Monday, October 20, 2014

Let Hope Live

Originally written 10/09: If any event can be termed "thought provoking," yesterday's Arts Festival for "Let Hope Live," a foundation for the care of children with cancer might get such a fitting title. The setting was pastoral, a family owned produce farm set on a ridge overlooking New England hills donned in fall apparel and fields of pumpkins in all directions. I arrived before 10 a.m. with one jewelry case and one crate of nothing great, but more than anything, I just wanted a chance to hand out cards, promote my business and make a few bucks. The women who were running the festival were beautiful Vikings. Their long blonde hair flowed around faces hardened with the work of running a small business and they were stocky and strong from physical labor. They ran large tractors as well as any male with the swiftness and surety that comes with growing up in the business. And one of them had lost a child to cancer, which is why they had established the foundation. At 11, nobody had driven up the hill to attend the festival. There were about fifteen vendors besides me, set up and waiting patiently. After 12:00, the wind grew more bitter as the dark clouds whipped by. The tent behind me was picked up and stuffed animals flew everywhere. Thankfully, having such a small set up allowed me to fly from the scene as quickly as the wind had kicked up. I was extremely grateful for my gas guzzling beast when I was able to kick it in to four wheel drive and high tail it out of the mushy cornfield the organizers had asked me to park in after unloading. I left the beautiful Viking women behind and considered the thirty dollars I spent a worthy cause for an all too real tragedy in many families that occurs all too commonly. Let hope live.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Looking for Mad Men in All the Right Places

Okay, the gig is almost up and this is the final season of that incredible series Mad Men. It's a well known fact that coupled with a dynamic cast and story line, the show helped spur a trend in Modernist interior design. From the 50s to the 70s, Mid Century designs have found a rebirth in homes and offices all over the country and even current architectural planning has hearkened back to the latter half of the 20th Century. Danish Modern is hot again and Ikea, Crate & Barrel and Pier One Imports get it. But what about the real deal? The stuff that was made in America by Americans in a highly charged Post WWII economy? It's no secret that Americans followed the Scandinavians when it came to style and were very adept at doing so. Major furniture companies hired young, enthusiastic designers who all tried to outdo each other. We hear about Adrian Pearsall, Paul McCobb, et al, but actually finding a piece of these designers' creations anywhere except on 1st Dibs has become next to impossible. For many of us the price tags keep us at bay, but there are places one can investigate to find comparable Mid-Century designs without emptying the coffers. Thanks to the internet, one does not even have to leave home to begin the search. There are the usual heavy hitters like One King's Lane and ebay. Etsy also has some killer Mid-Century stores as well. If you want to save shipping and aren't in a hurry, your local Craig's List is always a good bet. I can't tell you how many times I have scored thanks to this site. True, it was easier a few years ago, before the Mad Men craze hit full stride, but if one is willing to use intuition regarding bad picture taking and incorrect/incomplete descriptions, the treasures can still be found. A couple of years ago for ten dollars I scored a Thonet dinette set in a Danish Modern style based on a partial picture of the chair tops and a sweet black Lab pup which happened to be posing in front of the table. If one wants to get out and search locally, along with the usual antique and vintage shops, thrift stores and garage and estate sales, there is the Salvation Army Store, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Goodwill and City Mission. This past week alone I scored a Broyhill Brasilia (designer Kent Coffey) night stand at the ReStore and yesterday at the Salvation Army, a Lane Acclaim (designer Andre Bus) step end table. Though it would have been better to find these items in pairs, there are plenty of folks out there looking for mates, so they are still very desirable. Despite being saddened by Mad Men ending its television journey this season, I am grateful for the appreciation of Mid Century Modern design it has helped to promote and I will continue, as I hope you all do, to discover the next Modernist treasure just around the corner.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Creating Tacky Furniture

