After moving to Atlanta almost two months ago, I've been taking time to enjoy life, regroup my thoughts, and search for humor in our everyday. Here's a few of my random musings in cartoon form, because the New Yorker captions just aren't enough... I like things, like I like my pizza: EXTRA CHEESY!
I never really knew you until I came to the College of Charleston in 2004, from my private Christian boarding school in Columbia. I was a day student there, a scholarship kid who lived in the Bible College trailer park just down the road with her missionary-bound-turned-tragically-divorced-parents.
Once they split, my mother said college was “all on me,” and my father, incarcerated for stalking my mother, left an earlier night. When I rescued my brother’s throat from his hands, locked us kids in my room, my mother calling the police, who arrived only to let my father leave sans cuffs, stay at Hampton Inn. I would never see him again after my high school graduation. Even then, it was from the stage, in a crowd, and too close.
You caught me after all this, a firefighter’s life net. The Honors College gifting me a full ride, opening the damp doors to Berry Dorm, welcoming me to neon painted walls, and hospital-like floors. I slept, safely. Your sidewalks were more uneven back then, or perhaps I was drunker on them, but the gas lights at the Cistern flickered happily on walks home from Bull Street Gourmet, where they sold 2 for $10 wine specials and hardly checked ID’s. You were lush with flora I’d never seen, gingko trees, magnolias abound, the air, wet with fruit. I imagined you as a land where dinosaurs once slid into the sea, tropical and Triassic.
You gave me places to hide in public, watch how people lived outside of my church-centric childhood fishbowl. How Ron and Nancy bickered at the counter of their coffee shop, Clara’s, while serving me the best tuna sandwich with dill havarti and a perfectly gooey snickerdoodle. And it was okay, funny even. You gave me a family at the Jewish Studies Center, where they didn’t care that I wasn’t Jewish, well-dressed, or straight, introduced me to the idea of no afterlife or heaven besides golden crispy latkes with a dash of applesauce and sour cream.
Nights at Banana Joe’s, 40-something year old men danced up on college girls without introduction, tired of talking, prowling on their scent like an animal, our primal instincts. You were not holy, Charleston, despite your nickname. Yet it was more pure than anything else, those days. You were dirtier, smaller, with the rotten buildings above Calhoun overshadowing the new ones in the most beautiful, haunted way. And I fell for you. Fell from a 3rd story roof on Reid Street, to the second story. Fell out of touch with my homophobic family, fell into friendships, fell hard for lovers, fell short of expectations. Fell out of the cracks.
Much later, I felt darker sides of you. Like Mother Emanuel, a church I passed on my night bike rides home from the frame shop where I work part-time. The glow of its street level basement, doors open, always thinking to myself, “I bet that church is nothing like what I’ve known.” And it wasn’t. It was forgiveness, it was love, and we both felt it pour over our heads. We’ve mourned strangers together, and mentors, struck manatees, the fallen live oaks, our freedoms.
I used to believe that when I grew up I’d be “comfortable”with a stable career, and my morals in order. But here I am, 31 and a part-time artist, part-time everything else, with doubt like marbles crammed in my mouth. What is my purpose? I’m older, but not better. Have we both become more twisted with age? Like my pigeon-toes, just turning in worse. A dozen years with you, and now I feel less safe. As an woman, as an artist, as a married lesbian holding hands with my wife, while men yell in our faces “Faggots!” in front of Basil, and police laugh along. Walking in front of Post & Courier getting cat calls from a suburban of shaved heads, remaining silent only to have cigarette cartons and beer cans thrown at us.
It’s true, I haven’t always been kind to you, Charleston. That night after Call-A-Cabs at Wet Willy’s, when I overturned all the trash cans on upper Market Street, clawing up light poles, angry. I curse you every time it floods, when there’s no parking on my Westside street where I’ve lived for 9 years because of Wednesday night service at Salem Baptist across the street. My father, his mother, and even me from ages 7-12 attended Salem Congregational in Connecticut, his hometown. What coincidence? Or synchronicity? I haven’t decided. But I know we were meant to be, Charleston.
