Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Grey Gardens Costumed Viewing Party (Blogger Meetup Success!)

Good morning!

Whew, what a weekend it was, this weekend past! What did you get into? I spent mine in a flurry of activity as I hosted my second blogger meetup on Saturday night. Watch out, Elsa Maxwell, I'm still vying for the title "hostess with the mostess." Themed parties are even more fun than regular wingdings, so I made good on a promise elicited several months ago between Kimmie, Rae, Eartha and myself to have everyone over for a showing of Grey Gardens. I am always down to watch this movie for the 1,000,001 time, and wouldn't it be fun to see all the girls for a good reason?

If you haven't seen the Maysles's seminal documentary of East Hampton eccentricity (or the HBO tv movie based on the real life characters, which is ok/not too bad), I strongly urge you to get to the library and grab a copy. Or if you have Hulu, both the original Grey Gardens and its semi-sequel The Beales of Grey Gardens are available through their Criterion collection. The movie is a must-see! It presents an indelible portrait of Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, Jackie Kennedy's aunt and first cousin, respectively, who live in relative isolation in a falling-down New England mansion filled with cats, raccoons, and memorabilia from their halcyon days as members of high society. The real star of the show is Little Edie, whose eye-grabbing improvised wardrobe choices are truly some of the strangest/most inspired things you'll see this side of a fashion runway or mental hospital. Edie wears a series of scarves/bathtowels as headwraps and combines swimsuits, upside-down-pinned-together-skirts, turtlenecks, and an iconic brooch into what she deems "the best costume for the day". 

I knew if I was going to do a viewing party, a big part of the hype should be the "come in costume" portion of the invitation. And yours truly did spend the better part of a whole evening a week or two ago throwing together tights with headwraps in an attempt to get as close to Edie as I could. Was my room ever a mess! My first attempt, which involved an actual-sweater-as-headgear in a gesture of true fidelity to the original, ended with me looking like some kind of hijab-wearing chorus girl. Fail. I eventually settled on this much less severe, hugely oversized kerchief, and finally figured out how 1970s girls tie those dadblasted things to look like Rhoda (tie two ends tightly at the back, shift gently to side, keep in place with a bobby pin or two). See below: muuuuch better on the second try.

From Sharif he don't like it  to a staunch character S-T-A-U-N-C-H
With the headwrap locked down, I added my Esther-Williams style actual main bathing suit, a wrap around skirt I purposefully gathered the bottom of and tied at the hip, a black turtleneck, black tights, and, for the kicker, white sandals for about as-close a Grey Gardens look as I could pull together from my own closet:

Cheesecake shot of me which only serves to remind me to eat less cheesecake :p
Next, I sent out invitations via email with this image:
My favorite Windows-paint created format: ransom note chic.

And started thinking of how I wanted to do the table. The most important party planning to me involves what the table will look like and what we'll actually do at the party. I get excited to try and pull in creative ideas that will make it memorable (and give me a challenge in the meantime of how to pull it off). In this case, I knew I wanted stacks of newspaper, empty cat food cans, and a raccoon of some kind, along with a portrait of Edie and maybe some tiny American flags in homage to her third-act Fourth of July dance. I put in a call to my cat-owner friend Kelsey to save clean cat food cans she would otherwise recycle and put on my thinking cap for what else I could do.

Voilà the finished product! I made a sign like the one of the two Edie had made for herself and her mother (her mom's says "The Great Singer Big Edie Bouvier Beale" and hers, as you see below, omits the "r" on "dancer" but touts her prowess at an old soft shoe or waltz), spread a parcel of ads I got in the mail earlier that week all across the table, printed off a life size raccoon on cardstock at Office Depot, and arranged the cans into a little pyramid about the faux critter's feet.

As for activities, I was stumped. I knew we were going to watch the movie, but in googling "Grey Gardens party", I couldn't find any suggested activities other than dressing up and watching the movie (both of which I had covered). So I went back to my teaching resource days and found a Bingo generator. The OTHER best part of the movie, besides Edie's clothes, is definitely how memorable a lot of the dialogue is. So I went through and copied down some of my favorite lines in the movie and made them into a series of unique bingo cards-- if you use a site like this, you can scramble the order of the spaces so each card is individual. Also, imagine if you haven't seen the movie before and you're reading through this card like, "Uh...is this what I'm in for?" I was really happy with the finished result!

