Yard sale finds


I never understood why museum goers enjoy gazing at the portraits of strangers. I mean, why? Even someone noteworthy like George Washington, a fine subject with perfect curls, is not a face I need to study. Art for art’s sake, perhaps. Or maybe I’m meant to have a moment of communion with the father of our country.

But this weekend at a yard sale I spied a luminous rendering of a woman I’ve never met staring back at me from the driveway. I walked around browsing the goods, but I kept going back to her.

“What’s the story with the portrait?” I asked the young woman selling it.

“Oh, that’s Jane,” she said. “But we call her Edith. It was done in the fifties. She was a neighbor.”

Several questions sprung to mind:

Why Edith? She was a plain Jane but Edith did seem to fit more. I thought of Edith from All in the Family, Edith from Downton Abbey.

Why would anyone have a portrait of a neighbor?

Why did this young woman keep it for so long?

Who painted it?

Was Edith part of a neighbor love triangle?

I didn’t pry. But I wish I had.

“How much are you asking?”

“Twenty dollars,” she said. “I really don’t want to sell it.” In the background her husband indicated that he did. “We’re moving to Michigan and we can’t take her with us. Really.” He silently pleaded with me to rid them of Edith.

Indeed, Edith, rendered in pastels and trapped in her vintage frame, is not cut out for Michigan. She doesn’t have the outerwear. For $15 with a couple of shirts thrown in that Edith would never be caught dead in, I brought her home and propped her up to see where I might hang her. Every time I look over there she’s looking at me. Such a starer.



In Hudson, I buy antlers

Hudson is a not-yet-comfortable mix of super high-end antique stores and families living in poverty on the next street over. A tough mix but a reality of so many towns converting their old buildings downtown to lofts and studios. It’s a destination for Manhattanites furnishing their summer homes and for me looking for a treasure under $50. The Red Chair, a beautifully curated shop of Belgian and French antiques and textiles, invites visitors to linger, but the prices reflect the time and energy it must have taken the owner to scout out treasures in the French countryside and lug them back to the States.  The street is one long stretch of colorful shops and cafes, and it feels like scouring a flea market with air-conditioned pockets; a view of the Hudson awaits at the end of the street.

The work of artist Lee Musselman graces numerous storefronts along the main street, many in the form of doll head figures the artist calls “spiritual guides.” The shops are showing support for an artist who celebrates found objects–a man now in failing health. One shop where Lee worked has two deep bins of his art scraps: antlers, bones, dolls, tin. I dig out a pair of antlers with a tuft of fur still attached and buy it; the money will go to his caregiver. I spend a moment thinking of this artist I’ve only just learned about and about the deer who shed its antlers, unaware that a piece of it might the next day become art.

Hudson shops

Lee Musselman art

Gangsta cat

My friend tells me that my cat, Maple, is a little vandal. “Sit on the right side of the train when you head home and check out the abandoned train with graffiti all over it. You’ll see ‘Maple’ spray painted in a couple of places.”

Apparently, my cat has been tagging trains.

OK, so it probably isn’t my cat because I lock the door at night, so I know she can’t get out, but seriously, whose gangsta tag is “Maple”? It’s so . . . sweet.

On a lunch excursion this week, I spot this amazing piece of work on Stuart St. in Boston. The clever style smacks of Banksy. If you haven’t seen the documentary on this artist–Exit Through the Gift Shop–you should. It’s weird, like graffiti  done by a cat.


A little research turned up the fact that the artists behind this are Os Gemeos (twins) who have also contributed art to the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston.

Yard sale finds

This weekend I headed to the Marblehead Art Walk, which was a bust. This was likely due to the fact that I missed it by an entire week (May is disappearing faster than I thought, apparently), so in wandering around looking for art or the art-making workshop I was keen to attend, I realized there was no art. But all was not lost. I hit up a few early-season yard sales and was pleasantly surprised to find (wait for it) art.

Everyone needs a pineapple oil painting, no? This one is heavily textured, like a pineapple, but the frame is a little staid for my tastes, which I probably should not have said to the seller after she gave it to me for $5, but no worries; I went to the paint store and they mixed me up a sample of an avocado green for $3. That little sample tub is my tip of the day, people; if you have something small to paint, samples are a bargain. Or does everyone know that already? Anyway, this weekend will involve funkying up the frame.

