The story of the French Angel


As the end of the year (aka gift giving season) rolls up with the top down, I thought I’d show off one of my favorite custom embroidery jobs from the archives.

***

I recently finished this custom piece for a dear friend. He wanted to gift an artwork to a friend who loved wrestling and wrestling history. He picked an image from this series of photographs by Irving Penn from 1945 and told me to have at it.

Original image info: Irving Penn, 1945, “Dorian Leigh & Maurice Tillet aka The French Angel”

The man in this photo is Maurice Tillet (1903-1954), the most notorious wrestler of the 1940s, better known by his ring name, ~THE FRENCH ANGEL~.

If you’ve been to Chicago’s International Museum of Surgical Science, you’ve probably seen a bust of The French Angel.

The plaque there tells more of this man’s story:

“He studied 14 languages, wrote poetry, and aspired to become an actor. However, his dreams were shattered when he developed acromegaly in his twenties. … This disorder is caused by an abnormal production of growth hormone usually related to a benign tumor of the pituitary gland… With his new body, Tillet, an educated man and a lover of the fine arts, felt like a monstrosity. Unable to face a life of constant gawking and humiliation, he decided to make drastic changes and use his condition to his benefit.”

At the end of his life, Maurice was a Chicago boy. He died here, too, of a heart attack that came on after he heard that his trainer died. <sobbbbbbing>

My color choices for his wings and the stars on his belt are a direct reference to the Chicago flag.

I almost put the fourth star on Maurice’s belt too, but I just had to do something about Dorian there…

The angle of her foot, the shape of that heel… oh la la, there’s just so much I love about that aspect of the original photograph. I put the last star beneath it to give Dorian her own special place in this piece.


Socks for Christmas? Yes, please.


You know you’ve past a certain age threshold as soon as getting socks for Christmas sounds awesome. No? Well, welcome to my blog, fellow kids. Say it with me now (to the tune of LMFAO “Shots”): Socks socks socks socks socks socks! Everybody!

I just added socks to the macro.baby shop because, I mean, look at these.

They have all the function you need from your footwear — not to mention the “I’m fun and love graphic design” vibe of a grown ass adult if you’re looking to demonstrate that kind of thing at a Scrabble marathon house party or whatever — plus they’re mismatched so you can feel the sloppy, IDGAF kid-ness of being a kid again.

Don’t forget the wrapping paper.


Look what just dropped: 2022


New on the shop: It’s that time of year again. Time to think about the next one.

Have your best year yet with my dotted, delicious, designed colorful calendar poster. So full of promises for hope, happiness, and horrible alliterations!

Giclée print poster made on thick and durable matte paper (because the matte feels so smooth and sexy).

12 x 18 inches.

$25 + free shipping.

Available now through… well, 2022 I guess.


Multi-colored blue graphic design illustration by macro.baby.

Totes for your toast


Just kidding. You can put anything in my macro.baby totebags, not just toast. 

But, toast in your tote is probably a cool idea… I mean, everybody loves toast. You’ll be so popular! Pack butter too probably. And jam! If anything spills inside, you can just machine wash it once you get home after hanging out with all your cool new friends who now call you Toad for some reason but you think they mean Toast they’re just saying it wrong!

ARTISAN TOAST TOTEBAGS 

Hand-sewn in the U.S., and Society6 says the print will never fade. These babes are constructed with a premium, canvas-like material and double-stitched for quality.

  • Available in three sizes
  • Crafted with durable, lightweight poly poplin fabric
  • Double-stitched seams and stress points
  • 1” wide cotton webbing carrying strap
  • Machine washable, tumble dry low

A beam of rainbow colored embroidery floss shoots out of the palm of a hand on a black and white photograph of Isadora Duncan.

New embroidery + Isadora Duncan


On this day nearly 100 years ago (1927), Isadora Duncan died the strangest death. She was strangled in not-so-nice Nice (France). 

By her scarf.

A black and white photograph of Isadora Duncan, sitting on the ground. From her right arm extended over her bent right knee, a rainbow of embroidery floss shoots from her palm.
“Isadora Funcan” by Jackie Mantey // Original image info: Arnold Genthe, 1869-1942, “Isadora Duncan: studies.”

Duncan was a dancer, remarkable for her ability to use the body’s natural movements and desires as guides for her improvisational choreography. She is remembered for her movement-based rebuke of classical dance and its wealthy connotations at the time. Her dance was independent. Emotional. Beloved by sad corseted ladies and boho-minded men yearning to be free the world over.

Because of this dance style, scarves were kind of her thing.✌️ She usually danced barefoot, while wrapped in free-flowing gowns. 

I know this sounds kind of “so what?” in the context of today, a time in which Bonnaroo exists and you can’t walk past a modern dance performance without being thrown a curtain from the rafters to climb into and be swaddled like a baby in the cradle of the womb your subconscious still craves.

