Tag Archives: Inspiration



In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, we asked artist, photographer, and good friend Rinne Allen to share some of her favorite things to give (and receive). We’re all fans of her thoughtfully curated selections. Read on to learn more about each item and why Rinne chose it as one of her favorites.

  1. Metalworker Laurel Hill used to live in Athens, and I would buy her jewelry at our local artisan markets. My favorite piece is this barrette. While she does not sell this exact piece on her website, there are plenty of other great pieces to choose from.
  1. I have this potholder from Alabama Chanin in a few different colors (you can never have too many potholders!), but, my fave is this one in indigo.
  1. I have been collecting handmade wooden spoons for years, but my favorites are made by one of the nicest people you will ever meet, my friend Bob of Blue Hill Spoonworks. I spend time in Maine every summer, and I love visiting Bob at the farmer’s market to see what he has created over the long winter before. You may also find great wooden spoons at Herriott Grace and also at Chattanooga-based Sweet Gum Co.
  1. I photographed Teresa and Rustin of Bullsbay Saltworks last fall and I have been using their smoked sea salt ever since. It is so good! (Also available at The Factory)
  1. Long ago while traveling in India I picked up 2 or 3 blockprinted cotton scarves and wore them so often that they eventually fell to pieces. So, I was happy when I got this one recently from Blockshop Textiles to replace those old favorites.
  1. Over the last two years I have read (and re-read) this book as the years went by (it is organized by month). I am a little biased, as I went to college in Sewanee, Tennessee where the writer’s woodland observations take place, but I love being reminded of all of the intricate ways things are interconnected, in the woods and beyond.
  1. I have this very old Stetson hat that I wear all the time…it is serving me well at the moment, but if I ever need to get a new one, I would certainly eye the ones at Clyde for a replacement…
  1. One of my favorite things is this travel watercolor set from Winsor & Newton. I take it with me when I travel and let my young sons use it too, hence how messy it as at the moment…but, also this summer, when I was in San Francisco (for the Alabama on Alabama show) I visited Case for Making, a small art supply store in Outer Sunset near the beach. I was really inspired by their selections…
  1. This hammered brass bowl was made by MeSpeak design, based near Athens in North High Shoals, Georgia. This husband and wife team make beautiful, functional pieces out of wood & metal. They kindly made this bowl for me after I showed them something old that I had. It just glows…
  1. Beauty Everyday book…I made this book with two friends and it is a special book. There is a photograph for every day of the year, and the book moves through all seasons, from the first day of January on through to the end of the year.

P.S. – Join us tomorrow as we welcome Rinne to The Factory for her On Design lecture. She’ll be speaking about her work documenting various harvests throughout America over the past 5 years. Get all the details here. If you’re unable to join us, view her Harvest series on the T Magazine website.



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.


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I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for. —Georgia O’Keeffe

In geometry, a square is a regular quadrilateral; it has four equal sides and four equal 90-degree angles.

A square is also technically a rhombus, a kite, a parallelogram, a quadrilateral, and a rectangle.

Squares signify stability. They are sturdy shapes that suggest familiarity, safety, and honesty. Their straight lines and sharp corners represent order and rationality. The uniformity of a square signifies equality.

Squares can also suggest rigidity or hardness.

In people, a square is understood as someone uncool or boring. Not so in design. We like both kinds of squares.

They are the most common shapes among man-made objects – from architecture to book pages.

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In the years since we met Rosanne Cash, we have grown from giddy fans, to dedicated admirers, to proud and honored friends. It is no secret how much we are inspired by Rosanne—as a supporter, an artist, and a beautiful person. We’ve done our best to express our admiration whenever the opportunity arises. We are still awestruck that we know someone so talented, so prolific, and so wise.

It has been a joy to see Rosanne and her singular creativity be acknowledged by so many, lately. Her album, The River and the Thread, which will always hold a special place in our hearts, won 3 Grammy Awards in February 2015, sweeping all categories for which it was nominated: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song, and Best American Roots Performance, for “A Feather’s Not a Bird”.

She has recently held a three-night residency at the Library of Congress, received the 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts, and curated a “Perspectives” series for Carnegie Hall that highlighted the best in Americana and roots music. (Among the artists included were Alabama Chanin favorites and Alabama natives, St. Paul and the Broken Bones.) Earlier this year, Rose was named the Country Music Hall of Fame’s 2015 Artist in Residence, which culminated in three concerts, including one instantly legendary evening of music by Rosanne, Lucinda Williams, and Emmylou Harris.


