finding your genre

This quote by John McPhee has been rattling around in my head since I read this article in July. … I wanted to get it down safely somewhere (somewhere not in my head) so I can come back and visit it.

“Young writers find out what kinds of writers they are by experiment. If they choose from the outset to practive exclusively a form of writing because it is praised in the classroom or otherwise carries appealing prestige, they are vastly increasing the risk inherest in taking up writing in the first place.

It is so easy to misjudge yourself and get stuck in the wrong genre. You avoid that, early on, by writing in every genre. If you are telling yourself you’re a poet, write poems. Write a lot of poems. If fewer than one work out, throw them all way; you’re not a poet. Maybe you’re a novelist. You won’t know until you have written several novels.”

— John McPhee (“Editors & Publisher: The name of the subject shall not be the title,” The New Yorker, 7/2/12)

Seeing Things: Designing the Design Fest


By Caroline Tiger, For The Inquirer

When Ben Evans cofounded the London Design Festival in 2003, there were only four or five others around to serve as models. At the beginning of last year’s LDF, Evans and his staff counted around 85. Now, he estimates, there are more than a hundred. The trend has evolved into a movement.
If London is the international pioneer of the citywide design week, our own DesignPhiladelphia, launched in 2005, is the U.S. pioneer. It was the first not to be centered on a trade show and the first to act as a platform and bullhorn to define and promote a city’s sprawling design talent. After Philadelphia came San Francisco, and in the last three years a wave of others around the world have followed, giving rise to a bit of a “what have we wrought” moment in London. One of the panels at its festival last month was called, “Design Festivals: Who Needs Them?”… read more

Making It: Candy Depew of CandyCoated


A few years ago, Candy Depew changed her job title from “artist” to “designer.” “I got tired of that concept of the starving artist,” she says, “and of how no one thinks they have to pay an artist — or if they do, the artist gets paid last.” It seems that small semantic shift is enough to augment the size of a bank account: According to her research, designers are paid a minimum of 20 percent more than artists for doing the exact same work…. read more

Seeing Things: Is Bad Taste Worth Preserving?

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By Caroline Tiger, For The Inquirer

Try walking down East Passyunk Avenue without noticing the King of Jeans sign: a two-story, shirtless Tony Manero bends down to kiss a South Philly Snow White with flowing hair, a bra top, hot pants, and heels. Like the figures on John Keats’ Grecian urn, Tony and Snow are forever frozen in time. The time is the ’80s, and the place is Pashunk.

The bloom may never fade for this two-dimensional couple, but the fall of the King of Jeans is imminent. Owner Izak Farbiarz is closing shop in September due to divorce-related financial troubles, and the fate of the sign is uncertain. Recently, a developer presented his plans for the property, spurring everyone to realize that the sign might vanish from the avenue. A few cheered. Most panicked.

“They have to work it into the new design!” says Elissa Kara, owner of Nice Handmade Things – one of the newer boutiques along the avenue. (There is no new design yet – the building is under contract, but the developer’s plans are still in early stages.)

“There are a few in our group who hate it,” says David Goldfarb, chair of the East Passyunk Crossing Zoning Committee. Not him. “I find it charming in its ridiculousness.”… read more

Consumed: Reggie Blaszczyk, design historian

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Regina Blaszczyk went back to school to become a design historian while working as a junior curator at the Smithsonian in the 1980s. She noted a lot of scholars were examining material life in the 18th and 19th centuries but few were focused on the 20th century. She decided to specialize in the recent past, specifically on aspects of everyday consumer culture — she’s written on the rise of auto shows, Wanamaker’s gilded age, and the increasing use of synthetic fibers in interior design — that shed light on our cultural traditions.

Her own house on the 800 block of Bainbridge Street in Bella Vista embraces a very South Philadelphia cultural tradition of enthusiastic holiday decorating. She and her husband started slowly when they moved here in 2002. “We got so many fun, positive responses,” says Blaszczyk, “we started to ham it up.” They’re now known as “the house with the decorations.”… read more

Consumed: Elisabeth Knapp (restaurant designer)


The big break for architect and restaurant designer Elisabeth Knapp came from dining frequently at a favorite French boîte: long-gone South Philly BYOB Pif. Chef/restaurateur David Ansill took a leap of faith by hiring her to design the new space he moved into in 2005, even though her portfolio was all residential. Restaurateur Steven Cook liked what he saw at (now closed) Ansill Food & Wine and hired her to design Society Hill’s Zahav. In April, Knapp unveiled her design for Rittenhouse Tavern, the seasonal American brasserie at the Philadelphia Art Alliance. “Chefs are so passionate about their cuisine,” she says, “I enjoy taking their vision and creating the right environment for it.”… read more

Making It: Ben McBrien of Farmhaus


To Ben McBrien, carpentry gigs used to be something to supplement a professional surfing career. After graduating from high school, the Manahawkin native didn’t go to college. He went to Hawaii. “I moved backward,” he says, “through the typical path of a designer.”

McBrien learned the mechanics of carpentry from his father, a former home-builder. “I’ve been making stuff since I was old enough to carry wood,” he says. On a surfing trip to California, he tagged along to estate sales with a friend obsessed with vintage modern. “I started thinking about making this furniture,” McBrien says. “I started reading about it and educating myself.” Six years ago when he married and moved to Philadelphia, he started McBrien Design Carpentry and quickly earned a string of residential and commercial jobs by word of mouth. … read more

Consumed: Sarah Archer (chief curator, Philadelphia Art Alliance)


The path to Sarah Archer’s perfect-for-her job as chief curator at the Philadelphia Art Alliance was a somewhat winding road. Making a living in the world of material culture first presented itself as a possibility after Archer, 34, quit her first job out of college and began taking pottery classes and temping at a Manhattan antiques firm specializing in English and American decorative arts. “We would get crates of light fixtures from the West India trade that hadn’t been opened since the 19th century,” she recalls from a yarn-bombed side chair in her Art Alliance office. Of course, there were hints before then: her thesis topic (set design and interiors in film) at Swarthmore and her mother’s fierce needlecraft skills…. read more

Making It: Amy Voloshin of Printfresh


“Project Runway” fans know the TV version of how a textile pattern comes to be: Designers call on inspirations as literal as a clock or as abstract as a childhood memory. Then they draw, paint, or scan their interpretations into existence. It’s easy to imagine in-house design teams at brands like Target and BCBG mimicking this process, but the truth is they have a secret weapon. Since 2006 Printfresh, a textile studio based in Kensington, has been selling fresh prints — both original designs and vintage textiles — to inspire the clothing we buy at the mall (Kohl’s, Target) and spy on the runway (Badgley Mischka, Charlotte Ronson)…. read more

Seeing Things: What a Typeface Says About a City


By Caroline Tiger, For The Inquirer

If Philadelphia were a font, what would it look like? The Phillies logo? Maybe something like the Germanic Fraktur font used by the Pennsylvania Dutch? Surely there’d be an element of colonial-era history and maybe some whiffs of contemporary branding. (Wawa? Comcast?)

Infusing the character of a big city into tiny letters is no small project. Even more daunting might be justifying why such an endeavor even matters…. read more