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In Louisiana, food is like fingerprints: No two gumbos, bread puddings, or étouffées (a thick stew usually served with shellfish over rice) are alike. It's this diversity that led the city of Lake Charles to formalize its Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail (visitlakecharles.org/boudintrail).
Boudin (pronounced "boo-dan") is the Cajun cousin of sausage links, made by blending pork, liver, rice, onions and seasonings, then stuffing them into a casing.
I got my first taste of the finger food at B&O Kitchen and Grocery, a meat market owned by the third generation of the Benoit family, which sells at least 150 to 200 pounds of boudin daily. While B&O's smoked links were my favorite, visitors can sample around at any of the 27 stops on the Boudin Trail, which include restaurants, markets, and even a gas station, scattered along Interstate 10 and Highway 90. Read more at New York Daily News.
An American Gothic Roadtrip
Born on a farm in rural Iowa, Grant Wood was deeply influenced by the Midwestern landscape and cities of his home state. He was one of the major proponents of the Regionalist art movement, which flourished during the Great Depression, a time when few artists could afford grand tours of Europe to learn their craft. Wood maintained that the hills and farms of the Midwest were as legitimate a source for artistic inspiration as JMW Turner’s English seascapes or Vincent van Gogh’s wheat fields. He and other major figures in the Regionalist movement, especially John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton, felt that “different sections of the U.S. should compete with one another just as Old World cities competed in the building of Gothic cathedrals,” as a 1934 Time magazine cover story on the movement said. “Only thus, [Wood] believes, can the U.S. develop a truly national art.” Read more at Smithsonian.
This Culture, Once Believed Extinct, Is Flourishing
It’s a story of survival in the face of long odds. The arrival of Europeans to the Caribbean, beginning with Christopher Columbus in 1492, brought foreign diseases, enslavement, conquest and disruption to the indigenous people’s agrarian lifestyle. This moment of contact proved devastating, leading to the loss of 90 percent of the Native people.
The Cabeza de Macorix from the island of Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) and dates to AD 800 to 1500, probably represents a Native leader who was venerated after death. (NMAI, San Pedro de Macorís Province, Dominican Republic. Stone Purchased in 1941 from A.E. Todd.)
This woman (likely Luisa Gainsa) and child are from a Native community near Baracoa, Cuba, whose members today work with researchers to document their history and culture. (NMAI, Mark Raymond Harrington, 1919).
Enslavement, resistance and spirituality connected the cultures and lives of African and Native peoples across the Caribbean. This print depicts a sugar plantation on Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) in the early 1500s. (Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.)
Most of today’s Taíno are of mixed heritage as suggested in this 1919 photograph of the Barrientos family headed by an an indigenous woman from Baracoa, Cuba and a Spanish ex-soldier. (NMAI, Mark Raymond Harrington, 1919)
How Newton, Goethe, an Ornithologist and a Board Game Designer Helped Us Understand Color
What is color? The question seems so fundamental that it’s almost impossible to answer—either so simple that it is difficult to define, or so complex that it would take volumes.
“Color, even though we all feel like we know what it is, when you try to start defining it, you can find it very mysterious and complex,” says Jennifer Cohlman Bracchi of Smithsonian Libraries. “Is it a physical thing? Is it a perceptual thing? Is it both?”
To explain how we perceive and understand color, the exhibition showcases almost 200 objects, from a 19th century peacock-feather fan to an iMac computer, drawn from the museum’s vast design collections. Helping to give context to these objects is a gallery of about three dozen rare books from Smithsonian Libraries, which represent the key thinkers who helped us see colors in new ways—scientific, philosophical, artistic, even musical. “Their approaches were all trying to solve their own kinds of problems,” says Bracchi.
Sometimes a symbol can be so familiar that even out of context—different surroundings, different colors and very different materials—it remains immediately recognizable. That’s the case of the five neon-colored tipis that anchor the exhibition “Manifestipi,” currently on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. Created by ITWÉ Collective, a trio of artists based in Winnipeg and Montreal, Canada, the eight-foot-tall structures made of frosted plexiglass look nothing like what we think of as a traditional tipi, but are unmistakably that.
“You see the tipi, you immediately recognize it—but the artists are doing something very unconventional with the form,” says Kathleen Ash-Milby, associate curator of the National Museum of the American Indian. “These are plexiglass, the colors are constantly shifting, it’s not a traditional palette you might normally associate with Native people.”
