Archive for December, 2010

Oi Yin’s Story
December 21, 2010

As we “say a little prayer” for Aretha Franklin, I ask that the family of Oi Yin Gonzalez and the countless families affected by cancer be lifted as well. As I viewed the marvelous orange display of last night’s rare and powerful lunar eclipse/winter solstice combo, I thought of them and the possibility of the miraculous as well as the gift of acceptance.

Please view the video below from the Cancer Respite organization, For Pete’s Sake:

I met Oi Yin and her family years ago when she and I were in the bridal party of our dear friend, artist Fran Mack.  She and her husband, Rafael, both engineers, were about as lovely a couple as I’d ever come across. Deeply in love, devoted parents to two small children, their’s was a life that was golden.  In 2006, Rafael visited the doctor with the complaint of back pain (that he’d attributed to strain from having moved heavy furniture.) The non-smoker was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and given the prognosis of six months to live.  Widowed at 36, Oi Yin, in characteristic positivity forged the best possible life for her babies, a life that honored their father’s memory, embraced his family and yet allowed them to move forward.  When new love Jeff proposed marriage in January, she accepted.  They were stunned by fit,former distance runner Oi Yin’s diagnosis in March of pancreatic cancer.  It seems unfathomable that so much should be heaped on this family and yet Oi Yin with her beautiful, open, indomitable spirit once again forges ahead, preparing her children for the possibility of life without her whilst fighting the good fight with aggresive treatment and holistic therapies.  She was given seven months in March, and now as the year draws to a close, she is still vital through wearying treatment and creating a special holiday for Sienna and Derek.

I saw her last summer at the annual memorial softball game held  in honor of Rafael.  She, a bit frail after treatment, resolved nonetheless to play.  And she did for a bit before assuming the mantle of pep squad, gratefully cheering on all who came out in Raf’s memory.  She is truly a remarkable woman.  She shares her ethical will to her children on Jeff’s Psychology Today blog.

In this season of copious spending I hope that everyone who reads this will feel compelled to give the extent of their ability.  Donate to For Pete’s Sake at  TakeABreakFromCancer.org  by 12/31/2010 to help reach the $8,000 matching funds challenge; and/or if you’d like to donate directly to Oi Yin’s medical costs and the trust for the children, visit Gonzalez Family Trust.

Thank you for reading.  Wishing all a happy, love-filled holiday season!

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The Trove: Abby Dobson
December 19, 2010

 

Mama’s Girl: “I am ever aware that I am standing on her shoulders and those of all the women in the house I was raised.”

I was sitting in my mama’s living room in post-Thanksgiving satiety flipping through the Washington Post when I came across a listing about Abby Dobson’s performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage the very next day. Since we’d met through her college chum, writer Nicole Moore, time had never permitted me to check her live (including her release party at the Blue Note in November.) Bet. Another chance.

Abby’s got some pipes;  her resounding voice a compass directing me to the venue as I arrived just after she, bathed in purple light, began her set. Including songs from her independently released Sleeping Beauty: you are the one you have been waiting on, as well as a couple of covers (her rendition of Prince’s How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore scorched) she both glided on gossamer wings and plunged deep into a place of earthy excavation.   At set’s end I went to say hello and the floodgates opened to a stream of grateful listeners, stupefied by her vocal prowess, who queued up to commend her.  Abby and I quickly agreed to meet for coffee while we were both in town and I left as she greeted her fans.

View the performance on the Kennedy Center website.

We met up the next day at her hotel, the quirky Hotel Helix (count on Kimpton Hotels for modern rooms with personality) “My mom loves it, she feels like a rock star,”  Abby laughed as she gathered her things. We strolled to nearby Mid City Caffè  for delicious coffee, tea and pastries and settled in for a chat about her gumption-finding journey from childhood timidity (hiding behind the refrigerator to sing) to securing some of the best musicians in the business to record her music and belting it out before large audiences.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica,  Abby’s first inkling of her gift was at  “5 or 6 years old, singing to the radio in the living room, when my aunt shushed the adults at the dining table to listen to me.”  When she was seven, her family emigrated to the US, landing in Brooklyn. “Migration is an interesting thing,” she says. “I think it can change your personality.  I became quiet, shy and very observant.” Growing up amid a mix of Jewish, Italian and African-American residents she learned to not to speak Patois.  Her folks “knew how to turn the accent on and off,” where necessary. She has become one not easily “placed” by how she speaks. “I feel very Jamaican, but I’ve never really spoken Patois– maybe when I’m angry or with just family.” 

