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The Uncommon Life

The Uncommon Life

Mr Bolotsky Goes to Washington

November 29, 2012

I had the opportunity to visit the White House this week to meet with President Obama, Vice President Biden and their economic team. As the founder & CEO of UncommonGoods, I was one of 15 small business leaders asked to participate in a discussion on the Administration’s approach to the economy and the fiscal cliff.

It was a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, despite the formal setting. When Vice President Biden entered the Roosevelt Room, everyone rose and stood at attention. Laughing, he told us all to sit down – he wasn’t the President. Later, when the President entered, everyone rose again and the President introduced himself to each of us. I had an opportunity to let him know that my wife worked with his late mother and I showed him the UncommonGoods catalog. The President browsed it, admiring many of our products. I let him know that 50% of what we sell is US-made, including a handmade Sea Serpent sculpture that I suggested would look great on the White House lawn. He told me it was a non-starter – “Bo would be too scared of it.”

When we got down to business, the President reassured us that he was committed to working out a reasonable compromise with the Congressional leadership and that we should not expect a repeat of the 2011 budget battle. He also emphasized his commitment to extending the middle class tax cuts, while allowing tax rates for those earning above $250,000 annually to expire. Our group then had an opportunity to give the President suggestions and ask him questions.

When my turn came, I encouraged the President to use his bully pulpit and Federal procurement policy to encourage businesses to take a “triple bottom line” approach – where people and planet are emphasized, along with profit. When the discussion turned to income inequality, I suggested that we raise the minimum wage and peg it to inflation, so that it does not remain a political football. I also volunteered that our country would be well served to have fewer folks in the finance and legal professions and more in the general business sector. Finally, I asked that the Federal government assert leadership in the battle over sales taxes for internet shopping. I suggested that consumers be required to pay sales tax for internet transactions, an issue that is being hotly contested on a state-by-state basis.

Out of courtesy for my peers in the meeting, I told him that I would be happy to share my 9 other ideas with his team after the meeting, which I did. At the end of the discussion, Vice President Biden asked me for my business card, and told me he’d be in touch. I’m curious to see where that goes. I spoke to another Administration official who assured me that not only would a continuation of the middle class tax cuts be part of the initial budget deal, but that there would also be some reductions in government spending in order to help us get closer to a balanced budget.

While we face tough challenges ahead, I was encouraged to see our government officials engaging in open dialogue with a diverse audience from across the country. For now, I am back at my desk, dreaming of alternative decorations for the White House lawn this coming spring.

The Uncommon Life

Food Art to be Thankful For

November 20, 2012

I’m thankful for art, I’m thankful for food, and I’m thankful that Jan Davidszoon de Heem painted this mind-blowingly gorgeous painting, “Festoon of Fruit and Flowers,” in about 1660. That’s 352 years of beauty so far.

This squirrel is thankful that he didn’t end up the way most “game” does in these old still lifes – dead.  We at UncommonGoods don’t sell anything that involves harming animals, and we also prefer animals to be safe and happy in art (including all the cats on YouTube, naturally). German painter Peter Binoit’s “Fruit and Vegetables, Roses in a Glass Vase, and a Squirrel,” painted in 1631 or so, is stunning, nutritious–and vegan.

The way the colors pop in this painting seems sort of modern, doesn’t it?.

This one, even more so: “Still Life,” 1618, by the same painter, Peter Binoit.

I suppose back in the day, painters liked to use fruit as a subject because it was a way to get bright colors massed in globs, before they (European artists, at least) thought up abstract painting. In Edouard Manet’s “Basket of Fruits,” painted in 1864, you can almost see the paint wanting to leap off the fruit and fly around on its own, without being obliged to resemble anything real.

Look what it’s doing with Van Gogh’s and Cézanne’s apples, below.

