How to Be a Stage Mother (No, Not That Kind)

RUEHL There’s probably no more creative activity than being a mother. I mean, to create a human being out of your own body, right? And then to raise that human being? Creativity has an obsessive component to it. And when I work, I get a little bit obsessed with the work that I’m doing, with the character. There’s conflict there, especially when your children are young.

CLOSE When Annie was 3, she came up to me and she said: “I want you. I want all of you.” And I knew exactly what she meant. If anybody would approach me in an airport, Annie would get a little look on her face like, “I’m going to kill you if you come anywhere near my mother.” I think it’s difficult for them to want to do the same thing. It’s very brave. She came up to me the year after she graduated from college, and said, “I’ve been avoiding it for all the obvious reasons, but I’ve only ever wanted to be an actress.’

HARRIS Jennifer, when she was 15, she came into the room and said, “Mum, I want to be an actress.” I said, “Why?” And she said: “Why wouldn’t I? You have so much fun.” I couldn’t deny that. So I said, “Well, go for it.” And she has had a lot of fun, but she’s torn. She had to go to England for three weeks. She’s going to miss Thanksgiving, her husband’s birthday.

CLOSE There are always sacrifices.

HARRIS But I don’t think anybody else has more fun than we do.

RUEHL Yeah, it’s fun.

CHANNING It’s fascinating.

CLOSE Surrounded by amazing people. Talented, tolerant. I’ve always felt so incredibly blessed to do what we do.

RUEHL You become a small and loving collective. There are times, especially as you get a little older, you can walk in so tired, and then after the show, you’re ready to dance.

CHANNING A friend of mine calls it Doctor Theater.

RUEHL Doctor Theater? Yes, yes.

When you were younger, did you think you’d still be working in your 70s, in your 90s?


Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis

In the final months of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, Russian agents escalated a yearlong effort to hack and harass his Democratic opponents, culminating in the release of thousands of emails stolen from prominent Democrats and party officials.

Facebook had said nothing publicly about any problems on its own platform. But in the spring of 2016, a company expert on Russian cyberwarfare spotted something worrisome. He reached out to his boss, Mr. Stamos.

Mr. Stamos’s team discovered that Russian hackers appeared to be probing Facebook accounts for people connected to the presidential campaigns, said two employees. Months later, as Mr. Trump battled Hillary Clinton in the general election, the team also found Facebook accounts linked to Russian hackers who were messaging journalists to share information from the stolen emails.

Mr. Stamos, 39, told Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel, about the findings, said two people involved in the conversations. At the time, Facebook had no policy on disinformation or any resources dedicated to searching for it.

Mr. Stamos, acting on his own, then directed a team to scrutinize the extent of Russian activity on Facebook. In December 2016, after Mr. Zuckerberg publicly scoffed at the idea that fake news on Facebook had helped elect Mr. Trump, Mr. Stamos — alarmed that the company’s chief executive seemed unaware of his team’s findings — met with Mr. Zuckerberg, Ms. Sandberg and other top Facebook leaders.

Ms. Sandberg was angry. Looking into the Russian activity without approval, she said, had left the company exposed legally. Other executives asked Mr. Stamos why they had not been told sooner.

Still, Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg decided to expand on Mr. Stamos’s work, creating a group called Project P, for “propaganda,” to study false news on the site, according to people involved in the discussions. By January 2017, the group knew that Mr. Stamos’s original team had only scratched the surface of Russian activity on Facebook, and pressed to issue a public paper about their findings.


As Pastry Chefs Decline in Ranks, a Revolution in Cakes and Pies

PIE, NICOLE RUCKER will tell you, has its own story to tell. On the Los Angeles baker’s Instagram feed, that tale includes golden, all-butter crusts that bubble over with apricots, rhubarb, strawberries and peaches — and one that comes infused with THC. They convey bounty and comfort, as pies do, but also wanton experimentation: The weed one, topped with candied cannabis leaves from Rucker’s own garden and served at a friend’s birthday party, was a marriage between classic key lime and “all of the new products,” the chef says.

Earlier in the month, when Rucker opened her Fairfax-district restaurant Fiona, she joined a community of (mostly female) pastry chefs reimagining old-fashioned, all-American desserts, like pie and layer cake, with alternative grains and sweeteners, imported international herbs or forms that upend our expectation of what these desserts — once the domain of stay-at-home mothers, or at least mom-and-pop bakeries — should look like today. At Theorita, Angela Pinkerton’s new San Francisco dinette, the sweetness of passion fruit meringue is tempered with earthy bay leaf cream; matcha powder colors many of the fruit tarts that Carolyn Nugent created at San Francisco’s Tartine Manufactory, the results both verdant and otherworldly; and sourdough frequently appears in the pastries that Zoe Kanan produces at the Freehand New York hotel, where her colleague Charmaine McFarlane is using heritage grains such as einkorn (a type of nutty wheat) to create “a whole new world of cake,” like a chamomile-buckwheat one that’s paired with beeswax ice cream.

