Serendipity shapes lives. As teenagers Frank Broz and and his future wife Kimberly toured Iowa’s Sister State, the Yamanashi Prefecture of Japan, with a community group. In a Tokyo stationery store, Kimberly admired the exquisite quality of fine Japanese pens. Today she and Frank import and sell Japanese pens, washi tape, stickers, mechanical pencils, journals, and other niche merchandise online and inside their Tokyo Pen Shop near the Fairfield, Iowa town square. Formerly high-tech workers in Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters, the couple enjoys operating a business that allows them to use their technological skills to enhance the merchandising of fine Japanese stationery. Below they describe their journey from hobbyists to full-time entrepreneurs.
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Afflicted with Alzheimer’s after a distinguished career as an educator, environmentalist, and author Bruce Hopkins opted to continue pursuing his craft. The result? The Art of Decay. Released by Ice Cube Press this collection of his drawings, essays, and poems contains Dr. Hopkins’ keen observations about all forms of nature and people of all ages. Artfully braided together, his reflections suggest the power of hope, renewal, and familiarity. With his wife, Jeanette Hopkins, Dr. Hopkins will showcase The Art of Decay Live From Prairie Lights.
Picture book author Jeanette Hopkins at Fairfest 2014 with James Moore, Station Manager of KRUU-LP 100.1FM
Award-winning author and artist Michelle Edwards writes & illustrates stories for children and adults. Her books are about family, friendship, knitting, and community. Instagram is her sandbox, where she explores new ideas. She enjoys drawing #StudioScrawls with Japanese pens at The Tokyo Pen Shop, too.
Universities in the United States, Europe, and Australia use Tom Egenes’s guides for learning Sanskrit. His latest publication? The Upanishads: A New Translation, coauthored with Vernon Katz. Tom lives in Fairfield, Iowa with wife Linda Egenes. Her latest publication? The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic–Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy. I photographed this adorable couple at Fairfield’s solar-powered radio station after interviewing them for The Studio: click below to hear their discussion of their creative process.
MIRACLE ON DEPOT STREET:
ELAINE DUNCAN’S ARTWORKS SURVIVE BLAZE
Sometime before 7:19 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16, 2011, fire broke out in Fairfield at 406 W. Depot Avenue. Built in 1919, the burning two-story structure contained apartments, businesses, and art studios. At first, the fire progressed slowly, allowing all the building’s residents and their pets to safely escape.
During this early, optimistic stage, Fairfield artist Elaine Duncan received a phone call from a friend who knew she maintained a studio on the burning building’s second floor. For eight years, this studio had housed all her art supplies, tools, and over 700 of her drawings and paintings.
“At the time there was hope the firemen would put the fire out and my studio would only suffer smoke damage,” Elaine reported later in emails to friends. “I went to sleep with images of cleaning everything and dragging it over to my basement. That is, if anything survived. I knew this was only one possibility,” she added.
While Elaine slept, 60 firemen from Fairfield and nearby communities battled the blaze, but the situation worsened. Explosions in a woodworker’s shop in the building’s southeast corner forced firefighters to evacuate and fight the fire from outside.
Early Thursday morning Elaine drove to West Depot Avenue. Yellow tape cordoned off the block. Small fires burned, and smoke billowed from rubble inside the building. Elaine could clearly see the smoldering rubble because the building’s roof had collapsed.
“The top floor was gone,” she reported. “That is where my studio had been.”
No one could yet enter what remained of the structure, so Elaine left to meditate and begin emotionally processing her losses, which weren’t covered by insurance. Sadness over losing a particular painting or tool vied with relief over not having to undertake an arduous restoration effort.
“My work got a first class cremation,” she concluded.
But that wasn’t entirely true. On Friday, December 2nd, while two workers cleared debris from the building, one pulled back a thick, wet corner of cardboard and exposed a colorful painting. A partly burned countertop weighed down by chunks of roof had preserved a stack of drenched, 22” x 30” artworks.
“Evidently the firemen blasted my studio space with water just before the countertop caught full fire,” Elaine later explained.
The workers carried the paintings to a cleared corner and covered them with a wheelbarrow. They consulted Martin Brodeur, the building’s owner, who recognized the paintings as Elaine’s.
On Saturday, clutching Martin’s jacket sleeve, Elaine followed him through the dark, debris-filled first floor and up an intact back staircase. On the exposed second floor, coils of wire jumped and rolled in the wind. Ash blew everywhere.
Later, Elaine explained that the second floor “had become a completely open space punctuated by charred roof pillars flame-carved into strange, nondescript totems.”
Martin and Elaine picked their way carefully across the wet, slippery floor to the wheelbarrow.
“Charcoal touched everything and an ash gray skin covered all possible color,” Elaine reported. “Marty lifted back a swath of paintings and revealed my painting Fairy Light. It was pristine. I was amazed.”
