Looking Back at 2012

The year began with the death, on New Year's Day, of Betty Snowden, shown on the left at Thanksgiving with my wife Kathy, her daughter. Born in 1913, Betty died a few weeks short of her 98th birthday, having willed herself to live through the holidays and see her grandchildren. Betty spent part of WW II in the Congo, broadcasting in French. After the war, she married Jolly Snowden, who she'd met in the Congo. An All-American football player for the Miami Hurricanes, Jolly helped build Ryder Trucks in the East and later in California. They lived across the street from us. Jolly died in 1989, but Betty lived on, active in the North Berkeley Community Center and as a bridge player. She was an exemplary grandmother to her numerous grandchildren. I miss her.

In January, partly as a 65th-birthday present to myself, I went east, spending time in DC, where I visited the National Gallery, a perennial favorite, shown in the photo on the right. I then flew to Miami to see my friend May, her husband Rod, and her daughter Asia. I'd never been to Miami, which proved to be a balmy 74 (as compared to DC's 29). When it went down to 70, they complained about the cold! May kindly showed me the sights, including South Beach and a gorgeous 1920s mansion. The trip made up for a botched one in November, when I couldn't get a flight from Charlotte to Miami, so ended up flying back to SF. This was a more leisurely visit, for which I was grateful. Downtown Miami, where I stayed, is cosmopolitan - good restaurants and a great mix of people. South Beach, where Asia lives and works, is like that, too - a real destination. I've known May since the late 1960s, a long friendship.

In late 2011, my friends Yosh, Yuki, Brad, and I launched a new SF-focused design blog, TraceSF.com. I've written for it several times. One thing I covered was a lecture by the Boston architect Rodolfo Machado at Wurster Hall at Berkeley. Best known in California for renovating the old Getty Museum in Malibu, his master plan for the UCSF research campus at Mission Bay, entirely disregarded by that institution, would have made that unfortunate setting a zillion times better. He told me after the lecture that he'd never gone back. I don't blame him.

At some point in the late winter or early spring, I started weaving, using a Saori two-shaft loom, shown on the right. My teacher is Lynn Harris of Saori Berkeley. I really like it. I began by doing very simple things, just to get the hang of it. Weaving turned out to be a bit like writing - at least, like writing as I do it. The Saori loom is sort of the iMac of looms, too - it lends itself to improvisation and it's very forgiving of error. Over the summer, I bought one and had it converted to four shafts - an added level of complexity that I'll be addressing in January. More on weaving later - it's been a big theme for me in 2012. My daughter Elizabeth, who suggested the studio to me, joined in and took to it. Soon she was making her own warps and producing the raw material for several items of clothing. Sewing those clothes is her next project. The weaving in the photo is the simplest kind: back and forth with a shuttle, making bands of color. I did several like that until I felt comfortable enough with the loom to experiment. 

In May, we went east for a family reunion of sorts occasioned by the graduation of our niece Roz from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. (She's shown seated on the left; our third son Ross, a political strategist in DC, is towering over me on my left.) It's a really nice college town. We stayed in Danville, 15 minutes away, at The Doctor's Inn, a bed and breakfast was a former doctor's residence and clinic. It's a big old house and the family that owns it, including "three little doorstep girls," as Kathy memorably called them, made us feel welcome. I also visited with my high-school classmate Chris, who I hadn't seen since he attended our wedding in 1974. Another Bucknell graduate, he now lives across the river from Lewisburg, in a house on five acres. This captures one truth about central Pennsylvania - it's about half the price of Berkeley. Chris, who worked as a postman, noted that he could afford to retire there on a postman's pension. In the photo above, I'm wearing the hat that I bought earlier that day for $8 in a store on the Lewisburg main drag. Needed it, sitting in the sun at Roz's ceremony. Then Kathy, her sister Laurie (second from left), and I drove to Connecticut to stay with their sister Lynn (sitting below me) and visit their cousin Shirley in New York City and our friends Linnea and Bill, their daughter Allison, and their granddaughters at the beach house in Milford on Long Island Sound. (Yes, it survived Hurrican Sandy, but only just.)

In June, I went back east, this time to New York City, where I saw the Keith Haring show at the Brooklyn Art Museum - a revelation, in fact, as Haring is really strong graphically, with a much greater range than I thought. I was impressed. I took a Sunday to go visit my cousin Robert in Red Hook, NY (not Red Hook, Brooklyn), getting a ride in his XK-E, meeting his family, and visiting Olanna, a 19th-century artist's house with beautiful views of the Hudson Valley. I took the train to Rhinecliff and my cousin picked me up. That's one thing I love about the East - you can mostly ditch the car. Miraculously, New York City was really pleasant, not oppressive, as I'd feared it would be. The BAM visit, which included a stop to see my friends Andrew and Davina, and their growing family, was my first trip to Brooklyn since I went to the Coney Island Aquarium with my dad when I was 13. It was thanks to Andrew's good directions that I made it to BAM from Brooklyn Tech, where I heard him give a short talk on his new book, Tubes. (We're talking Andrew Blum here.) BAM is definitely the most transit-friendly museum in New York City.

