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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Why Do Ladies Love Cool James?

June 15, 2016

Science has finally confirmed the reason ladies love the rather literally named LL Cool J—at least if humans are anything like birds, specifically nightingales. Research suggests that the quality of a male nightingale’s song lets females know how good a father he’ll be.

Bird and Nest Copper Garden Stake | UncommonGoodsThe study, published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, found that the better the male nightingale was at singing, the more often he fed his offspring, which is especially important because the males play a big role in raising their young. Because all nightingales are pretty talented singers, it’s essential that the ladies are real critics of nocturnal ditties. They listen not just for the quality of their potential mate’s chirp but also for the complexity of his crooning—scientists found that it’s flight-of-fancy variations such as “buzz,” “whistle,” and “trill” that really earn him bonus points.

Bird and Nest Copper Garden Stake | $88.00


Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: How Old Are Drones?

October 27, 2015

Formations | UncommonGoods

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) as we know them have only been around for about 15 years, but like so many things in modern culture, they may have ancient ancestors. Best known for their controversial military uses, drones also have many peaceful, civilian applications, from sweeping aerial shots for films to dropping off your packaged instant gratification. But the oldest aerial drone or robot might just be the steam-powered pigeon of Archytas. In the 5th century BCE, the Greek polymath Archytas invented a self-propelled, pigeon-shaped flying machine. Assuming his design worked, it may have flown several hundred meters, powered by a jet of steam or compressed air from an internal bladder. Archytas may have been most interested in testing theories of aerodynamics, rather than spying on the Spartans, and his wooden robot bird is a far cry from the hovering, high-tech drones of today, but I’m droning on…and this history is for the birds anyway.

Formation | $225

Maker Stories

Quirky Birds and Tin Can Telephones: The Work of Spring Hofeldt

September 25, 2015

When asked to define the type of work she does, Spring Hofeldt usually responds by saying “realism.” But she’s quick to add that the term fits the look of her paintings, but not the messages that they convey. Still, there’s a wealth of common ground to be found in her quirky portraits of ostriches, fostered fish, and romantic vegetable duos. She observes that her paintings “immerse the viewer in a metaphor of day-to-day life. Whether you’re a cynic of a sunshine, we can all relate to making light of such trials and tribulations.”

Our recent conversation with Spring sheds some more light on her spunky slices of life, the inspiration that can be found in excavators, and her love of words that include “oo.”

Spring Hofeldt

 Untitled (Self Portrait) by Spring Hofeldt

 What artists have influenced your work?

I went to school for illustration, so naturally I’ve been captivated by the work of C.F. Payne and Norman Rockwell. They made me realize how important it is to me that I capture a humorous or quirky moment. These artists illustrate the true character and essence of a person/object in such a light and wonderful way.

And more specifically, Edward Ruscha‘s large-scale painting of the word “OOF” get’s me every time.

What are other personal influences on your work?

There are so many human experiences that can be annoying, awkward, or awful. Retelling the story to others and seeing the humor in it is a great way to cope.

Your work is characterized by a certain naturalism or realism. How do you define realism?

I don’t think of myself as someone who is chasing photorealism, but rather the character of the feeling I’m after. To those few who ask me, “why put all the effort into painting a photograph you took? Why not just print the photo and call it a day?” Paint has a way of making the image extra yummy. I like being able to alter the colors or patterns with paint rather than a computer saturation. And simply, I like the challenge of painting something so real.

Squawk |UncommonGoodsSquawk

What’s your favorite thing about your studio—how does the space or its contents inspire you?

My corner studio overlooks Brooklyn’s BQE and the F/G subway lines, which provide a constant sense of movement and an overall positive hum. The best aspect of the movement outside is the large, mustard yellow, claw excavators tossing metal from one pile to another at the scrap yard. It’s like a dance of mechanical dinosaurs all day long.

I also share the studio with two other artists, and although their art is very different than mine, just seeing how productive they are encourages me to get to work.

When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?

I had a good hunch when asked at age 6 or 7, but never really took it too seriously until I took an art class my last year of high school, only because I had an extra spot to fill. With spit wads flying over my head, my nose deep in graphite and colored pencils, I realized by the end of school that it was a true passion I wanted to pursue.

How do you balance creativity—painting for it’s own sake—with the business side of being a professional artist?

At this point, I’d say that I only create paintings I’m truly inspired to produce and am confident about the subject matter. Even if I take on commissions, I make sure they’re filled with character that I would normally add. This is initially why they are coming to me.

What inspired you to create your ostrich paintings?

I’m drawn to bizarre and quirky animals. Ostriches have a very powerful presence… From their towering size and quick step, to their large, bold, deep black eyes that have a lock on your every move.

Francine | Spring Hofeldt | UncommonGoodsFrancine

What was your favorite part of that process?

Adding the fine details that really capture the animal’s character and seeing them come to life.

How do you hope people react when they receive your creation?

I hope it makes them chuckle, giggle, snort, laugh out loud, or smile on the inside.

Do you have any memorable customer feedback you’d like to share?

I have this one repeat customer that visits during every annual open studio. I love hearing her boisterous laugh filling the hallway, announcing her presence in the building. The first time I heard it was when I had hung up the set of four ostriches outside my door and she just couldn’t stop laughing. I, along with the visitors in the room at that time, couldn’t help but start laughing with her because the sound coming from the hall was so contagious. We had absolutely no idea what she was laughing at, but it didn’t matter. Moments like those are too great.

Tell us three uncommon facts about yourself.

I love to meticulously peel pomegranates by hand in my lap, sometimes taking over an hour.

