anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Eileen Gray

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“To create, one must first question everything.”

-Eileen Gray (1878-1976)

I didn’t know of designer and architect Eileen Gray until I saw a retrospective of her work at Centre Pompidou in Paris a few years ago, and I fell in love with her pieces and was inspired by her story.

Born in Ireland, Gray moved to Paris in 1902. There, she studied lacquerwork, designed furniture (her designs are still produced today) and became a major figure of the French Art Deco movement. “She dared to do things that no one did at that time,” Cloé Pitiot, curator of of the exhibition told the Wall Street Journal

It’s interesting to look at her work with that perspective, understanding that her furniture and designs were revolutionary at the time that she made them. And while such designs feel very modern today, think of how bold it was to create them in her day.

In 1929 when she was 51, Gray completed her first architectural work, the E.1027 house. The house is now considered a masterwork of modernist architecture, her furniture designs within it carrying equal importance.

The organisation of the house as a whole is then based on her studies of wind and sun, and on its position on a steep slope descending to the sea. The building is mostly white outside, its interior modulated with planes of slight pink or eau-de-nil, or a nocturnal blue or black. These colours are maritime, but subtly so, such as you might see in deep water, inside a seashell or after sunset. There is an acute awareness of surfaces, both inside and out, and their degrees of shine or roughness. On the back wall of the main living space, playfulness being part of her armoury, she placed a large nautical chart. This, she said, “evokes distant voyages and gives rise to reverie”. The Guardian

Of course, I was horrified when I learned how renowned architect Le Corbusier had defaced the interior of the house with erotic murals, stark contradictions to Gray’s subtle style. The reason for such destruction? Le Corbusier was reportedly shocked that such a beautiful building could have been designed by a woman, saying, “I admit the mural is not to enhance the wall, but on the contrary, a means to violently destroy [it].”

…one of his destructive paintings is applied directly to the hallway screen in E.1027. By his symbolic removal of Gray’s obstructions he rendered her complex house transparent, and with the erotic scenes he painted, he supplied the imagined objects of his desire.

Le Corbusier’s fascination did not stop here: he also built a little shack, his ‘cabanon’, perched like a voyeur’s eyrie above the villa. He spent the rest of his summers here, swimming every day below the cliffs, and that is where he died in 1965, overlooked by the house that had so obsessed him. Architectural Review

Le Corbusier of course remains in the architectural vernacular, known to even those outside his domain.

But Gray, like so many other women artists, slid into the shadows. Self-taught and working in a male dominated field didn’t make it easy within her profession; she existed in a domain where success meant being a chest-beating male. Gray herself admitted to the drawbacks of her own quiet nature: “I was not a pusher and maybe that’s the reason I did not get to the place I should have had.”

Fortunately, with the restoration of E.1027, and a renewed interest in her story, her work and spirit will not be lost. As Cathy Giangrande, development lead for Cap Moderne, the nonprofit association behind the restored E.1027, told Dezeen, “Certainly she deserves to be celebrated as one of the great pioneers of her time…”

To follow Gray’s line of thinking, to create we must question everything. We must question our own perceptions, our own assumptions. We must question the world as we know it, the status quo.

And when we question, we become empowered to challenge. After all, isn’t that what creating is all about?

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

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Written by Anna Brones

January 11, 2019 at 05:00

Creative Fuel

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In need of a creative kick in the pants this year? Sign up for my newsletter to receive Creative Fuel.

Creative Fuel is going to be a monthly newsletter, sent out the first Friday of every month.

Creativity has always played an important role in my life, but it wasn’t until this last year that I really started to dig into the word and all of its implications. The more time I spent thinking about it, the more I was inspired, knowing that everyone gets to be creative, and that if we want to feel more creative, we have so many simple tools available to do just that.

So that’s what Creative Fuel is here to do: help us invest in and awaken our creative selves. Every month will be an exploration of the creative process, either through prompts or food for thought.

The first one goes out on Friday January 4, 2019. I hope you’ll sign up!

Written by Anna Brones

January 3, 2019 at 19:52

24 Days of Making, Doing and Being: Digital Advent Calendar 2018

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I’m not sure where the idea originally came from, but sometime towards the end of November last year I decided to take inspiration from my childhood advent calendar and make a digital one. The goal was to offer a daily prompt or short essay themed around the topics of Making, Doing and Being. The challenge was to create a little space for slowing down, consuming less, and being more present during the holiday season.

