Monday, May 11, 2009

Interview: Marty Does Tulsa

Lunch is such a weird time for school kids. When else is someone judged by whether they got brand-name bread or grape jelly on his sandwich, or what kind of chips or juice box his parents buy? There's no more helpless feeling than to be doomed as a nerd because you're the only kid at the lunch table who's never brought the cadillac of school lunches, a Lunchable in a QuikTrip sack, to school. 

When I was in school, my dad was the only dad I knew who packed lunches. He packed pretty much every lunch my sister and I took to our little country school in west Tulsa from our elementary school days until we graduated from junior high. He liked to slip little notes to us in our plastic lunch pails and brown paper sacks, embellished with smiley faces and little drawings of funny things. 

Some days, I ate lunch all alone - the kiss of death to the social life of any seventh-grade girl. Even if my dad packed tortilla chips and a mayonnaise-and-Kraft-Singles sandwich made on this giant, homemade bread he'd pull every morning from the machine on our kitchen counter, those little scribblings he took the time to nestle between my thermos and my Little Debbie brownie were the only things that got me through those lonely lunches without boo-hoo-ing into my Juicy Juice.

I know of at least three other girls who had the same pleasure of notes from Dad packed in their lunches. The Coleman sisters had their lunch buddies tuning in every day for the napkin drawings by their father, Marty Coleman. On the napkins were line-drawn images that brought a quote, sometimes of a famous person, sometimes of Marty's own imagination, to life. 

Marty recently got a note from a woman who'd shared a lunch table with one of his daughters, thanking him for packing for her those drawings on napkins all those years. She still remembered them, and even though she hadn't seen one in years, they still brightened her days. 

Thankfully, the Coleman sisters are no longer the only ones who can collect Marty's napkin art. Tulsans can head to DoubleShot Coffee Company, 18th and Boston, to gander at the dozen or so pieces hanging there. Works are about $70 per, a bargain for a one-of-a-kind piece by a local artist, someone you're just as likely to bump into and have a chat with at one of the local farmers markets as meet at an swanky art opening. 

If you like swanky art openings (as I do), stop by DoubleShot between 6 and 8 p.m. Thursday (5/14) evening. I'd venture to say Coleman's opening would be just as good a way to kick off the weekend of art happening in downtown Tulsa as a funnel cake and a cheese on a stick from one of the vendors at Mayfest. Coming from me, that's saying a lot. Funnel cake and cheese on a stick are sacred in my world. 

For more about Marty's napkin art, keep your eye on the column by arts writer Holly Wall in Urban Tulsa Weekly. While you're waiting, check out the archives of Marty's work at his blog, The Napkin Dad Daily

For our purposes, I prodded Marty, a Californian by birth, for his thoughts on Tulsa - his first impressions, what he would improve, what about this city excites him most. Also, of course, about who grills up the best local burger. 

What was your first impression of Tulsa? What are some ways it's different from other places you've lived?

We were church goers when we made to move from San Jose, Calif. to Tulsa, so going from the churches we went to there to the churches we went to here wasn't that big of a change. What was weird was that we had lived in downtown San Jose in a 90-year-old rental house that cost us $700 per month. We moved here and got a four-bedroom house with a bonus room for $650, and that was buying it. 

We went from being downtown people who lived in this ethnically diverse neighborhood - there was always a lot of action; not always the action you wanted, but there was really cool action at the same time, like all of our backyard gardens and the former nun and former priest who lived next door and had married; all sorts of cool stuff like that - to suburbia here. That was a bigger change than anything else. 

It was the first time I'd lived in suburbia since I was a kid, and even then it wasn't tract housing suburbia. As a kid I lived in Connecticut, and it was more like, meandering lanes with bigger houses and lots of trees and not so many fences. It still kind of bugs me. I'd much rather be a townie than a suburbanite. 

If you could, what would you change about Tulsa? 

I would definitely broaden the art scene. If I could have a magic wand, I would create a larger population that understood the value of art and design, enough so that the artist could be an on-going, career artist in Oklahoma. Not everyone would succeed, but the ones who were good, the ones who put out the work and made the effort would be rewarded with exhibitions and publicity and sales. And, with collectors. 

