APRIL 2012 - The General Aesthete

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Bird Calls by Quelle est Belle

In a small workshop in France, these charming, accurate bird calls are produced by hand. Each has taken many years to develop, and is overseen by François Morel, a gentleman that has been making bird calls since he was a child, growing up in the mountains of Southern France.

Aside from communication tools of the oiseaux variety, the calls are quite beautiful; made from such materials as beech, maple, leather, and brass, they are a fine example of craft with integrity.

The instruments are sold individually, or in boxed sets, with minimal packaging of a sliding-top wooden box, with a simplified graphic of the intended bird at one end, and usage instructions inside (as some of the calls require a certain finesse). Calls are made for a wide variety of birds: European, Asian, and many native to North America.

Though these calls are toys, of sorts, they’re not intended for children, nor for hunters or the disturbance of nesting birds, as the company responsible for the calls, Quelle est Belle, clearly states on their website: “We retain the right to refuse to supply people who cannot fully guarantee their respect for nature,” and, inside the bird call packaging is a small note: “We have put our whole heart into the conception of our nature toys and we hope that those who handle them will use them to good intent.”

Quelle est Belle bird calls are available internationally via their website, or in the United States from Canoe (with a selection of American birds).

Air Plant Supply Co.

Air Plant Supply Co. is a Florida-based online purveyor of air plants. Also known as Tillandisia, air plants have become the go-to accessory for modern interiors, due to their easy maintenance and the quiet exoticism they evoke through unusual forms and their epiphytic manner of living without soil. Air Plant Supply Co. sells a wide, but well-curated selection of plants, including rare varieties.

It isn’t hard to find air plants on the internet, but a cleanly designed, easy to navigate site makes the process much more pleasant. The shipping is prompt, and each plant is individually wrapped in tissue paper with a sticker to identify the variety.

The website also gives straightforward advice concerning the care of plants they offer, which typically prefer moderate light and a weekly soaking.

Above, clockwise from top left: Arhiza, $8; Concolor Strepto, $18; Butzii, $4; Xerographica, $18; Houston, $10

More at: Air Plant Supply Co.

Megaphone by en&is

The en&is Megaphone is a passive amplifier for the iPhone that works in a fashion similar to that of the horn on a traditional phonograph. The hand-sculpted ceramic form is made in the Italian town of Nove, famous for its local network of ceramic industries, and it sits on a thin, Italian walnut frame, which helps to increase vibration and maximize the emission of sound.

Initially, when using the Megaphone, I was a little concerned about its ability to project, but soon realized that too much was being expecting from something so candidly engineered; the device is not intended as a dock replacement or hi-fi system, and you certainly won’t get big, booming sound from it, but you will get an evocative output that works to almost revert the iPhone’s electronic complexity into something nostalgic and mellow, lending itself especially well to non-remastered recordings of 1940s and classical music.

The Italian design firm that developed Megaphone, en&is, consists of Enrico Bosa and Isabella Lovero, both accomplished designers that have worked on large-scale interior projects, as well as home furniture and accessories, making the company a natural evolution of their creative synergy.

The en&is Megaphone works with most iPhone generations, but is obviously best suited to iPhone4 or 4s. It is available in white, black, or gold finish, and the price is just over $500, available at the en&is website.

Rite in the Rain

In the 1920s, Jerry Darling developed a paper that could withstand the moisture and wear and tear of logging in the Pacific Northwest. Since, Rite in the Rain paper has evolved into a full line of weatherproof journals, memo books, notebooks, and even paper for copy machines. These goods, which completely shed water and dirt, and can even be written on under water, have become a favorite of in-the-know outdoor enthusiasts and professionals around the world.

The line, made with wood-based, 100% recyclable paper, is still manufactured in Tacoma, Washington; additionally, the archival-grade paper is made to last several hundred years. The paper works best with a pencil or all-weather pen, and, to the touch, does not feel much different from regular writing paper.

Aside from being practical, Rite in the Rain journals are notably attractive, well-made, and include a (much appreciated by me) conversion chart in the back. You would be hard pressed to find a more purposeful gift for a gardener, camper, budding naturalist, or someone working in the field.

