Monday, October 31, 2011

Playing In Mom's Old Jewelry Box

Don't get me started looking at old jewelry.

I had asked my mom to salvage some old paper jewelry boxes for me, which caused her to pull out her entire jewelry collection (whoops).  Her jewelry is a veritable treasure trove: hidden away, barely looked at, dusty and in need of shining, resembling a simple pile of junk, but filled with plenty of gems.

Whenever the collection surfaces, I can spend forever pouring over it, opening up each box and zippered pouch, pulling out bracelets, single earrings, rings that I try to fit on my fingers.  Maybe because I love jewelry so much myself--I love making it and buying it and of course wearing it--I find such a strong connection to these old pieces, and especially to the people who wore them.

Many of these items belonged to my grandmother.  Though I only knew her for a short time, I've always appreciated her sense of style and elegance.  My mom tells about where she had gotten different items, or what occasions she had worn them for.  The collection also includes a lot of my mom's old jewelry.  Though her taste is a bit more subdued than my own, I am excited to pull out pieces I remember her wearing in my childhood (which are unmistakeably out of the 80s and 90s), and especially pieces from her own youth in the 60s and 70s.

One piece I found that was just too cool to let disappear again into the shadowy abyss of the closet was a lucite watch with a gold bangle band.  My mom laughed when I pulled it out.  "You like that mod watch?" she asked incredulously.  "Of course!" I said.  "It's so cool!"  She laughed some more so I asked why she thought it was weird that I liked it.  She said, "Because it's old! It's from the 60s or 70s!"  My response: "Exactly!"

Sadly, most of my mother's clothes and accessories from that time (which would be vintage gems now) have been discarded over the years.  But I'm excited to have found the watch, and will wear this "old, mod" thing with pride!

What vintage treasures have you found in your own home?  What contemporary items do you think one day our daughters will be excited to discover?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Object Project: Quoth the Raven

Submitted by Elise Banks of Black Ant Beads

When I first was an undergraduate at a local community college, I took a lot of classes online. This was partly because I did not like to drive and partly because I loved being my own teacher. One of the first classes I took online was American Literature 1. I was lucky enough to have taken the class in the fall semester because we started out reading Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow and then moved on to Edgar Allen Poe right about Halloween.

I am not sure what it is about Poe that I love, but something just clicked for me. The melancholy stories that make you want to cry. The tales of the horrors that lay within our own hearts. Oh! I just love it!

As a part of the class, the teacher assigned us a response assignment. This assignment was totally open for all kinds of interpretation. Students could do a power point presentation, write a song or short story, or, in my case, design a piece of jewelry. Whatever the student did they had to do it as a response to what they had read. As I read Edgar Allen Poe’s fantastic poem The Raven I began to feel the darkness of the story. The pain of remembrance, the glitter of hope that sparkled for a moment and was then dashed away by the raven. I had to do a necklace.

I started by selecting beads. Black seed beads were first because they were so obviously needed. The plain darkness set the stage for the other elements of the poem. I then mixed in some labradorite chips and some dark crystals. These added the element of sparkling hope that was dark even as it was light. A Hope clouded by the knowledge that it was a useless hope. Then I added the black chains as though they were the very chains around the young man’s heart that bound him as he longed for his dead love. To finish the piece off I created a pendant in the image of that evil prophet come to bring ill tidings – the raven. I also added a couple of charms that say ‘Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”’

If you have never read The Raven--and I never did prior to receiving this story!--you can check out the full text here:

Happy almost Halloween!

Monday, October 17, 2011

What a Medieval Handbook Taught Me About Sex

I happened across another fascinating find in my endless sorting of art transparencies at work this week: pages from the Tacuinum Sanitatis.  The Tacu-what? you may ask... Well, I had no clue either, but after a couple of days steeped in images of medieval illuminated manuscripts, this one caught my eye (obviously).