As before any social event held at my house, the biggest nail-biting part of the party-throwing is not making the devilled eggs and the cake and cleaning the house (which are practically rote at this point for me), but worrying about whether or not anyone will show up! Real talk: about an hour before any party, I'm always stricken with a pang of self-doubt and an internal monologue of "Oh, God, why did I plan a party, what if like two people show up, I should never do anything" before Matthew eventually talks me down from the ledge (or I get cheered up by my outfit, lol). A few people sent their regrets, and 14 people RSVP'd over the mass email chain I'd sent out to lady bloggers of Nashville. "Hm," says I, "I figure that means I should plan for 10 and actually expect about 8." Well, color me surprised/shame on me for being pessimistic, but each and every of those fourteen people showed up! I should have known with the caliber of kiddies I was talking about that they would come out in force!

Group shot minus Sarah and Rory and Quincy

I stole an idea from a friend of mine's Halloween party (shout-out, Kate McC!) and passed around a selfie-stick with Matthew's phone on it to ensure lots of (albeit blurry) photos! Cast of characters included:

Eartha from Ranch Dressing With Eartha Kitsch and Rae from Say It Ain't So... Eartha knocked it out of the park in her movie-quality Big Edie costume and Rae was part of the pantsless swimsuit and tights club with yours truly:

Jamie and Kimmie from That Girl in the Wheelchair, showing off some patriotic pride with a tiny flag-- Kimmie also wins the prize for "most brooches":

1) Aubrey from Adventures in Aubreyland, Amanda from Junebugs and Georgia Peaches, Jenna from Kitty Cat Stevens, and another appearance from Jamie and Kimmie; 2) the aforementioned minus Jenna, Jamie, and Kimmie but PLUS Quincy from Qsdayream (you can't see her polkadot skirt but it was super cute). Check out Aubrey's spot on headwrap and Amanda's magnifying glass (nice touch!). Jenna came from another event, so we can't hold it against her she didn't want to show up to a non-Edie-Beale-themed-party in Edie Beale attire, lol.

Lauren from Lladybird.com and Devon from Miss Make, lookin' fabulous:

Rory and Sarah from sarahcomo.com (they should get a shout out for being so color coordinated/ adroit at taking selfie stick selfies):

And last but not least, Quincy gave Matthew her phone to take a few group shots, and ended up with Bub taking like 10 selfies after he took the desired group photo. He cracks me up.

Most everyone brought something to eat or drink, but a special shout out to Eartha, who brought this cake with a message. I about died. The quote is (duh) from the movie and perfect:

Verdict? We had a ball! At one point, I think every chair in the house was in the living room for the actual screening, but every one of the guests were real troupers and put up with the sea-of-people squeezed into my front room! The first three winners of Grey Gardens Bingo were Kimmie, Sarah, and Amanda, respectively, and there were some honorable mentions passed around along with certificates of achievement (who doesn't like to win?). We finished the movie and watched clips from Documentary Now!, where Fred Armisen and Bill Heder do a pretty accurate spoof of the Beale ladies (minus the New England accents! I don't know why they decided not to do them when they're such a big part of the movie!), and then just sat around and caught up. The cheerful, high decibel din of people having a good time is about the best you can ask for from a party, and overall, I thought it was a success! I'm so glad to know so many fun and interesting gals in the Nashville area and happy we could all get together even during this busy holiday season!

I bid my last guests good night around 11:30 and promptly went to bed, lol. But I still had cake and hummus to eat Sunday, and a clean house to enjoy, which is the SECOND best part about throwing a party. :)

The lady of the hour, Miss Beale
Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate! And we need to do it again soon! (hint hint, nudge, cough, *karaoke party Rae* cough).

How about you? Are you a Grey Gardens fan? What would you wear for an Edie inspired costume? Had any great themed parties to attend lately? Let's talk!

That's all for today... but shame on me, I'm going to try to be better about updating this space! Have a fantastic week and I'll talk to you soon. Til then!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Weekend Finds: 1950's Australian Aborigine Tea Towel by John Rodriquez (Say THAT Five Times Fast)

Good morning!

