Sometimes in order to convey a story or an anecdote a little embroidering upon a truth is permissible. It sets a scene, weaves a little magic into the thread of a tale and can connect the fragments.
And sometimes the story needs no elaboration…..it just is what it is. You can tell it how it was simply told to you.
I have been trying to put down in many ways a little piece about a true character from the lower level of the car park.
And I have come to realize that here I can paint a little picture of her but her own words are all that is needed to tell her tale.
To say that I love Kay’s style would probably make her chortle though in my mind she is definitely up there with Ms. Vreeland, Ms. Donovan and Ms. Edith Head.I don’t know Kay well enough to truly talk about her character so style is what I have to go on…..and yes, I know these are all ladies of fashion and costume but there is thread, if you’ll excuse the awful association, as all had and have a great historic appreciation for what has come before and the good sense to cherish those things that still remain. So perhaps as Kay is as English as crumpets and tea perhaps the lofty associations would be better suited to Lady Ottoline Morrell….and …wait for it Dame Edith Sitwell who often had gowns and shrouds made from yards of antique drapery.
Kay doesn’t just sell fabric and to use the word textile for me, takes everything to either a hotel bedspread or worse still, some by the yard polyester. She is a purveyor of the past.
Scraps of brocade, linens and cottons that have been pressed, starched and folded over and over to the point where, even once opened to the air, the creases and folds are always apparent like a long etched memory.
I see Kay every week. Occasionally I will buy something. I admit to having a tiny problem with yards of fabric..… hence my reticence. I buy with a vague intention to do something wonderful with it but more often than not find I am happiest seeing the pieces piled high in a cupboard…my archive if you will
This archive, rather like Kay’s loose tresses that she throws up into a bun, threatens to topple at anytime.
And whilst the odd strands of Kay’s pale ash and grey hair are often swept back up with a wave of her hand or secured with a myriad of pins, mine is simply a matter of space…….or the lack of it.
And then there are her glasses. Not quite round,large and black they appear as a number 8 that has been knocked to its side. They suit her face and give an air of professorial command and as you can read below her answers need no more words of mine.
Q & A
1. You’re booth has a very specific feel….. Are there limitations to what you would show or do you buy with your own taste in mind….. If a fabric was some wonderful brocade but from the 1960’s would you sell it?
A - Yes, but rarely and not polyester or nylon, both having no tactile merit.
2. When you are looking do you almost know when you have come across a great source - if you’re looking at a house sale….. is there an instinctual sense that there are goodies within???
A - Regrettably no. Good “stuff” often comes from the most unlikely places, e.g. fragments of 18th century lace mixed in with 20th century machine made laces. Fortuny drapes found on a porch, free if I would just take them.
3. Do you buy purely with your own idea of what is wonderful?
A - Yes
And what is your most wonderful or interesting find, and who buys these wonderful pieces of textile?
A - One of my favorites is the Duke of Warwick’s embroidered, silk bedcover and valance and a cushion dated late 18th century purchased in England at Christies 20 years ago. I sold the bedcover to a decorator to reupholster an 18th century wing chair. The cushion went to a collector and I still have the valance in my collection. Can you imagine being in that time period when the bed cover was new?
My customers are lovers of great rags. Some use the textiles to make items e.g. dresses from lace, cushions from fabric or Tibetan skirts. Some buy for theatre costumes, photo shoots, designers to copy patterns, interior designers to decorate.
4. And now the question that you can tell me as little or as much as you want.
How do get from the place you started out to setting up each weekend in a damp garage in NYC.
A - I absolutely love the damp Garage in NYC. It’s the people that turn it into a palace! Amazing diversity. Many artists, some performers, designers, etc. Most are creative dynamic and enthusiastic. Likewise the fellow dealers. We offer each other solace on a slow financial day and celebrate together on a super day. We watch each others booths when leaving for coffee etc. Also pass the word if there is an item of interest to a fellow dealer.
I started 45 years ago handling small furniture and table top items at modest quality shows, worked up to better quality shows but did not love what I sold. Gradually I found myself buying more textiles and shortly became totally textile. I still do 6 major shows, 3 in Massachusetts and 3 in NYC. Otherwise I am at the Garage and love it.
Old textiles are fragile and part of their appeal is their impermanence. It’s amazing that something like that can survive for sometimes hundreds of years. I love the signs of use and wear attesting to earlier lives and uses. During the 17/18th century silk and lace were as valuable as gold and jewels with many people involved in their manufacture.
5. Unless of course you are a master of voice control and are actually from Long Island…..how does an English lady end up in NY?
