Thursday, May 31, 2012

Potted Palms and Sand Tarts: A Bookish Tea at the Plaza

Cup of the Day #105
"Loose Leaf "by Gwyneth Leech
Colored ink on upcycled paper coffee cup

My sister, Kitty Leech called the other day and said, "do you want to have afternoon tea to celebrate?"
"Celebrate what?"
"The launch of the Mermaid Picnic."
Awesome! Kitty's fishy children's tale of a rainy afternoon at the seashore, which she wrote and illustrated, was a work is progress for ten years. Now it had finally met the public.
And not only had it launched, but it got a lovely write-up on the blog Wide-Eyed and Legless: Musings of a Modern Mermaid.

The Mermaid Picnic
Written and illustrated by Kitty Leech

So this called for a major celebration, a really special afternoon tea. We decided that the Plaza Hotel was definitely in order!

A few days later, there we were, in the fish bowl which is the Palm Court, at a beautifully laid table trying to choose a tea. This is the renovated Plaza, of course. I was here for afternoon tea one other time, as a college student a decade or so, or so, ago and it had a faded air back then. But since the doors reopened in 2008, all is brilliant and regal, the stained glass ceiling magnificent, the table settings and service immpecable. I felt only the faintest touch of guilt at coming here without my children to celebrate a book for children.


But back to the tea selection. We perused the menu, which proved to be a literary work in itself. How to choose between "a stout and robust blend of February high grown Kenyans and astringent 2nd flush Assam, full bodied and rich" (Breakfast Tea) or "rich and moody off the nose, it opens with malty astringency and finishes with hints of oak cask and a dusting of delicate citrus (Afternoon Tea). I was actually torn between the two Reserve Black Teas: "Golden liquor cups ethereal notes of baking bread, light lingering finish "(Golden Monkey Picked (China)) and the "ultra rare, full round body with light notes of Wuyi Forest Preserve pine smoke". The latter was none other than the Organic Tong Mu Phoenix Tree Lapsong Souchong (China).
I went for Golden Monkey Picked.
Kitty ordered coffee.

Having made these difficult and lofty choices, we turned our attention to the accompanying delights.
Should we go with the Classic, the New Yorker, the Chocolate or the Eloise? This was easier.
They all included cucumber finger sandwiches, scones and pastries. We decided on the Classic.
When it came, I was surprised that the servings were so petite. Sandwiches for very little fingers indeed, and such tiny tarts. We set to with gusto... and only made it halfway through!
But this is New York City. Even at the Plaza Hotel they will wrap for you.

That evening after dinner at home, I set a monogrammed box on the table. "Look," I said, "treats from the Plaza." My two little mermaids never suspected a thing.

The Mermaid Picnic is now my daughter's favorite book. It comes with a recipe for Sand Tarts, the ideal cookie for mermaids on land and sea, and we have successfully made the recipe several times.
Sand tarts are not served at the Plaza, nor is rain drop punch (which apparently Mermaids prefer to tea) but if you bring one with you, she may be able to make do with the "cold cold pink lemonade " featured on the Eloise Tea menu.
For more information about tea at the Plaza, including the full menu, visit the official website here.The Mermaid's Picnic is available on Blurb and Amazon.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tea and Textility: A Summit Adventure

Cup(s) of the Day #104
By Gwyneth Leech
Mixed media on upcycled paper coffee cups

As the month of May draws to a close and the temperature starts to climb, it is time for a parting thought of cool Spring. What a remarkably long flowery season it was this year, turbo charged by some unseasonably hot days in March that set everything off at once, then drawn out by weeks of colder weather!

On one chill Saturday of drizzle and daffodils, I persuaded my husband and 8 year old daughter to go with me to Summit New Jersey to catch the exhibition Textility before it closed at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. The exhibition statement read: "while there is a strong emphasis on materiality in contemporary art, we have seen an increasing number of artists who share a specific interest in textile-related materials and processes. We coined the word “textility” to describe these qualities and organized this exhibition to explore art that has a material or conceptual relationship to textiles." This sounded like one the Full Brew should not miss!

Not to mention that an afternoon train adventure is always pleasant, made even more so that day by flowering trees and the blaze of azaleas in Suburban gardens.

Jennifer Cecere, Mother 2011
Ripstop nylon

The art center is just a few blocks from the train station, but oh no! my daughter spied the playground across the street from the station as soon as we stepped outside. My husband and I looked at each other. I went on alone.

At the gallery, I was instantly taken with several highly ornamental artworks in the show - two "doilies", one by Jennifer Cecere, and one by Susan Starr, whose scale and unusual materials made a terrific impression, as did a gorgeous wall of fabric-themed paintings by Barbara Ellmann. In addition, an installation by Derek Melander - three totemic towers of gradated color formed from neatly folded second-hand clothing - was a show stopper.

