Wooly Business: Stephany Wilkes tracks the fall and potential rise of the U.S. wool industry

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Stephany Wilkes, Raw Material

When Stephany Wilkes became a knitter in 2007, she walked into a yarn shop and asked, “Where’s your local yarn section?” The shop attendant pointed her to a single brand of U.S.-made yarn. Nine years later, when I walked into a yarn shop for the first time, much had changed. I had several U.S.-made yarns to choose from -- even some Michigan-made yarns -- but found myself asking another question: “Why is this so expensive?”

The answer, as I later found, is that milling wool grown in the U.S. is so costly that most ranchers either send their wool overseas to be processed or use the fleeces as compost. Due to decades of adverse agricultural and trade policy, the cost of processing wool in the U.S. is very high. Wilkes' book, Raw Material: Working Wool in the West (Oregon State University Press, 2018), tells us how the bottom fell out of the U.S. wool industry and also shows us the way back to environmentally beneficial and economically profitable U.S. wool.

As for Wilkes, once she learned that a key factor in the high cost of U.S. wool is the lack of qualified shearers, she did the only logical thing: became a shearer herself. Raw Material is Wilkes' account of her unlikely career change from a software engineer at a San Francisco firm to a self-employed sheep shearer and wool classer. Along the way, she introduces us to many of the people who are working against the odds to bring U.S. wool back to life and make wool profitable for farmers and affordable for handcrafters.

I got the chance to talk to Wilkes in advance of her November 5 appearance at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Working Magic: "Beyond Words" A Celebration of Book Arts in 2018" at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Norma Penchansky-Glazer, Seeking the Reflections, cyanoprint, mixed media

Norma Penchansky-Glazer, Seeking the Reflections, cyanoprint, mixed media.

The cosmologist Carl Sagan once said, “A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” His comment admirably describes the lively spirit that animates Beyond Words: A Celebration of Book Arts in 2018 at WSG Gallery through November 24. The exhibit, curated by Ann Arbor artist Barbara Brown, continues an ongoing series -- this is its eighth iteration -- devoted to the art and craft of book-making by artists in the Great Lakes region. 

Beyond Words is a noisy little show. The gallery’s atmosphere brings to mind a lively coffee shop filled with convivial patrons rather than the dusky silence of a library. These books have a lot to say, they are saying it out loud and no one is saying, “Shhhh!” There are tunnel books, books with video components, boxed scrolls, tiny suitcase books, books set to music. There’s even a book of poetry made of old tires. Brown says, “I feel like I’ve created an impromptu happening because the works have sound and light and movement.”

Fifth Avenue Press launches its second round of books with a release reception

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fifth Avenue Press logo

The Ann Arbor District Library's Fifth Avenue Press helps local authors produce a print-ready book at no cost -- from copyediting to cover design -- and the writers retain all rights. In return, the library gets to distribute ebooks to its patrons without paying royalties, but authors can sell their books -- print, digital, or audio -- however they choose and keep all the proceeds.

Started in 2017, Fifth Avenue launches its second round of books on Sunday, November 4, with a reception from 1-3 pm in the lobby of AADL's downtown branch, featuring author readings from the imprint's five new titles.

After "READ MORE," click the book titles to read interviews with the books' creators:

Home Sweet Second Home: They Might Be Giants at the Michigan Theater

MUSIC REVIEW

They Might Be Giants

The offbeat, thoughtful, melodic, and often hilarious music of They Might Be Giants clearly suits a town like Ann Arbor, and the band seemed to treat Wednesday’s show as a bit of a homecoming.

“We are super excited to be back at the beautiful Michigan Theater, our home away from home here in Ann Arbor,” co-leader John Flansburgh said early in the show. “I’m a little disappointed that like nine-tenths of the used bookstores have closed.” After wondering aloud about a possible Wikipedia edit and noting someone in the audience would probably make the change before the night was out, he added, “I have a sneaking suspicion we are performing for some of the highest-SAT-scoring individuals among our fan base.”

The flattery was hardly necessary, as the adoring crowd was fully engaged for every note of the nearly three-hour show. Flansburgh and co-leader John Linnell have always made a great partnership, with complementary personalities and voices that blend in a perfectly geeky harmony.

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's "Arsenic and Old Lace" revels in horror and humor

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Original 1941 edition of Arsenic & Old Lace

The first trade edition of Arsenic and Old Lace was published by Random House in 1941.

Arsenic and Old Lace, Joseph Kesselring’s classic dark comedy now being staged by Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, provided director Alexandra Duncan with her first-ever stage role in high school -- though it wasn’t a particularly lively or demanding part.

“I was Adam Hoskins, the dead man in the window seat,” Duncan said.

Sound bizarre?

Welcome to the Brewster family home in Brooklyn, where writer Mortimer Brewster wants to marry the girl next door. Problem is, he’s just learned that his sweet old spinster aunts have been murdering lonely old men with poison-laced elderberry wine; plus, his delusional uncle, who believes he’s Theodore Roosevelt, has been providing graves by digging locks for the Panama Canal in the house’s cellar.