Whew, boy, hasn't it been a rainy but productive week over here. I went to the flea market last weekend and while it threatened rain a good part of the time I was there, I did manage to make out like a bandit. My loot? Full length raccoon fur coat , a tv lamp shaped suspiciously like a Billy Haines design from the forties' (this one is its twin, except mine is a pale grey blue instead of yellow), a ceramic desk clock shaped like a rotary phone (!!), and this, my favorite of all of them, a framed tea towel featuring Australian aborigines in full, abstract attire. If you follow me on Instagram, you saw this same-day, but I've been too lazy to take more pictures, so here it is again in its full, slightly blurry glory:

I had spent a perfectly uneventful hour walking the fairgrounds being disappointed by either the dearth of things I wanted to buy or the prohibitively expensive cost of things I DID want to buy. See: a Victorian mourning/memento mori hair wreath [similar to this one] that was in a reasonable $10-$50 price range type booth under one of the sheds...when I asked the price, the guy quoted me $350 without batting an eye...which...it is definitely worth in a retail setting...but everything else in his booth COMBINED wasn't $350, probably (I walked off carrying my crushed hopes alond with me). In a Charlie Brown kicking-the-dirt type mood, I was passing by a large spread near one of the building that every month features a boatload of bargain-basement-priced vintage and antique furniture, when I saw this leaning up against the trailer. I stopped talking to my mom midsentence ("Hang on a second...") and wandered over to hover behind a couple that was trying to decide whether or not a large antique window was suitable for converting into a picture frame (I guess it wasn't, Pinterest be damned, as they walked off without it). The colors, patterns, and weird subject matter pulled me inexorably toward my inevitable purchase-- I just had to hope it was somewhere vaguely in my price range.

I mean...seriously....the one second from the right is my favorite.
When I walked up to a lady in a folding chair asking about the price, she just pointed mutely behind me. There was a gaggle of people standing near the concrete retaining wall and I looked back like, "Which one of these people are affiliated with you, please?" She pointed again, I looked again, and looked back again. Finally, she called out the guy's name and a single figure in a white t shirt and ball cap walked towards me, holding the picture against my chest like a sandwich board. 

"How much are you asking on this one?"

"Gotta have $15 on that."


While this even-less-than-the-$20-I-wanted-to-spend-on-it price should have been good enough, I couldn't resist trying to bargain down to $10...you never know when someone will knock another dollar or two off to meet you in the middle! He demurred, and after a proper period of hem and hawwing to intimate that I wasn't completely willing to pay the $15 out of the gate and am just a cheapskate (which was true, but you have to keep your pride intact), I set the picture against my knees to fish three fives out of my satchel. Success!! The man said as I was handing him his money that the picture had come out of a career Navy officer's estate and that there were more Asian drawings in a pile on one of the tables, but as the plywood-and-glass frame was a little ungainly to carry around the narrow rows, I threw a cursory glance over the table and rejoined my parents.

Dad: What is it? [looking picture over doubtfully]
Me : [cheerfully] I don't know, but I hope it's haunted!
Dad: Nice frame....
Me: I know I need another picture like I need an actual hole in my head, but look at it! [shrugging] I don't care, I wanted it.
Mom: Knowing you, you'll find the perfect place to put it and it'll look fabulous. Or you'll sell it on Craigslist and make some money. So don't worry about it! [possibly the nicest thing my mom has ever said to me, so I had to memorialize this conversation in blog form]
When I got home, I (naturally) googled my find in a fit of curiosity as to what exactly I had on my hands (and, obvs, to make sure I hadn't paid too much at $15). The cursive script at the bottom of the textile reads "Australian Aboriginal Boomerang Corraborra" and what I thought was the surname "Rodriguez". Turns out, it's RodriQuez, as in John Rodriquez, who ran an eponymous business down under, specializing in abstract, Australian-themed designs. I was able to find a number of examples of his work on the Museum Victoria website. The MV owns a large collection of locally produced historic textiles among its holdings, and maybe a hundred digital images there are of items by Rodriquez. 

