Brain Pickings

Mabel Pike: Portrait of a 91-Year-Old Moccasin Maker

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What ancient beadwork has to do with the blessings of the digital age.

91-year-old Tlingit Native elder Mabel Pike learned beading when she was six and her great-grandmother taught her how to sew moccasins in the 1920s. In 1926, after their village in Douglas, Alaska burned down, Mabel’s parents moved the family to Juneau, where Mabel and her sisters began making and selling handcrafted Native wares. Mabel eventually became a Tlingit master artist, going on to teach beadwork at Stanford and pass on the traditions of her clan’s culture.

In this lovely video portrait, part of Etsy’s Handmade Portraits series, Mabel talks about the traditional patterns of her culture, her deep passion for her craft and everything it stands for, and her hate for the word “abstract.” It exudes the same kind of bittersweet poeticism you might recall from these 7 short documentaries about dying crafts, but it’s also lined with Mabel’s steady, quiet optimism.

When I finish a pair of moccasins, I sure hate to part with them. I’m not in this for money-making. I do my sewing because that’s my life, it’s always been my life, from the day I was six years old.” ~ Mabel Pike

I just lose myself in my sewing. I don’t know how to describe it. You know, when I start beading, it’s like I’m so absorbed in what I’m doing, I forget everything. I’m sewing, and I’m creating, and I’m designing. And I just don’t know how to describe it. I just lose myself in it.” ~ Mabel Pike

The way Mabel describes her work — this state of total engagement, of complete immersion — encapsulates the state renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined as “flow,” the true mark of creativity in action.

For your daily pause moment: It’s utterly remarkable that we live in an age when online platforms like Vimeo and Etsy and Twitter and WordPress are allowing us to not only learn about the fascinating cultural heritage of ancient traditions, but to also actively support these indigenous artists in ways that would’ve never been possible a mere decade ago.

To support Mabel’s work and that of other indigenous artists, do visit Alaksa Native Arts Foundation’s online shop.

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Papercraft 2: Analog Creativity for the Digital Age

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Retrostalgic craft, or what analog art has to do with digital design.

Nearly two years ago, the fine folks of Gestalten brought us the exquisite Papercraft: Design and Art With Paper. Today, they’re back with a delicious, highly anticipated sequel: Papercraft 2 — a stunning anthology of exploring how designers and artists are re-discovering the analog magic of paper in the digital age. Through a showcase of groundbreaking work, the collection reveals how designers are using various techniques — cutting, folding, gluing, collaging, shredding — to craft stride-stopping visual storytelling.

In addition to the 250 pages of mesmerizing artwork, the book features a DVD of the best paper-based stop-motion, animation and music videos from the tipping point of this art form, unraveling the bleeding-edge creative potential of this age-old material.

Needless to say, given our love for creative book trailers, Papercraft 2 gets serious bonus points for the lovely video sneak peek.

Other Gestalten goodies we love: Data Flow 2, which collects seven years of data visualization eye candy in one place; Bompas and Parr: Return of the Jelly Knights, the fascinating microdocumentary about London’s jelly architects; The Story of Eames Furniture, an astounding 800-page volume 13 years in the making documenting the golden duo of modernist design.

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Analog Infoviz: Handmade Visualization Toolkit

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What 99 red balloons have to do with the spam economy and Lady Gaga.

We love data visualization and have a soft spot for analog art. We’ve previously explored several examples of physical data art and now, from Bogotá-based designer Jose Duarte comes this ingenious Handmade Visualization Toolkit, exploring simple ways to visualize information quickly. Using ordinary materials like chalk, string, stickers and balloons, you can experiment with various visualization techniques, from area charts to bubble graphs to — yes, you guessed it — Venn diagrams.

Using the kit, he made these lovely lo-fi visualizations of data from the 2010 State of the Internet report, revealing, among other things, that Lady Gaga is bigger on Twitter than Obama and the majority of the world’s email volume is spam.

Internet users by country

The most popular twitter accounts

Internet users 2000-2010

Spam vs. real email sent every day: 90 out of every 100 emails are spam

And it seems like Jose will send you a kit for free if you shoot him an email — what’s not to love?

via Flavorwire

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Arabic Graffiti: An Eastern Voice in the Global Street Art Dialogue

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Diplomacy by way of street art, or what Gaza has to do with Banksy.

We love street art, but the majority of coverage on the subject has a severe geographic bias — every street art encyclopedia, every showcase of notable work, every documentary on graffiti culture tends to focus on Western lettering and imagery. Until now. Arabic Graffiti is an ambitious new anthology by Berlin street culture tastemaker Don Karl and Lebanese typographer Pascal Zoghbi exploring the use of Arabic script in urban context. The lush hardcover tome curates graffiti artists and typographers from the Middle East and around the world, who incorporate Arabic calligraphy styles in their artwork — a beautiful intersection of tradition and contemporary creativity.

Images courtesy of Slanted

Part cultural anthropology, part study in creative ingenuity, Arabic Graffiti is one of the most exciting design books to come by this year and a timely cross-cultural bridge of visual communication in the context of today’s global political climate.

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