Could the soggy paintings be saved? How? Martin advised Elaine to quickly relocate her artwork, but where could she take it? Her small apartment and shared basement space wouldn’t accommodate restoration efforts, she realized. At home, Elaine emailed friends for advice. Help came swiftly.
On Sunday, two strong male volunteers made three precarious trips inside the rubble-filled ruins to retrieve the heavy, water-logged paintings. After loading them into a van, they drove to an old school and carried them down to its basement. Elaine had received permission to use it rent-free for four days as a drying space.
Shortly after the men left, other volunteers carried in towels, sheets, and absorbent paper. They helped Elaine separate the paintings and spread them on the floor. Glassine she’d placed over each painting before storing them in her studio facilitated this three-hour-long process. Like carefully tended garden plants, rows of cheerful paintings alternated with walkways that created easy access for restoration.
Borrowed fans hastened drying, and 24 hours later Elaine began removing surface soot and ash with the help of another friend and his Shop-Vac. Vacuuming took two days. Elaine tallied the paintings as she restacked them for relocation to another donated space. Thanks to 60 firemen, two workers, and countless friends and helpers, Elaine recovered one hundred paintings.
“I am blessed to live in a community of caring, generous people,” she confided.
Arduous work lies ahead. Elaine will garner information and experiment. She’ll erase fine ash and soot, trim paintings, adjust images, and completely transform some artworks. Despite the work involved, she feels undaunted. The miracle of her paintings surviving a disaster that destroyed much sturdier objects enlivens her efforts to save them.
This article appeared in The Iowa Source:
© 2012 Cheryl Fusco Johnson.
“Want to go in on this?” my friend Stacey Hurlin asked in an email proposing a unique way to honor our friend, Phyllis Khare, who—on her birthday—was slated to give us a mini-tutorial on writing effective blog titles. “Any thought?” Stacey prodded.
Even though Stacey’s track record makes it wise to say yes, I thought, No, we shouldn’t do it. Stacey launched award-winning First Friday Art Walks, successful women’s crisis center fundraising events, and international small works exhibits featuring over 300 artists. For Phyllis’s birthday, Stacey wanted to surprise her during class with iced cupcakes topped with tiny posters bearing social media logos. Clever, right?
But a traumatic brain injury I sustained in a car accident four years ago skews my thoughts towards the glass-empty side. Phyllis, a social media guru, vigorously consumes every class minute trying to transmit her mercurial mind’s contents to ours. Mightn’t she feel miffed about us diverting our attention? In the cupcake photo Stacey sent, turquoise icing coiled near the curly edges of pastel paper cups. Couldn’t icky icing end up on—or worse yet inside— students’ keyboards? Stacey proposed buying healthier cupcakes than the ones pictured. No turquoise icing! But our town is marbled with foodies who embrace conflicting opinions about what’s good to eat. Wouldn’t class members regard gluten, sugar, fat, even the mere concept of cupcakes revolting?
Yes! Yes! Yes! I concluded. So I shot off a curmudgeonly, wet-blanket email to Stacey expressing my concerns.
Ha! Stacey’s entrenched creativity easily survived my feeble attempts to dispel it. Recognizing the futility of searching for cupcakes acceptable to divergent palates, Stacey, herself, baked wheat-based and gluten-free versions. Some she topped with sugarless cream cheese icing tinted pink with beet juice.
While constructing mini-posters of social media logos, Stacey chose vivid versions. She foresaw possibilities that Phyllis later fulfilled by enticing her grandkids to play games with the toddler-friendly posters after the cupcakes were gone. Before they were gone, Stacey’s Pinterest poster towered above the rest: the P, she explained, stood not just for Pinterest but also for Phyllis, our ebullient teacher.
The silver platter Stacey grabbed from a cupboard, the one she stacked concentric circles of cupcake tiers on, turned out to be a lazy Susan. So, although Phyllis did at first protest losing precious class minutes to birthday cake frivolity, when she spotted the vibrant logos and her fingers grazed the silver platter and the cupcakes spun around, the birthday girl and all of us clustered around her sensed how magical the moment was that Stacey had made.
What if, instead of discouraging Stacey, I’d offered to work alongside her? How much fun did my curmudgeonly attitude cost me? How much healing laughter did I forfeit to fear?
Four years later I’m nearly done grieving the changes I experienced after a drunk dental hygienist rammed my car at 11 AM on a drizzly summer Saturday while my Camry and I were stopped at a red light. Enough already with the glass-empty thinking! When you’re lucky, a red light, a solid stop, is followed by a start. One day, in a room filled with sunlight, cupcakes spun on a silver platter amid a circle of bright, happy women. And I was there. I saw that.
Say Yes to Creativity Every Day