Sunday, June 28, 2009

Shabby Chic, Primitives, Vintage, Garden, or what?

My son's middle school PTA used magazine subscriptions as a fundraiser. Two of my favorites were Cottage Living and Country Home--both of which have ceased publication in the last several months, along with Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion, which I usually bought off the newsstand. What gives? The downward spiral of the housing market led to a downward spiral of advertising in said magazines. Maybe the prevalence of home design blogs was a factor, too. (Chicken? Egg?) Without my magazines (oh, I still receive Country Living and the resurrected Victoria), I have been trying to get a handle on blogs and style.

The kids have complained that I have an art gallery in the powder room. We had some really dated pseudo-stencil primitive wallpaper in there when we moved in. After awhile, I convinced my other half to strip off the wallpaper and paint. Unfortunately, the shade of green we picked had a few more neon notes than we anticipated. But we're stuck with it for awhile.A small space is an ideal place for small pictures that could otherwise get lost in a larger room.

Great little mirrored shelves from the Pink Cabbage:The shelves hold a vintage chalk bird (bought at a nearby church yard sale) and an antique chalk box bought at Thoreauly Antiques in Concord, Mass.

I love the 19th century schoolgirl pencil drawing in its original frame. The dealer I bought it from in New Market said she got it on Eutaw Street in Baltimore. There is a girl's name written in script on the back of the frame's edge. She appears in the census in Baltimore in the late 19th century. It's great when you can connect these dots!
Being able to learn something about the person who created a picture or object is rewarding. You can enjoy a picture for its own sake, but the personal story makes it even better. What I collect fluctuates a little; I tend to go to all the styles mentioned above. Maybe these are Victorian Vignettes in their own way on a life-size scale!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wild ponies at Assateague, Maryland

I hope that you enjoy these pictures we took at Assateague in early April. While we were driving through the Assateague Island National Seashore, a baby pony decided to stand in the middle of the road and take a nap! Everyone stopped to admire the pony and take pictures. Mother pony was at the side of the road.
After we drove safely past the mother and baby, we had to drive back to get another look. Guess who's standing in the middle of the road!
Mom to the rescue! Now we have two ponies in the road....
Baby decides he's hungry and starts nursing! All humans watch and wait.

Finally, baby's had enough of being watched. He lets out a huge "waaahhhh!"
The kids asked for one more pass through. This time, both ponies had moved to the other side of the road. Show over; no curtain call :)
It was a beautiful and unexpected start to our spring break! No one could resist these intriguing wild, free animals.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

From a kid's eye view- antiques and vintage shops

It's Emma the youngest of the flock. My brother would not post anything on my mom's blog for a million bucks so this whole section will be written by me (and edited by my mom). A good thing I learned from my mom is that you have to know the value in an object. One of my mom's biggest shopping pet peeves is brand new furniture made yesterday painted or distressed to look like an antique or vintage. Also having a good eye is a good quality when shopping. My mom and I share a lot of interests so shopping together is never a hard thing. We have a lot of favorite shops and we've decided to share:
- R. Trammell & Sons; Old Bowie, MD
- The Pink Cabbage; Rt.144 and Triadelphia Rd., Ellicott City, MD
- Lucy & Ethel's; Savage Mill, Foundry St Savage, MD
- The Vintage Shoppes; Main St., Ellicott City, MD
- Steele's Country; AAA Mall, Freestate Dr. Laurel, MD
- Antiques on Talbot; Talbot St., St. Michael's, MD
- Antiques Emporium; E. Patrick St., Frederick, MD

Those are all the ones that come to mind at the moment but there will be more. [Note from Mom: I love Jeannie Trammell's shop in Bowie for antiques. I'm a long-time customer-about 18 years. She has great taste and good things. Back to Emma.] The Vintage Shoppes and The Pink Cabbage have to be our favs (vintage). Very girly, prices are reasonable, and there's something that comes out with us every time! My mom and I recently did a yard sale at The Pink Cabbage called Strawberry Days from 8-5.

