Showing posts with label florence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label florence. Show all posts

Friday, July 21, 2017

Art Teacher Travels: Alabama Chanin, Florence, AL

 True Confessions: I've lived within just two hours of the amazing Alabama Chanin and I had never ever been. If you are not familiar, let me just say that you might want to read here to get yourself super informed. But I can provide the condensed version, if you like: Alabama Chanin is the creation of Natalie Chanin a Florence, Alabama native. Florence is a rural town of about 40,000 near the Northwest corner of Alabama, lodged between Mississippi and Tennessee. For years, Natalie was a stylist and costume designer who traveled the world. 
In the early 2000's, Natalie returned to her home of Florence with the intention of creating a line of hand-stitched garments. During that time, she was connected with many people who used to work in Florence during the textile boom in the 80's. Many of those folks were without employment as jobs had moved South of the border. This inspired her to create a place for people to work, create, dine, name it. And that magical place is called Alabama Chanin. 
I decided to give Alabama Chanin a visit after taking a road trip from Nashville to Tupelo to see my favorite friend, Mallory. Mallory runs a wonderful art program for kids that I had the pleasure of teaching one day. More on that to come. Between the drive from Nash to Tupe is Florence, right smack dap in the middle. I knew I would have to drop by and see what it was all about. 
Let me just say, that when I was listening to good ole Siri for directions, I thought I was being lead astray. I found myself in an unassuming industrial park filled with nondescript metal buildings. After telling me "you have arrived" five times as I drove up and down the deserted road, I happened to look to my left and see a little read awning with the words Alabama Chanin, The Factory written on them. Really? This is it? I almost turned around. I'm so glad I did not!
The moment I walked in, two things happened. The first was that I was greeted so graciously and politely. I know what you are thinking: but of course, Southern hospitality! Lemme just say, I've lived in The South for nearly 20 years...Southern hospitality isn't as common as you'd like to think. However, in this place, I was warmly greeted and made to feel completely at home. 
The second thing I noticed is this: the place was AMAZING. It used to house a textile factory (how appropriate, right) and looked every bit as such from the outside. But, once inside, it was like I was in Andy Warhol's The Factory meets Brooklyn-hip Heaven. The concept was an open one with the beautiful Alabama Chanin clothing on display. Just beyond that were carefully curated items such as pottery, printed dishtowels and table runners as well as cookbooks and aprons. Steps past that was a counter service restaurant with, I cannot stress this enough, The Best food I've had in a very, very long time. There was also a bridal dress area and a work station for classes. And that was just in the front room. The designing, creating and manufacturing happened just beyond the walls of the space you see in the second image. 
 Of course, what first drew me in: the garments. 
 Natalie is a pioneer in the slow design movement. This is in stark contrast to the fast-fashion we know of all too well. Her garments are created from start to finish from organic cotton. They are hand-dyed with organic dyes; printed, painted and/or stamped and hand sewn. 
 Natalie employes those in her community. Those left without jobs when fast fashion took jobs to other places. 
What that means is you are looking at a piece of clothing that was created from beginning to end, from the ground (literally) up, by hand. What that also means is Alabama Chanin clothing is anything but cheap both in quality and price. 
 I am not even going to lie to you, I was shocked by the prices on the pieces of clothing. We're talking into the hundreds if not a thousand or more for the bigger garments like coats. 
But look. By hand, y'all. Every stitch. Every piece painted and sewn and cut away. All by hand. Each piece, a work of art. 
Here's my favorite part about Alabama Chanin and Natalie: she shares her craft with all who are interested. Meaning she's not an artist who safeguards her secrets. She has her roots based in the quilt making traditions of the South. Traditions that have been lost over time. It seems her goal is to bring the teaching of those traditions back. And she starts with those in her community.
But she also reaches beyond with the many books that she has written on the tradition of her craft and the art of stitching as well. 
As I was there, poking around, snapping endless photos, my stomach started to growl. It was not my intention to do anything beyond pop in for a bit before heading home but with a talking tummy and the amazing smells coming from the cafe, I decided to stay. After I placed my order at the counter, I wandered in the direction of these laughing ladies to secretly see what they were up to. I had read that every other Tuesday a sewing group met and I was intrigued by what they were creating...but I did not want to intrude on what looked to be a fine and fun party.
