Tag Archives: Travel + The Journey

ALABAMA CHANIN – POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA

POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA

Dear Sissi,

You might not know this, but Maggie and I recently took a transcontinental (well, almost) train trip to my “Alabama on Alabama” show at Heath Ceramics in San Francisco. We stopped for a night in Chicago (which was wonderful) and when we boarded the California Zephyr, took our seats and started to move from the city, I felt my breath release and I said to Maggie, “I don’t think that I’ve ever been happier than this moment.”  There is something about sitting and watching the world go by that is good for the soul. On the trip, I thought a lot about the women and men who settled this country and how they must have felt watching this immense landscape roll by.

I wish that you were with us. I know that you would enjoy our lively conversation (and regular naps).

xoNatalie

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Dear Birgit,

I thought so much of you as we were traversing Nevada on our railway adventure. There is a spot where the rocks are red—and in some places pink. It’s a land that makes you think of John Wayne and the plethora of movie westerns that so defined film in America. I think that this might have been my favorite part of the trip. It’s a brief glimpse that makes you want to saddle a horse and find out what is at the end of each small cavern. It feels wild and I remember the time that we laid in a garden of roses staring at each star in the sky. I miss you.

xoNatalie

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Dear GramPerkins and Granddaddy,

You’re not alive anymore to read this but I’m going to write it anyway and mail it to our house. Maggie and I are on day two of our adventure across America and I can’t help but think of you and the postcard you once sent from the Painted Desert. I take out my phone to find out how far we are from that spot and see that we are about six hours as the crow flies. My imagination takes wing and goes there—or at least to the postcard that you sent. I miss you every day. I’ve taken lots of pictures—in homage to the slide shows you used to “present” to us after each one of your explorations. I wish that I had those slides now. If I did, I’d look for each crevice and corner of America that you saw.

Lots of love from this adventure (from Maggie too),

xoNatalie

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Dear Steven,

I’m sending this from somewhere in the middle of the “heartland.” It goes on and on and on… It’s the first time I really realized how BIG this beautiful country of ours becomes when you transverse it field by field, rock by rock, and tree by tree. Maggie and I have taught ourselves all the words to “America the Beautiful”—which we sing off-key and a little too loudly. I’m sure our neighbors are annoyed but we sing anyway. I would say that I miss the studio but I don’t really. But I do miss all of you… give my love to everyone.

xoNatalie

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Dear Olivia and Hope,

Thank you. Thank you for taking care of our new puppy, Rowdy. I hope that he is being a good boy. I’d say that we wish he was with us—but we don’t really. It’s been so lovely to sit with Maggie—just the two of us—and dream, and sing, and make origami, and just stare out the window. Train travel is just that, lots of staring, and all that gazing out the window does the soul good. We’ve settled into a schedule and I think that we might be sad to see this leg of our journey come to an end.

Thinking of you all—squeeze Rowdy,

xoNatalie and Maggie

P.S.: Maggie’s taught herself to knit!

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ALABAMA CHANIN – POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA

Dear Cathy, Robin, and Jasper,

We can’t begin to thank you enough for inspiring us to take the train to California. Your trips to Alabama each year seemed like a dream and now Maggie and I KNOW why you love them so.  It’s been such a beautiful journey—to you and back again. We can’t wait for the next time and the next adventure with you. Let’s plan that meeting in Texas—the Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle await! Thank you again for good food, good stories, and good company.

Until we meet again,

xoNatalie and Maggie

ALABAMA CHANIN – POSTCARDS FROM AMERICAALABAMA CHANIN – POSTCARDS FROM AMERICAALABAMA CHANIN – POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA

If you’re thinking of train travel, here are a few tips we learned (and Cathy shared with us):

Join the Amtrak Guest Rewards program before you purchase your ticket (they have lots of promotions that you can take advantage of).

Make sure you pack only one suitcase and that it is small enough to fit under the Amtrak seat.

If you need more than one bag at your final destination, check it through and take only what you need on the train.

If you can afford it, get a bedroom. (You can get deals on day-of travel.)

Bring your own coffee (if you are partial to the stuff in the morning). I packed my vintage Krups espresso machine, a good thermos, and had fresh cappuccino every morning. I ordered milk each night for dinner and used it for my morning coffee.

Bring a good bottle of wine (if you are partial to the stuff in the evening). I like my white wine over ice, so it wasn’t an issue to keep it cool. Red wine works too.

A pillow from home and a good duvet go a long way on a long night.

Make friends with your attendant straight off—they know all the best stuff about every train and are incredibly helpful.

Healthy snacks aren’t really an option—stock up ahead of time.

A deck of cards is a great conversation starter.

Bring origami cranes to each meal. Everyone loves an origami crane.