I'm really starting to enjoy doing yard sales and craft festivals/shows. Back in Sept. '08 mom and I did a show near Hagerstown called Boonsboro Days:
It was supposed to be a two day event but the Saturday was rained out by heavy rains by hurricane Ike. There was nothing else to do because we were an hour and a half away from home and we were staying with my brother's friend's family who lived 5 minutes away from the show who were also doing it. It was raining really hard and I was really bummed so mom and I found ourselves spending the majority of the afternoon at an outlet mall some 20 minutes away. Then the next day it was sunny and the skies looked really good so we did it. We shared a booth with the friend we were staying with. Our crafts are called Victorian Vignettes and hers were called Lydia Oh Lydia! Her blog is called " Beauty will surely save the world". So we are doing Boonsboro Days again this year because of all the fun we had last year and this year we have our own booth 10x10' under a tent! Wish us luck! Arrivederchi!
In the interest of equal time, even though he wouldn't blog himself, here is something about my son. He doesn't do much shopping. He'll help at a yard sale, but won't shop too much at one unless I'm there selling. And that can get old fast. His long-time interests are playing soccer and art. The mandala mounted with a yellow mat (pictured below) was on exhibit in the observation deck gallery at Thurgood Marshall/BWI International Airport last year. It was quite an honor to be among the middle schoolers in Maryland whose art was selected.
This year, his silk painting of an orangutan was on display at Columbia Mall. I love this painting! This was his third time participating in the annual exhibit of Howard County students' art at the mall.Hope you enjoyed learning a little about my children :) We'll have more to say about yard sales and antiquing in future posts.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Crafting with family history ephemera

My father's mother was the daughter of Swedish immigrants. That's Grandma as a baby (ca. 1904) on my great-grandfather's lap (with apologies for the strange angle and lack of focus-the picture is in a frame and I was trying to avoid flash glare).

Meet the Johnsons of Jamestown, New York. In addition to my grandmother Ruth on Peter John's lap, see Ambert, Stanley, and Rudolph (Grandma's twin brother) on my great-grandmother Sanna Matilda's lap. Standing in back are Florence and Elmer. Both my great-grandparents had been to the United States and worked before they eventually left Smaland and immigrated with Elmer, Florence, and Ambert. Stanley and the twins were born in Jamestown, where they made a new life with other Swedes.

When Stanley was elderly, he gave me his mother's papers. He and his late wife had never had children and he knew I was interested in history, so he offered them to me. Almost everything was in Swedish, but I had taken one year of Swedish in college and wanted to give it a try. Several letters begin, "Min kara liten Tilda" (My dear little Tilda).

Recently I looked at all of her papers and marveled at how beautiful they seemed. Most of the papers were letters she received, but some of the items were things often described as "ephemera." She had two small engraved invitations to weddings in San Francisco. The couples were Swedish; Matilda had worked as a maid in SF before she immigrated. She also saved several small cards bearing congratulations-for what, I don't know. I wanted to use these in artwork, but I wasn't sure how.

I decided to copy these on my home printer and work with the copies to preserve the integrity of the originals. I strongly encourage this, as you don't want to damage the original items (especially family pieces). Then I used Mod Podge to fasten them onto papier mache boxes. After letting them dry thoroughly overnight, I covered each box inside and out with a clear acrylic sealer. The process worked pretty well. What do you think?

The box on the left is covered entirely with paper; the text was among Matilda's things. The pink scrolled paper is by Anna Griffin. I left the box on the right partially uncovered. I chose not to paint it before applying the copies, but that is an option.

Matilda was a very nice woman, who spoke perfect English (read, no accent) according to Grandma, while her father never really spoke English. By the things she kept, we may infer that she treasured her friends and her memories. I never had any indication that my grandmother was similarly inclined. She had some real tragedies in her life, including the deaths of her father and twin brother in the same week in 1937 and the death of her mother, Matilda, six months later. After Grandma died in 1992, we found a few things that we hadn't expected her to keep--she was sentimental in her own way, after all.

It's kind of funny to think about these decorated boxes as commemorative family mementos because they're functional. You can use these on a desk, dresser, or anywhere. They hold up pretty well with use. At the same time, the boxes are conversation pieces and add a pretty touch during your day.

