every yarn ball is handcrafted and dyed in a wide variety of fashionable colors at a small mill in Brimfield Massachusetts. Expanding their range of products, there are now DIY knitting kits for hats, blankets, scarves and rugs. The kits are packaged in lovely white cotton bags and are great presents for friends, or as a souvenir of your trip to New York.
On their website you can find easy-to-follow instructions and tutorials. Or for a more hands-on approach, you can attend a Loopy Mango knitting class. A great activity for your next visit to New York.
If you are definitely not a knitter, no worries, Loopy Mango has you covered. Everything is sold in kit form and as finished products.
So check out Loopy Mango. It is a great destination for shopping reminiscent of the past, and part of the new movement for unique, locally-hand-crafted goods.
< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.
It’s fitting that this story should be the opener for the Devon issue. I am constantly surprised where circumstances can take you if you are willing to go along for the ride. On this occasion a friend was visiting from out of town, and on a rainy Saturday afternoon in London, what to do? A quick search online revealed some promising options.
One stood out because it took place in the Holy Trinity Church Marylebone. I recognized it because it’s one of Architect Sir John Soane’s buildings. That alone would be enough for me to get on board, but on this occasion there was an added bonus, an exhibition in the church by the organization London Made, a collection of artists working in various craft traditions.
It is here that I came across textile artist and designer Teresa Cole under her brand Teresa Green. I was immediately intrigued by the beauty of her whimsical and utilitarian designs. I contacted Teresa to see if I could arrange a visit and some weeks later, we were off on our Devon adventure.
Arriving at Teresa’s studio, we were greeted by a motley bunch of noisy neighbor dogs. All with tails wagging, it was soon clear they were not the guard dogs, more like the welcoming committee.
As Teresa prepared some tea and biscuits I took the opportunity to snoop around her studio a bit. As with many spaces where creative work happens, Teresa’s is filled with intriguing remnants of past projects and inspirations for future works. Collections of various objects and images, sketchbooks, inks, screens, and her collection of vintage shoes and bags that she adds to her product offering when she goes on the road to sell her wares.
Also evident is a strong interest in kitchenalia. Would obsession be too strong a word? In particular kitchen scales and elongated watering cans seem to be particular favorites. As Teresa tells it this was a passion introduced to her by both of her grandfathers. So there was no escaping it.
Teresa tells me that while she studied at the University of Loughborough, her plan was always to find a way to merge her artwork with everyday objects. So in 2001 she set up her own silk screen printing company and now lives and works as a textile artist in Devon. Her studio is in an old barn on a beautiful estate in Devon.
Like a true textile artist and craftsperson, Teresa has her uniform, wearing an apron every day in the style of a skirt elegantly wrapped around the waist.
So far Teresa has applied her art to tea towels, aprons, purses, bags, greeting cards and table linens. She sources all her fabrics from within the UK. Her textile art in linen and cotton all has a weighty feel to it with slight imperfections, which enhances the crafted character of her products. All her printing is done solely with safe water based inks.
Each of her illustrations tells a story. They are whimsical and delicate, each with a witty, dry sense of humor. The drawings seem to dance on the tea towels, and the tiny umbrellas on her purses seem poised ready to be opened at the sign of rain. Her signature red lipstick can be found in a portrait printed on a small purse. It has a tongue-in-cheek kind of feel. The color palette is bright and strong with most designs combining words and drawing.
Like a true textile artist and craftsperson, Teresa has her uniform, wearing an apron every day in the style of a skirt elegantly wrapped around the waist. The look is traditional, but with Teresa’s colors, patterns and details, the resulting look is very modern and practical. The look fits well with her truly English spirit — fun, quick-witted and always prepared for a change in weather.
After several teas and way too many biscuits, we said our farewells knowing that we would certainly cross paths again soon.
Special thanks to textile artist Teresa Cole for being our local ambassador — giving us great tips on local artisans, telling us where the most beautiful patches of farmland are and where to find best smoked sausages in Devon.
Nestled in the Pioneer Square district of Seattle is Laguna Pottery, the storefront of Michael Lindsey’s ceramic collection. A mecca for collectors, enthusiasts and amateurs alike, Michael’s is a great place to find unique objects to treasure or to give to a very special someone. Part museum, part shop, all curated with Michael’s extensive knowledge of American ceramics, this is a unique shopping experience.
