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Uncommon Knowledge: Who Is The Animal Kingdom’s Best Dance Crew?

April 25, 2016

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Snowball the cockatoo was left at an Indiana animal rescue center with a note from his owner. “Snowball likes to dance to this,” it said, referring to what was also left: a Backstreet Boys CD.

In 2007, Neurobiologist Aniruddh Patel stumbled upon a YouTube video of the bird, who appeared to be getting down to the boy band’s “Everybody.” If this bird were actually grooving to the beat, he wondered, it might have circuits in the brain for processing rhythm similar to ours.

So Patel paid a visit to Snowball and created an experiment to determine whether he was truly dancing—characterized by synchronized movements—or just looked like he was. Patel remixed the song at 11 different tempos, then recorded what Snowball did when his jam came on. For nine out of the 11 variations, he bobbed enthusiastically in sync (no pun intended)—well enough to consider him the first-ever nonhuman “dancer.”

Inspired by Snowball’s fancy footwork, Adena Schachner, then a psychology grad student at Harvard, went back to YouTube and narrowed thousands of clips of animals purportedly dancing to just 39 who seemed to genuinely synchronize. Twenty-nine were parrots, like Snowball, and the rest were Asian elephants, deeming a recreation of Dirty Dancing’s “the lift” highly unlikely.

Boogie Monster Dance Kit | $40

Maker Stories

You’ve Got This, Baby! The Inspiration Behind Haily Meyers’ No-Fuss Memory Book

February 17, 2016

It can be a heroic challenge for parents to find the time to chronicle the most important moments of their child’s dynamic first year. During those maiden days of parenthood, time and energy are beyond maxed-out by around-the-clock feedings, diaper changes by the dozen, and learning to decode and calm a fussy baby, all on little to no sleep.

When Arizona-based designer Haily Meyers became pregnant with her first child, she was overjoyed to welcome this little life into the world, and began designing baby bump sticker sets as an expression of her happiness and excitement. And like many new moms, she purchased a baby book before her daughter was born and excitedly anticipated creating a beautiful, lasting record of her baby’s “firsts.” But once her little girl arrived on the scene, Haily found herself caught up in the exhilarating and exhausting whirlwind of motherhood. She only got halfway through before calling it quits, due to the labor-intensive process  (see what we did there?) required to complete the book.

As a result, Haily, like many moms, developed a case of what she calls “baby book guilt.” But rather that beat herself up over the bespoke baby book she dreamed of crafting but could never find the time to complete, she conceived a design-minded solution that would put an end to “baby book guilt” once and for all.

Baby's First Year Memory Book | UncommonGoods

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Maker Stories

Penmanship Meets Pendant: BB Becker’s Your Story Necklace

February 3, 2016

Jo and BB Becker | UncommonGoods
Falling in love prompted BB Becker’s first attempt to make jewelry in the 1980s; he deconstructed and transformed found pieces into charming gifts for his future bride. Today, his work is a collaborative effort that marries BB’s lovingly-designed sterling silver pendants with his wife Josephine’s graceful handwriting.

Your Story Necklace | UncommonGoodsThis particularly pensive medallion bears a meditation on the bonds we share with family and friends. With one corner curled over as if turning a page on your personal story, each one is engraved with a quotation handwritten in delicate cursive that reads: “The only people who truly know your story are the ones who help you write it.” A recent conversation with BB revealed how ancient art, a meaningful sentiment, and the devoted characters who fill our personal stories inspired the creation of this writerly, wearable artwork.

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Maker Stories

A Lovingly Designed Box for Your Heart’s Desire

January 13, 2016

For Your Heart's Desire Message Box | UncommonGoods

Sometimes, all it takes is a kind compliment, sentimental thought, or flirtatious quip to ignite the spark and rekindle your romance.

Designed to let you relive the thrill of passing a clandestine declaration of your true feelings to your childhood crush, the For Your Heart’s Desire Message Box was designed to inspire amorous note passing between partners, whether you’re newly entwined or a couple of lovebirds in your golden years.

This veritable work of heart was designed by maker Tamara Hensick and brought to life by UncommonGoods’ Product Development team and a small group of metalworkers in Rhode Island.

Tamara Hensick | UncommonGoods

Tamara is a sculptor whose muses are manifold, and range from ideas and idioms to funny notions, stories, and fairytales. Her collection of cast pewter, sterling silver, bronze, and white bronze pieces include nature, figure, animal, and object motifs.

“’To have, to hold, to keep, to inspire.’ This phrase pops to mind,” says Tamara of her inspiration to create this particularly heartfelt vessel.

“It is always the idea, saying, phrase, or notion that creates the form. Words drive the pieces but occasionally a symbol alone is enough.” In the case of this lovingly designed objet d’art, word, symbol, and sentiment coalesce to form a piece that implores its owners to open their hearts.

After discovering Tamara’s limited edition, cast-bronze sculpture, our Product Development team became smitten with the concept and the artistry of the original piece. “We liked the rough-hewn look of it and the expression she had chosen (“for your heart’s desire”), paired with the function of being able to drop things into the heart,” says our Senior Product Development Associate Tiffany Jyang.