Even better, the caption reads:
Coitus. Nature: It is the union of two for the purpose of introducing the sperm. Optimum: That which lasts until the sperm has been completely emitted. Usefulness: It preserves the species. Dangers: It is harmful to those with cold and dry breathing. Neutralization of the Dangers: With sperm-producing foods.
Seriously, slightly risque nature aside, this was just too precious not to share. You can prevent the dangers of sex with sperm-producing foods? Good to know.

Of course, after my discovery I immediately looked up the Tacuinum Sanitatis, which turns out to be a handbook on health and well being. Included among this entry are others on various fruits and vegetables, herbs, flowers, and foods, and information about when they are good, what they are good for, and whom they are good for.  Warm water, for instance, apparently has a cold and humid nature and is particularly good for cold temperaments, old people, and in cold regions. Roses are good for inflamed brains, but can cause headaches in certain people.

Even seasons are represented.  Here's an appropriate entry:

Autumn. Nature: Moderately cold in the second degree. Optimum: Its central period. Usefulness: when one proceeds gradually toward opposites, as for example, toward warmth and dampness. Dangers: It is harmful to moderate temperatures and to those predisposed toward consumption. Neutralization of the Dangers: By the application of moist elements, and with baths. Effects: Increases melancholy humors. It is suitable to warm and damp temperaments, to the young and adolescent, in warm and damp regions, or in temperate areas.

I don't know much about health and medicine, but as silly as some of these descriptions sound, I wonder how much of it is accurate, or close to it.  These statements must be at least partly based in effects that people experienced, even if the causes were attributed wrong.

What is fascinating to me is that even if completely inaccurate and quaint, there is a universality to this way of thinking, as a way to understand our bodies and nature.  Don't we still have sorts of guides like this today?  That tell us to eat a certain food or the benefits of certain activities.  If anything, we've probably taken simple everyday things and broken them down even more and made them more scientific.  Makes me wonder if 500 years from now someone will unearth a copy of the South Beach Diet and wonder, what the hell were those people thinking?

Anyone else find this stuff interesting?  Any other health advice of today that you think people will look back at and laugh?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Object Project: The Queen's Jewels

Submitted by Jo of Seese the Day

Necklace courtesy of VintageTreasures4U
I was scanning items once and saw a vintage necklace just like one my mother had when I was growing up.  It wasn't her style at all, since she was a conservative woman.  This was a necklace fit for a queen and it has earrings and a bracelet to match.  I have gotten rid of many of her jewlery items since she died but somehow I couldn't bear to part with this set.

I had memories of it, my mother let me play dress up with it and my favorite game was playing queen. I was convinced at age 3 or 4 that I was not really a member of my family because I didn't look like them at all.  Everyone had dark hair and eyes (actually Daddy had blue eyes and a red beard if he let it grow).  So in my young mind I was practicing for the day I was rightfully restored to my royal family. I think this fantasy was fertilized by the coronation of Queen Eliz. II on my 3 or 4th birthday.  My sweet mother never dashed my dreams. She let me revel in the royal fantasy and generously let me play with her precious jewlery.  I wish I knew where she got a piece so out of her style, a special occsion piece? A gift?

When I saw the similar item at a vintage site I convoed the shop owner telling my story.  She was sweet and reponded with a kind response.  (Now I think why would she want to know, if I had one I wouldn't be buying hers,) but that was not her attitude at all. Next I created a treasury just around this piece of hers.

When something is an important part of our past it carries the energy of the times that were important.  If there were a fire and I lost it I would be fine.  I have the memories and that is what is important. However I hung the set from my french bulletin board and glance at it occassionally and smile.  I have been known to walk over and put the set on while i sit in my craft room and work.  I look at them like they are the crown jewels.

Now at 64, I realize I am not a princess in waiting but I have discovered the real jewels my family has given me. Imagination, and self-worth, the purple necklace reminds me of that truth and I love that little red-haired girl who was allowed to dream.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Circle of (Bead) Life

Some of my newly acquired bead stash
 I love heirlooms, hand-me-downs, and other sorts of already-used goods. I love their stories, and the fact that they belonged to someone else before me. And I love especially when I can make things out of them!

