Artist of the Month: Mary Dauterman!

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March Artist of the Month: Mary Dauterman

Director, multidisciplinary artist, art director, author/illustrator

Our Sparrow House NY March Artist of the Month is Mary Dauterman. A Brooklyn based director and multidisciplinary artist, Mary has worked at Droga5, Wieden+Kennedy, and CP+B , has been recognized as an ADC Young Gun and one of Business Insider’s most creative women in advertising. Mary is the author/illustrator of What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives? (Dey Street, 2017), and Dirty Library (Running Press, 2014). She was also invented in Texas. 

I first became acquainted in with Mary sometime in 2016 through mutual “Texas friends”, and happily discovered she was part of the collective who invented the Tortilla Towel, which, of course, immediately got me excited. Turns out, that was only the tip of the iceberg! Since that time, we screened her short film, OMW, here last summer, and she has used the house to shoot two more.

Mary!  You are the Sparrow House NY Artist of the Month!  Congrats! Since graduating from the University of Texas, you’ve worked as Art Director at a variety of top advertising agencies here in NYC, invented wonderfully strange products and written and illustrated two books.  You are constantly creating!  Since I’ve known you, you recently began directing short films.  When did you first start directing, and what led you to that medium?

I started directing some dumb experiments with my SLR in a makeshift tabletop studio I built with my friend Sarah. We eventually made a real piece when we were trying to sell a product called the Tortilla Towel and we thought a video might help (it did!). The scariest part at the time was taking footage and then turning it into something, but then I realized I had editing software through Adobe Creative Cloud. So it’s been one baby step at a time, learning all the pieces and lots of YouTube tutorials. Now I know my main passion is directing and writing, and I collaborate with DPs and editors who are much better at those parts of the process than I am!

What was the first film or art piece you saw that made you think, "Hey! I want to do this! "

The very very first thing I can remember being obsessed with as a kid was Garfield cartoons. I’d just draw Garfield and Jon over and over. I thought maybe I could be a cartoonist or a painter when I grew up. Garfield...is art.

How does creating fit into your daily life? (Personally and career-wise)

Career wise creating is a part of my job- I work as an art director/commercial director. Working in advertising forces you to have and kill ideas over and over, which has been good training for my personal work. I have a fairly long list of personal projects/half ideas going at all times, and try to stop and figure out the best ones when I have some time or get really excited about one in particular.

What’s your creative process like?  Where does your process begin?  Has it changed over time or from project to project?

Sometimes I give myself an assignment as a challenge (like- I want to shoot something at Sparrow House!). Or there’s certain subject matter I’m kind of obsessed with and want to explore. Most of the time I’m just feeling like I need to start or wish I had already... there’s a lot of stewing involved. Sometimes I carve out dedicated time to work or outline, other times I just wait til I’m in the mood. I’m trying to go easier on myself and practice the latter.

Who or what inspires you and your work these days?

 I guess I’ve been watching lots of austere Swedish stuff. I also love graphic novels (specifically poking around Desert Island), and very good animal videos Kirill sends me. Walking around the worst parts of Manhattan (aka Midtown) is kinda horrible but amazing. So many characters. Every outfit that could exist. I love how elderly Manhattanites dress.

Any influences at the moment?  Any artists or individuals you admire?  Any dream collaborators? 

I’m really into Urich Seidl and Roy Andersson right now, they are freaks. I’ve always really admired Mike Mills & Miranda July. I’d love to collaborate with Parker Posey or Steve Martin.

What’s your “escape to create”?  Do you have a particular coffee shop or spot in your neighborhood or in your apartment?  Do you travel somewhere exotic for inspiration?

My office nook or kitchen table are my #1 spots! Also sometimes after a long plane nap I have good or weird ideas.

Why NYC?  How has the City and the Brooklyn artistic community influenced your work?

