August 27, 2020
By Ian Rand, assistant director of marketing + partnerships
In mid-March, life suddenly, and without notice, changed for all of us. No one was spared, and not in our lifetime (unless you're over 100—congratulations, and sorry you've lived to see the mess we're in!) have we seen a pandemic tear through our communities the world over, sending some into full quarantine and others into various stay-at-home orders. And how did we respond? Sourdough bread. That's right, we baked. But we didn't just bake, we rose to the occasion (pun intended) and caused a national flour shortage—forget about the yeast—and we haven't looked back since. I'm carrying 12 a few extra pounds for my effort, and as WE are all in this together, I hope assume all of you are as well.
A bit more on new culinary endeavors below, but there has also been a resurgence in creativity, sending artists and laymen in search of new projects and skills to master. Much as comfort food (sourdough bread?) has fed our souls, painting, composing, writing, and knitting has nourished our spirit. We've adopted pets in record-breaking numbers (I have no data to back this up, but I saw it on TV, I think), while TikTok gave rise to new artists such as Pluto the Dog, launched Sarah Cooper into the stratosphere, and gave teens across America a great deal of political clout.
I've casually wondered (for the sake of this blog post, at least) what some of my Wolfsonian co-workers have been up to these past five months, creatively speaking that is. I'm not interested (nor should you be) in getting into everyone's personal business, aside from wishing good health to all during these trying times. I try to stay in my own hula hoop, but here's what I found out, on assignment:
Lea Nickless, research curator, has been "Zoom learning" in the woods of North Carolina! "Oolite Arts has had a few free online printmaking classes during this time, and I had fun exploring something I've never really done—block printing," she said. Over the past couple of months, Lea has been painting, block printing on fabric, and dipping her toe into the reduction lino block process (I don't know what that means exactly, but I'm sure some of you do.)
"While being confined to my condominium by COVID-19 has felt a bit like being placed under house arrest—not that I personally have had any experience along those lines—it has had some unanticipated benefits," said chief librarian Frank Luca. "Having no outside distractions or entertainment these past months has allowed me to focus in my off hours on completing a novel begun in the wake of the November 2016 presidential election. It Did Happen Here is inspired by Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here (1935), a novel about a Fascist takeover of America," Frank added. Having completed final revisions, Frank is currently shopping it out to some publishing houses (in case anyone reading might be a publisher). Wait . . . did I just violate the Hatch Act?
"I've mostly been doing little drawings and watercolors of the furniture and houseplants inside my apartment. Very on-brand for quarantine," said Erin Heffron, library collections specialist. And who can argue with that?
John Vergara, visitor services assistant, stays busy with painting and drawing to keep his mind occupied. "I've always had an interest in science fiction," he said, referring to his acrylic paint and oil marker portrait of Optimus Prime, inspired by the Transformers films. (Not unlike the rest of us) "He is witnessing a war against his own kind and the destruction of his homeworld."
And now we come to education manager, Zoe Welch. She makes things. A LOT OF THINGS. All. The. Time. "Today, I make books; I'm a published writer and photographer; I make design objects and decor; I make jewelry; I've had a clothing line and a store, and continue to design and make clothes for myself; I used to make films (celluloid) and continue to fiddle with digital work now," said the very busy creative force-of-nature. "I like to explore what I can repurpose, and my making is informed by an interest in zero waste and maintaining a balance with types of work that don't require electricity," she added. Don't try this at home. Oh, wait, never mind—don't play with electricity. Go Zoe!
"Sourdough! I've always loved to bake but was scared of sourdough starter. I knew it could sense my fear," said curator Shoshana Resnikoff. "After killing a 200-year-old starter gifted to me by a grad school professor, I gave up." In quarantine, Shoshana decided to face her fears and conquer the starter, churning out multiple beautiful loaves using the Tartine Country Bread recipe. "I have kept my starter, now named Lady Loaf, alive for months," she proudly boasted.
A duel creative threat, Shoshana started weaving on a small-frame loom when she lived in the northeast to keep busy during the long winter months. Now that she has found herself at home for days on end, she has pulled out the loom and Shoshana weaves again! "Most of these works end up in friends' baby nurseries—infants and toddlers are easygoing art critics," she offered.
And finally, for all the sourdough out there: how about some . . . apple butter! "I always look forward to fall, and being a Miami girl, I tend to overcompensate for our lack of cool, crisp temperatures and changing leaves," said Isabel Sanz, our digital assets and collection data manager. "Every September, I put up over-the-top autumn decor, pumpkin-spice-everything in the pantry, and wear my flannels and boots everywhere," said Isabel, in the midst of an unbearable August heatwave. "This year, I wanted to make an easy, homemade apple butter to slather on all my pumpkin spice waffles, breads, etc."
Some of our greatest works of art, music, and literature were all created during plagues and earlier pandemics (I have nothing to back up this assertion, but I'm sure I read it somewhere, and I can only imagine how refreshing my honesty has been in this age of misinformation, fake news, and conspiracy theories). There is no doubt that this one will likewise leave an indelible mark on our artistic and cultural landscape. So keep on baking, weaving, writing, composing, composting, TikToking, and whatever else tickles your fancy. Do what you love, and the change will follow!
 Starter is fed regularly, becoming what is called a mother. This mother, when active, can be gifted to another in order to grow a new starter (all of which kind of freaks me out). Shoshana's professor had a mother-starter that had been continuously fed and grown (horrifying) for the last 200 years. "He gave me some, and then I killed it," said Shoshana "I felt horrible," she added. I personally feel—and make no apologies for it—that she did the right thing.