Local Talk: Interview with Advent Calendar artist Melisa Gerecci

What are advent calendars and why do you make them?

Advent is an annual three-to-four week season leading to December 25.  Traditionally, advent calendars are made in Germany and available at christkindlmärkte (Christmas markets).  A viewer opens a small door each day to reveal hidden images.  The calendars often depict holiday scenes based on 19th century paintings.  They are enjoyed each year during a season intended to be a time of joyful anticipation.


Advent calendars come from a particular cultural practice, but the concepts they represent are universal.  Across cultures, people look forward to certain things.  Remember waiting with excitement to see an old friend?  Or how we look forward to gathering over a special meal?  We search for ways to hold on to memories of meaningful times and places. 

I make advent calendars to help mark time.  December has, sadly, become stressful for many of us, and my goal is to restore a sense of anticipation.  I’d like to slow the fury of this time of year with a simple practice and beautiful imagery. 

What is your process?

Each calendar concept takes about a year to complete.  I start with a general sense of a place and time I’d like to celebrate.  The next step is to translate that memory into a scene and a related collection of drawings.  After the idea is generated, I draw.  And I draw.  And I draw some more. 

Then it gets technical—the drawings are organized to correspond with parts of the main scene.  They also tend to follow a sequence.  In “Houston house,” for example, the hidden drawings narrate three years of related experiences shared by a group of friends.  Some calendars are highly specific, and individual doors are keyed to dates when events occurred.  For example, in “Tex-Mex Christmas,” our Lady of Guadalupe appears on December 12, as she is said to have done in 1531 in Tepeyac, Mexico.  After the drawings are done, color copies are made and doors are cut by hand into the main scene.  The drawings are attached, and each door is numbered.  If the calendar is idiosyncratic, I’ll include a legend on the back.  But part of the fun is the surprise of opening each door!  You don’t always know what’s lurking back there.     

How do you choose the subjects of your calendars?

The first calendar I made was for a friend, to mark one year of knowing each other.  I drew his exquisite studio apartment and hid references to topics we had discussed, things we had seen together, and places we had visited.  This year’s calendar was a love letter to Houston, my hometown.  I am currently working on two designs for next year: the Kadıköy neighborhood in Istanbul and a “badvent calendar” for Halloween.  I could also see a Montclair calendar in the cards…


Sometimes there’s lid flying off a pot or an upturned chair.  What are those about?

I like to include some whimsy.  The main scenes I draw are location-specific and include a lot of observational detail.  The unexpected element can lighten the mood a bit.

Conceptually, what does being local mean to you and how does it play a part in your process?

Local means finding the beauty in the everyday and the easily overlooked.  There are unexpected patterns that emerge if we keep our eyes open.  When I’m out, I ask myself: what am I looking at?  And when I look, what am I seeing?

What has living in Montclair meant for you and your work?

Montclair is a human-scaled place.  Being able to bike, walk, and take the bus around lets me observe my surroundings.  Plus, Montclair residents are open-minded and curious.  It’s a good combination for creating site-specific art.

What role do paper calendars have in contemporary, web-based culture?

A vital one.  Paper is one of our early technologies for recording and communicating experience.  Today, there are many ways to track time electronically.  And think of all the automatic reminders we use.  That doesn’t have to be the exclusive way of organizing our days.  I have a mild online presence, but these calendars are meant to be experienced in person. 

Tell us something about calendars that only you or very few people know.

There are so many ways to organize time!  And there are examples all over the world on how to do it.  I tried using a calendar once where the week ran from Monday through Sunday instead of the typical Sunday through Saturday.  It was disorienting at first.  But then it made me think about how visually grouping Saturday and Sunday together could reorient our entire workweek.  Time is remarkably fluid.

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

Affogato!  For a fleeting moment, it’s hot and cold at the same time.  It’s best enjoyed the minute it’s served.  And it has such a serious name for such a delightful beverage.   



Local Talk: Interview with featured artist Darin Wacs

We connected first after discovering that we both were born and raised in NYC. I am grateful every day for such a rich childhood amongst the artist, musicians, and entrepreneurial business owners that made up my neighborhood of Greenwich Village. How did your particular art discipline emerge out of your respective NYC experience?

