Saturday, January 28, 2006

To Sale or Not to Sale?

As most of our readers know, this is our first year of business at Greenjeans. As such, it is our learning year, our year to pay attention and learn from our successes and mistakes. Lately, we are trying to understand what January has to teach us. And it seems to come down to one question: to sale or not to sale?

Here's what we've noticed: shoppers are out there, pacing the pavement during these mild January weekend afternoons, but as they peer through shop window after shop window they seem to be looking for just one sign: SALE. The bigger the better. It's as though items don't even exist if they don't have some kind of markdown tag on them. I understand this -- my Mom, who loved a bargain, taught me long ago never to buy anything at retail price and always to start at the back of the store when shopping. And yet, we have not offered the standard January Sale.

Now, we were very happy with our sales figures from the holiday season. But now, as expected, sales have dropped substantially. This is normal, and yet we can't help but wonder if we're missing out on something. Like making more sales because we're offering some kind of discount on selected items.

The reason we haven't offered a sale is because when we started Greenjeans we vowed never to offer discounts to anybody, no matter what the circumstances: not to friends, not to family, not to interior designers, not to frequent shoppers, no one. We figured the bargain is that shoppers get to own these fine works of handcraft, period. There isn't any place else in the NYC offering what we offer, so why should we discount anything? Besides, we don't get discounts from the artisans, and we're not going to change how much we pay them because we decided to offer their works at a reduced price. So why would we cut the amount we ourselves get paid just because it seems to be the fashion for retailers?

Well, now I'm questioning all that. I mean, maybe I'd rather sell some things at a discount than not sell anything. If putting a sign in the window that says SALE would really pull in more shoppers, then why wouldn't we do it? We are a business after all.

But what I still find distasteful about the idea of offering a sale is that somehow it feels like it cheapens the works we offer. I mean, yes, we're a retail shop, but we're more like a gallery than a store, and what self-respecting art gallery has ever put a SALE sign in the window? Everything we sell is handmade one-at-a-time by an independent artisan. It isn't turned out by the thousands on a machine in China. Where is there room for a discount?

Also, we don't want to get into that silly game of pricing everything 10% or 20% higher than necessary in order to create space for a future markdown. We're not The Gap. Besides, I hate all that retail sale language that suggests one can save money by shopping. Isn't that kind of thinking a main reason for the American economy's ill health?

But back on the other hand, we are a retailer in the contemporary American market economy. And if post-holiday shoppers only respond to the word SALE, then we're the ones being silly by not catering to that expectation. Aren't we?

This is obviously a tough one for me and Jae. But we'll make a decision about it soon. For example, we are considering running some kind of sale during February just to experiment and see what happens.

So watch our shop window. Who knows? You might just see the sign you're looking for: Attention Shoppers, SALE STARTS SOON! Shop at Greenjeans and SAVE!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Greenjeans Recommends: The Girl in the Cafe

A few weeks ago, Jae and I were talking with our friend Amy N. about how we’re thinking of going to Iceland rather than the Caribbean for our honeymoon. Something about the promise of hot springs and clean cold air appeals to us more than snorkeling and palm trees, nuts that we are. She immediately and vehemently recommended the movie The Girl in the Café that she said takes place in Iceland. We added it to our Netflix queue immediately. We got to watch it last night and what a marvelous surprise it was, but not for the reasons we expected.

With a Richard Curtis screenplay and direction from David Yates, this HBO film begins in London with an awkward, lonely finance advisor preparing with a team of delegates for the upcoming G8 Summit. In a crowded café he meets a young woman and they take a shine to each other. After a few hilariously sweet dates, he asks if she would like to accompany him to Reykjavik where the Summit will be held. She accepts. What we don’t expect is how much of an impact the naïve young woman will have on the outcome of the Summit as pertains to the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, a UN-led promise signed by many countries in 2000 to halve extreme global poverty by 2015.

The film is predominantly a very smart and funny romantic comedy. But it also has a message, which toward the end become more emphatic. It’s not Frontline or anything, but if you haven’t been keeping up on your international policy news, this film will give you a good, juicy lesson about global poverty and how world leaders are dealing with poor developing countries in terms of debt relief, aid, and trade. You’ll also get an allegory about the power of a single person’s voice, not to mention a pair of satisfying performances by the credible Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, Gosford Park) and the very funny Bill Nighy (the aging rock star in Love Actually). It’s romantic comedy meets The West Wing in the atmosphere of Lost in Translation, the perfect combination as far as I’m concerned.

