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ART | COMMERCE

FOUR ARTISAN BUSINESSES GROW IN AN OLD NEW JERSEY INDUSTRIAL CITY

An engrossing portrait of artisanship as a blend of mechanical genius and human fulfillment.

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Dingy workshops incubate unlikely aesthetic epiphanies in this colorful photographic study of small businesses.

Photographer Riskind showcases four artisanal manufacturers in and around Paterson, New Jersey, a faded textile center whose old factories now shelter firms making specialty products. He begins at Jerry Valenta and Sons, a textile company with 10 industrial looms. Many of these pictures are composed and formally elegant, juxtaposing the fiendishly complex and forbidding loom mechanisms—with their starkly lit mazes of oily, muscular steel gears and chains—and the delicately abstract geometries of the gossamer threads hanging on them in dense yet ethereal patterns. He then visits Great Falls Metalworks, a family jewelry maker that once numbered Jackie Onassis among its customers. Here he depicts an atmospheric tableau of workers using hand tools to hammer, drill, solder, and polish, bending over tiny objects while bundled up against the winter cold in an unheated workshop where piles of gems glow against a backdrop of grungy concrete walls. Riskind’s third subject is the Peragallo Pipe Organ Company, an instrument maker now on its fourth generation of family craftsmen. There’s a spaciousness in these photographs of organ pipes that are major architectural elements in their own right, often large enough to dwarf the workers. We see demure smaller variants adorning the wall of a simple white Episcopal church and grander versions towering in Catholic cathedrals, overshadowing statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary; bringing these soaring creations down to earth are pictures of the electronic circuitry that translates keyboard strokes into music. Riskind finishes at the Hiemer Stained Glass Studio, taking viewers through the integrated process of drawing sacred figures, transferring images to colored glass, cutting and soldering panels to frames, and installing them in churches. The photographs of workers peering intently at light boxes and glass panels spread out on workbenches, brows furrowed in concentration, convey an almost spiritual union of art and craft. Riskind’s accompanying captions and commentary are informative if a bit stolid. (“Tying 12,000 knots in fine (and sometimes slippery) threads is extraordinarily time consuming.”) The photographs make the book come alive, showing off odd and intriguing manufacturing processes and the dedication of the people who practice them.

An engrossing portrait of artisanship as a blend of mechanical genius and human fulfillment.

Pub Date: July 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-578-68425-3

Page Count: 126

Publisher: Steve Riskind Photography

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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