Turns out the seller is a poet so we chatted about people and organizations we had in common (You love Grub St.? I love Grub St.) and she even invited me to join a local writing group, which I must say, I hadn’t expected when buying a pineapple painting.

pineapple painting

But why stop there when I could dig up a second piece of art–this one of a madame that will go in my bathroom, if you must know. The style of the drawing (or watercolor? This is how little I know about art) is reminiscent of Toulouse Lautrec, yet it’s signed something like Lilead or Iliad, which must be wrong, because the Interweb turned up zilch about the former and a million references to Homer for the latter. Who cares. The vibrant red frame is perfect, no painting necessary.

madame drawing

I also found a packet of Bookmarks for Cooks (can’t bring myself to write in my cookbooks), which should help when I make a note like “Add more cheese.” I expect most bookmarks will say “Add more cheese.”

Finally, I scooped up this gold, worn heart locket, which is as oversized as it looks, for 25 cents. Come on! I don’t yet have the right dangly chain, so if you have one, get in touch. I need to wear this puppy before the steampunk movement passes.

heart locked

Yard sale finds

yard sale sign

The season has begun.

At a school fundraiser, I spot two things you normally don’t see on the bargain-hunting circuit: a man playing bagpipes and a girl cradling her ferret–two odd lumps that both emit strange sounds. But I will not be distracted by the hoopla. But in fact, I was distracted: by the time I make it over to a unicycle for sale, it’s gone, which is probably just as well because in what scenario am I actually mastering the thing and not falling on my face?

You might think given the unicycle and the picture below that I have kids. I don’t, but I like mini cookie cutters as much as the next kid, and they’re just the right size and shape for animal crackers. And, like I always say, where there’s a rooster banner, there’s a reason to celebrate. The tiny Halloween-themed notebooks I’ll hand out to trick-or-treaters in October.

Maple and yard sale finds

rooster banner

Given my newfound collage mania, I buy a couple of books–one of photographs, one on constellations–that I’ll try to rip up without thinking I’m going to hell. A vintage Clue game for $1 might also make its way into a collage; the furry tail in the photo will not. And my favorite find: a one-of-a-kind wood-carved painting of an aviator bunny in a polka-dotted plane. My friend pointed out that carved in the bottom corner is “July ’72,” the month and year I was born, like it was destined to be mine. I think it actually says “Judy ’72,” and while I don’t know Judy, I really wish I did. I think we’d get along.

yard sale books

Literary collage workshop

I like me some good collage therapy–an art outlet disguised as life mapping or vision boards that allows for perusing beautiful images that I collect like a magpie for what I pretend is a work of art. But I rarely find the right images or collect too many disparate images, or don’t have time to arrange them all just so. But in a literary collage workshop at the MA Poetry Festival last weekend, I grabbed materials from trunks of colorful scraps, photographs, stamps, sheets of music, and lines from poems, and realized a sort of jungle theme had emerged organically: a bird, a bunch of bananas, trees.

Time was running out as it usually does when you’re knee-deep in art-making, but the pressure worked. With only five minutes before the next workshop would begin, I started slapping down images on a board in places that felt right, that all worked.

Instructors Missy-Marie Montgomery and Trish Crapo (check out her collages here) shared their own beautiful collage creations inspired by lines of poetry and encouraged us to layer both literally (materials) and figuratively (ideas and themes); one participant said she makes a drink and a collage every night; one young girl emerged with a masterpiece. I’m putting mine up on the wall and telling visitors it’s a rare work by a local artist.

jungle collage


collage with peach

In addition to pages ripped from books (shudder!), the artists brought some pages that had undergone a process using Citra Solv, a cleaning agent-turned-art material that blends the ink on a page to create colorful, abstract designs. You can read it about it on this artist’s blog.



