Garlic and Greens captures the history of soul food (Time Out Chicago; July 20, 2011)

Original Time Out Chicago story here.
Fereshteh Toosi wants people to talk about soul food. The 35-year-old artist is collecting stories about the cuisine that African-Americans brought from the South during the Great Migration, when they planted okra, garlic, greens, red beans and yams in their Chicago gardens. She’s starting GARLIC & GREENS, a soul-food oral history archive, which will be accessible online, as a fellow at Archeworks, the socially engaged design school in River North.

GARLIC & GREENS grew out of Toosi’s involvement in an Archeworks project in Washington Park, a predominantly African-American neighborhood on the South Side. As Archeworks designed “barrier-free” community gardens that are accessible to people with disabilities, Toosi thought about her clients’ access to locally grown food, how they prepare food and their connections to their cultural heritage. The Iranian-born artist finds it difficult to obtain ingredients for her own family recipes. She became interested in creating a space—social, if not physical—where people could talk about their personal histories with food. “I believe we need to look at the way in which we’re more similar than different,” Toosi says.

Two men who collaborated on Archeworks’ garden project had aphasia, an impairment of language ability caused by strokes. “When I was working with them, I realized to be accessible we needed to think of all of the different ways of communicating,” the artist recalls. “There’s a huge range of disabilities that aren’t physical.” Because African-Americans have a high risk for sight loss due to glaucoma, diabetes or hypertensive retinopathy, Toosi plans to publish some of the stories she’s collecting in a tactile book meant for readers with low or no vision, which she’ll produce through Archeworks this fall. “We live in a world where the visual is really dominant, but art isn’t just visual,” she says. “I want to draw attention to other senses because they are just as important for experiencing the world.”

GARLIC & GREENS taps into Toosi’s skills as a sound artist. Her 2008 project Up the Creek, created just before she moved to Chicago, addresses concerns about a sewage plant’s leakage into Onondaga Creek in Syracuse, New York. Participants can download and listen to Toosi’s audio documentary—a blend of interviews, narratives and ambient sound—as they tour the creek. “With an audio walk, I was able to show a portrait of a place that has changed over a long period of time,” she explains.

The artist will compile recipes and anecdotes for GARLIC & GREENS during two free public events that she organized to encourage dialogues about Chicago’s food heritage and the Great Migration. On Friday 22 at Access Living (115 W Chicago Ave), “INTERSECTIONS: exploring disability, race and community through art and culture” brings together speakers Lynn Manning, a poet, playwright and performer; Wannapa Pimtong-Eubanks, a member ofErasing the Distance, a theater group raising awareness of mental illness; and Alana Wallace, founder of Dance>Detour, a diverse-abilities dance company.

On August 6, the DuSable Museum of African American History hosts “JOURNEYS: exploring Black culture through migration history and food heritage” with historian Timuel Black and writer Audrey Petty.

“Other artists do things like shuffling pieces of paper around or drawing,” Toosi says. “I have a great interest in social history and sciences, and my research and inspiration comes through by planning these events.”

[Link to story]

Wheels of Commerce (Hartford Courant; July 11, 2005)

Original Hartford Courant article here.

In an age of faxes, cellphones and e-mail — when messages traverse the globe in an instant — bicycle couriers should be an endangered species.

Not in Hartford.

Five male bicycle couriers zip through the city streets from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to deliver important documents on deadline.
“Bicycle is the quickest way to get around town,” says Peter Barr, 27, an independent contractor who has worked for Hartford Courier Service for six years.

“They’ve saved our butts many, many times,” says Suzanne Obedzinski, supervisor of the service department office at the Shipman and Goodwin law firm. Her department would “die” without the couriers, she says.

On average, the law firm needs couriers about a dozen times a day. “Attorneys file at the last possible moment,” Obedzinski says. “It’s the nature of the business. That’s why [couriers] are indispensable. I swear they can get to court before I even give them the documents. They know shortcuts, people, where they can get into — and they’re very conscious of what they have to do.”

Not making a delivery on time can cost clients and the firm millions of dollars, Obedzinski says.

“It’s really, really, really important what they do for us,” she says.

Bicycle couriers also deliver documents for politicians when the General Assembly is in session, and for other businesses and individuals around the city.

“You’d be surprised what people forget,” says Ryan Hart, 30, a courier for one year. “I’ve delivered cellphones, pocketbooks, lunch, X-rays.”

Barr says he delivered frozen lasagna from a wife to a husband, and Darrin Rees, 33, says he has delivered umbrellas in the rain to “suits who didn’t want to get their hair wet.”

