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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Collecting treasure

What is treasure? What is precious? Why do we collect things? Why do we make things? Why do some of us blog about our collections?

These are ongoing questions in my mind as I see the news of disasters (the awful earthquake and its aftermath in Nepal, the Clandon Park fire), suffer loss of belongings, hear of illness of people who are dear to me and contemplate ongoing complicated family relationships.

A long time ago I made a treasure box.  Well it was a jewellery box but it contained some of my treasured items, such as inherited necklaces and my Christening cross and chain.  I designed and carved the box myself during a series of woodcarving lessons I had during my late teens when I still lived in Cape Town.  My teacher was a master carver and it was a pleasure to watch him carve leaves or scrolls at speed in a piece of lime wood.  He was patient and taught me the basics of chip, relief and scroll carving, building on my basic self taught woodworking skills I'd acquired during years of making dolls houses and other items at the workbench in my Dad's garage overlooking our back garden (the same workbench where my grandfather had reassembled the Triang dollshouse when I was small).  Carving is therapeutic, sometimes frustrating but usually ultimately satisfying. I made several items during those Saturday morning lessons once I'd carved my sampler of different techniques in jelotong wood.  The items including the carved seat and back of a low stool for my father and step-mother, a barometer surround (still owned by my step-mother), a mirror surround for my art teacher and of course my box.

When I came to England in 1988 I brought the box with me and subsequently carved some bookends for my grandparents (I got those back when my granny died years later).  During the next 4 years the box held my small collection of jewellery.  When we moved to our current town 22.5 years ago it came with us to our new house.  Two months later we suffered 3 burglaries in fairly quick succession and during the second burglary a lot of items were stolen including a Royal Doulton set of dinnerware I'd inherited (it was the set I'd used as a child) but most disastrously my box and all its contents.  None of these items were ever recovered, I later learned that had we visited local car boot sales we might have come across some of our belongings.  To say I was angry, upset and devastated was an understatement - it was really hard moving country leaving beloved family behind, it was hard moving house 7 times in 4 years and it was awful losing something I had made myself, which I was proud of making and which contained treasured items.

My husband replaced the silver locket which had gone in the box and I also got a new gold cross but it wasn't really a replacement for my Christening cross which had my name engraved on the back.  The replacement locket is heart shaped and contains photos of my parents, both of whom died at different times during my teens.  Over time it became an often worn and precious item - it feels familiar to open it and look at the photos, then snap it closed again and hold it gently.

I didn't have the original designs for the box and also didn't have the heart to carve it again - it held too many memories of Porti's guidance and humour as he taught me to carve.  I do have some of my other carving designs and I do have a few very poor photos of my box (taken with an old 110mm camera so the quality and photography is terrible).

I gradually worked through in my mind the issue of possession and loss.  I value people who were kind above how many items we own, how posh (or not in our case) our house/car etc might be, or how expensive or branded our clothes.  I have always known that the value of material things is not as important as valuing and nurturing people, however the loss of precious items brought this knowledge into strong perspective.  I still gradually collected well designed things that appealed to me and my book collection is large (with many books re-read old friends).  The act of choosing and purchasing something has become a process of carefully weighing up the price, the appeal, the design against available cash and the inevitable questioning of 'why collect - isn't the current size and scope of the collection enough already?'  I even find myself quietly observing the collecting habits of others around me - for many, clothes shopping is their all consuming collection focus whereas purchasing clothes is a boring occasional necessity for me, I would rather buy or make clothes for my dolls or children.

A few years ago I suffered a personal private devastation in my extended family and I turned to my dolls as a distraction.  My Palitoy doll Susie had a very expensive reroot - part of my reclaiming of childhood memories - and I started collecting the modern Gotz 19.5 inch dolls, then later a few Trendon Sasha dolls.  My Westville dollshouse still awaits serious attention and sometimes I think I might sort through my doll related collections and sell some items on, especially things which are less meaningful, however I'm too busy to do this at the moment and there is no rush.  Sometimes these items bring comfort when times are emotionally tough, sometimes they don't seem to mean anything at all, usually when I'm really tired or sad. Maybe collecting things is a way of attempting to bring order out of emotional chaos, or at least fool ourselves into thinking we do have control over something, however fragile or tenuous that control might be, in the midst of difficult and uncontrollable happenings all around us.  Sometimes our collections become overwhelming baggage or turn into an all consuming obsession, risking or damaging the precious human connections in our lives.

