A Week in Culture: Jonathan Lippincott, Designer, Part 2


The Culture Diaries

This is the second installment of Lippincott’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


11:30 A.M. Start reading the manuscript of Amy Waldman’s The Submission, a novel we are publishing this summer, and get pulled right in. This is still the most exciting part of the job, even after all these years—being one of the first readers of something that is really good. The story takes place a couple of years after the September 11 attacks, and is about a committee chosen to select a memorial for ground zero. In the opening chapter the committee is having its final meeting, there is a lot of arguing back and forth, a decision is finally reached, the anonymous entry opened, and it turns out the artist is Muslim. Chaos ensues. Read through lunch, and then have to get on to other projects.

6:30 P.M. Opening for a show of new work by Sarah Brenneman at the Jeff Bailey Gallery. This is the third show of her paintings that I have seen, and it is interesting to see how an artist’s work evolves over time. The paintings are done in watercolor, sometimes also with pencil and gouache. I was always struck by her beautiful sense of color and pattern, and now elements of the paintings are cut out and collaged elements are added, making an even more animated image. A very strong show. Catch up with a few friends, and then head out to dinner.

7:45 P.M. Dinner with our friend Peter, whom we haven’t seen in quite a while. We have a great time catching up, talking about recent books and less recent movies. Duck Soup, Pennies from Heaven and Bay of Angels need to be added to the Netflix queue.

Today’s photos:


Snow! Today just one photo, a bigger picture of the walk to work. My mother once sent me an early-twentieth-century illustration of Madison Park and the Flatiron, and I was struck by how little the view has changed, except for the height of the sycamores. Another (small, unrealized) photo project was documenting all the ways that sycamores are pruned in the parks in Europe; it seems like each country has a different way of doing this.

9:30 A.M. Morning largely spent reworking a very badly typeset offset, and watching the snow on the water towers outside my office window.

1:30 P.M. Read more of The Submission, a great whirl of characters, everyone trying to get their agenda across, everyone saying, “I’m not a racist [but] … ” Very high emotion, and what people say they are defending is not always what they really want. The story gets at the more subtle complexities of the characters lives and wishes. What do you want from a memorial? What do you want from your life? Why do you create a work of art?

2:30 P.M. Call from my friend Kristy, who is about to take off to a knitting conference in California to sign copies of her gorgeous book Modern Top-Down Knitting. We were writing our books at the same time and had many lunches together at Choshi Sushi to help get through the process. Looking forward to catching up next week and hearing about her trip. Always very inspiring to see what she is working on, and now that I am done with my book I have actually been knitting again, too, so will have something to bring for show-and-tell.

6:30 P.M. On the train upstate, having beer and cheese and crackers and reading As Always, Julia, a Christmas present from my mother. I was a big fan of Julia Child when I was young, loved watching her show on television. She always seemed to be having a terrific time and made cooking look like a lot of fun. I also loved her generous spirit—all this cooking was because you were going to have a bunch of friends over and have a big feast. The book is a collection of her letters with Avis de Voto, who was her great friend and encourager in getting Mastering the Art of French Cooking published. Interesting to read what foods were and weren’t available in the U.S., and more about how Child was trying to translate French recipes for the American kitchen. No shallots? Sweet red onions will probably work.

10:30 P.M. At the house at last, after too many errands. Chris goes right to bed, I sit up and read As Always, Julia for a couple hours. Make toast and a hot drink: a shot each of orange juice and Jack Daniels, pour in a warmed coffee cup; stir in honey and fill with boiling water. Highly recommended for a cold house. My own recipe, but very much inspired by Kingsley Amis’s thoughts on hot drinks, and drinking in general, in On Drink. This was recently reissued in Everyday Drinking. I don’t think the other two books in the volume are as interesting, but On Drink is so great that it is well worth getting just for that. Amis was clearly a dedicated authority on the subject and had a fine time doing his research.

Also make the starter for an olive bread from My Bread by Jim Lahey, of the Sullivan Street Bakery. This is a different technique from the way I made bread with my father and grandfather growing up. Very wet dough, a tiny amount of yeast, and a very long first rise—twelve to eighteen hours. I have been making this for a couple years, and it has been interesting to learn a different way to bake bread.


I get completely carried away and decide to make three kinds of bread. In addition to the olive bread, I make an Irish soda bread, from a recipe I have from a visit to Ireland in the mid-1990s, when my friend Matthew was an editor at Fodor’s. This is from one of Darina Allen’s books, but I am not sure which one, as I only have a Xerox. Also make an Orange Ricotta Bread from what I call the “Hippie Bread Book,” real title The Garden Way Bread Book by Ellen Foscue Johnson, 1979, which belonged to my parents. I love making bread on the weekend because it is such a good background project. You do a bit of work on the bread, then it sits and rises. However, making three at once means that while one bread rests, I am working on another one. Fortunately we have friends coming to visit tonight, and it all freezes well. And nothing is tastier than homemade bread. (Another book I highly recommend and often bake with is Dough, by Richard Bertinet.)

The soda bread is a quick bread, so this is done by late morning, and I juggle the other two throughout the rest of the afternoon. Baking the olive bread is the most dramatic—heat the oven up to 475, with a covered cast-iron pot in it, so the pot is as hot as the oven. After half an hour, you carefully take out the pot, remove the lid, and toss the dough inside. Shake the pot vigorously so the dough doesn’t stick, then cover it and put it back in the oven for half an hour. At that point, you remove the lid and bake it for fifteen to twenty minutes more, until the outside is brown and hard and crusty. The inside is chewy and holey, and it makes amazing sandwiches and toast.

5:30 P.M. Steve and his friend Ken arrive from the city, settle in. Cocktail hour commences.

7:30 P.M. I make an old classic: chicken potpie. Perfect for a dinner party in a snowstorm. Bon appétit!


Sleep very late, linger over coffee and toast, magazines and the paper, and then eat brunch.

1:00 P.M. Out for a hike, bright sun and breeze, we walk up the road to the next lake, and out across on the ice, looking at the views and the houses. Good head-clearing breeze blowing—it’s nice to get out and move around a bit. The trees are covered in very decorative snow, and everything looks quite dazzling.

9:00 P.M. On the train back to the city, Chris and I watch Where Love Has Gone on my laptop, a movie recommended to us by our friend Robert because Susan Hayward plays a sculptor (and Bette Davis is her overbearing society mother). As another friend used to say, no scenery is left unchewed. The scenes of la Hayward at work in her studio are a riot, and she’s working in a different medium every time. She is only shown putting the finishing touches on each work—the last whack with a chisel, the last smear of clay. At one point she’s wearing goggles and wielding a torch, in yet another Edith Head creation. In spite of the over-the-top acting and the melodramatic story line, the costumes and interiors are stunning, and it has the Technicolor gorgeousness of Douglas Sirk’s big movies: very controlled palette of colors for each room, perfect object everywhere. I would love to see the sketches for the sets—they must have been incredible. Two hours flies by, and we are back home in the city again.

Jonathan Lippincott is the design manager at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and the author of Large Scale: Fabricating Sculpture in the 1960s and 1970s.