Although bike-courier business has declined because of technology, Hart says, some things are always going to be needed.

Rees is the veteran at Hartford Courier Service, with seven years of experience. He looks like a punk-rock musician, with tattooed arms and black, quarter-size plugs in his earlobes. The messenger bag strapped around his chest is enormous — it can hold 150 cans of beer, according to the sales pitch he got.

After working late and grueling nights at restaurants, Rees decided he wanted a job where he could go home at the end of the day.

“I can’t think of doing anything else, because I love the freedom,” Rees says. “And I love being outside, and I love riding my bike.”

On an average workday, Rees arrives in front of CityPlace (considered the hub for the couriers), calls his dispatch officer on his walkie-talkie and waits for his first delivery.

One benefit of working for Hartford Courier Service is that the company never hires more than five couriers at a time, Rees says. Deliveries are divided among the couriers, so everybody gets the same number of assignments, from 20 to 25 a day.

In bigger cities, where competition among businesses is fiercer, couriers bid on deliveries, Rees says.

Most deliveries cost $10 one way, and the couriers get a 50 percent commission. They make between $500 and $625 a week. August is the slowest month.

One late June morning, Rees is assigned a $20 round-trip delivery from CityPlace to the U.S. attorney’s offices at 450 Main St.

He walks into CityPlace, says his usual hello to the familiar clerks, accepts the package, and secures the receipt in his silver clipboard. Outside, he grabs his bike and takes off.

Rees rides with confidence, aware of traffic and pedestrians. He says it takes him only 10 minutes to go anywhere in Hartford’s business district.

“I don’t abide by traffic regulations,” he says, zipping through every red light on Main Street.

At his destination, he goes through a series of security checkpoints. Even though he has delivered here for years, he waits in line to go through a metal detector.

“They used to flag us through, but after 9/11 they stopped me,” Rees says.

He hands off the documents to a courthouse employee, who signs for them; receives a stamp of proof; and makes his way back to CityPlace, where he waits for the next call.

The couriers cover 20 to 30 miles a day on their fixed-gear track bikes, which require less maintenance because they don’t have brakes. Rees pedals backward, and the resistance stops him.

When Rees started as a courier, he bought a BMX bicycle, but evolved to his current bicycle, which has sawed-off handles so he can slip easily between cars.

“Before this job, I never rode a bike,” says Rees, who lost 50 pounds the first five months of the job. “I didn’t know how to do bicycle maintenance. Now I help fix all the kids’ bikes in my [Asylum Hill] neighborhood.”

The high-risk job has its breaks — literally. A year ago, Hart flew off his bike when a truck hit him, shattering his ankle, which now is held together with pins.

And what about his delivery?

“I actually had to go to the hospital and pick up the package and deliver it,” says Jim Carbonneau, owner of Hartford Courier Service.

[link to story]

Art toys are getting a plush reception (The Dallas Morning News; September 14, 2004)

Clarisa Ramirez
The Dallas Morning News
Sept. 21, 2004 12:00 AM

DALLAS – Toys have always been popular with children and collectors, but now there’s a new breed booming: handmade art toys. These subversive, provocative toys are no teddy bears, and they’re targeted at adults.

Companies such as Ugly Dolls, biggerKrissy and FUSE Industrial Design’s Furilla are major players in the budding market. Ugly Dolls are so sad looking you want to protect them; the biggerKrissy critters bristle with attitude and insane furriness; Furilla looks like a freak of nature with its gorilla-gone-wrong appearance.

Art toys are collectible and have been displayed in museums across the country – from the traveling Plushtastrophe exhibition that started at the Basil Hallward Gallery in Portland, Ore., to the Characters By Design show in July at Dallas’ Gray Matters Gallery.

What makes them collectible is their peculiar appeal, limited availability and affordability compared to other art forms. Toy company Kid Robot, for example, sells designer-made toys ranging from $5 to $400.

Andleed Dawood, director of administration, touts Kid Robot as the first retail company in the United States to sell a large assortment of collectible toys in one place.

Paul Budnitz founded the company as a Web site in 2002 after seeing the art toy movement explode in Hong Kong. Its first store opened in San Francisco in October 2002, the second in New York in September 2003. A third is planned for Los Angeles.

Budnitz doesn’t provide specific demographics about Kid Robot’s customers. Suffice it to say that grown-up enthusiasts with a sense of whimsy, or at least a longing for lost youth, are fueling the trend.