As we all know, tacky, unused furniture can be found in just about every home. It lurks in the recesses of our rooms, hidden behind piles of clothes or stashed in an attic or basement, future Salvation Army fodder. But the tacky I bring to you is something you can do to recreate a piece of furniture you might otherwise discard. All it takes is a little paint and a few tacks to create a design original. I first came up with the idea after I pulled a broken vintage stool from a cellar clean out somebody had left on the side of the road as trash. Along with the stool was a table that had been slightly modified with an extra board added at the bottom for stability. I'm pretty sure it had been used as some type of work bench. Both of these discarded items sat in my cellar for a few months before I decided to do anything with them. It was the find of an awesome primitive bench complete with tack embellishments at a nearby vintage store that led me to upcycle the pieces. First, I repaired the stool and spray painted it a John Deere green. Then I carefully hammered cheap white tacks you can get at the grocery store in the hardware section (the ones that are on cardboard backs) to the legs, but I didn't like the contrast between the white and green, so I spray painted over the tacks. I loved the textured look it gave to the piece. Instead of painting the table, I sanded its original green paint and sprayed with a coat of clear to show off where the wood came through and to give new life to the existing paint. Then, I embellished it with heavier brass tacks. It gave the piece a totally different and appealing look. I knew I had done something right when an interior designer friend of mine purchased it from me to use as a plant stand in his kitchen. I did other smaller stands later and have had great success with this type of furniture upcycling. It's a nice and easy alternative to keeping your tacky furniture in hiding.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Loss of our Dog and Bernadette of Lourdes

Our family dog died on July 6th and my family was devastated. Buster had been what I liked to call our sole source of love and joy for fifteen years. A beagle mix, we had rescued him from the local Animal Rescue at eight months and he never failed to delight us. My son had been visiting my oldest daughter for the 4th of July weekend and was not at home. The partner was at the neighbors and I was returning from the shop with the middle daughter behind me. I was the one who found him lying on the bedroom floor where he often slept. I could go into the whole business about grieving for a beloved pet, but it really isn't necessary. People who love their animals understand the feeling if they've been through it. That was Sunday. On Tuesday, I asked my son, who had returned from his visit to come with me on a picking trip to Canajoharie and he acquiesced. We both felt the emptiness in the house without our dog and needed to get away. There's a little strip of shops on the main drag in Can, a once thriving industrial community thanks mostly to the Beechnut Factory. The factory has since closed and moved to a nearby location and though they did stay in the vicinity, the effects of its leaving can be seen and felt in the little town. Brothers of Industry is run by a couple of African American brothers who seem to have their hands in just about everything. They are nice guys and I've known the one brother for a while since he used to sell advertising for the local Dollar Saver. He now runs the little deli next to the Brothers vintage shop. His brother was not in, but he opened the door to the vintage shop and allowed my son and I to browse by ourselves. There were a few things I liked, mostly vintage fabric and some incredible Victorian cast iron fence post finials, but I didn't find that one stand out item, so I ended up going to another shop, which I knew was more expensive, but the owner's taste is exquisite despite him often smelling of alcohol. My son nearly tripped over a stone garden statue of a woman kneeling in prayer that was sitting in the middle of an aisle at the back of the shop. I looked down and there she was, Bernadette of Lourdes, Patron Saint of bodily ills and illness. The artist had painted her eyes with a tortured longing that was frightening, yet compelling at the same time. I fell in love with the chipped statue and asked the shopkeeper what he wanted for it, certain that it would be too expensive. "Forty-five dollars. I just moved her from the front window and she's extremely heavy and I'm tired of lugging her around." I said "would you consider forty?" He agreed without hesitation and with a hand cart pushed her out to the truck for us, not smelling of alcohol for once and obviously relieved that he would no longer have to move her. She sits on the floor of my shop now, hands clasped in earnest, looking toward some ethereal sight above her. My son didn't say much when we purchased her, but on Sundays when the small businesses on the walkway open up to an outdoor market, he carefully places her in the front of my shop. We still miss our dog so much, but the trip was good for both of us. We connected in a way we hadn't for a while, felt grief and felt hope through the purchase of Bernadette.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Humans of the 518

