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Photo: Rachel Rosenkrantz.
Rachel Rosenkrantz, a luthier, uses all-natural materials. For example, to build a bracing structure for the instrument above, she followed a bee blueprint, placed the structure in a hive, and waited for a year.

Now here’s a commitment to using natural materials that I bet you never heard of.

The nonprofit ecoRI News is great at finding stories like this one by Emily Olson on a Rhode Island luthier who makes guitars using mushrooms and honeycomb.

“During the pandemic lockdown,” Olson reports, “local guitar-maker Rachel Rosenkrantz collected shells from her daily two-egg breakfast. They seemed an appropriate — and certainly plentiful — biomaterial to integrate into a USB-chargeable electric guitar she was working on.

“ ‘Calcium is an integral part of violin varnish because it contributes to the sound quality,’ she explains. With this in mind, and inspired by the work of Gaston Suisse, a French art deco artist who worked with eggshell inlay, she used a laser cutter and manicure file to shape her collected shells into tiny triangles. The eggshell guitar was the last in a series of biomaterial-based instruments she completed during the pandemic. …

“Rosenkrantz had a thriving and well-established career as a commercial furniture and lighting designer when, 10 years ago, she had an epiphany.

“ ‘I can always make money,’ she says. ‘But I can’t make time. … I had been daydreaming about being a luthier for too long to not do it.’ …

“Rosenkrantz grew up just outside Paris in Montfermeil, an industrial town she describes as ‘the Fall River of France.’ She is the daughter of a family of tailors; her grandfather lived in an apartment above his small tailoring shop. …

“Rosenkrantz studied at l’ESAG in Paris, and in her college days, crossed the ocean a couple of times, first as an exchange student at the Rhode Island School of Design — ‘I loved the name Providence,’ she recalls. … She now lives just outside Pawtuxet Village in Cranston … above her guitar-making studio, Atelier Rosenkrantz. ‘I guess I’ve come full circle,’ she says, referencing her grandfather’s shop. … ‘This is my happy place.’ …

“Rosenkrantz is well aware of the negative impact guitar-making has on the environment. Though little seems more environmentally conscious than someone sitting outside plucking a guitar, guitars are made from wood. And it isn’t always harvested in a sustainable way. …

“Rosenkrantz relies on timber updates from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a Switzerland-based organization that, through international agreement, offers a framework to ensure that when plants and animals cross borders, a species’ survival isn’t threatened.

“ ‘Brazilian rosewood is a big no-no because their rainforests were depleted,’ she says. But it isn’t just the type of wood used that she considers; she also considers how a country manages its resources. ‘India, for example, manages their rosewood really well,’ she adds. …

“Replenishment also is important. ‘Every guitar-maker, every woodworker — if we consume wood, we should grow wood,’ she says. The alternative, of course, is to not use wood at all. …

“One afternoon Rosenkrantz was at RISD, where she teaches spatial design, and decided to spend some time in the Nature Lab.

“ ‘RISD has a whole library of natural specimens, including biomaterials,’ she says. … ‘I know that Styrofoam conducts sound because it’s full of air, so I tested RISD’s [imitation Styrofoam] mushroom sample with my sound diffuser and realized that I could make a solid body sound like a hollow body.’

“The thing that excites her most about using farm waste inoculated with mushrooms in her craft is that she can grow her own design — a plastic mold is at her feet, leaning against the bench. ‘It takes about a week to grow a guitar body — four days to grow, then four days to let a crust develop,’ she says. …

“She slides a banjo from a shelf behind her and explains the body is made from kombucha leather. Kombucha home brewers are familiar with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), a cellulose mat that forms from the basis of kombucha — sweet tea — and houses the cultures that turn sweet tea into more kombucha. To get a SCOBY large enough make adequate leather for a banjo, Rosenkrantz brewed kombucha in a fish tank. ‘It took 11 tries before I made enough leather for one instrument,’ she says. …

“Rosenkrantz began dabbling in beekeeping, and as she researched hive options, quickly discovered the top bar beehive … a horizontal box with bars on top that support honeycomb, and it allows bees to build the way they would in nature. … ‘The bars in a top bar hive reminded me a lot of the bracing that goes in the front of a guitar that provides rigidity and guides sound,’ she says. … ‘I wondered if I provided the bees with bracing, if I could trick them into building a guitar.’

“But bees are not so easily tricked. ‘Bees have their own egress and architectural code,’ Rosenkrantz says, and she had to learn those codes to encourage the bees to collaborate on a design.

“So, after a great deal of research, she built a bracing structure according to the bees’ blueprint, placed it in a hive, and waited for a year. The result was something she never could have anticipated. The bees not only accepted her design and built their comb along her bracing structure, but they maintained the wood.”

More at ecoRI News, here. Amazing pictures. No firewall.

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072519-love-Central-Park-rock-formations

I can’t stop talking about how much I love New York’s Central Park in the morning, especially as I remember being 14 and told not to walk my aunt’s Corgi anywhere near there in the morning.

In those days, the park had fallen on hard times and wasn’t being loved and protected. Nowadays in the mornings, half the word is there — bikers, walkers, runners, dog exercisers, tennis players, baseball teams, New Yorkers doing tai chi or push-ups or taking a detour to the office surrounded by birdsong and beauty. It’s a welcoming place for people of every background and income, who mingle there unselfconsciously, often with friendly smiles.

The experience is the genius of 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead and the ordinary people who supported his vision. Perhaps you have an Olmstead park near you. You do if you live near Buffalo, Niagara Falls, New York City, or Rochester in New York State, or Boston in Massachusetts, Trenton in New Jersey, Riverside in Illinois, Detroit in Michigan, Louisville in Kentucky, Milwaukee in Wisconsin, Asheville in North Carolina … the list goes on.

I took a few highlights from the Wikipedia entry on Olmstead, here.

“The design of Central Park embodies Olmsted’s social consciousness and commitment to egalitarian ideals. Influenced by [landscape architect Andrew Jackson] Downing and his own observations regarding social class in England, China, and the American South, Olmsted believed that the common green space must always be equally accessible to all citizens, and was to be defended against private encroachment. This principle is now fundamental to the idea of a ‘public park,’ but was not assumed as necessary then. Olmsted’s tenure as park commissioner in New York was a long struggle to preserve that idea. …

“Olmsted’s principles of design, generally speaking, encourage the full utilization of the naturally occurring features of a given space, its ‘genius’; the subordination of individual details to the whole so that decorative elements do not take precedence, but rather the whole space; concealment of design, design that does not call attention to itself; design which works on the unconscious to produce relaxation; and utility or purpose over ornamentation. …

“The pastoral style featured vast expanses of green with small lakes, trees and groves and produced a soothing, restorative effect on the viewer. The picturesque style covered rocky, broken terrain with teeming shrubs and creepers and struck the viewer with a sense of nature’s richness. The picturesque style played with light and shade to lend the landscape a sense of mystery.”

Above you see his characteristic use of the elephantine rocks that jut out of the Manhattan landscape. I can’t tell you how mysteriously happy these sleeping giants make me, having grown up in Rockland County, where rocks are king.

Below are my photos of one of Central Park’s fairylike bridges over a babbling brook, a musical waterfall, and a beckoning path under an arched bridge.

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072619-babbling-brook-Central-Park

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