There wasn’t much footage of Iceland, and it didn’t make us pine for our northern honeymoon, but it did fan the flame of our growing interest in getting involved in efforts toward relieving global poverty. Anticipating such a reaction, the film’s website provides links to more information about the MDGs and who the G8 is, as well as to aid organizations like

Reviewing a film may seem off-topic for Greenjeans’ blog, but in fact the themes this film deals with resonate strongly with where Greenjeans’ heart is. We recommend it highly.

On a separate note, I’ll be away this week, taking some time off with my Dad and sister in NH and visiting with some artisans. I may not be able to update the blog while I’m away, but check back on Friday or Saturday for a new entry. Meanwhile, add The Girl in the Café to your queue. We think you'll be glad you did.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

True Confessions of a Design-Shy Shopkeeper

Here in the thick of the January lull, Jae and I have begun to work on designing version 2.0 of our shop, which will feature new display cases, jewelry cases, and a proper table or case for the front window. It is a difficult process for me, because, well, I really don't like designing things. That's right. As allegedly creative as I am, and despite my Dad being a designer and builder, I myself hate designing. I can write for hours on end, I can tweak the heck out of a window display, and I can appreciate the rockers off a chair, but ask me what I envision along this wall for these multiple purposes and my mind is a frozen blank. Everything becomes vague descriptions and unintelligible hand gestures, and I lose all connection. It's a frightful handicap to have when one owns a shop, since display is so integral. But there it is. True confession.

So needless to say, this phase of things at the shop is not my cup of tea. I'm cranky and unfocused. Resistant to talking ideas through. And I get tense at the merest suggestion of going over the options again. In fact, as I write my shoulders and upper back are so tense it's giving me a headache. The whole thing makes me want to throw up my hands and rob a bank so we can hire a professional to figure it out. I went through this when we were setting the shop up, too. Pick out wall colors? No problem. But thank goodness Jae has a mind for things like how deep to make the bevel in the shelf because I was at a total loss.

I'm sure there is some kind of psychological explanation for all this, but I'd like to think it's just a quirky character trait. In any event, we will eventually have to settle on something and order it from my Dad, but I'm afraid it's going to be an uphill battle for me. I mean, there are just so many questions to answer. How Shaker-inspired will it be? Will we do shelves or modular boxes? Will we keep the door table and integrate it into the display case or replace it with another surface? How long? How high? How deep? Aaaugh!!!

I would like to choose to let it be easy, but it seems like the more I try to go with the flow the more that flow drives me into a ditch. I think it's just a matter of my mind, but can I put mind over matter? Will Jae and I strangle each other before the drawings are done? Will we ever manage to get to version 2.0? Stay tuned to find out...

Drawing by Jae. Obviously, we've got a long way to go...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


All I can think about today is wind. Ridiculous, nerve-wracking wind. I have never liked wind very much, though I respect it and understand that metaphorically it has to do with the inevitability of change. But then I've always had a paradoxical relationship to change, too: I want it, but I dislike it.

Anyway, this morning I woke up just as the sky was brightening to the sound of ferocious, rip-the-shingles-off-the-roof wind. Rain slashed at the windows as though giving them a hefty flogging. I huddled down in bed and tried to go back to sleep buried under Jae's arm, but the noises kept me awake. I felt like I was on a boat tossing about at sea.

Things had died down a bit by the time I left for the shop at 11:30. But I read in the New York Times this morning that the wind was so severe during the morning commute that it felled trees across the rails of commuter trains, blew over a tractor trailer truck on the GW Bridge, knocked down pedestrians on street corners, and threatened a ferry crossing from New Jersey so much that passengers were calling 911. (They arrived safely, escorted by the Coast Guard and the NYPD.) And the temperature hit 60-degrees today. This is not to mention that we have had three thunder-and-lightning storms this month. Three! In January!

I understand that signs of global warming can be found in erratic weather patterns and the increasing severity of storms. If this all isn't a sign of global warming...

