Maple Jesus: In Brooklyn with Gretchen Bennett and Emily Hall (Part 1)
I don’t drink coffee, so let’s have a beer… My posts are always collaborations and are presented in two parts. Part 1 is a summary of a shared experience with my collaborator(s). Part 2 is a response often in the form of a project created specifically for this blog.
I was in New York last week conducting studio visits with a couple of artists we’ll be exhibiting in 2011 at the SFAC Gallery. On a free night I hooked up with Emily Hall, a truly amazing writer who regularly contributes to Artforum and works as an editor at MoMA, and Gretchen Bennett, a talented Seattle/Brooklyn-based artist that I’ve been a devoted fan of for almost two decades. (There will be much more about Gretchen and her work in my next post.) They’re also two of my dearest friends.
We clinked glasses and dove into conversation at a pizzeria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Gretchen is finishing up a three-month residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Art Center on Governor’s Island. As she was describing her new work she kept referring to something called Maple Jesus. Gretchen explained that a Maple Jesus is an incredibly popular necklace consisting of wooden beads and a good-sized, maple, relief-carved bust of Jesus.
There seem to be two stand-out manufacturers – GoodWood NYC and NorthSkull from London. I prefer the GoodWood version, but NorthSkull goes after their competitors with, “There are a lot of poor imitation ‘fake bling’ Jesus pieces on the market, the realism of this Jesus piece is second to none, the face is finished in hard resin to allow superb detail far superior to any other on the market.” Gretchen assures me that you can buy plastic Maple Jesuses on Canal Street and that most NYC teenagers are absolutely familiar with this new fashion trend.
Gretchen is making her own maple pendants. The first is of the renowned British critic/writer John Ruskin (1819–1900). Ruskin is famous for, among other literary achievements, championing the romantic and Pre-Raphaelite painters. Maple Ruskin. Cheers to that!
Then she made a Maple Turner for Ruskin. Of all the painters Ruskin adored, English landscape artist Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) was tops.
Taking Gretchen’s lead, I asked Emily who she wanted to memorialize in maple and hang around her neck. She instantly thought of Barbara Pym (1930–1980), who was, to Emily, “a totally understated and underrated British novelist. Kind of a cat lady, who wrote a lot about spinsters and vicars and tea — but she was really just devastatingly precise about how humans need and feel and act. Philip Larkin (1922–1985), not the most cheerful poet around, said, ‘I’d sooner read a new Barbara Pym than a new Jane Austen.’ Come to think of it, I’d wear a Maple Larkin, too.” Or she suggested a Maple Pizza pendent might be groovy.
I’d like a Maple Spalding Gray (1941–2004). I’ve never really gotten over my early crush and deep respect for the groundbreaking and utterly charming Mr. Gray. A co-founder of the experimental theater company The Wooster Group, Gray came into prominence in the 1980s for his stripped-down, achingly honest, monologue-format performances. (Swimming to Cambodia was made into a film in 1987.) Or I thought a Maple Dad might be sweet.
Just curious. Who would you Maple-ize?