Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Just for the fun of it, we decided to dress up as twins, sort of. Readers from waaaaaay back will remember when we got our matching natural colored vintage grass hats and spray painted them red. We returned to the scene of the crime, Vintage Thrift Shop, to memorialize the occasion. Most of the time, our tastes diverge, or coordinate serendipitously, but every now and then we fall in love with the same thing.

As luck would have it, we both have nearly identical black round glasses frames (sunglass for Valerie; prescription for Jean).  You can't really tell, but we're both wearing billowy black pants.  Long ago Valerie admired Jean's Trippen shoes, and sought out a similar pair; we popped into Chaos one day and came away with matching black and white foam rubber cuffs.  In nosing around hither and thither, Valerie picked up the matching tee shirts exactly for an occasion like this, and picked up the bags another time because they were on sale and, well -- because a girl never has enough bags.  (Here we would like to take the opportunity to quote the amazing humorist Adrienne Gusoff, who said "The worst part about getting bags under your eyes is finding the shoes to match.")

We had a little fun, and highly recommend it.

Many thanks to Kyle, who indulgently photographed us, even though it was closing time.

And then, after they locked the doors behind us at Vintage Thrift Shop, we strolled over to the Gansevoort Hotel on Park Avenue at 29th Street to check out Roof, their rooftop bar and test drive a couple cocktails. But that's another story for another time.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

You Ought to Be in Pictures

About a month ago, passing by the Museum of Modern Art, Valerie noticed Mark Nilsson standing outside the MOMA Design Store offering portraits for a very reasonable sum.  Sample portraits hung at his table looked very interesting, so we decided to take Mark up on his offer.  At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, here are the finished products.  (Above are the models.)  Join us as we walk you through our latest adventure.

We didn't realize it, but Mark is something of a fixture in that spot.  Click here to read the New York Times article on him, and here to see a video made by the School of Visual Arts.

We booked a double-header appointment on July 24th.  Valerie went first.  Here she is, ready for her close-up.

We both wore black and tan straw Ignatius hats which we'd purchased last November at the Philadelphia Museum Craft Show. Valerie wore hers cocked over her left eye.

When he starts to paint, Mark instructs you to assume a consistent pose. Little did Valerie know that she'd have to maintain the position for nearly two hours.  Mark has contrived a fairly lightweight and collapsible business, all of which can be easily deconstructed and wheeled away on a hand truck, barely visible behind him.

Mark's intensity and focus are palpable. He blocks out distractions and focuses entirely on his work.  During Valerie's sitting, in the background, we could hear the American Museum of Folk Art (completed in only 2001) being jackhammered to death in preparation for MOMA's expansion.  At one point a firetruck came by, sirens wailing.  We almost never spoke, but when we did, we nearly always had to shout above the street din. Mark was able to work right through all of it.

Mark's focus is even more challenging since some passersby feel compelled not just to observe at a distance but to come right up next to the artist, stare down at the work-in-progress and proceed to pose questions to him and/or the model.  (The latter was unusual, he said)  Luckily, most were content to snap photos from the sidelines.

Voila the finished product!  Do we see some Lucien Freud influence?

The artist and his muse, post-opus.

Valerie's portrait took twice the estimated hour.  Mark felt there wouldn't be enough light to finish Jean's portrait, so we returned the next day, and Jean reprised her outfit, since we thought it would be fun to be painted in our nearly identical hats.  Here's the artist and Jean, seated in the folding chair, looking up.

It turned out to be very challenging for both of us to sit stock still for over ninety minutes with our chins up, but we managed.

Mark starts with a yellow 'canvas', and makes his first marks in red.  Here, the first stabs at Jean's hat.

The first outlines of Jean's face.  When Mark began doing this several years ago, his table was flat, and he had to hold the paper down while painting.  But paint has accumulated since then, and formed a natural frame that now holds the paper in place for him.

You can see he's painted the yellow background gray, and begins to adjust the color of the hat.

He adds a few shadows to outline Jean's cheek bones, and starts to adjust her skin color.  At this point, it looks like there's a bit of Francis Bacon in this portrait.

At one point, a large crowd had gathered around.

Jean's hair begins to take shape, and color, and shifted from Francis Baconesque to German Expressionist.  The dark spot on her eye was unintentional, and soon rectified.  Although he was usually poker-faced in concentration, every now and then we both noticed a look of surprise on his face.  Maybe this was one of those moments.