“Still Life, Basket of Apples,” painted in 1887.  (With all due respect to Vincent, I think they look more like some kind of squash.) Whatever they are,  each one has a mind of its own, and so did every brush stroke that made them.

www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/111436

Paul Cézanne , “The Basket of Apples,” 1893. Do those fruits appear to be obeying any laws of gravity or perspective that you know of?  How about that table–in what dimension does that exist?

Fooled ya. There’s no paint at all, here.  Photographer Rasbak’s “Sterappel” (star apple), 2004, is a real piece of fruit. Yet it looks more abstract than any of the paintings, and seems  if anything even more miraculous, because its perfect form wasn’t invented by humans.  Paging Georgia O’Keeffe.

We’re done with apples, but not incredible edibles. Not only were no fauna harmed during this blog post, but the flora staged a revolt. Van Gogh made apples look all crazy just because he could, and the vegetable kingdom returns the favor in Ju Duoqi’s “Vegetable Museum no. 16: Van Gogh made of Leek” (2008) (photo courtesy of Artnet).

Vegetables, fruits, painters, photographers and collagists in all media: I’m truly thankful for the talents and imaginations of all the beings, past, present, and future, who’ve created the art I love, the food I love, the art about food I love, and the art made from food I love.

And, because I have an inexplicable passion for produce with faces, these four tasty toys will conclude my post for today. Thanks, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving! (To gorge on 100% fat-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, sugar-free, vegan food art, check out my ongoing Pinterest collection.)

The Uncommon Life

Pin the Halls Holiday Pinterest Contest

November 16, 2012

Do you decorate your home to perfection each holiday season? Are invites to your holiday party as anticipated as the first winter snowfall? Have you been scouring Pinterest for some winter inspiration (winspiration? no, that was horrible) to out shine last year’s holiday performance?

Enter the Pin the Halls contest by creating a winter wonderland board for a chance to win a $250 gift card to UncommonGoods. That’s a lot of gifts!


Leave the link to your Pin the Halls board in the comments below or on the original pin in our It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like… board and you’ll be entered to win.

We’ll announce the winner on November 30 on the blog. How much that person wins is up to you. For every 50 entries we see, we’ll add $50 to the grand prize, up to a total of $250. So after you share your board with us, be sure to tell your friends and family to enter too!

Follow us on Pinterest for more updates, and leave a link to your profile in the comments.

Good luck and happy pinning. We can’t wait to see your decked-out boards!

You must be 18 years of age to enter. Deadline is November 30, 2012 11:59AM EST. Sorry, this contest is only open to those living in the US.

UPDATE Congrats to our winner, Zillie Zallie! Visit out blog next week to see what we loved about her board.

The Uncommon Life

A Windfall of Autumn Art on Pinterest

November 9, 2012

Due to an injury, I wasn’t able to go on a leaf-peeping trip this year, and I consoled myself by collecting autumnal art on Pinterest. It wasn’t the same, of course, but I found it hard to be unhappy while perched upon a comfy chair with a cat and a laptop and perusing fantastic art, like the great Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church‘s “Autumn in North America,” above. Andy Goldsworthy. Rowan leaves around a hole, made on a sunny day in the shade, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, October 25, 1987.As I surfed, “curated” and pinned, several major themes of autumn art emerged; all so obvious that a child could guess them.  And so the first theme, “Made of Leaves,” includes some children’s artsy/craftsy projects (see sources at the bottom of the page), along with one by British environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, “Rowan Leaves with Hole,” made in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton, England in 1987.

Georgia O'Keeffe, "Autumn Leaves, Lake George, N.Y." (1924)

© Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

“Art of, but not made of, leaves” is my clunky title for Theme Two.  Russian painter Isaac Levitan‘s 1879 “Autumn Leaves,” Georgia O’Keeffe‘s 1924 “Autumn Leaves, Lake George, N.Y.,” British photographer Stuart Franklin‘s 1986 “Somerset county, Quantock Hills,” and this incredible leaf tattoo with silhouettes of a hawk diving after some rabbits that are hiding among the leaf veins, each satisfied several leaves’ worth of my forest of foliage cravings.

