The transfer-printed dish in the background is a saucer I bought at an antique mall that used to be open in a big industrial building in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. I bought the saucer because I thought it looked old, and it was priced at only a couple of dollars. On the bottom it’s marked “Royal Doulton – Grantham.” I’d never really checked the mark before; I just did a search on the Grantham pattern and see that it’s all over the Internet. I tried to find a date for the pattern and didn’t, but I did see that Doulton was permitted to add “Royal” to their name in 1901, so I assume this little dish dates back no farther than that.
I was very disappointed when I broke this saucer, I don’t remember how. I glued it back together, and since I never used it for anything but a colorful shelf backdrop, the broken saucer is sufficient. I still like this pattern, including the colors, although I don’t think I’d want an entire service of it.
Because of the BBC comedy “Keeping Up Appearances,” the name “Royal Doulton” always gives me a chuckle due to the way Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “bouquet”) says the name: Royal Dooooouton. I thought maybe I’d been mispronouncing the name all these years, but discovered that was just one of Hyacinth’s affectations. Apparently the “hand-painted periwinkles” on her china are extremely important to her. My little saucer has strictly a transfer design.
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If you look between those two sheep I talked about in this post, you’ll see a small cup. This is one of the many little treasures I own that I purchased on eBay. It’s a child’s graniteware (or enamelware) cup. The transfer design is a spray of flowers, although saying exactly what kind is beyond my knowledge of horticulture. Judging from the style of the art, the cup appears to be from the turn of the 20th century. It doesn’t show in the photo, but the cup has a thin enameled metal handle on the right. I like to think this cup is from a very special set of child’s dishes.
Items like this always set my imagination in motion. I want to know who the little girl was who received the dishes, what the occasion was (Christmas? birthday?). Did she also have a doll as elegant as this cup with whom she shared tea parties? What happened to the set of dishes? What happened to that little girl? Was she from the United States or did this cup travel from across the ocean? How did this lone cup manage to survive all these years and wind up on a shelf in my kitchen?
If only material things absorbed what is happening around them and we could read the vibrations with our fingers like a kind of psychic Braille. Or imagine being able to sharpen our hearing so that we could put a cup like this to our ears and hear echoes of a child playing over one hundred years ago.
Some psychics, I guess, are able to do just that, receiving information about the past from a scene or a room or an object. I wonder if some future technology will be enable us to interpret transmissions stored in material things? I’d be blown away just to see or hear a few seconds of some totally common moment from a century ago – like a child playing with a flowered enamelware cup.
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This is another in my series of posts discussing the items that appear in the photo in the heading of this blog. After the stick kachina doll and the orange salt shaker, we now move on to the pair of folk art sheep.
Obviously, I collect sheep; and I have a lot more than those that appear in the above photo. That’s just one shelf. This pair I purchased, I believe, about five years ago at a local folk art fair. I like either really realistic-looking sheep or non-cute folk art sheep (nothing nursery-like with eyelashes!), so this pair caught my attention immediately. They’re handmade in the style of German nativity scene sheep that now cost an arm and a leg at antique malls and shows. The standing sheep has a rusty tin star tied around his neck, which adds a nice Americana primitive touch.
This folk art fair was a nationally sponsored show held each spring and fall at the Sharonville Convention Center just outside of Cincinnati. I really loved that show and attended each season, if I could. Usually I made plans to go on Friday evening, by myself, arriving just after the doors opened around 5 o’clock.
It was rare for me to leave the show without having purchased something, whether for myself or as a gift. For myself, I bought various sheep, needlework supplies and kits (I began rug hooking by purchasing a kit for making folk art hooked ornaments), a loomed throw rug, wax figures and ornaments shaped in old chocolate molds, and other items I can’t even remember. I hovered around certain artists’ displays, mooning over paintings or prints I would love to have purchased but couldn’t really afford, returning every season to look again and again. I kind of regret a couple of purchases I never made.
The last time I attended one of the fairs , the number of vendors was way down. Finally I saw a notice that the folk art fair would no longer be booked at the Sharonville Convention Center , and as far as I know no other community staged it, either. Maybe online sales opportunities whittled away at attendance, and by now hefty gas prices and the tanking economy might have killed it anyhow.
But I really miss attending that show. Yes, I can go online and look for folk art sheep. But it’s not the same as wandering up and down the aisles and having a pair of tiny faces like the ones above peeking at me from a shelf, ingratiatingly suggesting I should adopt them and take them home.
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As I explained here, I’m doing a series of posts about the stuff that’s in the photo across the top of my blog. Continuing the left-to-right progression, I now back up a bit to zero in on the orange salt shaker.