I recently acquired a collection of beads, findings, and other random bric-a-brac from a friend's mother, who had inherited it from her aunt. Her aunt was a crafty lady who throughout her life made her own jewelry, including stringing her own pearl necklaces (this is a level of sophistication I have not yet reached).

When my friend's mom acquired this stash, she was very generous in passing it along to me, though it was fitting. After all, I started my first jewelry business "Beads & More" with her daughter when we were about 8 or 9. And when my friend's interest in jewelry dwindled, her mom took me in as a surrogate crafting protégé. She taught me to knit about 5 years ago, and I've been a knitting fiend ever since (though in recent months it's taken a back seat to Bric & Brac). In addition to knitting for myself, she's recruited me to donate scarves to a thyroid cancer foundation, Light of Life, which she's involved in.

Brass and Turquoise Baubles Earrings
Metal, Glass, and Pearl Baubles Earrings

So now she's passed the beads along to me. I've already started creating with them, combining with my existing stash, with other beads acquired from myriad different places.  Some of the resulting jewelry I'll use for my own purposes (see my new Etsy additions above), and other pieces will be donated back to the Light of Life Foundation. I hope they (as well as all my pieces) go back into the cycle of changing hands, doing good, and making people happy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Object Project: Virgin and Child Key Chain

Submitted by Kelsey Fox Bennett of Inner Art Creations

As I rummaged around my drawers there were many trinkets and keepsakes that caught my eye... the matching earrings and ring I bought in Paris, the necklace given to me by my first boyfriend, and the handful of lonely earrings that I love so much I keep them even though they are missing their partner.  Yet there was one thing that had a story I really wanted to share and that was this Virgin Mary & Baby Jesus key chain. What makes this an interesting keepsake is that I'm not a religious person and yet this specific key chain is connected to and represents many of the things I value and hold dear to my heart.

I received this key chain from an Africanizing Arch Bishop I met in Ghana. I was in Ghana with my African singing and dance professor and friend, Nii Armah. There was a small group of us and we stayed for two months with Nii Armah's family in La, a suburb of Accra. Nii Armah seemed to know everyone and anyone he didn't know he would soon make friends with. It was no different when we traveled to Northern Ghana and went to dine with this Africanizing Arch Bishop.

When I say Africanizing, I mean that although he is an Arch Bishop and stands firmly by the holy trinity, he also supports and values traditional Ghanaian culture and finds it is merely another form of worshiping God. We spent the evening with him as he sat at the head of the table and spoke with us about his beliefs. Following dinner we were taken to his courtyard where we proceeded to watch and partake in traditional singing and dancing late into the night. To say the least it was a magical evening.

There are many things I will never forget from that trip and one of them is that night and the realization that we are all the same, with varying viewpoints and approaches, but ultimately, living, breathing, and celebrating the gifts we are given, whether they be by God or the Universe, they are bountiful and we should celebrate any way we know how.

Thanks so much to Kelsey for her beautiful object contribution. Do you have a story hiding in a drawer somewhere? Submit it here!

Monday, October 3, 2011

What treasures do you have buried in your closet?

Photo courtesy of Creekside Diner
While there are many things that are important to our existence--cell phones, computers, shoes, toothbrushes, etc.--very few objects are elevated beyond their utilitarian functions.  When they are, it often has little to do with the object itself, but with what it represents.  This is why objects can become so meaningful, and are such a great way to remember a significant time in our life, our family, or history.

But when do you stop to think about these important objects?  How often do you dust off the trinkets on your bookcase or the forgotten treasure buried in the back of your closet, or even find a discarded piece of furniture by the side of the road and think about its story, what it has seen, who has owned it and loved it?

Thinking about these stories helps us appreciate what we have, or even what we are getting rid of.  In these objects we can discover the beauty of everyday life, relive old memories, or pass on histories that may otherwise go untold or be forgotten.