*I grew up with a father who was a fashion designer and painter and a mother who loved art....we spent all our free time at museums and galleries in NYC...



Is there a person or experience that was pivotal in sharpening your direction?

*In grad school at The School of Visual Arts..the painter Gary Stephan and the sculptor Judy Pfaff helped/forced me to define and stand up for what I was trying to do with my sculpture..


What words of inspiration do you share with anyone considering artistic expression?

*I would say to not be afraid to try new things even if they don't always work out...make a mess..


What is it about crafting objects out of raw materials that inspired your path?

 The texture and colors of raw materials go against my tendency to paint everything in bright colors..it was a challenge to see if they could work as a medium for me..


I’m always interested in artistic endeavors with over-emphasized scale - small or large. Is there a project that you feel like you nailed it relative to the size of the final piece (or pieces?)

*I think my large scale 'sculpture signs' in Palo Alto, CA are good examples of large public projects that draw viewers in and surprise them..I don't see them as sculptures that are also engaged in way finding but art that helps you find places.



I’m sort of going through this phase questioning what’s really real or just a figment of our imagination. Is it all just a dream? That said, tell us about the quote you selected from Alexander Calder to include on your site “The universe is real, but you can’t see it. You have to imagine it.” 

I love Calder..and the idea that art can create its own universe is magical to me..I think a lot of the work I make inhabits its own world.



I’m thrilled with the pieces you selected for Local. Please tell us about them.

From the first time I walked into Local I was struck by this idea that I wanted to make light fixtures that were also sculptures...I could picture how they would work in the space and how they might relate to my silkscreen prints..the three 'critter' pendants were painted with the palette of Local in mind to contrast with it and be a part of it..some of the other small sculptures were painted at the same time as the critter lights and show another form and scale which relates to the larger pendants..also I thought about what would work within the spaces that Local has for showing art. I am always taken by what a positive vibe Local has (thanks entirely to you and Adele) and felt like it was a perfect fit for the work I make which hopefully inspires an overstuffed feeling of joy and wonder. 



What does living in Montclair and being able to show your work here mean to you as an artist?

Montclair is a community with lots of creative people living in it..I know so many talented people and often meet new ones...this is the first time I'm showing sculpture here and its been wonderful.


What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

An iced latte



Local Talk: Interview with featured artist Ben Olson

I'm happy to say that you were one of our first clients at Local and we immediately connected. There was this candid openness while speaking with each other and learning how each of us spend our  time. How has this openness to life in general contributed to the genesis of your work?

My work often relies on a certain tension. The tension between public and private…

I have not always been so open. I am naturally shy, and have to work to put myself out there and be open. Maybe the openness is inspired by my peers and my kids. I don’t want to be known as that closed-off dude hermitting out in the corner!!!


Your work is articulated as a peek through a door cracked open which is wonderful honesty but could also be a bit scary because of the associated vulnerability. How do your subjects deal with this transparency?

Peeking through a door cracked has been a theme for me for a long time. I love finding that awkward and completely honest moment. The one where no one is posing or making a cute face.  Beautiful imperfect moments.. There is a delicious honesty when you glimpse someone when their guard is totally down and they think they are alone!!


It is amazingly intimate to paint someone.

I paint in layers, many many layers. It is the nature off the acrylic paint, but also it is a metaphor for a person. We all have so many layers.  Each one is a little transparent. I like to build those layers with paint. Each one building on another, masking it just a little. Within a painting, I will add one layer right after another. More blue. Just a little more red. More white until it is just right, then flood it with spraypaint. Drip drip drip!

For many years I only painted exquisitely personal subjects…very personal portraits and self portraits. It was an extreme way to show vulnerability.

I made a deal with myself a long time ago: No matter what I portray, I never hold back and always paint what I see…every wrinkle, crease and fold.  That may be abstracted by the process, but in my head it is super real.

Honestly, I think that the people that I have painted have been so so absolutely open to anything that I am the one somehow trying to hold back. I find I am maybe the vulnerable one, even though the subject is being exposed and examined.

I am maybe the one looking through the door…


As an artist, how do you see your work evolving as you grow in experience and knowledge?

