Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The annual Fall Sale is here! Please email me for more information if you are interested in attending at backpockets at gmail dot com

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


"Early humans shaped and scraped clay to make vessels, cooked in them and realised they hardened, learned to make them impervious to water, and also to decorate them, with incisions and with glazes made from salts and metals. All pots are different, and all resemble each other (except for some defiant modern monsters). They are made elementally, using earth, air, fire and water. They represent the arts of peace, domestication, and elegance, whether of pure simplicity of form or of bravura demonstration of difficult mastery of techniques and images. They are where art meets craft, the useful meets the beautiful."

-- AS Byatt, "The Wonders of Porcelain", The Guardian. October 10, 2009.

For more reflections on ceramics, art, and life in general, my mother, potter Jennifer Coffin, has started a blog

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

An article from Newsweek suggests that there is evidence that Americans are finally settling down, and moving less. This is great! Hopefully it is a sign of a resurgence of family and place loyalty.

The Tate and Wallace and Gromit!

The Tate Museum in England and the animators of Wallace and Gromit are getting together to create a movie about the artworks in the Tate for children. It should be released by 2012. How fun is this?!

Wandering Mind

"Clive Thompson on Why Mind Idling is Mother of Invention": Schooler suspects that research like his explains why so many “aha” moments occur when we’re drifting — like Archimedes in the tub.

Evolution and Concept Art

This fascinating article by Denis Dutton from the New York Times, "Has Conceptual Art Jumped the Shark Tank". Dutton fairly recently published The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution.

"We ought, then, to stop kidding ourselves that painstakingly developed artistic technique is passé, a value left over from our grandparents’ culture. Evidence is all around us. Even when we have lost contact with the social or religious ideas behind the arts of bygone civilizations, we are still able, as with the great bronzes or temples of Greece or ancient China, to respond directly to craftsmanship. The direct response to skill is what makes it possible to find beauty in many tribal arts even though we often know nothing about the beliefs of the people who created them. There is no place on earth where superlative technique in music and dance is not regarded as beautiful.

"The appreciation of contemporary conceptual art, on the other hand, depends not on immediately recognizable skill, but on how the work is situated in today’s intellectual zeitgeist."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Henri's Walk to Paris

I wish I could find a copy of this book!

Planner has a name!

La Belle Revue

A blog with limited entries, but a very nice selection of magazine art and advertising from 1880-1930.

Two Children's Literature Resources

The International Children's Digital Library : According to blogger Jessica Palmer, "The mission of the Children's Digital Library is to give children of immigrants all over the world access to children's books in their native tongue. But it's not really surprising that English books constitute the majority of the collection, or that older (and thus out-of-copyright) books predominate. It may be unintentional, but it makes the Children's Digital Library a bonanza for those of us who miss old cloth-bound children's books like the Oz series."

Evidently the digital books include the original illustrations as well. 

The Reading Spot, is an Australian online collection of children's literature. Unfortunately, the site is not up right now. I will provide a link when it works again. 

Bembo's Zoo

Thanks to Babyology I have just learned about this great illustrated alphabet book, Bembo's Zoo. It's written/illustrated by Roberto De Vicq De Cumptic It's not just another illustrated alphabet book either, the author uses the letters of the words to create the illustrations. So fun. The Flash website is really neat too, and fun to play with (for kids too!)

It's not in available right now, but it looks as though Amazon is getting more in soon. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Children's Book Pt. 2: Dissection

Byatt's capacity for creating a slow (470 page) lead up to the perfect scene is both frustratingly deliberate and then suddenly, inexorably impressed on your mind. There were so many in this brutal book, that I am going to restrict myself to one. Often bizarre, and, in anyone else's less capable hands, these scenes are almost comical in their blatant imagery.