I want to share these stories here on Bric & Brac.  So go searching on your shelves, in drawers, and under your bed for hidden treasures, and contribute your object and story to the Object Project.  What objects are important to you?  What interesting, strange and beautiful things can you dig up?  Share them!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My Life in Art

Woman Reading by Mary Cassatt. Who doesn't love these?
Some of the most important objects by which I track my life are works of art (which are things, after all). Where I've been, what I've seen, what has interested me, who I was with, etc.

I've been very fortunate to have traveled a good amount and to have seen some of the most amazing art collections in the world (living in New York is good for that too).  When traveling in Europe with a friend a few years ago, we even used our art history class's syllabus of important art works as a sort of checklist. Paris? Check David, Ingres, and Delacroix.  Madrid?  Check Velazquez and Goya.  Florence?  Check Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Da Vinci.  Etc.  Discovering these masterworks was really exciting and important to us at the time, as we were eager to take what we were seeing in class out to the larger world.  To live what we'd already learned.

Now over a year out of college, back from another grand adventure in Europe, my perspective has certainly changed.  Art is still a central focus, but I'm trying to steer it towards my future.  Although I'll always love art history, I'm trying to find a more practical niche for this interest.  It's less about what I can learn and absorb from around me than what I can do.  I find the art I'm drawn to now is the ordinary and accessible: the art I see in the streets of New York or on the internet, or the crafts I make and discover on Etsy.

But then it's fun to rediscover works of art I have encountered in the past and reminisce.  Recently I started interning at a company that archives images, and though I am charged with a somewhat tedious task of sorting transparencies (which is how they copy images), it can be fun to discover works that I know or have seen in person or otherwise have a connection to.  Some examples:

Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch, which I experienced (yes, it's an experience) at the Prado in Madrid
Four Ages of Man by Valentin de Boulogne, which I had seen in my college's museum
The Last Judgement by Van Der Weyden, which I stumbled upon in Beaune, in Burgundy, France

Hopefully there will be many more exciting discoveries to come! But maybe not too many; I would happily cast some of these memories in order to move from the seeing to the doing phases...

Are there any objects--art or otherwise--through which you can track important moments in your life?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Catalogue of Discarded Objects

Having embarked on a mission to declutter my life, I've unearthed many wonderful objects, though my room doesn't have enough space to contain them all. They've lived full, useful lives, and though the time has come to say goodbye, their stories will be maintained here.

Gap knit straw purse, c. 2008
Purpose: Carrying all necessary objects--and many unnecessary objects--to and fro, back and forth, day in and day out
Condition: Ratty
Reason for discarding: Worn to pieces; upgraded for ‘mature’ leather purse

Lime green fanny pack; ‘VICE’ reads on front, c. 2009
Purpose: Distinguishing oneself as ironic and therefore hip
Condition: Very good; appears unused
Reason for discarding: Post-college hipster days, serves very little purpose in 'real' world

Large orange corduroy shoulder bag, c. 2007
Purpose: Containing textbooks and notebooks; library companion
Condition: Very worn
Reason for discarding: Falling apart; no more library trips necessary

Fuzzy blue slippers, c. 2000
Purpose: Keeping feet warm; serving as an obstacle to casually walking around house
Condition: Fair
Reason for discarding: Unworn since 2001

Two pairs ballet pointe shoes, c. 1999-2001
Purpose: Prior to level of serious dancing, the cause of blisters and twisted ankles
Condition: Worn, but not well enough to indicate serious dancing
Reason for discarding: Level of serious dancing never achieved

Cell phone, c. 2006
Purpose: Making phone calls and sending very few, very sparsely worded text messages
Condition: Fair 
Reason for discarding: Non-functioning and seriously outdated

Lucite cube paperweight with colored beads, c. 1995
Purpose: Taking up space on desk, may have served as slightly thoughtful go-to gift
Condition: Fair
Reason for discarding: Too garish for today's tastes; no papers in need of a weight

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Clearing the Clutter

With summer coming to an end, it feels like so much is just beginning.  After 4 months of relentless applications with almost no feedback, finally--FINALLY--it appears I've landed an internship at an art library!  It's a small step but hey, it's something.

