’Tis the Season to Discover the Unobtrusive Aesthetician

Skating at Portage (Photo by Neil O'Donnell)
Skating at Portage (Photo by Neil O’Donnell)

I just began the somewhat daunting task of writing a dissertation on the art of Winston Churchill. However for my townsquare49.org columns I get to be less academic when writing about international art exhibitions and master artists. For variety, I decided to seek out quiet artisans in my neighborhood; amongst all of us lurks what I refer to as the Unobtrusive Aesthetician.  As art critic Jerry Saltz says, “In the end it all comes down to… a life lived in art.”

Unobtrusive Aesthetician #1:

Marge Meyer and her husband Al have owned Muffler City since before statehood. Marge is also a landscape painter of both Alaskan and California scenery.  During the holidays, her Palm Springs home is filled with red velvet everything and mechanical elves.  She gave me a book of her paintings that her granddaughter Lisa assembled using an on-line printing company.  Inspired by natural beauty, Meyer captures the atmospheric changes that occur over Alaskan and California mountains; contrasting weather conditions with the seasonal changes observed in lakes and wild flowers in her foregrounds.  She shared her recipe for spaghetti sauce which Meyer says is handy for feeding the many friends and grandchildren that pop in over the holidays.

Marge’s Spaghetti Sauce:

  • 1-2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1-2 cups chopped onions
  • 1-2 cups chopped carrots
  • 1-2 cups celery
  • 2 cups cubed unpeeled potatoes
  • 5 cans of low sodium beef or chicken broth (14 ½ ounces each)—about 2 quarts
  • 1 jar marinara sauce (15 ounces)
  • Dash of thyme leaves or tbs. basil leaves
  • Dash of salt and pepper

Heat oil in large stock pot.  Add onions, carrots and celery. Cook 5 minutes or until crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Marge says she sometimes adds, bok choy, leeks, swiss chard, or sweet potatoes cubed or leaves out potatoes and add broken angel pasta. Meyers says it’s a great health boost. Of course you can always add extra broth so it isn’t too thick.

Photograph by Chris and Maria Crawford
Photograph by Chris and Maria Crawford

Unobtrusive Aesthetician # 2:

Margaret Stock is a mom, an expert on immigration law, an Army reservist, an athlete who goes snow camping and lake skating with her husband Neil O’ Donnell and daughter Catharine, and a 2013 MacArthur Fellow. She is also an Unobtrusive Aesthetician in spite of a very busy travel schedule. Stock grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts singing and playing the piano. She liked to draw ‘bodies in motion’ and would check out library books on Michelangelo and Leonardo—she wanted to draw faces. Although Stock camped as a child in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, landscapes didn’t initially appeal. While at Radcliffe-Harvard, Stock had a part-time job at Boston University as a graphics intern where she designed posters for plays and concerts. She’s drawn animal pictures for her daughter’s Anchorage bedroom. Stock muses, “my office isn’t color-coordinated. I am too busy at work these days.”  A ‘lit and arts’ class at Harvard enticed her to study Greek vases, developing more interest in Realism; Stock liked Grecian imagery for the stories. Once in a while some down time allows her to watch James Bond or old Hart to Hart reruns.

A highly disciplined woman who wryly quips, “blowing my diet would be eating at McDonalds which happens once every six month or so. I do like a Big Mac every so often—it’s that sauce.”  Stock has a daily workout routine of every sport imaginable—running, skiing, kayaking.  She also self-studies Japanese, Spanish, etc. Stock humorously regales, “I try to say ‘hello,’ and ‘how are you?’ to clients in their native languages.” “I’ve learned, ‘where’s the bathroom?’ in Hebrew, ‘are you hungry?’ in Arabic, and ‘I’m a hooligan,’ in Russian.”

Stock muses about meeting her husband in a snowstorm on Arkose Ridge near Hatcher Pass when they were taking a UAA mountaineering class.  Together they retreat from busy legal careers to their McCarthy cabin.  Stock uses the famed Moosewood Cookbook, gearing most menus to daughter Catharine who is a fish-eating vegetarian, and remarks,“ my family knows me for cooking three favorite dishes: Solyanka, Arabian squash cheese casserole and Moroccan pasta with spinach and golden raisins that plump up when mixed in.” A Renaissance woman, she shared a favorite one-pot meal which is easy to pull off at her cabin.  She grinned, “I have a hunting license; I mainly got it in case some interesting food item comes across our property.”

Margaret’s one-pot for McCarthy-cabin cooking:

  • Shrimp
  • Red potatoes
  • Onions
  • Corn on the cob
  • Louisiana crab boil seasoning

Fill a big pot with water; bring to a boil. Add crab seasoning. When the potatoes have boiled a while, throw in the corn on the cob, and eventually toss in the shrimp. Dinner is done when shrimp are ready.  Drain the pot; serve with bread, butter and a salad.