"Quite suddenly and farcically, she fell in love. She fell in love with a demonstrator, Dr. Bart, during a dissection class. He was showing her the human heart, and how to extract it from the cavity where it lay and no longer beat. There was a smell - a stink - of formaldehyde. The room was ventilated by a small opening in the end wall, with a gas jet burning to draw up the heated air. The hospital was a converted house - the space was cramped and full of women, twenty living, one dead, soft and leathery. Dr. Barty asked Dorothy to make the cuts to extract the organ, a cross-shaped cut in the pericardium, then, with a larger scalpel, slices through the six blood vessels going into the heart, and the two that went out. Dr. Barty - a muscular, youngish man, in a green buttoned overall and surgical cap - congratulated Dorothy on the precision of her work. He told her to take out the heart, and place it in the tray for another student to continue. Dorothy put her hands round the heart, and tugged. She looked up at the bearded, severely smiling Dr. Barty, and saw him. It was as though time stopped, as though she stood there for ever with another woman's heart in her hands. She saw every lively hair of his black brows, and the wonderful greens and greys of his irises, and the dark tunnels of his pupils, opened on her. She saw the chiseled look of his lips, in the fronds of his rich beard, reddish-black, curling softly. His teeth were white and even. She must have been studying him for weeks, quite as much as the inanimate fingers and toes, tarsals and metatarsals he exposed to her.
   "Her helplessness made her furious. She took in a deep breath of tainted air and fell unconscious to the ground: the dead heart rolled damply beside her."

AS Byatt
The Children's Book, p. 470


It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner--no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat--the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

CS Lewis
The Weight of Glory, Theology, vol. XLII (Nov.  1941), pp. 273-74

Friday, October 16, 2009

Old Jeans, New Blanket

I love this traditional African American quilt idea of making a quilt from old jeans. This one is nicely modern and abstract, and not at all "country".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Upcoming Exhibits

The National Geographic Society is hosting the terra cotta warriors from China, along with the largest exhibit of Chinese antiquities to ever travel out of China. 

17th & M Streets NWWashingtonDC 20036
View Map
Dates: November 19, 2009 to March 31, 2010
Daily: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Wednesdays: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Other events associated with this exhibit:


The Emperor and His Terra Cotta Army

November 21, 2009 @ 2:00 p.m.

Free Film Screenings

The Real Dragon Emperor (2006/60min)

The latest archaeological research and imaging techniques take you inside the massive tomb of China's first emperor.
National Geographic–Grosvenor Auditorium
November 19, 2009 – March 31, 2010
Noon on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays
Saturday, November 21: 10:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 4:00 p.m.
Noon and 2:00 p.m. on the following Saturdays: 11/28, 12/26, 1/30, 2/27, 3/27

The Textile Museum will be hosting Contemporary Japanese Fashion: The Mary Baskett Collection

October 17, 2009 – April 11, 2010

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Japanese designers Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto shocked the fashion world by introducing avant-garde styles that challenged received Western notions of “chic.” Informed in part by Japanese traditions such as the kimono, obi and the art of origami, these designers produced radical garments with shapes and textures often incongruous with the natural contours of the human body. 

The National Gallery of Art's The Art of Power: Royal Armor and Portraits from Imperial Spain is about to leave (Nov. 1). I am not usually an armor buff! but this exhibit is well worth visiting. It's fascinating to see the real armor that exists in the portraits... but moreover, they have on display Albrecht Durer's HUGE Triumphal Arch. It is made up of dozens of individual wood-block prints, covering an entire wall. It is really extraordinary, both b/c of the impact of the scale and the intricate detailing achieved. 

Margaret Drabble

...is AS Byatt's sister, and a novelist in her own right. She has just published a memoir/history of jigsaw puzzles, The Pattern on the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws. The Post has a couple of interesting pieces about the book, as well as a podcast interview.

It looks fascinating. Here's a snippet of her own article about writing the book:

As I stitched these bits of patchwork together, I found that I was creating what I proudly consider a wholly original form of memoir -- not as original as Perec's famous work "The Void" (1969), in which he entirely avoids using the letter "e" -- but original nevertheless, in its English way. It traces my childhood, through moments from my first village school through seaside holidays and board games and card games and jigsaws, but it also tracks the history of childhood, which, as we are now told, not wholly convincingly, is a construct dating back only to the Enlightenment. This approach allowed me (as acute readers will note) to avoid material that would have disturbed the mood, but it also permitted me moments of what I would call "controlled disclosure" -- moments when a patch of black or of violent scarlet drips into the narrative, and then is safely surrounded by more friendly, less distressing colors.