In October, Rosanne was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, an honor she was thrilled to receive. “This is the award I wanted. I started as a songwriter. I still consider myself, first and foremost, a songwriter, and dreamed that one day I would get this honor.” She and her father Johnny Cash are the only father/daughter members.

Rosanne seems to be always searching her own depths and looking for new sources of inspiration. She has recorded 15 albums and writes prolifically—everything from essays and fiction (in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the Oxford American—among others) to her moving memoir, Composed. On top of all that, she also wrote three songs for season two of HBO’s True Detective and collaborated with Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson on a song released alongside Costello’s brand new memoir.

It is only natural that we would look to someone like Rosanne as part of our exploration of the creative process. We know that her method and her products are substantive, and we trusted that she would be completely, brutally honest with us. I recently read a quote of hers that I could relate to completely: “It’s only amateurs who only work when inspired. Music is a more trustworthy way to God than religion.” It is with this in mind that we consider Rosanne’s responses to our questions on creativity.

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Rosanne Cash: Before performances I have several things I do—stretching, breathing, feeling my feet on the ground, mentally clearing the space around me, a few words I always say to myself. In writing—no rituals, although I do have devices to break the constraints. Sometimes just a cup of tea will set things right.

AC: What makes you curious?

RC: Singularity makes me very curious. If someone is the foremost expert on wooden boats in the world, or knows everything about a certain brain tumor or a rare butterfly or deeply understands something that I only vaguely comprehend, like quantum physics or Mormonism, then I am riveted. I want to inhale everything they can tell me. And I’m curious about the personality that lives for one thing.

Dilettantes bore me.

My curiosity is also aroused by artists I love, but I don’t want to know about their artistic process. If I am moved by someone’s work, I want to know what they like to eat for breakfast, how much sleep they get, what their rituals are, if they watch television, their beverage of choice… I would KILL to know what Shakespeare did for amusement, who he slept with, and what his favorite food was.

AC: What do you daydream about?

RC: I daydream about color, water, silence, and nature.

Sometimes I daydream about how I would re-upholster my furniture.

AC: How important is education to your creative process?

RC: It’s important. I would use ‘discipline’ and ‘education’ together. It drives me crazy when people think what I do comes ‘naturally’ and that I don’t have to put effort into writing or performing or recording, or that songs happen because you get hit by a thunderbolt of inspiration and that’s all there is to it.

There are a lot of musicians and songwriters more talented than me. 85% of my success is because I’m tenacious and I show up for work.

AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

RC: Listening to music and looking at art inspires me. If I’m really stuck, I put on certain records to jiggle the door open, or go to a museum. If I hear a really good song, my competitive side might get triggered and I want to write something better.

AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

RC: That’s what amateurs do. If I only worked when I was in the mood, this would be a hobby, not my profession.

AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?

RC: Creativity is part of human nature. Mastery of creative work must be learned by doing.

AC: Creativity for me is_____.

RC: the reason I’m on the planet.

AC: How do you define success?

RC: Doing what you love and making a living at it.

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

RC: The travel for performance is the ‘heaviest’. I get really, really tired of it. I love travel, in theory, but touring is brutal.

The ‘lightest’ is when I finish writing a song that I know is good.

AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?

RC: Creativity IS spirituality.

AC: What makes you nervous?

RC: Doing things outside my wheelhouse. I’m about to perform with Wynton Marsalis for the first time. That makes me a little nervous. Those kinds of things.

AC: In what ways would you want to change your imaginative spirit?

RC: I’d want to make it bigger.

AC: Is there something that can halt your creativity? Distractions, fears, etc.? Have you found a way to avoid those pitfalls?

RC: Anxiety over my kids stops the whole circus.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

RC: No. There were things I didn’t put in my memoir because I didn’t want to hurt someone, but that’s different.

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

RC: Nope.

AC: If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?

RC: I’d love to paint.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

RC: Excessively.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

RC: It made me try harder. I’ve been depressed and felt insecure about certain failures and rejections, but it never made me give up.

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

RC: Someone who marries two very disparate ideas to create something entirely new, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the musical ‘Hamilton’.

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”

RC: The musical ‘Hamilton’.

