While travelling through Santa Barbara in June, I was lucky enough to stop into the most charming carriage house that is home to the brilliant Hannah Vainstein, her fiance Nathan and their deliciously creative way of life. Hannah is a visual artist, dancer, and curator of an all round virtual salon/studio/boutique/blog - The Lower Lodge.In the autumn and winter Hannah makes beeswax candles and holds workshops. In the spring, she focuses on textiles, sewing, and fiber arts such as carting wool, spinning, felting and weaving. In the summer, it's all about ceramics and painting. Hannah also has a carefully selected and beautifully presented vintage and hand crafted boutique, selling men's and women's apparel, select home wares and locally made health and beauty products. I think this is what I found so alluring and natural about Hannah. She is so attuned to her surroundings, gravitates towards the motion of seasons, shows versatility as she dabbles simultaneously in many a talent and the best bit, she loves tea. As soon as I stepped into her beautiful, warm, welcoming home, Hannah offered me tea. English breakfast with milk and honey. I adored her. Instantly. She introduced me to her cats, showed me around her and Nathan's studio/salon/botique (I wanted everything, but with restraint only managed to go home with some of Hannah's hand made bees wax candles and some natural deodorant), spoke fondly about her new found love for bromeliad's and swiftly selected an old record to play which then prompted a mini dance party in her living room. I left floating. I wanted her life. Some people are just a joy to meet. Hannah's talent, beauty, kindness and lifestyle stayed in my mind long after I left her home. She has inspired me. Read on, you'll understand why.
What projects are you currently working on?
I have several projects that I’m working on at the moment!
One of my biggest projects is The Lower Lodge: Artist Salon, Studio, and Boutique which I have been running since 2010. The Lower Lodge has several components to it. First, it’s mine and my partner, Nathan’s studio. Second, it’s an artist Salon. I host a variety of different classes at The LL, medicine making from local plants, to gemstone essences, pickling, natural plant dyes and watercolor paint making. I also have film nights and musical events. Emphasizing an integrated sustainable lifestyle, The Lower Lodge has a seasonal making component. In the autumn and winter I make beeswax candles, knit, and weave. In the spring I sew and work on textile printing. Then, in the summer I do ceramics and paint. In the boutique we sell these atelier items as well as specialty art and craft supplies for people to make their own goods. The boutique includes a carefully curated selection of vintage clothes and home wares and in addition to that, I sell hand crafted natural health care and beauty products.
Nathan and I are also a dance duo called Crumblebaby and the Mistress of Cosmic Crisp and we throw a dance party called Happy Club. People ask us what kind of dancing we do and Nathan always says “The kind of dancing that makes shit happen.” In addition to that I have another project called Squeeze Magazine which I hope to be launching this year, it’s a body centered health and sex magazine.
All of these outlets are part of my art practice, but I have more traditional components as well. At the moment I am working on a series of paintings called Metamorphosis: Down in the Dance Hole. It’s a series of watercolor paintings informed by idea of Eden, sacred sites, Arabic geometry used in the Persian “paradise” gardens, botanical cultivation, natural landscapes, humans intervention and vernacular Moorish architecture. Metamorphosis is a reference to Ovid’s narrative poem which includes the myth of Diana and her Nymphs who are spied on while bathing in the woods. There is a famous Rembrandt painting which depicts the scene.
Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?
A lot of my inspiration comes from walking either in the neighborhoods I live in or in the mountains or at the beach. We are lucky in Santa Barbara because we are nestled in such a magnificent natural settings. I also read a lot. There are two books that are really informative to me right now. One is an art theoretical/ historical book called Overlay by Lucy Lippard. Published in 1983 his book looks at land art made in the ’60’s, ’70’s, 80‘s and discusses its relevance to prehistoric sites and symbols. The other book is called Landscape Design: A cultural and Architectural history by Elizabeth Barlow Rodgers. This book explores different cultural thoughts that dictates how different civilizations viewed their place in the landscape. Santa Barbara has a Mediterranean climate and many of our building are influenced by Spanish architecture which are in turn influenced through Moorish architecture. So I am very interested in how desert peoples cultivated plants and developed infrastructures for their societies, such as gathering water in cisterns and looking to these technologies for our own development.
Why a visual artist?
I’m a very visual person, shapes and colors are very important to me but I don’t consider myself purely a visual artist by any means. My works take many forms. There are a broad spectrum of material or mediums that I feel comfortable working in but there are some mediums, music for example, that I am at a complete loss as to how to approach. My sister can sing and write her own songs, I wouldn't even know where to begin!
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, would you be so kind to share some of your favorite artists?
I love listening to music while I work! But to be honest sometimes I just zone out and I can have the same song on repeat and not even notice it. Some of my go to musicians are Future Islands, Fleetwood Mac, and Devendre Banhart. I also love big band music.
Do you have a morning ritual?
Rituals are an important part of my day and my art practice. My morning ritual kind of switches around as I find the perfect routine. But, if I were to get up really early to fit it all in, I would wake up and water the garden while oil pulling. Then I would have my apple cider vinegar drink with honey and a tall glass of Kiefer. Then I would go to my exercise, come home, and have a lovely breakfast with Nathan. If I did that, I would be pretty damn proud of myself.
What's your idea of a perfect Friday night?
I hate to go out on Friday night, I usually like to go out on Monday for some reason, but anyways, my ideal Friday night is to have friends come over and we all prepare a simple meal together. I’m usually tired at the end of the week and don’t feel like cooking but I like to have friends over to eat, drink and relax. I like to put on records, and sit on the porch, a time to unplug, and unwind. It’s kind of become Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. In Judaism, Shabbat starts on Friday night when there are three stars in the sky, I try to remember to look for the three stars.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Japan, Rio, Berlin, ah, so many places!
Best piece of advice you've ever given or been given?
I have two things I keep in mind. One, FAIL HARDER. This means don’t just go with the status quo of what’s good enough. The other is have perseverance. This is the ultimate creativity perhaps. If something isn’t working, how can you do it differently?
What's for dinner?
The best part about being a creative?
I can’t think of any other way of living.
The worst part?
There is never really any stability or time off. One can always do more and there are usually so many things that need doing that I rarely have free time. Sometimes I really need a vacation but that is almost more of a mental space than anything else.
Day or night? Day during the summer, night during the winter.
Old or new? Old
City or Country? Country
Coffee or Tea? Tea
What do you enjoy most about living in Santa Barbara?
Psychedelic sunsets on the beach.
Thoughts for the future:
One day I would like to build my own home out of waddle and daub that has a sustainable infrastructure of cisterns, reed beds, and turbine stoves. Nathan will paint on our walls and we will make all the furnishings. One day...