Let us all try to do better by our environment. Or we'll all end up swimming with the fishes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Word of the Day: Pronoia

A few months ago, while waiting for a sandwich at Naidre's, I picked up a copy of The Sun sticking out of the magazine rack by the door and started flipping through. The Sun is a venerable magazine that I respect and enjoy when we meet, and though it’s a little new-agey for me, it often has excellent content.

On this morning, a word on the top of a page caught my eye: "Pronoia." Huh, I thought. I read the subtitled of the article: "How the world is conspiring to shower you with blessings." Wow. What a luscious idea! My eyes hit "Definition: Pronoia is the antidote for paranoia. It's the understanding that the universe is fundamentally friendly. It's a means of training your senses and intellect so that you're able to perceive the fact that life always gives you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.

"Hypotheses: Evil is boring. Cynicism is idiotic. Fear is a bad habit. Despair is lazy. Joy is fascinating. Love is an act of heroic genius. Pleasure is our birthright."

(Click here for a link to the article.)

The notion immediately brought to mind my favorite yoga instructor, Summer Deaver, and the beautiful things she says during practice that help me feel right as rain. The piece was by Rob Brezsny whom, as I've discovered today while researching a bit for this entry, is the man responsible for putting this meme "pronoia" into circulation through books and such. (Although he didn't invent the word. For more info about that click here. Something about zippys and astrology…)

Anyway, I read through the article and as I did the color of my day shifted. Soon my sandwich was ready and I left the article open on the little table for someone else to discover. But I carried the thought with me all day, sharing it with a few people, and letting it dwell in my mind as a happy reminder that when things seem all wrong, sometimes it's just a matter of my own perspective.

That was a few months ago. And since then, I don't think a day goes by that the word doesn't pop into my head. It has become something like a little fairy that shows up when I least expect it and reminds me to be grateful and to feel the abundance around me. And we can all use a little of that from time to time.

I think from time to time we could all stand to be a little more pronoid about the world and our place in it. So, here's to the conspiracy. May it help us all to feel a little warmer and a little more fearless.

But one question: why is it that so often things -- images, sounds, wording -- having to do with spirituality are so kitschy? I had to go to Nasa for this image. Guess that's a topic for another time...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Consumer Culture: Truth and Inconsequence

This week the news reported that super-best-selling author James Frey made up some of the significant moments in his “memoir,” A Thousand Little Pieces. He fictionalized what was touted as the truth. Problem is, his book was received with overwhelming accolades because of how inspiring the story is supposed to be, inspiring because purportedly true.

After the truth was revealed that he didn’t tell the truth (how layered it all becomes), Frey's biggest fan, Oprah, came out and said it didn’t matter, that the book was still so powerful that the fact he lied didn’t matter.

But I have my doubts that the book would have received such heightened attention if it had been peddled as a novel. And surely Frey wouldn’t have made the kind of money he has off the dramatic sales. Instead, in keeping with the times, Frey seems to be profiting off his lies.

What is happening here? I seem to recall a time when I was young that lying was punishable by grounding or, more dramatically, by being forced to go back and confess the truth. I always knew when I was lying, and I usually felt kind of thrilled when I told a lie but also pretty guilty about it. If I were James Frey, I would be utterly humiliated not only for lying but for going on national TV and coming clean. For whether it was him or his publisher who decided to hawk his heart-breaking tale as the god’s honest truth, the fact remains that he stood behind the lie and made the bucks with his eyes wide open.

If a redemption story is told through lies, does it somehow betray the redeemed?

But I digress. Because my real point is that these days it seems that lying is not only more and more the norm, but it is also met with less and less resistance. People don’t seem to be getting outraged when their leaders, political or cultural, lie to them. Instead, we seem to be growing increasingly complacent. There is no recourse against high-profile liars. What's more, the liars seem to be ever less concerned about covering their tracks. The cheating CEOs of Tyco and Enron are not in prison. Our President is not undergoing impeachment proceedings. Instead they just shrug their shoulders and kick a little dirt over the wet spot. Though maybe their time will come.

Perhaps we are just exhausted from the daily slights against us. Perhaps we are numb. Maybe our increasing hipness to the white lies of advertising has rendered us immune to truth.