Like this one!
Brothers to my group above...a little more subtle, but still great.
From the website's catalog entries:
John Rodriquez studied art and design at RMIT in the late 1940s and became well known for his screen-printed textile designs in the early 1950s. From 1950 to 1980 he was one of a handful of Australian textile designers who developed a new contemporary style with innovative use of colour. His designs in the early 1950s were mostly of Aboriginal or geometric style. Later he turned to more abstract designs in the Scandinavian style. Later still he made bold use of colour. Rodriquez introduced unique Australian styles which have been imitated often since. He always stressed the importance of innovation. Many homes in Australia and overseas still have his art works in the linen cupboard. 
John Rodriquez retired in 1988, handing the Rodriquez company to his son Rimian, who has computerised the screen printing and mostly employs other designers for the products, but still uses a few of his father's most popular designs. Rodriquez passed away in 2000.
And from tea towels to fabric calendars to upholstery fabric to greeting cards, the collection really runs the gamut of items you could buy from the textile house. I bet the Navy man mentioned by the flea market dealer bought this as a souvenir of his travels in Australia and brought it home framed to commemorate his trip. I LOVE. ALL THE WEIRD THINGS. YOU WILL FIND. WHILE ESTATE SALE/THRIFT STORE/ FLEA MARKETING. Sometimes I wonder how people shop for non-essentials at retail department stores when there are all these weird and wacky second hand goods to be had (and usually for a pittance). But, as you can imagine, I'm biased.

More designs from Rodriquez, including some fashion sketches for a triad of mid century marvelous circle skirts (I'll take one of each, please):

Place Mat - Human Figures With Headdresses & Spears, Blue on Cream, 1960

Greeting Card - Man With Tools, Blue & Red, No. A0076, circa 1954

Place Mat - Human Figures With Headdresses & Spears, Maroon & Red, circa 1950s

Greeting Card - Shields, Bark Painting & Men Dancing, Blue & Red, circa 1949-1955

Artwork - Fabric Design, John Rodriquez, 1950s

Aforementioned skirts...are they not perfect?

Greeting card

A commemorative fabric from the 1956 Summer Olympics, held in Melbourne 

Greeting Card - Human Figures & Shields, Green & Brown, circa 1949-1955

What I look like in my mind's eye (another greeting card)

Business card, circa 1970

I pause now to tell you that I've spent the past twenty minutes trying to find more information about Aboriginal dress, hats and ornamentation, as seen in the tea towel's illustration. In spite of my finely honed Googling skills, from years at the library's reference desk, I have not been able to find information on said topic. But I WILL share with your what I have found:

  • A Youtube video called "Aborigine hunt huge bats with boomerangs", which, in spite of my loyalty and love of bats, is possibly one of the most metal/amazingly weird things I have seen on the internet, and that is saying something.
  • A wikipedia article about Kotekas, which I will leave you to discover on your own if you dare click the link (but if you do, please let's discuss).
  • This 1939 Life article about Boomerangs becoming a novelty in the US, which contains the following (instructive) statement: "Catching an Australian boomerang is dangerous, may result in a broken head". 
Needless to say, I was not a very good factfinder with regards to this particular query, but I thought you might be interested in that information in spite of its lack of relevance to my original research goals. Another job for another day!

How about you? Found anything great out at the sales or the flea market lately? What kind of things trigger your impulse-buy impulse? Do you have any crazy textiles proudly framed and hung in your house? Where do some of the weirder/far flung items in your house come from? Let's talk!

That's all for today...have a great Wednesday and I'll talk you soon! :D

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Kitchen Update: Embrace the (Early) 70s

Hello, hello!

I'm not gone again, I just got tangled up in a work-related web of busy-ness which has kept from my own little corner of the internet. Mais, me voilà! Here I am, and the weekend has past with lightning speed. What have you guys been up to? The last week or so in estate sale/Goodwill hunting has made a noticeable difference in my kitchen, and I thought, why don't I show a couple additions made to the living area of yours truly? I love when style changes happen through some opportune chances of luck rather than a massive, online shopping spree-- I don't know if I could have thought of these things out of blue, but once I saw them, I knew they were had-to-haves for the house!

Let's take a look at what I'm talking about:

Ta-da! I'm in love with a kitchen, I'm talkin' about, I'm in love with a kitchen, I can't live withouuuut....