AC: If you were to become a professor, what classes would you teach?

RC: Songwriting.

AC: What are your favorite things to do? What do you distinctly NOT like to do?

RC: I don’t like to unload the dishwasher.
I don’t like taking makeup off.
I don’t like to spend the day doing email.
I love reading.
I love putting the kettle on and anticipating tea time.
I love to sew with my girlfriends.

AC: Is there one single act that can open your imaginary mind?

RC: I wish I knew.

AC: Are there parts of your life that you always make a priority? That you struggle to make a priority?

RC: I always make my kids a priority.

I struggle to make doing nothing a priority.

(This project is made possible in-part by a fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts)

Photos courtesy of Clay Patrick McBride, Abraham Rowe, and Robert Rausch.



Atlanta-based chef Anne Quatrano is perhaps the most visible figure in the area’s farm-to-table movement. She and her husband and fellow chef Clifford Harrison are longtime proponents of sustainability and make concerted efforts to use locally grown seasonal and organic products—much of which comes from their own family farm. They own and operate three established restaurants—Bacchanalia, Little Bacch, and Floataway Café, run Star Provisions deli and market, and have very recently opened W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, a casual seafood spot in the Ponce City Market’s food hall.

Star Provisions is a carefully curated, visually inspiring shop and pantry where patrons can have access to the same tools and ingredients as professional chefs. They accomplish what we attempt to do in our own Studio Style DIY shop—provide high quality materials to those who might otherwise not have access to those items. Anne and Clifford have effectively opened their restaurant’s pantry and walk-in cooler for patrons to shop. It has a bakery, a wine cellar, a butcher and seafood counter, a cheesemonger, and a section for cookbooks, specialty goods, tableware, penny candy—and even dog treats.


As part of our continued inquiry into the creative process, I was interested in how someone could manage so many undertakings and manage a family farm and come up with fresh ideas for new restaurants. Fellow Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield said of Anne, “Ann was a pioneer in Atlanta. Her focus has always been on sourcing the best ingredients first, and local, seasonal ingredients have always been important to her.” I want to know what inspires such a pioneer—and what continues to keep that sort of passion stoked. We forwarded Anne a list of 34 questions about her thoughts on how she creates, stays motivated, and encourages her own creativity—and asked her to answer 5-10 of her choice. Her responses follow and reveal what sparks her curiosity and what she might have done instead of becoming a chef (though we’re so glad she stuck with her original plan).

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Anne Quatrano: Not really – I love an iced tea and a stack of magazines on Sundays.

AC: What makes you curious?

AQ: Mostly nature and its elements…wild vegetation, bird’s nests, the paths of bees, my dogs’ habits, anatomy of a hog…

AC: What do you daydream about?

AQ: The beach


AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

AQ: Driving

AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

AQ: No, but I am more creative when calm.

AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?

AQ: Human nature – the discipline to achieve is learned.

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

AQ: Heaviest is always economically motivated. Lightest is typically the relationship of flavors, textures and form.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

AQ: Sometimes with hired graphic designers or individuals helping with projects—but most of the time the collaboration is just as rewarding and often better.

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

AQ: I would draw homes and public spaces…architecture.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

AQ: Yes – more than anyone else.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

AQ: No

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”?

AQ: Everything…


P.S.: Purchase tickets to our Friends of the Café Dinner with chef Anne Quatrano on October 24th and have the chance to experience her food firsthand.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee Photography



Ochre: a natural earth pigment containing hydrated iron oxide

Vermeer used ochre extensively when painting flesh tones.

Ochre is the color of harvest, of autumn wheat, and heavenly bodies.

Gold Leaf: gold that has been hammered into thin sheets

The golden bough, sought by Aeneas to protect himself as he journeyed into Hades.

And here: the golden tree of life at London’s Whitechapel Gallery.

Today, see Chinese artist Zhou Xiaoping collaborate with Aboriginal artist Johnny Bulunbulun. Ochre and Ink and rice paper, a cross-cultural experiment in art and process.

