Thursday, February 21, 2013

Opportunity Knocks!

Gail Rieke in her home studio

 I am delighted to announce that Gail Rieke will be coming to the Maison Conti this fall to offer two workshops. The first, September 24-26, is already full. Since demand was high for this course, Gail agreed to stay on for another week and teach a second session October 1-3, for which we have just two places left. If you are interested in coming you can find details on our website.

I first met Gail in 2003 at the San Francisco Center for the Book,  a place I haunted in those days, and where each year she offered several courses. I never took a workshop there that I didn't enjoy, but Gail was, without doubt, my favorite instructor. The first thing I found was that she was very knowledgeable about the book arts and had an amazing number of techniques in her back pocket. She has a talent for listening and understanding what her students are trying to accomplish with their projects and she is able to offer each one various technical ways of approaching and realizing their ideas. I found her very inspirational and the work each of us created in the course was unique and magical. I learned as much from what others were doing as from what I was doing myself.

Often in such courses, the project is defined and the steps for achieving the end result are set out. Everyone comes up with the same solution, as only one is offered! I don't knock that, since certain kinds of book forms are best learned in that kind of structured way. There is none of that in a course with Gail, however. The goal is never to come up with a cookie cutter solution. It makes it more challenging, since a lot will depend on your own imagination, but the encouragement and support that is offered is so nurturing, that one is bound to be successful and satisfied, while all the time being opened up to an entirely new way of solving creative problems.

It was only after experiencing what a wonderful teacher Gail is that I discovered what a talented artist she is as well. These two skills do not necessarily go together. In fact I have often found that excellent artists are not such good communicators. But while Gail is an internationally acclaimed artist in her own right, she is also one of the best and most interesting teachers I have worked with.

Gail and her husband Zack, a painter, live in Santa Fe where their home is not only their studio, but a gallery for their art. It has been featured in several art journals. I have never personally visited, but I have seen some wonderful photos of Gail's suitcase wall, which Zack built for her collection of valises. 

Each case holds an entire collection of books and objects which represent a journey Gail has taken. She is a keen world traveler. I love her collection of globes, as well.

Gail has a particular attraction to Asia, and has traveled and taught in Japan, Laos, South Korea and Thailand. She offers workshops all over the United States, including Haystack in Maine, as well as in Mexico. This will be the second time she has offered a course at Maison Conti.

This time the focus of the class is on maps... broadly defined as a diagrammatic representation of either outer or inner landscapes. There will be inspiration for developing content and instruction for binding the content together in a journal, book or other form.

The possible results are somewhat endless! In Gail's own work, she strives for a strong theme to represent the emotional content of each of her adventures.

She also endeavors to create a completely different feeling in each of her pieces. Her students are the lucky recipients of her own imaginative and diverse solutions.

Gail generally brings some of her own work to the class to share with others, and she also begins with an extensive slide show of things to inspire and excite.

It's especially nice to share these days with Gail at the Maison Conti, as we all live and eat together for a packed and exciting few days. It's a lot like camp! Only the accommodations are more elegant.

October is one of my favorite months in Montmirail. The virginia creeper on the house is turning bright red and the forest, where we will certainly walk together, is beginning to think of putting on its fall colors. Days are usually blue and mild.

I hope you will consider signing up. I would love to welcome you at Maison Conti and I can so highly recommend Gail's course. I know you will enjoy yourself!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Days Away

A rainbow as seen out our living room window.

We've just returned from a week and a half away from home. We were in Paris most of the time, visiting with the family and then staying on to babysit while Emily and Jos had a week's residency in a theater in the north of France.

Before they left, we all took a visit together to the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie located at the Parc de la Villette, a short walk from Emily's home. We'd never been in this building before and we had a great time discovering the smallest part of it. It is really enormous. We went into the age-appropriate area for Quinn, which has all kinds of hands-on learning activities, much like the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

The building is beautiful, with large windows looking out onto a canal. Here Quinn plays with water. Lots of squirting, filling up buckets and dumping them out again.

This construction site, with its crane, soft bricks and wheelbarrows, was one of the preferred activities.

My favorite machine was this all-wooden structure. You put a ball in at one end and then steer it through the contraption with a set of levers that move the ball around. It was a lot like that wooden labyrinth that you have to move back and forth with handles to keep your ball from falling into a hole and thus losing the challenge. Quinn was remarkably quick at mastering the trick.

There were even a few things for Zinnie to entertain herself with, though officially she was too young.


Jos and Emily have been working for months to prepare for a show that opened last weekend in Arras. It is called Répertoire and except for the first two performances, it will be playing the rest of its run at the very beautiful Bouffes du Nord in Paris. There are five actors/musicians who perform this very unusual theater/musical piece. It was written by the German/Argentinian composer Mauricio Kagel. It required the creation of over one hundred "instruments," which are played throughout the performance.

Rick has done sets for Emily's productions before, so she hired him to not only help the professional set designer, but create the instruments as well. He has been working away at it since last summer. For the set construction, he had the fun of working at a real French set-making atelier. It was a vast airplane hanger of a building with every kind of specialized machine known to man. There was wood of every kind, shape and size available along with any sort of widget a person could desire, all on-site and ready to use.

This is the location where the Paris Opera puts together their sets and where Chanel has all its decorations for fashion shows made. Rick met some of the people who created the huge Lion d'Or which graced the Grand Palais for Chanel's 2010 line.

Photo borrowed from here.

Rick worked with Georges creating the sound-makers, working mostly in the rehearsal space in Paris.

Rick even got his name on the poster. Pretty thrilling stuff. He met some very interesting people and had a tremendous time as part of the team. Theater people do know how to have fun! And they are, in general, very nice folks.

We were invited to the opening in the city of Arras. We took the kids with us on the train on Friday and met Jos and Emily who had been there all week. The Theatre Arras is a gem. It's in a gorgeous old building and provides almost unbelievable accommodations. Our family was put up in an apartment right behind the theater with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a kitchen and living room. Lunch was catered at the theater in extravagant abundance.

Backstage, Rick checked his props for the last time before the opening. The show moves quickly and there is constant change, making backstage organization really crucial.

The hall is magnificent, with painted ceilings.

Quinn gave me a show on the empty stage after lunch. He also went to the opening and sat through the entire performance with attention.

Opening night went very well. The piece is unusual, described as dadaesque but the audience seemed to get right with the program. Emily and Jos, as co-directors, added a lot of humor to it, which gave the absurdity a light touch.


On Saturday Quinn got his hair cut, as he had been looking a bit like a ragamuffin.

and we celebrated Zinnie's first birthday with adorable little cakes. Instead of blowing out the candle, she just wanted to grab it.

Quinn was happy to show her how to work all the pulleys and levers in her new farm book.

Performance days are usually off for actors, so we had a nice opportunity to visit the town of Arras, little known by Americans, but quite important and popular with the Dutch and English. Arras, in the middle ages, was part of Flanders and was a major center in the linen trade. In World War I it was right on the front line. There are miles of tunnels underneath the city center where soldiers could hide.

The town hall is a beautiful old building, with its soaring clock tower topped with a golden lion visible all over town. It was always the symbol of the city's independence.

It looks out onto the Place des Héros, or the petit place. Here on Saturday morning is a huge open air market. The architecture is very Flemish indeed. It reminded me so much of Ghent.

From our bedroom windows we looked out upon the bare brick backs of ancient buildings. I love these noble old structures.


So now we're back at home again, with glowering skies, just waiting for the next adventure.