But!

At Duncan’s time, the drapery was rebellious — shocking even! Her movement style and sartorial choices were a stark contrast to the toe mashing and waist gashing of classical ballet, the bitchy bell of the dance ball for too long.

A white Oldsmobile is parked in front of a Chicago apartment building covered in green ivy.
Neighborhood baddie, summer pre-COVID
A white Oldsmobile with its back driver's side window broken out and covered in plastic and Duct tape is parked in front of a Chicago apartment building covered in green ivy.
Neighborhood bummer, summer 2021

Here’s what was not her thing: Cars. 😠  I’m being glib, but this part is actually super sad. Duncan had three children (“all out of wedlock,” Wikipedia notes… hell yeah, Izzy). We’re already off the rails here, so I’m just going to quote Wikipedia again:

“The first two [children], Deirdre Beatrice (born 1906), whose father was theatre designer Gordon Craig; and the second, Patrick Augustus (born 1910), by Paris Singer, one of the many sons of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer, drowned in the care of their nanny in 1913 when their car went into the River Seine.

Daaaaamn…. 🙁  And then:

“In her autobiography, Duncan relates that [IN HER UNIMAGINABLE GRIEF] she begged a young Italian stranger [HELL YEAH, IZZY], the sculptor Romano Romanelli, to sleep with her because she was desperate for another child. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son on August 13, 1914, but he died shortly after birth. [WTF!]

A beam of rainbow colored embroidery floss shoots out of the palm of a hand on a black and white photograph of Isadora Duncan.
A beam of rainbow colored embroidery floss shoots out of the palm of a hand on a black and white photograph of Isadora Duncan.

One can not blame Dear Isadora, then, for ignoring the warning of her fellow passenger on that fateful joyride in 1927 to watch her damn scarf

Why not live free? Look fabulous? Die at 50 in a tragic and grotesquely bizarre way befitting a tragic and beautifully bizarre life? With a burdenous heart broken such as that… then what, pray tell my young man, is a broken neck?

The scarf caressed her as l’automobile revved faster on whatever rue de la franacaise. It slithered silky and sensual out the window, fluttered with the wind and shivered with thrilling joie de vivre. Then, spotting the car’s open-spoked wheels and, being one to fancy danger, the scarf flirted and tickled and teased and then licked the rear axle. The tire, all business of cut-throat rubber and metal grinding dirt, responded and swallowed the tongue of that scarf and consumed it in one harumphing gulp, pulling the legendary body of Isadora Duncan down with it for dessert.

A snap. A slice. An exit wound.

A goodbye, sweet world. A thanks for the dance. ✌️


Berenice Abbott black and white photo of two men in the distance walking on a bridge. Bright yellow embroidery floss emanates from each of their paths.

Best Berenice Abbott quotes in “A View of the 20th Century”


I recently subscribed to The Met on YouTube and found a trove of treasures from this institutional mainstay. Since 2020, the museum has released three to four films from the moving-image archive to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Called “From The Vaults,” the series continues through March 2022. 

Hey, when you turn 150 years old, it’s your party and you can make everyone celebrate for two years if you want to.

I’m slowly making my way through all the artifacts they’ve posted; most recently, a 1992 film about American painter Ralph Fasanella, who was known for his depictions of working-class city life and born in the Bronx on Labor Day 1914 to newly minted Italian immigrants.

​​Berenice Abbott: “A View of the 20th Century”

One of the most compelling docs I’ve watched in The Met’s series so far was another 1992 piece, this one about the photographer Berenice Abbott. I LOVE Berenice and am often drawn to her Works Progress Administration images when selecting images for my embroidery collection.

As one source in the film so succinctly put it, Berenice took, “Emotionally resonant pictures of ordinary things.” That’s as working class as it comes.

What I didn’t realize was how accomplished Berenice was in other intellectual and theoretical pursuits beyond artmaking. Here are some of my favorite quotes from this legendary artist.

"I'm not a nice girl. I'm a photographer." Berenice Abbott

“This clear-eyed, insightful documentary, directed by Martha Wheelock and Kay Weaver, offers a grand tour of Abbott’s extraordinary life, from her youth in Ohio and apprenticeship in Paris through her later groundbreaking scientific photography at MIT and final years in Maine. 

Using the artist’s memories as a lens for apprehending nearly a century of American and European cultural history, this film pays homage to Abbott’s genius for invention, her free-spirited embrace of uncertainty and experience, and her unshakeable devotion the art of photography.”

Watch Berenice Abbott: A View of the 20th Century

Best Berenice Abbott quotes

in “A View of the 20th Century”

Berenice Abbott photographing on South Street, New York, 1937. Photo by Consuelo Kanaga.

