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Curious Characters

Curious Character: Jennifer Laursen, Leatherworker

Give her a piece of any old leather and Jennifer Laursen can transform it into a thing of beauty. As the owner of Tilt Adornments, she uses traditional leatherworking techniques to create modern and unique accessories, anything from earrings to purses. Sign up for Jennifer's leatherworking workshop this Thursday to learn the basics of crafting with leather and how to use the tools of the trade. Design and make your very own perfect belt!

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1. Define curiosity. 

Curiosity is the fire in my belly. It keeps me pushing on to the next project, next skill, the next discovery.  

2. How did you get started working with leather?

I got started in leather work when I simply mentioned to my boyfriend I was curious about the craft. My Christmas gift that year was a bag of simple tools and the next thing I knew I had a full-blown addiction.

3. What is your next adventure?

Dream adventure? Spending a week or two on a ranch learning leather techniques from a master saddle maker. Did I mention we ride horses every morning? Yep, thats living!

4. Happiness is….

My studio drenched in sunlight, door open, the smell of new leather, cat on the workbench, and Blood, Sweat and Tears playing in the background.

 

Curious Character: Samantha Joslyn, Facepainter

Samantha is a woman of many talents and passions, but her interest in artful self-transformation through make-up and facepainting goes back to childhood - to around the same time, in 4th grade, when she became fascinated with the Day of the Dead celebrations. Take her Facepainting Workshop to discover her unique take on participating in a bittersweet tradition that celebrates the joy of life while remembering those who have passed on.

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 1. Define curiosity 

Curiosity ... is that sparks that begins the adventure. Like any living thing, it needs to be nourished.

2. How did you get started with facepainting and makeup?

I recall my cousin teasing my hair up hugely and giving me shimmery lipstick and being in heaven. From then on, I was hooked and so very fascinated by the idea that you could play with /alter your image. I have been studying makeup since I was 11 years old!

3. Happiness is...

Many things, but mostly being with loved ones while not able to stop laughing.

Curious Character: Michael Fitzhugh of TOOOL

Michael is the organizer of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers, an international organization dedicated to the advancement of public knowledge about locks. When he's not sport picking locks (yes! it's a sport!) or teaching others to do so, Michael spends his time as a writer and editor. Take his Curiosity Atlas Workshop on Thursday 10/24 and learn to decipher the mysteries of locks!

Photo by Kristin Ray

Photo by Kristin Ray

1. Define curiosity 

Curiosity is an unflappable willingness to listen, learn, and seek lessons in failure.

2. How did you get started picking locks?

I first learned about locksport, the pursuit of competitive lock picking, from an article by Charles Graeber in Wired. I had always wanted to learn how to pick. When I learned that people actually got together to learn about locks and picking to compete and have fun, I reached out to my local chapter of TOOOL. What I found there was a community of people a lot like me: infinitely curious about locks and the world of physical security.

3. What do you fear? 

Great heights, man-made things underwater, and olives.

4. What new skills have you acquired lately? 

I'm teaching myself to program with Python and can now (sometimes) pick American Lock 5200 padlocks. 

5. What is your next adventure?

You tell me. I'm ready for it.

 

Curious Character: Larry Piaskowy of Bar Jars

We're excited to introduce you to Larry Piaskowy, chef and entrepreneur extraordinaire juggling many - uhm - jars. His passion is developing edibles and shrubs for his company, Bar Jars. Shrubs are delicious syrups of fruit infused in vinegar, to be mixed with water or something more serious - and one of America's favorite drinks circa 1665. They're making a come back so be sure to try them at our launch event and make your own at Larry's upcoming Curiosity Atlas Seasonal Shrubs workshop. A man of many talents and lots of energy, his modest mission is "helping people to enjoy drinking a little more." We'll toast to that!

Photo credit: Valter/ Balthazar Digital Media

Photo credit: Valter/Balthazar Digital Media

1. Define Curiosity.
Curiosity is the constant urge to find out more about the world we live in.

2. How did you get started doing what you do?
I fell into being a chef many years ago.  While working at 15 Romolo and learning about what bars can do when they have access to a kitchen, I realized that there was a niche to be filled.  I created Bar Jars to help bring these resources to bars that don't have them.

 3. What's your next adventure?

The new line of shrubs is the beginning of the next adventure. It has prompted me to learn more about cocktails and beverages in general. I talked some friends into training me to be a bartender at the Alembic on Haight Street. Out of the kitchen and behind the bar I go.  

