Thursday, January 30, 2014

Strange Attractions...

Some things are little mysteries.  Like my somewhat strange attraction to the carved wooden figures of Native Americans that can be found outside of cigar stores or in high end antique shops.  They have an interesting history.  Tobacco was introduced to remarkably ungrateful early visitors to Virginia by Native Americans and as the fondness -- or craving -- for tobacco took hold, the two became entwined.  In England, small counter-top sized wooden carvings of Indians appeared in the early to mid 1700’s.  Life-sized “Cigar store indians” have been around in the U.S. since the early 1800’s.  Some are elegantly carved, others are more crude, but at a time when many were illiterate they clearly marked a shop as one carrying tobacco products.  

Like the large carved wooden signs depicting eyeglasses, the ubiquitous red and white striped barber shop pole and the over-sized key of the locksmith, these hand carved and brightly painted figures were effective advertising.  They were also, for the most part, inaccurate, as many of the craftsmen had never seen a Native American during careers working in shipyards carving fantastical mastheads of buxom babes for wooden sailing ships.  As steamships made their debut in the 1800's, craftsmen turned their skills to advertising and imagination.

To some, they are understandably controversial figures, but they evoke a tenderness in me I don’t really understand.  I see so much in their weathered and worn, aged-by-time faces, in their costume and in their stance — each one looks as though it wants to tell me a story. Here’s a small collection of some I’ve noticed and photographed.  What do you see in them?

Jackson Hole, WY

Jackson Hole, WY


Washington, DC

Philadelphia, PA

Lots of interesting things catch my eye.  Come visit my shop
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Thanks for stopping by.  E. England

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reflections of 2013

Wanderlust should have been my middle name.  I love to travel, whether out in nature hiking on my own two feet, carrying everything sufficient for three or four days or in cities large and small.  Because the cities require little planning and there is far less to carry, I explore them often.  Looking back at a collection of thousands of images taken over the year, I have become aware that I am attracted to shop windows.  I love the challenge of the reflective quality, each image becomes as much about what is or isn’t captured in reflection as what is on display in the window.  Here are some of my favorites.

Ames, IA
San Francisco, Mission District

New York, NY 
New York, NY
Philadelphia, PA
Kansas City Plaza
New York, NY
Philadelphia, PA
Washington, DC
Des Moines, IA
Princeton, NJ

I look forward to sharing my reflections of 2014 with you.  Come find and follow me here:

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year: Do You Recognize These Antique Ornaments?

Our first big snow storm of the year hit on trash and recycling night this week and the City of Philadelphia (which is not known for it’s multi-talking skills) has thoughtfully given us a week-long reprieve for taking down the Christmas tree and provided me with some time to tell you a little story.

My husband and I had friends over for pre-dinner and post-dinner cocktails one night during the Holidays.  Mid-way through the post-dinner cocktails, one charming pal squinted at the tree from across the room and wondered aloud about several ornaments.  He wondered because they looked…well, vaguely familiar — in fact — oh my goodness, didn’t his very own family have the same ornaments, long-forgotten in someone’s attic?
Nothing unusual in that you may be thinking, there are millions of ornaments made every year.  What is she going on about?  But each of these ornaments was handmade by myself or one of my immediate family members.  There are nineteen of them (ornaments, not family members) and they hung from our family tree for many, many years.

In the early 70’s, for several years in a row, my mom had the idea to whip up a batch of plaster, pour it into plastic molds and, once dried, pop out a variety of ornaments for the four of us to paint while gathered around the dinner table in the evenings.  There is a trumpet blowing angel, a fish, a candle, a peacock, three wise men, a Santa, the head of a snowman, a Christmas tree, a wreath, a Christmas stocking that says Noel, a gingerbread man and two “ornament” shapes.  There used to be a funny little, sperm-shaped, baby Jesus, but I think he may have been over-looked one year and taken out to the curb with the tree after Christmas.  I’ve looked everywhere and he is not to be found.   It’s our very own mystery of the baby Jesus — I suppose we should have put a little tracking device on him like they do in public nativity scenes now because the baby Jesus is so often stolen.

The history behind these ornaments is not unlike a Davis Sedaris tale.  Such a wholesome, family-bonding project for the four of us, wouldn’t you think?  But my dad had always had one-too-many martinis and my mom was Martha Stewart before there was Martha Stewart - expecting nothing short of perfection in all things large and small.  My brother and I were sullen and resentful of the extended time around the table, cruelly separated from our friends.  I remember a year when my boyfriend sat in with us, but his artistic skills were deemed unacceptable by ‘Martha Stewart’ and he was not invited back.  
Nevertheless, as I pack each one away, I smile to remember a time spent together laughing, bickering, competing and decorating.  They are fragile bits of plaster, glitter and gold that represent our bonds of love and disfunction as well as a somewhat creative family gene pool.

In almost 30 years of Holiday gatherings, before last week, exactly no one had recognized or remembered these ornaments.  I had come to believe my tiny family, alone in the universe, had thought to decorate small plaster ornaments for Christmas.  Now it appears there were others.  Do you recognize them?  If you’re old enough, perhaps you and your own family decorated little ornaments just like these?  The thought of a larger community of us — each with their own sacred, crazy-family tales to tell  — thoroughly warms my heart.

Happy New Year,  
E. England