Back in college I liked to watch The X-Files. I was always compelled by David Duchovny’s character not only because I had a crush on him, but also because he was so enamored of finding The Truth. This driving mission didn’t really resonate with me at the time, but I found his valor sexy. I think I was more interested in impressions and subjective experiences at that time.

But lately I am finding myself increasingly distressed about the state the truth in our society. People probably still get mad at their kids when they lie, but how can they when high-profile role models lie and get away with it, even benefit from it? And even if people are bothered, are they, are we, willing to fight for the truth? To fight for the truth for Truth’s sake?

The X-Files always promised in the end “the truth is out there.” I don’t think anyone doubts that. But the question is, does anyone care?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Does Living Amidst Beautiful Objects Promote Longevity?

A woman who came into Greenjeans today left me with a compelling idea. She really liked the shop and as she walked out the door with a pretty new pair of earrings she said to me over her shoulder, "I've heard somewhere that being surrounded by beautiful things makes you live longer." Then she smiled and disappeared.

I've been thinking about that all day now. And related thoughts have crossed my mind from time to time throughout my life. But could it really be true that working at Greenjeans and being surrounded by beautiful things all day is extending my life and Jae’s? And what about our customers? Could a visit to Greenjeans bring them a dose of good health? Could bringing beautiful pieces from our shop, or from anywhere for that matter, into their own homes add hours, days, years to their lives? Has anyone studied this?

I’ve had feelings that hint the woman’s notion is plausible. For example, I spent the day yesterday at the Met with a close girl friend (the Rauschenberg Combines show is worthwhile and the Rara Avis show is pure inspiration!), and just walking around the well-ordered galleries harmoniously filled with beautiful, interesting objects made me feel lighter, comfortable, happy. I often get that feeling inside museums. Or gardens. Or libraries. Or nicely-kept homes. Or charming shops. And it seems to me that feeling like that can only be beneficial to one's health and well-being.

I studied Heidegger in grad school and was very taken with phenomenology, which is basically the study of things and how we relate to things. A phenomenologist would say that my feeling actually comes from the objects in the surroundings themselves. It isn't just an idea in my head or a feeling caused by circumstances. The mood is real and it comes from the things. (It's really a more complicated intersubjective experience, but the point is that the things are not cold, lifeless objects that we merely project onto. They are issuing forth their own business as well.)

Well, if this is the case, then it would make sense to me that living amidst beautiful things, things that bring good vibes and joy and peace and pleasure, would be beneficial to one's health, maybe even extending one's life. And that living in disorder, in squalor, in a mess of ugliness, would be detrimental to one's health. Maybe that’s why William Morris famously said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I think those who advocate feng-shui or other studied practices of balancing and harmonizing one's surroundings would attest to this. But I wonder if there have been any Western studies. Not that studies would really convince me any more one way or the other. But still.

Moreover, I think there is something added to this since everything in the shop is made by hand. I think there is something even more powerful about beautiful handmade things than beautiful manufactured things. There is definitely a different vibe or mood given off by a work made by hand than a thing made by machine. But that’s a topic for another day.

I think William Morris, John Ruskin, Oscar Wilde, and their ilk during the Aesthetics Movement have spoken to these ideas. I've done a few google searches (beautiful surroundings longjevity, beautiful objects live longer, etc.) but haven't come up with anything. If anyone has suggestions for reading more about the relationship between beautiful surroundings and longevity I'd love to hear them and explore all this some more. (Incidentally, I came across one lovely blog by a British woman called "Three Beautiful Things" where she writes every day about three things she's found beautiful that day. Very nice.)

Meanwhile, I'm just going to take a little more pleasure in my job, knowing that in addition to being good for my soul and my mind, it may just be good for my body as well (if indeed there is any difference among the three). And I will take even more pleasure knowing that the beautiful things we offer at Greenjeans are here for everyone to come and see, and even to take home with them. That is really what motivates Jae and I every day. And we hope it brings some inspiration to you, too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Studio Visit: Mary Anne Davis

Mary Anne Davis, who makes the vivid, bespoke dishes and dinnerware we carry at Greenjeans, is someone I'm very glad to have met. She is a tremendously energetic woman, as vivid as her glazes, whose mind is always going a mile a minute. She is incredibly devoted to community, sustainability, art, and peace. And she inspires me every time I talk with her or talk about her work.