Paul Gauguin,"By the Stream, Autumn" in WikiPaintings

A Frenchman, an Austrian, a Canadian and a Chinese walk into a bar. “What’s shakin’?” asks the bartender. The Frenchman, Paul Gauguin (1885’s “By the Stream, Autumn“), the Austrian, Egon Schiele (1917’s “Four Trees“), the Canadian, Tom Thomsen (1915’s “Maple Saplings, October“) and the Chinese, Lin Fengmian (“Autumn in Jiangnan“; I couldn’t find a date but he lived from 1900 to 1991)  all answer, “The autumn leaves from the trees!”, but in paintings, not words. Which sums up Autumn Art Theme Three, “Trees,” and probably ends my writing career here and now.

Autumn Art Theme Four, “Golden Fields of Ripe Grain,” could easily have been subtitled “The Vincent Van Gogh Subsection,” because the man painted wheat field (“Wheat Fields with Sheaves, 1888) after wheat field (“Wheat Fields with Auvers in the Background,” 1890) , each more glorious than the next. But for contrast, I threw in Grant Wood’s slightly cartoonish “Iowa Cornfield” (1941) and Greek painter Nicolaos Lytras‘s more atmospheric “Fields with Haystacks” (I couldn’t find a date for it, but Lytras lived from 1832 to 1904). I like the way you can see the light reflecting off this painting; I’m so used to looking at computer images all day that it’s nice to be reminded of actual paint.

http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=341&no_cache=1

Autumn Art Theme Five is “The Glory and the Power(less) of the Harvest.” Pieter Bruegel the Elder‘s 1565 “The Harvesters” makes the whole wheat scything thing look pretty chill. Giuseppe Arcimboldo‘s 1573 “Autumn,” a comic take on the season’s vegetable riches, is a good vibes-er as well. But Jean-François Millet‘s sad 1857 “The Gleaners,” one of the most famous paintings of all time, shows poor women gathering what’s left on the ground after the more fortunate have finished their harvest. Gleaning is still practiced today (though not usually while wearing long skirts), and there are non-agricultural, year-round versions of gleaning as well, which you’ve probably heard referred to as “dumpster-diving.”

Autumn Art Theme Six, “Vistas,” may look a lot like Theme Three, “Trees,” but I swear it’s different. These paintings have bigger scenes. More of a view. Are not 100% tree-predominant. There are ponds (Charles Burchfield‘s 1938 “October in the Woods“), mountains (Canadian Franklin Carmichael‘s 1920 “Autumn Foliage against Grey Rock“), and people (Van Gogh’s 1889 “The Garden of Saint Paul’s Hospital (‘The Fall of the Leaves’).” Totally more vista-y than Theme Three!

I saved my favorite vista for last. This one reminds me of the northern lakes in the state where I (and Cassie) grew up, Minnesota. “Hasta la vista!” say the geese in Tom Thomson’s 1915 “Round Lake, Mud Bay,” and now I must say “Ciao” to this blog post as well. Quack, quack!  (You don’t have to say good-bye to beautiful autumn artworks, though. There are tons more in my Pinterest collection.)

Kids' fall foliage crafts sources: Leaf Rubbing Fairy,  Leaf Finger Puppets, and Leaf Deer
The Uncommon Life

Positively Inspiring Reusable Graphics

October 30, 2012

Positivity is contagious. Sharing a kind word, a thank you note, or even a smile can start a chain reaction. With this in mind, Amy Humes created her Positive Message Graphics, reusable stickers that let you spread happiness, inspiration, peace, and the power within. We love Amy’s idea so much, we decided to take her message to the web. Feel free to pin, tweet, like, and share these encouraging buttons as reminders that optimism really can go viral.

These Reusable Positive Message Graphics are available as a set of 4 large canvas stickers, so you can place them anywhere where you or a loved one may look when in need of words of encouragement.

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