When I first started painting my work was about one single, honest, situational moment. I was interested in what it was like to view that moment from the outside, when the door cracks. I would make up a situation and narrative that was usually really dark.  Lots of blood and tears, Now,  I am more accumulative in my process. I watch, listen , Observe and collect and remember. I am more interested in the all the things that add up to blow that door open, so everyone can see.

Currently, I feel like my work is less tragic and more of a diary and journal.  Maybe a tiny bit less dark. Somehow it is more fantastical and dreamy, but a lot more true to me. In the past I made things up, and in that journey I was trying to be honest, but maybe it was just a front I put up.

Seems like I am now projecting outward, instead of working inward!


Do you have a work that you have created for sale but then ultimately couldn't part with it?

Yes, absolutely…

I do believe artists should hold onto a piece of work here and there..  To document major bodies of work or personal journeys. Art and artists live and evolve and it is important to document that. I am not the same artist I was 10 years ago. I have been interested in different things, and even my painting technique has evolved. It is great to have that documented. I have always thought so.

One example of a piece that I have held onto is the first portrait I ever did of my wife. I have done many works with her since, but that first one is special. It is an important reminder of a very intense part of my life too. I truly cherish it!


I'm fascinated with the scale of your work; did you always work at these extreme ends of the art spectrum?

Scale as in size? I have always felt that a piece will tell you what size it wants to be if you give it a voice. I have always been more into actually painting larger work. I think it works for me to paint with my body. When you paint smaller work, say something that can sit on a table, you paint with your wrist and you often hunch over the work and stay close. But if you paint larger work, you tend to paint with your body, wrist to elbow then to shoulder and so on. You also tend to need to back away to see it all…that works for me. I need a painting I can dance in front of.

Scale as in scope? I currently have three major themes in my work. I have always loved portrait and figurative work. The body and face are the ultimate way to express for me. I have been drawing or painting people since fourth grade, you can do the math as to how many years that is.

I also paint a lot of balloons. This body of work is really the opposite if portraiture for me. It can be easier for an Audience to digest and also easier for me to just get into the painting process.

I also have painted flowers for quite a while. They started as very realistic still-livesbased on the “language of flowers” from Victorian days when people would communicate with bouquets of flowers, each flower has a meaning. Now the workshave moved to a very fantastical, wild and juicy spot. They are very personal to me, my own visual diary and journal. Each flower representing a moment in my life.


What has living in Montclair meant for you and your work?

Montclair has been wonderful for me and my work. The work has somehow gotten much larger since I have been working in my barn (studio). II have found a community that I didn’t expect to find.  There are so many wonderful people!! I fell like I can do anything with my art right now and am so excited about that feeling. I project out since I have lived here, instead of caving inward. It was an amazing moment for me when someone asked if I can call it homeand I said (without hesitation) YES!

I always have music on…it is very influential in my work. When my studio was in Brooklyn I listened to Hip hop almost all the time. Now, in my barn, I find that I still play a lot of hip hop, but a little miles davis can comfortably creep into the mix and live there. Dylan lives with Biggie in my studio now! Living in Montclair has somehow put a beautiful balance to my life…


Conceptually, what does being local mean to you and how does it play a part in your process?

Being local is a support system. Feeling comfortable and supported with where you are in life and also where you actually are. Not feeling transient. Feeling rooted and growing instead of blowing in the wind.

Being local makes me smile!


Tell us something about art that only you or very few people know.

I have always been fascinated with light and how it bounces through your eyes and brain. The Raft of the Medusa by Gericault is my favorite painting of all time. He painted all of the water drops with three strokes of paint-red, yellow and green-in certain shades so that they vibrate when next to one another. The water droplets seem to sparkle because of this! Brilliant!


What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

I like ‘em all!! But really, just a good cup of coffee with cream is the most delicious thing in the world.




Local Talk: Interview with Susanna Emmet, founder of Zana's Bars

We're very excited to be partnering to offer Zana's bars at Local! Can you tell us about the genesis for creating this awesome brand?