NYC has been so important in figuring out what I want to do and finding the right community to create & collaborate with. Also some of the most important people in my life (both creatively and personally) live here/have been living here. It feels so nice to finally be close to them. The comedy and comedy/film scene is very active and inspiring, I’ve met so many people I admire just by living here. It really feels like you are part of something.  

We’re thrilled you’ve spent time at Sparrow House NY!  You even shot a couple shorts there.  What’s your favorite room and why?

Nothing beats snacks and beers around the kitchen table!

Also- the bathroom and claw foot tub are pretty epic. We shot in there for like 4 hours.

What’s next for you?  What can we look forward to in 2019 and beyond?

Hoping to shoot a bunch of stuff this summer! Some in NY, some in Texas. I’ve been kicking around a book idea but haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe 2020.


Demo Days Are Over!

Of all the things on our to-do list, demo seemed like the most fun. You get to smash things? Yes please, let’s do it! I also assumed we could bang it out in a weekend…which was real cute in retrospect. Armed with particle masks, a pry bar, a hammer and a shovel, we got to work in early January. Two months later, we are nearly done.

It didn’t take too long to clear The Back Room, and find some creative storing solutions for the stack of 16’ moulding I need to finish off the Library and 3rd floor. I didn’t want to cut the moulding since the rooms are incredibly long on the 3rd floor, and I don’t have a miter box to get the job done right at the moment. Since not a single room was large enough to store them, we ended up stashing them on top of the brick wall in The Back Room. Done!

A little creative problem solving for ya…

A little creative problem solving for ya…

Finding someone strong enough to move the behemoth of a wood stove, however, was a bigger problem, though many in Cornwall tried and failed. (Side note: If you ever need to get rid of anything in a hurry, listing it as some sort of sword-in-the-stone-type challenge in “free” Craigs List works like a charm. I have NEVER received so many emails from men in all my life.)

Once we’d cleared the room, it was time to pull up the floor. In reality, pulling up all the layers of the kitchen floor took about 4 weekends in total, as we discovered its not so much one floor, but a whole bunch of floors sandwiched one on top of the other:

  • Layer #1: We first pried up a layer of plywood covered with some kind of red linoleum form the 80s.

  • Layer #2: Beneath the plywood was a layer of what looks like printing press plates. Or shingles designed to look like the pages of the book? They’re very curious. Whoever built this floor also used them as siding on the shed out back.

  • Layer #3: Beneath the black printing press shingles was a layer of of pine boards

  • Layer #4: Beneath the boards was a layer of white linoleum.

  • Layer #5. Beneath the white linoleum was a layer of magenta linoleum.

  • Layer #6: Beneath the magenta linoleum was a layer of green, 50s-patterned linoleum.

  • Layer #7: Beneath the green linoleum was another layer of pine boards.

  • Layer #8: Beneath those boards was the original wood floor!!

  • Layer #9: Beneath the floor lay the original joists and beams.

  • Layer #10: And underneath all of that was a whole bunch of dirt.

What remains in that dirt is still a mystery for now (more on that later…) In an effort to keep The Back Room warm, we left the original floor down until we got closer to actually pouring the concrete. The hot water heating pipes going up the bathroom have frozen in the past, so its been important to keep that back room above freezing. We bagged up all of the rubble and I started googling how to get rid of all this stuff. Apparently, there’s a dump along the highway somewhere in Newburgh, but Bagster will also pick up your construction waste in one fell swoop which seems a lot easier. Plus driving the ol’ Chevy into a construction dump is just begging for another flat, so I’ll opt for the easy way out this time.

For the final step, we swung by United Rentals to pick up a jack hammer to break up the concrete section on the southern side of the room. As you can imagine, it felt all kinds of cathartic and crazy which is what I was really hoping for all along. Probably the quickest part of the demo too; I think we banged it out in less than an hour!

Salvaging the original floor will likely be the most laborious step of all, so I’m giving us a long weekend to pry them up, board by board, and then we’ll have to pull out the nails individually. Annoying, painstaking work but completely worth it if we can actually re-use the flooring.

