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.