What first attracted Jae and I to her work were her little confetti-dot juice cups. (We have a display of her confetti-dot pieces in the window of the shop now -- stop by and take a look!) Their slightly irregular shapes lend an air of comfort and warmth to the cool white porcelain and the riot of colorful dots which might otherwise appear too jumpy. Mary Anne is inspired by the Japanese aethetic of wabi-sabi, or beauty in imperfection, and embraces these irregularities as an integral part of the beauty and individuality of a piece. The somewhat "wobbly" look of all her pieces -- cups, plates, bowls, pitchers, vases -- animates them and it seems to appeal to shoppers who can hardly help but pick up the bright, shiny, tactile objects.

Tables come to life when set with Mary Anne's dishes. Jae and I once had dinner at her home after a studio visit, and she set her table with an assortment of her pieces, allowing the patterns and colors to spontaneously mix and match with soft, floral cloth napkins and heavy silverware. The dishes themselves were exciting to look at, invigorating even, and they lent an air of fun, openness, and dynamism to the meal. They were even a pleasure to wash in the sink afterwards, their slightly undulating shapes helping me to remain mindful, turning a mundane task into a kind of meditation.

Mary Anne's artwork extends beyond her beautiful porcelain dishes into the realms of painting, sculpture, and performance. Her work is exhibited in art galleries, most recently at Mark McDonald in Hudson, NY, and we have exhibited a few studio pieces at Greenjeans including two sweatered vases from her Women of Power series and currently a large vase.

One of my favorite of Mary Anne's artworks is her "Mala Meal Project," which she performed at the Resurgence Earth & Religion Conference in upstate NY in June 2005. (Scroll down the page to see her piece.) For this piece she made 108 clay rice bowls in different colors as well as a large central bowl to hold the rice. The bowls are a metaphor for the beads in a mala, which is a prayer necklace or bracelet. Participants sit in a circle with their bowls and benedictions and prayers from diverse religious traditions are offered, followed by a simple communal meal. I think this project is poetic and must be a lovely, memorable connective experience for participants.

After years of having her work available through Neiman Marcus and various other retailers, we are honored to be Mary Anne's sole retail outlet now. We have juice cups, cake plates, seed and pod vases, and serving platters, and mugs. Table settings are made to order in any combination of 12 colors and multiple shapes. These are dishes you won't want to stash away in a cupboard -- they are sculpture you can eat on and beg to be used and displayed. You can learn more about Mary Anne and her work by visiting her recently-launched blog where she writes about art, commerce, her studio/think tank Davistudio in Chatham, NY, and other happenings and ideas:

We have a great deal of synergy, Mary Anne and I, and hope to do all kinds of things together in the future including collaborating on writings that explore the connections among the handmade, the environment, the economy, and the artist. Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Delightfully Small World

Today the world was normal and then it suddenly became delightfully small. Jae and I were filing away 2005 sales receipts and making new folders for 2006. There had been some foot traffic but mostly what I call shop tourists, folks who are out and about happily browsing with no intention of spending money on anything except brunch and the Sunday Times. It was a normal, low-key, get-things-done kind of Sunday.

At one point two women walked in and I looked up from my paper shuffling to greet them. "I know you!" the cute freckled one exclaimed, and I was suddenly shocked out of my quiet everyday hum. I studied her face and she seemed to look familiar too, but I didn't recognize her name, which is Jamie Rivers. We played a quick round of name-game and within a few minutes discovered that we are both alumna of The George Washington University where we were both in the honors program studying International Relations during roughly the same years. We obviously must have had some classes together, maybe were even in a study group together. I asked her if she ever used to go to the Olives and Wax poetry reading coffeehouses which I ran, and she said she did, so maybe we knew each other from there, too.

Anyway, we were so excited to realize these connections, and found it quite something that now we're both running independent shops! Jamie owns Sugar Boutique in Pittsburgh, a sweet spot filled with great jewelry, apparel, handbags, and the like by up-and-coming indy designers from all over. She was in town on a buying trip, and had come to the South Slope to visit Rena Tom who owns the indy design store Rare Device down the block. As it turns out, Sugar Boutique has been carrying Rena's jewelry for almost three years. What a small world!