At any rate, I’m super happy we opted to do the demo ourselves on this project. Most of this seems daunting only because I’ve never don’t it before, but once you get going, you’d be surprised what you can accomplish!

More renovation updates to come!

RENOVATION 2019: THE GAMEPLAN

An early doodle of The Back Room renovation plan…Plan template courtesy of Brian Yudin.

An early doodle of The Back Room renovation plan…Plan template courtesy of Brian Yudin.

For many, the first month of the New Year is both a time of reflection and renewed intention for the year ahead.

Here’s a reflection for you:

Renovating a 160-year-old house is hard.

Even for an unflinchingly optimistic, glass half-full, everything is possible!!!! kinda gal. Progress is always slower than you imagined, things rarely go to plan, and for every problem you solve, four more pop up.

Renovations may be a forever wack-a-mole here at the Sparrow House compound, but we FIRST need to acknowledge just how far we’ve come in 9 short months! Nevermind that we painted, cleaned, decorated and furnished a 2300 square foot, 8-bedroom house. We also updated the electrical on all three floors, fixed the staircase & 1st floor, removed a couple of wood stoves the weight of two dying suns, built a new fire pit, replaced the washer and dryer, updated the heating system for the 21st century, added a security system and wifi activated locks, transformed a scary-looking room into a gorgeous library, completed steps 1 and 2 in solving the dreaded “basement problem”, PLUS, I even replaced that kitchen faucet that one time. We accomplished a lot and, more importantly, we did it together.

But the time has come now, boys and girls! The Renovation of The Back Room must commence! Our most audacious and challenging project to date, I’ve been fantasizing about this project since Day 1. It has always been my goal to complete The Back Room renovation by May 1st of this year, and I am tackling the project the only way I know how: take the leap and figure it out as we go.

What we at Sparrow House have always called “The Back Room” was actually the original, 1850s kitchen. Back then, kitchens were designed as an indoor/outdoor space separated from the house by a firewall and connected to a coal or wood shed for the stove. According to the previous owners, the room continued to serve as the kitchen for over 120 years, well in the 1970s and 80s. To this day, you can see remnants of the kitchen’s history here and there with quirky lil updates from just about every decade.

Originally, this room was the workspace for the Irish family who cooked and kept the home running for the Clark family at the turn of the century. (According to census records, they lived in the home with the Clarks and their children.) In the 1920s, the Clark Family added electricity to their home (they published an ad about it in the local paper to prove it!) and subsequent owners later added pipes for a gas stove, a kitchen sink and a bathroom above on the 2nd floor. Later on, someone else added pipes for a washer/dryer and electrical wires for some rudimentary lighting back there. Best of all, you can still see where the kitchen phone once hung on the wall; all the local, 7-digit phone numbers scrawled in multi-colored ink across the shiplap walls.

I’ve investigated every nook and cranny of this room, and here is what I know for sure:

  • The east and west walls are both made out of brick; probably to act as a firewall.

  • While the house has a small, stone basement beneath the living room, both The Back Room and present-day kitchen were built over separate crawl spaces.

  • The crawl space beneath The Back Room floor is shallow, probably 6” or so. It seems that the original raised floor has been undisturbed over the years which is pretty miraculous. Above the original floor joists and beams, is a decoupage sandwich from the past 150 years-worth of materials including a small section of poorly poured concrete at one end. All of this definitely has to go.

  • The East, North and South walls all still have the original, 1850s shiplap of varying widths which I want to preserve at all costs.

  • The exposed joist and beam ceiling has electrical wires threaded through them which is unfortunate. Even worse, there is only a single layer of sub-floor separating The Back Room ceiling from the 2nd floor so sound carries like crazy.

As you can probably tell, I am head over heels in love with this space, and it’s important to me that we preserve as much of the room’s history as possible. Adding a second bathroom is pretty much a no-brainer- it’s incredible that this 8-bedroom house has existed with a single bathroom for this long. I’ve also decided to convert the rest of The Back Room into a studio space for future artists-in-residence.