Jean Bundy's Abstract in Connecticut
Jean Bundy’s Abstract in Connecticut

Unobtrusive Aesthetician # 3:

Over the years my husband Dave has played the foil in many of my townsquare.49.org  essays; he’s also taken many of my photos.  Dave is known around Anchorage for his business/bankruptcy practice but he’s also a decent woodworker. Back in the ’70s he built a cabin on Beaver Lake by buying a bunch of how-to books at the Book Cache (remember the Book Cache was where you went for the latest best seller?). Dave cut studs and plywood sheathing at our Hillside home and drove the pieces North in our school bus yellow International.

Our then elementary schoolers, Jenn and Nick, grudgingly practiced early reading skills as they endured the often daily ninety minute drive—no iPods then.  Dave proudly broke a few bones while hammering board and batten siding onto our getaway. Enough nostalgia; this Thanksgiving Dave crafted a picture frame for an old painting of mine which son Elliott wanted for his Connecticut home. My art work had happily travelled to several lower forty-eight exhibitions resulting in travel wounds–dirt and warping. So he bought wainscot molding and managed to ease the frame around the slightly out of square rectangle. After choosing green-blue hues from my painting, I mixed a batch of acrylic, adding orange and white to gray down the turquoise tint, thus satisfying daughter-in- law Kristin’s décor. Off my abstract flew, retiring to a farmhouse in New Canaan; an unobtrusive way of sending parental love over the holidays.  OK, Dave’s woodworking skills exceed his cooking abilities; he can microwave oatmeal and spread peanut butter on bread.  But over holidays he becomes super-outdoorsman chef, sharpening knives and throwing on charcoal onto his Weber grill with the best of them from any food channel. Our children like to muse about the times flames almost hit the roof when a rib roast got out of control—I now keep an extinguisher at the ready.

Dave’s Thanksgiving bbq turkey:

  • I large stuffed turkey smothered in olive oil
  • Lots of charcoal
  • 2 bread pans
  • A fire extinguisher
  • A mystery or biography to read while you are bbq-ing

Three bread pans are placed in the center of the bbq under the top grill.  The pans are to catch grease and allow for indirect heating. Charcoal is strewn around the pans, then lit. Since twenty minutes to the pound is standard indoors, Dave reduces the minutes by some mythological chart reading. One Christmas, one of the kids gave Dave a hi-tech thermometer; it didn’t even last one roasting as it melted in one of his pyrotechnical displays. Soldiering on, he reads his book in freezing temperatures while wearing oven mitts and occasionally poking his beast with a fork and knife—Dave’s roast is done when he aligns the stars with his disposable grill lighter.

Palm Springs Landscape by Marge Meyer
Palm Springs Landscape by Marge Meyer

Ok you say, you’re not an Unobtrusive Aesthetician. Don’t despair; phone a friend. My Unobtrusive Aestheticians are Maria and Chris Crawford who are portrait photographer/artists. They go far beyond your average point ‘n’ shoot or selfie photographer producing works that make people feel beautiful. Whether it’s in their studio or out on location, the Crawfords want their end product to be ‘happy tears’ where clients discover the true self.  As ‘style diagnosticians’ they extensively interview clients about movie and book choices and of course color preferences.  They prep by measuring light to enhance whatever the client wants: ‘soft early morning, organic, romantic, high energy.’ The Crawfords strive for ‘the skill of in-camera capture instead of using filters in post-production.’ They have matched a client’s clothing to the gray mud of Portage. They’ve dodged traffic on turn-offs near Indian for a background of Beluga whales, to capture uniqueness for a high school senior clad in a sarong–her billowy blond hair picking up colors in the dead grasses around her feet contrasting with the steeliness of the fjords and blue-grays of Turnagain Arm sea water.  Another high school senior chose to have his photo taken in the middle of Campbell Creek. The Crawfords found a peninsula protruding into the rushing waters and placed their client, who wore a purple shirt with contrasting yellow-purple high-tops, on a settee surrounded by spawning salmon.  They often provide tea and cookies to fidgety children and apprehensive parents, and have refereed engaged couples who discover minor disagreements about color choice can threaten future marital bliss.

Maria’s Poppy Seed Cookies

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • ½ cup poppy seeds
  • 1 cup peanut oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Combine all the ingredients and shape into a ball using saran wrap to keep your hands clean. Shape into a log and freeze. Slice frozen dough when needed and bake on a cookie sheet at 350° 10-15 minutes.

This holiday season explore some Unobtrusive Aestheticians who don’t always realize how gifted they are.

Jerry Saltz essay, Art in America, September 1993; Ms Stock’s recipe is an adaptation from www.allrecipes.com.; Ms Crawford’s recipe is adapted from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/11/08/164682760/j-r-ewing-and-a-found-recipe-for-poppy-seed-cookies; Crawford website is twistedbranchphotography.com.   

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Jean Bundy is a writer/painter living in Anchorage. She holds degrees from The University of Alaska, The University of Chicago and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is a member of AICA/USA. Jean is a PhD candidate with IDSVA. Her whaling abstracts and portraits have been shown from Barrow to New York City.


She can be reached at: 38144 [at] alaska [dot] net