A - My husband and I wanted to travel and “see the world”. That was 43 years ago. We loved this part of the world and did not get any further………
As you can probably already tell…..I love hands……not all hands mind you…..I love hands that can ’ do ‘.
The limp and the useless I can do without…..they are usually attached to the passionless and hang lifeless and flabby at the sides of their owners.
Hands I think can tell you so much about a person. If the eyes are the windows of the soul then the hands probably cut the wood , tied the sash cord and added some great molding just to finish off the job nicely…..oh and anyone got any putty for the glass?
Edith Sitwell( whose wonderful white hands would not be out of place a top a Plantagenet tomb and appear on a previous entry) said that her hands…..were her face. Given that she had been the victim of parents who publicly showed dismay over her wonderfully odd appearance I can fully understand that she would see their skeletal beauty as some divine payback!
I personally feel that most people I meet who display wonder and glee at everything life offers them, get the the good hands!
I am including in this entry my friend Chris’s hands. They are always brown as a berry, never manicured in any way and often as not are either gripping the handle bars of his bike, a surfboard or as of late, making…… Things! Simple, poetic and amazing things from scraps, found or bartered: the spines from a long dead sea urchin are married with a splint of wood to create an elaborate comb suitable only for a mermaid.
Hands are incredible things, capable of feeling the difference between a single strand of hair and a piece of thread. They can build a cathedral or knock down a wall.
Usually if I really like someone, I love their hands also.
Which brings me oddly I suppose to Wabi Sabi?
Not to get too philosophical on all of you but Wabi Sabi is a Japanese principal of aesthetics that basically boils down to the notion that there is something beautiful in the worn, the not so perfect and the irregular.
Or more poetically it nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. Amen to that!
I like to think that this also applies to all of us over the age of a chrysalis and I for one will be sticking to this principal as my wrinkles lengthen and my eyesight shortens.
When I started to think about what FLEA would be about it made complete sense to me that it would be all about the pictures. It is after all what I do. I collect and find, rent and purchase props for photo shoots here in NYC. But as I began to wander the booths with a fresh eye I realized that there would have to be a much needed dialogue to truly capture the nature of this Aladdin’s cave and so each entry has become a little rambling tale of mine own! I was actually surprised that that is what they were! Little stories, anecdotes of everyday things and objects that have been cherished, washed and worn by hand after hand or customized and made anew.
I could in all seriousness make a book simply of images that evoke all that I have written above. But where’s the fun in that? I like pretty, I do pretty…but I like my pretty with some content.
So this week is simply a celebration of all the hands that have touched, handled,sorted, pieced together, picked up, put down, sewn, repaired,polished, cleaned, packed and unpacked so tirelessly weekend after weekend so that more hands can pick over, unfold, try on, caress and sometimes even…..buy!
There is much to be said about the characters and individuals who both haunt and sell at the FLEA.
On any given weekend there will be the flamboyant, the dealer and the near filthy all rubbing shoulders.
It might sound a little glib but from all of my many weekends of wandering the stalls and booths you also begin to notice patterns in the choices….a handwriting that colours each little thing you glance upon on the tables.
Always in the same spot on the second floor sits Janet. Often I find her, head bowed slightly contemplating her phone or reading one of the odd, unusual or rare titles that she sometimes sells. She reminds me of a Hockney portrait of Christopher Isherwood or even Hockney’s own father. There is a calmness and stillness about her when all else is noise. The booth too is a respite from the piles upon piles of ephemera that often threatens to topple upon those who delve a little too deeply in the adjoining spaces.
I am drawn to her even on those days when I am supposedly on a quest for far grander things….or even on days when I have promised myself that there is simply no more room for …..more.
She I hope will not think me unkind when I write that there is nothing spectacular here; no gasps I feel are heard, no lengthy wranglings over price, the best price or probably any price, for Janet sells a very personal type of magic here. She buys with her heart and a rapier edit that only occasionally gets the better of her magpie sensibilities. Displayed on pieces of coloured burlap or reverently placed inside a wooden display cabinets float glass lid, the wobbling images of first editions of long forgotten authors or a child’s attempt to draw, ask to be picked up, enquired about or simply, bought.
I have asked Janet many questions and have bought many things that make up in my home a surreal lost property. I know for a fact that she has been doing this for a long time, starting with thrift store finds that she sold on to rag dealers and gradually expanding into this little oasis inside this place where even on a 100 degree day, your feet will start to feel the cold dampness seeping upward after about 15 minutes. What she will only hint at however is an innate sense of knowing what lurks beneath a table at a sale - the thing you sensed was there all along staring right back at you.