And now, we’re ending. You nurtured me, caught me a cradle that the rest of the world wants at any price. Who am I to tug at the past? Keep bringing up how it used to be, back when Upper Deck was open, when we played midnight capture-the-flag at White Point Gardens, lay in the middle of Radcliffe Street playing mandolin till sunrise. For these bursts of memory, electric life, I will always love you. You are the mother to my art, my writing, my life after.
The older I get, the less room in my mind, no space for grimy, heavy files. Only the ones that radiate, absorbing sun like my black hair, pluff mud wafting in each nostril, the sound of wind rushing through the marsh grass. This will be yours.
As far back as I can remember, I considered the ultimate style compliment to be "looking sharp," as my dapper great-grandfather, Franklyn Sydney Maher (pictured above) called it. Growing up, our family befriended the Campbells from Ireland, who split their time between the Connecticut River Valley and the Green Isle, and passed down their son's hand-me-downs to my little brother.
The clothes that were too large for my brother, I would often snag for myself, scoring rugby shirts, hand-knit wool sweats, penny loafers, and sheepskin jackets to add to my already tomboyish wardrobe of bomber jackets, bolo ties, and corduroys. Even then, I mixed the feminine with the masculine, rocking a preppy, bookish style that I continue to embrace today... (along with still being a total Anglophile). Now, I wear my squares on the reg, and feel "finished" once I add one to any empty pocket like the combos seen below!
1. Theory Blazer, Vintage Sweater, Langston Pocket Square
2. Express Marque Deposeé Internationale Wool Blazer, Cooperative Silk Shirt, Frank Pocket Square
3. Actif Vintage Jacket, Vintage Betty Boop Tee, Johan Pocket Square
4. BDG Wool Peacoat, Rag & Bone Shirt, Leon Pocket Square
HOLIDAY CHEER & COMIC RELIEF
From the Holey City, Charleston, South Carolina, 2017
THE TRUMAN POCKET SQUARE is inspired by American writer Truman Capote. His novella "A Christmas Memory," tells the story of a young boy and his elderly cousin spending the holidays together. Too poor to afford gifts, they make kites for each other and fly them in the meadows, believing it to be what heaven must be like. I included two kites mid-flight on the pocket square, referencing my favorite holiday story. And also decided to write one of my own...
ANOTHER CHRISTMAS MEMORY
When the warm sun slipped into the gray spiderweb of winter, our church presented a live nativity starring children in the congregation. Every year, I was an angel in the chorus, standing with a gold garland halo and muslin robe atop a metal folding chair behind the shepherds. Mary, mother of Christ, was reserved for pretty girls, who wore a sky blue robe complete with a sash, veil, and a rubber baby Jesus wrapped swaddled in a burlap sack.
I was shy, disliked bright stage lights making me sweaty. In the 2nd grade school play, I was cast as, the lead “Catie the Caterpillar." My teacher told my mother, “Beth’s so sensitive, she’s made for the dramatic!” When I turned down the roll, I was recast as an extra. Showtime, I hid behind the curtain in a red ant costume with pipe cleaner antennae, instead of in Catie’s magical garbage bag cocoon, transforming with a pair of brilliant Eric-Carlesque butterfly wings.
At ten years old, my luck ran out and there was no escaping the lead role of Mother of Christ. Esther with a lisp, our Mary veteran, came down with a flu, as well as David McKay, our Joseph that year. In a rural Connecticut cinderblock church with less than 100 people, there weren’t any replacements.
“We have enough angels, so we need you to be our Mary” said Mrs. Melissa, my Sunday school teacher, who would sometimes let us make our own butter by shaking a jar of cream together until each kid’s arms were spaghetti, and we’d spread it on saltines as a snack.
“Do I have to?” I asked in vain.
