So this e-mail happens to have been from Celeste Shaw, owner of Chaps restaurant and well known entrepeneur extraordinaire. Fetish is not a strong enough word to describe Celeste's relationship to vintage. She wrote to me initially about my silhouette paintings which I do on a background of vintage text collaged onto wood panel. I went to Chaps to meet with her about the possibility of doing a few custom images for her in that style. My first impression of the interior of Chaps can best be described as Buffalo Exchange (vintage retro cowgirl) meets Moulin Rouge with some spunky Powdermilk Biscuit Farm Girl thrown in for good measure. This turns out to be not too far off the mark, as Celeste is friends with the Farm Chicks (http://thefarmchicks.com/), grew up in Montana, and at one point even had her own brand (before the word "brand" was absconded by spinmeisters to refer to corporate and product identity, a brand was a steel device with the shape of one's mark, which was heated up so that the image could be burned into one's property, whether that be the living hide of a cow or horse, wood furniture or leather goods such as chaps. It was the forerunner to a logo, but also not unlike your mom writing your name in the band of your underwear with an indelible marker).
Our meeting quickly veered from discussing a commissioned artwork to a flurry of shorthand exchange, discovering a kindred soul. Somewhere in there Celeste spoke of her desire to re-do the walls of the restaurant's foyer in vintage collage and I volunteered to help. We would pull together materials and meet the following Monday, when the restaurant, like a theater, is dark. The following Monday turned out to be the beginning of what has promised to be the last cold spell before spring. It was snowing and cold and I chickened out since Chaps is about an hour from my house and I didn't want to get stuck in a blizzard away from my high maintenance animals. We got three inches of snow and had negative single digits for three nights in a row. Eric slept with the dogs on the living room floor so they could be by the fire and I gutted it out under 80 lbs. of quilts, polar fleece and down, alone in our bed since it's too crowded in the living room for four. Things were beginning to thaw again by the weekend and we've almost regained the progress we made ten days prior, in terms of thaw and mud and glop. So yesterday was finally the big day. I got to Chaps at 9:30 and Celeste had already painted the foyer ceiling in her signature gloss black. As the owner of a small business that interfaces with the public and has employees, Celeste never has a minute to herself, even on a Monday when the restaurant is closed. With the constant, necessary interruptions, she is always patient, present, kind and compassionate. Throughout the morning customers came to the door, wanting to know if the restaurant was open, worried because they were meeting a friend. All were invited in anyway, lattes were made, pastries were served. They picked their way past the scaffolding, the paint trays and wet rollers, the piles of ephemera and maps and old songbooks, the heaps of displaced furniture and decor; they had their rendezvous amidst the clutter and noise of industry. I should add the kitchen was also being re-painted yesterday, in several coats of "Chaps Pink" a more lightened hue but similar to "Schiap pink" pioneered by Elsa Schiaparelli http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsa_Schiaparelli and known to this day in England as "shocking pink".
We finished the first layer of the foyer and one of the gable walls upstairs. Celeste has the most amazing collection of vintage ephemera, from maps and board games to sheet music and recipe books and literary compendiums. I tried to layer with things that teased at the themes of her restaurant and life. Since a lot of why she cooks and how she cooks stems from a childhood raised on a farm by her thrifty and inventive grandmother (and really, vintage is the most complimentary form of recycling), and a lot of Celeste's interest in vintage and ephemera is about feeling a connection with, and caring about, the people who cherished these items previously, I tried to create a vocabulary, not only of rhythms and textures and composition, but by editing and revealing content as I worked. Some items were literal and sentimental and harkened to Celeste's past in Montana (western sing along titles, for example), other items were about language and history lost or obscured (shorthand text from the 1880's and this marvelous book I found that is the Minnesota state audit from 1887-88). Highlights thus far are from sheet music Celeste found that someone had lovingly taped together in a valiant attempt to keep the frayed edges from disintegrating completely, and a delightful discolored old cook book with recipes for things like boiled coffee and weird meat dishes. I contributed a ragged novel entitled "From Cattle Ranch to College" that seemed to provide an endless supply of appropriate chapter headings or random western sentences exactly as I needed them for the walls. Celeste will have a chance to live with it for a week while it dries and sets up, and then next Monday we will put on the finishing touches and coat the whole thing with a layer of acrylic gloss medium. If you live in Spokane (hi again, Brenda), stop by, say hello to Celeste, tell her you read about it in the blog, get your friends to visit, and I haven't even begun to talk about the food.....yum! Cowboy or Cowgirl latte is a must, and oatmeal to die for.