In America, such treats have long referenced the old world as well as the new. Both pie and cake came over with the pilgrims, then were later served in colonial taverns and inns. Pie went domestic in the early 20th century, as cookbook authors and flour companies started marketing their goods to the masses. “Suddenly, it became this iconic thing that your grandmother made,” says Stephen Schmidt, a food historian and the author of “Dessert in America.” Early American cakes were smaller and plainer (think British-style poundcakes), but as U.S. sugar production accelerated in the early 19th century, so too did layer cakes, their heft supported by access to baking powder and cast-iron stoves, both of which became common in homes by the early 1900s.

By the midcentury, such treats found pride of place on the dessert trolleys whizzing around the white tablecloth restaurants that began to proliferate in cities, which necessitated extra cooks to bake such bounties. Originally, this was not a specialized role: “When I started out teaching in the ’70s, there were no pastry chefs in New York restaurants, except for maybe at La Caravelle or the Four Seasons,” says Nick Malgieri, the retired founder of the baking program at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. “But when the American food revolution kicked up in the early ’80s, everyone wanted to have a pastry chef.” They established smaller, delicate portions and a more labor-intensive style of plating. Along with dismembered chunks of dough, elaborate herb garnishes and ice cream quenelles, that decade welcomed the molten chocolate cake, which the French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten debuted in New York in 1987 to rapturous acclaim. It continued to reign into the 21st century, as did artful deconstructions. If you wanted a traditional pie or cake, your best recourse was to find a diner, or just make one yourself.


Opinion | How to Level the College Playing Field

Because my body is failing, I have enlisted the aid of a colleague, the education journalist Peg Tyre, who has long shared my views. Together, we will lay out some fundamental steps that people of good conscience might take to make sure higher education is aligned with the democratic values we share.

Let’s start with alumni. It is common to harbor fond feelings toward your alma mater. But to be a responsible, forward-looking member of your college’s extended community, look a little deeper. Make it your business to figure out exactly whom your college serves. What is the economic breakdown of the current student body? Some colleges trumpet data about underrepresented minorities and first-generation students. But many don’t. And either way, there are follow-up questions to ask. How has that mix changed over the past 10 years? What policies are in place to increase those numbers? You may not get a direct answer. No matter. When they call you as part of the annual fund-raising drive, press the issue.

But you need to go further. Legacy admission must end. By some counts, children of alumni, almost all of them from the top economic quartile, account for 10 percent to 25 percent of the students at the top 100 universities. In 2011, an analysis of 30 elite schools found that legacy candidates saw a 23 percentage point increase in their chances of getting in compared with otherwise similar candidates. Among the Harvard class of 2021, 29 percent had a parent, grandparent or close family relation who attended the school.

Colleges say they need legacy admissions to encourage donations. But a 2010 study by Chad Coffman, Tara O’Neil and Brian Starr looked at alumni donations at the top 100 universities and found no discernible impact of legacy admission on giving. Leading universities, including M.I.T., Caltech and Berkeley, don’t allot extra credit to legacies. We need to press all schools to do the same. Your child is likely to have a great life even if he or she never sleeps in the same freshman dorm you did.

Next, let’s shorten the college tour. College admissions officers, who opted for the Common Application to make multiple applications to college easier, subsequently tried to weed out the not-so-serious applicants by making a pre-application college visit and a tour weigh in favor of an applicant. They call it “demonstrated interest,” but what it mainly signifies is a family’s ability to pay for a trip and not much more. The college tours, which for wealthy families gobble up vacation time for most of their child’s junior year in high school, are another way to signify the means, not the seriousness, of a candidate. Princeton and Emory, to name two, do not factor demonstrated interest into their admissions decisions. The rest should follow.

Broadly speaking, more people are going to college. To help students who come from the middle and working classes, cities and states should adopt models like the City University of New York’s ASAP program, which provides intensive advising, money for textbooks and even MetroCards to smooth a student’s pathway to his or her degree.

More name-brand colleges could do what Bard College has done: Refine the first two years of their four-year liberal arts education into an accredited Bard associate degree. They work with local partners to offer the degree in “microcolleges” within libraries and community centers. Their first four students — all low-income women with children who never considered applying to elite schools — are graduating from the pilot microcollege, in poverty-stricken Holyoke, Mass., this spring. One has been admitted as a transfer student to both Smith and Mount Holyoke, an almost unimaginable leap. The others are waiting to hear whether they will get to transfer to other selective colleges in the region with enough financial aid and child care to make it a reality.