Katsu Tanaka, owner of Just Be Toys in Portland, says when the economy got rough, Nike president Mark Parker kept them afloat. “He’s one of the biggest toy collectors,” Tanaka says. “He has a museum that’s air-conditioned and dust-free” that was a bilevel addition to his home.

In the September/October issue of Juxtapoz magazine, Parker explains his interest: “There are real artists getting involved with toys who aren’t just characters from a Disney film. There’s a real convergence of the art world and the toy world.”

Another avid collector is Mike Richardson, president of the underground comic company Dark Horse, known for “Hellboy” and others. “My mother will tell you that I never threw anything out since I’ve been born,” Richardson says.

He displays his toys in his office, on shelves at home in his study and stored in “boxes and boxes and boxes.”

“Basically I’ve spent my adult life re-creating my childhood,” he says. “I look for toys that you can really see the original hand in the creator. I look for things that feel like they were made just to be there, not to fill up some manufacturer’s orders.”

His interest spilled over into Dark Horse six years ago with the creation of its toy division. Dark Horse makes vinyl and PVC characters such as Popeye, Flash Gordon and Hellboy. Most recently it has created a line called Tragic Toys For Girls and Boys, designed by quirky movie director Tim Burton.

Jason Cohen, who owned the former Forbidden Gallery and Emporium in Dallas and curated Characters By Design, declares himself a passionate and obsessive advocate. “I’ve been collecting for years, and I have a collection of found dolls – things that your grandma would make.”

His own contribution to Characters By Design, a carnival-size plush doll with an obscene name, was inspired by crocheted toys he’s collected from the 1970s.

The process for creating Cohen’s creatures starts in his sketchbook.

“First I’ll draw a sketch, a rendering of it, and then I’ll do a larger sketch on a piece of brown paper. And that becomes the pattern,” he says. He then picks out the fabric, lays out the pattern pieces, and his wife, Barbara, does the sewing.

He says sewing is attractive to artists wanting to make three-dimensional works because it’s easy. “You don’t have to know anything about sculpting or casting.”

Other players in the art toy movement have their own stories:

Ugly Dolls

David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim were some of the first artists in the United States to jump in, designing hand-sewn off-kilter characters that come with cards stating their personalities and proclamations about how they want to be your friend.

The first Ugly Doll was born in 2001 when Kim sewed Wage, a character Horvath drew at the end of his letters.

When Eric Nakamura, publisher of Asian culture magazine Giant Robot, saw Ugly Dolls, he wanted to sell them through his publication’s stores. Kim made more than 1,500 by hand in a few months. They sold rapidly.

Ugly Dolls are now produced in Korea, but are handmade in limited quantities. They are sold at museums and have been exhibited around the world.

“I think people are pleasantly surprised by these international characters – that they don’t have a marketing plan pushed in your face,” Horvath says. “Maybe this will inspire other toymakers not to be afraid and to venture out.”


Krissy Harris was one of the casualties of the bursting tech bubble.

“I was working about 100 hours a week. I needed time off, but I didn’t have any hobbies,” Harris says. She tried knitting, hula dancing, making collages and belly dancing, but eventually settled on dolls.

In May 2002 she started sewing fluffy, organic-shaped dolls to fill the time, simply because she likes toys. After stocking her room with 50 biggerKrissy dolls, she began selling them at a shop called Hand Made in the San Fernando Valley and developed a Web site.

She never intended them for children. “My generation doesn’t really think of themselves as adults for the most part. We want to play,” the 34-year-old says.


Shawn Smith’s Shawnimals was the extension of an art school project he did in 2000. He was inspired by stuffed versions of Japanese cartoons so he started transferring his doodles into a 3-D plush form, eventually selling them on the Web and at stores.

“It just blossomed,” Smith says. “It’s been so fun to see something grow from a humble beginning.”

He says artists are drawn to making toys because of the craft involved and a touch of rebellion. “It comes from a fine art place, but it’s not about that at all. People are coming to the shows in ripped jeans and T-shirts. Maybe it’s not as rebellious as other things, but that’s a part of it.”


Tory Orzeck, an engineer for FUSE, created the Furilla doll in 2002 and entered it in a competition for the Industrial Designers Society of America as a lark. It won, even though, as Orzeck says, the character “looks like he’s been through a dog’s digestive system.”

FUSE began selling Furilla on the Web. A “cool spotter” for the site touted the toy, and off sales went.

Orzeck figures the art doll boom is the offspring of the dot-com crash. “You have all these graphic designers in a weird point in time, always wanting to do something that’s different,” he says. “People are turned off by technology – they want old-school.”

[link to story]