Occasionally I go through periods of haunting 'carved box' search on ebay in the vain hope that after all these years my box will be listed by someone who bought it in good faith from some stall somewhere and wants to sell it.  But this is almost like torture, the chances are so unlikely that it will be there when I look.  I see many boxes, some of them identical to each other, some beautifully carved, others poorly made.  But never my box.  I don't have to look at photos of my box to remind me what it looks like - the act of carving it implanted it in my mind and when I do look at the photos they just confirm my memory of feeling the wood and the chisels in the act of creation and the sense of exultant pleasure at knowing that it was coming out well, though it was no work of art.

Maybe this is why some of us blog about our collections and in the case of doll enthusiasts sometimes use the dolls to create stories which we share on our blogs.  It is cathartic to write creatively or to assemble a series of photos to tell a story, though it is often quite time consuming and hard work.  The act of writing is a creative process. Sometimes it doesn't feel like as if we're in control of the words and a story imagined and photographed is reassembled in a different order on the blog.  Sharing what we have written with those who might appreciate it is an added bonus, many of us doll bloggers would not have dreamed of creating doll diaries or compiling informal style inventories of our collections before the age of the internet, however exposing our creations and collections to the world online is risky.  We have to be careful how much we reveal about ourselves and locations, or our collections might be at risk of unscrupulous people.  Most people respond kindly and I've made some lovely friends via the blog who share my hobby.  But occasionally what we share appears to be ignored (low traffic or no comments) or all we get is spam comments.  I've never had a nasty comment on my blog, which is a relief and I retain moderating controls which means spam doesn't get published.

Recently I lost my silver locket.  The chain clasp was wrenched by accident when I was carrying something large and the locket must have fallen out of my clothes later (the chain was found on the same day but the locket remained missing).  It was terrible timing (anniversary of death time) and I was once again very upset.  I put up notices, I searched, my family searched, friends searched, but all to no avail.  I decided not to replace it.  Sometimes certain things are difficult to replace, like my unique box.  People are irreplaceable - each special and distinctly different and themselves, each of our loved ones who have died are desperately missed, even years later.  I have learned to endure loss even if I rail against it, sometimes it is unbearable, other times it is manageable, though it never really goes away.  I told myself rationally that the lost locket was just a thing, yes a treasured thing which had special meaning for me, but just a thing - it is not a person.  But it still hurt to lose it.

Then, 2 months later, someone found my locket, stuck in the edge of a drain cover where it may have been washed along by rain water as it lay in the gutter.  This person was honest and shared photos of it online.  A friend spotted the online photos and alerted me.  I got my locket back and couldn't stop holding it and marvelling at its recovery and how we hadn't found it as we've passed that way many times (but it is small and the area is large).  I feel immensely fortunate that it has been returned to me, unscathed and only a little tarnished, thanks to the kindness of a stranger who recognised its emotional value.  The chain clasp is being replaced and soon I shall wear my locket again.  It is a reminder of all the love and loss that we all endure in our lives.  And a reminder of hope.

The front of my box - carved with cape gooseberry leaves and lanterns
The top of my box - carved with honeysuckle leaves and flowers
The back and end of my box (back and front identical design)
My box open, showing the felt lining and hinges
My box behind the wooden jointed doll family I made
(I still have the little girl and boy dolls)

Monday, 6 April 2015

Easter Egg hunt

Florence, Laura and Miranda were admiring the spring flowers in the garden
Laura was taken with the pretty pink flower, while Miranda was peering at a viola
"Look, the dianthus flower is the same colour as your dress Miranda" said Laura 
Florence loved the violas and primroses
then she spotted a duck and an egg beside the flowers
"Look Florence, I've found another duck and egg" said Laura
"I wasn't expecting any Easter eggs or ducks in the garden" exclaimed Florence 
"Look, here is another duck and egg" called Miranda
Suddenly the girls spotted the tree all decorated with eggs
"Oh, an Easter Tree" they cried, as they clustered around the tree
They started gathering all the eggs from the tree to take indoors to the family
Laura reached for a blue egg
They filled the basket they found at the base of the tree with all the eggs and ducks to join the chick which was already in the basket.
The Easter basket for all the doll family
Indoors the girls showed the basket of eggs, chick and ducks to baby Mabel
Baby Mabel hoped they were all for her,
but she thinks she might have to share them with the others
Happy Easter Monday to all our doll friends, with a special thank you to Sarah Williams, who at Christmas time when she sent the beautiful Vintage Sasha coat and hat set for Laura which I'd commissioned, also enclosed a bundle of clothes she had bought in the past which she no longer wanted and thought that my younger daughter might like.  These four lovely dresses and Florence's red socks were included.  Also a special thank you to Rosie Shortell who sent the gorgeous blue shoes for Laura as part of a thank you gift for something my daughter wrote for the 2015 souvenir booklet for the Sasha Festival in the USA (which sadly we cannot attend).