She attended Plymouth Congregational and “the voices I heard in that church really influenced me. The Jamaican churches preferred classical singing,” a by-product of “Anglican colonization, which was very different from the bluesy Baptist singing” of African American churches.  Another influence was her “visionary” elder cousin Colin who introduced her to Sarah Vaughan, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman.  Though she listened to “a lot of  Bob Marley,” she became indoctrinated in the music of Black America and developed a love for Anita Baker, Tracy Chapman, Whitney Houston and Prince.

Her mother, Theda was “an incredible influence.  She has always supported my brother’s and my creative pursuits…She was a closet artist,” providing her daughter with voice and piano lessons early on.  In high school Abby received private voice lessons from her Chorus teacher who invited her to sing in the Salon Series he held in his home in Bayside, Queens. All nerves and “scared shitless,”   Abby traveled with her mom to perform, the only child amid a gathering of adults.  “It was cool, I was in the tenth grade.”

She went on to study History and Political Science at Williams College, singing all the while. “I directed a gospel choir there.” Though she knew she wanted to sing, she was “afraid of failing and being unable to sustain myself. When you come to America from an immigrant family, you are expected to succeed in a profession.”  So she entered Georgetown Law School intending to establish a career in law or public policy, whilst performing cover tunes at every “open mic” she could.  She graduated but declined to take the bar exam knowing that she really did not want to become an attorney. She would commit to building a music career while sustaining herself as a paralegal. Realizing that the best route to landing a record deal is not in performing covers, she began writing her own songs, which was a revelation, opening her to all she had to say. “I grew up in a very female centered household with my mother, grandmother, aunt, my aunt’s kids and my brother. I was an avid reader of feminist and womanist literature which really shaped my point of view.”  

Her debut as a singer/songwriter at Nuyorican Poets Café led to appearances at S.O.B’s, The Knitting Factory, The Cutting Room, Joe’s Pub and the Blue Note.  Her song, Deeply, a finalist in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition, was featured on TV shows, “The Shield,” “Jack & Jill” and “Any Day Now.” She has provided backing vocals for artists from John Legend to Talib Kweli; opened concerts for Rahsaan Patterson, Ledisi, Dwele, Chrisette Michele, Floetry, Kindred, Leela James and Robin Thicke and performs with Burnt Sugar: The Arkestra Chamber, the interdisciplinary, improvisatory ensemble led by Greg Tate. 

The genesis of her current release was in a realization that she’d been trying for a long time to get notice from a major label.  That she’d been waiting to be “spotted across the room by Clive Davis and signed as his pet project.”  This notion of a sleeping beauty awaiting awakening by an external source resonated with her. She’d fallen “asleep” in her romantic life, waiting for fulfillment. “As much as it is about not expecting someone else to make me who I’m supposed to be in my personal life,” she explains, “it’s also about not waiting on a record company or music producer to deem me worthy of making music I was ready to share.”

There was a long planning process before she actually began to record in early 2007. She continued her paralegal work.  “My 9-5 was part of my story, I needed it. I made good money,” which allowed her to self-fund her record. “If I could afford to do something, I did it. No compromises.”  Like recording and mixing in analog. “People thought I was crazy,” but she wanted her release to have the old-school authenticity of her musical influences. When she got to the mixing stage, she cashed out on a sou-sou, calling on that ‘financial touchstone’ of her Caribbean heritage.

The release is available for download on Amazon & iTunes, but if you enjoy the tactile experience of poring over liner notes, order the disc from CDBaby.  Abby put her heart into the packaging and you can peep Greg Tate’s glowing review. Photo by Piper Carter.

Drawing on her literary shero Alice Walker’s “We Are the One’s We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness,” she weaves the musical tale of Sleeping Beauty’s awakening, not to the kiss of a Prince but to her own inner light.  With heralding horns that call to mind the Adagio from Concierto de Aranjuez, the disc begins with Cool Rain giving way to a heritage nod, the reggae-tinged I’m Drownin (witten with her percussion-playing, ethnomusicologist brother, Robert.)  Sleeping Beauty continues her 13-track journey on the strains of Robert Glasper’s piano, Lonnie Plaxico’s bass, Marvin Sewell’s guitar and Teo Avery’s sax among others. Rounding out the mélange of genres, Abby completes the song cycle with bluegrass-inflected anthem of reclamation and affirmation, Sleeping Beauty: go make the world you dream.