 Immediately after snapping this photo, the women grabbed me and drew me in. A sweet woman named Judy introduced me to everyone and had them show me what they were creating. 
 I found that my new friend Rita, shown here with the skirt she's been working on for many a Tuesday, actually lives near me...and makes the two hour trek every other week to spend time stitching with her friends. 
Isn't her piece beautiful?
 This fitted corset style top is one being created for the daughter of this lovely lady. One thing I learned: never ask how long these ladies have been working on their piece. It's a labor of love...the hours spent do not count. Would you believe those sweet ladies invited me to bring my lunch over and dine with them? I had a wonderful hour of chatting, learning and watching them create.
 Before leaving, I headed over to the hand stitched bridal area. 
 I was told that one woman had already made three trips from Maine for dress fittings. Can you imagine? That is going to be one amazing dress, y'all!
 I immediately fell in love with this area. 
 Look at this hand stamped and stitched treasure. 
 In our mass produced, fast paced world, learning about slow design and seeing the beauty of it was truly inspiring. 
 So much so that I signed up for a class right there on the spot! I'm taking the beginner hand sewing, stamping and applique class. I'm thrilled to learn this technique and bring it back to my students. I'll be sure to share with you here as well!
 Here's a view of the left side of The Factory from the entrance.
 And a view from the very back, looking over the tables in the cafe and the store front. 
 The food was so good that folks were coming in from outside to dine. I mean, for real. I don't even cook and I was asking if they sold a cookbook. I get a meal during my class...and I daresay that might be what I'm looking forward to the most!
Until I report back with my adventures at Alabama Chanin, I leave you with a view of this piece being worked on my one of the sweet ladies I lunched with. I am so excited to go back and learn about this beautiful technique!
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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Art Teacher Travels: Florence

 Hey there, friends! Thank you so much for the response to my last Art Teacher Travels post. When it comes to sharing photos and memories of a travel adventure, I know it can bore folks real quick. Thank you for hangin' in there with me. I learned so much from this trip to Italy with my mom from the planning, preparing to the actual setting foot in such a beautiful country that I thought I'd share my tips. There is a learning curve when traveling to a foreign country! Here is what I explored, learned and discovered during our three day stay (not long enough) in Firenze.
Florence, Day #4: I'm picking up where I left off in my previous post. On our fourth morning in Rome, mom and I took a taxi from our hotel to the train station, giving ourselves an hour to make the short trek. And I'm really glad we did! If it is one thing I learned while in Italy, it is that Italians love to strike and protest. Good for them! Not so good when you are trying to get from point A to B. The day before, taxi drivers were on strike. Knowing that, I asked at the front desk if we'd be able to get one today. "Oh, yes," said the concierge, "The strike is now over." What he didn't know was that there was a protest about a half mile in front of the train station. This was discovered when our cab driver hit an epic traffic jam complete with honking horns and shaking fists. "This is as far as I can go!" the cab driver said while simultaneously opening our doors and putting our suitcases on the curb. "The station is that way!" he said with a wave of his arm before hoping back into his car and making the most insane u-turn known to man. We joined the herd of suitcase toting folks who suddenly found themselves in same predicament. 
When we navigated through the protest (which we didn't find out the details, unfortunately) and made it to the train station it was just as crazy. The Rome train station is a little bonkers. Thankfully we already had our tickets purchased and in hand (thanks to Costco Travel. More about that in this post)...but no clue where to go or what to do. Again, giving ourselves plenty of time was a gift in a confusing situation such as this. With our tickets in hand and our confused expression, we became the obvious target of a porter. Porters are folks who walk around train stations offering to "help" tourists for a tip. I had read not to talk to porters but I have to tell you, I gladly listened to and tipped the kind gentleman who read our ticket and showed us exactly where to go. Without his help, we might have still been at the train station!

When we arrived in Florence, we exited the train station and went across the street to a tourist office. There I purchased Florence Cards for my mom and myself. Florence cards are expensive (72 euro each) but not only get you into almost all of the museums in Florence but also to the front of the line. I knew we'd get good use out of them. From there, we flagged a cab which took us to Hotel Pierre. Again, we had a hotel that was right in the middle of town, just a few steps away from the Palazzo Vecchio. And check out the chalk art right outside our window!
