Scuppernong Commons

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Wowhaus were Artplace Environmenal Artists-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Art and Innovation in Charlotte, North Carolina in late winter of 2015. While in residence we realized an ambitious public project called Scuppernong Commons. The project is sited within Brightwalk, a mixed-income, mixed-use residential development that is a model of sustainable revitalization and economic development for the City.

Part architectural intervention, part social sculpture, Scuppernong Commons reintroduces the scuppernong grape to the urban fabric, and invites new traditions around the grape’s harvest, preparation and stewardship. Native to the Southeast, the scuppernong has been in cultivation since the 16th century and has been a common staple in homemade jams and jellies, juices, pies and wine.

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Scuppernong Commons consists of a walk-through arbor with overhead trellis, and poured concrete hardscape to support seasonal celebrations. In anticipation of a craft-based, community-engaged fabrication process, we designed a structural system that features a single repeating element, while allowing for randomness and variability. Twelve columns support the trellis and make an artificial allée. Each column is composed of 14 dry-stacked, pigmented concrete rings that were hand-packed with the help of volunteers from the community. The rust-red tone and claylike texture of the stacked columns evokes the region’s red clay soils.

As Charlotte continues to grow and prosper as a major hub of the New South, Scuppernong Commons is intended as a durable, loving tribute to the City’s humble origins, emblemized by the versatility and resiliency of its native fruit.

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Cooking Black Beans

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My leftover black beans and yellow rice make a pretty good lunch

For some reason, maybe related to all the news about Cuba lately, I have been craving black beans. Not the kind you might get at just about any taqueria but the kind you make at home. The kind you need to soak overnight, cook for hours, and eat all week when you have no money. I wanted to make the kind of beans I remember eating with bread and butter and white sugar at those Cuban Sandwich places that used to be all over Manhattan in the eighties.

I bought bulk black beans, very good white rice, a nice, firm yellow onion, and some chicken bullion. I forgot to soak the beans overnight so I covered them with water first thing in the morning and let them soak until around three, when I started cooking. We invited our friends Richard and Lisa over to join us for homemade rice and beans and picked up some Pacificos. Ene made an inspired rum drink with fresh pineapple, mint, orange juice, seltzer and lime.

I rinsed the beans and brought them to a boil. While the pot was heating up I diced the onion and chopped up some garlic, which I added to the pot, along with a couple of bay leaves and some coarse sea salt. After boiling for about 15 minutes, I let the beans simmer, uncovered, for almost three hours, stirring occasionally and adding water when needed. Oh, and I added a few cubes of bullion, coarse black pepper and a teaspoon of finely ground cumin to the pot too when it started to boil.

I texted my old friend Matt for his yellow rice recipe. His recipe called for another onion, 2-3 cloves of garlic, about a teaspoon of turmeric, and more chicken broth. He suggested a ratio of 2 ½ cups of water/broth to 1 ½ cups of rice. He likes to sauté the chopped up onion and garlic in olive oil, add the rice, mix around until everything is glossy and translucent, add the turmeric, get everything coated, then add the water or broth and bring to a boil. Then he recommends covering the pot and reducing to simmer for about 16 minutes (Matt is very methodical), then placing a towel under the lid and removing from heat for about another 12 minutes. The rice has a vivid color that contrasts the black beans, and a sweet, homey aroma.

I had a couple of plantains ripening from a few days ago, when I first got the craving for this meal. They were just right, not too green, not too yellow. I cut off the ends, made a slit down the length of the skin, and carefully peeled the fruit. Then I sliced them up diagonally into leaning ovals, a little under an inch thick. I heated about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large iron skillet and fried the plantain slices on both sides, about five minutes total. I kept the skillet on the flame but removed the plantains to a paper towel on a cutting board and smashed them flat with a block of wood (a potato masher would do). Then I added a little more oil to the pan and fried the smashed plantains again until they were slightly crisp and golden brown on the outside, but still soft on the inside.