The store opened in the Green Lake area of Seattle in 1987. The name “Laguna Pottery” was suggested by a good friend of Michael’s called “Grannie”, an enthusiast of Laguna ceramics and an early supporter. Grannie encouraged Michael to turn his passion for ceramics into a business. She also designed the shop’s logo—still used today.
Located south of downtown Seattle in Pioneer Square (in one of the largest national historic districts in America) are some 145 protected buildings of the type Laguna Pottery calls home. The area has seen many attempts at revitalization in recent years, and is poised to turn a new page, with a variety of stores and restaurants either planned or recently opened.
Michael specializes in American ceramics such as Homer Laughlin (Fiesta), Franciscan, Vernon Kilns, Roseville, Rockwood, Bauer & Well and work by Industrial Designers Russell Wright, Eva Zeisel, Edith Heath and Ben Seibel. He also deals in rarer pieces by Louis Mideke, Robert Sperry, Marguerite Wildenhain and Harrison Macintosh, to name a few. He also has the best selection of Heath dinnerware in the North West.
Michael’s passion for American pottery goes way back to his teenage years. Once you strike up a conversation with Michael, it is clear “he knows his stuff”. His knowledge of history and theory, and his enthusiasm for ceramic arts is an inspiration which could easily turn a casual shopper into a “collector”. During my visit, a constant stream of customers flowed in and out, all absorbing Michael’s exuberance for this beautiful and utilitarian art form.
Like a museum, Laguna Pottery is worth a visit just to delve into these uniquely American objects of beauty and utility.
In a time when phrases like “hand made” and “made in America” are bantered about in support of a new domestic manufacturing movement, it is worth taking a close look at how an early 20th century ceramics industry came about. Parallels can easily be drawn between today’s renewed interest in local production, and an earlier time when a massively productive ceramics industry became a vital part of the domestic economy.
Unfortunately, few American manufacturers still exist. As was the case in the UK, another historical center of ceramic production, once a manufacturing infrastructure is dismantled, it is unlikely that it will be rebuilt in its earlier form. I say unfortunately, but rarity makes for a good collecting market, so the value of these early modern brands can only go up. And hopefully a new generation of manufacturing will take hold for future collectors to cherish.
One of the go-to experts on American ceramics today, Michael is the perfect person to chat with for advice on a special purchase, or to help you find your inner-collector instincts. Like a museum, Laguna Pottery is worth a visit just to delve into these uniquely American objects of beauty and utility.
Not planning a visit to Seattle soon? Laguna pottery has a great website you can browse, and they ship worldwide. Have a look, but swing by and visit in person as soon as you can. I am looking forward to my next visit and chat with Michael.
Puerto Rico was the site of my first encounter with Stylist Heather Chontos. The environment was sweltering and just as colorful as it was hot, a far cry from the place of our recent encounter in chilly and muted Portland, Maine. I really liked working with Heather, and back during our first high-humidity collaboration I suspected she had a lot more up her sleeve than styling tables and arranging food.
Back then, Heather had just made the trek back to the US from London, young daughter Cody in tow, after completing an art history and conservation degree at University College of London. There she had gotten her start in textiles and design working on carpets with Christopher Farr of the British Rug, and with the legendary Egg shop (now sadly closed) on Kinnerton Street. (For those who never got the opportunity to visit Egg, for years it was a destination for eclectic clothing in the most exotic natural fabrics.)
Even though our paths had not crossed for some time, I occasionally caught a glimpse of Heather’s work. And when I recently came across her new label, Milk Farm Road, seeing that it was based in Portland, Maine, I took a detour to see the latest Heather Chontos work and to catch up.
I picked up a car in Manhattan and hit the road just as a blizzard was approaching from the west. By the time I crossed the city limits of Portland, it was pretty much a white out. Thanks to my trusty GPS, I soon found my way to the hotel. Next morning, I shoveled out the SUV and headed over to the Heather Chontos studio.
It’s a big space, huge by Brooklyn standards, which was Heather’s last stop. In fact there is, according to Heather, a steady migration under way of former Brooklynites heading to points north in search of space to work and play.
The collage on the wall is as bold as the painted cotton carpet lying in the entry way. You imagine her (Heather Chontos) at work, hands moving frenetically, riffling through scraps of paper and wood …
Heather arrived avec donuts, which were to the taste buds what Heather’s space is to the eye. Holy Donut! No, that’s really the name, Holy Donut. Take it from me, a must visit on your next trip to Portland.