Susan Starr, Dresser Doily, 2005
Hand-cut Mahogany wood veneer

Derek Melander, The Painful Spectacle of Finding Oneself, 2010
Second-hand clothing, wood and steel
Barbara Ellmann, Wherewithall, 2011, 
Encaustic on 12 wood panels

I wandered around  the galleries quite happily, finding many surprising and engaging artworks in this beautiful show curated by Mary Birmingham and Joanne Mattera, including a couple of rule-based installations by Debra Ramsay with 3-D elements, a new departure in her artwork.

Finally an awareness of increasing drizzle sent me back out the door and down the street to rejoin the others in the playground. They had preceded me to, well, the only other attraction near the train station - Hilltop Burger and Fries. My reception was a little grumpy, but the tea was waiting.

What kept you so long?
Tea brewing at Hilltop Burger and Fries,
Summit, NJ.

Untitled (dishrag), 2010
Ink, correction fluid on paper

In Two, Twice, with Yellow and Green, 2012
Thread, gauze, acrylic, paint, pins

Textility included:

Joell Baxter
Caroline Burton
Sharon Butler
Mary Carlson
Jennifer Cecere
Pip Culbert
Elisa D’Arrigo
Grace DeGennaro
Barbara Ellmann
Carly Glovinski
Elana Herzog
Marietta Hoferer
Nava Lubelski
Stephen Maine
Lael Marshall
Derick Melander
Sam Messenger
Sam Moyer
Lalani Nan
Aric Obrosey
Gelah Penn
Debra Ramsay
Susan Still Scott
Arlene Shechet
Susanna Starr
Leslie Wayne
Ken Weathersby
Peter Weber

For more photos and description of Textility, read Joanne Mattera's blog here and here.
A calendar of current exhibitions at the Art Center of New Jersey is available here.
Directions to the art center here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Coffee on the Counter: Cups and Kitchens at MoMA

Cup of the Day #103
By Gwyneth Leech
Mixed media on Dixie paper coffee cup

Paper cups have a history! Once upon a time there were no paper cups, then one day there they were. In a tangential way, my family history intersects with that of the early paper cup. It was invented by Lawrence Luellen in 1907 and first manufactured in Pennsylvania, my home state. The first commercial use of paper cups was on the Lackawanna and Western Railway as a hygienic alternative to the metal dippers then attached to communal water barrels in each railway car. My great-grandfather, Alfred McCallum worked for the Lackawanna Railway at that very time, and since he was an inveterate tinkerer, inventor and man of progress, I can imagine how much he would have enjoyed their appearance.

Dixie company was in on the paper cup thing early on. In fact, like Hoover and Kleenex and Xerox, Dixie has long been synonymous with paper cups. How fitting then to see that the Museum of Modern Art here in New York City has finally acknowledged the remarkable Dixie paper cup in its current show of everyday objects, Born Out of Necessity, reviewed recently by Roberta Smith.
We had one of those dispenser things in our kitchen growing up. Didn't everybody?

MoMA's design department does this kind of thing very well. I thoroughly enjoyed last year's Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. The history of kitchen design in the 20th century was beautifully documented with objects, photos and artwork: from early century, awkwardly laid-out rooms which were the site of time consuming activity, to the pared-down and high-tech at the turn of the Millennium.
Moka Express c.1930, Aluminum and plastic
Designed by Alfonso Bialetti, Italian, 1888-1970

My eye was drawn of course to the tea and coffee pots. I was not at all surprised that the Bialetti 1930 espresso pot was included in that show or that it resides in their permanent collection. It is such a beautiful thing - heavy, faceted, sculptural. Many artists love it. They draw and paint it, they animate it. Some even use it to make coffee!

Instructions for Chemex Coffeemaker, 1941
Designed by Peter Schlumbohm
American, born Germany 1896-1962

I was not surprised that a two gallon Chemex coffee carafe was there too. It is a weird beast, a Rude Goldberg coffeemaker that I had never seen in real life. But there it was and a diagram of the heating elements and their correct placement revealed it as the science experiment it appears to be.

Macro Eight-Cup Percolator, 1946, Aluminum
Designed by Edward Condak, American

But I was amazed to see my grandma's 1946 aluminum percolator! It has a designer? Her percolator still sat on the top shelf of a cupboard when my parents finally decided to move out of their big Philadelphia house in 2004, and we threw it away. I can't say I have ever missed the battered thing, but it was nice to see it again at MoMA. And there it is again on the wall of my studio, in a little sketch my mother did of her mother c. 1950, when that coffee pot was the latest thing. I never even noticed it in that painting before! How very Bonnard.

"Morning Coffee",  Mixed media on paper
By Louise Gallagher Leech,  c. 1950

Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen is over, but Born Out of Necessity is on view at MoMa through January 2013. Go and see that Dixie cup! Certain classic tea and coffee pots are also part of the permanent design collection. And make sure to look closely in the painting and sculpture galleries on the fourth floor. A nod to tea and coffee time will reward you here and there! If you spot the images I am thinking of, let me know.