Looking for materials for my crafts has become one of my favorite steps in the creative process. I believe that I am not physically able to drive by a yard sale, auction, estate sale, or thrift store without stopping. Sometimes I find treasures, sometimes I do not, but I have to say that I always enjoy the hunt.
I appreciate a well organized sale; all the kitchen items on this table, all the books on that table, but I also welcome the challenge of a good look-see through piles and boxes. True, going through boxes is hard, and most times, dirty work, but it is always enjoyable. To me, digging into a box and not knowing what you will unearth is exciting and part of the appeal.
In addition to silverware, linens, glass door knobs, buttons, tea pots, scrabble pieces and wooden spools, I also adore and collect old photos, report cards, journals, letters, baby shoes, beaded sweaters, wind up clocks (which I set to 7:27), cloth tape measures, newspapers, ledgers, bingo cards, greeting cards, coloring books, broaches, bottles, "Now I lay me down to sleep" embroidery pieces, Christmas ornaments, patterns, maps, suitcases, board games, sheet music, programs, dictionary's, bank statements, manuals, quilts, mason jars, glass insulators, delicate sweet little tea cups, well made furniture and well, really just about anything that is old and has age and history.
I often think about my attraction to these items1 and besides the obvious appeal of owning a well made treasure from a time long gone, I really do like and appreciate the history more than anything else. I love when I am buying a piece and I am told the history by the owner or a relative. However, as is often the case, I don't have the actual history and I have to create or imagine my own version. I really do enjoy this because I have quite a vivid imagination and I have created for them such fabulous lives!
When I look at my old quilts and embroidery pieces I have in piles all over my home, I admire the handiwork and the love that went into creating such a work of art. I also appreciate the patience and time it takes to create such intricate work, especially because reading patterns and exact measuring is not a skill I possess.
When I look at the 1958 school report card I have for Robert Strong, I try to picture in my mind what young Robert was like. Apparently, he was a 'pleasure to have in class' but needed to "spend more time concentrating on his spelling words each week". What a wonderful vision I have of a young, rambunctious lad. I wish I had Robert's 4th grade report card too!
When I look at the patina and dents on the silver coffee server I am getting ready to make into a chime, I picture in my mind all the social gatherings that this was brought out and used for. I imagine a gathering of women, all very refined and elegant in their hats and gloves. All so proper and lovely. When I polish all the silverware for my wind chimes, I recognize how much work went into making the afternoon special when entertaining. And I always wonder how they found the time to do such chores.
When I go through my jars and jars of buttons, I appreciate their unique beauty. Many of the buttons have little swatches of clothing on the back. This reminds me of the struggles and challenges of that time. It reminds me and makes me long for a time when articles of clothing were made to last for years and years. Buttons were considered 'art' and enhancements at one time. I consider them all little gems.
There has never been a time when someone will share with me an unhappy memory they have about buttons. They remember playing with their mother or grandmother's tin of buttons and when they share their memories, my minds eye pictures them and it makes my heart smile being able to share their joy.
When I see a spool of thread with multiple different colored threads wrapped around it, I am inspired by the resourcefulness of the owner. Imagine a time when you saved everything, even bits of thread. Think about that for a moment. Just think about what we throw away every single day, and yet there was a time when women needed to save thread. This is amazing to me.
I am particularly drawn to old photos. I believe that I have just as many photos of people I don't know as I do photos of my own family. When I see old family photographs that are being sold at a yard sale or estate sale I feel such sadness. To think that there was no one in the family that wanted these, or perhaps there was no family left to pass them onto, well, it just makes me heartsick. Many times I will buy them simply so that they have a home. I feel comforted by the thought that I have given them a respectable resting place. They did not end up in a garbage dump to be forgotten forever.
I always joke that when the time comes and people are going through my things, they will wonder about my exact connection to all these people. I imagine they will not know who was family or who were simply welcomed or adopted into my home via a yard sale.
Perhaps they will be puzzled by my connection to Hennyk Rak. They will wonder just how did I end up with his "Science Exercise Book"? This notebook was done when Hennyk was in 8th grade and it is filled from front to back with the most intricate etchings of tools and calculations I have ever seen. Hennyk went on to serve in the Navy and I know this because I also have the postcards that he sent home to his family. Finding that box at an estate sale in New Britain, CT was truly one of my most treasured finds.
Another treasure is a tiny hard covered bank book from 'The First National Bank of Bassett, VA' with the name "Mrs. Cole Moss" written on the front. The bank book dates from March 21, 1949 to May 31st, 1958 when the account was closed.
I look at Mrs Moss' entries and see, in her own handwriting, the deposits she made faithfully every two weeks. Some times as much as $9 was deposited, and some time as little as $2, but money was deposited faithfully every two weeks for almost ten years. I found this, along with other family papers, at an estate sale in CT. I consider this another 'great find' because I have multiple items from the same person. It helped create a more in-depth picture and story in my mind of Mrs. Moss and her life.
I have always had this sentimental attachment to personal items, and at this point in my life, I don't even try to justify or understand it. It's just who I am. However, when you take into consideration the fact that I have not balanced my checkbook in about 14 years2, nor can I tell you where my most recent car insurance card is, but I have kept almost every picture or note that was given to me in the last 35 years, this makes it all the more, um, special3.
If you drew me a picture or sent me a card, there is a pretty good chance it is now in one of the nineteen4 notebooks that are kept in my studio. These 'scrapbooks' contain pictures, quotes, newspaper articles, ticket stubs, cards, photographs, articles that I like and just about anything else that has passed through my life and can be taped into a book.
I have had some of these notebooks so long that the tape is beginning to yellow and the glue is coming undone. A constant project on my to-do list is to go through each one and redo them. I have attempted this on many occasions but what usually ends up happening is that I get so involved reading and remembering that the task at hand gets forgotten.
I often think about what is going to happen to these notebooks and my own personal items after I am gone. I know they are just things, and really, who has the room, or time, for 'things'? It is my hope that my remaining family members and friends will go through my studio and feel the care and love that I had for these "things" and maybe find room in their home for me and what I held dear.
Perhaps my sister Leah will see the picture she drew me when she was nine years old and smile. My friend Donna will see that I saved every single card she sent to me and every picture of her mother and her miracle baby "Jillian" and find it in her heart to forgive me for being so careless with our friendship so many years ago. My niece Madalena will see every little book and picture she has created for me and be able to track her own history from these precious works of art.
Yes, I know they are all just simply 'things' and I have given them value, albeit sentimental, but to me these pieces of history and life are priceless. I have such a hard time giving up or passing by something that is just so personal and reflective of our existence. I believe for that reason alone I will continue to stop at yard sales and thrift shops and dig through boxes and try to give as many people as I can a happy home.
1. Usually when I have to pack it all up and move from house to house!
2. For real!!
3. Quirky, unique, weird?
4. And counting