This kitchen dining nook/the kitchen in general has always been a problem area with me. Matthew and I decided earlier this year that we were going to count our blessings and stay in the house I grew up in/rent from my parents for at least another year or two, as both of us save money and try to bring another bab into the world. The area has JUST NOW started to become fashionable (houses getting flipped/new high end infill construction, etc, etc), so it just wouldn't make sense for us, with a great house/location provided for us, to spend a lot of our hard earned, buried in the yard savings on the red-hot, super-competitive housing market just as of yet (don't worry, I am still ALWAYS looking at real estate listings, just not as fervently ;) ). So! As I've said in earlier posts, I've been cleaning out and moving out a ton of stuff from deep storage, making hard decisions on what I love vs. what I just like, and ONLY BRINGING HOME THINGS THAT ARE TOO GOOD TO PASS UP in terms of picking. Which would include....this lighting fixture:

I was running around the Charlotte Goodwill, a little giddy over finding a crazy-good cardigan in the sweater section (it's a tiger textile thing, like this rug I still wish I'd bought when I'd seen it for ~$100), when I saw this light fixture. It was sitting, coiled up in a pile of chains, on top of a banged up filing cabinet in the home goods section. Matthew was trailing me and I handed it to him, drum shade and fifty feet of chain and all. "We're totally getting this." I hemmed and haw'd a little in the checkout line, but finally decided that if it didn't work, I could bring it back with the receipt. The shape I knew was spot on, but I was a little put off by the brown wood tiles, which look SO much better illuminated and in place than they did in my hands at the store. 

When I looked it over back at the homestead, I realized what was going on with this 70's/60's hybrid. The light started out in the late fifties'/early sixties' as a straight barrel-shade atomic light fixture (note the top and the bottom fixtures, and the shape of the shade itself, are very MCM). At some point in its life, the barrel shade became torn. Did the enterprising young homeowner throw the shade away? Heck no, let's get resourceful. Said previous owner added this tile detail by gluing wood tiles in the square design all around the shade, effectively hiding the tear and updating the shade from very-sixties' to very-seventies'. Oh, and does the tile part match the bamboo roman shade over the window? GIRL, YOU KNOW IT DOES.

I'm pleased as punch. For comparison, what it replaced:

This flowery chandelier (also in this post) has hung in my house almost since I've been living there-- it was gift from my mom, who thought it "looked like [me]". It does, but it will look much better and still like me in another room of the house. Here's another before...see where I have replaced the calendar and the Altman 3 Women poster with mid 70's textile art from this estate sale (and which looked lovely in the green room but is much better appreciated here in the kitchen).


And after:

Shout out also to my Curtis Jere leaves wall sculpture, which found a happy home on the door here.
Is it not truly restful to look upon? The more I clean and clear out extra goods from my vintage hoarding piles, the more impressed I am with/the more I get to enjoy the things I choose to keep as "the best of the best".

A blurry but servicable picture of the souvenirs-of-Africa midcentury pictures I picked up at the flea market a while back. The colors/abstract figures are SO. COOL.
I kept this movie poster and this kit kat clock, to the left of the kitchen cabinets, just as they were, because  I love them. I think it still works! Also, see how it looks like the cat clock is eyeballing Erland Josephson.

But that's not all! I also finally found a curtain to replace the pair of red and white cafe curtains that hang over the kitchen sink.


Matthew sent me this picture one day while he was off work and I was at work to show me how clean the kitchen was. He is very cute/industrious.

And after:

Still need to hang a magnetic knife rack for those Henckel knives, one of the best and most useful things in my kitchen. But I'll get around to it! How much do I love that Shawnee pig cookie jar inspite of its purely decorative purpose? How deep is the ocean, how high is the moon.

Not bad, huh? Somehow my tiny kitchen looks so SPACIOUS with this layout/decor!

These curtains were at an estate sale in West Meade where the homeowner must've really, really, REALLY liked this fabric...as evidenced by the fact that she had wall sized ceiling-to-floor drapes, a couch, kitchen curtains and an accent wall in the kitchen all in the same pattern. I admire someone finding something they like and just really committing to it. "You know what...put it everywhere." "Everywhere?" "E-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e." I want to get a matching-to-the-other roman shade to go under it so you can't see directly into my kitchen at all hours of the day and night, and maybe hang the curtains closer to the ceiling once I have the aforementioned shade, but are we or are we not cooking with gas here:

So many tchotchkes. Exactly like I like it.