Three Books Trace a History of Race Relations in America, Through Art

The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Momma Was Stolen
By Sarah Lewis, Charles Gaines, Zadie Smith and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah
Illustrated. 320 pp. Rizzoli/Electa and Blum & Poe. $65.

By Roy DeCarava and Langston Hughes
Illustrated. 98 pp. First Print Press. $45.

The Harlem Renaissance at 100
By Wil Haygood
Illustrated. 247 pp. Rizzoli/Electa. $55.

Truth radiates almost triumphantly from the depictions of black life in three new art books, each from a different era. Whether presented with the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s; or the 1950s, when “separate but equal” was deemed unconstitutional; or contemporary America, with its own set of wins and setbacks in the realm of racial justice; we readers are reminded of the myriad ways artists have used their mediums to counter — if not always shake loose — narratives of bias.

“One of the things that got to me was that I felt that black people were not being portrayed in a serious and in an artistic way,” the photographer Roy DeCarava (1919-2009) told The Times in 1982, reflecting on his motivations for producing the 1955 monograph “The Sweet Flypaper of Life,” which is now being reissued on the eve of his centenary. He felt compelled to “show black people in a human way.”

Originally released shortly after the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, the book pairs DeCarava’s visual depictions of black life in Harlem with Langston Hughes’s poetic, fictional account of Sister Mary Bradley and the rich cast of characters in her family and neighborhood. (She’s been ill and the Lord wants her to “come home,” but she isn’t ready to leave Earth. She wants to “see what this integration the Supreme Court has done decreed is going to be like.”)

“The Sweet Flypaper of Life” is an incredible wonder that is so compact you can almost cradle it in your palm. A sense of humanity permeates the black-and-white photographs: young boys and girls at play, being groomed or whispering to a parent; couples in animated conversation or holding each other close at a house party; pedestrians heading to work, to school or to the park. And DeCarava’s narrow range of deep tones breathes beautiful life into the black faces of the young and old.

DeCarava’s desire to show black people as art-worthy subjects isn’t so different from what the painter Henry Taylor is trying to accomplish today, as we see in “Henry Taylor: The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Momma Was Stolen.” In her opening essay for this hulking survey of over 200 of his works, Zadie Smith writes that Taylor shows “black history the way many black people actually experience it: as simultaneously change and stasis, revolution and stagnation, one step forward, two steps back.”

Among his most powerful images here are portraits of individuals from all walks of life: his relatives, random strangers he met near his loft studio in downtown Los Angeles, Olympic athletes, Jay-Z. Over all, Taylor’s subjects “reveal a kind of truth, a story that has to be told,” as the artist Charles Gaines says in an extensive interview with Taylor published in the book. Taylor’s 2017 painting “THE TIMES THAY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH!,” included in last year’s Whitney Biennial, stops you in your tracks. It pulls you into the car where a 32-year-old black man, Philando Castile, is dying after having been fatally shot by a police officer in Minnesota in 2016 — and challenges you, as Smith writes, “to see how it feels to be shot.”

One could draw a line from Taylor to DeCarava and straight back to the Harlem Renaissance, when artists of all disciplines were pushing to evoke the kind of punch-in-the-gut assessment that Hughes so poetically delivers in his 1926 poem “I, Too”: “They’ll see how beautiful I am / And be ashamed — / I, too, am America.”

The biographer Wil Haygood appropriates the poem’s opening line for the title of his new book, “I Too Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100,” which accompanies a current exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio. Among the first works in this comprehensive survey — interweaving art with short biographies and thematic essays — are Malvin Gray Johnson’s portraits of a weary-looking “Negro Soldier” (1934) and “Sailor” (1933). The paintings are accompanied by an essay detailing the history of the Harlem Renaissance. In 1917, when America entered World War I, W. E. B. Du Bois encouraged black men and women to show their patriotism through service, in the hopes that it would gain them, in Du Bois’s words, “the right to vote and the right to work and the right to live without insult.” History knows better, of course: A decade and a half later, Johnson’s dispirited men in uniform seem to be wondering, “What course do you suggest now?”

There are also portraits by Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis (the sumptuous “Girl With Yellow Hat,” from 1936), Loïs Mailou Jones; sculptures by Augusta Savage and Richmond Barthé; and amateur, often anonymous snapshots of families and individuals. (These last echo a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “African American Portraits: Photographs From the 1940s and 1950s.”)

Haygood’s essays detail the emergence of what Alain Locke called “the New Negro,” and the literary scene (with publications like Survey Graphic and Survey Midmonthly, Opportunity, The Crisis) that gave writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen and Hughes a platform. It was the beginning of a movement — that extends to this day — to render black people truly visible.


