This past weekend, I took a break away from my newest fiction project and attended a vintage market show. I didn’t go to buy. I went to walk around and see what imaginative and creative people who aren’t writers are doing.
Now, I go to antiques shows a few times a year, but this was different. I expected to see painted furniture, but aside from that I found vintage doll heads stuck atop lamp bases with tiny crowns made of marbles. I found wreaths made of cotton bolls. I found handmade primitive dolls. I found rusty tractor parts, chairs with ripped seats, salvaged hardware bits and bobs, and light fixtures made from old galvanized roof turbines.
(Did I take any pictures? Alas, no. The crowds were thick, and frankly I was too busy ogling and goggling to remember to snap pictures.)
I wanted to observe what people bought and what they might use their purchases for. After all, I keep hearing about the trend of repurposing from blogs and television. So what exactly, I wondered, were people doing and with what?
I saw customers gravitating toward antique typewriters and wooden shipping crates. I saw them caressing rusty lamps, murmuring over whether they could find someone to do rewiring. I saw them pondering the selection of chalk-type paints in one booth. I saw them deliberating over whether to buy signage.
But mainly I saw folks fingering random pieces of hardware, playing pieces salvaged from games, odd forks in tarnished silver, clock faces, old apothecary bottles, and rusty industrial springs. They were curious and obviously fascinated, but booth after booth seemed to offer more items to make things with than pieces reflecting actual imaginative re-use.
Mainly, it seemed to be less a venue of artistry and craftsmanship, and more a supply source.
As I was picking out some outdoor faucet handles — things that used to be in every garage sale and have now practically vanished — the vendor was asking me what I would use them for. Surely, I thought, you should be showing new uses to me.
But perhaps my expectations were off-base. All I know is that the place quivered with possibility. On every shelf, and at every turn, I saw the capacity for inventiveness just waiting to be seized. Table legs and wooden spindles … what can be made from them? What might be done with them?
The feet salvaged from an old clawfoot bath tub … could they be turned upside down to become bookends?
Looking at things from different angles and new perspectives, what a terrific exercise in imagination! Can an empty clock cabinet become a display case? Can a bed be re-carpentered into a bench? Can a battered piece of industrial iron become a work of art?
It’s so refreshing to move away from the abstraction of words from time to time and consider other means of self-expression. Besides, you never know what might spark a new story idea.
For example, I collect old nineteenth-century photos, also known as cabinet cards. I particularly like wedding photos.
These are what I purchased:
On one level, the clothes fascinate me. Who is the most stylish couple? Only one bride is wearing the type of wedding dress and veil our modern perceptions might expect to see. The other young women are attired in finery, but not what we would consider bridal gowns. Look at the grooms with their well-cut suits and fine cravats.
Fashionable poses? Or can we surmise stories about them and their relationships?
My other treasure (besides faucet handles) is this green glass doorknob. Is it authentically vintage or a reproduction? I’ve seen clear glass knobs and those sun-turned a delicate lavender tint, but I have never encountered an emerald green one before. Real or phony, it’s beautiful. I have no idea of what I’ll do with it, but I love it anyway.
Who knows? Perhaps one day it will inspire a story about the fabled emeralds of some magical kingdom.