Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Art of the Parcel

Perhaps it is true that you can't judge a book by its cover, but I believe that you can judge a gift by its packaging.  In fact, I have to admit that, whether giving or receiving, I often care just as much about the box, the tissue, the ribbons, or string as I do about what is inside all that delicious concealment.
Just think of the Varga girl, those World War II-era pin-ups painted by Alberto Vargas.  They were all the more enticing because of the satin and pearls and chiffon in which the artist draped them.  Part of the power of the 1940s pinup lay in what was barely hidden, what was anticipated; the fabric or flowers or ribbons revealed the form of the woman without giving away everything.  There was room for imagination, lust, and even a sense of humor.  After all, what's sex without humor?

So it is with most things in life: the form of a well-written poem is satisfying to the eye and ear; the shape of a well-made coffee mug is pleasing to the hand; how we contain things matters.  My favorite buttons housed in a plastic baggie appear a little sad.  Slip them into a vintage teacup or a wooden bowl and they are as luscious as candy.

My craving for pretty parcels was deeply satisfied today when my husband and I visited two of our favorite shops in Peterborough, New Hampshire, Red Chair Antiques and Bowerbird and Friends, where we bought vintage labels, bottles, drawer pulls, and thread in vivid shades of plum and blue and red.  We spent only a few dollars in each shop, but the women who sold us the items wrapped them with care in paper adorned with ribbons at Bowerbird and vintage stamps at Red Chair.  Once home with our small bundles, we had the pleasure of discovery all over again as we undressed them to reveal the treasures within. 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Bird in the Hand

have always felt a kinship with magpies and crows and other birds who are drawn to shiny bits of foil and flotsam. When I was little, I liked to dig for marbles, bottles, and bits of broken crockery in the lot behind my yard where a large old house had been torn down.  I'd make up whole worlds and imagined existences from a piece of twigware or a shard of mirror, its silver flaking off like a snake's skin.  I felt like I was a magical blend of alchemist and archaeologist.  

Today, as a writer and teacher of writing, I still experience this same process of discovery and imagination.  The writing process is mostly lonely, slow, hard work, digging down in the earth, your knees creaking like wet wood in the mud, but occasional flashes and glimmers appear, and if you remember to look up from time to time, there's always the sky, a tree, and, of course, there are the birds who keep you company and remind you to sing (or even squawk--that's good, too).

I named this blog after my collecting tendencies--keys, old photographs, buttons, textiles, pins (like the map pins in the photo) ironstone, paint boxes, buckets, bowls, recipes, memories, cats, friends, and other things that shine from within.  I am drawn to people and places that challenge me to remember and imagine and create. The painting behind the blog's title is Rubens Peale's "Magpie Eating Cake" (1865).  I love that audacious bird.