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lost-and-found art

January 8, 2010

On New Year’s Day, I woke up to something that always puts a smile on my face (see photo at left). Seriously. I thrifted this some years ago and am so glad it didn’t get tossed in the great Chicago-New York move. Over the years, Chris and I have amassed a substantial collection of second-hand and thrift-store art. Our gems have been scavenged from Salvation Armies, yard sales, alleys, and dumpsters from Chicago to New York and everywhere in between. There’s so much to love about thrifted art including the unbeatable prices, (mere dollars, with our most expensive piece costing around $15), and the sheer weirdness you’re bound to stumble upon. (It looks like they actually took their poodle to Sears for a formal portrait. The only thing missing is a faux sunset backdrop.)  I’d guess that roughly half of what we own has been found on the curb or in the alley on garbage day; full portfolios of (near)finished paintings by armchair artists, abandoned family photographs, etc. I always find it hard to believe that someone could so easily part with something so personal. A woman in Memphis once sold me an old sketchbook that included old portraits her deceased mother had drawn of herself and husband (see works by “Melba” on Flickr set). Is nothing sacred?!

We’re by no means pioneers, collecting thrifted art is nothing new. Collections of second-hand art are being published and exhibited, which makes me happy. It means there are others out there like us- those not afraid to do a little digging, celebrating the weirdness and beauty of lost-and-found art.(See the Flickr set for more.)

— By Melissa

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Indira Banerjee permalink
    January 9, 2010 3:21 pm

    These thrift-store arts are also time stamps in our history. It tells us something about a particular trend in our society in a bygone era.

    As for example, the sketches drawn by Melba kind of tells us that it might have been in 50’s when these sketches were drawn and we can get an idea how things were at that time.

    I can see the small sized window cut high on the wall in the background of the husband’s picture. I believe that was one of the styles that were popular in 50’s because I live in a house that has the same style of windows. We see the husband is smoking a pipe; this was something very much acceptable in the society at that time. Melba herself wears her hair in long bob style teased high at the top which is also a clue to that time in our society. It is very fascinating how a sketch or a painting can capture a piece of history so clearly and that is what makes these kinds of arts so priceless.

    • melissa Wagner permalink
      February 19, 2010 11:45 am

      You’re absolutely correct. I love not only getting a glimpse into what was going on stylistically or fashion-wise, but also collecting pieces that represent a process or medium that is age/era specific. The back (or reverse) painted birdies is a process that you don’t see all that much nowadays, but was common from the 20’s through the Art Deco period (see beauties here and here ). To take it in the other, less classy, direction, I also had this awesomely terrible portrait of one of the Rice Krispie elves done in little colored pebbles that had been glued to a canvas like a mosaic. I’m no art historian, but it was very arts & crafts time circa 1977. Here’s a decent example of the stlye and medium: . While my creepy little elf was, well, creepy, I still kinda wish I had it. Thanks for looking!

  2. January 10, 2010 5:50 pm

    Melissa, I hope there will be a part 2 to this post of more of these pictures that you proudly own.

    • melissa Wagner permalink
      February 19, 2010 11:51 am

      I assure you, and Talia can back me up, I have enough for multiple posts!
      Thanks for looking*

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