4. Happiness is...
Happiness is being lucky enough to do something I love everyday. It has lead me on a path filled with fun adventures and good friends.

Curious Character: Chiefo Chukwudebe, West African Chef & Kitchen Troublemaker

Photo by   La Cocina 

Photo by La Cocina 

The most trouble Chiefo Chukwudebe, founder of Chiefo’s Kitchen, ever got into during childhood was for baking. Her father traveled for work, leaving her, her sister, and her brother with a nanny in their sleepy Nigerian town. Her trustworthy older sister would convince the nanny to go home (“we’re fine on our own, you must be tired, get some rest, we’ll put ourselves to bed”). As soon as they could, three little pairs of feet, aged 6 through 10, scampered over to the corner market to stock up on sugar, flour, and butter. Lots of butter.

They’d cook into the wee hours of the night—Chiefo made cakes, her sister was in charge of biscuits, her brother was an expert at pies. If they ran out of an ingredient, they’d improvise (salt resembles sugar, right?). The kitchen looked like the Gingerbread Man had thrown a kegger with powder and tins thrown about and steaming cakes piled high. The three bakers would continue their night antics for days until one night they heard their father come home early.

They hid as much evidence as they could—hot-potato-throwing a banana cake into the trash before jumping into bed like sugar-dusted angels. Foot sounds came through the front door, stopped in the kitchen for a gut-dropping moment, then into the hallway to their bedrooms. In the doorway, her father held the banana cake. “Why’d you throw this away, you didn’t want me to have any?” he said.

Chiefo jumped out of bed and exclaimed, “Oh, there’s plenty more!” And she pulled him toward the secret hiding places for cakes, pies and biscuits. The nanny was fired the next day.

 

Photo by Chiefo Chukwudebe's Family Photographer

Photo by Chiefo Chukwudebe's Family Photographer

Chiefo was born in Boston, but after the first bad winter when she was four months, her father declared his distaste for the cold and convinced his wife and four children to move back to Nigeria to start his dream farm. Chiefo was christened in Nigeria with her name meaning “New Beginnings.”  

Chiefo’s eye’s dance when she remembers that time. Her father always imagined owning a big farm, and soon enough they were living in two bungalows on a sloping piece of land with a river and orchards of mangoes and pineapples. “He convinced us to move back to Nigeria by telling us that we could have all the pineapples we could eat. He didn’t tell us that we’d be taking care of all 15 acres of them.” She laughs, “I still love pineapple.”

Her siblings tended the orchards, dug a fish pond and helped care for everything around the farm. Soon there were pigs, chickens, goats, a pond teeming with catfish, five dogs, a cat, hamster, and guppies. “I would boil eggs for the goats and practice my cooking on the pigs,” says Chiefo.

“We could all cook,” she remembers, “but me and my brother would do most of it. It wasn’t ‘till we went on strike that I realized that my older and younger brother could cook.”

Chiefo was always in the kitchen making yam balls and peanut candy. “I liked to make the things that make life more interesting,” she says through a big smile.

In Nigeria, people become lawyers, doctors, and architects, but never cooks. So when Chiefo went to San Francisco for college, she pursued a career in Public Health. “If I was stressed in school, I would bake and share with my friends,” she says, “I loved having people try things they normally wouldn’t.” It wasn’t until she developed an unhealthy obsession with the making of Beesap, a Hibiscus infused drink with hints of pineapple and vanilla, that she decided that she had to start her own life as a cook. “That makes so much more sense,” said her friends and family.

She went back to school in the US and then jetted over to Ludlow, England, home of some of country’s most highly rated restaurants. She spent 18 hours everyday in the kitchen and learned the ins and outs of working a feverish paced restaurant. But England, like Boston, proved too cold and Chiefo returned to the Bay Area.

 

Photo by   Madelene Farin

Photo by Madelene Farin

Chiefo launched her business 3 years ago at La Cocina’s San Francisco Street Food Festival (happening this Friday—get your tix!). Even a broken fryer couldn’t stop Chiefo’s Kitchen from being one of the night’s most top-selling vendors with hits like goat pepper soup and plantains roasted with chocolate rum. She heard everything from “It’s not what I expected” and “the flavors are very bold.” Chiefo has found that a lot of her business is about educating people about what West African cooking actually is. Luckily, with her catering business growing and her Kabocha Squash gracing the hot food bar at the Whole Foods in Noe Valley, love for her cooking is spreading like hot banana cakes.