As with the light fixture, I got home fairly holding my breath hoping this would go with the other items in the room, and was so psyched to see that the orange and yellows PRACTICALLY MATCH the colors in the textile on the dining room wall. Kismet! 

While we're in the kitchen anyway, here's my gallery wall of lobby cards, which I recently switched out from Annie Hall to Lolita:

I would tell you which of these was my favorite but THEY'RE ALL MY FAVORITE. I found high resolution scans of the very expensive original set here, and (shamelessly) printed them out. Cards come in sets of 8 usually, so I grabbed another image for the iconic center card, and there you are. To the left of the set is this potholder hanger, with its woebegone, burnt oven mitt (I would replace it but it makes me laugh every time I see it to think I had bought it at Target earlier in the same day that Matthew caught it on fire):

My parents/landlords sprang for some stainless steel appliances earlier this year  in a fit of bonhomie and kindness that I dare not question, lol. Aren't they fancy! I told my mom at the time, "Get whatever the smallest. POSSIBLE. refrigerator that is still a full size refrigerator and not a dorm size one, because the one in there right now is TOO. BIG." Has anyone else in a 1970's or earlier house noticed that modern refrigerators are 40%-200% too big for their intended spaces in vintage homes? I like having a huge, overstocked freezer as much as the next gal, but the one that was in here previously barely fit under the cabinets. I need to get my act together and clear off the top of the refrigerator for a sleeker look, but I need to clean out cabinet space for that hand mixer and the other assorted odds and ends on top of it first. This ain't no House Beautiful...noticed unstaged coupons affixed by magnets to side of frigo, etc, etc, for evidence of this.

Above the stove is this vintage map of Opryland from this long ago weekend find post. As many oddities and wonders as I have in my house, this is one of the things that gets remarked upon the most-- people (yours truly included) miss this theme park like nobody's business. I love the colors in the map and the down-home theme of these opening day rides.

I was peacock-proud to have the Littons over the other day as the inagural dining-room dinner guests. Here's what the joint looked like all gussied up for company:

I need some new dish towels now that there's a solid orange/brown/green/seventies' color scheme going on, but one thing at a time. Instead, admire my salad, haha.
Having such a put-together instead of such a harried-looking kitchen/dining room area is SUCH. A RELIEF. I feel like in previous incarnations it's been so hodge-podge or piecemeal looking and now there's what the TLC people would call a "unifying theme" that really ties everything together. I think if I'd tried to buy, on purpose, a themed set of decor items, I couldn't have had them come together as nicely as it all did simply by luck (and yours truly using their decorating third eye, haha)!

And just because I haven't had an outfit post on here in a month of Sundays, here I am dressed up for a ladies' brunch last Sunday and representing the 70's with this disco sequined short sleeve top I found at Goodwill the other day. The more I can look like a back up dancer from a variety show in said era, the better. I found these military surplus boots in the same trip as the top, and I am ob.SESSED. Ankle support, steel reinforced toe, and serving Daria style late 90's realness? What more could a girl ask for.

How about you? What design challenges have you faced down lately? Found any great things that just happened to start to come together in a felicitous fashion? Which room in your house is your favorite right now? What else could I do to take my kitchen to "that next level"? I'm thinking about adding a pots and pans corkboard where the Opryland poster is, but that's still in the R & D stages, haha. Let's talk!! That's all for today, but I'll be back again soon with more things I've dragged home from estate sales. Have a great rest of the week! See you next time.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Weekend Finds: Amateur Art History Detective Edition (Paul Brach painting, 1959)

Good morning!

As promised, I'm back on this bleary, dreary Friday morning to share with you a whale of a find from my anniversary travels in Louisville. Weekend before last, we ran up to the northern most part of Kentucky to get out of town for the day and look around at what the bluegrass state had to offer in the way of second hand goods. What else do you think I would do on my vacation but exactly what I do when not on vacation? We visited a really cool bar that had a number of vintage pinball and arcade machines, but mostly, we ran around buying things because 1) it's what I like to do best and 2) my husband is very, very nice.

Do me a favor and pretend this wasn't taken at 6:40 this morning just before I had to rush out the door, haha. A blogger's work is never done!