I made a simple salad to round out the meal while we were sipping our rum drinks and catching up with our friends. I toasted about a half a cup of pepitas, which I added to a hearty, green leaf lettuce, along with sliced up avocado. I dressed the salad with a lemony olive oil dressing I like to make. I chop up a clove of garlic very fine with a pinch of coarse sea salt. I let this sit in the juice of half a lemon for about ten minutes. Then I stir in about a teaspoon of brown sugar, and drizzle in about a third cup of olive oil while whisking with a fork.

Everyone loved the meal, and the flavors, colors and textures blended wonderfully. We sat around the table afterwards eating strawberries and swapping stories. I mixed the rice in with the beans for an easy lunch later in the week.

To read more Deep Craft recipes, please click here.

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Spinnradl Video

Spinnradl Video, shot and edited by J Miles Wolf

Here is a short video showing our Spinnradl sculptures in action in Cincinnati. The video features two songs on two nearly identical sculptures, sited about a block apart from each other along Pendleton Street. The songs are played by turning a crank, which spins a large cylinder that triggers an analog music box. Turning the crank also powers a pulsing, radial Moire animation on either end of the sculpture’s housing. Each song lasts about thirty seconds when spun at the optimal speed, and repeats as long as the crank is continually turned.

The first song featured is a German folk dance called Spinnradl (spinning wheel), where dancers traditionally make star patterns in groups of three. The song would have been familiar to the German immigrants who built the Pendleton neighborhood and lived and worked there in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The second song is a ragtime composed in Cincinnati during the height of ragtime’s popularity. The song was composed to play on board steamboats that ferried passengers along a canal that once bordered the ‘Over-the Rhine’ neighborhood.

To learn more about the development of Spinnradl, please click here and scroll down.

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New Wowhaus Website

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I am very proud to announce that after 15 years we have designed a new website for Wowhaus. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is how well the site we built in 1999 has held up over the years, hence the delay and hesitation: ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it?’ Right?

Because we had actualized so little work as the artist team of Wowhaus when we designed the original site in the late 90’s, we arranged things chronologically in anticipation of the career arc we anticipated, scrollable like a ‘blog, but long before ‘blogs even existed. This became cumbersome after over 15 years of collated projects. Also, the platforms we used to design and maintain the website became obsolete, and our systems manager moved to South Africa.

Our new site is more like a collage, featuring projects more visually up front, all part of the same conceptual thrust regardless of their origin, location or timeframe. Projects are arranged visually, with no particular hierarchy, and are more randomly accessible. Closer inspection reveals the divergent details. We will continue to add content as our current projects are installed and documented.

While refining the text and going through our image archives for the new site, I realized that we never really take pause to reflect on the work we’ve accomplished as a whole. Seeing the completed website for the first time gave me a rare perspective of an outsider looking in, and I found a fresh perspective on what we actually do.

It occurred to me that Wowhaus projects are an extension of our domestic life- a glimpse of what the world might look like if a family decides to rebuild it as an extension of home, claiming public space for the kinds of use patterns that might normally be associated with home, with raising a family, building a community; recasting the world as an extension of home, as both a critique and a proposal.

Click here to see the new Wowhaus website.

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Making Molds of Makkeweks

makkeweks molds1Garrett McLean makes molds of Makkeweks at Berkeley’s Artworks Foundry

I hadn’t realized how attached I had become to the Makkeweks until we took her apart and loaded her up on a flatbed for delivery to Berkeley. The studio seemed suddenly huge and empty, and the sculpture looked kind of sad and nervous on the back of the truck. Moving her was nerve wracking for me too. I had designed the sculpture to break down, and engineered an armature to retain the shape in transit,  but did not know how compressed cork would hold up under the stress of backroads bumps and highway vibration.

makkeweks molds2The underside of the head was the first part of the sculpture to receive molds.

The sculpture survived the journey to Artworks Foundry unharmed, and I immediately set to making final adjustments to the shape and texture. The foundry wasted no time making molds, carefully marking alignments, planning part lines, and cutting the cork pattern into manageable sections. After about a week working on site, we passed final approval with the City of Oakland, and left Makkeweks to be cast in bronze.

To read more about the development of Makkeweks for the City of Oakland, please click here and scroll down.

 

 

 

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Spinnradl: Final Assembly and Installation

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Verdin and Reuge work together to mount the music box.