Left to right: Sébastien Aubin (Cree/Metis), Caroline Monnet (Algonquin/French), Kevin Lee Burton (Swampy Cree) (Eric Cnq-Mars)
Why Iceland’s Christmas Witch Is Much Cooler (and Scarier) Than Krampus
Those who prefer the darker side of the holiday season have had it pretty good lately, thanks to the fast-growing popularity of Krampus. Once a mythological character on the fringes of Christmas lore, the horned and hoofed Germanic monster has gone mainstream in the U.S. There are Krampus Parades taking over the streets of major cities, an influx of merchandise bearing his long-tongued creepiness, and a horror-comedy film about him starring Adam Scott and Toni Collette.
While Krampus may be king of holiday scares, his fans may be overlooking an equally nasty, much more formidable queen—a Christmas monster who lives further north, in the frigid climes of Iceland who goes by the name Grýla, the Christmas witch. This tough ogress lives in a cave in Iceland’s hinterlands, the matriarch of a family of strange creatures, launching attacks on nearby townships, snatching up misbehaving children, and turning them into delicious stew.
“You don’t mess with Grýla,” says Terry Gunnell, the head of the Folkloristics Department at the University of Iceland. “She rules the roost up in the mountains.”
Tales of the ogress began as oral accounts, with the earliest written references found in the 13th century, in historic sagas and poems throughout the region. One reads, “Here comes Grýla, down in the field, / with fifteen tails on her,” while another describes, “Down comes Grýla from the outer fields / With forty tails / A bag on her back, a sword/knife in her hand, / Coming to carve out the stomachs of the children / Who cry for meat during Lent.”
Innovation is often thought of as a breaking of rules or norms, of transcending what was once thought possible, of “thinking outside the box.” But innovation can also grow from constraint, from limiting a creator’s options and forcing him or her to rethink and reinvent within those boundaries.
Exhibit A is Bone Chair, inspired by the work of the German professor Claus Mattheck, who studies the biomechanics of the natural world, such as the innate ability of bone to remove material that is not needed for strength (just as trees add material). Mattheck’s ideas of material optimization were developed into an algorithm and imaging software initially used by General Motors to create a more powerful engine mount. Laarman saw its potential in the area of furniture design.
By applying the same effort to optimize mass, chipping away material where it’s not needed, the “legs” of the chair became a multi-pronged, interconnected web. It looks very different than anything someone might just come up with on their own, serving as a feat of both human engineering and laws of nature.
Soft Gradient Chair from Microstructures series (Joris Laarman Lab)
Heatwave Radiator by Joris Laarman Lab, 2003 (Joris Laarman Lab)
MX3D Bridge (Joris Laarman Lab)
Makerchair series (Joris Laarman Lab).
Aluminum Gradient Chair (Joris Laarman Lab).
Three Generations of Inuit Women Defy Exploitation by Visualizing Resilience and Love
Andrea R. Hanley had long been an admirer of Annie Pootoogook’s pen and colored pencil drawings of contemporary Inuit home life. She was also aware of Pootoogook’s impressive forebears—three generations of artists, influencing and impacting one another and their community and the art world in the process.
The show features just 18 works total from the three prolific artists, but conveys a vast range of styles and expressions of life in their remote Eastern Arctic community on Dorset Island, Nunavut, Canada.
“It’s an amazing conversation that you hear and see,” says Hanley, the exhibition’s curator and the membership and program manager at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, where the show originated. “The discourse and dialog between these three are so powerful that it shows that [the number of works doesn’t] need to be enormous in order to really pack a punch.”
Dogs Eat the Seal by Pitseolak Ashoona (Inuit), 1981 (Edward J. Guarino Collection)
Nascopie Reef by Napachie Pootoogook (Inuit), 1989 (Edward J. Guarino Collection)
Family Sleeping in a Tent by Annie Pootoogook (Inuit), 2003-04 (Edward J. Guarino Collection)
A Portrait of Pitseolak by Annie Pootoogook (Inuit), 2003-04 (Edward J. Guarino Collection)
Whaler’s Exchange by Napachie Pootoogook, 1989 (Edward J. Guarino Collection)