The biggest attraction for me in Kentucky is that the place is LOUSY with places to shop for junk. As you know if you've read this blog more than twice, I'm the Tina-Turner-intro-to-"Proud Mary" of antiques acquisition-- "you see we never ever do nothing...nice, easy...we always do it nice and rough." This girl likes to be plunged into a situation where a critical eye is the only thing between you and untold bargains/treasures/etc. I often get disappointed in curated collections or resale stores because it's just not fun when everything is both retail priced and laid out for you, I like to get knee deep in a cardboard box of clothes someone pulled out of a disused barn, or dig around in an old supermarket turned thrift store full of 80% garbage, and 20% pure gold. So you can imagine how stoked I was to discover a few years ago, grace à a hot tip from Jamie of Owl Really, that the greater Louisville area has a bunch of stores called "Peddler's Marts" that are like indoor flea markets on steroids. Everything from canned food to ATVs to real antiques are under one roof, and ripe for picking! Seriously, if they had them in Tennessee, I might have a worse problem than I currently have in terms of collection management.

So. I was minding my own business, visiting the second of four peddler's mart locations we visited on Saturday, when I came across the above painting, and stopped in my tracks.

It looks more vibrant in person, I love the colors and the brushstrokes.
I have a documented weakness for wall art (to the point that I'm trying to unload a lot of surplus framed things on Craiglist right now...know anybody who needs great additions to a gallery wall?), and was drawn immediately to this oil painting leaned up against a stack of folding chairs in one of the booths. I crouched down and saw that the picture was one, really very good and two, had been treated V-E-R-Y poorly by whomever had it last and wherever it was before it hit the peddler's mart. My best guess is that the piece was either in an attic or a barn, maybe even under someone's house/in an unfinished basement, as it was covered in cobwebs, dirt, and those little cotton ball spider egg things... in three words: sick, sick, and sick. Somehow, this didn't deter me (though I did think at the time, who puts something up for sale like that without even dusting it off after they dig it out of a horrible place?), because again, ain't nobody afraid of rolling up their sleeves (and putting aside their natural aversion to grossitude) for a good deal.

As I hemmed and hawed, and looked the piece over, I noticed there was both substantial peeling/cracking/paint loss at the very bottom of the painting, and a signature:

Hm, well, that's kind of cool. Flipping the frame over, I saw something that REALLY struck me:

While it had been oil pencil'd through, and it was in as bad a condition as the rest of the picture, I could make out through the strikethrough that this is a gallery tag from "Leo Castelli". Wait a minute, wait a minute. I don't know a ton about modern art except what interests me, and Andy Warhol being one of those things, I knew that Leo Castelli was a gallery in New York that was the first to show a lot of the exciting things that came out of the art scene in the late fifties' and early sixties'. And this is labelled 1959? Interesting.

Further tags documented this painting's journey west to The Art Center in La Jolla:

And the Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles:

The deciding factor though, among these tags, was this one:

I think if it had been even $10 more I would have had to pass. As it was, I struggled with "ugh, is it worth $20 if it's all nasty? How do you even clean something like this? But what if it's some really important painter? I'm sure Leo Castelli didn't show just anyone...What if I just get it because I like it? But is it dumb to like it if it's in such poor condition? What if I don't like it when I get home because it's in poor condition and I paid $20 for it?" I'm telling you, people, as often as I fall in love at first sight with some items, just as many items send me into this tailspin of self doubt. My state of consternation is pretty much a given, here. However! My better judgment prevailed and I left the store with this and a large 1940's folding game table printed with a lithograph of flowers under either arm.

When I got home, I cleaned off the cobwebs as best I could (using no water and gently brushing dirt/dust off as far away from the damaged areas as possible) and started doing some digging on the internet to see what I could find about Paul Brach. 

The man himself.

From his NYTimes obit in 2007, I learned that Paul Brach was
..a painter and teacher who became the first dean of the School of Art at the California Institute of the Arts...[who] evolved from Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s to monochromatic Minimalism in the ’60s. [...] Mr. Brach was one of the first artists to exhibit with Leo Castelli, whose gallery he helped plan in the late 1950s.
He was married to artist Miriam Schapiro, and ran with an art world crowd that included Joan Mitchell and Michael Goldberg (see his LA Times obit here). While I'm not familiar with a lot of these names, they come up again and again in Google Books as people who were involved in the arts in California and New York in the 1950's and 1960's. Names I DID recognize included Robert Rauschenberg and Mark Rothko, who were featured in some of the same joint exhibitions as Brach. Guys, those are BIG. NAMES. I continued to comb through the internet for more info.