In Praise of Whimsical English Design

A girl in a yellow dress waves goodbye to her sailor boy with her pink handkerchief. He’s out of sight, but we see the marvels she imagines he’ll encounter on his voyage: a raft with a dog and a flag; a tropical island with a hut and a palm tree; an octopus; a spouting whale; a guy — is it our sailor? — in a vintage deep-sea-diving suit and a funky little submarine. The Sailor’s Farewell, Kit Kemp’s whimsical new pattern is called. Painted on Wedgwood china and hand embroidered on lush linen, it will be released in April, when Kemp’s pop-up shop opens at Bergdorf Goodman. Kemp, who is the designer and co-owner (with her husband) of the Firmdale Hotels in London and New York, seems to live with a fantastical zoo in her head; previous collections for Wedgwood and Chelsea Textiles include Wee Beasties and Mythical Creatures (hairy green bugs, deep purple critters), as well as Moondog, which features a tiny, deliciously whimsical pooch looking through a dog-scale telescope at the night sky.

This is my kind of whimsy: the English kind. Kemp, with her pell-mell charm and seductive scribbles, reminds me most of all of Edward Lear. The 19th-century English artist and writer was a serious painter, but he is most loved for his nonsense verse “The Owl and the Pussycat.” My own favorite of its characters is the “Piggy-wig” with a “ring at the ends of his nose.”

Mercurial, brilliant, witty, Lear was profoundly English, as was his contemporary, Lewis Carroll, who created his own strange and wonderful world and a very whimsical language to go with it. (“Frabjous,” “mimsy,” “galumph” and “chortle” are just a few of his invented words.) But then, whimsy has been baked into the English, like toad in the hole or bubble and squeak, for a long time, perhaps as far back as the 16th century. As the Oxford Dictionary has it: “Whimsey: whimsical device, trifle. 1520s from Scandinavian hvima to let the eye wander.”

The English eye did a lot of wandering — if you lived on a damp little island, you’d be dreaming of distant places — and this penchant has always influenced English taste. The result: wildly assorted visual and poetic permutations, real, imaginary, literary. The Metaphysical poets, who were cracking the mold as far back as the 17th century, were anointed by Samuel Johnson in the 18th when he said, “They used the most heterogeneous ideas yoked by violence together.” Who but John Donne could see a pair of lovers and a whole world through a poem about a bloodsucking flea?

There might have been whimsy in the English blood for a long, long time, but the 19th century, with its imperial ambitions, was ripe for it. Whimsy was, in a sense, a reaction to the brutal times when England bulldozed its way across the world, tossing countries into its empire like butterflies into a net. It was at the beginning of the 19th century that the most whimsical of all buildings, the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, was finished. It was a pleasure palace by the sea, taking from China and India the domes and turrets and cupolas, the rich silks, the chandeliers that resemble upside-down umbrellas. Commissioned by George IV when he was still the extravagant and often drunk Prince Regent (and son of the most whimsical of kings, George III — or “Mad King George”), the Pavilion turned a dull little seaside town into a thrilling, cosmopolitan destination. Only Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square gives it a run for its fantastical aspect.

Kit Kemp’s hotels (two in New York, six in London) all show off her wandering eye and her mercurial taste. And it’s not just the china and the fabrics but also the rooms and bars and lobbies; each is a playful, whimsical riot of patterns and colors, fabrics and pictures and stuff. But behind this whimsy is a singular imagination. Kemp’s designs are not the product of chance but a kind of planned chaos. The drawing room at Ham Yard has a gorgeous French fireplace and a fine period wood secretary; the walls are covered in a seemingly wild assortment of Kemp’s fabrics — orange, green, yellow, turquoise; the walls are lined with bookcases (and books) and hung with old plates and prints. And somehow, when I settle into the carroty (or is it cantaloupe?) Moondog-covered chair, it feels toasty and snug against the English rain battering the window. Nothing here feels cute, quaint or kitsch, though whimsy can fall that way, into a slough of soggy sentimentality sometimes laced with an emetic of twee.

Of course, kitsch depends on the perspective: An English garden gnome taken seriously is depressing; viewed with irony, it’s droll. For some, Winnie-the-Pooh is a delicious reminder of childhood, though I’m with Dorothy Parker who, in reviewing A. A. Milne’s second Pooh book for The New Yorker, famously wrote that the book’s fifth page was “the first place in ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.”

I’ll take my whimsy from Clarice Cliff, the great English potter. Working in the 1920s and ’30s, she made Art Deco plates and pots in angular shapes and bright hot colors. Her teapot in the shape of a Native American tepee shows a love for what she saw as the exotic, the whimsical, the foreign. But the English relationship with whimsy is sometimes naïve, sometimes weird, queer, freakish. Think punk, Vivienne Westwood and Grayson Perry, the cross-dressing sculptor and artist.