I seem to go through spurts when it comes to writing and then a dry spell will hit and I completely lose interest or I get bored with hearing myself write. That being said, something or someone will come along that jolts me forward and I am able to write once again. Yesterday, I had the great good fortune of having two high school girls come into my shop. They spent quite a while looking around and sat in the cool boomerang love seat in the middle of the shop and conversed for quite some time. They were cute, upcoming juniors or seniors. Both wore glasses and one wore a camera around her neck while the other sported some blue neon on the side of her hair. I left them alone because they were enjoying what I had to offer and I was pretty sure they didn't have two nickels to rub together. Eventually, they floated out the front door. A little while later they returned and exclaimed "we're back!" Then they seemed hesitant, like there was something they wanted to ask me. I was thinking maybe a summer job, but that wasn't it. "Have you ever heard of Humans of New York?" Of course, I had and a couple of years ago I liked the page on facebook and have been following Brandon's escapades ever since. "Yes!" I exclaimed. "I love that site." The girls continued "Well, we are starting a new page called Humans of 518 and we wondered it you would let us take your picture and ask a few questions. After I had queried them about why, they basically told me that they were doing an independent study based on the HONY page for the summer without a mentor. The 518 in the page title was for the area code for Upstate New York. It was just something they felt compelled to do. This was their first day and they had already interviewed a few people. They seemed shy and hesitant, asking if it was okay to record my answers to questions rather than write them down. I acquiesced and basically told them what my business was about and my passion for art. They departed, telling me that they would be posting their finds that evening and to check it out. Last night I liked their page and I have to tell you I was really impressed. These two girls, who were obviously not your typical teens had interviewed several shopkeepers on my street and had managed to post sophisticated and thought provoking pictures and statements. It brought me much contentment to know that these girls were pursuing a passion aside from the usual teenage stuff and that they were using current technology to satisfy intellectual curiosity. If you have a facebook account, check this new page out. I'm certain you will see what I'm talking about.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Deconstructed Style

I'm always trying to keep up with the latest fads and styles that pertain to my vintage business, so what's trending is what I try to find for my shop. It's more difficult than it used to be since trends come and go as fast as the latest smart phone development. One trend that I have developed a deep appreciation for is the deconstructed look. Deconstructed furniture and accouterments are pretty hot items in the designer field and I've noted that this is especially true out West. I recently wrote a blog about deconstructing a bench that sold to a young designer in L.A. She loved it. And just a couple of days ago a dress form that was beaten looking, having seen better days, went to a gal in Nebraska.
Stripping a piece of furniture down to its basic elements allows one to see its bones more clearly and gives strength and character to the piece. An added bonus is that in a clean, minimalist environment, these pieces become functional sculptures. So I'm gonna keep this look around and I'm hoping it's a style that will stay around for a while.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Remembering my Father in 1969

In the summer of '69 my father sent my mother to her high school reunion and a much needed vacation and was left as caretaker to his seven children ages 3 to 12 in the week that she was to be gone. We, of course, were thrilled at the prospect of having just Dad for an entire week, especially given the fact that he was generally a softy and often gave in to our whims and more than anything, he was a great entertainer both in word and deed. And being free from Mom's no nonsense approach to rearing her children was an added bonus. We went to Timber Lake or Manassas Park to swim almost every day. I loved it when Dad, a former navy man and an athletic one at that, did wonderful jackknifes off the high board effortlessly. Sometimes one of us would "get lost" or wander off the beach to the refreshment area or second hand shop and the rest of us would end up spending more time trying to find the lost one than swimming while another one got lost in the process. Eventually, the loud speaker at the top of the hill would come on and announce a name and request that the parent please come and pick him/her up. One night we took the Ford Country Sedan station wagon to some drive in movies which my older brothers had picked out. Dad had no idea what they were about until we got there ... rated "M" for mature Hell's Angels 1967, Three in the Attic and another one which I don't recall, but we begged him to let us stay and watch. He just shook his head at my brothers who he said had set him up while on the screen a guy was literally being screwed to death in the attic by three women, who had, upon finding out about his infidelity, gotten together and decided to imprison and "punish" him. Dad got plenty of questions from my younger siblings which he managed to diplomatically answer. My brothers were thoroughly entertained. One morning we woke up to eggs benedict and champagne. Dad taught us about French cuisine and fine dining as we older siblings sipped on our thimble glass of champagne and enjoyed our eggs. We finished breakfast feeling like accomplished and worldly adults. When Dad wasn't trying to figure out where everybody was or figuring out how much money we had managed to swindle from him for candy and trinkets, he would tell wonderful stories about his youth or stories about history. As we didn't live far from Washington, D.C., he took us on trips to all the historical buildings and was our personal tour guide. It was a fun filled week and by the end, I'm sure my mother's return was never more welcomed by my father. I'm also pretty sure he had a greater appreciation of what she had to deal with on a daily basis and I also remember it as one of the best times I had with my Dad while growing up.