About twelve years ago I became infatuated with hand-painted china from Japan, especially the strange little scenes with houses or windmills or a placid lake with an overhanging tree. From Noritake to Nippon to items simply stamped “Made in Japan,” I loved them all. In order to rein myself in from starting yet another all-consuming collection, I limited myself to cake plates and salt and pepper shakers, even if there was only one shaker available. These were inexpensive and readily available, and I amassed a nice collection in a very short time.
The orange shaker in the photo above is actually a little different from most of my pieces. The style of the medallion is crisper, and I think this might be a decal rather than hand painted. However, there’s a vintage style to this one that I love – reminds me of the designs that inspired Mary Engelbreit, especially in her earlier works. I don’t remember where I bought the set; probably at a local antique mall or the Burlington antique show. I do have a pair of these shakers, but I was trying to create a “hodge-podge” in the photo, so I just tossed a bunch of unrelated stuff together on a shelf.
The orange shakers reside on a pair of shelves in my tiny hallway near the front door. The rest of the various shakers are on a narrow shelf in my computer room. They make a bright display against the apartment-white walls.
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See that photo at the top of my blog? I’m so desperate for something to write about, I’m now going to embark on a series of posts in which I explain everything about each object in the picture.
The first one’s going to be a little hard to see. Look at the far left of the photo. There’s something behind the orange salt shaker. Even if you look really close, you may not be able to tell that it’s a tiny, very primitive kachina doll.
Not a real one, of course. This is one I made out of a stick from our backyard when I was 10 or 11 – which makes it circa 1964 or 1965. I was very interested in Native American crafts at the time, and I continually got books out of the library by W. Ben Hunt. He explained such fascinating things as how to carve a totem pole, how to fire pottery, how to make cornhusk dolls, and how to make a simulated bearclaw necklace from wooden claws.
I made miserable attempts at all kinds of little things. Why the kachina doll survives is beyond me. It’s about 4″ tall, and I carved a few details with a dull pocketknife (probably cutting myself in the process). I then painted it with whatever poster paints I found lying around. The stick already had a hole in the end, which made a perfect place to glue a dyed feather. I think the feather was green. I haven’t seen that feather in decades.
Somewhere along the way I decided to give the kachina a coat of varnish to preserve it, and I’m sorry I did. It’s very glossy now; I miss the original matte finish of the poster paint (the stick absorbed it pretty fast, so it was never very bright).
Sometimes some weird little thing finds a spot on a shelf and you wind up carrying it with you forever. That’s how it is with my terrible little kachina doll. When I see it, though, I remember exactly what the day was like on the back porch of our Maple Street house in Oakley. And I remember how I felt at that age, and how much I enjoyed making things. I still do.
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I don’t know when my love affair with sheep began. It certainly wasn’t a childhood thing. I mean, I saw them at the county fair, but they didn’t impress me that much. I probably paid more attention to the chickens. There weren’t a lot of sheep raised in this part of Ohio, either, so I never saw them out in the fields the way I did cows and horses.
Sometime about 20 years ago, though, sheep suddenly impressed me as aesthetically beautiful, one animal or a grazing flock. It might have had something to do with fantasies of Scotland and Ireland I was entertaining at the time. I remember driving past Shakertown in Kentucky (on the way home from a clogging workshop on Lake Cumberland), looking up and seeing a smattering of sheep on a grassy slope enclosed by a stone wall. I was enchanted (and it probably didn’t hurt that I was listening to a tape of the Scottish band Silly Wizard at the time).
The following May, in 1987, I made my first trip to Ireland. My God — sheep everywhere, even grazing on small patches of grass in the middle of a town. I’m sure it wasn’t long after that that I started seriously accumulating sheep.
As I said, for me there’s this aesthetic appeal about sheep. I love the way they’re shaped, especially their heads. That’s why I like realistic sheep figurines, not cutesy lambsy things with cartoony faces. The primitive style are okay, even though they can be rather mutant-looking. (Some of these creatures I would not want to encounter behind the hedgerows on a dark night!)
As happens with collecting things, each of my sheep has a memory or story associated with it. I’ll share those now and then. In the photo above is a pottery sheep I purchased at the Workshops of David T. Smith in nearby Morrow, Ohio (if you follow the link, you can see the sheep in the photo under the “Folk Art” section). We were attending one of their summer folk art fairs about 12 years ago. I spotted this figurine on a shelf in their samples shop near the pottery wheels and kiln. I had to have this piece; it evoked fantasies of Colonial-era estates in America or old country houses in Britain. It’s easy to imagine this sheep leading a very different life a century or two ago, rather than being crafted by hand in Warren Co. in the late 20th century.
(I’m hoping to make it to The Country Living Fair at The Workshops of David T. Smith one day next weekend. If you’ve never been to the Workshops site, it’s a gorgeous place, and the fair looks really interesting.)
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