Our Arella Top – a selection from Collection #29




In the northwest corner of Alabama it sometimes feels like we are in our own little world (or, perhaps, just in our own little state of mind); we have our own way of doing things. This area boasts a beautiful terrain, unpredictable weather, its own unique musical sound, white barbecue sauce, and, of course, chicken stew. But, even as we boast about our unique quirks, claims to fame, and attributes, it must be said that other areas of Alabama certainly have special qualities and points of view, different from our own. Though each region or county or city has its own distinct flavor, we share in a creative spirit that can be found anywhere in the state. (Visit the Southern Makers gathering for verifiable proof of what Alabama has to offer artistically.)

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Over the years, I’ve managed to amass quite a library of design, photography, and art books alongside my treasured cookbooks, novels, and random printed matter that continues to inspire. The shelf that Sara first organized has become four packed-to-the-top rolling shelves that now inspire an entire company. We were recently discussing the best way to archive these books that we can continue to loan them out—but also keep the collection intact, when it occurred to me that libraries all over the world have already invented  pretty intricate systems for organizing books. Why reinvent the wheel – or, in this case, the card catalog…

As I began to read more on library classifications, I discovered there are two systems that seem to be most frequently employed by libraries: the Dewey Decimal Classification and the Library of Congress system. Both systems allow books to be classified in very specific, detailed ways. They just approach their systems of organization a little differently.

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) is a library classification system created by Melvil Dewey in the late 1800s. What made the Dewey Classification unique was the introduction of the idea that books should be grouped together based on subject matter. The decimal system structure allows us to drill down deeper into a subject matter, making room for more and more specific and specialized book topics; the fractional decimals allow categorization into as much detail as necessary. Finding books – and returning them to their proper spot – became almost a science.

Before the Dewey system was widely adopted, many libraries used a fixed positioning system where books were placed on the shelf based on the book’s height and date of acquisition. Because early libraries were not always open to the public, “browsing” stacks wasn’t encouraged; only privileged patrons and employees looked at the shelves. The Dewey Decimal Classification ultimately made libraries more accessible to the public, because patrons were able to search for books on their own.


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I’ve been carrying this book around with me for weeks—which is no small feat. In a bag that is already oversized and overloaded, a three-pound book is quite an addition.  But every time I take it out to leave on my home studio table, I reconsider, put it back in my bag and take it back to The Factory—and so begins the dance again of hauling it back home again. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own journals recently, which have become less beautiful over the years. What was once a place to draw and scribble, I now use to make lists of the things I need to do or document meetings. But there is the occasional drawing from Maggie or my granddaughter Stella, and findings from trips that include business cards and ephemera, alongside a few thank you notes. I want my journals to become a place of inspiration (again). I want to cut apart every book and every journal I’ve ever written or compiled and re-do them. I want to write and think and draw. I want to sit in Derek Jarman’s garden and doodle: http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/derek_jarman_garden_prospect_cottage_dungeness

Derek Jarman was an English filmmaker, stage designer, artist, author, diarist, and talented gardener. He created eleven feature films, most notably Sebastiane, Jubilee, The Tempest, and Caravaggio. As a director, he cultivated close working relationships with artists like Tilda Swinton and Dame Judi Dench—and even convinced Sir Lawrence Olivier to come out of retirement for what would be his last performance. In addition to his presence on the film scene, he remained relevant in pop culture as part of the 1970s London social scene—directing music videos for Marianne Faithfull, The Smiths, and the Pet Shop Boys.

Jarman was prolific as a painter and a well-known and respected set designer for stage and film—notably for director Ken Russell. He was an outspoken and early advocate for gay rights and AIDS awareness until his death in 1994 from an AIDS-related illness. Jarman was perhaps one of the most well rounded artists of his era; he wrote memoirs, poetry, and social criticism. He also cultivated beautiful highly regarded, postmodern-style gardens, including his home at Prospect Cottage, Dungeness in Kent. On all fronts, he rejected straightforward, modernist visions or design theories. Of his gardens, he said, “Paradise haunts gardens, and some gardens are paradises. Mine is one of them. Others are like bad children, spoilt by their parents, over-watered and covered with noxious chemicals.”

Friend and muse Tilda Swinton wrote hauntingly of Jarman:

This is what I miss, now that there are no more Derek Jarman films: the mess, the cant, the poetry, Simon Fisher Turner’s music, the real faces, the intellectualism, the bad-temperedness, the good-temperedness, the cheek, the standards, the anarchy, the romanticism, the classicism, the activism, the glee, the bumptiousness, the resistance, the wit, the fight, the colours, the grace, the passion, the beauty.