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SHORT STORIES

April 27, 1986|PATT MORRISON

The Weariness o' the Green Fed up with Hibernian hangover cartoons, annoyed with bar-rail Irishmen bellowing "Danny Boy," the James Joyce Society is staging a treasure hunt to remind us of the other Ireland, the one where the boyos and colleens can actually read, and write. Somewhere in Washington, D.C., on Joyce's 100th birthday in 1982, the Washington branch of the group secreted a case of aging Jameson Irish whiskey--Joyce's quaff of choice--and already, hundreds of Southern Californians whose surnames do not necessarily begin with O' are trying to lay hands on the spirits by guessing its whereabouts. It's not for the peat-bog flavor alone. It's the free trip to Ireland that goes with it. But for four years, all of the several thousand entrants have been stymied by the literary treasure hunt, as arcane as Joyce's books, besprinkled with Joycean clues like "A Royal one 1907?" and "H. C. Earwicker does." Taken aback at the excessive success of something begun as a lark--"you don't think of a literary society as having a vastly popular following"--the reticent members have decided to quit themselves of the endless calls and pleading letters from as far away as Saudi Arabia, where one is not supposed to drink alcohol anyway. If the case goes unfound, they will hold a drawing on Bloomsday, June 16, to give it away. Please enter, they ask Southern Californians: "The odds are much better than the Reader's Digest sweepstakes." Reading the Fine Print A book in the hand is worth--just about anything in the world, to those of more tactile tastes. In an age in which solid state has brought us to a sad aesthetic condition, graphic designer Claudia Laub is giving us back the wonder of finely wrought print on paper. In her studio on Melrose Avenue and the print shop off her garage, Laub turns our throwaway courtesies--books, menus, invitations--into crafted heirlooms: The fading of letterpress work has turned it from a trade into an art, and Laub's studio is one of a vanishing few--like Ampersand Workshop in Orange County--to print "ephemera" that are as memorable, as elegant, as what they commemorate. With 500 drawers of typefaces to choose from--some of it more than a century old, some of it spared from meltdown by computer-convert printers--she creates the works using French-made paper so beautifully textured that it becomes fabric. Laub delights in "that finer feeling of the type actually biting into the paper" in "this day when people are into the slick thing"--like this magazine page. Whenever she begins to brood about "the trash-can art that I do--the things people normally throw away," someone stops by with an invitation he has cherished for years. "Once they have it, they appreciate it." Hemstitch for Liberty It is Nedalee Thomas' very first quilt. But then again, it is the Statue of Liberty's first centennial party. The 23-year-old Monrovia homemaker, encumbered by arthritis since she was 8 years old, has fashioned a quilt of the signatures of "Great Women of America" to mark Miss Liberty's three-figure birthday this summer. "I wanted to honor the Statue of Liberty, but I wanted it to be subtle." Taking a drawing of pioneer women from her children's coloring book as a quilt centerpiece, Thomas wrote letters to such women as Sally Ride, Lillian Gish, Nancy Reagan and Abigail Van Buren, sending each a quilt square and a waterproof pen. "I was hoping for 14 autographs." What she got were dozens--only Jackie Onassis never answered--and 33 of them have been stitched into the widely exhibited quilt, alongside embroidered images of American heroines such as Amelia Earhart, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman and Betsy Ross. The five months of work began as a contest entry but ended up with a higher goal: to be sold so Thomas and her husband can give a home to the handicapped older children they've applied to adopt. "I'd intended to keep that quilt, but God showed it was the means to my goal." Thomas is planning a similar "Men of Our Times" quilt; Gerald Ford sent his autograph back in two months. Betty took seven.

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