I love architecture, and I love design. I'm always thinking about it. I think to a lot of people, especially in the farming areas of the Midwest, buildings were built to have a function. It wasn't until the art deco movement came into Tulsa that, all of a sudden, boom, people said, 'We can love walking around the city because it's a beautiful place to look at as we go about our business.' We have that heritage. I wish that would continue with individuals who would look for unique art and design from Tulsa, Oklahoma, from the Midwest, and see the possibilities instead of going to Garden Ridge and getting a picture for their bathroom that is 10 X 10 inches by someone in China or Malaysia. They can come here and get something for half the cost, and it's by someone who lives in their hometown - someone they can get to know. They have the opportunity, as a result, feel more like a part of their community. 

You kind of have to blame the interior decorator. The people who have money have the money to hire an interior decorator. The interior decorator has certain catalogues he looks through, certain styles he uses, certain suppliers. They aren't really thinking of looking at the local art and saying, 'You should buy this guy. He would be perfect in your bedroom, or this woman's artwork would look great in your sunroom.' They're looking at the lowest common denominator in most cases.

Everybody has to step up a bit and decide this is worth doing. I'd want to infuse them with the same excitement that's going on in the local food movement that my daughter Chelsea is so much a part of. I'd love to see a local art movement like that.

What would you like to see come to Tulsa? 

There's river development, which I think should happen as naturally as possible. You can groom the trails and you can make something accessible to people without over-asphalting it. The commercial development has to be there so people can go get a bite to eat, but it doesn't have to be all that's there. You want this nice mix. That's why I didn't like The Channels plan - sorry, but I couldn't see it. 

What are your favorite things to do in Tulsa? 

My favorite place in all of Tulsa - at least, until it closed down - was River's Edge Bistro on Riverside Drive on a warm, summer night. Those were some of those perfectly blissful, peaceful moments when everything was right with the world. You're listening to some person playing guitar, and you're watching someone with the dog, and someone rollerskates by. Even the bums seem really nice. Maybe it's not true, but that's how it felt there at those times. [Note: Keep your eyes on the old River's Edge Bistro, folks. The Blue Rose Cafe is slated to return, bigger and better than ever in the old Bistro space.]

My wife and I love to go out to eat. We go out to restaurants every week. We love The Local Table on Brookside, and we love Biga. Also, Ale House at Riverwalk Crossing is really good. There are a lot of really nice restaurants in town, and we like to support those. Elote downtown is cool, too. I really like to support the ones that buy my daughter's spinach. Ha! 

I love the architecture of Tulsa. I think it's something we have going for us, and I think it's something that could be better exploited. A town's identity is so connected to its architecture. You look at something like our BOK Center, which I think is great compared to how bad it could have been. It's a pretty cool building, and it could have been just a lump. I don't necessarily think it's the iconic building that's recognized around the world that a town needs. It's not a Sydney Opera House or a Bilbao Museum. It's not the Space Needle in Seattle. But, it's a good start. 

I would love the city to be part of that magic wand I was talking about. The counselors and the mayor and the various boards would have the mindset of, 'We're going to build great buildings. They may be small, and they may be modest, but they're not going to be lumps. They're not going to be boxes.' People should be proud of them and smile when they walk by - or, maybe they'll stick out their tongue at it. At least they'll get some response.

I love how Brookside works. Build a building at the street and have the parking at the back. It helps people feel like this is their street. It identifies you as being part of a community. That doesn't happen when all you're looking at is a parking lot.

One of the things I love about the old neighborhoods here is first, they've been around anywhere from 30-100 years, and they've been individualized. There's some weird carport in one, there's an overgrown plant here, and then one down the street has all these cutesy figurines in the yard, and yet another has these strange awnings. It all starts to reflect the personality of this series of owners. It's very rich. It may be kind of funky, and that's okay. Funky is good.


Amanda said...

Marty! I met you at Tulsa Digital Photography club, 'member? You're great and it was cool reading up on your interests.

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