The New Yorker, Robert J. Wolff, & Beauty

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Feeling Blue & Seeing Red: two of my granddad’s children’s books on color

From The Man From Highbelow, by Robert J. Wolff:

“In the late spring of 1926 I came to New York City disillusioned and bored with college life, and settled into an exciting but bewildering new life. What struck me hardest was the frightening impersonality of the city man whose individuality was abstracted into the massive collective identity of men as a conceivable, tangible thing. I worried this thought into a poem, which I think I called Manhattan (written in 1928 in New York upon my return from England). …

“Finally, [in the poem] I suggested that our language should be changed, throwing out the word men as the plural of man–and that, when more than one man is spoken of, the word should be mans. Mans does not inflate humanity into a massive abstraction but maintains the presence of the individual within the multiple concept.”

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During the 1980’s, I had the luxury of time and savings to enjoy several week long visits inside an old rambling house situated on the banks of Lake Washington. My second cousin, a Seattle businessman, and his wife, an artist, philanthropist, and talented homemaker, opened their home to me just because I asked them to. This was a time in my life after college that I recall as a blur of confusion and closeted suffering. What their home, and Seattle offered me was a bright and cheery room of my own a-la House Beautiful Magazine, slow solitary runs on wide, drizzle-laden streets, and the comfort of lush, inspiring surroundings. Having been born with an astrology chart that may have caused some obsessive compulsive tendencies towards neatness, and being the granddaughter of an artist who spent his life painting and teaching young people how to make their lives more meaningful through Art, visiting my cousins on Lake Washington, their walls dotted with Granddad’s bright and bold abstract paintings, felt like I’d landed in the belly of my soul’s true home.

My grandfather played a great role in the lives of my Seattle cousins as well, and at some point gave my cousin’s wife painting lessons. I am sure that his artistic sensibilities informed her sense of design, in addition to guiding her actual talent as a painter. Again, being inside of their home felt more like home to me than perhaps home ever would–it was a soul thing. The walls breathed granddad’s essence and helped me breathe the possibility of living a life more grounded in creativity and beauty.

If you peruse my Pinterest boards, you might get some insight into the kinds of spaces I drool over, the things I label “cozy,” and the colorful, café-laden places that make my heart go pitter-patter. Seattle gave me my first sip of a lifestyle I aspired to create, right here in the country of my origin.

I admit that I have yet to see this vision come to fruition. But part of what I am able to create as the wife of an artist and mother to a brilliant, spirited Ethiopian-born daughter, is the “heart song” that grew from those early visits to beauty. Though I may not have the resources to emulate my Seattle experiences, what I can do is recreate the feeling of those transformative visits.

Many hours at my cousins’ house were spent lingering in the open kitchen with the eat-in counter and picture window that overlooked Lake Washington. I wrote short stories and long journal entries in this kitchen, and after hours sipping coffee, nibbling homemade muffins, I would saunter over to the WC located just off the kitchen. Stepping inside the toilet room was like crossing into a dreamer’s Neverland. New Yorker covers wallpapered the four small walls, perfectly laid on, not a bubble or wrinkle to be seen. Sometimes after washing my hands, I would close the toilet lid and sit gazing at the creative elegance that surrounded me. Looking back some 25 years on those treasured moments as a visitor to the Pacific Northwest, I believe this is where my passion for collage making was birthed.

New York abstract painter Granddad Wolff might be giggling at the silliness of my current New Yorker Magazine cover obsession, but I also like to think that he would take some pride in seeing how I’ve enjoyed creating beauty wherever I see the slightest possibility. His blood runs through my veins too, and though I may have failed to emulate his way of being in this world, living life as an actual artist, I believe my inclination to see beauty in offbeat places would do him proud.

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What you just read illustrated a touch of the story of how I came to offer you, my Clarity audience, an opportunity to create for yourself a moment of whimsy, a presence of simple elegance in the form of framed New Yorker covers. This invitation includes the idea of letting go of your perceived angst-of-the-moment to feel a creative spark that may take you on a short mental holiday. The intention is for you to be inspired to create a home for your soul’s delight.

“A painter’s life? He starts in chaos and struggles through the years toward clarity and serenity only to reach a fully revealed starting point. He ends by beginning. –RJW”

*A portion of each sale goes to supporting our Ethiopian family. Thank you.

spilgrimThe New Yorker, Robert J. Wolff, & Beauty