Wednesday, March 13, 2019


Last week it was Ash Wednesdaytherefore the day before was Fat Tuesday meaning it's a free-for-all at the pastry counter at our gourmet food emporium and I have a major sweet tooth always waiting to be satisfied.
I don't know how I've avoided any tooth loss due to the boxes of Good & Plenty's, snickerdoodles or the ubiquitous Wisconsin cream puff I've consumed as a child and young adult. Maybe growing up in Wisconsin where every meal and snack was accompanied by a huge glass of ice-cold milk saved my incisors. I was never in danger of a calcium deficiency. It wasn't due to enforced dental care either. My Mom was a true country girl and a mint flavored toothpick picked up at the local restaurant we went to on our twice a year dining out excursion was as close as we got to teeth cleaning.  Somehow I've made it to adulthood and beyond with all my teeth still intact including a couple of back molars that never made it above the gum line.
Wisconsin's culinary claims to fame have mostly been tied to beer and cheese but there's a strong food network built around ethnic sweets as well. The Germans gave us their sweet chocolate cake and pfeffernusse at Christmas.
The Danes gave us the kringle.
I don't know who brought elephant ears to the table but we had them grilled letting the sugar caramelize and ooze over our breakfast plates way back when I was a child.
Growing up our neighbor was what could be described as one of the first supermarkets in Madison. We had back access to the store letting us in right at the pastry counter where fresh doughnuts, pies and cakes were brought in daily. Glazed, crème filled, sugared and sprinkled were laid out under a tiered glass case. During the summer the neighborhood mom's would rotate a midmorning coffee klatch requiring one of us to run next door and collect a couple dozen doughnuts of our choice. Bismarks, Long Johns, fritters and a host of yeasty doughnuts in a myriad of flavors and icings sat on wax paper trays ready for the picking.
There were chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon doughnuts to chose from.
A favorite of mine was the bakery's petit fours that they called little cakes iced with butter cream frosting and rosettes so sweet and sugar laden your teeth hurt once you bit into one.
The pastry counters of Wisconsin haven't changed much since then but the market has become a bit more sophisticated. The counter has now extended to include handmade truffles, hand-dipped strawberries and gourmet popcorn.
Madison has also become a leader in the American chocolate industry. CocoVaa, Candinas Chocolatier and Gail Ambrosius have started and stayed in Madison. CocoVaa in its initial entry won a 2018 Grand Master Chocolatier Award at the Internaitonal Chocolate Salon competition in Paris; a feat few seasoned chocolatiers have earned.
I almost made it out of Wisconsin on Fat Tuesday without falling for a stop for a last sugar rush before sweets would be taken away for lent. I had a flight to New York but to get there I had to pass my local market knowing they'd have a table piled high with Polish Paczki. They only sell them the week before lent. They're pronounced POOCH-key, a jelly filled doughnut either iced or sugar coated and the size of a ten ounce filet mignon. I kept pinching my spare tire as I neared the market but it wasn't enough of a deterrent. I pulled in and there was the table.
The last day they'd have this table stocked with six packs of Paczki, a package of six on sale for $3.99. You could chose from raspberry, Bavarian custard, lemon or prune. With these you can get your sugar fix and regularity all at the same time. Is there any wonder tractor butt has Wisconsin origins?
So if you see me during lent please don't comment on my butt and know I ate all six before Fat Tuesday turned into Ash Wednesday. Do you think I might be a candidate for  JLo's ten day no sugar, no carb diet? I doubt I could survive.

American Fair #183, 2015
Pamela Littky, photographer
Represented by Weiss Katz Gallery, New York