Swedish Christmas always involves advent calendars, whether they are in paper form or something larger. The tradition of printed advent calendars dates back to the early 1900s in Germany. Growing up, I had a particularly special advent calendar, one that my mother had woven, filled with 24 pockets, each to hold a small note. It hung outside my bedroom door and every night, she or my father would write a note for the following day and slide it in. When I woke up, it was the first thing that I checked.

Sometimes the notes would be about a holiday task to do that day, like baking cookies or decorating the tree. Other times it was just a prompt for taking a little extra time to make an ordinary activity a bit more magic, like listening to music or reading a book. It made all of December – not just Christmas – special.

This can be a difficult time of year for many reasons. Family relations can be strained, social expectations can be crippling, stress levels run high and money might be tight. At the same time, there is also so much potential for magic and wonder. But we have to actively create it, and we have to show up for it.

December means the arrival of the solstice, and in the Northern Hemisphere, winter begins. Perhaps just like we’ve lost the meaning of the holidays—trading experiences and togetherness for mass consumption—we’ve also lost the winter way of being. We have forgotten how to slow down, how to hibernate. Instead we sprint as fast as we can to the “big day” and then count down the days to the New Year when we can give ourselves the gift of a blank slate.

Think of all the advertising and marketing that happens at this time of year; so much of it is focused on selling a cozy, slow image. Why? Because that’s exactly what we’re craving. Here’s the secret to that kind of living: you can’t buy your way to that feeling, you have to create it yourself.

The goal with this advent calendar is to do just that; create a little magic every day during the month of December, so that’s it’s not just a countdown but an everyday celebration. It’s a focus on slowing down, finding balance and contentedness. The calendar is created as an antidote to the consumer frenzy that has come to define this month, a challenge to ground yourself wherever you are and reconnect with both yourself and the people around you.

Of course, the joke in my family all of last December was that while I was busy writing about slowing down, I was cranking out the newsletter on a daily basis, often in quick bursts between other projects. There were nights when I was up late because I realized I had forgotten to schedule the next day’s post (my parents tell a similar tale of all those years spent writing notes for my advent calendar), and there were even a few “morning of” emails, all crafted while wondering why I had committed to this thing in the first place.

But inevitably in those moments of insecurity, of wondering if perhaps I could have chosen a better use of my time, someone would send me an email to thank me for bringing a little light into their day, and I would feel a sense of immense gratitude.

The whole endeavor ended up being one my favorite things that I did last December. It turned out that I needed it as much as everyone else did. So much so that I decided to do it again.

If you want to receive the Making, Doing and Being digital advent calendar, all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter. Every day, you’ll receive a morning email. It might include a recipe, a quote, a prompt. Whatever it is, it’s always paired with an original papercut illustration. There will be some Scandinavian inspiration as well, and this year, even some input from friends and colleagues who I think embody this concept of Making, Doing and Being in their own personal and professional practices.

There’s no paywall and you’re not required to buy any of my books or work to receive the digital advent calendar; it’s 100% free. I want to keep it that way, accessible for everyone, because I want to share without expectation, create art and magic and put it out into the world just because. In a world gone mad, that feels like the one sane act that I can contribute. That being said, putting together this work takes time and effort, so if you feel like making a donation to sponsor the advent calendar you can do so here.

It all kicks off on Saturday December 1, 2018, so if you want to receive the advent calendar, be sure to sign up for my newsletter.

Written by Anna Brones

November 29, 2018 at 07:35

Surprise Art

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I love making things. I also love giving art to people, and I believe that our world is better with more art in it.

I wanted to offer something for the upcoming holiday season, but I didn’t have the capacity to invest money in items like prints or calendars. Instead, I want to offer small pieces of original artwork for people to keep or give away.

But here’s the catch: you don’t know what you’re getting. This is surprise art!

Between now and December 5th I will be making a series of small papercuts. Each one will be matted and wrapped. Place an order and you receive one of these pieces, which I will be sending out in two installments. Because I wrap them immediately after making them, I don’t know who is getting what. Consider it “grab bag art,” like when you were a kid and bought one of those paper bags at the toy store and had no idea what would be inside.

