Archive for the ‘Vintage Treasures’ Category

Karen's Patio

Recently a friend posed a question that has inspired me to ponder.  Knowing I’d only been making art for a few years, she asked, “Do you think you are getting any better at it?”

After pondering long and hard, I keep coming up with the same answer:  “No, I’m not improving—only changing.  And definitely growing!”  Not only growing in the sense of experimenting with my paints and stretching into areas I never dreamed of before, but I think I’m growing as a human!  After all, the intensive reading of art history and studying centuries of great art (mostly via books and periodicals, not galleries) cannot fail.  Learning any new thing will result in growth in comprehension and appreciation—and that growth fans out to impact many other areas of life.

I’m learning to see with fresh eyes—similar, perhaps, to the eyes of a child.  I’m discovering beauty in off-beat places—like the weathered and rustic back alley behind the stores in our up-north small town, and a case of colorful gelato in our local coffee bistro.  Just last week hundreds of teensy tadpoles slithering about in the shallows of the Rock River set my mental paintbrush slithering on hypothetical 140 lb. cold press paper.

More than ever before, I think in pictures and translate mental pictures into shapes not readily discernible to anyone but me.  When I paint a picture from my mind, or from an experience I want to remember, one or more facets of that scene or experience will surface in colors which convey mood and emotions.

Below you will see an example of painting an experience—a rendering which I shared awhile back, and am repeating in this instance because it shows the technique of expressing one or more facets to tell a story, rather than trying to replicate a scene in photographic detail:

Jamie and Leo's Day

The experience dates back to a wedding in September, 2013.  Family members and friends of our granddaughter Jamie and her sweetheart Leonardo were waiting outside of St. John’s mini cathedral in Delafield, Wisconsin for that moment when we could enter the church for the ceremony.  Anyone who has experienced the best of a typical Wisconsin autumn can reconstruct the scene in his or her mind:  warm sunshine, crisp air, blue sky, and the sleepy droning of cicadas.  The day—mellow beyond words.  Jamie and Leo—even more mellow and precious than the day.  When a scene or experience is mellow beyond WORDS, only a picture will suffice.

So in this rendering—“Jamie and Leonardo’s Day”—you will see sunlight, the Norman architecture of the St. John’s cathedral and campus, and the suggestion of trees in early autumn while the grass is still summer-green.  I could not begin to paint Jamie and Leo, but I could record the happiness I experienced at their wedding.

Growing through art.  Along with growing in ways to see, I’m growing in a tolerance for messes.  Life in process can be messy, but I’ve always been a neat freak.  From the onset of my art adventure, I’ve had to relax with messes and even enjoy them when they reflect a work in process.  There are paint stains on the carpet around my art table, and splatters on the strip of drywall behind where I work.  Part of the décor!  Evidence of a life lived with the exuberance of freedom from fussing and fretting about things that don’t matter!

No, not better.  Just changing and growing.  The painting at the top of this page is a rendering of my friend Karen’s patio.  I did this back in 2007, from a photo that I’d taken when visiting Karen.  I had my original painting reproduced at a print shop, to a place mat size, and then laminated—so we have placemats of Karen’s patio.  I also gave her some of the placemats, and she recognized her patio.

Were I to paint the same scene today it would be vastly different—not only because Karen is always assembling fresh details of vintage beauty in her home and garden, but because today I would not even dream of trying to reproduce a scene camera style.  Certain features of the patio décor would grab me, and I would express those features—colored by my mood and the essence of that day.

The mention of “mood” brings me to the realization that perhaps only in the arts can one’s subjective mood be the prominent and dominating factor.  In our everyday world, objectivity is absolutely essential—for survival, for accuracy in our work, in our understanding of other people, and for a correct view of life itself.

Contrary to much current thought, we live in a world which is objectively BLACK AND WHITE—in terms of TRUTH AND NON-TRUTH, GOOD AND EVIL, RIGHT AND WRONG.  But in the arts, we can express with subjectivity—life as we see and experience it, uniquely from the inside out.  Considering the countless benefits of (and reasons for) art, perhaps that is one of the greatest:  the arts are windows to subjective aspects of the human experience.

No, not better.  As far as I can see, just changing and growing.  At age 80, I’m blessedly free of a competitive spirit in my work.  Thus, art making is pure pleasure and excitement for me—devoid of any sense of struggle or drive which would mar my freedom, spontaneity, and joy.  If I can express just those three things—freedom, spontaneity, and joy—I’m delighted.  And completely contented!

