Saturday 23 February 2019

Waking hours: Glenn Adamson... writer and research fellow at Yale University

Glenn Adamson (46) is a writer and research fellow at Yale University. He used to be the director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Born in Boston, he lives in Highland, New York, with his wife, Nicola

Glenn Adamson
Glenn Adamson

Ciara Dwyer

I live with my wife, Nicola, in the Hudson River Valley. She's an artist. The house was built by two potters, and it's completely shaped in their tile works. It's a riot of colour. It is handcrafted very lovingly by them, so that's why we got the place. It's not convenient at all, because it's a two-hour drive to the city. But we love it. I usually wake at 7am.

I wake up in an environment that is exceptionally beautiful, in the middle of the woods. We take it in turns to walk our dog in the morning, while the other gets breakfast.

Having a dog encourages you to enter into an environment in a more attentive way. There is something about being around an animal. They have this great propensity to focus on one thing, and the rest of the world falls away from them. I aspire to do some human version of that.

I eat my breakfast out of the same bowl every day. It was made by a potter called Warren MacKenzie, and I was given it as a gift by a gallery member. I have porridge in the winter, and cereal in the summer. I love the bowl.

I think it's important to attach yourself to your objects, but when something you love gets broken, you have to let it go. Also, when you don't have your objects with you, there is nothing to be gained from missing them.

I have written a book called Fewer, Better Things. I have this idea that if you care more about each thing in your life, then you are less likely to fill your life with crap. If you have fewer things, it gives you focus.

And when I say better, it's not about luxury or expensive things, but it's about things that mean something to you. It's totally up to you what objects you like. It's not like there are good and bad objects. I'm interested in the human stories in these things.

For example, the reason I care about my ceramic breakfast bowl is because it is beautiful, but, also, I know the potter who made it, and I respect him. He is part of a tradition.

I'm not really interested in materialism - unfulfilled desire or longing for things you can't have; rather, I'm interested in being present in the things that are around you. That's how I try to live my life, and it has become more like that since I wrote the book. It's about connecting to things in life.

Why not live your life and fill your life in the same way that a set designer fills the stage, where everything is chosen for a reason? All of your choices matter, so why not just live like that?

In the mornings, I listen to British radio - BBC Radio 4 or BBC World Service. My wife is British, but also, I like the global point of view that you get with British radio.

Nicola works in her studio - our converted garage - all day. We talk about what she is making, and sometimes I'll go out and see what is happening. The thing about living with an artist is that there is a creative force right there. Her presence is crucial.

When I'm at home, I spend a lot of my time writing. My desk is important to me. It's a 1960s-built thing that I managed to find. I'm not opposed to technology, and I often scour the internet to find things. The desk is 10 feet wide, with a multi-shelf thing, which is not adjustable. It's made out of lots of little blocks of wood, like a collage; it's kind of a cubist structure.

My chair is probably my most important possession, because I sit on it a lot. It was made in 1969 by a guy called Art Carpenter, a very significant West Coast furniture-maker. It is a wishbone chair, and it's beautifully made. It's probably not everyone's idea of a comfortable chair. In the past, I've had office chairs. When you work in a museum, that's what you get, but I think that comfort goes deeper than ergonomics. There's a sense of rightness in this chair that I wouldn't have had in a mass-produced chair.

We spend so much of our life surrounded and supported by things that we know nothing about. I'm trying to encourage a momentary check-in: where you sit down on a chair and think, 'Where did it come from?'

I was raised in the suburbs in Boston, where every house on the street was the same. My mother was a doctor, and she had absolutely no time to cook, but did anyway. There was a lot of instant food. My parents weren't aesthetic, so there were a lot of mainstream cultural objects. Their idea of a good chair was a mass-produced recliner. It was classic American. I rebelled against that.

I was very influenced by my grandfather. It was the classic thing of watching him start with a block of wood and make something. He was a brilliant mathematician, but he also ended up designing aircraft.

I make lunch every day. The chopping board I use was made by my grandfather. In the afternoons, I do some more work. At some point, I go off and play the uilleann pipes. I grew up in Boston, surrounded by Irish music, and I loved it. All uilleann pipes are hand-made, and I know the person who made mine. Nicola likes the sound of them.

In the evenings, I watch movies or listen to vinyl. I also use Spotify. I'm not anti-technology. It's a tool, but you can't let it dictate. You have to use it on your terms.

At night, I read novels - always a book, never a screen. Last year, I read Moby Dick. It was an amazing experience.


'Fewer, Better Things' by Glenn Adamson is published by Bloomsbury) €23

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