“At least you get to be Mary. Pam is going to have to be Joseph,” she said as my stomach tumbled down an imaginary alpine slide of Noooooooooo!
“We’re having a girl Joseph?” Pam was a year older, and I resented her for being better at soccer than me, for living in a yellow Victorian house downtown that was straight out of "Pollyanna,"which I was sure she didn’t appreciate nor read. She had a blonde bowl cut, came to church with a chocolate milk mustache leftover from breakfast, wore past little league t-shirts and JNCO jeans, and skateboarded everywhere. Hidden in the pit of my jealousy, pushed down deep, was growing girl crush on her.
What if I refused to be in the play? What if I hid in the storage closet past the bathroom where they kept the volleyball nets and Easter crosses? Or maybe, like in "Little Rascals," a couple kids could stand on top shoulders and pass as adult Mary and Joseph?
Already I was noticing a pattern in my life for the awkward to spiral into mortifying. Like months earlier, when I shouted “Holy crap!” after catfish barbs shocked me through my net at Lake Hayward while fishing with other church kids. My mother yelled across the beach, “Language Elizabeth!” and put me on time out on our picnic blanket in the middle of the crowded beach. Then and now, no escape.
From across the room, Mrs. Melissa gave me angry eyebrows that said, “Find your costume, swaddle that rubber baby doll, and get your singing voice ready.” Dread built as we donned our decades-old costumes wafting basement smells. The shepherds lined up with staffs from the churchyard maples, Wise Men stood with bedazzled dollar store paste gem boxes filled with imaginary frankincense and myrrh. I envied the angels' gold heads and yards of white as they led us to the sanctuary. I carried rubber baby Jesus as Pam walked beside me down the center aisle, past our parents, to the small stage set, layered with fresh straw from a horse stall.
Through the classics, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” my face felt red. I looked down at doll in the trough manger and was almost certain there were former marker scribbles scrubbed from the hard neck. The donated doll’s eyes, the kind that were supposed to open and close, were stuck permanently open, bright and sparkling blue, vacant and unaware of the play. I wanted to switch places. I felt sorry for Mary, having to sleep in the itchy hay, no extra robes to change into, stuck with a baby.
As we droned to the final song, Pam pretend-sang, as she had the whole time, mouthing words with no sound. The congregation joined in to bolster us forward into a thunderous applause. As we began to exit the stage, Pam came up beside me and offered her arm at the center aisle. I wanted to refuse, but instead looped my arm through hers, with Baby Jesus in the crook of the other, and walked as fast as possible to the end of the aisle, where I freed myself.
Back in our Sunday school classroom, I put Jesus on the table, and pulled off the robe and veil, a parachute of hot air beneath. I felt a sense of womanhood: birth, sweat, child, and I didn’t like it. Worse still, walking with Pam, a girl Joseph, the center aisle where people could see through me, like a quartz crystal. See that I never wanted to be Mary. And maybe Mary never wanted to be Mary, but she didn’t have a choice. Neither did I.
“Great job!” My mother congratulated me afterward.
“I hated it,” I mumbled. My mother growled back quietly,
“Drop the attitude. You won’t have do it again.” I hoped it was true. Maybe the next year I’d come down with the flu or go back to being in the sexless angel choir. Become the omniscient narrator: a voice heard, not seen. Or maybe we’d be snowed-in by a blizzard so bad everyone would forget the year two girls played Mary and Joseph. White out how we linked arms, and my face, hot with shame. Bury us deep in the snow until we melted into tulips, blooming soft and pink, whatever we were told to be.
And fresh out of the dye bath, I'm proud to introduce my newest pocket square line, THE WRITERLY COLLECTION. Block-printed twice using hand-carved stamps and then hand-dyed in my home studio in Charleston, South Carolina, the squares are inspired by American poets, playwrights, and novelists. Designs pay homage to Frank O'Hara, Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Langston Hughes, Truman Capote, and Isaac Asimov.