Plan to get some fresh air at each stop, where it’s possible. A little skipping helps get the blood flowing.

If you do choose to get a bedroom, the showers are very small. There is a larger (shared) shower on the lower level. You may prefer this.

If you do shower in room, remove the toilet paper from the room. No matter how careful you are, it always gets wet.

Take a million pictures and share freely. Everyone loves the train and will love you for sharing.

Watch the sunrise from the back of the train at least once—set your alarm if necessary.

Don’t be in a hurry. Trains are often late and that’s just the way it is. Embrace the moment, relax, breathe, and enjoy.

Look for heart rocks and double rainbows. They seem to be common occurrences.

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P.S.: Plan an overnight stay in Chicago and (if your schedule allows) every stop along the way… you won’t regret it.

ALABAMA CHANIN – POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA

P.S.S: When you see a train track, listen for the whistle, heed the warnings, and don’t try to race the train across, or play on the tracks, or attempt anything silly or heroic. A train is a giant object, moving through space at a terrific speed, and an engine, as strong as it is, can’t stop the train quickly.

Be respectful. Be safe.

Side note to teenagers: You cannot camp inside a train tunnel in the Rocky Mountains.

(Yes, that happened. You’ll be glad to know that there were no injuries but the train was stopped for 1 1/2 hours while the local authorities removed them to a more appropriate campsite—causing us to miss our connecting train two days later.)

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Thanks for following along. Join us on Instagram for more pictures and adventures every day (or almost every day).

ALABAMA CHANIN – AMTRAK: ALABAMA TO SAN FRANCISCO

AMTRAK: ALABAMA TO SAN FRANCISCO

A few notes from the road:

We packed way too much. One suitcase and a favorite pillow would have done.

We haven’t taken nearly enough pictures to describe the magnificent journey this has been.

Snacks are good.

Rain from a train is very beautiful.

Tunnels can be a little dark and scary.

Origami makes people happy.

The absence of cell phone service and Wi-Fi can be a blessing.

There is a beautiful juxtaposition of rugged industrial and breathtaking scenery to be found along railroad tracks (and sometimes side-by-side).

Great satisfaction can be found in just sitting still.
xoNatalie and Maggie

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TRAINS: ALABAMA TO CALIFORNIA

TRAINS: ALABAMA TO SAN FRANCISCO

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.

TRAINS: ALABAMA TO CALIFORNIA

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ALABAMA ON ALABAMA

ALABAMA TO CALIFORNIA

THE STORY
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.

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ALABAMA CHANIN – POSTCARDS FROM AFAR

POSTCARDS FROM AFAR

When I was a little girl, I started a postcard collection. Postcards were then—and are now—a low cost memento of a trip (and a low stakes investment for a parent to make on a souvenir). I don’t remember how old I was when I started accumulating these paper treasures, nor can I identify the first postcard that found its way into the old shoebox that housed the collection. As any collector knows, there is often no clear rhyme or reason behind why something appeals to us. It sometimes requires years of study for a true collector able to identify trends and collecting tendencies. After a half of a century of amassing them, I have begun to understand that the postcards were my first connections to travel and to experiencing the world.

I can look through the shoebox and clearly see that early postcards reflected my grandparents’ trips to Florida—to visit a rogue branch of our family that left north Alabama for parts unknown. The photos were of places and attractions that felt exotic to a child. Finally, I made my first trip to the Florida panhandle and Panama City—what today we call the “Redneck Rivera”—when I was 5 years old. After an overnight drive with my mother and a group of her friends, I awoke as we neared our destination and declared, “It snowed!” because the beaches were so white. A collection of 1960s style post cards document that trip: Goofy Golf and images of white sand and turquoise blue waters.

A few years later, my cousins moved to Texas and my grandparents’ adventures expanded. I received postcards from Hot Springs, Arkansas, the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial in Dallas, Texas, and all the stops in between. My Aunt Elaine took a job as a teacher with the Armed Forces and set off for the Azores, and my collection grew further. I remember clearly sitting down across from her with a spinning globe between us, searching for the tiny archipelago of islands off the coast of Portugal. From there Elaine began to send a series of postcards that documented every stop of her travels. As my collection continued to multiply, friends and family members would purchase postcards for me from every place they went. Sent and delivered from around the world, these small rectangles of paper most likely created in me a need to travel and see as much as I could in my life.