Here is a very recent example called “Blue and Old Pottery”—done in gouache (with hints of watercolor and acrylic) on Yupo paper.  Not better, just changing and growing.  And different!  That’s part of the excitement of art.  No two paintings are alike!  🙂

blue and old pottery 2

Margaret L. Been — July, 2014

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Our daughter, Laura, made this whiligig at a workshop near her home in Washington State.  The beauty is a composite of treasures culled from rummage and estate sales in her area.


Those of us who enjoy junking are NEVER BORED—and we’ll probably never be tempted to go off the deep end financially with our passion for collecting, because the stuff we prefer doesn’t normally cost that much. 

The items we love best are those which many folks disregard, discard, and even look down their noses at.  These people don’t get it.  They’re missing a huge chunk of abundant living to be found in foraging garage sales, scrap yards, and curbsides!

Now that rummage season is in full swing, our joy cups run over on a regular basis.  We come home from a morning of foraging renewed, refreshed, and super charged with creative ideas as to where we will place, or how we will use, our newly acquired treasure.  One thing is certain:  where junkers are concerned, there are no two homes alike.  Our decor is highly individual.  It can be simulated, but never cloned!

In celebration of junk, junk, wonderful junk, here are some outdoor shots of our comfy little condo where Joe and I live contentedly with loads of junk:

↑  The small blue granite pitcher peeking out of the Hosta is mounted on an upside down lamp base from one of those derelict “Made in China” lamps which, after 2 years of use, tend to become electrically unsafe.  The base (hidden in the photo) was too pretty to discard, so I cut off its cord and glued my vintage blue pitcher on its bottom.  Behind the pitcher is a broken, circa 1930 plate.  I never discard broken china or pottery, as it can always find a pleasant home among my garden or house plants.

And observe the old watering can, complete with its “rose” on the spout.  These are pricey now, as most everyone wants an old watering can.  Fortunately, I found mine years ago.  🙂

 ↑   A saxophone playing frog leans against the bird feeder, with our mutant Bleeding Heart providing a background.  Froggie was actually a new purchase, a gift from our daughter Laura. 

Note the Virginia Creeper creeping up the trellis—one of my all time favorite vines, also called Woodbine or Englemann Ivy.  It’s indestructable in our northern climate.  More damaged pottery rests on a handmade-by-Joe bench on the right as you view the photo.

↑  A closer look reveals the frog’s companions:  a bunny and a skull from the Southwest, reminiscent of artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

↑  The hangy thingy next to the hummer feeder was assembled by a local artist who has a business called FUNKY FINDS.

You can see the tops of a couple of old screens.  Screens and shutters with chipped, peeling paint are always welcome—indoors or out.  One can never get enough of those!

↑  Here is our patio, right off the living room so that we savor a year ’round indoor/outdoor atmosphere.  The patio is the setting for many lazy spring, summer, and autumn days spent sipping iced tea, reading, snoozing, and cloud gazing.  The patio faces east, so that we can sun bathe in the morning and rest in the afternoon shade. 

This picture was taken in a downpour.  The card table gets covered with a lovely vintage cloth on sunny days.  It also serves as a place for my art equipment and afternoons of sketching and painting.

The smashing antique croquet set was a rummage sale treasure which cost $5.00.  It has all its mallets, balls, and arches—with an old rag tied to each arch.  We can take the croquet set up the berm to the park, just a few yards away, for killer games.


In closing, here is one of my most precious photos of our grandsons, Nathaniel and Joelly, with their creation from their finds from a junk yard near our up north home.  Nathaniel is the driver of this unique vehicle.  I’m not sure what Joelly is doing with the stick—I think it’s a car window cleaner.  ↓

Upon all the evidence, I rest my case!  Junk is wonderful! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Last evening I had a BDN.  That’s “Bad Disc Night”—not “disc” as in computers, boom boxes, or DVD players, but discs in the lumbar region of my body.

Joe and I like to go to bed early with our books and George Winston.  George is not actually present in person in our home, but we have 3 and 1/2 hours of him on our IPOD mounted on a boom box.  We play all kinds of music in the daytime—from opera, to requiems, to symphonies, and Celtic harp.  But at night only that poet of the piano, George Winston, will do.

Last night even George, my achey/bakey (a flannel bag filled with feed corn and heated in the microwave), and my prescription pain medication were no help.  Bad discs!

I was studying a newly purchased book:  ART MAKING, COLLECTIONS & OBSESSIONS, by Lynne Perella.  This book, packed with pictures and inspiring text, contains “An Intimate Exploration of the Mixed-Media Work and Collections of 35 Artists.”

I read, viewed, and savored page after page of wonderfully funky stuff—shelves and boxes crammed full of tantalizing junk, plus art and unique groupings fashioned from junk by imaginative minds with skillful hands.  But even the delectable contents of my book, in tandem with the above-mentioned remedies, couldn’t tame those bothersome lumbar discs.