Do you have family papers that you have used in art? If not, think about giving it a try. It's time-consuming, but fun and well worth the effort. Lycka till!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Winterthur and the Brandywine River Valley

If you live close enough to pay a visit, go to Winterthur and see a fine exhibit this summer, "Who's Your Daddy?" It's a small exhibit, but loaded with rich needlework documenting families, handed down through generations. It's going to be up until August, so try to fit it in with your summer plans if you love needlework. Winterthur is a great place and one of a kind. The gardens are fabulous, too, if you prefer being outdoors! Nearby other sites are Hagley Museum, Nemours, and Rockwood--all in Delaware. Close by in Pennsylvania are Longwood Gardens, the Brandywine River Museum, Chaddsford Winery, and more. We've been to all of these over the years and our visits are always fun. Yes, we have dragged the kids with us, mostly with success. (My parents indoctrinated me, therefore I must do the same to the next generation.)

I have to put in a plug for an antique shop I visited when we made a trip to Winterthur last month. Take a detour a few miles north along Route 52 to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Go to Springhouse on US Route 1. It has a bit of the French country flair, with some garden things, porcelain, a nice mix in all. Unfortunately, there isn't a web site for the shop, but check it out in various online business sites. We discovered that a shop we liked in Centreville, DE, had closed. The Windles had great early things. It's always disappointing when a good shop closes--they seem to get fewer in number all the time!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dumb encounters at yard sales...

Last Saturday I went to a community yard sale not far from where I live. Only about 8-10 homes were participating. Most had things I was not interested in like baby items (been there) and books (I have plenty at home that I haven't gotten to yet). If I bring something home, I try to get rid of something else so it has to be worth it (or take up very little space).

One house was busy with several adults trying to pull things out of boxes, the garage, and the house onto the long driveway. I was thinking that this was a bust, too, when I noticed a man unpacking some china. At the bottom of his pile was an antique oval ironstone transferware vegetable dish. The transferware was teal and very pretty. I asked, "how much," and he asked his wife, "what do you think, $20?" She said "yeah." I said "oh, thanks anyway." It's not that it wasn't worth it. It's just that I didn't want to pay $20; I would have paid $10. Only a few weeks before I found a less wonderful, but nice, ironstone piece at another sale for 50 cents (way cheap--I took that one home). Besides, they said it was a piece from the wife's family. So my feeling was that they really didn't want to sell it; I didn't counter offer. When I'm out, I don't want to irritate anyone with a low-ball offer.

I did spot 2 small galvanized steel topiary pots for 50 cents (the pair). Sold! I'll craft them into something.

When I've been on the other side at my own yard sales, which usually are held not in my yard but at other sites for charity (your registration fee goes to the PTA, American Cancer Society, whatever, and you keep the proceeds of your own sales), I've been amazed at some of the things people say. A couple of years ago at the sale at the kids' elementary school, I had an old print among my things. Most of the stuff I sell hovers around $1. A shirt-$1. A hardback book-$1. Etc. So I didn't see the harm in bring a few things that went a bit beyond $1. Most people are very friendly, but there are exceptions.

One woman approached me holding the old print and asked nicely, "how much for this?" I said, "Oh, I'd like to get $15 for that." She blurted out at me, "I just BET you would!" Then she turned and stormed off. Another woman looking at my magazines said to me, "well, that was weird!" My daughter, who was probably 9 at the time asked me what was wrong with her. Couldn't explain that.

Last year at the same school sale, a woman wanted to pay $1 for my son's Yugioh (sp?) thousand plus card collection. He was only asking $4. He worked with her to get a small number of cards for $1. She was so cheap about it, but he didn't let her have the whole thing for her price! Then some younger boys came along and bought the rest for $4. He came out ahead on the deal and the other boys were thrilled.

Usually when people low-ball the prices, I balk. If it's marked $2 and someone offers 25 cents, I say no. But other times I'm a wimp. At the Pink Cabbage sale last month, I was asked if I would take $4 for an item marked $5. Not really a low-ball offer, but $5 was the price I had paid--what a fool I was-should have marked it $6 for some wiggle room. I caved only because I wanted to move things out of my house. Overall, the sale went well and I sold a lot.