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TRAVEL: THE NATCHEZ TRACE

Those traveling to The Shoals often ask for the best routes into and out of the area. I’m not sure what your definition of “best” may be, but I personally love to travel visually interesting routes, when time allows. For those that have the time and inclination for a scenic drive, I always recommend taking part of the journey on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile historical path that travels from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, and connects the Cumberland and Mississippi rivers.  It follows a geologic ridgeline that prehistoric animals followed in search of new grazing land and water sources. The Trace connected tribal homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations. Native travelers used the same pathways repeatedly, creating natural sunken sections in the ground.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: THE NATCHEZ TRACE

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ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: BIRMINGHAM

TRAVEL: BIRMINGHAM

Two hours south x southeast of The Shoals lies the metropolis of Birmingham—that’s how I have it in my childhood memory. It was the 1960s and 70s and we rarely made the trip. At that time, it was a place of strife, and violence, and steel, and, for a small child, the great unknown.  It wasn’t until I returned to Alabama in the year 2000 to settle back into my home state that I came to know—and began to understand—this city that lies in the heart of Alabama.

One of the three closest airports to The Shoals is here, in what is called the “Magic City”; many guests who visit our studio choose to fly or take the train to Birmingham and make the two-hour drive through the Southwestern Appalachians to Northwest Alabama.

Officially founded in 1871, Birmingham built itself around railroad transportation and the railroading industry—which is still in operation today, but the major industry that spurred economy and growth was iron and steel production—hard work for strong people. While the manufacturing industry is still recognized as a large presence, other businesses and industries, like medical technology and banking, have strengthened and added growth to the area in the past 50 years.

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TRAVEL: HOWARD FINSTER’S GARDEN

I took the pieces you threw away, and put them together night and day, washed by rain, dried by sun, a million pieces all in one.

-Howard Finster, “Poem for the Garden”

Howard Finster, a Southern Baptist minister and self-proclaimed “man of visions” moved to Pennville, Georgia in 1961, having purchased four acres of land that was mostly swamp. After draining the land with a series of homemade canals and channels, he began building the Plant Farm Museum, a biblical roadside attraction that would house “all the wonders of God’s creation.” Finster’s modern-day Garden of Eden was covered in biblical verses, paintings, and sculptures of the artist’s own design and punctuated by a series of structures including the Bible House, Mirror House, Hubcap Tower, Bicycle Tower, and a Folk Art Chapel which was five stories tall and built without plans or the aid of an architect.

In 1965, Howard Finster retired from preaching and increasingly dedicated himself to the Plant Farm Museum and his burgeoning career as a visual artist.

Ten years later, Finster’s elaborate environment was featured in Esquire magazine and renamed Paradise Garden. The garden has changed greatly over the years, and many of its original works have been acquired by collectors and museums. Few images of the garden in its original state exist.

Fortunately, one anonymous visitor to the garden in the mid-1970s held onto his or her pictures, and we are able to experience the garden at the height of its beauty – intact and un-plundered.

–Phillip March Jones

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TRAVEL: MUSCLE SHOALS

TRAVEL: MUSCLE SHOALS

Music has always been an integral part of The Shoals. We are placed along the banks of what the native people have long called, “the river that sings.” W.C. Handy, The Father of the Blues, was born here; legendary producer and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, is also from The Shoals. So, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the influential style of music known as the Muscle Shoals Sound emerged from this same musically rich place.

Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, we had an abstract idea of the big sounds being produced all around us—but no one ever made a fuss about it. Sure, our neighbors made music for a living, but those neighbors certainly weren’t famous, were they? (Were they?) And so it wasn’t until years later that many in our community began to understand exactly what was happening around us while we were growing up.

ALABAMA CHANIN – TRAVEL: MUSCLE SHOALS

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TRAVEL: THE ROSENBAUM HOUSE

TRAVEL: THE ROSENBAUM HOUSE

“Organic buildings are the strength and lightness of the spiders’ spinning, buildings qualified by light, bred by native character to environment, married to the ground.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

When visiting the Shoals area, or anywhere in Alabama for that matter, you should take time to visit the Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama. Nestled among otherwise ordinary Southern homes, this gem of craftsmanship and architecture is a perfect example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian style of design and is the only home he built in Alabama. Constructed nearly 60 years ago, the house was inhabited by the Rosenbaums (the home’s sole occupants) until 1999, when the family donated the property to the city of Florence. The home has been completely restored to look exactly as it did when the Rosenbaums lived there. Walking through it, you can feel the life and love that seeps from it still.

In 1938, Stanley Rosenbaum, a young Harvard College graduate who lived in Florence and worked in his family’s movie theater business, married New York fashion model Mildred Bookholtz and brought her home to Alabama. As a wedding gift, Stanley’s parents gave the newlyweds two acres of land and a small sum of money with which to build a home. The couple optimistically turned to world famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, known for his innovative design approach and affordability. The Rosenbaums asked Wright to build them a home with three bedrooms, two baths, a large kitchen, a study, a living room large enough to accommodate Mildred’s piano, and all for the sum of $7,500. To their surprise, Wright agreed.

TRAVEL: THE ROSENBAUM HOUSE

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