The Renaissance Woman on Grove Street

 

The description was compelling: come meet a woman who was hidden as a child in France during the Holocaust, worked as an archeologist in Israel and now designs jewelry in her studio in Evanston. Offered by Beth Emet The Free Synagogue as part of its Fall 2014 Adult Education program, I signed up immediately.

The talk and gallery tour met at the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio in downtown Evanston. The gallery is deceiving at first glance. The soft peach tones of the walls immediately disarm the viewer and relax the eye. What was probably one big room 30 years ago is now a warren of cozy spaces created for consulting with clients. Designed by renowned artist and designer Celeste Sotola, visitors wander among the Pearl Room, the Gem Room/Library, the Diamond Room and the Wedding Band Alcove. I walked around the gallery and studied the showcases. Interesting and unusual items such as vases, garden objects, and found objects creatively displayed the jewelry pieces, which included necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants and pins. I saw a rainbow’s array of rare pearls, gems and stones in unusual settings and daring combinations.  The staff is friendly, solicitous and discreet without being pushy. They are eager to tell you about each piece.

Twice a year, Spring and Fall, Eve presents a new collection; the Fall 2014 collection is Garden of Eden. The collections range from twenty to one hundred unique pieces, incorporate a theme and include a narrative that shares the sources of Eve’s inspiration, such as poetry, literature, nature and personal memories. The names of the collections are diverse and represent Eve’s wide range of interests.  Everything in the collection comes from Eve’s imagination, which she conveys to others through sketches. Based on theses sketches, artisans make models to test the piece as it looks as a dimensional object. This collaboration continues between Eve and her goldsmiths until the piece is perfect.

Eve talked about her childhood and life’s experiences and how those experiences are expressed in her work. For several years, she and her parents hid among several different secret locations, and at times Eve was hidden in a separate location from her parents. Yet in spite of the inevitable stresses, her parents protected her body as well as her psyche; Eve’s memories of this time in her life are not anguished, and she still finds inspiration in how her parents coped with and survived such a horrendous time in their lives.

After the war, the three of them–their extended family on both sides having been murdered by the Nazis–immigrated to Canada. Eve attended the prestigious McGill University and graduated with a degree in business and accounting, starting her career as a CPA. But she was too creative and ambitious to remain solely in accounting. She volunteered and worked at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, learning how to reassemble pottery from ceramic shards recovered at archeological digs. Perhaps most significantly, Eve began to make her own jewelry and to teach herself about the materials and tools.

A few years later Eve married, and soon she and her husband Maurice were parents to two young children. Her husband’s business took the family to the Midwest and they settled in Evanston, IL. Eve went back to graduate school at the University of Illinois and received degrees in linguistics (she is conversant in ten languages!) and medieval poetry. She found work as a high school language teacher, and traveled to Israel during the summers to work at archeological digs, helping to reassemble ceramic pieces. When romance languages fell out of favor and her teaching services were no longer needed, she took some metalsmith classes and learned how to weld. She incorporated these new skills into her jewelry-making business, now based in her home studio in the family’s basement. She moved her business into the current location in 1987 and expanded the space to its current size and look in 1991.

Today the business is truly a family enterprise with Eve at its hub: Eve’s daughter Diane is an established glass artisan, and together they collaborate on various pieces in each of the collections. Diane’s husband, Matthew, a professional photographer and art director, designs and maintains the Eve J. Alfillé online presence; Eve’s husband is involved in the back-end operations of the gallery, and years ago designed a specialized computer program to track inventory and sales.

So often word ‘unique’ is bandied about carelessly without any thought of its true meaning, but unique is what you will find here. No two pieces are exactly the same and everything is made by hand in the studio in the back. For the woman who has everything, for a couple looking to select personalized rings that symbolize an upcoming engagement or marriage, for any occasion or no occasion at all, an ideal gift may certainly be found within the walls of the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio.

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Celebrating Evanston Entrepreneurship Week!

Fans of ‘Shark Tank’ would have felt right at home at the Evanston Startup Showcase presentation on Tuesday evening, part of Evanston Entrepreneurship Week. Five startup businesses presented their concepts to a panel of four successful entrepreneurs and an audience of about one hundred potential investors, friends and interested parties. Everyone involved has a connection to Evanston, either as a resident or because their businesses are here.

The moderator for the night was Patrick Hughes, a successful entrepreneur and the Founder/CEO of Inclusion=Solutions, an Evanston-based business whose mission is to develop and supply practical products to make inclusion possible for people with disabilities or the elderly. Patrick’s outgoing personality, quick humor and take charge attitude kept the presentations on schedule without ever getting tedious.

The ground rules were straightforward: 5 minutes for the pitch, 5 minutes of Q&A from the panel, 5 minutes of audience Q&A. The five lucky presenters were selected from nearly 100 submissions.

