Longtime collaborator Rinne Allen is a skillful storyteller in that she sets the stage, creates a visual narrative, and allows you to see through her same lens – without being heavy-handed. It is her light touch that allows Rinne to present her subjects in the best, most straight-forward, and appropriate manner but allows those subjects, themselves, to finish the telling of the story.
Rinne works in black & white, in color, and in other media (like her stunning light drawings), but no matter the approach, she seeks out what makes each image and each moment special; she finds those details that perhaps no one else sees, but that make the image real and truthful. I know that when art seems effortless, it usually means that an un-measurable amount of effort has almost certainly taken place to make the finished work or scenario seem natural. With Rinne’s work, you will never know… Her point of view is always present, always guiding and drawing your eye until: you’ve discovered the essential element of the piece. She uncovered it and carefully led you there until you found it – waiting there to be discovered.
The design world is filled with innovators making products that can impact the human experience for good or for ill. The idea of designing and making with positive, spirited intention is growing far beyond its early influencers like Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio or the now defunct Architecture for Humanity—inspired by Mockbee’s project. Today, AIGA—one of the oldest and largest professional design organizations—has an entire program dedicated to Design for Good. Design leader John Bielenberg created the innovative and influential Project M that is always generating creative solutions to real design challenges. (See Project M’s Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama, for an example.)
One of our earliest “social” collaborations was with an organization called Goods of Conscience, whom we worked with on some of our first indigo dyeing experiments. This was quite a few years ago, when design and social change were words that weren’t often used together. It was one of the early examples in the textile industry we encountered that proved the two ideas could exist together and elevate one another.
All design has social impact, but good design focuses on people as fundamental to the products they make. Designers have a remarkable ability to influence how we communicate and with whom, what we think about, what is relevant, and how social and economic power balances might be restructured. When designing for the good, effective ideas, methods, and products can better a society and humanity. Nest, the non-profit organization we’ve partnered with through The School of Making, has fostered successful initiatives by building deep relationships with the global makers with whom they partner—collaboratively building sustainable solutions to the greatest needs within communities where artisan craft stands to create positive, long-lasting change.
Bon Appétit’s October issue hit the stands this past week and featured a big Alabama party—complete with a campfire, Lodge Castiron, and whiskey. Read the full story of our ‘Alabama Getaway’ and find the recipes online here.
A HUGE thank you is in order to all the chefs, makers, artists, and friends who drove (and flew) many miles to be a part of the day.
The roster of thank yous, in no particular order: Butch Anthony; Andrew Knowlton, Alexander Grossman, Alex Pollak, Carla Music, Annabel Mehran, and the entire Bon Appétit crew; Melany Robinson and the Polished Pig Media team; Catherine Bailey and Robin Petravic of Heath Ceramics; Nick Pihakis; Nicholas Pihakis; Jim N’ Nicks Bar-B-Q; Brooks Reitz of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.; Erin Connelly of The Commons; Rinne Allen, Lee Smith, and family; Angie Mosier; Jeff Mosier; John Henry Toney; Will Harris of White Oak Pastures; chef Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse Restaurant; Jason Wilson, Brad Wilson, and David Carn of Back Forty Beer Co.; Bob Gay of Papa’s Nubbin’s; Trey and Will Sims of Wickles Pickles.
(Behind-the-scenes) images courtesy of Rinne Allen
Last September, as we were preparing for a workshop at Anna Maria Horner’s venture, Craft South, we got our first look at her new line of knit jersey fabrics—Anna Maria Knits. We have since experiemented and played with several of these patterned knits using our techniques and are loving the results. Shown here is our Swing Skirt from Alabama Stitch Book appliquéd with our Large Polka Dot Sencil, using her Tangle Knit print in Rust.
It reminds me of a harvest moon.
2 yards cotton jersey fabric for skirt
1 yard cotton interlock for appliqué
1 yard fold-over elastic ribbon
Button Craft thread
Basic sewing supplies: needles, pins, embroidery scissors
Alabama Stitch Book for Swing Skirt pattern and instructions
Our first collaboration with Heath Ceramics, launched in 2011, has built a lasting, creatively symbiotic relationship. That joint development was a beautifully intensive design process that blended our techniques with theirs. Our Heath + Alabama Chanin line of dinnerware is made by hand, just like our Alabama Chanin handmade Collection. The artisans at Heath etch the designs into clay in much the same way that we embroider our garments. And just as our stitchers initial the garments they create, the Heath artists leave their marks on each of the finished products.
