Thursday, December 3, 2015

Miscellaneous: The Meat Identification Kit

I recently stopped at a roadside estate sale in Bodega Bay, California, where a friend and I spent a silly 45 minutes or so going through some of the possessions of a departed soul deeply interested in food and food preparation. There were stacks of cookbooks of every description and a large pile of old kitchen tools, many of uncertain application. We had fun with other browsers trying to figure out what some of the more obscure utensils were. The back-and-forth, face-to-face interaction with strangers was a refreshing change from online exchanges.

I bought an egg separator for only a dollar, simply because I liked its coiled design. It looks like something Alexander Calder might have twisted out of wire. My special find, however, was the "Natural Color Meat Identification Kit" that I found sitting on top of a stack of cookbooks. At first I laughed. The idea seemed absurd--a field guide to meat. Initially I was drawn to it because it seemed such an unlikely thing for anyone to have created.

On closer examination, however, it began to appeal because of its ingenuousness. No irony here. The Meat Identification Kit is in earnest. The box boasts that it's "Complete with Suggestions for Using and Instructor's Key." It's not dated, but my online research suggests it probably appeared in the 1960s, published by The Interstate Printers & Publishers, Inc. at 19-27 North Jackson Street, Danville, Illinois. Designed for students of agriculture and home economics classes, the cards are intended to teach recognition of common meat cuts--cuts "recognized and accepted as the standard retail cuts by meat cutters throughout the nation." It includes 82 cards (23 for beef, 17 for fresh pork, 10 for cured pork, 11 for lamb, 16 for veal, and six for "variety meats," which are organs and joints. There is a key card with all these listed and numbered (each of the meat cards has a photo on the front, a corresponding number on the back). A separate card gives the aforementioned suggestions for use, which include "A procedure similar to the game of pinning the tail on the donkey" with students pinning the meat cuts where appropriate on an outline of an animal carcass, or using the pictures "to introduce the subject before going on a field trip where actual cuts of meat will be studied and observed." (I'm tempted to add "in the wild" at the end of that sentence.) There is also an acknowledgement card that refers to a booklet entitled "101 Meat Cuts" supplied by the National Live Stock and Meat Board" but the box seems full without such a booklet and there is none present. The set I found has 82 numbered flash cards. Later editions appear to have had a handful over a hundred.  

Doing my online research, I've come across at least one person with a set who has posted views of all the cards--although I notice that that site reproduces a later revised version of the kit, with more than 100 cards. The one I found appears to be the original issue. I found a couple of expired Etsy listings from 2009 offering single cards from the set for sale. I found a mention of the kit as a reference source on a curriculum sheet for a meat grading class from Chico State University of uncertain date. The University Libraries at Virginia Tech publish a History of Food and Drink Collection Blog that mentions the Identification Kit in a number of posts and calls it a staff favorite. (This also appears to refer to a later edition with more than 100 cards.) David Letterman got a hold of one of these kits and used it in at least two shows to do a segment entitled "Know Your Cuts of Meat." The first apparently aired on CBS on March 24, 1999, the second on April 9, 1999. I haven't seen these episodes, but it's easy to imagine Letterman making fun of the kit. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who might know more about The Natural Color Meat Identification Kit.

Now, the question is, what am I going to do with this curiosity? I mean after I've finished learning my meats.

Art I'm Looking At: Richard Diebenkorn's Notebooks at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

It's been a year of Diebenkorn in the Bay Area. Following a show of prints at the De Young in San Francisco and a show of works on paper at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, in Sonoma, earlier in 2015, The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford is hosting Richard Diebenkorn: The Sketchbooks Revealed, a show of 29 of Diebenkorn's sketchbooks, mostly a gift of Diebenkorn's widow, Phyllis. The sketchbooks are displayed publicly here for the first time. In conjunction with the show is a small exhibit celebrating the center's recent acquisition of an Edward Hopper painting from 1913 entitled New York Corner. The connection may not at first be obvious, but early in his career Diebenkorn was deeply influenced by Hopper.

I visited the Stanford campus recently to see both offerings. I had never been to the Cantor Arts Center, which has an extensive permanent collection that looks well worth exploring.

The sketchbooks contain more than 1,000 drawings that span Diebenkorn's career. He appears to have kept several sketchbooks going at once and to have used them randomly, so that looking at them from page to page doesn't provide a sense of development. Almost none of the pages is dated and the chronological order of the books itself appears to be unclear. Instead, we get a series of snapshots--some finished works, others the simplest outline of an idea. All but one of the sketchbooks are opened and housed in plexiglass cases, so only two facing pages are visible from each. One has been separated into individual leaves and hung in a rack that allows you to see the whole as if turning its pages.