First up was Jono Kupferberg, CEO/Co-Founder of STS Footwear, a company founded on the belief that every fan needs a footwear option. Jono showcased many creative iterations designed by Director of Design/Co-Founder Isaiah Smith, and the two men discussed their patent-pending manufacturing concept. They need $50,000 to fund their initial launch. The panel asked a lot of questions about their market research, licensing agreements, pricing and other metrics. In the world of branded products and sports-related wearables, STS Footwear may have something unique. They hope to authorize their first production run by mid 2015.

The second presentation was by Brian Hill, Co-Founder of Jail Education Solutions. Of the five presentations, this was the one I found most captivating. Using customized tablet technology and an educational platform called Edovo, they provide intuitive educational courses to incarcerated people who are rewarded for learning. Jail Education Solution’s mission is to unlock the potential of the 12 million Americans imprisoned annually and reduce rates of recidivism. Their tablet system is already being tested in six institutions; others are signing up each month. It’s an amazing feat thus far and they are just getting started. I think we will hear great things about this company.

The third presentation was a needs-based app called DINE., conceived by three 19-year old Northwestern University students (Luke, McKenna and Garrett) who want to create a better algorithm for restaurant selection tailored to the diner’s specific needs. The app, still in development, will propose three choices to ease selection rather than present unfiltered information in the style of Yelp and Zagat’s. The panel of experts enthused over the presentation, which was impressive, but even more so given the presenters’ ages.

Fourth up was Jennifer Alexander from Chapín Coffee. Their motto is ‘Fuel your day with purpose,’ and for every bag of Chapín Coffee sold, three meals are donated to malnourished Guatemalan children through Feed the Dream. Chapín Coffee sustains local farmers by purchasing only Fair Trade Certified coffee, protects the environment by sourcing organically grown coffee, and helps local women artisans maintain their craft skills by purchasing woven gift bags. Jennifer is a great presenter and the audience responded positively with ideas and contacts. For those of you looking for lovely holiday gifts, look no further than a Chapín Coffee Subscription.

The final presentation was the most fun and the one that generated the most audience involvement. Kenny Johnson, the inventor of patent-pending Funny Gloves, is Evanston-born and raised, a proud graduate of ETHS and a vocal promoter of everything the city has to offer. He has created a toy—think of a large pair of talking puppets used by two people to play catch together—that gets kids out of the house to exercise. Anyone over the age of about three years old can play and one size fits most. Kenny is an effervescent presenter: he’s already pitched the idea to the actual Shark Tank folks and is waiting to hear if he’s been selected. Just based on his story and pitch, I think Kenny is well on his way to reaching his goals. He’s created something new and has the passion and drive to do whatever it takes to see it through. The gloves are available online for $25 a pair.

Kudos to the presenters and panelists, the moderator, Rotary International for hosting and First Bank & Trust for sponsoring, the City of Evanston and Northwestern University for their support. It was a wonderful and interesting evening, and hopefully part of an annual tradition.

Love in the Afternoon

Yesterday I took advantage of the sunshine and explored a well-traveled bike route. Biking along the lakefront from Clark Square Park to Northwestern, I traveled through campus to the lakefront path, past the soccer fields and fraternity houses, north on Sheridan Road to Sheridan Place, then south on Ridge. On the northern grounds of Evanston Hospital I found a plaque marking the location of an ancient Indian village and chipping station (a place where arrowheads and tools were made). From there I continued west on Central Street to Greenbay and McCormick where another bike path begins.

The trail greets passersby with a large silver sculpture followed by a short patch leading up to the Evanston Ecology Center and 23-acre Ladd Arboretum. After Bridge Street the path becomes the North Shore Channel Trail. Along this path and within the arboretum lies the Rotary Club of Evanston International Friendship Garden (designed to mimic the Rotary Club logo), flags of many countries (representing the ethnic diversity of Skokie) and the Jacqueline Gorell Park, named in honor of the first female mayor of Skokie. At Dempster Street, the first of four half-mile segments of the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park begins, which continues down McCormick Boulevard to Touhy Avenue in Chicago. I rode as far as Oakton Street before circling back to head home.

The sculpture park is visually interesting from a car, but absolutely fascinating when exploring by foot or by bicycle. Many of the sculptures include QR codes to connect the viewer to information about the sculptor; there is also a self-guided walking tour and booklet with information about each artist and the thoughts behind each work. Many are permanent installations.

The Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park sponsors a biennial competition, the Lewis C. Weinberg Competition, open to interested artists. Applications for the 2015 contest are due before July 1, 2015.

 

 

Why Vote?

I believe in the importance of voting. It is a civic duty and a form of self-expression I cherish, especially as I see others in our country being denied the right because of onerous restrictions and overtly partisan reactions to suggestions of voter fraud. I wish more people voted rather than shrugging with frustration and not taking advantage of this special privilege. It is easy to be apathetic; it takes effort to try and make a difference.

Two weeks ago I took advantage of early voting and cast my ballot in the Evanston Civic Center. There were no lines and the room with the ballot machines was bright, almost cheerful. It wasn’t crowded, but there were plenty of people coming in and out while I was there. I lingered in the hallway to admire photos of some inspiring young faces. 2014-10-24 12.14.33

 

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In the lobby there is a magnificent statue of an eagle donated by Marjorie and Charles Benton, ‘in honor of the city we love and have lived in for 60 years.’