Monday, March 4, 2019


There's no more Restoration Hardware on lower Fifth Avenue. I was distraught until I realized they didn't give up on New York, they just moved. The newest venture for RH is in the Meat Packing District on the far West Side down around West Fourteenth Street. In a former time, before the AIDS epidemic had hit and decimated New York's gay community, the Meat Packing District was a warren of cobblestone streets streaked with rivulets of blood from the slaughtered carcasses hung from meat hooks on the awning covered sidewalks. It teamed with hulky butchers in death stained white coats during the day and rough looking men in skintight leather pants and vests hanging around seamy doorways and cruising for another trick.
Slowly the meat packers moved out as urban pioneers started taking over the incredible industrial architectural gems that began to make the area so desirable. Then once the Highline turned an old abandoned elevated railroad track into a park running through the heart of the area the blood on the streets dried up and the architecture took on a new life.
Restoration Hardware's newest addition to the area has taken another of the district's brick giants
and crowned it with an additional two stories and a rooftop in RH's signature black and glass.
The once sleazy Ninth Avenue is now a posh artery pumping green dollars instead of rivers of bovine blood.
The minute you walk through the glass doors on Ninth Avenue you know you've entered the newest trend in retail design. Evocative of the department stores of the turn of the twentieth century
you are placed in an enormous galleria ringed on every upper level by a series of balconies all the way to the glass ceiling.
At the visual end of the entry is a concierge desk stationed in front of an elegant glass elevator creating the illusion that you might have entered a new Ian Schrager hotel rather than a furniture store.
Elegance seeps from every alcove as you peer to your left and right into the rooms that set the tone for the rest of the magic.
Gargantuan garden statuary that I presumed to be reproductions line the galleria acting as sentries.
Behind each statue is a reflective mirror giving the impression of having entered a modern day Versailles. Without clearly visible price tags you're not sure if you've been invited here to live out a fantasy in a manor house of your dreams.
This is the trend I've long thought was on its way to the brick and mortar aspect of retail sales. If brick and mortars were going to survive in an age of technology and online sales they were going to have to find a way beyond just selling product to draw customers in; shopping needed to become an experience.
Restoration Hardware has made that happen in spades.
First it's sheer drama. You're taken on a magic carpet ride through destinations you didn't even know existed.
Each staircase is a modern day recreation of the most opulent grand staircases of the famous opera houses around the world.
Descending one is equivalent to transforming you into Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio entering the ballroom of the Titanic.
Every room is a movie set where you can find someone lounging imagining themselves as the stars of their own art directed feature courtesy of Restoration Hardware.
It didn't matter that the scale of many of the vignettes were castle worthy having no possibility of ever fitting into a normal New York apartment.
It didn't matter that an entire floor was given over to children's lifestyles attainable solely for kids with royal pedigrees.
What did matter was that for the time you spent in Restoration Hardware's palace you were to be its lord and lady.
You were invited to sit in the living rooms,
lounge on the beds
and soak up the quintessential branding that is Restoration Hardware.
It's an easy suit to slip into. The fit is perfect. It feels custom made. It's stylish and oh so comfortable. It's definitely hard to resist.
To keep you there even longer there's a bar on the third floor, part of the newly added top floors to the original building, with a lounge where you can sit and bask in the light pouring through the floor to ceiling windows.
You're not required to sit. There's no waiter hovering around. Instead your encouraged to wonder wine in hand through the maze of rooms
as you fantasize about how their furniture and accessories would fit into your dream home.
The wine and cappuccinos only helping to weaken your resolve not to be sucked into purchasing a twelve-foot credenza you don't need or wouldn't fit into your man cave anyway.
The very top of the new Restoration Hardware in the Meat Packing District is a glass-topped restaurant dripping with crystal chandeliers,
an outdoor deck bubbling with fountains,
a view of lower Manhattan up to Mid-town and waiters at your beck and call.
The hope is you'll fall in love with the idea of an RH home. You can enter the world of RH, plop yourself down in its comfort, get the feel for its luxury, entertain the idea of it being your very own castle as you sip a merlot from an over-stuffed sofa your feet propped up on a tufted ottoman and eventually find you can't live without a piece of what they are offering.

The Queen at Buckingham Palace, 2007
Annie Leibovitz, photographer
Represented by Weinstein Hammons Gallery, Minneapolis

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


Back in September I doubt I would have ever made it to the Paine Art Center and Gardens if it weren't for having to travel to our furniture manufacturer to check on several pieces I had in production. Sometimes the greatest adventures end up being right in your own backyard or at least in the backyard of your manufacturer. It was nearing the time that an exhibition of Louis Comfort Tiffany's work was coming to a close at the Paine.
One of the beauties of the Paine is its curating of its shows.

There's a strong inclination to bring to the Paine traveling exhibits that are made more dramatic by being seen in the period rooms of the Paine.
The Tiffany exhibit was a delightful extension of their ability to attract these exhibitions that fit so perfectly into the Paine mansion.
The strength of Tiffany's designs was so much more meaningful by being placed in environments evocative of the same period in which many of the pieces were made.
A dragon fly lamp sitting on a writing desk in the Paine library gave so much more context to the piece by being displayed in the Paine as opposed to being shown on a pedestal encased in a plastic cage at a more modern museum.
The delicate green and gold damascene shade on a small desk lamp featuring an iridescent swirling pattern became more of a story once it was set against those floral drapes. A pair of men's reading glasses laid in the base's bronze tray seemed as if we were waiting for the gentleman to reenter the room with the book he had left in the downstairs library now in hand.
The sheer mastery of glass as an art material was no more pleasing than in this parasol lamp with its Asian influence. A sleek slender shade balanced on a reed-like stem was perfect in its proportions and glow.
The arts and crafts period used nature extensively as its inspiration. This nasturtium table lamp nestled in the Belter sitting room couldn't have felt more at home in its setting of carved furniture.
The array of magical sparks of illumination were everywhere and rather than placing them behind stanchions you could get up close enough to smell the peonies on this leaded glass shade
The overlapping leaves on a stunning nasturtium shade almost made this shade into a where's Waldo game of deciphering where the flowers were hidden. Tiffany began manufacturing his own glass very near the beginning of his career so he could create the amazing colors and mottled quality of the glass that made him famous
I feel Tiffany would have been very pleased with having this exhibit show up at the Paine, The ability to see his pieces placed in environments worthy of being a background to his work I believe would have pleased him.
After his artwork was so lauded, he was thrust into the design limelight with clients ranging from New York's society doyennes to designing rooms at the White House for President Arthur. His lily lamps were a staple for many of his clients.
We only have memberships at two museums, one had one of the most extensive collections in the world the other has a modest collection, yet each has the talent to create some of the most breathtaking and valuable temporary exhibits making them into world class venues. It's much easier for me to get to the Met, it's a short walk across the park.
The Paine takes a bit more effort but the trek is always rewarding.

Fractal art
Jacqueline Payne, artist
Contact at jacquebeth