And she is doing just that.  She’s now interested in a distribution deal, not signing to a label.  “People are coming back to entrepreneurship.  Motown, A&M, that’s how they started.” She shares the story of her moving visit to Detroit’s Motown Museum. “I was in tears. The beauty that was created from a small loan from family is nothing short of miraculous–that they were able to do that in those times.” She admires the forward-thinking vision to protect the brand. “No matter where they were licensed in the world– Japan, for instance– it remained ‘Motown’ not the native language translation.”  She plans to uphold her musical integrity through her company, LadyBraveBird Music. 

The songbird shares her ten favorites with The Trove

1. The Color Purple.  “Although I love Alice Walker’s book of the same, one of my favorite things is the color purple. It is regal and warm at the same time.  It lifts my spirits. It puts a smile on my face.  My luggage is purple.  My winter and spring scarves are purple.  I just adore the color purple. And, wearing purple makes me feel special.” 

 

The color associated with royalty, mysticism, creativity and feminism.

 

2. Herbal Teas.  “I love drinking it because it’s soothing.  There is nothing like hot herbal tea, the aroma, the steam on my face as I sip, the taste…it immediately relaxes me.”  

She particularly enjoys African Redbush tea from TAZO (as well as their chamomile blend, Calm.) Photo by xlungex.

 

3. Books and Reading.  “I love the experience of browsing a bookstore…libraries too,” she gushes. Books, newspapers (New York Times,) magazines (O and Success), love them…I just love reading!”   

            

Her all-time favorites, The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Beloved.

 

 

4. Spices. “I enjoy savoring food with alot of flavor.  My favorites are thyme, cinnamon and nutmeg.” 

Botanical print via the wonderful blog Honest Fare.

 

5. Sexy boots.  “I have a thing for boots. Whether thigh high or booties, I enjoy wearing them with everything.   What more can a girl ask for?”

Abby’s got winter covered, so she can look forward to the sizzling boots coming as the weather warms. Here, Sessilee Lopez’s great gams and open-toe booties in BG Magazine’s selects for Resort. Photo by Will Davidson.

 
6. Massages.   “I love giving and receiving massages. I give them to my family and friends all the time.  I enjoy making people I care about feel better. If I’m stressed and need to relax, I’ll get a 20 minute at a nail salon to relax, relate and release.”

“Touch is very powerful. It soothes and comforts,” she says.
 
 

7.  Great Music and Musicians.  Natch. Though inspired by all forms of art she loves great music and artists who create for the love of their craft and passion as opposed to money. Sarah Vaughan, Leonard Bernstein, Barbara Streisand, Rachelle Ferrell to name a few.”

Leonard Bernstein’s Overture for West Side Story (Presented by the Sederbergh School)
 
 

8. Good Wine.   “I enjoy German Rieslings and Argentinian Malbecs.”

         

Scharzhofberger Spätlese Riesling and Renacer’s Punto Final Classico Malbec.
 
 

9.  Family and Friend Gatherings.  “I love getting together with my family and friends for gatherings to celebrate each other and special events and holidays… the experience of breaking bread, our conversations, and our laughter.”

And laugh she does.

 

10.  Solitude.  Although she enjoys the communal experience, she also enjoys her “own company” and is “often inspired by moments of solitude…thinking, walking, dreaming.” 

“Solitude – La Dame des Sables.” Photo by Tiquetonne.

“In the Present” opens at artDC
December 9, 2010

Artists Jenny Walton and my wonderful friend Alexandra Zealand are exhibiting In The Present at the artDC Gallery December 11, 2010 – January 9, 2011. The works of each artist integrate beautifully as “both grapple with thoughts of human life and its evolving relationships to the world. Though quite different in their materials, each artist’s work relates to the natural world in its present state, through abstracted anatomy caught in the act of degeneration or through repetitive looping reminiscent of cellular structures.”

Those “cellular” structures, tossed-away celluoid are given new life in Alex’s installation, “utilizing 16mm film strips, which have been discarded from schools and libraries. Film of this size has become a practically obsolete medium, and the stories contained within them are inherently ephemeral. These pieces become a signifier of the passage of time – both in the artist’s life, and in their own usefulness – and explore humanity’s relationship with the objects we discard, and what our need to discard them says about both our personal and cultural relationship with mortality.”

An installation walk-through.

The opening reception is Saturday, December 11 at the artDC Gallery at The Lustine Center. 5710 Baltimore Avenue,  Hyattsville, Maryland from 7 – 9pm.

Reflecting on Family
December 6, 2010

 
 
World War II Naval veteran, Kappa Man, Kiwanian, Patriarch of our Family.
 
