I don’t know about you, but when I was younger, the idea of collecting anything beyond cute boyfriends and compliments about my hair was of little interest. Then, as maturity sunk in and I watched my grandparents and parents grow older and even die, I began to feel an inner tug, a kind of attachment, to the things of their past. When my Dad’s mom Mildred died, I mourned losing her AND her stuff;
the handmade buckskin jacket with the fringe and the dustbowl-era kitchenware that I didn’t get…oh shame, thy name is mine!
Decades later when my maternal grandma Helen passed, I fell into the clutches of a covetousness that still bewilders…Maybe I felt if I couldn’t have her any longer, I’d better get some of her stuff to remember her by, I don’t know…but her ugly-as-sin plastic clamshell-shaped spool holder sits amongst my sewing things, bulky and impractical as all get out, and I can’t throw the damned thing away! I love the wooden spools and their brightly colored threads, and the oak darning egg, polished to a rich, deep patina from the work of her hands? I will never, ever use it, but when I hold it in my hands, her stories come floating forward like Technicolor ghosts…
How her hardworking mother scratched & schemed, so determined was she that her beautiful daughter, the firstborn of her 10 children, must have a different life than hers, must leave their Minnesota farm and get an education, and culture, in the big city.
How her 5 younger brothers crowded into her small Detroit apartment in preparation to go to war in the 1940s, and how she proudly took care of “her boys”, washing & ironing their mountains of laundry, filling the tiny rooms with lines of uniforms and trousers and socks,
which drove her dapper husband to drink. (That he was already in his metaphorical vehicle, ignition on and engine revving, is a story for another day.) She must have sewn and scrubbed a thousand prayers and demands into those uniforms, because each of those 5 brothers miraculously came back from WWII alive, due, no doubt, to the excellence of her preparatory care for them…
So that explains my affection for the ancestral stuff. What about the thrill I feel for those French fashion publications from the 1920s? My swoon when I found an Art Nouveau Chocolate Set outlined in gold; my absolute obsession with vintage fashion prints produced using the pochoir* method?
The languid glamour of Belle Epoque women’s fashion, the graceful flow of Art Nouveau embellishment, the angular modernity of machine age and Art Deco…the palimpsest of the in-between movements, like Arts and Crafts, where influences of the previous bled into the innovations of the new. These are the designs that call my name and keep me up at night, traipsing through the virtual universe, reading, dreaming…
These cravings are not the simple longing for connection to kin, no, this desire seems risen to a higher lever, one of pure joyful appreciation and deep enjoyment of the marriage of form and function, and respectful awe of the development of design…for me, the artful creations of the 1920s and those that bookend it represent some of the finest ever made!
I’ve already written about my fixation with the Salem China Company’s Streamline & Tricorne dinnerware patterns here; eventually I’ll add posts about my other passions:
- An early 19th century French publication of fashion masquerade costume illustrations called “Album de Travestis”
- Art Deco silverware designs
- Fun vintage postcards
- Collecting old photos; B&W snapshots, portraits, RPPCs (real photo post cards)
Those are some of my favorite obsessions, what are yours?
*pochoir is French for ‘stencil’ and in this context refers to the method perfected in the late 1800’s by artisans such as Jean Saudé. This process featured a separate stencil for each color used in the illustration, some featuring more than 20, including metallics like silver or gold. The result was brilliant color, crisp lines, and a rich textural appearance due to the heavy application of certain gouache paints.