Over the last year, as we began experimenting with our indigo dye house, we became excited about the possibilities of this natural color and the richness and variations it creates. This excitement carried over into our ongoing conversations with Heath about expanding our collaboration. The new pieces build upon our previous work together and today we launch two new themes in our Alabama Chanin + Heath Ceramics collaboration: Indigo and Bird’s Nest.
Two years ago, Cathy Bailey and her son Jasper came to visit Maggie and me in The Shoals via train. It was Jasper’s spring break and they boarded the California Zephyr to Birmingham by way of Washington D.C., and traversed the entire country to spend time in North Alabama. Needless to say, Jasper and Maggie became fast friends, our collaboration with Heath Ceramics continued to grow, Cathy and I became even better friends, and the next year, they came again. In a few short days, Maggie and I will be taking the California Zephyr to San Francisco. We’ve come to call it “Jasper’s Trip,” since Jasper has given me (and Maggie) a renewed love for trains.
Over the last five years, our work with Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic has been some of the most productive, exciting, and meaningful work that we’ve had the opportunity to do. Robin and Cathy are husband and wife, parents to Jasper, writers of the new book, Tile Makes the Room, and the owners and operators of Heath Ceramics. Cathy was an early member of our Makeshift initiative and has participated in almost every major Makeshift event since its inception. Our ongoing collaboration with Heath is one of our proudest (and longest lasting) joint design ventures. And throughout the process, Cathy has become a trusted friend.
Prior to her work at Heath, Cathy founded One & Co., a design consultancy with clients like Microsoft, Palm, and Apple. (Prior to THAT, she worked as a footwear designer at Nike in Portland.) In 2004, she and Robin purchased and rehabilitated Heath Ceramics, founded by Edith Heath in 1948 and run by Edith and her family until Edith was in her 80s. When they made the purchase, both were searching for more satisfying outlets for designing and making—and found that at Heath, which required hands-on work to revive and preserve, while keeping the original design aesthetic intact.
It’s no secret that we at Alabama Chanin have long been admirers of Heath Ceramics—their work, their approach to responsible manufacturing, and their embrace of beautiful, sustainable design sets them apart from so many companies today. We have also been honored (and excited) to collaborate with them on several projects, including a line of dinnerware, the MAKESHIFT conversations, and most recently, two clocks designed to celebrate the 10 year ownership of the company by friends Cathy Bailey and Robin Petrovic.
Edith Heath originally founded Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, California, in 1948. She was an accomplished ceramist who cared deeply for the craft and believed in the importance of using quality materials. She grew up in rural Iowa during the Great Depression, which made her a natural conservator. In the late 1930s she worked with Bauhaus artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which influenced her design aesthetic. Heath searched constantly to source the right materials and experimented for years to find the best techniques and glazes; she was once quoted as saying that she wanted to use clay that had “character” and “guts”.
Alabama on Alabama is a month-long journey to the soul of the Modern South, held in the Boiler Room and showroom at Heath in San Francisco. Refined, raw and radical, the Modern South connects place, people, process, and tradition in a way that cuts across geography and time. From July 24, 2015, the Boiler Room will exhibit the work of the widely acclaimed and celebrated textile artist, designer, and slow design pioneer Natalie Chanin. It will also include work by Butch Anthony, best known for his “intertwangled” paintings and creations using found objects and materials, and works on paper by outsider artist Mr. John Henry Toney. Alabama on Alabama will also feature the work of frequent Natalie Chanin collaborator and photographer Rinne Allen. Visit boilerroomsf.com to learn more.
I met Stella Ishii over a decade ago, as I was just beginning to define who I was as a designer. She was simultaneously likeable and intimidating—but intimidating only because of her impressive resume and effortless cool. She began her career in fashion not because she was fluent in design technique—but because she was fluent in English. Japanese-born Ishii heard of a job opening for a translator at a design house and eventually was hired to work for Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons. By the mid-90s, she was head of Staff USA—a branch of Staff International, the Italian parent company of fashion brands like Maison Margiela and Vivienne Westwood. Ishii and Staff USA were key to introducing these (and other) brands stateside.
Stella launched The News in 2001, a sales and press agency—slash—showroom and incubator located in a Soho loft. The News has helped nurture and grow designers and brands like Alexander Wang, The Row, and 3.1 Phillip Lim. Just about 3 years ago, she and her business partner Lasse Karlson launched 6397 (N-E-W-S on a telephone keypad), a denim-oriented line of clothing designed by Stella—a true denim aficionado. Stella has long depended on denim as her most reliable (almost iconic) wardrobe staple. 6397 captures the androgynous elegance that well made denim can offer.