As of Thanksgiving Day, the surviving siblings of the nine children born to my paternal grandparents were the three eldest.  On the 28th we lost my dad’s older brother, the only remaining son, my 88-year-old, civic-minded, humorously haughty, Redskins-loving Uncle Billy, whom we laid to rest in Washington, DC on Friday.  His was a life lived richly and fully, often engaged in spirited debate with any brave soul willing to take him on.  The love of his life Lillian was one such.  Married nearly fifty years, his Aries ram locked horns with her Taurus bull in banter that rivaled the witty repartee of 40’s noir — Bill and Lil in the room and hilarity ensues.  It is hard to imagine the one without the other and yet I know she will be fine, she will thrive.  She deeply loved her husband and the partnership of marriage while remaining unflinchingly herself, identifying by more than her role as wife.  She, at 89 is fit and sharp and will resume the on-the-go schedule she enjoyed prior to her husband’s illness. 
 
His remaining sisters, ninety-year-old Laura and 86-year-old Bessie are “holding it down” in the tiny Virginia town from whence they all came, the generational link between their late parents, Edward and Ethel, and we the 29 grandchildren born between the late 1940’s and the early 1970’s.  As we gathered for Billy’s home-going, we the members of the 29, chuckled at the dominant gene for broad foreheads and on a more serious note acknowledged our quickening movement into the role as the elders.  We in our varying roles as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles must preserve and share our history for the 58 who follow us and the 37 who follow them. 
 
Gaga in pop culture is the outrageous Stefani Germanotta who dubbed herself Lady.  In my family it is Billy’s mother, Ethel, so named by a grandchild who could not pronounce Grandma. Our Queen GaGa was born a Blackwell, spent her life in Lunenburg County,Virginia,  and descended from a lineage that would produce longtime Schomburg curator, Jean Blackwell Hutson. 
 
In 1735 our foremother, Ama(r), believed to be Soninke of the Sisse and Sylla clans, was along with her two-year-old daughter Tab among the 167 ship bound survivors of the middle passage from Goree Island to Yorktown, Virginia on the slave ship Doddington.  They were sold at public auction to James Glenn Blackwell on June 27. In 1751 Tab, then eighteen, was “loaned” to Captain Robert Blackwell of Lunenburg County on whose tobacco plantation she met, married and bore five children to the itinerant plantation preacher, Odofo, an Ashanti called Jack on these shores. He was, however, “owned” by John Goodwin and upon the elder Goodwin’s death, willed to his son Peter and forced to leave Tab and the children behind. One of the children, Lucy, born in 1755, would marry another Blackwell and bear 6 children. Her granddaughter Jinny would, with the Sauk tribesman Micah, bear, Hamet, the last of the line born into slavery. 
 
 
 
Hamet Blackwell, from whom Uncle Billy gets his middle name.
 
Hamet would go on to father 23 children including my GaGa and tennis great Arthur Ashe’s grandmother Amelia.  I am awed by the blessing of having this knowledge. Upon Captain Robert’s death in 1765, Tab was valued at $30.00. Some two hundred years later, I was born.   Many members of the vast Blackwell family have contributed to the research over the years however, I must give props to Thelma Doswell an elder cousin and genealogist who began her research in the 1960’s, created and copyrighted a Coat-of-Arms in 1972 and whose books are catalogued in the Library of Congress.  
                                                                                                                                                             
In the book, Levels of the Game, author John Mc Phee, in speaking of Arthur Ashe’s heritage says:

The family has a crest, in crimson, black and gold.  A central chevron in this escutcheon bears a black chain with a broken link, symbolizing the broken bonds of slavery. Below the broken bonds is a black well. And in the upper corners, where the crest of Norman family might have  Fleur-de-Lis, this one has tobacco leaves in trifoliate clusters… – John Mc Phee, Levels of the Game, 1969.

 
The Blackwell Family of Virginia, © Thelma Doswell, 1972

The Trove: Cheryl R. Riley & Courtney Sloane
December 2, 2010

An invitation and homage: Courtney Sloane & Cheryl R. Riley.

Gotta love a woman who whips up a few baubles to wear on her opening night from the discards of  “yesterday’s soup.”  And so it is that interior designer Courtney Sloane adores such a woman, her wife, Cheryl R. Riley. Cheryl, one of the artists included in the massive Global Africa Project now on view at the Museum of Art and Design, gilded 3 neck bones, suspended them from black cord and wore them–like funkified Olympic gold– to the exhibition opening on November 16.