ON BEING AN ARTIST

“The only pleasure you can get from creating something is the pleasure you have in doing it. Not the final product even. The pleasure you have in doing it. And that cannot be taken away from you. And it cannot be crushed. But you had a certain kind of joy creating it. And that’s all you can expect.”

“There are many teachers who could ruin you. Before you know it you could be a pale copy of this teacher or that teacher. You have to evolve on your own.”

“I think you have to be intensely personal and be true to yourself. The subject matter that excites you is something you want to photograph. You have to convey to the person who looks at it what it was that excited you.”

"The only pleasure you can get from creating something is the pleasure you have in doing it." Berenice Abbott
Embroidered ball pit of French knots by Jackie Mantey fill the gap under a highway as cars head toward a smoke stack, photographed by Berenice Abbott.
“To the Pit” by Jackie Mantey. Embroidery floss on photo paper. // Original image info: Berenice Abbott, 1937, “Triborough Bridge, East 125th Street approach, Manhattan.”

ON ART

“If you’re trying to express people, you have to be part of it because it’s an exchange. You’re a part of that time.”

“The art is selecting what is worthwhile to take the trouble about.”

“I think it stands to reason that if you recognize and appreciate your heritage, it helps you with your future.”

Embroidered thread kites by Jackie Mantey peek out of black and white buildings, photographed by Berenice Abbott.
“Social Distancing” by Jackie Mantey. Embroidery floss on photo paper. // Original image info: Berenice Abbott, 1937, “General view from penthouse, 56 Seventh Avenue, Manhattan.”

"Art is selecting what is worthwhile to take the trouble about." Berenice Abbott

ON PHOTOGRAPHY

“Anything you photograph has to be exciting somehow visually. It has to be photographically important, visually important. Otherwise you write about it.”

“Photography is very much a prisoner of its time. You work within the framework of the technique at the time, and that’s the way you have to judge photography.”

“I think all photography is documentary or it isn’t even photography. Most photographs are documents by their very nature of the realistic image. When they try to make it a nonrealistic image, they’re imitating another medium. Selectivity is key.”

“Many interesting things aren’t photogenic at all.”

"Selectivity is key." Berenice Abbott
“It isn’t just that you think the city is beautiful. It’s that the city is very interesting. Everything in it has been built by man. It expresses people more than people themselves.” Berenice Abbott

ON CITY APPEAL

“It isn’t just that you think the city is beautiful. It’s that the city is very interesting. Everything in it has been built by man. It expresses people more than people themselves.”

“The city is full of every period, every epoch. Everything there comes out of the human gut. Everything that’s built. Every sign that’s put up. The new, the old, the beautiful, the ugly. It’s the juxtaposition of all this that is an intensely, immensely human subject. You’re photographing people when you’re photographing a city. You don’t have to have a person in it.”

"I think your work is the most important thing in your life. To spend more time with it." Berenice Abbott
"I believe in nature and truth and common sense, pursuit of knowledge." Berenice Abbott

ON BEING A WOMAN

“He said, ‘Nice girls don’t go down on the Bowery.” And I said, ‘Well, I’m not a nice girl. I’m a photographer.‘”

“My assistant got the job. A young man whom I had trained. I think the last thing the world really wants are independent women. I don’t think they like independent women much. Just why I don’t know. But I don’t care.”

“Yes, I’ve always been a loner. I’m certain that some people marry and it doesn’t spoil their independence, even women in some cases. The vast majority seems to snare the woman and she can lose track of her directions and her desires and her interests. I’ve heard so many women say, ‘Oh I would like to have done this but after all my family came first. I had to look after my sons.’ So apparently that was more important to them. To me it would be like losing yourself. I think your work is the most important thing in your life. To spend more time with it.”

"I always thought that there was nothing smarter than an old woman." Berenice Abbott
"I'm planning to live to be 102." Berenice Abbott

ON BEING

“I believe in nature and truth and common sense, pursuit of knowledge. Nothing is any good unless you sort of live up to it. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. That is very valid and can’t get you into any trouble. But you don’t need religion to have morals.”

“I always thought that there was nothing smarter than an old woman. You’ve lived so much, you’ve seen so much, in some sense you’ve been on the passive end of it, which means that you have observed plenty. But my impression was always that most ordinary women, if they’re old, have some remarkable quality that no other people have.”

Embroidered thread kite by Jackie Mantey peeks out of a black and white building, photographed by Berenice Abbott.

“I had no idea I was getting older. I’ve never worried about getting older. I don’t see why people make so much of a thing about aging. It’s so natural to age. Everything is aging all the time. Everybody’s aging constantly. Why worry? It’s slow. You’re not aware of it.You just take it in your stride. But women are so harassed with the idea because of the social attitude, the unfairness of social attitudes between the aging of men and women is so ridiculous and so dreadful that women’s years seem to be only good as long as she can procreate, but a man can be very attractive at 80.”