With a minute or two left, each workshop participant introduced their collage, and I had the sudden feeling that everyone had been secret collage prodigies. Still, I loved the workshop, the creative process, the artists let loose from their poet selves. I’m eyeing my books with a new sense of possibility.

collages on display

Yard sale finds

Today’s find: a dirty bird. As my friends will attest, I have exactly one coaster, which means I’m scrambling for a place for guests to put their drinks. I spotted this tile with an odd-looking, geometric bird for $2. Dusty and sticky, I cleaned him up like a duck plucked from an oil spill, where he now sits on the coffee table—coaster count doubled.

I also found a book titled Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas, which is handy because I’ve been working on perfecting grilled pizza of late (perfecting, failing, perfecting, failing, eating anyway) and am interested to try to make piadinas, a type of flatbread used to wrap sandwiches or as a crust-like bundle for something sweet.

In addition to a sparkly metallic bracelet and a couple of CDs that the DJ sifting through the same box thought fit to pass up (The Sinatra Christmas Album and Corinne Bailey Rae, if you must know), I picked up the book Plastic Ocean for my ocean-loving friend who likes to snuggle up with a good book about the ocean’s flotilla of garbage. I mean, don’t we all?

Yard sale haul

It’s been one year this week when I moved into my very own little house with its very own naked walls. I love a great photograph or painting but I’m also discriminating. You can’t just slap up motivational posters like it’s college. So, the art collection to rival the Met is slow in the making. But slowly I’m finding pieces that I love. And given that I have a fixation with owls ever since reading Wesley the Owl, I practically hooted when I discovered this treasure at a yard sale.

A little research turned up the fact that Ikki Matsumoto is the artist and that he features a lot of whimsical animals in his work, inspired by his mentor, Charley Harper. Who (sorry) could resist these stick-legged owls gazing at the night sky with comets in their eyes? Come on! How awesome are these little guys? $5 worth of awesome, though I would have paid a lot more.

The next weekend’s sale brought in this vibrant print for $3, a beach scene I snapped up, ironically, hours before the first snowfall.

Accessories were practically begging to go home with me, so I gave in to temptation and scored a horsehair belt, which is probably not horsehair, but I don’t know how else to describe it, two dangly pairs of earrings, and a Scotty dog ring that makes me feel like I have a dog without all the hassle.


Yard sale haul

This weekend, I shopped in a closet reminiscent of Filene’s Basement at the estate sale of a woman who had a clothing addiction to end all clothing addictions. Another petite woman and I were trading clothes like it was a swap. I left with some fancy J Brand pants for $5 and a burnout t-shirt for $1, while I watched her drag a bag the size of a sheep out the door. I might have drooled a little.

At the next sale, I picked up a couple more interesting tops; Maple is convinced the dangly parts on a silky gray number was made exclusively for her entertainment. Then I got a pillow for $1 and two pairs of earrings for 5 bucks.

And, because our office is half naked walls, half tired Monet prints (sorry, Claude), I snagged two framed prints for $5 each. Those puppies are going up on the wall pronto before I spend another day looking at lily pads.

Yard sale haul and a cat emergency

Despite a list of promising sales, I forgo yard sailing on Saturday to take Maple to the vet because she is—wait for it—drooling. What, me, overprotective? But listen, it’s like sleeping with a small, slobbering walrus. Not normal. A quick search of the web convinces me that the little fuzzball has something lodged in her throat. Unfortunately, Webvet is just as alarming as WebMD.

I wrangle Maple into the carrier (which she does not like) and the vet checks her heartbeat (which she likes even less) and pries open Maple’s mouth (which she despises), and declares that they should do an x-ray. Maple and I look at each other. “No, thank you,” I say.

The vet agrees that because she’s eating, it’s unlikely there’s a real problem. So, a hefty $150 later, we are on our way with some anti-hairball medicine (really?) that smells suspiciously like maple syrup and that Maple has no interest in trying, despite the name. A tip from my cat-owning friend has me smear her paws with the goop, which kinda works because she’s compelled to lick it off, but not before she tracks it through the house.

The patient, less drooly

All that is to say, I am only able to hit two yard sales on the much-less-popular Sunday, but for $10 I score this beautiful, petite painting of a bay by Karen Gausch. And that is enough because I could look at it its dreamy sky and marshy shore all day.