The golden girl.  Elevation Mirror I: Arizona/New Mexico, 2000, Honduran mahogany, beveled mirror, brass tacks, found and made objects 85 x 48 x 12 in. Photo by Robert Baldridge.

Just a few weeks ago, with a similar burst of spontaneous creation, Cheryl, bearing a glue gun and materials found around the house, crafted five crowns for Cheryl and Courtney’s Artful Halloween Dinner Party should extras be needed. Guests had been asked to create a crown, in lieu of full costume, to don during the Basquiat-inspired festivities in their art-filled home. Upon entering the spacious loft in my coronet of autumn leaves, I missed the fluffy presence of Pia Zadora, the beloved Chow-Chow who held court in Courtney’s life from 1992 to her passing in 2009. And I smiled as I perused the space, an eclectic mix of personal treasures including Cheryl’s own beautifully imposing, “shamanistic” mirror, a piece I’ve always loved. Courtney speaks of design as conversation, a vehicle for telling stories. The story their home reveals is one of travel and exploration, honoring family and the passionate creation and collecting of art.

Visiting from San Francisco, fantastic chef and dear friend Cassandra Miles was putting the finishing touches on the delectable feast (including a tender pot roast and Cornish game hen with garlic orange-chili butter) as the hosts readied themselves to receive guests. Courtney selected one of the Cheryl-crafted crowns: a corrugated band decoupaged with Mbuti-patterned paper and topped with glorious blue and green tail feathers molted by a friend’s Macaw. Cheryl chose for herself the “Lady Gaga-inspired” clear acrylic spire she’d painted silver and accented with corkscrew willow.

A quiet moment before the revelry.

As the guests arrived, Courtney mixed pre-dinner cocktails with the refreshing, lightly grassy Żubrówka, or Bison Grass vodka she prefers. Its single blade of buffalo grass, she explained, is akin to the worm found in bottles of mezcal.  Soon delighted dining and lively conversation commenced. Desserts of apple spice cake and sweet potato chocolate-pecan pie followed. We rounded out the evening continuing the vodka theme but appropriately with the ambrosial, chocolate-infused vodka from renowned chocolatier, Godiva. The C’s really know how to host a salon: mixing it up with fascinating people (including established artist Ben Jones and emerging artists Nina Chanel Abney and Hiroshi Kumagai) fabulous food and relaxed fun.

Floating flowers and an acceptance speech. “We are shocked, and so humbled,” said Cheryl of she and Courtney’s first and second place win in the crown contest.  She offered thanks and praise to competition judges Riley and Sloane.

Chef Cassandra and Hiroshi.  The evening’s menu.

Organic Costa Rican coffee was served in the familiar stripes of Paul Smith. One of Cheryl’s “Legacy Bags,” personalized with her childhood cowgirl snapshot.

Strongly influenced by their fierce and fashionable mothers, both Cheryl and Courtney give props to Mom for inspiring them to become the highly accomplished women they are today. “When I was a child,” Cheryl says, “my mother was called the most beautiful colored woman in Houston. She was intelligent, talented and adventurous.” Cheryl’s earliest memories are of her art student mother’s supplies:  “clay, oil paints, turpentine… She allowed me to paint and draw on a wall in my room and taught me to read before I started kindergarten.”   Aesthetics were paramount in the Sloane household as well. “My mom always had a great sense of style–both fashion and interior, ” Courtney says, ” In fact, while I was growing up she actually worked with a decorator on our house.  I would get to tag along and be a part of those conversations.  Those experiences lead me to consider interior design as a career path.”

Texas beauty, Gladys Mae DuBois.  Ever stylish, Ruth Sloane with a serious little Courtney.

Gladys Mae DuBois surrounded her daughter with beauty, ignited a creative spark and sense of boundless possibility, Bennie Riley hoped to instill in her a sense of bootstrap pragmatism. Embracing a bit of both, Cheryl attended a private community college in Missouri, Columbia College but left after receiving her Associate’s Degree to pursue life “on her own terms in a new city.” She chose San Francisco “because I am good at making lists. I wanted a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan city with a strong city center, on a coast, no snow but a maximum three-hour drive from it, nature nearby and a public transportation system. I was right because the minute I saw that fog-framed city as I entered via the Bay Bridge, I was head over hills in love.”  She launched an executive career that would take her from positions with luxury retailer I. Magnin to advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi and Levi Strauss. Directing her creative energy toward her own home, she began designing furniture for her apartment. Her professional peers took notice and became her first customers. In less than a decade she went from corporate exec to fulfilling her artistic passions in 1986 with the launch of Right Angle Designs.

