A cornucopia of thrift store art

I know the online world is all about Christmas now, but we’re still in Thanksgiving mode around here. (Next weekend we’ll put up the tree and shift gears.) And one thing I’m feeling thankful for today is a recent thrift store score of art that reminds me of things for which I’m most grateful.

Thrifting can be a bit of a feast or famine thing. Sometimes I make the rounds of my usual haunts and come up completely empty. No cool rugs, or awesomely awful lamps, or funky retro chairs to fuel my chair addiction.

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This is probably my favorite thrifting find from the past year. And to think that I almost let it get away!

But sometimes, when I least expect it–when I’m  just stopping in for a real quick, what-the-hell, I’m on my way to pick up a child from her robotics meeting and I’ve got an extra 10 minutes on my hands visit–it’s like I’ve hit the thrifting equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet in Vegas.

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This is BJ’s Auction House. See that head painted on the bright yellow starburst above the door? That’s BJ. He’s got a very…direct selling style. The first time I came in, I was was looking at a cabinet, and he swooped in:

“You like that cabinet? That’s a great cabinet. Price says $225, but I’ll sell it to you today for $175.”

“Oh,” I said, “I don’t know. I’ve just started looking.”

“Well, $175 is the price today. It won’t be the price tomorrow. You come back tomorrow and it’ll be $225. I don’t have time for people to wait around. You won’t find something like this for $175 anywhere else. And you won’t find it for $175 here either if you come back tomorrow.”

OK, then.

While I love the tons of stuff he has crammed into a sort of maze configuration inside that rectangle of a building, I usually only go in there if I’m looking for something specific–because, frankly, BJ makes me a bit nervous. (I would’ve loved to have taken some interior shots to share with you, but I didn’t want to explain to him why I wanted them.)

Anyway, I stopped in late one afternoon recently because we’re still on the hunt for art to hang on our entry walls. We’re especially interested in portraits. I’ve been smitten with the idea of portraits ever since I read this post from Lisa and almost immediately found Edgar.

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This is Edgar (named so because of his resemblance to Poe), who’s currently hanging out in our newly-renovated master bathroom.

And right out front, there was a bin with $5 art in it. Every piece of art, only $5 each.

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There were actually about 3 of these containers of $5 art.

My first find? A portrait, of course. (When the gods are smiling on you, they tend to smile big.)

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This is an interesting piece. It’s a painting, but he’s painted on cardboard. Maybe he began as a paint-by-number? But if so, whoever painted him seems to have gone beyond the standard PBN limits, particularly in the face.

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I brought him home because I really liked the way he’s painted, not because of the subject matter. We’re calling him Jesus–because, well, he looks like Jesus–but I don’t know if he really is Jesus.

To Grace, it doesn’t much matter. She has declared him way beyond all acceptable limits of weirdness (even for our house, which is saying something in her book :-)), and asked that we not display him in a public place. She is afraid it might look like we’re mocking Jesus, and that might offend some of her friends. (Mocking wouldn’t be our purpose at all–we’re not admirers of hipster irony–but I can see her point.)

After our experiences with the retro sofa that the kids hated, we’re trying to be more sensitive to their preferences. I appreciate having a chance for a bit of a do-over when it comes to the kids and our evolving home. While I love our eclectic collection of paintings and think Jesus fits right in, this is Grace’s home, too. I want her to be comfortable in it and feel good about inviting her friends in. Thus, I took Jesus down from the entryway wall, and he’s currently living in a corner of our bedroom, waiting for me to hang him on the wall.

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I’m perfectly fine with having him live there for now. I think that if he were in the entry, part of a collection of other portraits and colorful paintings, he might fit in quite nicely, to the point that even Grace could tolerate him. We’ll see what happens with him.

Which brings us to the next painting:  A black-and-white still life.

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I came home with this one because it’s nicely painted and–being black-and-white–isn’t your typical still life. (Craftsmanship and originality are two of our criteria for thrift store art.)

Although I like this painting, it’s the least-favorite of my finds from that day, which is what made it kind of OK (or at least, not tragic) that I put a hole through it when I dropped it on the way into the house. (I was carrying too many frames at one time.)

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I think I can repair it. If you’ve been following Alice’s adventures in painting restoration over at Bohemian Hellhole, you know that this little tear is very small potatoes in the painting repair field.

I doubt I will put as much care into this painting as Alice has put into hers. I’m much more likely to stick some duct tape on the back and call it all good. But I’m very thankful for all the bloggers I’ve encountered over the past year (far too many to link to them all) who have taught me so many things about how to improve our home and our lives. 

Art piece #3 is not a painting. It’s an engraving:

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What makes this one so cool (to me) is that it’s a portrait of Hazel Hall.

If you’re not an Oregonian, you probably don’t know who Hazel Hall is. (OK, even if you are an Oregonian, you probably don’t know who she is.) She’s been called the Emily Dickinson of Oregon.

After a bout of scarlet fever at the age of 12, she spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair, living (like Dickinson) in an upstairs bedroom of her parents’ house, where she wrote poetry. She also did needlework to earn money, and she died before turning 40 (in 1924).

It is her poems about needlework that are her most famous, and haunting:

After Embroidering

I can take mercerized cotton
And made a never flower beautiful
By thinking of tulips growing in window boxes;
I can work into cloth
A certain hushed softness
From an imagined scrutiny
Of a lily’s skin,
And embroider conventional designs the better
For thinking of brick garden paths.

But if I go farther,
If I follow the path,
Fling out the gate,
Plunge one breathless thought over an horizon…
My hands lose their cunning.

(From Selected Poems by Hazel Hall, Ahsahta  Press, 1980)

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The portrait is an engraving from a plaque now on the front of Hall’s Portland home. A notation at the bottom says that it is the artist’s proof, and it’s been professionally framed. I cannot make out the artist’s name (and couldn’t determine it through some internet research).

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I suppose all of that is important, but I love this one because it is a portrait of Hall, who created what art she could with the limited resources available to her.

I have wished often in my life that I had more time to create poetry and art; Hall’s portrait reminds me that there is a long tradition of women who have struggled to find balance between their artistic wants and their economic needs. I’m not thankful that it remains so difficult for women to live full creative lives, but there is comfort in a reminder that all of us who struggle to do so are in very good company.

My admiration for women who create whatever art they can is why I have a special fondness for works of fiber art (so often the media used by women), and why this last piece is probably my favorite of the 4 I took home from BJ’s last week:

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Like the landscape painting I found last summer, it came with notes on the back that made me fall in love with it:

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Part of me is sad that this piece, obviously once valued by the artist’s family, somehow ended up in a thrift store bargain bin. But another part of me is just grateful to have been the one to find it there.

I love that every time I look at this, I’m reminded of Hall’s words, how her “never flowers” embody the real ones that live in her memory–just as these flowers grew from a sketch of living flowers. I love that Eleanor Roos made this the year before she died at the age of 88, reminding me that we can remain creative for our whole lives.

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I’m grateful for the convergences among so many things we bring into our home that make each piece more meaningful than any could be on their own–that this cornucopia of unexpected art helped me see so much that I have to be grateful for.

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We hope you’ve had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, with plenty to be thankful for. We’d love to hear all about it–or about why you thrift, or how you thrift, or how art makes the cut into your home, or how you reconcile different artistic tastes within one household, or how you satisfy your creative desires. Or about anything, really. We just like a good conversation, you know?

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Linking to Pancakes & French Fries for the William Morris Project.

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