July 26, 2017

PS: Is A Rose is a Rose is a Rose?

Knowing that our defenses are down in July, ’cause we’re just so damn hot, our Editor-in-Chief, our Oh-so-Clever Cindy, most graciously asks us to open our simmering minds and hearts to the cool breezes of truly creative, innovative, fresh ideas, without employing the filter of our usual preconceived notions, pet issues, or biases for—or against—whatever.

July is when we take a vacation. . .from ourselves.

Perhaps the following anecdote will sound a bit defensive, coming as it does from a paid-up member of the AARP, but recently I opened a large unmarked box, which had been in the very back of our 46-year-old storage facility, and instantly a perfume of nostalgia—with a top note of love and a base note of vanity—filled the stale air. Quilts. Lots of quilts. Really many, many quilts, all made by my Franklin’s grandmother, Hattie Taylor, who lived her entire life in a Lilliputian house in Fort Fairfield, Maine. I’m guessing that we must have boxed them up and sent them off to mini-storage, Siberia, approximately 40 years ago, with me most likely declaring that I hated, loathed, and gagged at the very notion of possessing folksy-wolksy Grandmother Craft and would rather freeze to death under a thin sheet than entertain the possibility of actually using these hand-sewn labors of love on our bed. Period.

I’ve changed my mind. I love them. 

A bit of background. Franklin and I started visiting Granny Taylor just after we first met, I’d guess around 1974. It took all day to get there, using every means of transport except a hot-air balloon. Speaking of balloons, when we were finally about to arrive, we would make a dash to the only “florist” left in the environs of this decimated ex-Fort, now near-extinct due to the closing of an air base, to pick up “red roses” to bring to Hattie. Where I’ve put quotes around “florist” and “roses,” please read wink wink, as the area was so poor that Hutchinson Florist had long ago substituted fresh balloons, replaced daily, for real flowers, something beyond customers’ means. But no one called the balloons “balloons.” Hutchinson was not a balloonery but, in its Yankee mind, forever, a florist. Year in and year out, Franklin would ask for “a dozen red roses,” and Mr. Hutchinson would go to the refrigerated case and select the nicest of the balloons. Hattie always loved them, although being a somewhat more realistic person than Mr. Hutchinson, knowing a red balloon from a red rose, she would tie them to a pot in the kitchen rather than, say, placing them in a vase, thereby ending the charade.

Hattie was tough. Hattie was vain. (Hence the “base note” in the perfume I referred to earlier.) Even in old age, she had absolutely gorgeous hands and knew it, and with those hands she had a gift: She made stunning, joyous, always narrative-filled quilts. She made them quickly, and she made them frequently. She was prolific, wink wink, read compulsive, a stoic farmer’s wife who lived with and cared for her mentally retarded son every day of his life, refusing to even imagine her own death until after Uncle Eddie him-self had passed away, at age 65. Hattie called me “the little feller” and would explain me to others as “Franklin’s sidekick,” in this case indulging, as did Mr. Hutchinson, in a euphemism. No hard feelings.

A little about the quilts: They are lovely. That’s the only word that comes to mind—a word we rarely use anymore, having last applied it, perhaps, to an Easter bonnet or a sunny afternoon in the 1960’s.

Inlay, a Maharam cotton-nylon by Jongeriuslab’s Hella Jongerius.

Hattie Taylor was not a cutting-edge Dutch industrial designer, but her quilts would give Hella Jongerius a run for her money, emerging effortlessly from a stream of consciousness rather than from any repressed Shaker outburst. “Outsider” in the same way as Gauguin or Chagall, Hattie Taylor made coverlets that an Italian fashionista might refer to as “classico con twist.” Employing a repeat, whether it be pinwheels or farmers-in-overalls, she worked with the palette she had—sometimes a pink cotton twill, sometimes a rather garish 1970’s polyester print. Natural and synthetic textiles were often combined, indiscriminately. Hattie used everything in her garden, so to speak, weeds and flowers alike. Hence the “con twist.

For reasons not pertinent to this column, I recently received an invitation to a local event in our town of Hamden, Connecticut, that included the truism, “A weed is a flower, depending on judgment.” Let us remember that, even if wearing rose-colored glasses, we may, in fact, be looking at roses, albeit, as in my case, a special variety, which, if given half a chance, might convey hope and love and are as—what’s the word?—lovely as a Hutchinson dozen. 

> See more from the July 2017 issue of Interior Design

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