For Your Heart's Desire Message Box | UncommonGoods

“Although it was originally designed as a bank, we thought it was less about money and more about being able to connect with your heart’s desire, hence re-imagining it as a space to make it easier to share little thoughts and moments with your partner. It’s very much about connecting and sharing in a simple way.”

In order to bring Tamara’s concept to a larger audience, the Product Development team reworked her original sculpture and collaborated with a Rhode Island metalworking shop to manufacture the design in lead-free pewter.

Heart Molds, For Your Heart's Desire Message Box | UncommonGoods

Although this charming piece can provide the impetus to keep your relationship communication flowing, it’s open to interpretation, and from exchanging thank you’s to leaving petite paeans to your one and only, it’s destined to become whatever your heart desires.

“Over the years people have relayed touching stories about a piece they’ve given or received,” says Tamara. “One woman purchased hearts for each of her children to fill with love notes and words of wisdom as they grow up. When they are off on their own, they will each have a heart filled with their mother’s love.”

Design, The Uncommon Life

Uncommon Design School: Underground Artists

July 1, 2015

Like many New Yorkers, if I need to get somewhere, I take the subway.

Whether I need to hop the train to travel from my apartment adjacent to Prospect Park down to UncommonGoods’ headquarters at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, or I’m bumbling through the Big Apple’s other boroughs on the weekends, cramming into crowded subway cars is as New York City as pizza pie. And like the more than 5.5 million passengers the system carries on an average weekday, the moment I step on the train I succumb to modern “tunnel-vision:” I bury my head in my iPad until I reach my destination. But when I step out of the train, I’m consistently surprised with the rich history laid bare in front of me in the form of the station’s diverse signs, vestiges of past design trends, fashions, and the mores of bygone generations.

From its opening on October 27th, 1904, New York City had already envisioned the subway as more than a simple method of getting around the metropolis. While urban, the experience of riding the subway was intended to be urbane; from the beginning, the city hired artists to embellish the underground walls with fanciful, yet legible, decorations.

From 1901 to 1908, John L. Heins and Christopher G. LaFarge designed the earliest subway motifs in the popular Beaux-Arts style, evoking classical architecture using ceramics, metal, and wood. The Philadelphia-born architects – who are also known for their work in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the original Astor Court buildings of the Bronx Zoo – were heavily steeped in the Arts and Crafts movement, an international artistic trend that advocated traditional craftsmanship and striving to create environments in which beauty and technical skill were of paramount importance.

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Twenty-eighth Street subway sign by Heins and LaFarge

Accented with swoops and curlicues, cornucopias and floral medallions, the duo’s elaborate terra cotta signs endure as some of the system’s most recognizable emblems.

Tile inspired by the original  Times Sq-42 St station, designed by Heins and LaFarge | Personalized House Sign – Times Square Subway

While quiet compared to the glitz and hubbub of Times Square above, Heins and LaFarge’s sumptuous mosaic sign is an unmistakable symbol of New York’s vibrant urban fabric. The original sign that inspired this tile is located at at Times Sq-42 Street, one of the system’s oldest stations at 111 years old.

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Bleeker Street subway sign by Heins and LaFarge

The elaborate tile-workings were not just decorative: each sign’s unique palette and patterns were used didactically to help non-English speakers identify stops.

The team’s successor and owner of arguably the coolest name in New York City history, Squire J. Vickers took over as chief architect of the New York City Subway system in 1906. Known as an “underground Renaissance man,” Vickers was responsible for more than 300 stations—the most of any architect—and was the system’s lead designer for almost 30 years.

Squire J. Vickers and the “Vickers Eagle” at the 33rd Street Station

Vickers took the subway on a much more pared-down, modern path than that of his Beaux-Arts predecessors for both aesthetic and economic reasons. As the floriated embellishments that defined the Arts and Crafts style gave way to the slick lines and austerity of the Machine Age, Vicker’s signs reflected the era’s dominant graphic trends with their quilt-like geometric abstractions and bold colors.

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Mosaic panel by Squire J. Vickers

“How grateful to the eye is the wall surface unbroken by paneling, noxious ornament, or the misplaced string course, decorated, if you like, inlaid with color, but unbroken,” he wrote.

Vickers was also imminently practical and, especially during the Great Depression, many of his aesthetic decisions were driven by the bottom line. Mosaic elements were flattened, for example, so they would be cheaper to clean (“to avoid dust ledges,” he wrote). The intricate signs could also be set by hand in a factory instead of on the wall tessera by tessera, making them less expensive to install.

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Wall Street Station sign by Squire J. Vickers

Despite budgetary constraints, Vickers, who was also a competent painter, was still able to create mosaics revered as much for their utility as their beauty.

Inspired by Vickers’ oringal designs | Personalized House Sign – 59th and Lex Subway

Vicker’s decorative details underground, at the Lexington Av/59 St station, complement the sophistication of the Upper East Side above.

To this day, the MTA commissions artists to continue the creative vision that was an integral part of the subway from the very beginning. New works are installed every day, from traditional mosaics, to sculpture, stained glass, and more, giving passengers plenty to see—as long as we’re willing to look.

 

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