My controlling metaphor in the book is the jigsaw puzzle, as it was for Perec, but I note that I have also invoked (as he does not) metaphors drawn from the half-arts (as Goethe called them) of needlework and crafts. Writing and stitching have something in common, to me, and this is not because I am a good needlewoman (I am not) but because the patient assembling and incremental growth of a piece of text, as of a piece of tapestry, offer similar satisfactions. Writing offers terrors that stitching mercifully lacks: hopeless failure, self-disgust, existential despair. You don't suffer those emotions when working on a needlepoint cushion.

Interesting video

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Children's Book Pt. 1: Words

Byatt: "Thinking and writing are making connections. I once gave a reading in a university where a student said self-righteously 'You used a word I didn't know in that reading. Don't you think that was elitist of you?' I replied that if I were her I should have rushed to the dictionary in glee and delight."

"A word?!" I have an entire list from Byatt's last novel alone! I have completed Byatt's new The Children's Book finally, and will post a couple of times on it. The first is all the words that I did not know while reading, and I have looked them all up. I cannot find definitions for 3 of them! So any help that you can give would be great. :)

Btw, I found a great site, when looking for the hard to find words: OneLook. It searches many different online dictionaries, and provides links for the ones that come up with definitions. It is very low-tech, but works great. I had pictures with some of these, and will try and re-insert them at some point, as they are helpful, but I am frustrated with formatting this right now!

·       Almoner: 1 : one who distributes alms2 British : a social-service worker in a hospital
·       Archets:
·       Besom: broom 2; especially : one made of twigs
·       Blancmange: a usually sweetened and flavored dessert made from gelatinous or starchy ingredients and milk
·       Boll: the pod or capsule of a plant (as cotton)
·       Borzois: any of a breed of large dogs developed in Russia especially for pursuing wolves that have a long silky usually white coat with darker markings —called also Russian wolfhound
·       Bryony: any of a genus (Bryonia) of tendril-bearing vines of the gourd family with large leaves and red or black fruit

·       Cabochons: a gem or bead cut in convex form and highly polished but not faceted
·       Cadge: beg, sponge
·       Campion: any of various plants (genera Lychnis and Silene) of the pink family
·       Cannikin: a small can or drinking vessel
·       Chiromancer: palmistry
·       Chrysoprase: an apple-green chalcedony valued as a gem
·       Cissy: British variant of sissy
·       Coeval: of the same or equal age, antiquity, or duration
·       Coppicing: to cut back so as to regrow in the form of a coppice (1 : a thicket, grove, or growth of small trees2 : forest originating mainly from shoots or root suckers rather than seed)
·       Cortege: 1 : a train of attendants : retinue2 : procession; especially : a funeral procession
·       Dado: 1 a : the part of a pedestal of a column above the base b : the lower part of an interior wall when specially decorated or faced; also : the decoration adorning this part of a wall2 : a rectangular groove cut to make a joint in woodworking; specifically : one cut across the grain
·       Damascene: to ornament (as iron or steel) with wavy patterns like those of watered silk or with inlaid work of precious metals
·       Douceur: a conciliatory gift
·       Dowsing: to use a divining rod
·       Durbars: 1 : court held by an Indian prince2 : a formal reception held by an Indian prince or an African ruler
·       Efts: newt; especially : the terrestrial phase of a predominantly aquatic newt
·       Engobe: liquid clay slips of varying compositions which are applied to the surface of a clay object, e.g. a pot. The purpose of the engobe can be as different as the varied forms it comes in: to give color to a piece; to improve the surface texture; to provide a ground to do further decoration on; to add textures.
·       Exigent: 1 : requiring immediate aid or action 2 : requiring or calling for much : demanding
·       Faience: earthenware decorated with opaque colored glazes