 - Written by Katie Kelly 

 

Curious Character: Shannon O'Malley, Apocalypse Baker

Photo by Yasmin Golan

Photo by Yasmin Golan

“Make your life into something that makes you want to stay up all night.”

:: How many times have you thought, “wouldn’t it be great if...” Then something bright and shiny catches your eye and POOF!, the idea disappears into that massive dumping ground of un-manifested ideas? If you’ve ever created something on your own, you know you need that special recipe of obsession, drive, and a healthy dash of weird.

Shannon O’Malley is one of those wonderful creative types that snatches unique ideas out of the ether and wrestles them into being. Shannon is an artist, maker and copywriter working on campaigns from Adobe to Michelob. But she moonlights as your friendly neighborhood baker for the end of the world. Shannon is the writer of Apocalypse Cakes, featuring 30 recipes for the end times including BP Oil Black Bottom Cake, Toxic Waste Dump Cake and Global Warming Hot Apple Pie.


“If you care about someone, you don’t buy something, you make something.”

Back in 2009, Shannon wasn’t too keen on her Nine-to-Late gig at a Texas advertising agency and was routinely nodding off at her desk at 3pm. It was a day before her girlfriend’s birthday when the idea for the Apocalypse Cakes first slapped her awake. She grew up with a creative mom that instilled the idea, “If you care about someone, you don’t buy them something at the store, you make them something.” So Shannon got to work on a cookbook based on her girlfriend’s favorite topic at the time: the apocalypse.

“I was up all night writing recipes—I was so excited that I didn’t care if I was tired,” she recalls.  The next day she was exhausted, but it made her realize how much she loved working that hard on something into the middle of the night: “I wanted to make my real life into something that made me want to stay up all night.” She pledged then to turn Apocalypse Cakes into a book.

“In many ways, children live their parent’s unlived life,” says Shannon. Her mom grew up in the 60s and though she was passionate about art and painting, women in those days didn’t go to Art School. So when Shannon was growing up, her mom always made space for creativity. “It wasn’t out of the ordinary to make something,” says Shannon.

Shannon got to work on Apocalypse Cakes—starting a blog, creating book proposals, business deals, and all of the production. “I was obsessed, but everything that’s ever been made comes from that kind of thing. You have to push out internal criticism.” She channelled her unhappiness at her job into a type of anger: “When you’re fed up, it creates space for you to do or make.”

 

  Photo by Keith Wilson

 Photo by Keith Wilson

Apocalypse Cakes made it onto the shelves, spreading its love and cheer through morbid recipes. And Shannon is now in San Francisco at a job she enjoys that gives her enough space to work on her next project, “Gay Men Drawing Vaginas.”


CURIOUS RECOMMENDATIONS
Shannon O'Malley's favorite Bay Area Curiosities:

:: The ABADA SF Capoeira School

:: Downtown Oakland

:: Old Nob Hill Buildings

:: The Empress of China Bar

:: The Super Corporate Offices in the Financial District

:: Bay Craft on Mission

 

 - Written by Katie Kelly

 

Curious Character Brian Gorman: "Don't call Rock Band Land Cute”

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:: Imagine: You’re five-years-old. One hand is testing out your underwear elastic, the other’s tapping your distracted friend. Then...in walks Brian, decked out in a ‘70s suit doused in paint. His hair shoots out in an electric shock and he's wailing on an electric guitar strapped around his neck. You've heard this sound spilling out of your mom's headphones, but you've never been this close to the wild energy spilling out through Brian’s fingers. You realize right then, to the bottom of your Sparkle Time sneaks, that this is the coolest teacher in the universe, times infinity plus one.

Brian Gorman founded Rock Band Land while he was a preschool teacher and a touring musician: “I didn’t like the sugary sweet music we were teaching, and I knew these kids could play rock music.” He joined forces with Marcus Stoesz—musical prodigy and long-time friend—and later Jen Aldrich (“Jemazing”) who helped form the band Rainbow Beast. Over the last seven years, the three of them have churned out long-haired, mind-speaking, creative, world-challenging rockers with size-3 shoes and a whole lot of guts.
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Brian marches to the beat of a different drummer—or rather, he’s taken the sticks and is pied-piping down the street with a drove of pint-sized rockers drumming after him. As he puts it, “Everything I’ve ever done is creative.” Back when Brian had a desk job, he sent comical, eyebrow raising emails to the whole company that he was sure would get him fired. But, as tends to happen with creative expression, people ended up loving the emails. Even when playing the fool, Brian’s focus and dedication to his work is humbling. He’s quick to admit, “I can’t stand having people tell me what to do,” and this statement has woven game-changing creativity and uniqueness into his approach to Rock Band Land and his ball-pit of other projects.