But what other country could have produced a detective like Lord Peter Wimsey? Dorothy L. Sayers’s detective is nothing if not mischievous, a witty, waggish, brilliant fellow who plays Bach, excels at cricket and the identification of dead bodies, and whose family (the Dukes of Denver) motto is “As my whimsy takes me.” A cross between Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster, according to Sayers, Lord Peter, is a top-of-the-line dilettante, the exact opposite of the plodding corporate cop.

England, or at least its whimsy, has changed me — or at least my apartment in downtown Manhattan. There was a time when my loft wore only white with bare wood floors and a glass table. (I once told my goddaughter, with a kind of Stalinist certainty, that clothes were black, décor white.) Now, my sofas wear pale green linen, my floor an overdyed hot pink rug. (A designer friend said, “Buy it, it will make you smile every morning,” and it does.) I’m planning to cover a chair in Kit Kemp’s Moondog linen. I’ll sit in that chair, drinking my cup of tea in a blue Sailor’s Farewell mug, reading John Donne or “Jabberwocky” and listening to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”


The Times’s Capsule of History Goes Digital

Times Insider delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how news, features and opinion come together at The New York Times.

In a basement three floors underground, next to The New York Times’s headquarters, steel filing cabinets hold about six million photographs.

These images are part of The Times’s morgue, a 600,000-pound archive of pictures, newspaper clippings, encyclopedias and books — so heavy the collection needs a floor strong enough to handle the weight. Many of the pictures ran in The Times between the late 19th and 20th centuries.

“Our first photo was published in 1896, which means we have a visual record of the entire 20th century of life in this country and beyond it,” said Monica Drake, an assistant managing editor at The Times.

Now, for the first time, as part of a technology and advertising partnership with Google, the photos are being pulled from their drawers, fed through scanners and saved to servers. The project will help photo editors access images more easily. This vast collection will also be the engine driving a new archival storytelling project: Past Tense.

The first chapter of Past Tense appears as a special section in Sunday’s paper and focuses on how The Times covered California in the 20th century. The 48-page tabloid section features dozens of photographs that show how California’s free-spirited culture, prizing recreation and innovation, appeared to Times reporters 3,000 miles away in New York City.

“Looking at the same image 50 years later, you can tell a totally different story than the one we originally ran,” Ms. Drake said.

The Times morgue was the brainchild of Carr V. Van Anda, the managing editor of the newspaper from 1904 to 1932. Long before the days of Google, Mr. Van Anda created the morgue to be a library of newspaper clippings and a research resource for reporters. Historically, dozens of people staffed the morgue, working in three shifts until 3 a.m., clipping news from The Times and other outlets. The photo library, once the province of the art department, later became part of the morgue.

Today, a single researcher, Jeff Roth, oversees the collection. If a photo editor needs an archival image, he or she contacts Mr. Roth. He searches the card catalog and returns with a stack of pictures. Photo editors, who wanted to search the image archive by computer — and take the task off Mr. Roth — helped push the digitization project forward.

“It’s The New York Times’s capsule of history,” said Nakyung Han, a photo editor at The Times.

“Having it digital does kind of open up the possibilities,” Ms. Han said.

Currently, on the second floor of The Times, in a white room, decorated with a single television and a floor lamp, a team of six employees is scanning all six million images individually.

Megan Paetzhold, who works on this team, said she scans about 1,500 images a day. They show a range of subjects: markets in Rio de Janeiro; women exercising at Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1904; Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio hanging out in a dugout. Many of the prints are yellowed, their edges worn. Others are covered with crop marks from photo editors and stamped with publication dates.

Ms. Paetzhold recently found an old illustration of the moon, or what people thought it looked like in the 1930s.

“It brought to mind for me how imaginative humanity is,” Ms. Paetzhold said. “And how we were having that desire to go to the moon and to imagine what it looked like before we had been there.”

These are the sort of ideas and images Veronica Chambers, who is leading the Past Tense team, hopes to explore. She said California was an intriguing subject because in the 20th century, the state was fertile ground for innovation.

“When we looked at the pictures, they represented changes that changed the nation,” Ms. Chambers said. “There just seemed to be no shortage of things that happened there that then affected how the world was.”

Going forward, the Past Tense team plans to run various history-based pieces in different sections of the paper and online. In addition, the team is taking over the @nytarchives Instagram account to share highlights from the morgue.

“We’re really excited about looking at the interplay between history, photography and memory,” Ms. Chambers said. “This is a really great opportunity to use this treasure trove of photographs to tell stories about who we were and who we’ve become.”


‘Bootleg Toys’ Are Their Own Kind of Collectibles

What toys do you wish you had growing up?

That question spurred a creative awakening for Aaron Moreno, when it was posed to him by his 8-year-old son.

It was 2013, and the two were developing a shared language around action figures. Mr. Moreno had collected them as a child, and his son was doing the same. For Mr. Moreno, now 37, it brought back memories of G.I. Joe soldiers, plastic Master of the Universe barbarians and Star Wars figurines.

