Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Household Discoveries

Visiting an estate sale is like walking into a house-sized cabinet of curiosities all focused on the life of a particular person, which is why I so enjoy them. I especially enjoy looking through the books a person leaves behind. I think books—as a collection—suggest so much about their former owner.

One that I visited last fall in a rather grand house had dozens of books about Catholicism (I bought a Pocket Dictionary of Saints there), alongside about as many about various forms of New Age spirituality and mysticism, another batch on philosophy, and many popular histories. I tried to imagine what fascinating dinner party conversations they might have had in their large well-appointed dining room.

Some households have few books for sale, and I'm left to wonder whether the people had little interest in them or if the family valued the books enough to keep them all.

Some have mostly practical books—cookbooks and how-to's—which can be quite fascinating if they're old enough to provide insights into how things were done in a low-tech do-it-yourself age.

 So I was delighted when I came across this practical tome a couple of months ago. The woman was letting go of some of her mother's old things that she had been keeping for some time, including this book, Household Discoveries: An Encyclopedia of Practical Recipes and Processes, dated 1909. It even has a chapter on how to make your own paints and varnishes.

 The other appeal of such old books is, of course, aesthetic. Some have beautiful graphics, like the above-mentioned book's title page, and lovely tooled and embossed covers. Even those that aren't especially beautiful have a certain charm, with their period typography and yellowed pages. If I am certain that an old book is not particularly rare or valuable, and if its content is not all that special, I'll even consider using pages for some craftsmanship of my own. I am not a book artist in the fine art sense—not to the level and skill of some who have done wonderfully intricate and ornate sculptural carvings from books—but I will alter a book or use book pages in art sometimes.

Just so, the chapter in Household Discoveries on dealing with pests is just too rich to leave untouched. And since I had carved a rubber block into a rat image a couple of years ago when it was year of the rat, I couldn't resist doing a little printmaking on the pages that offer rather macabre ways to deal with rats and mice (and which had me feeling quite sorry for the poor rodents). Three such prints that are trading card size (2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches) are now for sale in my Etsy shop, and two more full-page ones will be added there soon. If you care to visit the shop, you will find a link just over there, up and to the right.

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