White Room

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Collection of miscellaneous white porcelain in the kitchen at Stagfield, Ashland, Virginia.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression Like white on rice?  (You have to be Southern to say it “rite!”) Lest you wonder, it means something that’s integral, something through and through, something so stuck on something else that there is no separation.  I’m that way with old things. I don’t particularly like new, unless it’s a new car. That’s why thrift stores and junk shops are so appealing to me. And I seem to always be drawn to things that are or once were white.

I like how my collections of white objects are testament to their former purpose or previous life. Maybe with antique linens being the one exception, cracks, crazing, grease spots, the way a sugar cone has oxidized over the years earn these items  “most favored” status for they are the pieces that speak to me of memory, of time passing. Rarely do I think, “Oh, I wish this were restored to its original gloriousness, all clean and pristine.”  No, I like “50 shades of white” over the singular non color of new … “where the shadows run from themselves.”

© Mary Garner-Mitchell.

This photo deserves a bit more of a caption. Daddy made this Shaker-style table in 1975 for my first apartment from walnut he and my grandfather harvested long before I was born. If the house were to ever catch fire, I would certainly grab this piece on my way out! The reticulated bowl and platter filled with dried lichens may be one of my best thrift shop finds. It has an impressed stamp on the bottom that is hard to make out. If the Roadshow ever comes this way, I’m taking it and an early 19th century piece of French needlepoint for evaluation.The deer figurine is a yard sale find and I think I paid a whopping 5 bucks for it the year we moved into Stagfield. It moves around the house quite a bit. It is soapstone, I believe. The round plaque, a reproduction I buried in the yard for a winter so it would get mossy and gross enough to earn its spot amongst the old stuff!  The chalk urn I spotted in the barn of the same grandparents’ home when I was a little girl. When they held the estate sale many years later, I asked my mother to look for it and it was exactly where I had remembered!  It is my all-time favorite flower-arranging vessel. It holds pussy willow from the yard most of the time. The ironstone tureen is a much-treasured piece, and it, too, is on the “save list” as it has been handed down from my mother’s family for several generations and has held the centerpiece florals at numerous weddings, mine included.

Shadows of my past

© Media General by Mary Garner-Mitchell. Acrylic air brush, paint, Prisma colored pencil on paper

I came across this illustration the other day amongst many, many long forgotten pieces from my years as a newsroom artist. The VCU Medical College Auxillary’s antiques sale was coming up and we needed cover art for a special feature section highlighting this annual benefit event. Me being the girl in the art department, such assignments usually landed on my desk. The guys got all the air and space and truck illustrations (Everyone knows girls can’t draw trucks!). Anyway this girl was always fine with the “ladies’ pages.” But back to this illustration: We had the catalog, but the photos were iffy at best.  So I composed what I thought would be a good mix of key pieces. There was much emphasis that year, as I recall, on the Chinese influence in the show, thus the table and the porcelain vase. Then there were the usual European porcelains and a few American pieces (the clock and portrait). Sure wish now that I had taken notes on the actual items and their provenance. I’m sure the beat reporter was responsible for the “words” and captions associated with this as with any story. (Everyone knows artists can’t write — or spell!) What I distinctly remember is that I had a WHOLE DAY to do it! I developed this “square on” style because of such crazy deadlines.  I could cut out shapes from frisket and block in the piece with my airbrush very quickly. Next I would add the details by hand with paint and brush and/or Prisma colored pencils. Then hit it again with transparent gray airbrush paint using a “hand frisket” for some shadows and modeling.  I enjoyed recreating the patterns of the porcelain wares in particular. (Maybe this was foretelling of my ongoing assignment of designing fine Limoges porcelain for a current client, who must remain nameless for now.)  As for the grandfather clock, this one struck up memories of the one my father built back in the 60s. My mother painted its face and wrote his name in the center, much like I added my signature on this illustration. I saved the guy in the corner for last, which is probably why he is the weakest part of the illustration as I attempted to capture the antique style of the primitive portrait.  It didn’t work in airbrush and anyway, this guy was so creepy, with such little hands and I was running out of time. The dude reminded me then, as now, of Barnabas Collins of the old “Dark Shadows” serial.  Johnny Depp would have been much more inspiring.

“Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week.” – Joseph Addison

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. “Objets de Barn Art” found mostly on site at Stagfield, c. 1781, Ashland, Virginia.

Relatively speaking, I suppose.

While Friday’s storms had us somewhat consumed with cleanup (we were luckier than many), a pool and a shared bottle of Prosecco underscored a couple of delightful days that I want etched my memory as they otherwise held so few demands, despite downed limbs and buckets of sweat.  Late yesterday afternoon, my friend Nancy Hugo windowsillarranging.blogspot.com/  invited us for a swim and happy Happy Hour that was the exclamation point ending to a weekend punctuated by what to me is “Summertime” – golf,  gardening, grilled suppers, oppressive heat, wind-whipping thunderstorms, good friends,  a good book, a good nap – and with Nancy and John, always good conversation. Which brings me to our discussion of “brown” and an ongoing thread that has  woven itself through my ponderings these last few days, weeks, perhaps most of my collecting life!

According to Nancy’s sources (her children and their peers), the generation just starting housekeeping eschews brown furniture – meaning the pieces handed down through at least the last three or more generations. They don’t want it and the antique and consignment shops are testament to this sad trend. It’s a real shame, for just as our parents and many in my demographic of Boomers are downsizing, this glut of apparently unappreciated, quality “brown furniture” has depressed prices to alarming levels. I have a house full of it!  I’ve noticed even the preponderance of Pottery Barn is moving over for Mod, and while I appreciate aspects of most styles and love a mix, it pains me to see what I fear might be a lack of regard for the real patina of rich walnuts, mahogany, heart pine — in other words, BROWN!