Each piece is mounted in a 5×7″ black mat and ready for framing. You can buy it for yourself, or for a friend, and feel free to order as many as you want. Because it’s a surprise, they are priced a little lower than my original pieces, the intent being to provide affordable artwork to bring a little joy to you and anyone you want to gift it to.

You can order here.

Written by Anna Brones

October 16, 2018 at 08:39

‘Extra Helping’ – a Cookbook for Caring Through Food (Preorder)

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Last year I was very honored to be asked to create papercut illustrations for a cookbook. That cookbook is out next month and I can’t wait for it to be born into the world. Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community One Dish at a Time by Janet Reich Elsbach is a beautiful collection of recipes and essays, all based around the idea that food is caring.

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Written by Anna Brones

October 15, 2018 at 11:53

Lucy Stone

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“I believe that the influence of woman will save the country before every other power.”

Lucy Stone (1818-1893)

The first Massachusetts woman to earn a college degree (from Oberlin College), Lucy Stone is famously known for being the first American woman to keep her last name when she married. It was 1855 and she was a woman ahead of her time; at her wedding ceremony, she read a “marriage protest,” a statement that she and her partner Henry Browne Blackwell had written together, denouncing the legal portions of a marriage in which a woman became subservient to and property of her husband.

But her actions were not just in the private sphere.

Stone was a fighter for both women’s rights and an abolitionist, believing that equality could not be won at the cost of inequality of another. In 1848, a year after her graduation from Oberlin, she began working as a paid lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and quickly became known for her voice and strong views. She soon began speaking up for women’s rights too, and became one of the preeminent leaders of the movement. She organized the 1850 Worcester First National Woman’s Rights Convention and was the publisher of the women’s rights periodical Woman’s Journal.

“I believe that the influence of woman will save the country before every other power,” Stone said at a May 12, 1869 anniversary celebration of the Equal Rights Association, as quoted in the book History of Woman Suffrage. But while she stood for women’s rights, she was also an abolitionist and in support of the 15th amendment, which granted African American men the right to vote. Her views led to breaking with suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others.

When members of the Equal Rights Association refused to consider an amendment to give women voting rights, Stanton and Anthony left to create the National Woman Suffrage Association. Stone and others formed the American Woman Suffrage Association. The schism in the women’s movement highlights the complex interplay between racism and sexism of that era, an interplay that still continues today.

Stone eventually saw the reunification of the two organizations in 1890, coming together as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. While she had seen the abolition of slavery in her lifetime, her death in 1893 came before the ratification of the 19th amendment , and she never saw women granted the right to vote. But her tireless efforts had laid the groundwork for a different future for her daughter, who also went on to work as a feminist and abolitionist. As Stone lay dying, she said, “I am glad I was born, and that at a time when the world needed the service I could give.”

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

October 12, 2018 at 08:15

Swedish Cinnamon Buns (with Apple Filling) to Celebrate Kanelbullens Dag

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Swedish cinnamon buns are so iconic that they get their very own day: October 4th. That’s right, today is the official Kanelbullens Dag. And you know what you should do to celebrate? Make a batch of cinnamon buns and invite a friend over for fika.

I don’t make kanelbullar very regularly, so when I do it’s a special affair. (Quick Swedish lesson: kanelbulle is singular, kanelbullar is plural.)

For the uninitiated, kanelbullar carry a lot of importance in Swedish food culture. It’s a staple of fika, and baking them at home is a special affair. Thinking about kanelbullar and my own connection to them makes me think of this passage from my friend Sara Bir’s book The Fruit Forager’s Companion:

“It would be wonderful to make and eat pie every day, but that is unrealistic for most of us… As it stands, I do not make pies for special occasions, but allow the pie itself to be the occasion. That way, if someone asks me how I am, I can simply say, ‘I ate piece today,’ and they know I am well.”

The way Sara feels about pie is how I feel about kanelbullar. You don’t need a special occasion to make them. Instead they turn an ordinary day into something much more exciting. Baking kanelbullar is an act of celebrating the everyday.

While I certainly enjoy the pure, unadulterated version, I often enjoy experimenting with different flours and fillings. My current favorite is to make them with whole wheat flour (I use hard white wheat from Bluebird Grain Farms) and let the dough rise overnight. I find that this slower rise makes for a slightly more interesting taste. To take full advantage of the fall season, these kanelbullar are filled with grated apple. You can certainly go classic and make it without that addition.

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Written by Anna Brones

October 4, 2018 at 08:45