After dropping off our backs, I filmed a Facebook LIVE from our hotel room. You can still view it here. It was nearly noon so mom and I set off exploring...which is code for gelato hunting. I was thrilled to find this site just a block from our hotel. 

Here is what I love about's a city that never seems to sleep. The palazzo is a large open courtyard where several restaurants are located...and all the action is. We witnessed a wedding, a Renaissance style parade and even a big band playing well past midnight! They leave the Vecchio doors open so you can just roam in and out of the entrance. But if you want to go to the top of the tower or explore the museum, you will have to get a ticket, even if you have a Florence card. If you have a card, you don't have to pay for the ticket...but you do have to have one to enter. More on that in a moment. 
Here is something to be aware of before traveling to Florence: all the museums are closed on Monday. ALL of them. We arrived in Florence on a Saturday and we were intent on just exploring, seeing sites and taking in the lay of the land. I did not want to be inside a museum. That meant we only had Sunday for museums and, I'm gonna just say it: I'm not a museumophile. I don't enjoy spending my day in museums...especially when outside is this gorgeous. So I was pretty picky with what museums we explored. But back to our stroll...
Unlike Rome, Florence is super small and carless. Which I loved! I never felt like I was about to be run down by a Roman on a Vespa. Being small, it's super easy to navigate. The roads are well marked but you really don't need to know them. Just look up: the Vecchio and the Duomo are always there to offer you guidance. 
Having done a little of homework, I knew that the San Lorenzo Market and the Mercato Centrale were something I wanted to hit. Anything with the word "market" in it is gonna get my attention. I had read that the market is closed on Sunday so I wanted to be sure to get there on our first day. I will say this: you can skip San Lorenzo Market. It is just filled with small outdoor stalls of vendors selling the same Made in China leather bags, t-shirts and other cheap souvenirs. Items there are not worth your money. 
Mercato Centrale, however, was a completely different story. This is where the locals go. On the first floor, you'll find a farmer's style market with fruits, veggies, spices, pasta, fish, meat, you name it. It was so fun to explore and gobble up free samples. But the second floor is where it's at! Mom and I rubbed shoulders with the locals while sampling many delights. Here's a video I made of the market:
Hungry yet? 
From there, mom and I walked back through Florence to the Ponte Vecchio. We loved catching a sunset at this spot. 
Florence, Day 5: In my last post, I mentioned the many tours mom and I took with groups in Rome. I had not planned a tour in Florence except for our bike adventure (more in a moment). However, just walking through Florence and seeing so much history, I wanted to learn more...and I didn't want to read about it in a book. So that evening, I booked mom and I another tour. This one was a two hour walking tour with a company called Florence Town. They have a kiosk right at the Republic Square which was around the corner from our hotel. 
I was so glad we took the tour with a Florentine. She was a wonderful story teller and we learned so much about the history while walking all over Florence. Our tour even included a stop for gelato. You can't beat that! 
One fun thing we noticed around town were how clever the street signs are. I need to do a bit of research to find out the story behind these signs. 
But allow me to back track to our walking tour. We explored the Vecchio with new ideas and information. The city of Florence came to be during the Renaissance thanks to the Medici family. With their banking wealth, the Medici commissioned such artists as Botticelli and Michelangelo. In fact, Michelangelo was discovered when he was just an apprentice at the age of 14 and asked to live and work for the Medici family. His statute of David stood for many years outside the Vecchio until it was damaged and finally moved to Academia. You can spot fake Davids all over Rome. 
Get yourself inside the Vecchio, you won't be disappointed. Seeing the glamorously painted rooms...and the exaggerated stories that the paintings tell of the Medici family is quite a site. In a time of kings and queens being the ruling class, it's interesting to think that a family of bankers rose to such power. 