The taste of a rodent

Children’s art is so endearing for its freshness and honesty and simple renderings. The sun is always a yellow ball with shaky lines extending out from it; the clouds are puffy and marshmallow-like; the stick figure families all look alike. But sometimes, children’s art is just plain weird. I spotted this gem on the walls of an elementary school; the assignment seemed to be Write a sensory poem. Did one student take the assignment a little too far?

Weekend ingredients

Every weekend should involve equal parts art, friends, food, exercise, books, and lounging. Weekends are short, but sometimes the stars align and the ingredients come together. On Friday, I attended an art reception where a friend had a pastel on exhibit that she made using Craypas she scored at my yard sale and that I must have had since high school. She’s an artist, you know; I don’t know if she knows this for sure, so I’ve been demanding that she introduce herself to people by saying, “Hello, my name is Helena, and I am a kick-ass artist.” Also, she got all my SARK books when I moved, so she’s super inspired and better start selling her work so I can say I knew her when. The exhibit was a juried collection of work by students who have taken a class at the Arlington Center for the Arts, and truly, the work surpassed that of the MFA student exhibit that I attended last week.

On Saturday, I dinnered with seven fabulous women, and as we were passing the sweet potatoes and spoonbread, I thought, We could rule the world.

Sunday involved a brisk hike along the river that turned into more of a walk since there was no uphill. A hill is required for a walk to be considered a hike, right? If you walk fast enough though, you can achieve semi-warmth, even in 30-degree weather, if you wear three shirts. The lure of the used book store sale (half off everything) resulted in two new novels with sublime opening paragraphs. Then, gorging on chicken wings and Northern Exposure episodes.

When conversation flags

Steve Martin was a guest at the 92nd Y in NYC this week to talk about his new book, An Object of Beauty, a novel that centers around the art world, so it was no surprise that the conversation focused on art. Turns out, though, that no one wanted to hear about the art world. Apparently, the attendees wanted to hear funny anecdotes from his Parenthood days or what it was like to make out with Meryl Streep.

A Times article describes how in the middle of the interview, organizers passed a note to interviewer Deborah Solomon asking her to broaden the discussion (Ask him about Bowfinger!); the Y even sent out email to ticket holders the next day apologizing for the dull discussion and offering a refund. Ouch.

Granted, if I had paid $50 for the event, I’d like to feel the evening had value, but was it really worth humiliating Martin and his interviewer, essentially saying: you were boring. Conversations are just that. They’re unscripted and ebb and flow by nature. Not every conversation is scintillating (see: dating); not every conversation is as revealing as those clips on TMZ. The guy wrote a novel about the art world, and you’re attending a talk in New York City that—shocker—may delve into the art world. Can you at least try to live up to the cosmopolitan image of New Yorkers and pretend to care about art?

For those of you who do appreciate art and Martin’s take on it, he was just interviewed by Charlie Rose (another conversation about art . . . yikes!), which I found interesting. Note to those who attended the discussion at the Y: don’t bother; you’ll be bored—and Charlie Rose does not issue refunds.

Steve Martin, all artsy

Update: Steve Martin wrote a piece in the Times in response to the Y’s shenanigans and you can read it here thanks to my alert blogger friend, Kim.


Sleep No More

Sleep No More is the most unusual theater experience you’ll ever have. It’s what theater can be. A British drama troupe, Punchdrunk, puts on a Macbeth-meets-Hitchcock production that takes place in an old school in Brookline. You wander through, choosing to check out this room (an old-style dressing room with a ceiling covered in umbrellas) or that room (a recreated forest that engulfs you in fog), all in semi-darkness while wearing a mask. Exquisite details abound. The acting, when you stumble upon it, happens all over the building and you can watch the actors in a scene in one room or chase them down the hall in another. There’s much to reveal, but I won’t because you must see it.

Except you can’t: it’s sold out. As it should be. There are Craigslist postings for tickets, which are as sought after as Super Bowl tickets, and the option of waiting (a long time in the cold) for standby tickets. Be warned, you won’t be the only one waiting; but you’ll probably be the only one who’s seeing it for the first time. Everyone else will be on their third or fourth visit because there’s something new to discover each time.