“I’m planning to live to be 102.” 🙂


You say credenza, I say credanza


My new graphic design credenzas are hotter than Young Tony Danza. Fight me! 

A baby-faced Tony Danza looks tough by also flirty as he pretends to prepare to throw a punch. Oh, also, he's topless. Yesssss.

Here are a few of my recent favorites. 🙂


These versatile mid-century modern-inspired credenzas are ideal TV stands, cat stands, book shelves, drink carts, office cabinets, toy chests, or the perfect complement to your bedroom set.

  • Perfect size. 35.5 x 17.5 x 30 inches.
  • Customizable. Available in a warm, natural birch or a premium walnut finish, with gold or black steel legs. You know who else had steel legs? Young Tony Danza. 
  • Easy to clean. Got a damp cloth? Of course you do. You’re good to go.

Two dead bees lay together in the center of a yellow flower at Red Rock Canyon.

Why I’ll never doubt the power of a flower again


I haven’t heard my grandma, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, say a coherent word for nearly three years. She said these last words while receiving communion at the assisted living facility. As everyone genuflected to launch into the lord’s prayer, my grandma did too, saying “Father, son…” and then petering out. I figured those were words she could formulate because she had gone to church and said them every weekend of her entire life until the day she moved in here. Those words were seared into the empty rivulets of her brain, so they didn’t seem a miracle to fish out.

I accepted the reality that I’d probably never hear her say another word again.

And then I did.

A lone ant climbs along the silky petals of a bright yellow dandelion.

It happened on my recent visit, a drop-in at the assisted living facility that marked over a year and a half since I’d seen her (pandemic lockdown).

Once my plane landed, I got my rental car and started on the hour-long route north. I called the nursing home to make sure I could walk-in to see her or whether I needed to make an appointment. I didn’t. I asked then, to the surprise of both myself and a Wanda on the other end of the line, if I could bring flowers. Would that be OK? 

I don’t know what came over me to ask such a thing. I don’t usually bring flowers when I visit. I don’t usually bring flowers for anything. Maybe I thought there needed to feel like there was more gravitas to this moment. I hadn’t seen her in so long. We’d survived a pandemic. Her husband died during that time. I knew she wouldn’t remember me, but flowers… well, anyone can remember those, right?

A small side yard in Chicago is full of dead dandelions. Their fluffy white tufts shine in the sunset behind them.

I thought about just hopping off the highway to a Kroger or a Whole Foods. They always have little flowers packaged up at the end of the aisles. Instead, I looked up the local Marion flower shop, saw they were open, and entered the address into my phone. It felt good to buy from a local family business after the pandemic. Plus, I knew they’d probably have roses. My grandma’s name is Rosemary. Even if she didn’t remember me, I wanted to show that I remembered her. I got half a dozen multicolored roses for Grandma in a glass vase and another half-dozen in a mournful maroon to take to my grandpa’s grave. He loved his Rose. 

A poem by Satyendranath Dutta reads, "If you manage to get one paisa, buy food to feed your hunger... But if you manage two, take half and buy a flower."

When I enter the long-term care wing and ask for Rosie, the nurses look at me grimly, wondering whether I’m prepared for just how far gone she is. I am. They wheel her into her room and shut the door. It’s the two of us.

After some fruitless and awkward talking to her while sitting across from her, I spend most of my time squatting next to her wheelchair, rubbing her back and nervously trying to use my other arm to keep her in her seat. The medication they gave her keeps her nodding in and out of sleep. She doesn’t register my presence when she has to look at me, but she seems to lean into my hugs.

So I position her so that when she wakes up from the brief naps, she’ll see only the flowers, now sitting on a table in her room. 

And that’s when it happened. I was squatting by her side, arms around her, when she woke up and, clear as day, said, “Flowers for me.”

Three little words. One moment I’ll remember forever. 🌹


A white and yellow daisy embroidery art on a tractor wheel, part of a black and white historical photo of farming in America.
Found photo collage on a small black notebook. A miniature-sized farmer opens his bag to reveal a giant flower.

She passed away two weekends later. While writing her obituary, I turned to my notebook of stories written by her and my grandpa. There I found another gift. A recollection of her first memory: “I was about 2 ½ years old then. [Brother] Eugene and I were in the barnyard with Dad. We were standing near a wagon watching the men who were taking the horses. Well, about the time one of the horses was being led to the truck to be taken away. Dad put his hands under my arms and swooped me up into the wagon, as he did with Eugene. I remember the horses coming by the wagon bobbling their head like horses do when they walk. I was about eye-to-eye level with the horses. I think this is the earliest memory of my life.”