Luren Jenison tends to describe her professional life as a “wild goose chase” — a neverending manic hunt through thrift stores, flea markets, and even forests to find the vintage oddities, natural artifacts, and textiles she uses in her elaborate installations. She’s constructed woodland scenes with foraged moss and taxidermied foxes for internal meetings at Anthropologie, set up tableaux with vintage books and building blocks for weddings and corporate galas, and even traveled all the way to China once to find a master joss-paper artisan to help her build a shimmery paper R.V. for a Free People store (he later panicked and pulled out of the project). And yet no matter how spectacular the results, at the end of the day they’re almost all temporary, set up for a night or a week or a month and then disassembled into their constituent parts to be trashed or banished to storage. Only the hunt goes on.
If there’s one place you’d expect to find any permanent evidence of Jenison’s talents as both a visual stylist and an eagle-eyed picker, though, it would be in her own home — for the past four years she’s shared two huge floors of an old row house with her friend Kevin McGuinness, and together they use it as a studio, a vitrine, and from time to time, a speakeasy where other friends can sample their homemade bitters and botanical infusions. There’s typically a selection of wild herbs and plants drying in the living room, right next to Jenison’s weaving loom. “We do a lot of witchy stuff around here,” she laughs.
Crafts of all kinds, though, are the order of the day; whenever she’s out scouting, Jenison looks for anything made by Comanche Pottery in Texas or Kentucky’s Berea College, and most of her loom tools are from a “Navajo shepherding adventure” she went on last summer with Alex Segreti of New Friends. “It’s for the Navajo to teach their young people how to have a sheep-based lifestyle again,” she says. “We were there doing a natural dyeing workshop, but we drove all around through the Southwest going to old trading posts and collecting stuff.”
When such treasures find their way into her display designs, they’re often accompanied by textiles she’s sourced or silkscreened. Jenison studied textile design at RISD alongside Segreti and another frequent collaborator of hers, Lauren Manoogian, focusing on screen-printing and eventually moving to Philly to run an apprentice program for the Fabric Workshop. By the time goose-chasing became her full-time job in 2005, Philly’s thrift stores and ample living quarters had worked their magic on her, as you can see quite clearly in the slideshow at right.
Luren Jenison’s Philly Top 5
1. The Philadelphia Museum of Art So obvious you forget it sometimes. All kinds of great stuff in there, from decorative arts and Shaker furniture to contemporary. Plus American landscape paintings of campfires on the plains that you see one day and stand there for 10 minutes going, “It’s so good! Why did I walk by this so many times and not realize?” Behind the museum, down by the river, there’s this little amphitheater of stone steps under the Waterworks where we drink secret wine on the summer nights. Best.
2. Chinatown That neighborhood has always been my go-to for random materials, food, massage (Ly Jen Therapy Salon), inspiration (Liao Collection), special brooms, cheap kitchen supplies, and art (319 N. 17th St. galleries, Space 1026). It’s also just a place to walk around in and remember that you’re living in a city with all different things going on everywhere all the time and how different our lives are even though we live so close. Morihata is also a cool imported Japanese design/basics store that is oddly placed just north of Chinatown; totally walkable and unexpectedly classy.
3. Wagner Free Institute of Science Besides being a free educational facility — with experts in various fields doing interesting lectures and weeknight events and semester-long classes on subjects like the history of invasive plant species in our region, or how cat genetics relate from tigers to house cats — the Wagner is also an extensive collection of natural-history specimens, from minerals and fossils to 100,000 animals that have been skinned stuffed and mounted. It’s easy to spend a day there drawing crystals or shrieking about giant insects you wish you didn’t know about.
4. Avril 50 A real French-style tabac in West Philly with European and high-end design and fashion magazines, international newspapers, great coffee and a Facebook update stream that becomes (erotic) poetry as they let you know what magazines are coming in: “Gentlewoman came,” “October is here,” “we got creem,” “we have good, monkey business,” “we have very nearly almost” “dazed and confused Frankie arrived.”
5. iGoldberg The army/navy surplus store cannot be beat for basics, inspiration, layers, and weirdness. Prices negotiable if you bring your gameface and a little nice conversation.
Back in 2009, Kelly Rakowski was a graphic designer at Todd Oldham in New York, and Alex Segreti was living in Philadelphia, working in the textiles department at Urban Outfitters. In her free time, Rakowski ran a blog called Nothing is New, for which she scoured image archives on the web, unearthing old exhibition catalogs, classic spreads from magazines like Domus, and vintage ceramics and textiles. Segreti had a blog as well, called Weird Friends, where she documented similar obsessions: craft, pattern, art, ceramics, textiles, and dogs. The two had never met, but when Rakowski emailed Segreti on a whim one day to tell her how much she liked her site, they began to bond; when both expressed a desire to learn how to weave by hand, they decided to embark on an experiment. They shipped each other yarn, so they’d have the same palette to work from, and a few months later Rakowski made the trip to Philly. They had dinner, retired to Segreti’s apartment, and showed each other their weavings. “They kind of looked the same,” Rakowski remembers. “It was crazy. Now we always come up with the idea together but work separately, and when we meet, we forget who did what because everything magically works.” The two eventually made their design partnership official, merging the names of their online identities into a fitting moniker: New Friends.
As I walked the Tendence gift fair in Frankfurt this summer, Iris Maschek appeared to me like an oasis of glam in a desert of practicality. There she was, surrounded by clocks and soaps and clever ceramic jugs with customizable chalkboard labels, dressed all in black and perched in a cool mid-century rattan chair against this gorgeously baroque Rorschach-like backdrop: A specimen from her very first wallpaper collection.
Los Angeles designer Tanya Aguiñiga already had two studios when she took up a third this summer: the first in the backyard of the Atwater Village bungalow she shares with her husband and two sisters, and the second six blocks away, in a converted industrial-park-turned-artists’-community near the train tracks. But in early July, Aguiñiga picked up and moved her shop 2,000 miles south to the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, for a five-week residency — the first in a project she calls Artists Helping Artisans. “I had gone to Oaxaca and Chiapas in 2007, and there was so much amazing stuff being produced by the women there,” she says. “People aren’t aware of it because the skills aren’t being passed down anymore and because people are scared to travel within Mexico. There’s isn’t enough tourism or income to sustain these crafts.”