In July, I started weaving using what my teacher called a tapestry technique. This was my opening move, which reminded me of Mark Rothko, in a way. It was slow going, but I really liked it. This piece, which we'll revisit at the end, grew to be about 10 feet long. July is famous in the Bay Area for bad weather, but it's become our "new normal" for the once-balmier period from late spring to early fall: long expanses of fog-shrouded cold are now briefly punctuated by a few days of sun and warmth. This is not how I define "summer," but I guess I'll have to get used to it. In this period, I was working on an essay on Berkeley, campus and city, with my friends Dick and Emily, commissioned by Dick's friend - now mine, too - Anthony, in Singapore. This was undoubtedly the slowest paper I ever wrote, so I owe thanks to Anthony for putting up with us. (I also wrote reviews in 2012 of Jennifer Fletcher's SFMOMA show on Bucky Fuller's influence on Bay Area design and designers, published in May in Architect's Newspaper, and of Jill Stoner's Toward a Minor Architecture.)

The Jill Stoner book review appeared in September in Arcade, the Seattle design magazine edited by Kelly Rodriguez. Here it is on the right, hot off the press. I really like Arcade - admire its backers for keeping it going at a very high editorial standard. It's one my several causes. Another is the 2430 Arts Alliance, which supports University Press Books and Musical Offering in Berkeley - I'm on the board. The Alliance sponsors concerts, readings, and other public outreach programs that draw people to the bookstore and the CD shop, both located at 2430 Bancroft Ave. in Berkeley, across from Zellerbach Hall. Well worth a visit.

Speaking of UPB, my daughter and I went there in October to see a remarkable short film, La jetée, by the late Chris Marker. It's the film on which every time-travel epic ever since is based. It's only 26 minutes, but it's great. His other films are supposed to be really good, too, but I haven't seen them yet. (I skipped early August, when I went to San Diego for a few days to thaw out and got a really interesting work assignment that will come out in January. More on that next year!)

In November, my second son John visited us for two weeks, including Thanksgiving. It was good to see him - I hadn't laid eyes on him, other than via Skype video, for 18 months. (In May 2011, I saw him in Birmingham, England, where he did his M.A. He now lives in Dudley, a town of 300,000 people in the Black Country - coal country - nearby.) My oldest son Michael and his family had meanwhile moved into their newly renovated house a few blocks away. They were living in a rental, so this is a good move. My grandson is now at Black Pine Circle, which John and his brother Ross attended a generation before. Full circle, as they say. John did his M.A. thesis on social enterprises and now works as a fundraising and communications consultant.

In December, I went back to New York City, where I met up with Christine and Sally, old family friends, and went to the O.K. Harris Gallery in SoHo to see a show of the summer work of San Francisco artist Ward Schumaker. I met the owner, Ethan Karp, and bought two of Schumaker's paintings, including "Ship of State," shown left. In between purchases, I heard from the artist and ended up having dinner with him and his wife, the artist Vivienne Flesher. That was fun! I also saw the moving Ferdinand Hodler show at the Neue Galerie, along with Picasso at the Guggenheim and old favorites at MoMA. (The early modern show hadn't opened yet, unfortunately.) I then returned to SF to labor on my work project, a complicated piece with a lot of moving parts and a very compressed schedule. I'm always in awe of how these come together, thanks to the award-winning team I work with at Gensler's publications group in San Francisco.

In December, I also finished my 10-foot-long tapestry weaving project, worked on  for two hours a session over successive Saturday mornings. This section is about two-thirds of the way along, where it transitions from red to blue. I also began experimenting with more complex forms. I wrote earlier that weaving is like writing. It reminds me of writing poetry, especially sonnets, in that each line of a poem anticipates the next as much as it relates to what came before. The poet Frederick Seidel noted in a Paris Review interview that he might start off a poem wanting to depict someone with grey eyes, but the poem doesn't want the grey and it may not even want the eyes. Weaving in this manner is a bit like that. Four-shaft weaving is more like my work project: a specific form and a lot of moving parts. Story of my life. Meanwhile, best wishes for the New Year.


  1. Best year in review I have read. Inspiring. Made me want to try one. But mine would not be as interesting. Only paintings and worries.


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