I am thrilled to be partnering with Local, too! The genesis of Zana’s Bars is the commitment to feeding my children real food from Mother Nature, period. No additives, no preservatives, and above all, no added sugar. The body of research supporting the negative health effects of these things is large and growing. Processed sugar, in particular, is everywhere! I understand it’s yummy in treats, but on a day to day basis, in foods we eat to nourish us -- to give us energy, satisfy hunger, help us grow and thrive -- is hardly necessary. Fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains can have explosive flavor on their own, and our bodies are designed to run on them. When I couldn’t find snacks to pack on the go that fit this bill and were affordable, I began making muesli bars. Feedback was terrific, and over the years I refined my recipes that I now bring to grateful customers. This makes me very happy.


As a parent, I'm regularly concerned about the types of food decisions my children are making. How has your food journey led you to this particular direction for kids and adults alike?

I think I mostly answered this question discussing the origins of Zana’s Bars, but I’ll take this opportunity to talk more about the importance of portability and snacks. Life moves quickly. People are busy and on the go. As parents, if we are lucky, we can plan good meals, but it’s much harder to control snacking habits for our children and ourselves. The majority of the stuff on the market to meet this need is full of ingredients that don’t give us what we need. Snacks are big pitfalls even for the best intentioned eaters, so I started making snack bars for this specific purpose.


Ok, let’s start with your base ingredient - Muesli. Once and for all - what is it and why did you decide on using it as a core element of the bars?

Muesli is traditionally a raw oat-based cereal that also includes fruits, nuts and seeds. It is excellent, pure stuff....that’s not very travel friendly. Granola bars, also based on a cereal, are ubiquitous and widely considered healthy. However, granola is baked and almost always contains lots of sugar. Most of the right ingredients are there, but the process detracts from its benefits. My decision to call my bars muesli bars is simply because I take the ingredients of muesli (with a twist of using popped amaranth in some instead of oats), and form it into a bar so it can be easily transported, stored and eaten.



Tell us about the other ingredients you use in your bars.

All my bars are date-based. Dates are incredibly sweet. Yes, it’s sugar, but kept in it’s original state with fiber, the body can process it healthily. Once dried, they can be mashed into a dough or paste-like substance into which I incorporate a variety of other natural ingredients for different flavors and nutritional balances. Most bars have sesame seeds and flaxseed meal kneaded into the dough. This adds little flavor but lots of nutritional benefits (iron, calcium, omega-3). They also either have oats or popped amaranth to bulk up the texture, substance and nutrition, and then their hallmark flavors: peanut & apple, coconut & apricot, cashew & fig, which, along with the dates, is really what you taste. And that’s all!


What are the different bars that you offer and if you can, please tell us a thing you love about each one.

Currently I offer the three I just mentioned: peanut & apple, coconut & apricot, cashew & fig. The first is a classic combo that I just find so satisfying. The coconut & apricot bar has the extra sweetness of the apricot coupled with the robust flavor of toasted coconut. This bar is probably the most popular. It feels like a lot happening in the mouth at the same time, and has the added benefit of the bright orange of the apricot and the white of the coconut that makes it visually appealing. The cashew & fig bar is rich and creamy, but has a nice crunch from the fig seeds that I enjoy.


You are officially an entrepreneur in this era of entrepreneurship. What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned thus far?

Just do it! I don’t mean that it’s not a lot of work and totally consuming, but I’ve learned that the best way to embark on the path of creating something out of nothing is not to do endless market research, hem and haw on branding, wait until the ‘perfect’ moment when the many, many pieces are aligned and ‘right’, etc., but rather to put on the market something that you know is pretty good and go from there. It’s an iterative process and always evolving. I like being open to feedback and change, learning from mistakes, and growing as I go.


What does local (as a concept/ philosophy) mean to you?

Local is where the day to day, the bread and butter, of our lives happens. It’s where we can effect change, express gratitude and appreciation, have meaningful connections and impact. It’s where we can literally create the world we want to live in. Our community. I’ve spent many years working in international affairs on issues that move me deeply and always will -- these are important -- but the local sphere is one that’s more personal and gratifying.


Can you tell us something about breakfast bars that only you or very few people know.

They’re very simple! What our bodies and brains need is delicious and accessible, don’t be fooled!


What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

Latte, hands down. Iced or hot, good coffee plus good milk always hits the spot. Thanks for bringing Montclair these things!