Glasses were the next to last detail to be added.  The sharp lines of the hat came last.  We're not sure, but we think it was our hats that prolonged our sitting.  We asked Mark in advance if he would agree to paint us with our hats, since the samples we saw were all hatless.  It turned out he enjoyed doing the hats.  Love the juxtaposition of the real and painted hats in this shot.

Voila! The second finished product.

The artist signs his work.  His shirt and pants are both covered with paint, since he uses them to wipe excess paint off his brushes.

Mark rescues cardboard boxes from the neighborhood for the finished portrait to be transported in while still wet.  When he finished Valerie's, he disappeared for a few minutes to find a box; when we arrived for Jean's sitting, he had a box all ready.  This box, it turned out, was a bit small, so the portrait didn't quite have room to lie flat.  Before we'd gone several blocks, the thickly applied acrylic had begun to shift with gravity.  So we made a stop at Valerie's place, nearby, put her portrait on a flat surface, and transferred Jean's portrait to Valerie's bigger box for the trip home.  Mark estimated it might take a week for the portraits to dry completely.

Mark also makes his own business cards.  On three separate visits, Valerie picked up three distinctly different cards, all of which look distinctly German expressionist.  The top one looks most like Mark (30 years from now).  All three are signed and numbered, and more than worthy of framing.

Regular readers will not be surprised that, at the end of the sittings, we walked across the street to The Modern, and had two fine cocktails (oh, and a bowl of gazpacho each).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Senior Planet Asks Us About Shoes!


We were delighted to get an email from Linda Magid recently.  Would we like to talk about stylish shoes, she asked, for an article on footwear for older feet to run in Senior Planet.  Boy, would we ever! We gave Linda an earful (okay, an eyeful, since it was all on e-paper) about feet, shoes, price, comfort, style, surgery, and our conviction that we would both make great shoe designers ('cause we've been there and worn that).

That's not us in the picture above, by the way.  But you already knew that, right?

We were not the only women asked to weigh in on the shoe issue. For a full complement of views, Linda also spoke to Jean Woods, Debra Rapoport, Sue Kreitzman and Lynn Dell Cohen. We run the gamut (pardon the pun).

Click here for the whole article, and lots more photographs. Readers, if you know a shoe designer, show this to him or her, PLEASE!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Footsteps of Mandela at Riverside Church

On Friday evening we went to Riverside Church in upper Manhattan for the Footsteps of Mandela (FOM) program on what would have been Nelson Mandella's 96th birthday. Hotlanta Vocal Posse and FOM Interfaith Chorus performed Stan Satlin's Aurotorio Amercana  and Joel A. Martin's Requiem for Peace as part of an evening-length program.  We ran into Carole Markel and her husband Richard Cramer (far left and far right) and Cydonia Boonshaft, Debra Rapoport's sister. (Cydonia's husband Barry was sweet enough to snap this photo.)  Note that Carol and Jean are both wearing Carol's huge hand-painted wooded gumball necklaces.

The event was a celebration of the life (not the passing) of Nelson Mandela, and the setting was the magnificent Riverside Church.

Man of the hour, composer Stan Satlin, and Jean.

Cydonia, Debra and Valerie.

After celebratory remarks by Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., UN Consul General George Monyemangene and Congressman Charles Rangle,  the beautiful and colorfully dressed Thuli Dumakude and Thokoza performed "Sawubona Mandela" and got the joint rocking from the get-go.  Drums of the World also performed.

Although not professional, the video gives you an idea of the space and the sounds:

Broadway star Liz Callaway's rendition of Bob Dylan's  "Blowing in the Wind" left Jean teary-eyed.  Another highlight of the evening was Simon Estes' "Old Man River" from Showboat.  The tall and handsome seventy-six year old Estes used to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. He has become an advocate for the program which provides insecticide treated mosquito nets to help prevent the spread of malaria which we were told kills a child every 60 seconds in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Needless to say, we each donated a net.

Amy Little from Atlanta sang "Keeper of the Song" from Stan's Auratorio Americana. She is wearing woven beaded earrings from

Everyone was invited onstage as part of the event.  To the left of tall and handsome Simon Estes is the evening's host, Jeremy Hassell (from MTV & VH1) and Stan is to the left of Jeremy.