Being the constant business women that we are, we soon started trading names of interesting jewelers and various craft fairs. Jamie was admiring Chelle Kraus' jewelry here and so I emailed Chelle today to put them in contact. It would be lovely if our chance re-meeting could result in more exposure for Chelle, who certainly deserves it. And I’m sure Jamie and I will keep in touch – it’s great to meet new colleagues!

It is lovely when your run-of-the-mill day gets taken in a whole new direction by a chance meeting. That is a big part of why I like being in contact with the public every day, rather than being holed up in a library doing research or at a desk in some office. I feel more in contact with the flow of life here than any other place I've worked. This is yet another reason why I think Greenjeans is the right course for me now. And why I feel so happy here. But wow I haven't thought about ol' G-Dub in ages -- taking a flashback to my campus days has been kind of a crazy trip!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Easy, Pleasant Day at Greenjeans

Today was an easy, pleasant day at Greenjeans. Since the holiday frenzy is over and we've had time to recover, we are starting to get back to a more sustainable routine. Jae spent yesterday at the studio, and I had two days off this week, so we're finding more time for our own pursuits. And since there aren't as many people out shopping, those who do come in can take their time and really look at things, and we can talk with them more, which we like to do.

Today we arrived at noon and went down to the Italian cafe, Parco, for our usual croissant and double espresso. Actually today I had a latte, craving the hot sweet milk. As usual we spent the first hour or so at the shop with email and looking at the day's news. Customers drifted in and out casually browsing on their way to brunch. Our friend Amy N. came by and while she waited for her hair appointment at the salon down the street we talked about her new job at a small indy documentary film company that she happily starts on Monday.

Later on, Amy N. sent a man over whom she met at the salon and thought would like what we're doing here. Turned out he spends time in Maine and does some woodworking, so we talked about studio spaces in Brooklyn for wood working and how much of a range there is in the crafting world, from the fun, kitschy DIY stuff to masterful, museum-quality furniture. Jae went out to get more file folders and other organizing stuff so we can sort out our 2005 materials and make way for 2006, and I did a bunch of inventory stuff and other officy tasks.

At one point, a young Japanese woman came in, looked around, and left, then returned about a half hour later and bought a helicopter by Frank Ridley to send to her friend's new baby in Japan. I love it when people leave but then come back -- it means that the works we have here make an impression on them, stick in their minds.

And another woman came in who, last week with her husband, bought the armless Shaker Chair that I'll feature on the blog soon. It was a bit of an impulse buy for them -- they didn't have to deliberate it much. When a customer recognizes quality right away like they did it's very gratifying. She had come in to admire the stainless stell handbags again, which are what drew her in the first time.

Later in the day we had a visit from a woman who has been in a few times before and really resonates with the work we have in the shop. She takes her time and loves to handle the pieces. She is careful and thoughtful and kind and we love her visits. She bought one of the magic wands that Dan Dustin makes. It's a 14" long, gorgeously narrow piece of lilac that he carves with the grain so that it isn't perfectly straight but rather bends and arcs with the grain. She also chose a pair of earrings by Chelle Kraus that are cast from ginko leaves, and another pair by Erica Schlueter that are tiny pieces of silver riveted together sort of like books. On other visits, she has quickly spotted the finest pieces of pottery and scooped them up, all the while lamenting the state of her small apartment that is overcrowded with nice things. She's a poet and a school teacher nearby, though I'm not sure what she teacher. A really charming woman. We love her.

Later in the afternoon we were craving pizza because of an episode of West Wing we watched last night. (We're hooked on West Wing and are watching the whole series in order through Netflix. Last night we watched five episodes...) Then I returned Mary Anne Davis' call. She is really excited about the potential for the blog thing, and we seem to have a serious synergy in our mutual commitment to conscientious living and helping more and more people to be mindful of the world they live in and the choices they make. I hope one day we're able to do a book together...

Now it is nearly 7:00 and time to close. Jae is on the phone with his brother and I am, well, blogging. I don't know what our plans are tonight. I guess the night will take us where it wants. But it's likely that the night will end with at least on episode of West Wing. Oh if only Martin Sheen's character were the actual President...

