Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wedgwood Jasperware Flying

My mother went with her aunt to visit relatives in England and Wales in 1936. While there she bought a large set of Wedgwood jasperware, which became part of her prize porcelain collection. A few of the pieces at right include, notably, the teapot, cream and sugar, and pitcher. The set also included a large bowl that my sister inherited. These resided during my childhood in a corner cabinet that stood just inside the dining room entrance.

The unique dark blue created by Wedgwood became one of the images I came to associate with England of the 1930s.

Somewhere around the summer of my fourth grade, my parents belonged to a bridge club which they went to every Sunday night. Since it was a small town in the 1950s, my parents decided that my brother (a year older), sister (two years younger), and I could be trusted home alone. My brother had one of his older friends over so it's possible he was the babysitter.

Anyway, one of our favorite things to do while my parents were gone was to play hide and go seek in the dark. So there we were, running helter skelter through the darkness. My brother was being chased by his friend. Never being the most coordinated kid, he ran past the china cabinet, tried to turn into the living room and caught the china cabinet  with his foot. The cabinet fell like a dead tree. I still remember the sound of the china hitting the glass. (I often think that is the sound the people described on the Titanic as it moved into its upright position.)

We turned on the lights to survey the damage, and there seemed a lot. Figurines, china, Wedgwood, all jumbled in a pile, many pieces broken or chipped.

My brother's friend went home immediately. We knew we had only about an hour before my parents would arrive home. I suggested that we set up the cabinet and put things back in. I'm not sure what I was thinking--perhaps that my mother would knock into it as she got up in the morning and think she did it. Anyway, we carefully put the pieces back near each other, cleaned up the remainder of damage and ran off to bed.

When my parents arrived home, we heard them come in. Long pause, total silence. Then I heard my mother cry. My father wanted to come upstairs, but my mother stopped him and said she would deal with it the next day. The next morning, we came down to a silent house. My mother fixed pancakes for breakfast and cried. She never mentioned the china. She just cried. If a breakfast could scar one for life, that one did.

Years later, after my mother's death, I began looking for Wedgwood jasperware pieces online, and still do occasionally. That's where the other pieces came from. A close friend of mine began to collect pieces for himself after hearing the story.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream, Jules

My juniors have been reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelly and then  saw Steven Speilberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Among the questions we discussed are: What responsibility does the creator has toward his creation? What does it mean to be human? Can we create a robot with A.I.? Can humans learn to care about such a robot?

As we pondered many of these questions and others prompted by the ideas, I came across the work of David Hanson who created Jules, a conversational character robot, modeled in Frubber which allows his face to be highly expressive. Created to run on batteries, Jules was to  be shipped to the University of West England. Those who had worked with him prepared to say goodbye to the android.

Jules' question early on blew many of my students' minds: "Will I dream when I'm turned off?" Is this just programming, fake A.I.? What the students found as interesting was the personification that obviously went on between the humans and Jules. What the obvious attachment the humans display toward Jules.

John Searle in his Chinese Room theory suggests that A.I. is impossible. Instead he envisions a person who only reads English locked in a room filled with strings of Chinese characters and a script which tells him what to do. Those outside the room would assume that he could read Chinese because he is using the words correctly, but in actuality he is merely following code provided. Is that all that Jules' question suggests?

As we finish our unit, they--and you-- might want to check out the following:

Nell Corkin

Christmas in the 1920s

When I ran a business selling miniatures [The Butterfly Cat Studio] in the 1980s-1990s, I used to consider the money I made as my play money. Often I would buy miniatures by the artists I admired most. One of the artists I happily bought from was Nell Corkin, whose blog shows her current work.

Nell Corkin's dollhouse in progress.

The vignette at the top shows Nell's three-story 1:144 scale dollhouse, complete with mouse inhabitant on the second floor. The dollhouse is actually wired to light, although I have never done so. The dolls were dressed by my ex-wife, Ferbie, who made them for a Christmas present. She also sculpted and dressed the miniature Santa Claus. I sculpted and painted the two cats. The tree was one I decorated for a miniature room. The girl holds a dressed cat doll in her arms.

At right is a dollhouse in progress made by Nell Corkin. The landscaping and the exterior is done, but the unfinished interior waits for furniture. Below the table are paint, spray cans and Dremel tools. The figure was sculpted by Cecil Boyd and painted by me.

Victorian Glass Egg Wine Decanter

This Victorian cobalt blue glass wine decanter with six glasses was a gift from my mother when I began collecting antiques after the death of my grandmother. The decanter had been a gift to her when she student-taught in Lincoln, Illinois, during the late 1930s and lived with two elderly sisters.

I've always thought the decanter should hold elderberry wine a la Arsenic & Old Lace. In fact I've used it for at least one production I directed of the play.

In my antique searches, I've never found one exactly like this with the glass bead ornaments and the clear colbat blue. The closest I've found is a clear one which someone had painted the inside with an opaque paint. ...and only two of the small glasses remained.

Easter is on the way

New for this year at a local nursery/gift shop: foil "chocolate" bunnies, flocked eggs and chicks.

Collecting or Hoarding?

Currently I am reading Prof. Gail Steketee, Ph.D., and Prof. Randy Frost, Ph.D.'s facinating book, Stuff: Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, which has made me ponder whether I'm a collector or a hoarder. I do have a lot of stuff. But my mother taught me that if you had three of anything you had the beginning of a collection. She loved to shop and I find that I have inherited that gene.

Part of the idea for this blog came from a discussion with a friend who had read the book and commented, as I would later comment, "I can see a lot me here." The authors discuss that idea that for many hoarders the objects they keep all have emotional attachments and many hoarders see their "things" as an extension of themselves.

I would phrase it a little differently for me. My things all have stories--one of the focuses I use in teaching my high school English class. Often I have friends who laugh about coming to my "museum," not so much because it has the pristine look of one, but because like a docent I can explain the history of much of what I have: things as a way of explaining one's life.

Steketee and Frost describe how Andy Warhol created "time capsules." Once a month, he would take everything off his desk--unimportant things, papers, bills, money, paintings, pictures... whatever was there. He would put them all in a box, label them with the month and seal them up into what he called "time capsules." As an artist, I can understand that conceptual idea of "art"... but I can also see how easily that would lead one into hoarding.

Whether I continue with the blog will be determined by whether people find the stories interesting. If not, perhaps I can box them up into a digital "time capsule" and move on.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Porcelain Cat Box

When I was a child, no more than first grade, I went with my mother to visit an old woman. I did not know the woman, but she lived above one of the stores in my hometown. In her small apartment, she had a what-not shelf unit and on it was a small china box with a cat looking out of a field of flowers.

I was awe struck by this piece and must have shown fascination. The lady asked if I liked it. "Oh, yes," I replied. Would I take care of it? "Of course." And she took it off the shelf and gave it to me.

I think my mother protested the gift, but I went home with it. It is one of the of the first pieces that I collected.

When I told the story of how I got the piece at a workshop on storytelling, the teacher asked me what I would do if a small child fell in love with the piece, as I had.

"I would have to pass it on," I responded.

Studying the piece, I realize it has "Occupied" stamped on the bottom meaning that the piece is from after World War II and was probably not expensive, but it has remained a valuable momento to a stranger's kindness to me as a child.