I'm signed up to do another yard sale for my son's soon-to-be high school at the end of the month. We seem to have an endless supply of saleable junk!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On developing an "eye," or, how antiquing can make you a basket case

Any time we antiquers, yard-sale followers, and all-around shoppers for a good buy venture out in search of something, we are training our eye. Unconsciously over time, we learn to identify what is good or excellent and what to dismiss. I was subjected to this early in life as the child of an antique dealer (Mom) and her willing accomplice (Dad). My sister, brother, and I were hapless participants in such diverse experiences as driving through eastern countrysides to the other extreme of visiting Parke-Bernet and Fred Silberman's shop in Manhattan (I'm sure they thought were hayseeds right off the turnip truck). And some places were practically in our back yard, like Garth's Auctions ( This was the 1970s: Parke-Bernet is now Sotheby's, and Mr. Silberman and Garth's are still going strong from all accounts.

So my parents liked Art Deco and art in general and I liked primitives and folk art. Go figure. The early indoctrination worked. Which is why I find myself going to antique shows when I can. One near me twice a year is the Mid-Atlantic Antiques Market. Last year, I spotted this great basket in the booth of dealer Judy Welton:

I really liked the top; it was so unusual and I hadn't seen anything like it before.
Ms. Welton told me that the man she bought the basket from said it had been made by a man in Delaware named Miner, probably early 20th century. I decided to buy the basket, took it home, and it rests to this day on top of our old cupboard. A few months later, we were visiting relatives in Massachusetts when the kids wanted to go to the beach. I encouraged them to go to one near Essex so that I could make a side trip to Cogswell's Grant. Funny, but none of the adults wanted to go with me!

Cogswell's Grant was one of the homes of Bertram and Nina Fletcher Little, who were experts in American antiques and folk art (see sidebar for link to more information). The tour I had there was fantastic. I was the only person besides the guide, who humored me for 2 hours with an in-depth look at the Littles' house and their collection. Early in the tour I spotted a basket that looked something like mine, or so I thought: This picture, and the one that follows of the bottom of the basket, were later supplied to me by Cogswell's Grant--no pictures were allowed on the tour. Nina Little had a habit of putting jelly jar labels on many of her finds. This basket was apparently Shaker and from the community at Enfield, NH. I think that the CG people thought I was crazy, but they were incredibly helpful. When they saw me foaming at the mouth gaping at their basket, they knew they just had to help!When I asked the folks at CG about the basic technique of a Shaker basket being so similar to my Delaware basket, they pointed out that basket making has variations, but a lot remains similar. The techniques persist over time and space. Always ask questions if you have them. Visiting treasures like Cogswell's Grant are golden opportunities. It's fun to keep working on your "eye."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Victorian vignettes &c

This is my first post on my blog--welcome! I make crafts that I have been referring to as Victorian Vignettes, but I have just learned that another blogger goes by that name. So the name of this blog could change. But this blog will be about the crafts and all kinds of other subjects-mostly related, but some probably not.

I work full-time, so craftmaking is a part-time thing for me. My primary home activities are dictated by my children's schedules--soccer, Girl Scouts, choir, and anything else they do.

Meanwhile, my crafts use vintage millinery flowers and fruit, ribbons, fabric, antique bottles, vintage porcelain figures, ephemera, and other items to make a picture. These are based on Victorian crafts like nature and flower shadowboxes or still lifes under glass domes.

This all started as a winter project with my daughter Emma in 2008. We would go looking for vintage items to use for crafts and then trying working on some shadowboxes together. Initially, Emma made lots of tags--really nice ones.

Then last September, we helped my friend Lydia at Boonsboro Days. She's an artist; we shared a booth selling artwork, vintage smalls, and antiques. The first day of the show was rained out by Hurricane Ike (yes, even in western Maryland), but the second day brought sun and crowds. We did well so we're doing Boonsboro Days again this year.

The shadowbox in the upper right sold at Lydia's Home Show last fall. Then I traded the one on the lower left with a fiber artist.

I participated in the Pink Cabbage's ( ) 4th annual Strawberry Days Yard Sale last weekend; it's a fundraiser for the American Cancer society. The shop invited its customers to sell household things, their own crafts, or whatever! Here is a picture in our booth taken by one of the shopkeepers--thank you-I am flattered--of some of the crafts we showed:

We sold one shadowbox and one other craft. Most of the public took this show at its word-Yard Sale! So we sold lots of our house things--miscellaneous stuff that just seems to accumulate and multiply :) Emma and I have a lot of fun with this. I spend some of my free time scouting out more vintage things and antiques. And I'll share some of those adventures on this blog. I'll post when I can. Thanks for visiting!