So that's it, a typical day in the life of Amy Shaw and Jae Kim at Greenjeans. During the week there is more officy tasks and less socializing, but that isn't as interesting to write about. Or else it's a topic for another easy, low-key day's blog entry.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Craft of Mummification

Last night Jae and I watched a program on Nova about a mummy found in Niagara Falls that turns out to be the pharaoh Rameses I ("The Mummy Who Would Be King"). What does this have to do with Greenjeans? Well, what struck me was how the process of making a mummy sounded to me like an act of great craftsmanship and artistry. I’d never thought of mummies like that before, but I thought I’d write about it today.

What drew my attention to what I’ll call the craft of mummification was when the program showed a group of experts trying to determine whether or not this was indeed a royal mummy by examining the ways in which the mummy was made, that is, the craftsmanship. In ancient Egypt, a person of high station and wealth would have a much more elaborate and carefully prepared mummy than a poor person. So for example, in the Niagara Falls mummy, after the brain was removed through the nose, the skull cavity was filled with liquid resin, a detail not normally found with common mummies. The organs (except the heart) were carefully removed as usual, but then were replaced by tightly wound pieces of linen. (The organs themselves were wrapped in linen and placed into individually decorated canopic jars.) The skin of this mummy appeared particularly intact and smooth, as though special care had been given to its preparation. And there was something about the way this mummy’s arms were crossed at his heart rather than at the pelvis that indicated royalty. Without these details, there would be no way to know whether or not this mummy had once been a pharaoh.

Later, I went online to look at the show’s website. There I found an audio slideshow called “Making Mummies” where I learned more about the craft of mummification. For instance, after the body had been emptied of all its organs, it would be washed in water and palm wine. Then to dry the body, they would use a substance called “natrun” which was harvested from a nearby salt flat. Natrun is basically salt and baking soda, and it worked by both drawing moisture out of the body while disinfecting and deodorizing. Little sacks of natrun would be distributed throughout body, and then they body would be buried and covered in natrun for 40 days.

Once fully dried, the body would be removed from the natrun and, to help reconstitute it, filled and rubbed with oils. Once this was done, the wrapping ritual would begin, accompanied by incantations and the burning of incense. Amulets to protect the soul on its journey to the next world would be wrapped in with the linen as well. And then the body would be wrapped in a shroud, which might be decorated or not depending on the person’s wealth. A sort of papier-mâché mask could be added, and then the outer sarcophagus which might be painted and even gilded.

I also thought it was interesting that the head priest in charge of making the mummy would wear a mask representing the jackal-god Anubis as he worked, suggesting that the work of mummy-making required divine intervention to be a success (perhaps like craft needs inspiration to really sing?).

I have no plans to bring finely crafted mummies to Greenjeans. Nor am I looking for a class on mummification so I can buy an Anubis mask and learn to make mummies at home. But I like to think about how humans have long been dedicated to honing their skills and taking on involved processes that result in well-made works of art.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Snuggliest Blanket for Nights Like These

On nights like tonight, after trudging through the cold, damp morning to work, avoiding going out all day, then slipping and sliding back in the sleet and the dark, all you want when you come home is a nice warm... anything -- bath, slippers, tea...

...And blanket.

Because we all know there's nothing better on a night like tonight than curling up on the couch with your favorite movie/book and your favorite snuggling companion, be it animal, human, or stuffed.

Well, Greenjeans has the ultimate snuggling blanket for such nights as these. Handwoven from luxurious, gorgeously dyed fibers like mohair, wool, and silk, these throw blankets are simply the end. They are made in the Connecticut countryside by Patricia Burling, an established fiber artisan who began her career amidst the craftspeople of North Carolina.

Patricia draws inspiration from her natural surroundings to mix sumptuous color palettes for her weavings. Rich hues of red make up the Hibiscus blanket. Varigated greens, purples, and blues comprise the Heather-on-the-Moor blanket. Tones of celery, blush, and leaf create the Early Spring blanket, the coloring of which reminds me of celadon glazed pottery.

The blankets are a generous 48 x 76 inches with 12" long fringe at the ends, and they can be washed gently in the washing machine. Each one sells for $380, which may seem like more than one needs to spend for comfort, but these are superbly handmade works of fiber art that you can live with and use for your whole lifetime. And they are so elegant that when not wrapped around your shoulders they'll bring great warmth and color to your room hung on a peg or over a chair.

There's nothing better than art you can use, especially when it's so warm and fuzzy. Besides, you're worth it. Especially on nights like these.