Posts Tagged ‘collecting


Little treasures that bring joy

IMG_2645 On this glorious fall day, after a morning of various personal and work errands, I decided to eat my lunch on the deck, looking out at the trees in my wooded backyard. Said lunch was a sliced Bosc pear and an almond butter/blackberry jam sandwich on toasted sprouted wheat bread from my favorite La Calavera Bakery, blessedly located between my house and Mingei’s current home on New Street.  A great treat.  To collect my crumbs and wipe the inevitable smears away, I grabbed one of the towels hanging from cabinet handles in my kitchen.  Thus began a reverie on the small, delightful items we interact with everyday, the seemingly insignificant, functional things that can bring us pleasure and delight. None of these kitchen towels came through our business Mingei World Arts, as so many of the things in my home do, but each is handmade and carries memories of when I bought it.  One is a small, coarsely woven brown flax towel from Finland, vintage but still unused, starched and creased when I found it at a charity sale in Minneapolis. One is a naturally-dyed citron and drab cotton towel acquired on a trip to Pleasant Hill, an old Shaker village in my home state of Kentucky.  On the far right is a golden hand-spun linen towel with stripes from India, where Mingei has shopped many times.  This piece, however, was picked up on impulse in Blue Ridge, GA as I browsed the little shops there with friends. Such is “mingei”, the word coined by the Japanese philosopher Soetsu, to describe a simple, useful item that can bring joy. As I drove home from my errands before my deck lunch, I listened to radio news about the Ebola outbreak, about economic uncertainty in Europe, about political vitriol here at home.  Then, I plucked a dishtowel from its handle, and went outside to watch the leaves flutter in the sunlight.– Ann


Summer 1974

On my morning walk around Lake Avondale today, I found myself thinking about the summer of 1974. That summer, I took my first trip out of the US. I had saved all my birthday and babysitting money for years to travel to Spain with a group of fellow high school students to spend most of the summer living in a dormitory at the University Complutense in Madrid. We had Spanish classes in the mornings, roamed the gritty city in afternoons, and in the evenings discovered sangria and discos with the oh-so-sophisticated Spanish college students that shared the summer campus. In July of that year, Francisco Franco fell ill, and we spent several anxious days on emergency standy-by to leave; our group leaders worried that his death would spark campus riots and nation-wide upheaval. That August, we sat up late one evening to watch President Nixon speak, and resign. We were stunned and then mocked by our Spanish Professor the next morning. “ You are tired today? Americans, so strong!” he said curling his cardiganed arm and pumping his fist.

It was not the much commemorated anniversary of that resignation that sent me into nostalgia today, but rather Holland Cotter’s great piece in the New York Times today in which he “curates” a show of the art and architecture that changed his way of seeing through the years. In “A Lifetime of Looking, Magically Recovered,” he imagines gathering all those discoveries in an exhibit chronologically arranged according to his life, beginning with Vermeer’s The Concert, a painting he discovered at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston while he was a college student, a painting which sadly was stolen in 1990 and is still missing. He takes us on a tour of the African masks, the Haiga Sofia, the installations and sculptures and other finds that shaped him, ending with a description of the Great Mosque at Djenne, Mali seen in changing light through a day and into the night.

So, as I walked around the lake this morning, I began to think of what I would collect in such an exhibition, but perhaps since I have been a gatherer of thrift store items and market finds rather than an art critic for the New York Times, my thoughts turned to the summer of 1974 when I first travelled and purchased my first travel souvenirs. That summer, aside from gifts, I bought a damascene pendant that I believe is scratched but is still in the bottom of my jewelry box, a now spotted white embroidered shawl which I am certain is in a trunk somewhere, a set of six etched wine glasses (three of which survived my college years), and a talavera plate and cup. The cup now holds pens and such on my desk, and the plate is stacked in a cabinet with other plates and platters more recently collected and more recently used. These were very serious purchases, chosen with utmost care and teenagerly consideration of what it meant to own such things, to be judged by these choices. I remember acutely the feeling that I was defining myself by these early purchases, that I loved them, and that I had begun the adult process of making a home by choosing these objects on my own. 

talavera cup talavera

Thankfully, I learned to take myself and my purchases much less seriously, but I do recognize that the summer of 1974 set me on a path of travel and shopping that has enriched my life these last 40 years and more than filled my house.


So, dear readers, dear fellow collectors, what were your first adult purchases? Do you still have and use them or have you cast them off and begun again?  — Ann


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