In 1999, with a dream collector’s list (Danny Glover, Terry McMillan, Denzel Washington, Robin Williams, et. al) several awards and exhibitions under her belt, inclusion in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Cooper-Hewitt, Oakland and Mint Museums, multiple public and corporate commissions (including Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport) she moved to New York.  “After living 22 years in San Francisco, I wanted to experience another city while my career was still in full swing. Having served on several arts-related boards, she most recently was a board member of the Museum of Art and Design — formerly the American Craft Museum– where she was instrumental in re-imagining the scope and re-imaging the brand. Her power to connect to an audience with her genial manner and engage them with her expertise has made her a highly regarded lecturer and panelist, speaking across the country from Stanford and Lehigh Universities to the Bellevue Art Museum. As a teacher, she’s conducted classes in respected craft schools such as Penland and Haystack Mountain.  She’s enjoyed the embrace of the East Coast with commissions: furnishings for Judith Jamison’s Alvin Ailey office and wall murals for the Walgreen’s Corporation; exhibitions in group shows at the Newark Museum, Pittsburgh’s Society of Contemporary Art, the Tampa Museum of Art and a solo show at Peg Alston Fine Art in NYC; curating the art collections of the Washington, DC offices of BET and Harlem’s luxury condominium, Kalahari; art commentary in several publications including the current issue of Jersey City Magazine and in February 2007, marriage.


 

Before family and friends, at Cala Luna in Costa Rica, the blithe spirit wed the lithe athlete.

In Jersey City, where she and Cheryl have resided in the Powerhouse Arts District since 2005, Courtney was born to and raised by John and Ruth Sloane. She donned the maroon and gold of St. Anthony High School, playing point guard on the girls’ varsity basketball team.  Initially she majored in marketing at Rutgers University but a job at Formica was a turning point for her and she convinced her employer to subsidize her further studies in interior design at FIT and Pratt. She covered the academics in class and got the immersive knowledge of the business at work, all-the-while rocking a side hustle with friends–catering and events in a small JC loft. They outfitted the space with furniture she’d designed and hosted art shows. If Formica was the turning point, then Ms. Dana Owens was the tipping point. When Dana a.k.a. Queen Latifah, full of confidence about her own trajectory, rolled through the impressive space she told Courtney “when I really blow up, you’re going to do my place.”  Three years later, Courtney did in fact, hail the Queen, creating the executive offices of her Flavor Unit in Jersey City, which led to commissions on the other side of the Hudson.

The house music fan and her company Alternative Design (AD) became the go-to designer for the hip-hop élite: Vibe Magazine, Sean Combs (through various name changes), Jay-Z, and more recently, the executive suite of Damon Dash. As word of Courtney’s gift for spatial storytelling spread, so did the interest of major corporations. Sony Music, Disney and Viacom, to name a few, came calling, commissioning AD to create their environs. She designed the flagship of natural body-care emporium, Carol’s Daughter, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Roots, Rhymes and Rage exhibition and the living quarters for the first two seasons of America’s Next Top Model.  With such an illustrious client roster, it’s no surprise that she’s become a design pundit: contributing to Essence Magazine, appearing on several design shows from CNN to BET to HGTV to a starring role on TLC’s Material World and speaking around the country (notably giving the esteemed Hiller lecture by the Design & Environmental Analysis Department at Cornell University.) She is now part of acollective working with AF Supply to develop the Signature line of plumbing fixtures and bathroom accessories– “a huge project” to be launched in 2012, mining “New York design talent of both architects and interior designers. Since most of the plumbing design innovation comes from Italy, this project specifically will bring focus on the talent pool that exists here in NYC.” Grateful for her success in both residential and commercial design in the States and abroad, she is an ardent advocate of mentoring and honoring her obligation to give back.

Courtney and the fabulous Pia Zadora.

Together Cheryl and Courtney are launching a new venture, Riley Sloane, a socially responsible design and production studio specializing in licensing, private label and production in the Home and Lifestyle categories. Their first line, launching in 2011, is the Pura Vida collection of  decorative wall panels made from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified solid indigenous woods of Costa Rica.