I'm all set to be a new me: the me with in an internship in art in New York City, who can SEE now the first step to my future.  And the first thing I did?  Started clearing out my closet, my drawers, my desk and dresser.  I hope it doesn't sound superficial, but I feel the things that surround us--our possessions and even our clothes--definitely have an impact on the way we see ourselves and our situation.  So it was a therapeutic session going through the OLD--old clothes, defunct technology, unnecessary papers and other relics of a frustrating summer--and clearing myself a new space, and making some breathing room.

Not everything I found wound up in the trash bag though, and as satisfying as it is to throw away, it is also a wonderful feeling from time to time to unearth objects from your past and to physically see where you were then and where you are now.  I found old pictures, books, tons of school notebooks, craft supplies (some things never change), a harmonica, computer games, ballet slippers, and notes written by my parents on the eve of my coming of age.  Notes about how scary the world may seem, and how I may doubt myself, but I'm capable of so much.  Which is not a bad treasure to unearth, perhaps the best--and most necessary--of them all.

That all said, I'm not quite there yet.  I'm still sorting and organizing, still working on moving the junk out.  And of course there will more brought in everyday: new things for a new me.  This is my future, folks.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Buried Treasures on TV

Turns out, this is a pretty au courant time to be exploring interesting objects.  Recently, the subject has been exploding on TV, and now has a newest iteration in "Buried Treasure" on Fox.  I'm not a huge TV follower, but of course am familiar with "Antiques Roadshow," where ordinary people bring seemingly ordinary objects to be appraised by experts and find out they're worth whopping sums of money.  This is just the granddaddy of what is apparently called the "pawn-reality genre," and includes The History Channel's "Pawn Stars," Spike's "Auction Hunters," and Discovery's "Auction Kings," among others.  I'd throw into this list TLC's "Hoarders," because though of a very different sort, it's another show that is obsessed with things.

So why this popularity of shows about stuff?  Maybe in our materialist culture, people are just obsessed with things.  Or, maybe it is the stories and history behind objects that interests them.  Maybe they are intrigued by the high sums of money in which the shows deal.  Or, the shows could simply reflect the timeless Cinderella story: average people bring in what seems to be everyday junk, but is revealed to be valuable treasure.

Anyway, I let my curiosity get the better of me and watched the premiere of Buried Treasure.


Over-dramatization and corny graphics aside, there were actually some interesting aspects to this show.  In contrast to Antiques Roadshow and Pawn Stars, Buried Treasure actually brings you into people's homes, and gives you a greater sense of the everyday contexts of extraordinary objects and the significance they hold in the owners' lives.  In addition, rather than just valuing these treasures based on monetary worth, we see more their emotional value as a family heirloom or personal relic. And then at the extreme end, we see what happens when the objects take over a person's life.

As I go forward with this blog and my interest in objects, I wonder if it is even a good thing to be so interested in things: so quickly one can fall off the edge into materialism or at worst, hoarding.  There are a great number of wonderful, interesting, valuable objects out there, but obviously they are not the most important part of life.  At the very least, I hope the interest in these shows reflects that; they are just entertainment, after all.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Stuff of Life & The Life of Stuff

Only a couple of posts in, I'm still tweaking and refining this blog, trying to figure out what exactly is its purpose and what I want to say.  So, to narrow the focus a bit, I'll start by looking at my blog's actual title (ha!)--Bric & Brac--which aside from being the moniker I've bestowed (somewhat arbitrarily) upon my jewelry line, actually describes pretty well my interest.  Bric & Brac comes from bric-a-brac, of course:
noun /ˈbrik ə ˌbrak/ 
Miscellaneous objects and ornaments of little value
I find bric-a-brac to be extremely interesting and revealing: in small objects that could often be overlooked is wrapped up history, personality, function, and the lack thereof.  These objects have a story.  This is a quality I hope to convey when I make jewelry.  It's why I like incorporating repurposed, miscellaneous objects.  Since becoming involved on Etsy, it's something I've appreciated about the site as well.  It's a site filled with people who have a similar reverence for the simple beauty of objects, who put care into their creations or their vintage finds.