They were the usual 1980s-baby staples, but, reminiscing with his son, Mr. Moreno thought of all the characters in comic books and horror movies that he was much more drawn to and would have loved to collect as toys, if only they had existed.

For the next three years, Mr. Moreno made dozens of series of resin figures based on the obsessions of his youth, re-envisioning merchandise for cult movies, like “Critters” (1986), which is about volleyball-size aliens with spiky hair and a taste for flesh, and “Creepshow” (1982), a compendium of short horror stories, featuring celluloid nightmares about cockroach infestations and invasive alien vegetation.

Mr. Moreno encased each of his figurines in packaging designed by Gabriel Hernandez, an illustrator friend, and sold them online in runs of up to 50 via his boutique imprint, Retroband. Often, they would be gone in minutes.

Mr. Moreno is one of several creators in whose hands the action figure has gone artisanal. What was once the dominion of large toy companies has, in recent years, become a medium for independent artists who mold, cast and package plastic and resin collectibles — sometimes using repurposed parts of other toys — to celebrate the niche obsessions of their youth.

Fans shell out $50 or more for these figures, which often channel brash 1980s aesthetics and a mutable sense of nostalgia.

“With a lot of the guys who collect and do this, it’s all deeply rooted in their childhoods,” said Peter Goral, 33, who started making artisanal action figures around 2007 and said he now lives comfortably on the income they generate. His most popular figure to date, the Phantom Starkiller cosmic ghoul warrior, was also recently released in a limited edition by Super7, a designer toy company.

Mr. Goral’s company, Killer Bootlegs, in Rockford, Ill., is so named because the pieces frequently recall the unpolished aesthetic of unlicensed action figures made abroad in the ’70s and ’80s; those “bootleg toys” have since become collector items themselves.

And there is something inherently bootleg about the medium. Artisanal action figures are usually molded and painted by hand, but also are frequently made up of repurposed parts. (The term “kitbashing,” which refers to reusing parts from multiple model-building kits to create unique contraptions, is thrown around a lot in this field.)

And appropriation is a distinct part of the appeal — the more esoteric the reference, the better. The pseudomerchandising of the figures, including the blister packs they come in, is part of the allure of the toy.

“I always say it’s like graffiti for wimps,” said David Healey, 41, whose Quackula figurines (duck Draculas) are made with Howard the Duck heads and hand-sculpted feet, hair and ears. “We’re not really risking anything, but it’s the same kind of strutting our stuff.”

Ask anyone in the field, and you’ll hear that the godfather of this world is Morgan Phillips, 49, a New York artist who goes by the name Sucklord. Mr. Phillips designed his first toy in 2004 after failing to break into the toy industry. It’s a villain and alter ego called Sucklord 66 that was modeled from a “Star Wars” bounty hunter Boba Fett toy, cast in resin in a silicone mold.

Hundreds of other appropriative figurines have followed, including Christopher Walken action figures (specifically, Mr. Walken in “True Romance” and “A View to a Kill”); anthropomorphized cockroaches (packaged with a homage to Raid insect killer); and hot pink storm troopers (for his Gay Empire series).

Mr. Phillips generally creates molds for his toys using parts of other figures, augmented with his own hand-sculpted accents. His work is known in the art world as well; a custom Star Wars AT-AT he created was sold through Christie’s for $1,250, and his work is shown at galleries around the United States and abroad.

“I’m just stealing things,” Mr. Phillips said. “I want to inflict some sort of confusion on people and set myself up as a sort of contrarian to the rest of the toy industry.”

Spencer Pollard, 33, makes a line called Dogman Toys that includes some figurines inspired by the black Bart Simpson character that appeared on fan-made “The Simpsons” merchandise in the late 1980s and early ’90s. “It’s a toy and it should be clean and simple,” Mr. Pollard said. “But it can also be a statement.”

Mr. Pollard, who is black and plays bass in the hard-core punk band Trash Talk, said black toys are underrepresented and that he always wanted a toy that he could identify with when he was growing up. The bootleg reimagining of Bart Simpson as black spoke to him.

Other bootleg toys act more like philosophical statements. The abstract renderings by Anthony Aguilar, of Super Secret Fun Club, and Dan Polydoris, of Death by Toys, question the very nature of what makes an action figure action-y.

Mr. Polydoris’s best seller, for example, is based on John Carpenter’s 1980 horror film, “The Fog.” It’s three-fourths of a cotton ball stretched out into a blister pack glued to a piece of cardboard decorated with a scene from the movie about a vengeful, killer fog in California.

“It’s a joke,” Mr. Polydoris said. “It’s just garbage taped to other garbage.” He has sold almost 100 pieces of this “garbage,” for $30 a pop.