Of course, any renovation is a ton of work, but Sparrow House’s curious 1850s construction and subsequent updates have presented a number of challenges, further complicated by the fact that winter has been our busiest season yet! (Who knew?)  So I’ve broken the project down three phases to complete between all our wonderful guests check in and out.

PHASE ONE (January-February): DEMO - PLUMBING - FLOOR

  • Pull permits & clear room

  • Demo the existing floor & concrete steps

  • Preserve original wood floor if still good

  • Re-route wonky water and gas pipes

  • Rough in the bathroom and kitchenette plumbing

  • Bring in the gravel & pour the concrete slab

  • Source (2) antique, tombstone door & other fun materials

PHASE TWO (March): DOORS - WALLS - INSTALLATION

  • Move the exterior door on the south-facing wall

  • Re-frame north-facing wall and replace exterior door & frame

  • Insulate south, north and western walls

  • Frame bathroom and studio walls

PHASE THREE: (APRIL): COMPLETE BATHROOM

  • Sheetrock walls & ceiling

  • Add shower plate, toilet, sink

  • Tile bathroom & mudroom/hall

  • Reuse the original wood floor for studio

  • Add shiplap in the mudroom/hall

That’s all folks! Tune in the next three months to hear all about our misadventures, discoveries & see how this project shapes up!

Five Scriptwriting Prompts from the Captain's Table

This December we hosted a scriptwriting retreat at Sparrow House. This was the first of what we envision will be a series of artists' getaways at the house, and the goal of this retreat was for playwrights and screenwriters to get together and share work as well as bash out some scenes.

And bash we did, writing from prompts in short bursts.

I'm sure some variation of these prompts I've poached from mentors over the years, to whom I'm of course indebted. These prompts are original in the sense I constructed them specifically for this workshop. They're design for scriptwriting, but you could apply them to anything that involves characters and a scene.

I hope you find them useful. The response from the workshop participants suggests they are. In any case, the group we gathered wrote quite a few scenes and pages in a short span of time.

Personally every time I write from a prompt I wonder why I don't do it daily. There's no end to options for new prompts, for example: http://writingexercises.co.uk/subjectgenerator.php. And there's always the classic Oblique Strategies: https://obliquestrategies.website.

As writers we can do a lot worse than force ourselves into a set of rules or guidelines for a given scene, and even if a given scene doesn't make the final cut, this can be a great way to learn about, and develop, character through action. 

If you've never done this before, it's quite simple: queue up a prompt, start a timer, and write until you run out of ideas or time.

- Kevin Kautzman

Prompt 1a. Your Protagonist’s Dream (45 minutes)

  • Define your hero’s super-objective. What is it they are seeking, and how do they intend to get it?

  • We are going to write a dream reflection of this super-objective.

  • Anchor the dream in one of your protagonist’s most urgent desires, abstracted into something concrete. Your character may desire to reconnect with an ex, for example - this can be signified by an orange, a table, something.

  • The dream must feature an effect of weather.

  • In the course of the dream, the protagonist interrupts the dream with the awareness they are dreaming, and yet continues to dream.

  • The dreams concludes when the character takes an action related to the symbolic object.


Prompt 1b: A “Real” Scene Follows a Dream (45 minutes)

  • Write a scene that mirrors the dream scene, in which the character is in conflict with another character in the real world. Ensure this conflict remains unresolved. The dream object should reappear in this scene, in an active way ideally.

  • At the culmination of the scene, something dreamlike or unusual should occur. Does the character mishear something someone else says? Is the dream life creeping into the “real”?

Prompt 2: The Hot Bottle (45 Minutes)

  • In this scene, your protagonist is unable to leave a place for some reason. They are waiting for something. There is torrential rain and they don’t have an umbrella. Someone is sick and they’re at their bedside. But for whatever reason, the character cannot leave, and another character must be present.