THE 5 GROUND RULES OF ROCK BAND LAND:

 1 /  Be Respectful

2 / Don’t Interrupt

3 /  Don’t Say No

4 /  No Potty Words

5 /  No Parents


Brian is an expert at kid-logic, delivering honest and to-the-point instructions that get the job done. The beginning of class is often spent shouting out every potty word the kids have had a chance to learn from their parents. They laugh, giggle and snort until it all dies down. From there on out, potty words are off limits. Brian explains, “If you use potty words, it’s just too funny. It makes us laugh and we’ll never get any work done.” These kids are professionals, so that’s the end of the potty word business. Throughout the class, Brian talks to his rockers like adults and and lets them rise to the challenge of making adult-worthy rock music.

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Class officially starts with kids brainstorming an epic story that their music will later tell. Rockers shout out ideas—“She shoots Milk Bullets and has a cape with a commercial on it!”—that eventually meld into magic. “Super Cow is Fantastic, Captain Gluten is Atrocious” is the title of the most recent brainchild of Rock Band Land. “If a rocker doesn’t like an idea, they can’t just say no,” says Brian. “If you shoot it down, you kill the momentum of the whole group. Having your opinion is valid, but it’s your responsibility to change it.” And that’s where we come to rule number three: don’t say no. This also means that kids can’t say no to trying something, which gives shy kids a chance to break loose. “I’ve had parents come up to me and ask what I did. Their kid was so quiet before coming to RBL, and now their kid is shouting at the mic and leading the band.”

Brian’s approach shows that, given a platform to express themselves, kids will rise to the occasion and make some really amazing stuff. They also develop non-musical chops along the way. “One of my favorite stories,” recalls Brian, “is one of my rockers used to get teased for having long hair. He’d been at Rock Band Land for the last three years and then one day I’m walking with him on the playground and some kid gives him a hard time. He just looks the kid dead in the eye and says: ‘Look! I like my hair. My parents like my hair. My friends like my hair. He (pointing at me) likes my hair. So...tough!’”

When the kids are actually composing, they strap on heavy-duty ear protectors and go to town on the wealth of instruments Brian and Marcus have collected over the years. With instruction, the kids start making patterns out of the chaos. Marcus catches a couple cords here and there on his recording device. At night, Brian and Marcus pore over the music and piece together a song, using bits from the kids’ composed music. When they present it the next day, complete with voices for all the different characters in the lyrics, the kids all grin proudly.

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On opening night, families and friends line the block outside the Verdi Club. The stakes are high. Brian says, “We try to make the songs as high quality as possible because this is what the parents listen to all the time in their car with their kids. They only listen to Rock Band Land, so we have to make it perfect.” The Verdi Club floor fidgets in unison as kids and adults criss-cross-applesauce and wait for the show to start. When the lights dim and the rockers take their places behind their instruments, it might as well be 1976 at a sold-out gig at the Roxy; the groupies are bigger and the party ends at three in the afternoon, but this is a day made for Rock and Roll.


WHAT DO YOU WANT TO LEARN? 
Here's what the members of Rainbow Beast are curious about:

:: Mask Making
:: Sign Language
:: 
Ukulele
:: Hula Hoop
:: Tending a Garden
:: How We Communicate
:: How to Use a Table Saw


CURIOUS RECOMMENDATIONS 

Rainbow Beast's favorite Bay Area Curiosities:

:: Verdi Club

“I love just about everything that happens at the Verdi Club,” says Marcus, “the shows, the dinners, the storytelling events aggregate into this stellar world-class hole-in-the-wall venue."

:: SCRAP

Jen’s hidden gem is the Scrounger's Center for Reusable Art Parts. “I've found supplies for making backdrops for school plays, Rock Band Land zines, Halloween costumes, dining room curtains, wedding favors, you name it! And you don't have to be crafty to enjoy it here -- the amazing framed posters, vintage encyclopedias, oversized corkboards, and one-of-a-kind finds are treasures unto themselves."

 - Written by Katie Kelly