Shown: Journal Kit (includes Cordura cover, hardbound field book, and all-weather pen), $44.93

More at: Rite in the Rain

Iris Hantverk

Iris Hantverk is a Swedish company that makes beautiful, traditional household tools and accessories, specializing in brushes and brooms. In addition to utilizing the production techniques the company started with toward the end of the 1800s, Iris Hantverk employs visually impaired craftspeople to assemble their brushes.

The construction process for brushes consists of each bundle of bristles being painstakingly hand-attached to a wooden handle, with precision and quality being paramount, just as they were for the company over 100 years ago.

The handmade brushes are made of almost entirely natural components: from the wooden handles, to bristles of horsehair, goat hair, Tampico (a cactus fiber unique to northern Mexico), or Piassava (also referred to as “African Bass”), depending on the brush’s intended use.

Also worthy of note are Hantverk’s knitted flax towels, as well as their minimal, concrete soap dishes.

Iris Hantverk has two stores in Stockholm; A large selection of their products can be purchased online at Fjorn Scandinavian.

Above, clockwise from top left: Washing-Up Whisk, $12; Horsehair Table Brush Set, $49; Broom and Dust Pan, $110; Knitted Flax Bath Towels (Set of 3), $120

Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin is considered to be one of the most evocative modern painters of her time, not because she consciously took interest in accessing the emotions of one viewing her work, but because it was done almost entirely without suggestion, with the foundation being the power of simplicity. Inciting the abstract emotion that she believed lives in all of us, her paintings were intended as a catalyst to conjure the feeling one might have upon being graced with an emotion-inspiring sight or environment, mainly dealing with the peacefulness of landscape and nature.

Martin moved to the United States, from Canada, in the 1930s. After spending time at Western Washington University, she moved to New York in 1941, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Teachers College at Columbia University, where she later returned to complete her Master of Fine Arts degree. She started making art in the early 1940s, living in New York, and intermittently in New Mexico, where she studied at University of New Mexico, while also teaching there.

In the early 1950s, Martin began working with the symbolic and biomorphic forms also used by the then growing Abstract Expressionist movement, but by the end of this decade, she had developed her own brand of geometric abstraction, without the style-defining sense of gesture or action.

At the suggestion of famous art dealer Betty Parsons, Martin returned to New York in 1957, and Parsons offered Martin her first one-woman exhibition in 1958. Prior to this, Martin was teaching and working various jobs to support herself, as she had not seriously explored the idea of her selling her work.

Martin’s style is defined by an emphasis upon line, grids, and fields of very subtle coloration. When she did employ color, which was, for the most part, faint, and later in her career, the impression is that the color is floating from the canvas, a carefully executed, but ethereal effect.

In the 1966 exhibition Systemic Painting, at the Guggenheim Museum, Martin’s grids were celebrated as examples of Minimalism, and hung among the work of artists including Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, and Donald Judd, making her name relevant to the development of this movement. However, Martin chose to retain small flaws, and unmistakable traces of the artist’s hand; she shied away from intellectualism, favoring the personal and spiritual. To evoke abstract emotion in the viewer; Martin makes a point to avoid direct allusion or suggestion via imagery. Additionally, Martin’s work often reflects an interest in Eastern philosophy, especially Taoist. Because of this added spiritual dimension, one that became more dominant in the late 1960s, she preferred her style be identified as Abstract Expressionism, as the transcendence and meditative quality is often absent from typically unpermissive Minimalism.

In 1967, when she lost her studio, Martin left New York for New Mexico, and did not paint for many years, instead focusing on writing. However, in 1974, she introduced a new group of paintings, and from 1975, exhibited regularly.

Martin’s work has been the subject of more than 80 solo shows, and several important retrospectives, including the renowned survey, Agnes Martin, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, which later travelled extensively.

Agnes Martin died in 2004, in New Mexico, where she spent her final years living and continuing to make art. The Agnes Martin estate is represented by Pace Gallery, New York.

Shown, from top, clockwise: “Mountain,” 1960; “The Sea,” 2003 “Aspiration,” 1960; Agnes Martin in her studio, 1955, by Mildred Tolbert.