The book finally catapulted me out of bed and into the living room.  Suddenly I just had to create something—a little vignette on the coffee table by one of our sofas.  I gathered odds and ends, puttered, and voila:  the above table laden with some of my (many!) favorite things.

From left to right behind the platter of shells you will see:  the corners of two 1917 nature books with gorgeous watercolor illustrations given to me by a precious friend, Georgian, who married my Dad when he was a 95 year old widower; a watercolor sketch of Joe fishing, quickly done by me as I sat behind him in the boat while dipping my paintbrush in the lake; a Cheerios® mug containing not cereal, but rather a baby jade plant; and my watercolor rendition of a wolf cub howling his heart out.

On the mirrored platter you will find:  a variety of Atlantic Ocean shells and some coral; a 1920s crystal door knob; an elegant little notebook given to me by our daughter, Judy; a battery operated tea light in a green glass votive dish; a piece of tattered lace; and (left front) a diminutive, ornately framed photo of my two sisters when they were young—Ardis who was 8 years older than I, and Shirley, the sister who died before I was born.

After creating this scenario of beauty, and surveying my personal “art making” with much satisfaction, I went back to bed and also to sleep—raging discs notwithstanding,  

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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A few years back my KOVEL”S ANTIQUE COLLECTOR’S NEWSLETTER told of a study at the University of Iowa which indicated that collectors have damaged frontal lobes. 

Actually, I think the study focused on folks who save decades of empty cereal boxes, plastic refrigerator dishes, and stacks of newspapers.  Those of us who collect English teapots, Teddy bears, and vintage kitchen kitsch may be exempt from such a dire (and seemingly ridiculous) judgment.

Nonetheless, those of us who do enjoy our collections find the “damaged frontal lobe” diagnosis to be hilarious.  If we are “damaged”, so be it.  We are contented, adventuresome, and never bored!

Environment may play a part in our hobbies and activities, but genes are also involved.  My parents were collectors.  However, their tastes were a bit more limited (and perhaps more refined?) than mine.  I have taken the gene thing to a new level. 

One of my nephews and a daughter share the collector’s gene with me—as well as at least one granddaughter.  More grandchildren may surface as they become mature adults.  Even I was once a minimalist, until something snapped in my early thirties and I never looked back!  It takes maturity to discover exactly whom we are and what rings our chimes!

Another, similar gene has been passed down in my family:  the passion for creating way out, funky stuff.  The Brits, who love to turn verbs into adjectives, call people like us, “makey”.  Would the “experts” at the U. of Iowa determine that we eccentric makeys have damaged frontal lobes as well?  It seems that collecting and eclectic creating are related, at least in my experience!

The first truly makey person I know of in my family was my Aunt Lois, although there must have been pioneers before her.  Aunt Lois was born in 1900.   I’ve blogged about her before, and I probably will again as she was a true mover and shaker in my life.  I think of her nearly every day!

Lois’s funky spirit first went on display when her husband taught at Berea College in Kentucky, and she immersed herself in mountain arts and crafts.  From there, Lois and her husband moved to California.  Need I say more than that?

I only saw Lois a few times in my life, in the 1930s and 40s, when she would return to Wisconsin for a visit and breeze in wearing the most interesting hand-made costumes.  Maya Angelou has called such garb “get-ups”.  My Aunt Lois was the Queen of the Get-ups.

I found Lois to be inspiring and wonderful.—not only her shawls, capes, and hats, but her entire persona.  She was full of smiles and excited descriptions of whatever craft she was into at the time.  She eschewed patterns and rules in her art.  Lois was an original.  Although not a hippie in lifestyle, she had that free creative spirit which would explode in wild, wonderful color generations later—the very wild, wonderful color that permeates my life and home.

I’m pleased to carry the Lois gene, and I have a niece in Colorado who has the gene as well.  I don’t think my niece ever met Lois, but the makey stamp is there—plain as the words I’m keyboarding at this very moment.

Among many other skills, my niece is a decoupage artist.  Here is a sample of her work, photographed in her Western home:

It just occurred to me that the makey gene has been passed from aunt to niece, and then again from aunt to niece.  I wonder what Aunt Lois’s aunt was like!  I’d like to see an MRI image of her frontal lobes!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Indeed, it is SPRING!  My heart pulsates to the music of cardinels, redwings, robins, mourning doves, sandhill cranes, Canada geese, and other skyward signs of the season.

There is another sign—or rather a plethora of SIGNS—which soon will pop up in yards all over the little communities in our vicinity.  They may vary in wording—RUMMAGE SALE, GARAGE SALE, ESTATE SALE, YARD SALE, or whatever.  But these signs all mean the same thing:  absolute, abject BLISS!