I’m tickled by double o words: oof (as previously mentioned), bazooka, cooties, doozie, floozie, goober, vamoose, etc.

I chose to be married in a rowboat.

Let Me Tell You | Spring Hofeldt

 Let Me Tell You 

In the copy for the Contact section of her website and in a few of her paintings, Spring employs the DIY telephone metaphor of two tin cans and a length of string. That feels like an apt metaphor for painting: communicating through imperfect means and media, but celebrating their alluring, endearing quirks in the process.

See the Collection | UncommonGoods

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Could You Turn Into A Slice Of Pizza?

July 20, 2015

Your parents warned you that if you ate too many pizza slices, you’d turn into one. Turns out, if you ate enough and you were anything like a flamingo, you could have come pretty close. You might have noticed that flamingos can be the iconic pink, orange, or even white. They begin their lives with grey plumage—the color distinction later in life depends on their diet. Flamingos eat algae and crustaceans that contain pigments called carotenoids, mostly brine shrimp and blue-green algae. Enzymes in the liver break down the carotenoids into pink and orange pigment molecules that end up getting deposited in the feathers, bill, and legs of the birds. Captive flamingos tend to be a more vibrant pink since they’re fed more pigmented crustaceans like prawns. We eat foods with carotenoids, like carrots or even watermelon; we just don’t eat enough to affect our skin color.

Pizza Cutter and Server | $20.00

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Should you yell at that crow?

June 7, 2015

Perching Birds Bookends | UncommonGoods

NO! Definitely no! Unsettling studies have shown that crows have the ability to remember the faces of threatening humans. Researchers at the University of Washington’s School of Forest Resources wore a unique mask as they trapped, banded, and released up to 15 birds at five study sites near Seattle. The released birds immediately began to go Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds on the mask wearer, encouraging other birds to join in and eventually forming an angry mob. As if that wasn’t horrifying enough, the researchers later put the masks back on while traveling to a different area. Crows immediately recognized the “dangerous face” and began to Hitchcock it up again, showing that the birds learned of the threat through social means and not a direct experience. So what happens when you’re on a crow’s hit list? The bothered crow will first give out harsh calls, called scolds, in order to tell other crows a mob is in order. Then, the mob of birds takes action, diving from the sky to drive you out of their territory. Think the grudge won’t last too long? Crows can live for up to 20 years, meaning you’ll be the target of retribution for quite some time—and even from some birds you never even met. We’d hate to be a scarecrow right about now.

Perching Birds Bookends, $90


Maker Stories

A Perfect Design for Your Knitting Nest

September 15, 2014

Aaron A. Harrison | UncommonGoods

The son of an architect father and artist mother, Aaron A. Harrison quickly gravitated towards all things creative. LEGO towers gave way to kindergarten art contest wins, which eventually gave way to an MFA in ceramics and sculpture. Knowing he wanted to play with clay forever, Aaron decided to turn his passion into a career once he started raising a family.

While working in production at a ceramic slip casting company that specializes in bird feeders, birdhouses, and nightlights, Aaron began to shift his focus from artist to designer. “It was here that I learned how to run a production studio,” says Aaron, “making products from clay was preeminent to making clay art.” Working with all the bird-friendly pieces at the studio also fostered an appreciation for the bird form, inspiring Aaron to incorporate the winged creatures into his own designs once he started his own studio in 2009.

Birdie Yarn Bowls | UncommonGoods
Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

On his process, Aaron says, “creativity as a designer follows the need to solve a problem.” In the case of one of his most popular designs, this problem was the unrolling of yarn. After two separate friends asked him if he made yarn bowls, he researched the concept, made some prototypes, literally put a bird on it, and the Birdie Yarn Bowl came to be. Each yarn bowl begins as a ball of clay that is then thrown by hand on the potter’s wheel. Once the bowl firms up, the bird is added, then the hook and holes. After an initial firing and glazing, each bird is painted by hand, then fired one more time to seal it all in.

Painting the Birdie Bowl | UncommonGoods

Aaron works out of his 500 square foot basement, painting each individual bird himself and packing each completed yarn bowl for shipping. “It’s not uncommon to find my children wrapped in bubble wrap or making packing peanut soup for their dolls,” says Aaron of his at-home operation. For inspiration while he works, Aaron keeps drawings from his children around, as well as a LEGO calendar (“my second favorite pastime after ceramics”), and an architectural drawing of an observatory from his father.

Aaron's Studio
Packing the bowls

With all this inspiration by his side, it’s no wonder Aaron’s work has been featured in Knit Simple, Vogue Knitting, and Knit Scene. Though he’s “still waiting for Oprah or Martha Stewart to place their orders,” Aaron gets immense satisfaction from the feedback of others, telling him that his piece inspired them to be more creative. Both this and the opportunity to work from home are the ultimate pay-off. “Sitting at the wheel three to four hours a day, working long into the night to finish an order, and the physical strain of manipulating the clay can take its toll,” says Aaron, “but I am working for myself and I can see my children grow up. In the end, it’s a tremendous blessing and extremely satisfying.”

Buy the Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

The Uncommon Life

A Little Buzzed

October 26, 2011

Retired Wine Barrel Lazy Susan designer Lisa Johnson shared this funny photo with us!

She says the little green hummingbird was just enjoying the sugar left on a wine barrel that was waiting to be cleaned and repurposed into one of her clever designs. We wonder if the little fellow would like a fine cheese to go with that robust red? Perhaps he’d like to see the cocktail menu next!

Do you love wine as much as this happy hummingbird? Check out more retired wine barrel goods.

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