So between my jewelry, my work on Etsy, my blogging, and the way I live and look at my everyday life, I think objects serve as a good link.  In my blog, miscellaneous objects of little value (or slightly more value) will become windows on the world.  Whether found in the streets, in shops, or in my own home, there are myriad stories to tell!

To get the ball rolling, I'll look at an often overlooked (you can see by the mess!) but rather intimate part of my life: my desk.  Here where ideas are born and sometimes lost, where I've collected a most miscellaneous assortment of goods, and thereby all the stories that go along with them.  I won't tell you the stories, of course, but I think the photos speak well enough for themselves.

(Just wait until I start opening my drawers!)

Readers--or whoever is out there--what objects are typical of your everyday life?  What literal drawers can we open to understand you?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Creating an online "self"

For a person of my generation, I have always been rather resistant to new technology.  In high school, I was reluctant to get my first cell phone, and I elected to take a film photography course rather than one in digital.  Today, I work in an old fashioned, independent, paper book store (and am hanging on tight to my paper books!), and I adamantly use my low-tech flip phone, probably now more out of spite than anything else.

In short, I feel like I would have been the last person (who came of age in the 21st century, at least) to say that I have a blog.  And a Facebook.  And a Twitter.  And a shop on Etsy.  And that I've spent the last two days trying to figure out how to create my online "self" and reach out to the Internet in hopes that it shows me a little love in return.

Ironically, it all began when I decided I needed a distraction from the highly abstract task of emailing out resumes to dozens of job opportunities that may as well have been going into the abyss.  I wanted to do something I loved, namely using my hands to bend wire and match beads and make beautiful jewelry.  And a great forum exists online for selling my handmade jewelry--Etsy--with millions of potential consumers around the world.  The problem now is letting them know that I'm here and I make beautiful jewelry and they should look at ME!

Having blogged a bit before, and enjoying writing in general, this blog seemed like a natural place to branch out.  But then Twitter seems like a good complement for its interactivity, so then I went there.  Then comes sharing the two on any other sites I am on, and all of a sudden I'm spiraling out of control in a cyberspace web of my own personality.

So here I find myself, on the one hand doing something that millions of people are already doing every day, and on the other hand doing something that feels very unnatural (to me anyway).  I'm starting to figure out who I am as a person in real life--and still have ways to go--but now I have to create essentially from scratch my internet persona.  What do I want to tell the world in my tweets?  In my blog?  On my Facebook?  Who will listen to me?  Who will care?  And after all is said and done, will I actually sell any jewelry??

(Cue shameless plug for Etsy store.  I make nice jewelry.  Check it out here!)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Welcome to Bric & Brac!

I am a strong believer in the beauty of everyday life.  For me, art is the little things that make you stop and think and take life a little beyond the ordinary.

This is a blog to record art: made, photographed, exhibited, found on the side of the road, etc.  I hope to share the world as I see it, and eventually to accept submissions from readers.  I want to know, what do you think is beautiful?  If we get a community sharing the unique things we all notice and appreciate--something others might overlook--who knows the possibilities!  I hope we will be able to walk outside and see the world in a new light, question something we've never thought about, and see beauty where before there was none.

This blog is also a platform to promote my new Etsy site,  After 10+ years of making jewelry for family, friends, and myself, I have decided to take a chance and bring my crafting to the internet.  Jewelry is wearable art, after all, and I love the challenge of taking unique materials and making something functional and beautiful out of them.

Art is not a single, untouchable entity.  It is interwoven with life.  It is the utilitarian and the decorative, what we see and what we create, and the bric and brac in between.

(Also, if all of this seems dreamily idealistic, that's because it's midnight in late summer, and that's just the kind of mood I'm in.)