  • Midway through the scene, a third character enters the scene, which totally changes the dynamic. They must be physically in the space.

  • The scene concludes when the hero manages to leave by doing something drastic.


Prompt 3: Isn't It Ironic (45 Minutes)

  • Your character does something they should not do, in pursuit of their superobjective, and is seen in the act of so doing. The audience is aware the character is being watched, the character is not.

  • What the character does is morally dubious.

  • It is later revealed to the character that they have been seen taking this action. How does this play out?


Prompt 4: The Big Picture (No Rush)

For your project, rewrite or write the following if you have not:

  1. Your project's theme briefly stated.

  2. A logline.

  3. A prose synopsis.

  4. A core visual metaphor.

  5. The answer to the “passover” question. Why this story now, in terms of a real world audience. Who is this for and why is it necessary?

  6. A clear “save the cat” heroic/kind protagonist moment in the first 15-20 pages of your script. What is it? If you don't have one, why not?

  7. As much of a prose treatment as you can accomplish in the time given.


Prompt 5: No Small Roles (45 Minutes)

  • Center a scene on a secondary character.

  • This should be surprising - your secondary character has as full of a life as your protagonist. Give them the same soulfulness as your protagonist.

  • Midway through the scene, your protagonist enters and wants something from the secondary character.

Happy writing.

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GIRLS FIXING THINGS!

RIP poorly-installed old faucet.

RIP poorly-installed old faucet.

On our last trip up to Sparrow House to winterize the place, I noticed the kitchen faucet had finally given up on life. Sad, but not totally unexpected as things tend to go in this house about once a month. After a quick YouTube search, replacing a kitchen faucet seemed like a fairly straight-forward thing to do, so I decided I’d save the money and replace it myself. 

For a moment, I had visions of actually buying my dream faucet…this stunning brass, gooseneck-bridge-beauty with cross handles I’ve been eyeing for years. But alas, it’s not time for such frivolities. A $1500 faucet does not mesh well with IKEA. The kitchen renovation will happen someday, but for now, your standard, stainless steel faucet with the pull-down nozzle will do just fine.

The Dream Faucet lives on in my mind…

The Dream Faucet lives on in my mind…

I’d like to add that spending $80-$100 on a kitchen faucet you do not like is not particularly fun. And picking out the least offensive one in a sea of boring stainless steel isn’t either. But I settled on the Glacier Bay Market Pull-down and called it a day.

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When I got home, I pulled everything out from under the sink and took a look at what I was dealing with. Unfortunately, it was this:

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Which didn’t look like any of the You Tube video tutorials or instruction manuals at all. I turned off the water and gas and unscrewed the two screws in that weird, green, metal collar around the faucet hoses. (I’d like to mention here that I have no idea how large plumber men get anything done. Wedging myself under this IKEA sink unit involved some serious contortion.) The metal ring wouldn’t budge. I tried everything, screw drivers, wrenches, WD-40 all to no avail. In the end, after tearing up both of my hands real good, I brought out the hacksaw. It cut through the copper pipes in the water hoses in no time, which let the whole thing fall through the sink hole. Not pretty, but it did the trick.

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The installation of the new faucet was much simpler. I simply slid the faucet through the center hole and screwed the plastic cap over the pipe underneath to hold it in place. Next, I added the weight to the pull-down faucet hose and after some fumbling with a wrench, I managed to get the old water hoses disconnected and the new ones on. Turned the water and gas back on, checked for leaks and voila. It’s done!

