Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Mandala LVIII

(Above:  Mandala LVIII. Framed: 28 3/4" x 28 3/4". Found objects hand-stitched to a section of a vintage bow-tie quilt. Found objects include:  Half of an ambrotype, hinged case with an embossed copper spandrel; a tintype (not original to the hinged case); clock gears; slides in paper mounts; 2" cotter pins; external tooth lock washers; gold beads; buttons; antique vials of photographic paint; one and two penny English coins; brass screw eyes; paper fasteners; rivets; bobbins; and grey hair curlers.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

This mandala started two weeks ago at Bill Mishoe's Tuesday night, walk-about auction of used household items. For months during the pandemic, I really missed these fast moving weekly sales where almost everything is sold by the "table lot".  Basically, consignors deposit their "stuff" onto provided card tables.  Bidders vie for everything on the table (and frequently everything under the table too!)  Many of "the regulars" sell items at flea markets, antique malls, eBay, and on other on-line platforms. I used to be one of them.  After all, I was an antiquarian print dealer at Terrace Oaks Antique Mall for twenty years.  Driving to and from Charleston to restock was a weekly trip.  I gave up my spaces in order to have more studio time, but I just couldn't stop going to auctions.  (I still have my "permanent dealer's bidder number".)

(Above:  An unused box of antique "liquid photograph colors".)

Perhaps it is my history as an "antique dealer" and the years of auction-going that inform my studio practice.  Perhaps this is why I gravitate toward found objects. Perhaps all my ideas, concepts, and creative expressions are a result of watching the remnants of other lives on the auction block.  In my TEDx talk, Precious: Making a Plan for Your Precious Possessions, I refer to Bill Mishoe's auction as "my favorite art supply store" because most of my materials really do come from Tuesday night sales ... and two weeks ago ... an antique box of never-used "liquid photograph colors" caught my eye.  I really, seriously wanted these glass containers for my next mandala ... only, they were on a card table full of all sorts of other stuff.  The bid went higher than I thought reasonable for just the box of vials.  I really didn't want all the other stuff.  It really was a very full table of all sorts of things.  If I had bought it, I would have had to carry it all to my van ... and take it home ... and do "something" with the things I didn't even want.  Yet, my friend Bert was the successful bidder.  I approached Bert, asked if he might sell just the box, and was surprised when he handed it to me saying, "I know you'll do something cool with this!"   (Thank you, Bert!)

(Above:  Detail of Mandala LVIII.)

In gratitude, I started planning this mandala with more intentions that ever before.  It only seemed right to select at least a few other found objects to coordinate with the photographic paint.  

None of the vials had ever been opened.  Except for one vial, all the liquid had evaporated through the carefully corked and paper-wrapped openings. Some of the chemicals stained the inside of the vials, leaving traces of brown, flesh tone, rose, scarlet, orange, yellow, violet, black, and two shades each of blue and green.  It seemed a shame that such a beautiful set of specialized paint had never been used. Handling these vials reminded me of all the hand-tinted, anonymous photographs I've altered for my installation Anonymous Ancestors.  The vials just seemed to need a location near other items with a photographic connection. 

(Above:  Detail of Mandala LVIII.)

At home, I found a tintype (which also came from an earlier Bill Mishoe's auction) and an ambrotype hinged case (which also came from an earlier Bill Mishoe's auction).  I knew this would be the centerpiece, but I had to figure out a way to turn a horizontal into a circle. Gold beads and a ring of little brown buttons went down first.  Next, a ring of clock gears were stitched in place. Finally, the vials went down.  Ordinarily, I never use any glue on these mandalas, but there is a dab of hot glue under each one ... just to secure the positioning of the vials.  (By the way, I did open the one vial in which liquid was still present.  I poured it out, cut a new cork for the opening, and wrapped the top with a similar piece of brown paper held in place with a thread.)  From there, I added six, paper mounted slides and all sorts of other items.  

(Above:  Detail of Mandala LVIII.)

This is the first time I've intentionally selected some of the found objects with a theme in mind.  I'm very pleased with the result.  I think Bert will think it's cool too!

(Above:  Detail of Mandala LVIII.)

I'm not sure if conceptually connected items will figure into future work or not.  For the most part, I simply look at the shape, texture, color, size ... and especially the quantity ... of my found item stash.  I like putting random bits together.  I like elevating the mundane, not necessarily highlighting a few objects as if more precious than the others.  Yet, this mandala is special because it truly touches on the reasons I gravitate to old quilts, anonymous photographs, and other relics that had a life before I found them.  This approach suggests the forgotten story that all my found objects keep secret.

(Above:  Detail of Mandala LVIII.)

I will never know the names of the family depicted in this tintype.  I will never know the homes that counted hours by the clock gears in their devices.  I will never know who didn't use their set of liquid photographic colors or how many hands exchanged the English coins.  I do know, however, that the last people who accepted these copper pennies was Steve and me!  I also know that we recently found the Ziploc bag in which we've kept foreign money.  There will be more coins on mandalas in the future.  There will also be more things from Bill Mishoe's auction too.  It really is my favorite art supply store!

(Above:  The back of the mandala.)

Finally, a friend recently left a comment on Facebook regarding the backside of my mandala.  She was not referring to the way I've stitched the mandala to foam-centered board in order to distribute the weight of the found objects.  She was referring to the colorful threads connecting the items to the vintage quilt.  So ... here is that image.  I'm not a particularly neat embroiderer but I'm also not a "total mess"! LOL!


Emanda Johnson said...

Oh Susan, this is wonderful! I immediately had to see the detail shots. For about eight years I was a Slide Librarian for an Art/Art History department at a couple of universities and then a Visual Resources Manager at a Museum. I gravitated to the slides like a magnet. This mandala has so many things I love. Alas, it’s too big for my space. Just know admiration has been lavished on it from afar.I hope it finds a fitting home.

Susan Lenz said...

To the writer of the "unknown" comment: Thanks so much for posting. I spent years inside darkened rooms at The Ohio State University memorizing art history slides. Your words bring back images of medieval cathedrals and Venetian mosaics and illuminated manuscripts. I remember the copy stand fondly! Susan

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

I love your works - and always intrigued when you list the items - today it was "grey hair curlers" which now has red thread on them but I then have to search the item out in the enlarged photo. And of the photographic liquid bottles still with there wrappings, labels not torn or tarnished as such. What a find!

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

I've just listened to our TED talk, love theme. And yes I have some "locked away in 2 old suitcases" and I have no one to leave them to. I've made at least one book of some of the photographs and I now realise I have more. I have my Mothers' tatted mats and other things from my childhood. And recently a friend asked "do any of you have xyz?" I know I have, so they will got off to this "makers shed" and I too will spend this long w/end sifting up those objects, so I can mail them to him - and fetch out things I want to use in my bookmaking or other art making

Thanks for giving me a new goal