Share the love; please vote.

Thinking About Robin Williams

I’ve thought a lot about Robin Williams over the past few weeks. It is especially heartbreaking to me that someone who made so many millions of people laugh, who had family and friends who adored him, could feel so alone and broken and unable to ask for help. He bore this pain largely by himself, when anyone who cared about him–as well as millions of admirers who did not know him–would have gladly done whatever they could to ease his suffering.

Make no mistake: someone contemplating suicide is suffering in the deepest way possible. To those in that position, suicide looks like a way out of what seems like the insurmountable, a respite from getting through the torture and effort of living. Every. Single. Day. It is not done as an act of selfishness, it is a relentless pursuit of relief.

I’ve known several people who have taken their own lives. The brutality of death in this way is catastrophic: one person’s pain ends while the pain of survivors begins, so raw and unrelenting. Psychiatric assessments and psychopharmacological interventions aside, too often there is no answer to the unanswerable question of ‘Why?’

I also believe this affects all of us, if not personally, then as countrymen. In the United States, 22 veterans a day kill themselves, according to a 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs study.

One of the recent “letters to the editor” I read (about the aftermath of suicide) included a link to a survivors’ network. I was naive about how many impressive websites and resources exist on this topic; there hasn’t been nearly enough media coverage about coping with and surviving suicidal ideation and depression.

If Robin Williams’ death contributed anything positive in its wake, I would like to think it is taking this terrible and important topic out of the shadows and shame of ‘polite company’ and into the glare of awareness and truth. We can’t begin to fix this problem as a society if we are afraid to talk about it.

I encourage you to read, explore and share these websites. There are certainly others, but these three I found to be especially compelling.

 

Cinderella

Every so often something happens to make me fall in love with Evanston all over again. Here is this week’s inspiration.

The woman was lost. Wearing a heavy green bathrobe over a t-shirt and pants, she clutched her small dog tightly. Her hair was blond and tousled, her face lined with wrinkles and creases. She spoke softly and slowly with an accent, and when she opened her mouth there was darkness where there should have been teeth. She asked the young woman walking by if she, the young one, would help her find her way home.

The younger of the two was very kind and spoke gently to the older one. The lost one doesn’t live here; she was visiting her sister, but she forgot where she was staying. She had been trying to find her way home. Her sister was in the apartment. Her sister was not in the apartment. She knew her sister’s last name but not her own.

Only a few feet away, I overheard the conversation and asked if I could help. The woman looked familiar; I had seen her last year outside in the mornings with her dog. We may have nodded toward one another or said good morning, but we had never had an actual conversation until now.

She was becoming more anxious. She did not remember how long she had been outside. Come inside to sit down, I offered.  Do you want a drink of water? Are you okay? Do you need to use the restroom?  She didn’t want water. She didn’t need to use the restroom. She was fine, but she was locked out and very lost.

I suggested the young one call 311 and explain the situation. The operator listened, asked questions and transferred the call to the Fire Department.  A few minutes later, a very large fire truck came down the street. The three of us walked toward the building next door and were standing there, waving, as if hailing a cab.

For a fire, she asked?  No, I said, firemen also do rescues. You are like Cinderella; you need to be rescued. The old woman smiled, but still didn’t remember her name.

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The immense red truck dwarfed the street, so shiny it was almost reflective. The firemen approached. The young woman explained the situation. The leader among the three firemen asked the older woman some questions. They found the elder’s sister’s name on the outer door of one of the doorways. No one in any of the apartments above responded to buzzer sounds to open the door. The rescue professionals were evaluating what to do next when a neighbor upstairs opened his window. Can I help?

At this point in the story, I left. The older woman was going home. She would be fine. Her neighbors rallied around her. The young woman who helped is a nursing student; already she has the demeanor of a caring, gentle protector. The firemen were kind, professional and prompt.

It is so difficult to grow old.

Whatever sadness I feel about the way a mind can be ravaged by time was balanced by the relief I felt watching those who helped. Kind people exist in many places, but this happened here.

 

Life Itself

I love good movies as much as I love good books, and Life Itself is both.  I watched the movie last night through On Demand TV, and while it isn’t the same experience as seeing a movie in the theater as part of a crowd, it is excellent nonetheless.

Roger Ebert loved movies. His enthusiasm for movies, culture, food, drink, women and good conversation come through in glorious detail. He was a raconteur, a bon vivant and a cineaste. His range was impressive: thousands of movie reviews, hundreds of blog posts, more than 30 books. He wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in 1970 and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for his movie criticism.

The movie is funny, smart, sad and at times, difficult to watch as Ebert’s health deteriorates. The movie celebrates this wonderful and brilliant man, the friends he had, his love for the loving and lovely Chaz, and the enthusiasm he had for everything. Aptly titled, Life Itself is worthy of your time.