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In the beginning

by Jan Wheatcroft

As I get ready for the big selling and shopping season this December, my hands are buried in many different materials, many of which I purchased on my travels in England. As I work, I find myself deeply surrounded by the memories that inhabit each of the particular pieces I select.

I remember where I discovered antique bits I now use in my jewelry, fabric I dug up from various piles in poorly-lit alcoves in the antique alleys, the books that I picked up from wonderful book stores filled with super ideas and stimulating photos and the odd bit of rusty junk I found in street sales and at antique fairs. Such is the delight for me in collecting and poking about while at the same time being a tourist and just having fun. 

There are 3 bookstores that are my favorites and probably many more that I could just lose myself in browsing. Daunt Books is a super bookstore, as they have a great selection of titles for readers like me. I manage to find many choices that are interesting and well chosen. The first bookstore I always go to is Hatchards on Piccadilly in the center of London. It is on different floors and has a lovely old staircase as well as an elevator…very elegant. There is a huge selection of travel essay books and that’s where I always start. For art, I love the Museum shop book area of the Tate Modern Museum. Every possible subject is covered and there is a great selection of magazines as well. 

For shopping and just poking about,  carefully plan my time. Mondays are for Covent Garden and the flea market off to the side of the center shopping area. Tons of junk, lots of expensive jewelry but there is the button lady and the few men who have rusted old metal pieces gathered up from the the edge of the Thames River, which surface over   I love to listen to the sellers as they sit and gossip amongst themselves while waiting for customers. It’s like being immersed in a large kettle of British.

On 2 Tuesdays a month there is a huge antiques fair outside of central London at the Kempton Race Track.  Half of it is inside and the big stuff is scattered around the track area outside. One winds around tables full of the most wonderful piles of jewelry, old clothing and antique fabric, bric-a-brac, buttons and household items. There is so much that I can hardly pull myself away from one table to move on to the next. I have discovered so many things here over the years for my earrings and other pieces of jewelry such as old beads, tiny doll heads and loads of old marked silver pieces suitable for combining into earrings. This fair closes early so I often feel that I have to rush about faster than I would like to.

Saturdays are for going to Portabello Road, which is really a mixed bag; a collection of really old nifty items and boring stuff that may have been made for the tourist trade. It is all push and shove due to the crowds who come just like I do. It is a place to hear every language imaginable, and it is also a place to have one’s bag or pocket picked. There are 2 button ladies here, plus many great jewelry collectors and people who have piles of ethnic fabric and clothing and old ephemera, glass, silverware, paintings and pottery. Everything one can imagine. I am usually lucky to tuck away a few great finds. 

At the bottom of the hill are the food stalls filled with fruits and vegetables, cheeses and meats and all sorts of cooked foods. People shout, shove, and fill their bags for the weekend feasts. Every British tourist find is also available including bags, T shirts, cheap jewelry and summery clothing from China and India. At the bottom under the crossing of the overpasses is a nice, small health food store and on the weekends other stands are set up selling vintage items. One day we passed a store front where there was a white piano standing and a man was playing. I was reminded of the piano that was in the parking lot of Rhino Records last year. It was the same sort of thing—a piano placed in a public space inviting anyone to come and play and enjoy it. A woman was riding round and round on her bike singing at the top of her lungs. Of course, we had to join in as we knew the words to the Beatles song the man was playing. The experience was very uplifting. 

All these things now sit in my house or my storage garage and I sort through them as I create my art and craft to sell for this holiday season. So much begins from these trips and so much depends on what I find.  Each year the “flavor” of my jewelry changes depending on where I have been and what I have found. 

One summer, I spent a long day in a huge Paris flea market that was full of antique stalls and glorious treasures wishing I could afford it all. That year my earrings had a “Continental” look. Another year I spent a good deal of my time searching for silver pieces in local flea markets in LA and the look was more vintage Mexican.  Wherever I go, I look for choice items that I can incorporate into my work and I seem to be able to remember where I got each piece and the stories I was told. For me, the experience is made all that much richer as I combine and pull together the pieces to create my art.  It also reminds me of where I have been and makes me think of where these old cast-offs have traveled from and who might have enjoyed them before they came into my hands. Each piece holds it unique story and I have the pleasure of mixing and matching them to make something totally new and original. What a lucky pleasure. 

I will be selling at The Gypsy Sisters Art Show on December 8 and 9 at the UCC Church on Harrison Avenue in Claremont, along with 28 other super artists.  Then I will be selling with friends on the street near the Folk Music Center for the 2 weekends before Christmas. I wish everyone a Happy Ho Ho Ho Holiday.

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