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RENOVATIONS BEGIN

“have i gone mad? "I'm afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usualy are.” - Lewis Carroll

“have i gone mad?
"I'm afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usualy are.” - Lewis Carroll

When I first laid eyes on Sparrow House, I had no idea what kind of house it was, I just knew it was exactly what I’d been looking for.  It was Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and after losing yet another beautiful Victorian to another buyer, I was beginning to think this whole house thing wasn’t going to work out. But all of a sudden, there it was. Michael walked into the kitchen in our little one bedroom and said: “I found your house.” And he was right. It was a fairy-tale cottage straight out of a storybook with some serious Gothic, Beetlejuice vibes. It was the haunted dollhouse of my dreams. A place teeming with stories. A beautiful mystery.  Peering through each dusty window left me with a deeply uncanny feeling which is my most favorite feeling of all.  Maybe it was growing up in Maine, with its ghost stories and Stephen King folklore, but its the feeling I'm most at home with.  The house held decades upon decades of secrets, and I wanted to unravel them all one by one.

In retrospect, that uncanny feeling is really probably due to its construction - the funny thing about Sparrow House is it may look symmetrical, but if you're really looking at it, it isn't at all.  The left side is longer than the right, the windows are all askew, the trim mismatched, the siding all wonky. The floorplan looks like a perfect square, and yet its not.  Not quite.  There’s something folksy and charming and altogether haunted about the place and I couldn't get it out of my mind.  The whole thing felt very Alice in Wonderland, my decision to buy it most of all. 

What I don't know about architecture, I make up for in scrappy curiosity and practical do-it-yer-selfing.  My father built most of our house growing up, and because I was the oldest of 5 kids, I was the one large enough to help.  So I have a general understanding of how things should be put together. I know enough to see when things are done badly or if I’m being taken for a ride.  There is also that thing called Youtube which makes it possible to learn how to do anything through trial and error.  My favorite thing!  So I decided to go on this house adventure doing as much of it myself with the help of my family, my friends and the community.  And the stuff we don’t have the expertise or the time for, I'll find someone with the skills to do it right.   

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”

So let’s get down to basics:   I already had my offer accepted and a contract signed when I realized I knew zilch about the house’s history.  I had no idea what kind of Victorian it was; I hadn't even taken a drive through the town.  I'd seen it listed somewhere as a “Gingerbread Victorian” which didn’t sound quite right, and the place didn't look like your standard Queen Anne so I decided to do some Googling.   Very quickly, I learned Sparrow House is what you call a Carpenter Gothic Victorian. In the 1840s and 50s, when the skill saw became a thing, people started adding elaborate, wooden trim and steep, peaked gables to basic farmhouses and cottages.  It was a way to get the Gothic Revival look on a budget, so really, the whole style was born out of your everyday carpenter finding a way to make some quick money.  Which sounds just about my speed.  The guy who pioneered the concept in the Hudson River Valley was an architect named Andrew Jackson Downing, and lo and behold, both his books on the subject are still for sale today!  I Amazon-ed Victorian Cottage Residences and The Architecture of Country Houses immediately since they each contained about 30 floorplans which had to be good for something.

According to Downing, 5 things characterize Carpenter Gothics:

#1.  Steep, Gothic Peaks.  Check.

#2. Bargeboard.  (This is the wooden edging on the eaves that protects the steep gables and also covers up the edge of the roof.)  Check. 

#3.  Gingerbread trim.  Check.

#4.  Board and Batten siding.  Hmm...not so much.

#5.  Elaborate front porches.  Also mysteriously absent.

Other than that, these homes are just your run-of-the-mill farmhouses. But after poring through each and every floorplan in these books, Sparrow House only became stranger and stranger.

First, it has three stories plus an attic instead of two which doesn't appear to be common at all.  Second, as previously noted, its asymmetrical.  (Also not common). Third, its missing a front porch which seems odd. I am also curious to know more about the brick back wall of the house with the second fireplace.  The brick wall extends past the house where a garage or barn once stood.  Why only one exposed brick wall?  What was this house's function? Who had it built?  Who owned it?  Who lived there?

After speaking with the sellers, I learned the house actually did have a porch originally, but it was torn down when they bought it in the 70s.  I also learned that the back room was the original kitchen where the family’s hired help prepared meals over a coal or woodstove.  

So this is what we know about Sparrow House now. But I’ve only just fallen down the rabbit hole.