Category Archives: design

Woven together: Experience and Expression

Sanchez Art Center invitation
Invitation cards to exhibition

The Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica, California (near San Francisco) is staging several art exhibitions simultaneously. One of the exhibitions is Woven together: Experience and Expression, which showcases many types of weaving and artistic expression.

Some art was wearable; other pieces were political/philosophical; some were woven baskets; and yet others were “purely” decorative. One seemed to be tongue-in-cheek, and I would have liked to know the story behind it, the Milk Carton Zip House.


One of the artists, Deborah Corsini, received the ATA award for Excellence for her tapestry, Rip-Tide.

Secession in San Francisco: 9 years!

Secession SF storefront
Secession SF storefront

Walking down Mission Street, in May, I noticed a wonderfully original dress in a store window. The store was Secession, and the owner, Eden Stein, explained to me that she mainly represented local designers, along with other US designers. We purchased a t-shirt by Amos Goldbaum, a local artist, depicting the Sutro Tower and Twin Peaks; later, we realized that the mural of the same scene was 2 blocks away from home.

Eden Stein
Eden Stein, owner of the Secession store

To complete the mix, there is art, mainly paintings, also from local artists; jewelry, and a few other decorative items.

Encouragement at the cash register comes in the form of peanut M&Ms…

On August 12, 2016, Secession celebrated its ninth birthday – no small feat in a city where rent has been going upwards at an exponential rate for the past years. The good news, however, would be that the local client base is also increasing for higher-end fashion and art, and the demand for locally sourced is not limited to food.

Two artists exhibited, and were present at the anniversary celebration: Amy Ahlstrom and Heather Robinson. Two very different styles, both accomplished artists.

Amy Ahlstrom calls herself an “urban quilter.” She takes snapshots of urban scenes, and transforms them into pieces of art, using quilting techniques she learned from her grandmother. Ancestral knowledge: revisited. In her own words, Amy “re-invent(s) quilting as a pop art medium.” She works with silk and cotton fabric.

Heather Robinson has her own workspace at Secession. She works in soft colors, with stencil techniques, and her paintings have a wonderfully whimsical feel to them.

If you don’t want a cookie-cutter wardrobe or decor in your home, and your accessories are one of a kind, Secession is the place to go.

Amos Goldbaum t-shirts and mural
Uncle and nephew wearing Amos Goldbaum t-shirts in front of the mural at Day Street.
Contact information:
Secession SF: 3235 Mission St, SF CA 94110
tel. 415-279-3058
Amy Ahlstrom: - email: - tel. 415-336-8151
Heather Robinson: - email: - tel. 415-860-4283





Vilcek Foundation Design Awards panel discussion: Neri Oxman, Mansour Ourasanah, and Quilian Riano

2014 Vilcek Prizes booklet
2014 Vilcek Prizes booklet

The Vilcek Foundation was created to highlight the achievements of the many talented immigrants who made their life in the United States.
Marica and Jan Vilcek are themselves originally from Slovakia, Jan Vilcek, a microbiologist, has 45 patents in his name and was the co-inventor of the blockbuster drug, Remicade. Marica is an art historian. They married in 1962 and lived in the United States for 50 years, after fleeing Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia. They used the wealth earned thanks to the medical patents to create the Vilcek Foundation in 2000. Every year, they give out rewards in different categories. This year’s focus was excellence and innovation in design.
Vilcek_7045On June 19, 3 of the award recipients came together for a panel discussion at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City. The designers spoke about their creations, and topics covered were material ecology, and how can industrial design improve society? The discussion was moderated by Glenn Adamson, Director at the Museum of Arts and Design. Featured designers were Neri Oxman, Mansour Ourasanah, and Quilian Riano.

Neri Oxman, originally from Israel, studied medicine in Jerusalem, before changing her focus to architecture.  Medecine, however, provides her with insight into biological structures that other architects and designers don’t have. She came to the United States in xxx and currently is a professor and member of a multidisciplinary team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her specialty is “Material Ecology.” She told us about the dome they created using silkworms.

Mansour Ourasanah, originally from Togo (West Africa) came to the United States at the age of sixteen. His plan was to study engineering, but he discovered industrial design and changed his major. In many African countries, this is not a profession that many have heard of. Knowing that raising cattle for meat is extremely unsustainable, and that many in a variety of countries eat insects and in particulars grasshoppers, he invented (among other items) a mini-farm to raise crickets in your own kitchen. Very recently, the New York Times addressed this new type of protein in an article about companies manufacturing cookies and other baked goods. Here is a video explaining the premise (courtesy of Mansour Ourasanah).

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about another “non-traditional protein”. mealworms: “Celebrity Chefs Tout Bug Cuisine.”

Quilian Riano, born in Bogota, Colombia, was raised in Miami, Florida. He is an architect, trained at the University of Florida and Harvard University, now practicing in Brooklyn, NY. as principal of the DSGNAGNC_logo4 bnwDSGN AGNC (Design Agency), a collaborative design/research studio exploring political engagement through architecture, urbanism, art, and activism. His focus is on making the urban setting more human-centric and on the various forces which influence the urban environment. One of DSGN AGNCs projects is in Corona, Queens in New York City.
His work reminded me of my own architecture studies, when under the mentorship of our professor, the architect Denis Valode, we studied how spaces were to be used from the inside out, mapping out the activities to be carried out within the space. This did not have a political aspect but did delve into the way a space is utilized in a more organic way.

All three designers gave us, the audience, hope that the planet may not be destroyed by humankind after all, if we follow their lead towards a sustainable and gentler built environment. The panel discussion provided us with a very inspiring evening.



In Mount Vernon, NY: artisanal tile makers from Cuba

Blue and grey tile

Cement tiles have been used in many countries, in France, Lebanon, Morocco, Mexico… for centuries, and also more recently in the United States, mostly in the South, including Florida.
We discovered a new company almost next door, here in the Northeast, in the industrial neighborhood within Mount Vernon, New York.
Two brothers, Seniel and Sergio Pena, originally from Cuba, along with a third partner, Aine Sanchez,  brought their skills and know-how to the United States. Seniel was the last to immigrate from Havana, about five years ago. In Havana, they already had founded a cement tile company in 1999. However, the situation became difficult, and they closed shop in 2008.
New immigrants to the United States often find that the reality is different from their expectations, and the first years in the United States were difficult for the two brothers. However, when they realized that all the cement tiles sold here were imported, they decided to return to their original business: manufacturing cement tiles.
Their workshop is in Mount Vernon, in Westchester County, NY.  They offer a variety of styles and color combinations. The company is named, appropriately, Brothers Cement Tile. They made many of the machines themselves, elaborated the mixes for the raw material, and created designs.

Pena Brothers
The Pena brothers

It is a labor of love. For the moment, they sell mainly locally, especially to Brooklyn, where there is a lot of  both new construction and renovations. People appreciate the close-to-handmade quality of the tiles. Orders come in along with color samples to be matched.
At the moment, Seniel prefers to install the tiles himself, to ensure that the work is done correctly. 

Tiles made to order to match color swatches
Tiles made to order to match color swatches

They sometimes receive orders from across the country, but at the moment, transportation costs make such jobs extremely expensive. They are keeping busy with the New York area, and with the website, they are easily discovered by homeowners and contractors interested in this beautiful type of flooring.