Cheryl on Courtney:

“About a year before I met Courtney, I made a list–again with the lists–of the qualities I wanted in my lifetime partner.”  Living on separate coasts for “the first two years of our relationship, we had a lot of time to have in-depth conversation and get to know each other on the phone. Otherwise, we saw each other every 4-6 weeks in our respective homes, traveled together elsewhere and even worked on a project together for Disney. I had 45 attributes on the list and Courtney scored 37.5!” And as any self-respecting Southern esoteric would do, she sought a reading from a cousin with “the gift.”  The reading suggested that though they are not soul mates (sometimes that is one’s best friend, business partner, etc.) they are as “highly compatible as she had ever seen–and it proved true.”

Courtney on Cheryl:

“Well I knew that there was something extraordinary about her the first time we met.  I was absolutely thrilled to meet the sister that I had read about who was doing all this bad ass furniture on the West Coast, I mean really making noise! Once we began to speak over the phone I think it was inside of about 3 or 4 weeks that I knew she was the one I wanted to spend my life with.”  And on her wife’s inclusion in the GAP show,  “I’m so excited and proud of Cheryl for this major accomplishment! It’s great for her to be a part of the new history of the Museum and [exhibiting] again since showing her Bakuba Griffin Dining Table in 1994 when it was the American Craft Museum.”

Born ten years apart, Cheryl’s an analog girl whose tech comfort level ends somewhere around email and Courtney’s a “gadget geek” prone to early adoption of the latest technology. They are alike in the ways that matter and different enough to keep things interesting, a great couple.  Though it was difficult for them to pinpoint only five things each, here’s a smattering of the things besides each other that they love…

Cheryl’s Fave Five:

1. Custom Cowboy Boots. “I was born in Houston in the days of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and there is a picture of me at 4 years old on Christmas day and I am wearing full cow girl regalia and my rifle and first cowboy boots.  I danced through the kid leather gun-metal gray and camel Italian cowboy boots that Wilkes Bashford, the luxury retailer of San Francisco gave me when I was his house model in the late 70’s. My favorite and oldest pair of cowboy boots were made by Austin-based Tony Lama.  The more rows of stitches, the better the quality of the boot,” and I love that the more worn they are, the better to mold to my feet.”

Rocking the Tony Lamas in a 1990 profile in San Francisco Magazine featuring her “Talking Head” media cabinet and “Zulu” tables.

2. Paloma Picasso Perfume. Melding perfectly with her body chemistry, it’s been her fragrance signature since its eighties debut. “Everyone loves the way it smells on me,” she says. “I love its rich, exotic, incense-like scent and that it holds its ‘color’ all day. Its namesake, daughter of Pablo Picasso and writer Francoise Gilot, is an artist ( jewelry design) in her own right, a fact not lost on Cheryl. She enjoys the aesthetic connection.

She chuckles at the long-ago memory of being followed by La Paloma, “her entourage a few paces behind” around the jewelry department of I.Magnin in San Francisco.  “When I looked at her directly once, she clearly did not want to communicate, just smell–probably did not want to break her spell.”

3. Contemporary Art of the African Diaspora. No surprise here.  It is evident in her own work, in her home, in her enthusiastic writing, in her exhaustive knowledge of the canon.   Given the breadth of the genre she’d be hard pressed to single out a favorite among the multitudes of diasporic artists, many of whom she feels “lucky” to count among her friends. She does share, thowever, a few artist friends with whom she’s had recent — and inspiring contact. Carrie Mae Weems is a “font of inspiration, constantly expanding beyond our concept of photography, her predominant  medium.” Cheryl, in awe, viewed the October rehearsal of  “The Venus Project,”  Weems’ collaboration with composer Phillip Miller and director Talvin Wilks. Shinique Smith’s first solo museum exhibit just closed at MOCA in Miami. “It was fantastic to see so much of her work together…My favorites are her site-specific wall murals. They dance with her calligraphic graffiti swirls that she paints with brushes and her body (the piece, Red Rose, is in Cheryl’s collection.)  Celebrated artists, the  Bronx-born Fred Wilson and Whitfield Lovell, “are the only couple in the world to have received the highly prestigious MacArthur “Genius” grant [Wilson in 1999, Lovell in 2007]  Their styles of making art are completely different–Fred is an intellectually-challenging conceptualist while Whitfield’s drawings and sculptures are grounded in our authentic collective history.” She is particularly proud of Fred, who represented the US at the 2003 Venice Biennale, and has been a friend “since his 1993 Artist In Residency at Capp Street Project in San Francisco where I was on the board.”