In a frame sits an arrangement of paper doll dresses, the type with tabs that you then wrap around a little dolls form. But these are no shop bought series. These are the copy cat offerings of a young child who, probably jealous of an older sibling has created a fantasy line of dresses for her own paper doll. The picture has sat against the mustard fabric background for a few weeks and each time I pass by the little cutouts tell a different story, some of them are garish, diagonal striped begging to be ignored, a few are pretty and preppy with little collars drawn on and coloured in a rough attempt at stripes, and the odd one scuffed and looking like a first attempt that was later discarded…..all that life contained in such a small thing and looking up from studying this little world I again am reminded that on a bigger scale but no less layered remains the FLEA.
The framed dresses are naive, non functional and fantastic to the eye and they became Janet’s final sale of Sunday
This stall is about personal taste and so this week I wanted to simply attach a series of pictures of Janet’s favourite things and a few of mine from her booth.
A firm handshake from Santa Claus..... or What Goes Around Comes Around
I have always had this nagging feeling, that there is some kind of cosmic zeitgeist that joins us; informing our collective spirit It may be more about where I find myself at the end of this year; working on this new venture and spending time enjoying more creative endeavors and making time for a little more doing and a little less consuming. It may also be by meeting folks who even when everywhere else we are encouraged to tighten our collective belts until we cannot breathe, that there are those people writing books that are being published by small independent presses, music being composed that need not only be performed in a bar or ‘venue’……..your living room will do just fine.
It is an inspiring time and I am looking around the next corner for what is to come.
In times where we have more work and therefore more money we often have less time to think. I would find myself wandering the hallowed aisles of so many big box stores in search of divine inspiration for gift giving. I would leave with all the boxes ticked and everyone accounted for but with little connection to the thought behind or a real connection to the gift.
And this is why my damp two floor indoor car park/flea market works in often mysterious ways.
Last weekend I was ducking and diving through all sorts of Christmas goodies at The Flea and I had convinced myself that I had little need for any more baubles especially given that, having just wrapped up ‘Tree Trimming 2011’ I had barely skimmed the tissued layers of previous vintage finds.
Two friends though were having a tree trimming party where dodgy holiday themed sweaters were the ‘de rigueur’ outfit of the evening. But what to bring as a suitable gift?
On the upper floor of the car park were seated two ladies that I rarely see or notice until this festive season begins. Squashed into two ill matching deck chairs they arrive laden with carts and boxes filled with every ornament and star you can imagine: garish neon nativities from the 1970’s, Popeye and Olive Oyl rendered in glass and blown and bloated to bizarre proportions and in true New York style , a box of glittery blue glass dreidels that come with little hooks on top… the easier to hang from your little pagan Christmas Tree!
Experts in their field, these were the ladies to talk to. They delved into Rubber Maid Crates and piled high their folding tables and there amongst all the other gems sat a small faded cardboard box of 12 tear shaped ornaments, tarnished with time but their glowing cheeks etched in spirals and glitter I could not resist.
They made a great present to bring to our friends party but something occurred to me as the ladies revealed a little fact.
Back at the end of the depression and up until the 1940’s when once again belts were tightened and the soup kitchens flourished, the idea of buying these shiny little wonders I am sure was not considered a high financial priority for the good people of this country and so in true American spirit they began to manufacture each of the the lids with images of Santa Claus firmly shaking the hand of who else but of course…..Uncle Sam.
It dawned on me, staring at this little box of glitter that has endured one depression and is still here, that while we see our current climate as bleak we will get through it….maybe a little tarnished ……but we will get through it……..one shiny bauble at a time. Happy Christmas.
The whole of the market is in a festive uproar this weekend and whilst I am usually a sucker for those small cardboard crates of vintage baubles (even when new, seem far too fragile to house glass tree ornaments) this time around I was able to bypass these and the racks of vintage Christmas themed aprons; all poinsettias and gilded reindeer.
I have yet to discover how two of the chaps that we regularly visit manage to find what they find, whether by some divine force or more simply just a great eye. This week we came across a small enameled image of three craning and straining birds, whimsical and so perfectly 1950’s that it couldn’t have stayed there for someone else.
It’s not always about taking it home. Quite often just hearing the story and looking something over is enough. Simply taking it all in satiates the need.
Anyway……..back to the birdies! It was an impulsive buy and the only real sense of what this piece could be was a small faded paper sticker on the back of the frame that simply read: MAY SHOW 1954. PURCHASE. The Cleveland Museum of Art………no signature, no markings.
I am still playing Sherlock Holmes on this one but already I have discovered a tiny scratched signature on the raw metal that simply reads BALAZS.