All 29 sketchbooks have been digitized, however. Two large monitors in the gallery allow you to look at every drawing, as well as the various items Diebenkorn left tucked into their pages, and even the front and back covers of each book. The digital presentation is available online. Thus, the 29 sketchbooks can be browsed from home, although the pages are slow to load, even with a fast Internet connection.

The sketchbooks may not document a linear development of the artist's work, but they offer glimpses into his thinking. Most of the drawings are figure sketches--some from models, some sketches of friends and family—, but there are doodles that record ideas for later use, there are preparatory sketches for some of the large Ocean Park paintings, and there are abstract sketches that appear to be finished pieces. Of special interest are clusters of related sketches of models that allow us to see Diebenkorn making repeated attempts to capture a pose (as seen above).

The Hopper is worth seeing all on its own, but the galleries juxtapose New York Corner with early paintings by Diebenkorn that show a genius still unformed. They are, on the whole, not compelling works, but demonstrate that even the most highly regarded of artists has to start somewhere. I doubt contemporaries looking at these pieces would have predicted Diebenkorn's subsequent development.

The Hopper shows the influence of Impressionism, especially in the rendering of the distant cityscape at the left of the canvas and in the use of black (and here, indirectly, the influence of Japan). I particularly enjoy the way the little rectangle of white at the left of the clustered figures interacts dynamically with the white blocks at the far right. Despite the Impressionist influence, Hopper's signature style is already apparent. He was a master at using architecture and human figures to suggest the quiet, almost inaudible hum of distracted humanity.

Both the Diebenkorn and the Hopper exhibits were to have closed February 8, but have been extended to August 22, 2016. The Cantor Arts Center is at Stanford University (328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way, Stanford, California). Free admission.

Rain: A Real Downpour (December 3, 2015)

A good downpour started this morning at about 9:30AM. May it last all day--a good two to three inches would be nice. We are already several inches behind normal again. Perhaps this is the start of rains associated with the record-breaking El NiƱo we keep hearing about. As of 5:00PM, with the skies clearing, we'd had 0.55 inches of new rain, bring our total so far for the 2015-2016 rain year to 1.90 inches.

[Update: Light rain in the following days had added another 0.4 inches by early afternoon on December 6, when 0.95 had accumulated in the rain gauge. As of that date, the 2015-2016 total stands at 2.30 inches at my location--although it's still drizzling.]

[By the time the sky cleared, there was another 0.20 inches in the gauge, for a total of 1.15 inches since the raid started on and on recently. That brings the total as of the afternoon of December 8 to 2.50 inches.]

Miscellaneous: Here We Go Again--Mass Shooting in San Bernardino

Another day, another mass shooting. There's no way to stop this sort of thing, you know. It just happens. Nothing we can do. Thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families.

Add San Bernardino to the list. Here's a fun link--Mass Shooting Tracker.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: New Show at Shige Sushi, Cotati (December 1 through January 31, 2016)

In my role as curator of The Art Wall at Shige Sushi, I'm pleased to present a new show, opening December 1—Mixed Media work by Jenny Honnert Abell.

On the ART WALL at SHIGE SUSHI, Cotati
Dec 1, 2015 - Jan 31, 2016
Reception: Monday, Dec 7, 2015 from 5:00PM to 7:00PM. Light refreshments served. Come have a glass of wine and meet the artist (note that Shige Sushi is closed on Mondays. The restaurant will be open on Monday, DEC 7 for the reception only). The show runs from DEC 1, 2015 to JAN 31, 2016. See the Art Wall website for details of opening hours and for more information. Http://

Jenny Honnert Abell is a mostly self-taught artist whose work beautifully combines fine handwork with subtly exotic imagery. Abell's work is represented by multiple galleries in the US. Overseas, her work has been shown in Canada, England, Switzerland, and Senegal. A recent commission by the State Department’s Art in Embassy program honored her with a trip to Dakar, Senegal in West Africa where she was given the opportunity to experience the people and culture there. Reflections on that experience resulted in a series of 10 pieces now exhibited in the permanent collection of the US Embassy in Dakar. Jenny’s work resides in numerous private collections including world-class collections at Hall Winery in Napa, California and Imagery Estate Winery, in Glen Ellen, California. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Abell has lived and worked in Santa Rosa, California since 1995.
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