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As a lifelong New Englander, I ought be used to snow. Snow is a fact of life here, an unwelcome guest every winter. When I was a child, snow was magic. When I was a young mother, snow was an occasion to send my child outside and delight in his reaction as he found many ways to play with it. But now, snow has become a hindrance to life, a hassle, a threat to health, especially when we just received 76 inches of the stuff with more on the way.

I just went outside to clear out my car (having no driveway, we park on the street) which was yet again hemmed in by the plows and covered with at least a foot of snow. Unlike in previous storms, removing the snow was almost impossible because of the height of the snow piles in the yard. I literally couldn’t throw the stuff high enough to keep it from sliding down again back onto the sidewalk. Fortunately, a neighbor with a snow blower came over and told me to push the snow down from the car onto the street and sidewalk. He then used the blower to throw it on top of the piles.

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Across the street, other neighbors had snow piles up almost to the top of their porch.

 

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All of this snow got me thinking about the things we take for granted in everyday life. Most of the year, if we’re in good health and live in a developed country, we don’t have to think about our ability to move around in the world. We don’t have to plan in advance if we want to leave the house or make an every day excursion. If we live in a city, we don’t have to think about the ability to drive on the roads or take public transportation, assuming instead that the roads will be plowed in the winter, the potholes fixed in the summer, and the trains and buses will be running. Only when all public transportation is shut down, as it is today in Boston, or when the governor issues a driving ban do we realize that the freedom of movement we take for granted is not necessarily always there.

All of this snow, and the temporary inconveniences it has caused me, got me thinking about what it’s like to live in a war zone, where excursions outside have to be carefully timed and are often taken with a risk to one’s life. I recently watched a film, Zatoun, set in Beirut in 1982. In it, there were many scenes of people trying to go about their everyday lives despite rocket attacks and internecine fighting among the city’s militias. I also read a story from my local NPR station, A Blizzard in Perspective, about a young mother who works in the food service industry. Unlike many middle class people who can work from home, she has to go to work every day no matter what the weather, taking multiple buses in order to drop off her three-year old with her mother before setting off for her job. Then she has to repeat the process in reverse, sometimes not getting home until 1 a.m. Both this film and the news story made me realize how lucky I am, despite 76 inches of snow, to live in a warm house, have good neighbors and the resources to pay someone else to shovel if the snow gets too much, and a life that allows for many choices. So, I guess it was good that we got enough snow to slow life down and allow some time for reflection and perspective.

My studio is located in a building that was once part of the Baker Chocolate Factory. From my studio windows, I can see the Neponset River and Baker Falls which run alongside the building. It is believed that Native Americans lived in areas along the Neponset River before the arrival of European settlers. Over time, small dams were built along the river, and gradually, Europeans began developing industries that utilized the river’s waters and the power created by the dams. “By the Revolutionary War, the growing Neponset Village (Lower Mills area) was quite an industrial center, keeping the communities supplied in bread flour, lumber for shelter and ships, wool for clothing, and gunpowder for hunting and protection. ” (Source: Sweet History: Dorchester and the Chocolate Factory)

 

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One of the earliest commodities produced along the river was chocolate which, in the winter months, became a secondary source of income for mills producing other things. “James Baker took over John Hannon’s chocolate business in 1780 and dedicated most of the year to making chocolate in multiple mills. Space along the Lower Falls of the Neponset River was limited and gradually became scarce as more mills were built. Beginning in 1805 Edmund Baker began buying out owners of neighboring mills for the purpose of expanding his chocolate business. Over the next century, Baker’s purchased additional grist mills, paper mills, and even other chocolate mills. Baker’s became a dominant industry in the Lower Mills, shipping their chocolate around the world.” (Source: Sweet History: Dorchester and the Chocolate Factory).

 

Baker Chocolate Factory Today

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Baker Chocolate Factory was a significant employer for a long time. It remained in its original location until 1965 when it was bought by General Foods and moved out of state. The company’s history is quite fascinating. Early owners were very aware of the need for clever marketing, and they developed ideas for “branding” their products long before the concept of branding was fashionable. The company came up with the concept of La Belle Chocolatier (The Beautiful Chocolate Girl) whose image appeared on all the company’s packaging and promotional materials. Attractive young women were also recruited to dress up as “chocolate girls” and demonstrate the products at events and chocolate tastings. The company also had a reputation for being a good place to work, treating its employees well and offering many employee benefits before these were common in the workplace.

After the company moved to Delaware, the buildings remained vacant for some years until they were converted into office space, condominiums and apartments.

Long after the company departed the area, the smell of chocolate remained. When I was a child, driving through this area was always a treat as a strong chocolate smell wafted through the air bringing visions of delightful sweets. The chocolate smell is now gone, but the beauty of the river and the sense of history remain.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a friend who is a very good textile artist. She is often inspired by books on a variety of subjects, many of them very different from the images she uses in her work. On her coffee table was a remarkable example: Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees by Cedric Pollet.

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Written by a French landscape designer and photographer with an amazing eye and the ability to develop his pictures using the silver-process photography technique, the book–in the author’s words, “a homage to the tree”–is a revelation  From among 15,000 images, Pollet chose 81 trees, from 5 continents, to feature in the book. Each tree is described in detail. The author comments on the tree’s historical uses, its likelihood of survival in the current ecosystem, and the medicinal properties contained in its bark, seeds and leaves.

Accompanying each description are many photographs of the tree and especially its bark. And what bark! The photographs depict bark of every imaginable color, shape and texture. Artists looking for inspiration for surface design techniques or paintings could spend hours with this book. A Google search with the title and author will bring up dozens of images.

This book will be on my Christmas list for sure.

Recently I visited the Fuller Craft Museum which is currently showing several fascinating exhibits related to fiber. They include Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators, featuring well known fiber art masters such as Michael James, Arturo Alonzo Sandoval, and Chunghie Lee, as well as lesser known but quite innovative artists who use fiber in surprising ways.

Another exhibit, Floating, features the work of Annette Bellamy, an artist and commercial fisher from Alaska. Below are examples of her work, including a large piece created entirely from fish skins. Bellamy works in several media, but her fish skin piece was particularly compelling.

 

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These exhibits are on view through the fall and are well worth seeing.

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