Each square is 11" x 11" 100% silk, and comes in a handprinted envelope, ready to gift, mail, or wear! Available at the COTE SQUARES online shop for $48.00 + shipping BUY NOW
Past Textiles on silk and cotton- 2013-2016
Select Prints on Paper 2011-2014
Back in '96, I was ten years old, and had finally convinced my parents to let me take a couple woodcarving classes with a Connecticut artist who made shuttle replicas for NASA, and her daughter was in my violin ensemble. Fatefully, as I cut my thumb shaving the bark legs of my wooden rooster, I fell in love with carving. From then on, I carried a small Swiss Army knife, gifted by my grandmother with her mail-away Marlboro points, and thus bore the enameled cigarette logo, front-and-center-- much to my mother's horror. And over the years, it carved birch marshmellow sticks, bows and arrows, the good ol' New England classic: a whale.
It seemed wonderfully familiar when I began carving linocut blocks while taking printmaking at the College of Charleston during undergrad. Eventually, I became a Printmaking Instructor at my alma mater, and began creating printed objet d'arts like playing cards and hand fans in the studio. I liked the idea of printing something usable, the added element of functional design.
One afternoon, I stumbled upon a Youtube documentary (as one does) on the "The Last of the London Fabric Printers," David Evans & Co. Much to my surprise, the textile house, which sadly printed its last silk square in 2001, used carved blocks to relief print on silk fabrics. Their fabric was beautiful, almost other-worldly, and I became inspired to use my acquired skills to transition from printing on paper with presses in a public studio, to block-printing on silk with nothing but elbow grease in my home studio.
The first textiles I printed were scarves inspired by female rulers like Cleopatra, Athena, Theodora, and more. They are listed chronologically below, with the oldest first, to the most recent, last. For now, I have decided to focus on pocket squares, but it all started with a scarf. Or maybe with a Marlboro-branded Swiss Army Knife...
The pocket squares I make are inspired by historical figures, and creating the designs is a process that begins with research. By looking at artifacts, literature, architecture, portraits, fashion history, and artwork from the figures' lives and times (thanks, internet), the designs come together through small notes, ideas, and drawings.
The Frank Pocket Square is inspired by the American poet Frank O'Hara, known for his influence on The New York School and Jazz Poetry. The first poem I read of his, and one of the most lovely things I have ever read,"The Day Lady Died," is an elegy to the late Billie Holiday, which inspired the gardenia motif for the design.
After consolidating the research ideas into maquette, or scale drawing using freehand and drafting techniques, the design is transferred onto golden-cut linoleum blocks mounted to birch. I carve the stamps by hand using gouges and knives, carving away the blank or negative space, so that the positive raised surface remains, like a three-dimensional drawing.
Once the carving is finished, the blocks are rolled with ink and then registered using a jig onto natural silk squares. I use my body weight, kneeling on the block to press the ink through the fabric, much like the traditional Indian method of printing used for thousands of years. Except I have the addition of volleyball kneepads which helps with long printing runs immensely and adds a certain element of... Sporty-Spice-style.
After the inks have cured, or dried, for at least a week, they are dyed using Jacquard and natural pigments, leaving the printed parts slightly embossed and opaque on the colorful silk. This is perhaps my favorite part of the process, not because it's the end, but because it is the birth of an idea coming to fruition. Sometimes the design organically changes, takes on a life of its own, turns out a surprise, and sometimes it's exactly as I had imagined it. I never know, and maybe that's what keeps me coming back....
My name is Elizabeth Calcote and I'm a designer based out of Charleston, South Carolina. For the past four years I've been carving blocks to print textiles ranging from silk scarves to cotton tea towels to cloth napkins under the name Sistersgrimm Design.
Now I am creating a line of block-printed hand-dyed pocket squares and bandanas called Cote Squares, which are inspired by historical figures. What I love most about what I create is wearing them, folding them, and styling them to add a touch of vibrant color to my otherwise simple, menswear-inspired taste. Coco Chanel said, "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off." My advice: maybe just add a Cote Square!