Artists routinely weave copyrighted material into their action figures, but few interviewed for this article said they had received cease-and-desist letters. Mr. Goral said that Campbell’s did contact him regarding his “Star Warhol” figure, a mash-up of the “Star Wars” droid R2-D2 and a Campbell’s Soup can, so he immediately stopped selling it.

Most of the people who prop up the artisanal action figure market seem to be white men dragging their feet toward middle age. But action figures have been born of female nostalgia (and anger) as well. Amanda Visell, an artist in Los Angeles, said one of her creations was inspired by her discovery that the 12-inch Princess Leia doll manufactured by Kenner in the 1970s was packaged not with a plastic gun, which Leia uses in the original “Star Wars,” but with a comb, which she does not.

With her partner, Michelle Valigura, Ms. Visell created a resin Leia in shorts and a variety of T-shirts, one of which is emblazoned with a comb. The figurine is called is Leia Is Not Your Toy.

That one was on display at New York Comic Con in October in the booth of DKE Toys, which is run by Dov Kelemer, a former toy distributor who now sells art figures from a roster of 50 to 100 artists at conventions. He said that the affinity for bootlegs is the result of an “understanding gained over time,” but when people get it, they really get it.

One such enthusiast is Adam F. Goldberg, the creator and producer of “The Goldbergs,” a sitcom. Artisanal action figures have appeared on his show, and Mr. Goldberg has an extensive personal collection, including his “holy grail”: Dead Greedy’s Beastie Droids, which are “Star Wars” robots made to look like the Beastie Boys.

“I look at them as pieces of art,” Mr. Goldberg said of the hundred or so figures he owns. “I don’t collect art. This is what I collect instead.”


Record and Share Your Family History in 5 Steps

Many people have pieced together their own family tree. But how much do you really know about the early lives of your living relatives, especially those with decades of stories to share?

To learn more, take the time to talk during family gatherings over Thanksgiving and the holiday season. And make sure to save that oral history for future generations: Record and preserve it with a multimedia digital archive, with video or audio, or with both. Here are five simple steps to get you started.

Step 1: Prepare Your Questions.

Do everyone a favor and plan ahead. To be as thorough and efficient as possible, you’ll want to know what to ask before you whip out the recorder to interview the family matriarch over her pumpkin pie. And find a relaxed setting to calm any stage fright.

Ask your relatives to dig back in their pasts: What’s your first memory? What was your favorite song growing up? How did you win that medal? If you don’t want to put your interviewees on the spot, send them the questions ahead of time. And ask them to tell treasured family tales in their own words.

Step 2: Recording Video? Go Steady.

Smartphones and digital cameras are great for video interviews, and you can use video-editing software to edit the clips later. But consider getting a tabletop tripod for the phone or camera (often less than $25) to stabilize the recording and free you up to interact more with your subject.

When recording video interviews, park the camera on a tripod to prevent image shakes and to keep you focused on the interview.CreditThe New York Times

If you’re serious about sound quality, an external microphone can also improve your interview. A good small clip-on lapel (lavaliere) microphone for smartphone or camera — like the Boya BY-M1 or the Rode SmartLav+ — costs $20 to $60 and can make your subjects more at ease than a hand-held mic shoved in their faces.

Step 3: Consider an Audio Recording App.

Video files can be huge and some relatives may be uncomfortable on camera, so recording a simple audio session is another approach. The iPhone has a Voice Memos app, and if your Android phone didn’t come with a voice recorder, go to the Google Play store. An external microphone can help here, too.

Voice recorder apps for Android and iOS can capture (and later edit) your audio interviews with relatives.CreditThe New York Times

If you prefer not to load up your phone’s storage, a pocket digital voice recorder is an alternative. Wirecutter, a New York Times company that tests and reviews products, recommends the Sony UX560 model, which can record up to 39 hours of MP3 audio and has a USB connector for moving the files to the computer.

Recording directly onto the laptop with an external microphone (like a podcast) is another way to capture the spoken-word history. Free software like the cross-platform Audacity or GarageBand for iOS and macOS can also be used to edit the interviews.

Step 4: Digitize Old Film and Tapes.

Some family historians started recording long before the modern tech boom, like a grandfather’s World War II experiences saved on an audio cassette. If you have treasured recordings on ancient formats made with long-gone devices, look for a well-reviewed conversion service that will transform the material into digital files.

Memories Renewed (favored by Wirecutter) and Lotus Media are among the mail-in media conversion shops that handle several formats, including 8- and 16-millimeter film reels, VHS and Hi8 video, and audiotape. Walgreens and Costco also have media-transfer services.

Gadgets like an inexpensive USB-equipped cassette player can transfer audio from a tape to a computer.CreditThe New York Times

If you still have the old video playback hardware, kits like the $70 Roxio Easy VHS to DVD 3 package (or a similar product) let you do it yourself. For old cassettes, gadgets like the ClearClick Cassette Tape to USB Converter or ION Audio’s Tape Express Plus connect to the computer’s USB port and digitize the audio when you push “Play.”

