This article was originally posted on my Radio Userland blog on Sunday, October 2, 2005.
This summer, I created a special “artist’s table” for our local coffee house, Prime Roast. The owners, John and Judy Rogers (who also happen to be our good friends!) commissioned artists who were also regular customers to create “art coffee tables”. When the final table is completed, there will be a grand reception. I hope to post images of my table soon. (UPDATE: See all the images of my table at the end!) (Yeah, they’re out of order, so you could start from the bottom and work up…)
Last night, we had friends over for Bad Movie Night, a tradition where we find a terrible movie, invite friends over, have tacky (but yummy) snacks (jelly beans! caramel corn!), and talk and joke about the movie as we watch.
They had seen my table, and loved it! We got to talking about where I got the inspiration for it. (Bear with me, this is a meandering journey!)
Years ago, I read an article in THE NEW YORKER magazine by Lawrence Weschler. It was an excerpt from his book “Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology“. You can read about this book here.
The book is about an odd and intriguing “museum” called The Museum of Jurassic Technology. You can explore this unusual work of performance art here:
It’s a real building, with exhibits, in a strip mall in Culver City, CA. I hope to visit it someday. (UPDATE: We DID visit it a few years ago, and it’s even more fascinating than I imagined! If you go, go with an open mind, no judgement, and READ the exhibit information. Jon is pretty sure he saw Mr. Wilson while we were there!) It’s a fascinating mix of real and faux scientific exhibits, and inspired the “History of Coffee Part I” collage tabletop I made for John and Judy. (UPDATE: Judy told me a few years later that a customer came in regularly for weeks, sat at “my” table, and read every entry. Then they announced that everything on that table was false. I told Judy to tell them that almost 3/4 of the entries were TRUE!)
While searching for the link to send to people, I came across a second book by Mr. Weschler. Here is the Amazon entry for “Vermeer in Bosnia : Cultural Comedies and Political Tragedies“:
The first essay on the author’s musings about Johannes Vermeer (Girl with a Pearl Earring artist) and his world, juxtaposed against Weschler’s coverage of the War Crimes Tribunal judging the atrocities committed in Bosnia in the 1990’s.
Now, scroll down that Amazon page to the customer reviews, and read the review by G. Bestick of Dobbs Ferry, NY. (UPDATE: That review can’t be found anymore, and I’m so grateful I captured it here!)
This passage especially caught my heart. Weschler writes about a war crimes judge who retreats daily to a local art museum to restore his soul after gut-wrenching court sessions:
“Weschler shows us that Vermeer’s greatest achievement was to imagine a world of stillness and serenity at a time when all of Europe was being torn apart by national hatreds and religious persecution, and then to will that world into existence through his art. Those magnificent paintings are more than technical triumphs; they are triumphs of the human spirit. The distance between Vermeer and the murderers, rapists and torturers on trial is heartbreaking. Weschler makes us see Vermeer in a new light, and makes us feel in a new way the unique burdens of being human.”
Just a beautiful essay, one that speaks deeply to the artist in me today.
Art can be beautiful, but not always.
Art can inquire, and expose, and provoke. It can arouse us to look and think deeper on the world.
It can also offer respite and restoration, and peace.
It can ask, “What if?”
What a delightful journey Google and Amazon took me on today! I’m ordering the book now.
And now for the coffee table images!