·       Fakir: 1: a Muslim mendicant : dervish b : an itinerant Hindu ascetic or wonder-worker2: impostor; especially : swindler
·       Fly-agaric: a medium to large poisonous amanita mushroom (Amanita muscaria) with a usually bright red cap

·       Fly: A fly was a horse-drawn public coach or delivery wagon, especially one let out for hire. In Britain, the term also referred to a light covered vehicle, such as a single-horse pleasure carriage or a hansom cab.
·       Frit: 1 : the calcined or partly fused materials of which glass is made2 : any of various chemically complex glasses used ground especially to introduce soluble or unstable ingredients into glazes or enamels
·       Gentian: 1 : any of numerous herbs (family Gentianaceae, the gentian family, and especially genus Gentiana) with opposite smooth leaves and showy usually blue flowers2 : the rhizome and roots of a yellow-flowered gentian (Gentiana lutea) of southern Europe that is used as a tonic, stomachic, and flavoring in vermouth

·       Gibbets: 1 : gallows 1a2 : an upright post with a projecting arm for hanging the bodies of executed criminals as a warning
·       Glost: lead glaze used for pottery
·       Ichneumon: any of a large superfamily (Ichneumonoidea) of hymenopterous insects whose larvae are usually internal parasites of other insect larvae and especially of caterpillars —called also ichneumon fly

·       Inglenook: a nook by a large open fireplace; also : a bench or settle occupying this nook
·       Jerks: exercises?
·       Kobold: 1 : a gnome that in German folklore inhabits underground places2 : an often mischievous domestic spirit of German folklore
·       Madrepores: any of various stony reef-building corals (order Madreporaria) of tropical seas that assume a variety of branching, encrusting, or massive forms
·       Mana: 1 : the power of the elemental forces of nature embodied in an object or person2 : moral authority
·       Mooted: 1 archaic : to discuss from a legal standpoint : argue2 a : to bring up for discussion : broach b : debate
·       Oast-house: An oast or oast house is an example of vernacular architecture in England, especially Kent and Sussex. They are farm buildings used for drying hops in preparation for the brewing process. They consist of two or three storeys on which the hops were spread out to be dried by hot air from a wood or charcoal-fired kiln at the bottom.
·       Opercules: lids (as in eyes, I believe)
·       Pannikins: a small pan or cup
·  Pucceles: ???
·       Putsch: a secretly plotted and suddenly executed attempt to overthrow a government
·       Radiolarians: any of three classes (Acantharia, Polycystina, and Phaeodaria) of usually spherical chiefly planktonic marine protozoans having radiating threadlike pseudopodia and often a siliceous skeleton of spicules
·       Repured: ???
·       Saggar: a box made of fireclay in which delicate ceramic pieces are fired
·       Samphire: 1 : a fleshy European seacoast plant (Crithmum maritimum) of the carrot family that is sometimes pickled2 : a common glasswort (Salicornia europaea) that is sometimes pickled
·       Sappers: 1 : a military specialist in field fortification work (as sapping)2 : a military demolitions specialist
·       Scoffing: 1 : to eat greedily ed dinner>2 : seize —often used with up
·       Sempiternal: of never-ending duration : eternal
·       Serge: a durable twilled fabric having a smooth clear face and a pronounced diagonal rib on the front and the back
·       Snood: 1 a Scottish : a fillet or band for a woman's hair b : a net or fabric bag pinned or tied on at the back of a woman's head for holding the hair

·       Sorrel: any of various plants or plant parts with sour juice: as a : any of various docks (as Rumex acetosa and R. acetosella); also : the leaves used as a potherb b : wood sorrel
·       Susurration: a whispering sound : murmur
·       Tett: ???
·       Tourbillon: 1 : whirlwind 12 : a vortex especially of a whirlwind or whirlpool
·       Uitlander: : foreigner; especially : a British resident in the former republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State
·       Undines: an elemental being in the theory of Paracelsus inhabiting water : water nymph
·       Vulpine: 1 : of, relating to, or resembling a fox2 : foxy, crafty
·       Woof: 1 a : weft 1a b : woven fabric; also : the texture of such a fabric2 : a basic or essential element or material