People onstage and in the aisles clapped, danced and sang along.  The video gives you just a taste of the joyful noise: 1FOMThuliDumakude&thokozaIdiosyncraticFashionistas071814x.

The gathering of the clan:  We all got together after the event. Left to right: Julia Sotas (Winnipeg), Jean, Debra, Amy Little (Atlanta), Mary Lou Alsentzer (Lancaster, PA), Janet Holloway (Lexington, KY) and Stan. Mary Lou and Janet, who have known Stan for over forty years, came to New York to see his work performed.

Jean met singer, actress and vocal arranger Ntomb'Khona Dlamini who performed with Thuli Dumakude & Thokoza. (She is the one in pink on the far right.) She is appearing with Jimmy Mngwandi and Danny Lerman at the Iridium Jazz Club on Sunday August 10th at 3 PM for an afternoon of African vocals and Jazz.

While many of the attendees were either from or had visited South Africa, all of the attendees dressed for the occasion.  We were seated right behind these two gorgeous divas who were singing and dancing along to the music in their colorful outfits and head wraps.

These two ladies, who were wearing black, white and grey, looked great.  If you look closely, the shawl on the lady on the right is covered in black skulls.  The colors in her friend's walking stick echoed those in her long neckpiece.

Crystal Kilgore, Storyteller Extraordinaire, was seated right behind us.  Her business card says: "Stories Galore: The Wonderful World of Storytelling".*

Mary is a friend of and was seated next to Crystal.

This lovely lady -- Mae -- was waiting for her niece, Ann, who had performed in the show.

After changing clothes, tall and talented Ann emerged from backstage.

Another beautiful lady in yellow was wearing a beaded necklace that she'd gotten in South Africa.

Members of this trio were rocking the black and white look!

After a week of extremely depressing world news about the Malaysian airliner blown out of the sky and the growing conflict in the Gaza Strip, the Mandela event was a wonderfully positive, restorative experience!

*Crystal's 24-hour voicemail number is 212-592-3391.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Clog Blog! "Word of Foot" - Dansko's Blog

Check it out! Dansko clogs featured us on its "Word of Foot" blog in a terrific article posted yesterday: THE "IDIOSYNCRATIC FASHIONISTAS" WEIGH IN: HOW DO YOU FORM A STYLE IDENTITY?  By Nick on Tuesday, July 15, 2014

We were thrilled to be approached by Dansko who had become aware of both of us not just for Jean's customized Dansko's but also for our individuality. After the initial contact, we responded to numerous questions via email and on some 3-way telephone calls with Nick. Judge for yourselves, but we're quite pleased with the final results and the extremely positive message.

Of course, we confess our now not-so-secret desire to design fashionable but comfortable shoes for women of any age since, after all, style is ageless!  Like actors who don't just want to act but want to direct, we don't just want to wear stylishly functional shoes, we also yearn to design some interesting, new, idiosyncratic versions. We would love to collaborate with Dansko's designers on a capsule collection.

Our regular readers are quite familiar with Jean's long standing affinity for Dansko clogs and her tendency to customize them to better reflect her style and personality. The center photo in Dansko's montage above displays the latest incarnation of her Dansko customization.

As her January 2014 Obsession Control post demonstrates, while Jean's eye may occasionally wander, her heart belongs to Dansko.

In an earlier blog from April 2013, with that catchy title: "Customize Your Shoes - Or Not",  Jean highlighted her earlier version, an all-black platform clog with her modified ripple sole to encourage rocking through each step to avoid a flat-footed Frankenstein plodding gait.

And of course, stick-on dots (lent by Valerie, who always has a stash of Staples dots on hand - remember her post-foot surgery polka dot cane?) provide an opportunity for embellishment with easy removal.

For the 2013 Easter Parade, we both rocked the polka dot thing, so the stick-on dots were the perfect counter-point to her black and white polka dot Heydari pants.

And the even earlier version of Jean's DIY customized black patent Dankso clogs featured a saw-tooth sole that she designed and had constructed by her long-suffering, very patient, masterful neighborhood shoe repairman. We were floored when it was featured in the 3/5/12 post by "Every Clog Has Its Day". (Click & scroll down to see us.)

We're looking forward to the opportunity someday to share our designs with bold patterns, unique color combinations and higher platform soles, if only someone would ask!