The Dwan Gallery in 1960.
From the digitzed Archives of American Art entries below, you can see a little more about Brach and his exhibition at the Dwan Gallery held in  April of 1960:

I was initially bummed out at this seemingly false lead, thinking the exhibition didn't include my painting, but wait! The last listing on the typewritten inventory mentions "PAPER 19. though 22. Untitled oils. Each: 250." Using my ever handy inflation calculator, I can tell you that $250 in 1960 has a 2015 value of $2,012.80. Jaw. Dropped. Meaning the most expensive painting on that list was almost $10,000 in today's money! Again, no amateur hour here, but a real working artist's painting. Color me shocked. The Castelli gallery archive materials are listed but not digitized-- I was able to find out from their list of exhibitions that Brach had solo shows there in December of 1959, which would place this picture there.

This interview from 1971 covers Brach's early life, career, and his tenure at Cal Arts as dean of the Art school (edited, shorter version here). I thought this was interesting:
PB: In comparison with some of my very good friends like Lichtenstein and Bob Rauschenberg, etc., my success has not been that much 
BS: But still for an artist growing up in New York, you made it.
PB: Right, I made it. So that leaving New York was not a sour grapes situation. Although, if your friends are selling a quarter of a million dollars a year and buying buildings downtown and taking off to Europe at the drop of a hat to have another show, etc., you begin to feel a little stuck. And you begin to wonder how corrosive a competitive mentality becomes anyway. 
Good for you, Paul Brach, for not letting other's success eat you up-- he was able to be a pivotal figure in his own right as an educator out west, and continued painting right up until he passed eight years ago.

Biggest unanswered question: how did this thing get to a peddler's mart in Kentucky?! And where was it in the gap between being in Los Angeles in 1960 and being in the back of my car returning to Nashville? If this painting could talk.... 

After satisfying my biographical requirements and sleuthing down the provenance of these gallery tags on the back of the painting, I started looking for comparables. I know you guys must do this from time to time to make sure you didn't get gypped on some impulse buy of a 1940's teapot or vintage earrings-- I usually pull up eBay and heave a sigh of relief when I see that the lowest priced item of a similar make and mark is $10-$40 more than however much I paid for it. Ebay, though, came up with goose eggs. I tried just "paul brach untitled painting 1959" and came up with these two paintings, which sold through Rago Auctions (YES, THE SAME GUY FROM ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, I was wow'd) the year Brach died. They're the same medium (oil on paper), same colors/series, same size, with no paint loss but with some buckling where the paper has come away from the board, like mine has:

And how much did they sell for?


So! Now I've reached the "dead end" part of my story-- what in the hello do you do with a potentially important painting like this?

I've tried researching professional cleaning and restoration, but looking over some of the prices, I really don't have the resources to spend $1,000 having a painting worth possibly about $1,000 restored, and many sites warn that a bad restoration is worse than no restoration at all. DIY seems pretty out of the question-- while some people have had success using bread (seriously, like sandwich bread) removing grit and grime from oil, or even human saliva (I'm not sure if the internet is pranking me or what at this point), I would hate to ruin it by trying some dumb internet solution without any kind of background in it. If it was some fun $20 amateur painting from an estate sale of a collie or a woman in a beehive, I think either of those would be fine, but I don't want to risk messing up something significant by my own "good intentions". How am I to stabilize/keep it in ok condition without going super out of pocket on my $20 investment? I'm thinking about calling around to art schools locally to see if anyone wants to take it on as a class project-- even a semi-professional restoration would be better than these useless hands of mine at this specific task.

For now, I'm just going to hang it carefully on the wall in the office and bide my time. Maybe a solution will present itself! Until then, isn't that about the craziest thrift store find I could have made on my trip? I love the background on it almost as much as I love the picture itself.

How about you? Have you found anything bonkers out at the sales lately? Have any experience/know anybody with experience in art restoration? What have you bought for $20 that ended up being worth 10x that?

Gotta get going, but listen, have a fanTASTIC weekend and I'll talk to you next week! Til then.


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