In many ways, Spinnradl has been our most challenging and rewarding project to date. All of our projects as Wowhaus involve a degree of collaboration, but Spinnradl has been the most collaborative on several levels. All of our projects involve a degree of community engagement, artisanry and technical innovation, but Spinnradl sets a new bar on all fronts. We are very grateful to Artworks Cincinnati for inviting us to realize such a robust project and for supporting us so thoughtfully throughout the process over the past year and a half.

I spent the week before last working with the talented crew at the Verdin Company in Cincinnati, assembling and installing the sculptures. We hired Verdin to engineer and fabricate the sculpture’s housing and internal gearing. Verdin has been making clocks and bells in Cincinnati since 1842, and we designed the sculptures around their manufacturing capabilities, knowing that their presence in the Pendleton neighborhood would lead to obvious synergies. Verdin was also responsible for installation, and for coordination with other manufacturers who we had hired to fabricate other components. Indeed, one of the subtexts of the project has been working in collaboration with traditional, craft-based manufacturers, each over 100 years old.

Everything fit together perfectly.

Everything fit together perfectly.

I originally contacted Swiss-based Reuge, the world’s premier music box manufacturer, seeking consultation on building such a large music box. They loved the project and immediately offered to engineer and construct the music-making components at cost. Reuge collaborated with Verdin across the Atlantic, across languages and systems of measurement to produce the music boxes housed within the sculptures. The three engineers who designed and built the components traveled to Cincinnati to assist with assembly and installation. I acted as translator when necessary, dusting off my French as best I could. It helped that I had met two of the engineers when I traveled to Switzerland at the beginning phases of the project.

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Drawing on extensive community outreach and research into the history of the neighborhood, Ene designed the ceramic tiles mounted quilt-like to the sculpture’s exterior panels. Rookwood Pottery hand-carved the designs into relief on the tiles, creating custom glazes according to our color specifications. Rookwood has been making high quality Arts and Crafts inspired ceramics in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood since 1880, and it was very satisfying having them work collaboratively with Verdin for the first time.

I will be writing more about the stories behind the sculptures themselves soon. I should have a video clip and images from the dedication ceremony available to share as well. Meanwhile, click here to read an excellent article announcing the Spinnradl dedication, with info about the community engagement process, or click here and scroll down to read my previous posts. You can also see a slide show from the dedication ceremony by clicking here.

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Team Reuge traveled from Switzerland.

Team Reuge traveled from Switzerland.

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Spinnradl Update

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2 custom music boxes with 20″ D drums, made in Switzerland by Reuge (phote: Reuge)

Next week I travel to Cincinnati to supervise the assembly and installation of our Spinnradl sculptures, which were commissioned last year by Artworks Cincinnati.  It’s very exciting to see all of the pieces falling into place. I can hardly believe what we’ve all accomplished over the past year, and can’t wait to see the sculptures installed along Pendleton Street. The most challenging and rewarding part of the project has been working collaboratively in designing and fabricating the components with several highly skilled manufacturers, three of which are well over one hundred years old, and two of which are based in Cincinnati. Here is a glimpse of some of the components comprising the sculpture, with links to the companies who made them: (click here to read about the development of Spinnrald by wowhaus)

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(photo: Reuge)

The two music boxes, one for each of two sculptures, each play a different 30 second melody. Made and engineered by REUGE in collaboration with Nicolas Court, Jean-Michel Bolens, Cyril Glauser; Sainte-Croix  -  Switzerland, July 2014

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(photo: Verdin)

The two housings for the Spinnradl sculptures, including all interior gearing, were engineered and made by the Verdin Company in Cincinnati; Jack Klosterman, Tim Verdin, Tim Weitlauf and Larry Flores. Verdin will also install the sculptures.

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(photo: Verdin)

The tiles were custom made in Cincinnati by Rookwood Pottery, based upon Ene’s designs, which were inspired by dialogue with the community and research into the history of the neighborhood.

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(photo: KVO Industries) 

The 30″ D ceramic-enamel spinning dials for the radial Moire animations were made in California by KVO Industries, from patterns generated by Matthew Hausman.

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