I am most drawn to Heather’s intense relationship with color. The surface she applies it to seems a secondary concern. Whether a chair, canvas, paper, bowl, linen or dish, she paints with a stroke and intensity as if she needs to lay it down before it is lost – like a dream you know you might not remember in the morning. And edges are no limit to her work. If color needs to extend from canvas to wall, chair to floor, bowl to tablecloth, so be it – like an abstract painting that’s gone rogue.
The collage on the wall is as bold as the painted cotton carpet lying in the entry way. You imagine her at work, hands moving frenetically, riffling through scraps of paper and wood … or you think of that Eames chair that she decided to paint over that now stands in the corner of the studio. Or did that chair just get between Heather and another project one day?
Paintings can be small and compact or immensely large. She shows me a “tablecloth” that she crafted from the remnants of a color coordinated dinner. Made from paper the guests used up during the event, it was later thoughtfully stitched back together and hung—intricate yet bold.
Surveying the work, one has the impression that it is the result of a very focused and agile hand. The ease with which paint and a variety of mediums interact, suggests that Heather’s work has so many places yet to go. I feel honored to have seen the work up close before it is widely discovered.
We finish up the donuts (or more precisely, I finish up the donuts) and then it’s time to go pick up Cody and Zana, Heather’s two daughters, as free-spirited and individual as Heather’s artwork. Then we all head over to Kettle Cove, Cape Elizabeth, to walk along the beach and enjoy the famous late afternoon Maine winter light. As the sun set, we said our goodbyes and made plans to visit again soon.
For more insight into the work and process of Heather Chontos I highly recommend her paint blog.
Bring some color into your home with your own Heather Contos creation.
Heather occasionally runs workshops. To participate and get your colors flowing, look at the website for more information.
For our first Bearleader story it was serendipitous that I would think to visit Asya Palatova, the creator of Gleena Ceramics. I worked with Asya for many years in her former life as an art director for Martha Stewart, and as coincidence would have it, our last lunch meeting in the West Village some years ago was almost at the moment she set off on a new career path.
Asya doesn’t remember the details, but it stuck in my memory that on that day she had received her letter of acceptance from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. And now, after completing her MFA with a concentration in Ceramics in 2004, she is well established in her new business, Gleena Ceramics.
Being at the start of my own creative endeavor, it seemed a good omen to kick it all off with a visit to Asya. So with ideas of “turning new pages”, “metamorphosis”, and “forks in the road” swirling in my head, I rented a car and drove from New York City to Providence, Rhode Island, to see her work and have a chat.
I was familiar with Asya’s new work only from looking at it online. I knew that the work was beautiful, but was curious to see how it felt in person. I remember her old desk space when she worked as an Art Director: always with nice collections of things arranged just so, and her wonderful collages. Looking around her new studio I began to understand the arc of her work.
The “Gleena” of Gleena Ceramics is the Russian word for clay.
The work is tender and robust at the same time. It feels organic. I felt compelled to reach out and touch the objects. When she shared memories of her family’s dacha, especially the gardens, I began to understand how those early impressions have found their way into the shapes of mugs, plates and bowls.
Gleena means clay in Russian. Without knowing the meaning, it sounded like it might be a woman’s name. But hearing Asya talk about her influences, the name fits the work in both sound and meaning. The designs are quite feminine and the final products wonderfully imperfect – it’s the way the bowl curves unexpectedly that makes a seemingly uniform product so intriguing.
Asya was kind enough to give me one of her rose-colored bowls, with a swallow in flight printed on the inside. It’s now part of my daily routine. Every morning I look forward to eating my breakfast from that beautiful bowl, and while I do, it makes me think, “Where will I fly today?” (Of course, in my case, “fly” is more likely “cycle”, and since I’m here in London, “where” is usually across Westminster Bridge.)
I asked Asya to show me around her local haunts. I think people that make things are inspired by their surroundings, so I took pictures as she pointed out a doorway and a garden, things that interested her for one reason or another: shapes and colors in her environment that otherwise might go unnoticed. I could see how they were integral to her designs.
Back in the studio Asya empties her latest firing from the kiln. The forms are strikingly modern. Her colors are subtle: pastel pinks, greens, and blues. They could be old fashioned, but in combination with her forms, they turn modern. I am particularly fond of the pink. Hard to describe, but Asya’s Pink Rose glaze feels fresh and new.
We spent two days together and I promised to be back in the winter for another visit. I am looking forward to seeing what’s developed, and to further exploring this part of the world.