Which brings me in a round-about way to why I like rust.

How ironic that marketing guru, Seth Godin, in his blogpost today http://sethgodin.typepad.com/ notes “Shine is fresh and new and it sparkles. Shiny catches the eye and it appeals to the neophiliac, to the person in search of polish. Patina, on the other hand, can only be earned. Patina communicates trust (because the untrusted don’t last long enough to earn a patina) … “
I believe such is true of lots of things, not only in business and brands but furniture, too. Wrinkles come to mind as well! (sigh…)

So, ANYWAY, today’s photo  seems an appropriate way to illustrate my musings above and my love affair with all things old, rusty, worn, well-used, and well, brown!  “Objets”  I believe worthy of exhibit if only as “barn art” discovered  in the dirt here at Stagfield.  Why? Because they earned it.

Estate Sale Rehab

Concrete folk art bird was once painted red like his brother. A round mound perch of cement studded with river rock plants him firmly on the porch rail. © Mary Garner-Mitchell

I’m just coming off the high of Friday’s estate sale. The rush extended through the weekend in what I like to call a “Piddle Party.”  This is when I excuse myself from the typical weekend house chores and focus on getting creative in the garden and/or in the barn with my found objects and junk. So, my new treasures didn’t disappoint as I got to work early Saturday morning cleaning and scheming without an iota of buyer’s regret!  The concrete birds are perched on the deck for now, but I’m sure will flit here and there (as much as concrete birds might) as the months go by.  The most transformed item was what was left of a twig table I had culled from the trash in the estate sale barn. Off-kilter and wobbly, its three legs were all different lengths and it was missing a couple of “teeth” along it’s top. All the stretchers were missing save one that was broken.  I went to my store of sticks and easily replaced and secured all parts.  The burled ones came from a creek bed at Nancy Hugo’s Flower Camp, in Howardsville, VA.  I knew they would eventually find a home one day, and they complete this now sound rustic table. For the tabletop, one of the slate shingles (salvaged two summers ago when our local train station was re-roofed) was an easy fit with a single cut. I won’t go into detail on other “rehabs”, except to say that all cleaned up rather nicely and seem to be happy in their new home!

Miscellaneous found objects welcome “Red” — brother to concrete folk art bird — make up an ever-changing tableaux on my porch bench. © Mary Garner-Mitchell

Surely bound for the dump, a twig table found a new home and new life. All it took was a few prized sticks, a slate shingle for a top and a little spar varnish! © Mary Garner-Mitchell

“Hello. My name is Mary, and I’m a junk-o-holic…”

The signs were everywhere, along every main and side road all over town: “Estate Sale” … and it happened to be a house I drive by every day and wonder who must live there, or if anyone is still living there.  I got my answer this morning at 8 a.m. as one of the first of the hard-core “pickers.”

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Nothing gives me a rush or makes me feel as euphoric as going to a sale like this one. These days they are far and few between, and today I drank up the clutter, dirt and dust in excess. From what I could gather the widower who owns the place has gone to assisted living and thus, the sale of a lifetime’s collection of farm and household items. The outbuildings were the most fun and a few of us diehards dug through the piles of rusty tools and wood and were handsomely rewarded. Most of what was culled was just pennies. The tramp art table, clocks, blue/green pot, zig-zag trim, baby gate (makes a great trellis) and other items not pictured came to a grand total of $2. That’s T-W-O dollars! Truly, they almost paid us to take it. I presume the lady of the house must have been a flower lover like me because one outbuilding was piled with old flower pots, soil, chemicals and garden hand tools, in various stages of long neglect. (Ahhh… sweet elixir!!) Sadly though, as I waded through mounds of junk, I couldn’t help but notice the saved and now decayed funeral arrangements, still in their metal baskets piled in a corner. When did they stop making these metal baskets? Had to be  40 years ago. Sigh…

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In the house, just a few odds and ends met my trained eye. So much was tempting, but either something I could “do” without, or just a tad too pricey for my Silas Marner sensibilities. Besides, I was really on the hunt for things I could re-purpose for the garden … containers, etc. (I even tried, with no success, to buy the piles of rocks in the yard.)  I did find one item though that is totally a stupid, must have:  A toy baby grand piano, with the sweetest decal above its keyboard,  and its xylophone “innards” are in perfect tune. Precious! I don’t know if I will keep or resell. I just may use it as a prop in a photo for a future painting, then perhaps resell.  A bargain at $28, I can probably double my money if I’m so inclined. Everything else in this photo with my new toy ranged from 50 cents to 3 dollars. Most were under a buck!

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Perhaps my Concrete Cardinals were the best find of the day. Can you believe $3.50 each? The white one was out in the yard, and I found the red one undiscovered in the basement and the sales people were amazed that they had not found it earlier. Could it have been the snakeskins decorating the cellar floor??? Anyway, I was amazed that they sold it for the same price.  Folk art-ish, art they?  I LOVE them!

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Check out the plant stand made of old machine parts and a black bucket! And the antlers are huge! More for my Stagfield collection.The real fun will be tomorrow when I start cleaning up the REAL junky stuff and making something “new.”  More photos to come! Have a happy weekend! I know I will.