You light my fire, Providence

This is gonna sound weird if you’ve never heard of it, but Providence does this really cool thing where it lights braziers on fire! Not brassieres, silly, but braziers, as in large metal containers holding coal or wood. On weekends throughout the summer, the revitalized downtown hosts WaterFire, one cool public art display that involves setting the water ablaze. A man with a long braid and flowy pants with orange flames creeping up the side is delivered by boat to each wood pile where he performs some fire theatrics before igniting each section with a torch. Throughout the night, boats full of people clad in black glide through the water, stopping at each brazier to stoke the flames.

Providence illuminated

Providence illuminated

The riverside is dark and still, while the crowd awaits fire, and atmospheric music is piped throughout the area, lending the event an eerie, magical feel. A section of illuminated blue lanterns creates a little wonderland of light.


So, to sum up: go to Providence and check this out. It’s fun and free and fiery! Plus, it’s really dark, so you can make out in public with your lover or find someone in the crowd and have your way with him. It’s dark. No one will ever know.

I’m so bad at that…and that…and that…

Every year, I like to take a class in something that sounds like fun, but that I know I’ll find impossible to master. A couple of years ago, it was pottery. The first time I tried throwing on a wheel, I made the most perfectly round bowl. Everyone oohed and aahed and I couldn’t help but wonder what everyone found so difficult. When I tried again, I wasn’t so successful and the “bowl” collapsed into a heap; in fact I couldn’t replicate anything resembling a bowl again and was only ever able to make imperfect, wobbly objects covered in layers of sparkly glaze to distract the viewer. I love their handmade quality though, even if they look like something a first grader would bring home.

Last year, I tried watercolor painting. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. I just couldn’t get it. The instructor, who had an intimidating Russian accent, barked directions at me that were useless: “You yust have to veel it,” he’d say. Yeah, what I needed was more instruction. How much water am I supposed to splash around here? And oh, how do I draw things? He was a terrible teacher, but then I was a poor student.

This month, it’s hand drumming. I’m not at all musical, so I thought this would be the perfect complement to pottery and painting. At least I’d get to beat something. Turns out, I’m a terrible drummer too. Simple rhythms we’re meant to memorize and play repeatedly elude me. I’ll be fine for a turn or too and then things fall apart and I feel like I’m learning Russian, which would have been helpful in say, my watercolor class, but is useless when learning African rhythms. 


Drumming on a djembe

Drumming on a djembe


Despite my failures, the subjects are fun, and I’m a firm believer that trying things we might not be good at is a healthy endeavor. Sure, it makes you feel inadequate, but it opens you up in some strange way and makes you remember what it’s like to learn something, to struggle. A little humility is a good thing.

Park art is for the birds

Some strange and wonderful things have cropped up on the Arsenal Center land in Watertown: twine-like cocoons and colorful pea pods. The honeycomb-like cocoons are subtle and caught my eye when they were drifting in the wind—giant interpretations of caterpillar retreats. That’s my take on them, anyway. Birds, listen up: this is a prime nesting opportunity.

Mother Pod is colorful, fanciful, and hard to miss: a larger-than-life pod connected, umbilical cord-like, to a baby pod, both in deep shades of red and purple. The soft material (felt and wool sweaters) makes you yearn to curl up and take a nap in the warmth of the pod.

The installments are part of the Arsenal Center for the Arts’ “Nature and Balance” exhibit that runs through the fall. I love serendipitous discoveries like this; I suspect the animals in the park will too.

Smile, you’re in the NYC subway

Opportunities for Kodak moments abound in New York City. Times Square, Central Park, the skyline…you could close your eyes and shoot and capture something good. But subterranean photography is where it’s at. On a recent jaunt to the city, my mom and I found cool photo ops jumping on the subway at 23rd St. and off at 28th. I’m sure the novelty has worn off for commuters, but if you’re an infrequent visitor to the city, even the subway art is something to behold. We took advantage of every ridiculous shot resulting in us wearing tiled hats and being eaten by birds of prey—even if people on the train looked at us strangely and kids were pointing. Whatever. It’s New York City. You’ll never see these people again.