I think some folks endowed with a sense of humor cackled when Joe and I moved to a condo last fall, after we had lived in fairly roomy houses for over fifty years of our marriage.  “HA,” these individuals reasoned.  “Now she’ll have to stop collecting!”

Well I am having the last “HA”.  We had scarcely unpacked our 280 moving cartons last fall when we discovered that we were smack dab in prime rummage country, and we dug right in—always coming home from a Saturday morning foray with one more thing to stick in a bare spot somewhere. 

Now we are relishing the realization that rummages will resume, any moment now.  There is alway room for more STUFF—somewhere, somehow!  I call it “uncondo-ing the condo”. 

Sometimes I don’t know which I enjoy most—the treasure hunts resulting in adding fresh decor to our home, or the raised eyebrows and eye rolling of those folks who “just don’t get it”.  When people unversed in the joy of junking visit our home, they look perplexed—even distressed. 

But most fun of all, are those few individuals who “do get it”.  They may be practically strangers in terms of longevitiy of friendship, but something snaps when they enter our home.  These kindred spirits move quietly from room to room, wall to wall, and corner to corner—studying every detail with intense interest.  Appreciation and a sense of freedom are written on their faces. 

Appreciative visitors experience THE GREAT AHA as they wander through our home as if it were a museum.  They know that, when it comes to interior decorating, “MORE IS MORE”. 

There is a nasty word out there, for those of us who love rummaging and junking.  We are called “hoarders”.  Never mind.  We are a mighty army of individuals who find beauty in things that the trendy folks cast off.  We are a brigade of non-materialistic “materialists” who value things for their sentimental implications, memories evoked, funki-ness, and unsung beauty rather than for their status or price.  You will not find the latest and most fashionable in our homes (or on our bodies, for that matter).  But you will find the most fun in our lives—as expressed in our homes and personalities. 

We are never bored—always alive to whatever we see, hear, smell, touch, or imagine.  We are an esoteric sorority and fraternity bonded by our enjoyment of stuff.  We share a priceless gift of creating beautiful arrangements comprised of whatever the trendy people throw away.

Maybe we collectors are hoarders:  hoarders of dreams, memories, and fun.  Hoarders of pizzazz and panache unearthed in everyday life!  Hoarders of quality of life!  But unlike the quintessential hoarder in fact and fiction, we junkers are hoarders who share!  We love to share our home, our stuff, and our joie de vie with whomever will slow down long enough to appreciate! 

So here’s to my “sisters and brothers” in JUNK:  Karen, Betty, Judy, Alicia, Sandy, Barbara, Julie, Andy, and countless others.  Here’s to author/photographer Mary Randolph Carter and her wonderful junk books which keep me vicariously and happily junking even in winter. 


Margaret L. Been—All Rights Reserved

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Yesterday my true love, Joe, and I had a “normal day”–if any day can ever be called that.  Our daughter is healing amazingly well from cardiac arrest, with her faculties intact.  She is scheduled to go home on Thursday, just 2 weeks after the crisis.

Joe and I celebrated by taking time out just for fun.  We ate at our favorite Mexican restaurant, enjoying the colorful decor and friendly service in the place along with our meaty/cheesy enchiladas. 

Then we proceded to an activity which delights both of us in different ways–a trip to an antique mall.  Joe and Baby Dylan  (our corgi) relaxed in the warm van, dozing and listening to Wisconsin Public Radio while I spent a portion of infinity browsing in the store.  Since WPR sets my teeth on edge and Joe gets weary in antique stores, this arrangement suits us both.

I find it tremendously theraputic, to wander amongst old things:  vintage clothing, 40s kitchen kitsch, Victorian glassware and china, primitive pots and enamelled kettles, ornate sterling silver and silverplate, faded pictures and tattered books, and old furniture–either aged and polished to perfection, or scarred and chipped.  (I like “scarred and chipped” most of all!)

The antique mall yielded 2 treasures:  a vintage sheep picture in a gorgeous old shabby chic frame, and a Royal Albert cup and saucer decorated with blossoms and REDWING BLACKBIRDS! 

Although I love English tea pots, cups, and saucers, I have a strange confession to make.  I am not inordinately fond of hot tea!  (Iced tea, whoopee and hooray!)  I collect a plethora of tea paraphernalia just for the aesthetics, while consuming huge quantities of full strength, leaded COFFEE every day.  

This morning I’m sipping rather than chug-a-lugging my coffee, from the Prince Albert redwing cup placed on its dainty saucer.  With redwing blackbirds at hand, can spring be far behind?

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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