Step 5: Share Your History.

When you have finished and edited your interviews, loop in the rest of the family. You can post the files to a password-protected file-sharing site (like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud or OneDrive) for others to stream or download.

Some genealogy sites allow media uploads to family-tree pages. If you have an account with one of these services, see if it can handle audio and video files. And if your site doesn’t allow uploads, store the content on a sharing site and post links in the biographical sections for each recorded relative in your tree.

If you have a large family, compiling the interviews from your archive can be a lot of work. But generations down the line, the voices of your ancestors will still be heard.


My Life as a Hopeless Romantic

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Growing up, I became invested in the love stories of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” of Mandy Moore and Gabriel Macht in “Because I Said So,” and of every character in “Love Actually.”

Dramatic kisses in the rain, serendipitous encounters at restaurants — this was, in my young eyes, how love worked. There was someone in the world, your soul mate, as the movies told me, who would become the person you spent the rest of your life with. Your task was simply to wait until you met him or her.

As I grew older, my naïveté wore off. I learned that this kind of romance clashed with reality — and with the way my generation dates.

Millennials, of course, are known to swipe right, “talk,” hook up, then “ghost” when we get tired of that person. We are told that we don’t go on dates, try to care as little as possible, view exclusivity as ancient practice and have hundreds of potential partners at our fingertips. A quick Google search of “millennial dating” will demonstrate, in dramatic terms, how dire people think our situation has become.

We are getting married later, too. The median ages of marriage — now 29.8 for men and 27.8 for women, according to the United States Census Bureau — have been steadily increasing for years, and in my home state of Florida, it is over 30 for men, behind only a handful of states in the Northeast. This trend of marrying later is not limited to the U.S., either.

Despite all of this, my faith in fate and in the power of the rom-com endured.

I once planned an elaborate picnic to pour out my heart to a girl who loved mangoes, and she canceled last-minute, leaving me with that sad empty feeling and a ton of homemade mango salsa. A couple of years later, a girl I liked asked me to pick her up from work because her car had broken down. I viewed it as my knight-in-shining-armor moment until the ride home, when she informed me that she had to get back because she was going on a date later that evening.

Dating sometimes felt like a series of disappointments, but I still held firm to the belief that my soul mate was out there, somewhere.

I met her a year-and-a-half ago, when she worked at the same school as my mom. We had gone to the same high school and knew of each other, but were never close.

I knew from the early stages of the relationship that it was something big. She encouraged my romantic gestures — flowers and dinners and love letters — and listened to my fears and insecurities. She danced with me on the balcony of my apartment, biked next to me for hundreds of miles as I ran, and left the only place she’d ever lived to move with me to another state. For the first time in my life, I knew what it meant to be in love.

The rational, boring part of me knew that we were in a good place financially and in our careers to take the next step, but the dramatic, Bon Iver-fueled, romantic part of me didn’t really care about any of that. I just wanted to be with her.

So two months ago, on a hill overlooking the mountains at sunset, I read a love letter and played “Rivers and Roads” on the ukulele before I dropped to a knee and asked her to marry me. As her eyes filled with happy tears and she mouthed “yes,” I knew that my life as a hopeless romantic was worth it.

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The Benefits of Sharing Your Salary Go forth and share openly and enthusiastically!

Let’s Figure It Out

Tara Roach, a student at the University of Wisconsin, sent us a problem to figure out:

I’m graduating this May and have lived with the same group of friends since my freshman year. We’re going different directions next fall and I’m already preoccupied about how different my life will be without seeing them every day. What’s your advice for appreciating the time we still have together without worrying about the future?

Isabella Grullon, a news assistant on The Times’s politics team, recently graduated from college, so we invited her to weigh in. Here’s what she said:

Your life will be very, very different after college, there’s honestly no way around it. I graduated six months ago from Ithaca College. When I was in school, I lived with my best friend and most of my friends were walking distance from our apartment. Impromptu wine nights, study sessions and deep dives into our biggest insecurities were regular weekly activities.

While the distance will be hard at first, it will make the time you put into keeping those friendships alive all the more valuable. Focus on how the integral parts of your friendship will still be there even if seeing them every day isn’t. It may be hard to recreate the proximity and intimacy you have now, but know that a lot of those friendships won’t just end in May. Your relationships will just disperse, not disappear.

Navigating college and the years afterward can be tough, but we’re here to help! Maybe you’re wondering how to choose a major, or the best time to study abroad. Perhaps you’re out of school and figuring out how to budget. Send us an email at with the subject line, “Figure It Out.” We’ll do our best to answer a new question each week.

Robbie Harms is a contributor to The Edit.