Acts of Amore: "Love Has a Thousand Shapes" at A2 Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Paintings by Patrick Burton and Judy Bowman

Left: J'aime Qui M'aime (I Love Who Loves Me) by Patrick Burton
Right: American Gothic: On the Black Hand Side by Judy Bowman

Love Has a Thousand Shapes is an intimate look at the works of five artists, curated by Andrew Thompson. In the exhibition announcement, the exhibition’s inspiration is cited as having come from Virginia Woolf’s character Lily Briscoe in To the Lighthouse. The name of the exhibition draws from the text itself, in which the phrase described her art-making was an act of love itself. The exhibition, a partnership between Literati Bookstore and the Ann Arbor Art Center, draws inspiration from literary allegories, the announcement also referencing Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard in which a character creates “his final painting, a masterwork of love.” The work in the exhibit explores love “between lovers, friends, family, and with pets, places, and the past. The act of making artwork can be considered an act of love in and of itself.”

With the selection of only five artists, viewers are allowed a more in-depth look at a single artists’ work. 

Love Is All Around: An interview with curator Andrew Thompson

VISUAL ART INTERVIEW

Adrienne Lesperance painting

Being Seen by Adrienne Lesperance

Some art must be seen and experienced in person to get the full effects of its power. This is particularly true of the exhibit Love Has a Thousand Shapes at the Ann Arbor Art Center. Every piece in the show expresses a different aspect of love. Curator Andrew Thompson says that the inspiration came from a phenomenal experience he had in an independent study that he taught at Antioch College. “We read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and looked at the artwork of Ann Hamilton,” who created art based on this story. “The character of Lily believes that love had a thousand shapes. She believes that the making of art is an act of love. This statement, this belief, served as the inspiration for the show.”

This message also influenced the pieces that Thompson, who is also a lecturer at U of M’s Stamps School of Art and Design, selected.

UMMA's "Beyond Borders: Global Africa" asks what it means to be an artist from the continent

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Diop's Belley and Wiley's World

Left: Omar Victor Diop, Jean-Baptiste Belley (1746-1805), 2014, pigment inkjet print on Harman by Hahnemühle paper. Courtesy of Mott-Warsh collection, Flint, Michigan and MAGNIN-A Gallery, Paris, © Omar Victor Diop.
Right: Kehinde Wiley, On Top of the World, 2008, oil on canvas. Courtesy of Aishti Foundation, Beirut © Kehinde Wiley.

UMMA’s exhibition Beyond Borders: Global Africa extends a conversation recently addressed in Unrecorded: Reimagining Artist Identities in Africa. The newer exhibit asks the audience to consider the roles of contemporary artists, as the subtitle Global Africa suggests, along with a reconceptualization of previously narrow definitions of “African art” or “African artists.” UMMA director Christina Olsen states that the pieces on display, many of which belong to UMMA, “ask questions about what it means to be an ‘African’ artist and make ‘African’ art.” Included in the show are photographs, paintings, installations, and sculptures. This exhibition includes “approximately 40 works of art drawn from UMMA's African art collection and from private and public holdings around the world, including the eminent Contemporary African Art Collection assembled by Jean Pigozzi of Geneva, Switzerland.” 

Where It Starts: A conversation with Miles Okazaki about Thelonious Monk

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Miles Okazaki by John Rogers

Miles Okazaki by John Roberts

Miles Okazaki is among the greatest living improvisers on the guitar. An assistant professor of jazz guitar at the University of Michigan, he has his own deep and well-conceived ideas about rhythm, harmony, and melody. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Okazaki to discuss his latest release, a massive six-volume solo-guitar project entitled Work in which he recorded every song by Thelonious Monk -- 70 in total -- with no effects, overdubs, key or time changes.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Monk in American music. His approach to harmony, melody, and especially rhythm has influenced virtually every musician who has followed him. It was a privilege to be able to get into the weeds with Okazaki on the topic of Monk’s music.

Our conversation is below, with some edits for flow.

Ann Pearlman's "Infidelity" shares true tales of generation-spanning marital betrayals

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Ann Pearlman and her book Infidelity

Certain topics are so intensely personal that people tend to shy away from discussing them, but sometimes they must be talked about; sharing stories can lead to understanding, healing, a new life.

Adultery, something that is often hidden under the proverbial rug, is one of those topics. But a recently re-released book by a local author explores this topic in prodigious detail and with great empathy. 

Ann Pearlman's Infidelity shares the true tales of three generations of marital betrayals. Dzanc Books recently re-released the book and Pearlman "was thrilled and surprised they wanted to reprint it. The launch has been scads of fun.” Infidelity was originally released in 2000 and was the inspiration for a 2004 Lifetime Movie Network film with the same name, albeit the roles are reversed: the marriage therapist is unfaithful in the film.

In many ways, Pearlman was the perfect person to write this book. The Ann Arbor resident has worked as a psychotherapist and marriage counselor, serving in schools, women’s prisons, child guidance clinics. Along the way she married, becoming half of what she thought was the perfect couple.