In the Mix

Tapestry of Imagination

From Paris to West Oakland, Art Is a Many Splendored Thing

    The humble sign at the gated door in the funky West Oakland warehouse district reads: Magnolia Editions: Fine Art Projects. Who’d expect to step inside and be assailed by an 8,000-square-foot cornucopia of creativity?
    Where to begin? First is the assortment of ginormous works that seem to be paintings, and in some cases huge, finely detailed photographs, but in fact are amazingly intricate tapestries. Then, within the maze of lofty work-spaces, there’s printmaking and papermaking going on.  And etching. And computer computer-generated artistic experimentation. And dialogue and collaboration. And ….
    Walking around with founder and co-director Don Farnsworth, being told what this is and what that does and how he invented a way to program some machine to do things differently, I have a profound and humbling realization. Probably 10 lifetimes would not be enough to fathom half of what he’s talking about. And even if I developed super-human capabilities and grasped the important stuff, it would take several volumes to share it with the reader.
    So, stick with the tapestries. Farnsworth is eager to talk about them, and they’re big enough and wonderful enough to relish even before he shares how they came into being.
    The Magnolia Tapestry Project was born after contemporary artist John Nava was commissioned in 1999 to decorate the vast interior walls of what would become Los Angeles’ Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The idea was for Nava to do a series of sandblasted sculptures. But then the acoustic engineers decided that textile art was needed to reduce unwanted reverberations. With his commission in jeopardy, Nava approached Farnsworth, for whom digital technology, it seems, is a challenge and a creative game.
    The pair began looking for a way to actualize Nava’s images in tapestry. This took them to weaving mills worldwide and on a journey that finally saw Farnsworth develop new weave files for a customized Jacquard loom in Belgium. Nava’s resulting tapestries adorn the Los Angeles cathedral. And Farnsworth has continued to refine and develop techniques so that now he is putting the electronic Jacquard loom (the original Jacquard dates back to 1801) to work in unexpected ways for such contemporary artists as abstract expressionist Ed Moses, Oakland pop-art master Mel Ramos and many more.
    Farnsworth has beaten the odds on many a creative challenge. He just hopes he can do the same with the city of Oakland. With warehouse areas that support artists like him under siege by developers, he speaks out whenever he can to keep projects like his alive and viable. “What makes Paris interesting?” he asks. “What makes any city interesting? It’s not the chain stores and the strip malls. All the cities one loves—cities with soul and charisma—recognize and support the artists and craftspeople in their midst,” in other words, the people weaving urban tapestries of imagination.
    To learn more about projects ongoing at Magnolia Editions, see www.magnoliaeditions.com.

 —By Wanda Hennig
—Courtesy of Mangolia Editions

Tiptoe Into the Fire

Sample a New Craft at the Crucible’s “Taster” Workshops

    Would-be blacksmiths, welders and jewelry makers wary of getting burned by plunking down several hundred dollars and committing to five or 10 weeks of heated skills-honing and self-discovery—take heart. For the first time in its nearly 10 years as an “industry and arts education facility … where forges roar, sparks fly, glass bends, molten metals fuse and pour … ,” The Crucible is offering a series of Holiday Taster Workshops, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 6 and 7.
    “It’s in answer to people saying, gee, well, ‘I’m not quite sure I have either the time or the interest in learning a new skill. I wish I could just get my fingers just a little bit into the fire,’ ” explains The Crucible’s marketing director Jan Schlesinger.
    The “tasters,” she says, “allow people to choose different kinds of media to work in and learn the skills and the safety issues and a little bit about the properties of what they’re working with, and they actually will complete a project in each of them.”
    Students who dip into in blacksmithing, for instance, will come out with a functional hook they can use at home. Enroll in a glass flame-working class and produce a marble or a pendant.
    “In just a few hours you can really learn a lot,” Schlesinger notes, “and you can decide, I like working with glass but maybe not this process—I like glass-fusing better than working over an open flame. It really gives you an opportunity to decide if you want to go any further.”
    Workshops in seven different skills will be offered in three-hour morning and afternoon sessions. The fee is $80; Crucible members pay $72.50; and a $15 discount applies if you register for morning and afternoon sessions on the same day.
    The Crucible is at 1260 Seventh St. For more information, call (510) 510-444-0919 or visit www.thecrucible.org

 —By Derk Richardson
—Courtesy of The Crucible

You're an Oaklander If...

    You think of “Fast” Eddie Felson as a homey.
    When Paul Newman died on Sept. 26, 2008, every obituary mentioned his role as pool shark “Fast” Eddie Felson in the 1961 Robert Rossen film The Hustler. Newman revisited (and won his only Best Actor Oscar for) the role in Martin Scorcese’s 1986 The Color of Money, in which Felson serves as mentor to an aspiring hustler played by Tom Cruise. When true Oaklanders observed a moment of silence upon hearing of Newman’s death, in addition to calling to mind Jackie Gleason as pool kingpin Minnesota Fats and George C. Scott as high-stakes gambler Bert Gordon, they remembered that, although the climactic action in The Hustler took place in Louisville, Ky. “Fast” Eddie hailed from Oakland, Calif.

—By Derk Richardson

Friday Wine Finds

Farmstead Creates a Buzz in Montclair

    Less than a month after opening the doors to his new shop in Montclair Village on June 1, cheesemonger and wine purveyor Jeff Diamond found himself shepherding a new flock of wine fanciers and introducing them to his latest finds and favorite selections. Throughout the summer, attendance grew for the Friday-night wine tasting at Farmstead Cheeses & Wine, the Oakland hills sibling to the shop Diamond opened in the Alameda Marketplace in 2003.
    One balmy August evening, 30 or 40 people, wine glasses in hand, stationed themselves near the small bar on the store’s rear mezzanine and worked their way through tastes of Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Saintsbury Carneros Chardonnay, Muga Rosado (a Spanish rosé), Bitch Grenache (an Australian wine described as “a hedonistic fruit bomb”), Garretson’s “The Aisling” Paso Robles Syrah and Rutherford Ranch Napa Valley Cabernet. Couples and small groups of friends chatted and compared notes, and Diamond snaked through the crowd, cracking jokes and offering bits of fresh mozzarella from the cheese case.
    “From the gate we had 20 people over the course of the evening,” says Diamond, recalling the first tasting in June, when his wife, Carol Huntington, poured some her favorite rosés. “It’s more than doubled in size since, and it’s become something of a social scene.”
    That’s something that’s been needed in Montclair Village since the long-gone days of live jazz at the Equinox and the New Orleans Bar & Grill. Despite lively dinner business in some eateries, and a thriving Sunday farmers market, once the caffeinated daytime crowds have dispersed from Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Starbucks and Royal Ground, the sidewalks tend to roll up with the twilight.
    “When I decided to become a retailer, Montclair was always in my sights,” says Diamond, who lives a few minutes away in the Oakland hills. Now he’s sparked a congenial scene in his virtual front yard.
    Farmstead Cheeses and Wines. Tastings6 p.m.–8 p.m. Fridays, $3 per flight, waived for wine club members or with purchase. 6218 La Salle Ave., (510) 864-9463, www.farmsteadcheesesandwines.com.     

—By Derk Richardson    

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