Turns out things did not end well for Michelangelo and the Medici fam. He was slated to design the front of Santa Croce but the pope, a Medici, pulled the financial plug. Extremely upset, Michelangelo wrote the pope a letter which basically said, "What the heck, bruh?!" and immediately left Florence, never to return. That is, until he passed when he was buried in the very church he was not allowed to finish. Crazy huh? These are all the things I learned during my tour. Worth the euro!
We were also introduced to these small vino doors from the Renaissance. Wealthy folks had them outside of their homes. People could tap on the door and ask for wine. If the owners had wine to share, they would pass it to those asking through this small door. 
Our tour ended at the Uffizi Gallery so we whipped out our Florence card and popped in. I mentioned tickets our tour guide stated and we found out: Florentines LOVE their tickets! And finding where to get your ticket is not always easy. Usually ticket "offices" are a hole in the wall near the attraction. They are not always easy to spot. However, if you don't go there and get yourself a ticket, you won't be getting into a museum. For example, the Duomo ticket booth is behind the Baptista. Just think of it as an adventure and you'll be fine. 
The Uffizi is the only museum we visited aside from the Vecchio, the Duomo and countless churches. I have been to Florence before and on that trip, I did go to Academia to visit David, among others. I felt bad not getting to it this time...but not bad enough to spend two hours in the Ufizzi then spend more hours in Academia. 
The Uffizi is like walking into an art history book. Here is a video I made of that trip:
From there, mom and I had to make our daily decision...where to catch the sunset? Since we didn't make it to Academia and see David, we decided to make the hike to Piazzale Michelanglo, catch another fake David and take in the incredible view.
So here's a fun fact: Italy did not become a united country until 1861...long after the US...and we are a "young" country! For that reason, the regions in Italy all have their own "thing": drinks, food, art, icons, you name it. It was fun to find out what each part we traveled to was known for. Florence, it turns out, is known for their Aperol Spritz. Mom and I decided to try one while taking in this view:
I know, right?! We enjoyed the view way more than the drink. Too sweet for me, I'll stick with my red. 
Florence, Day 6: Knowing that everything would be closed on Monday, I decided to book mom and myself a bike tour thru Tuscany! Y'all, I think this was my favorite day of our trip. I found the tour on TripAdvisor and while I am not a biker, my mom loves to ride. This was another trip booked with Florencetown and I really enjoyed it. 
Our ride started with a 30 minute drive out into the Tuscan countryside. Once there, we were given water, a bike and a helmet. Our ride was about 8 miles and, for the most part, downhill. The entire ride I was in a panic thinking that we'd end up having to ride uphill on the way home. Thankfully, we did not! 
Here's a quick glimpse at our ride:
When we reached our destination, we took a tour of the winery and learned so much about the history and process of wine making. 
Our traditional Tuscan lunch was one of the best meals we had in Italy: everything was home cooked and made from veggies grown locally. 
And of course we had wine. Lots of wine. Just not from these ancient bottles of priceless red!
Since it was our last day in Florence, mom and I knew it was the only time we'd have to accomplish our main mission: to climb to the top of the Duomo. All 400 plus steps...after our bike ride. 
To climb the Duomo, you will need a ticket (of course) and you'll need to book ahead of time. They only sell so many spots during the day to prevent overcrowding. Knowing that, we picked up our Monday tickets on the Saturday we arrived to insure we'd get a chance to climb. Again, the ticket booth is behind the Baptista. 
I will admit, I was nervous going in. I'm claustrophobic and it was hot outside. Surprisingly though, the inside of the stairwell was not nearly as warm as I had assumed...probably due to the thick, insulated concrete walls. What ended up being the biggest struggle: all of these stairs!
But then, the view. The view made me forget about my spaghetti legs. 
Again, I had to film a short clip:
We stayed on top for a very long time...mostly because it was such work to get there. Like I said in my previous post, one thing we learned to always do in each city: find a good spot everyday for the sunset and make sure to see the city from above. 
Perspective is everything. 
I really enjoyed Florence, more so than Rome. We only had three days there and I could have easily had another day. 
But what goes up most come down. And so we did. 
I did alright. I just didn't dig the spiral staircase. 
With the endless stairs, I felt like I was trapped in an M.C. Escher painting! 
On our final night, we shopped, dined and collapsed from our adventurous day. Next stop: Venice! Stay tuned! 
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