Magazine article Artforum International

Cinnamon Womyn

Magazine article Artforum International

Cinnamon Womyn

Article excerpt

Busy rhapsodizing over Ralph Lauren's tartan highboy and penning essays about his influence on American life-style, pop-cultural critics have been too caught up in their insular urban worlds to recognize the true genius in our midst. The person who has had the biggest impact on the quotidian esthetics of the average suburban American household is the one and only Martha Stewart.

Barnard graduate turned stockbroker turned House Beautiful editor turned caterer turned life-style empress: Martha Stewart manages an empire that includes books, videos, her own magazine (Martha Stewart Living), and a highly lucrative contract with K-Mart to put her personal stamp on mass-produced housewares and linens. She's cook, gardener, hostess, interior decorator, hack social anthropologist ("recipes are like folktales"), businesswoman, and visionary. Marabel Morgan without the negligees, without the sex, without the husband, Martha is the Total Woman for today, presenting her vision of a more esthetically pleasing life as a matter of self-empowerment for married and unmarried women alike. "It's about the American Dream and the reality that's in our hands." In short, "It's about living."

Having acquired her perfect WASP name and credentials by marriage, Stewart was originally just a Polish-Catholic girl from Nutley, New Jersey. And while her affected Locust Valley lockjaw probably doesn't endear her to the middle-class women she's targeting, she does marshal her middle-class ethnic background to good purpose in her books and magazine. Reminiscing about her unsophisticated baby-boomer childhood--"I was brought up in the aftermath of World War II, amid victory gardens and a 'save for the morrow' mentality. . . . On summer visits to my grandmother Ruszkowski I picked |fruit~ and learned about preserving"--does a lot to warm up the public image of the omnicompetent homemaker The New York Times called "the over-achiever's Vita Sackville-West."

Martha is the Madonna of life-style, and in the last ten years she has reclaimed the image of the homemaker in much the same way Madonna has subverted the role of the sex object. Martha takes out her entrepreneurial aggressions (and has made her considerable fame and fortune) on the lowly, traditionally feminine domestic arts. In the process, she's spawned thousands of cottage industries: inspired by Martha, women all over this country, who have chosen to stay home with the kids, are making money stencilling lampshades while the baby naps. …

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