From left: Carrie Mae Weems, from The Kitchen Table Series, 1990  (the entire series was recently acquired by The Chicago Museum) Fred Wilson, Iago’s Mirror, 2009 (now on view in the Global Africa Project directly across from Cheryl’s mirror;) Shinique Smith, And The World Don’t Stop, 2009 ; Whitfield Lovell, After an Afternoon, 2008 (from Kith and Kin.)

4. Turquoise and Pearls. Others may crave bling but Cheryl enjoys a little opacity in her gems. Her birthstone, turquoise, with its spectral range of blue to green reminds her “of vacations in a tropical paradise or the native American jewelry in the Southwest. And pearls “are so classic, sexy, warm and modern,” complementing everything and available “in endless variety.  I love abundance strands à la Chanel or a Wilma Flintstone choker.  I am designing pearl charm bracelets, pins and necklaces with a friend in Shanghai so I can have even more!”

Detail from a charm bracelet she had made by a Native American artist in Santa Fé. She wore a single strand of black pearls on her wedding day.

5. Travel. She especially enjoys exploring Costa Rica, where she and Courtney married and her beloved Italy. “The food, the fashion, the furniture design…If there are past lives, Italy is where I [once] lived,” she believes, having felt “totally at home my first time in Rome. I took Italian lessons before I ever went there because I loved the musical sound of the language and my favorite Italian operas… I would live in Venice now if given the opportunity.”

Costa Rican footbridge and Venetian canals.

Courtney’s Fave Five:

1. Dahon Bikes. Her Speed D7 is “great for cruisin’ around the ‘hood or in the city.”

The quick-folding bike makes for “easy in and out of cafes, restaurants etc.”

3. Vibram FiveFingers. She rocked a Mary Jane version of the barefoot shoes all summer, but now she’s fiending for the camouflage soles.

The FiveFingers Sprint.

3. Geodesic domes. The tessellated structure created by Walther Bauersfeld and later tweaked and popularized by Buckminster Fuller holds a place in her heart. There’s one she and Cheryl enjoy time and again near their summer home in East Hampton, frequently taking friends like artist Nanette Carter to share in the experience. The Fuller piece Fly’s Eye Dome, is on the grounds of LongHouse, founded by Jack Lenor Larsen, one of Courtney’s “all-time favorite textile designers,” and is part of their permanent collection.  “It is just awesome,” she exclaims. “I love the volume, air and light. There is a sensational feeling when you are in a space that wraps around. I find it super liberating!”

Clockwise: Fly’s Eye Dome, photographed by © Ron Cogswell; Photo © Visions of America, Joe Sohm/Getty Images; Geodesic Dome Treehouse by Dustin Feider.

4. Chris Craft Boats. She prefers the wooden-hulled vintage models from the late 1940’s through the 1970’s. “Absolutely gorgeous!”

1954  20-foot Riviera. From ClassicBoat.com.

5. Paul Smith London. She loves the quirky spin on classic English tailoring.


Looks from Paul Smith Spring/Summer 2011.

ImageNation Revolution Awards
December 1, 2010

I have looked delightedly forward to the ImageNation Revolution Awards lauding luminaries Tom Burrell, Chairman Emeritus of Burrell Communications; Lisa Cortes, President of Cortes Films (EP of Precious;) Ruby Dee,  Actress & Activist; Debra L. Lee, Chairman & CEO, BET Networks; Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) Civil Rights Hero and Iris Morales, Activist & Filmmaker.  This Thursday’s festivities at Lincoln Center, hosted by Jamie Hector of HBO’s The Wire fame, also include a screening of the must-see Stanley Nelson documentary, Freedom Riders. 

Trailer for “Freedom Riders.”

It promises to be a wonderfully inspiring night benefitting  ImageNation and ImageNation Sol Cinema Capital Campaign.  The private gala reception begins at 6pm.  The awards show and screening begin at 7pm with tickets  a mere (and tax-deductible) $25; $20 for ImageNation members. Moikgantsi Kgama and Gregory Gates’ “little engine that could,” ImageNation has grown tremendously since its 1997 inception with a mission to establish “a chain of art-house cinemas, dedicated to progressive media by and about people of color. Through a variety of public exhibitions and programs, ImageNation fosters media equity, media literacy, solidarity, cross-cultural exchange and highlights the humanity of Pan-African people worldwide.” 

Events like the Revolution Awards bring the organization closer to realizing the goal of opening the Sol Cinema. My uncle’s passing will now prevent my attendance, but I encourage everyone who can to attend.

*Congrats to ‘Kgantsi and Greg on both getting this baby off the ground and becoming parents to G. Kgari Kgama-Gates last September.