Old photos are portals to the past - and make for chic home decor, guaranteed to spark conversations.
- story and photos by Grace Wilson
While most antique shops have old photos here and there, Magnolia Antiques on Main Street in Bay St. Louis has several shelves and cases dedicated to vintage photographs.
Many of these are houses in books and binders that are works of art themselves.
Shop proprietress Shay Coss has a special interest in these family photos from a time gone by. In fact, family members with old albums know where to take these treasures where they can be fully appreciated.
“I hear this all the time: How did someone give these up?” said Coss. “Sometimes people are at the end of the line of their family tree and they don’t want these family photos to end up in a dumpster. Here they’ll become part of another family’s collection.”
Thumbing through the albums or stacks of photos, stories emerge. Often collections reveal a timeline of a person’s life, but also the document that time and place in history. Even how the photo was taken is a snapshot of the time’s technology.
“We had a photography student come in and buy up all the photos of one particular person,” said Glenda Schornick, founder of Magnolia Antiques. “You could see the evolution of the subject, but also the changes in the art of photography through the years.”
Spending an afternoon at the shop with Coss as she excitedly showed off the different albums, it was impossible not to feel how special each photo was in its own way.
In fact, photographs are something we largely take take for granted today. Most everyone has the ability to whip out their phones and snap a shot (or sixteen) of any occasion and share it with the world through social media.
There was a time in the not to distant past that a family had to save and spend some serious pennies on hiring a photographer.
Sometimes a single photo was all a family had. This is especially true of post-mortem photographs. If a child or baby died at a young age, a family who could afford it would take the time and expense to have a photo made.
(Yes, Magnolia Antiques has a photo or two of these, too.)
We all have fascinations with lives: lives lost, lives past, lives we wish we had... and photographs — especially vintage photographs — are a perfect portal.
Veteran retail writer Grace Wilson takes the plunge and opens her own booth filled with the cool and the collectible in Old Town Bay St. Louis.
Find your niche
Looking around the Bay St. Louis antique scene, dealers have it fully covered. What’s your passion?
Mid-century modern furniture, folk art, found art, bottles, buttons, music memorabilia, interesting instruments, antique dolls... it’s easy to spot the many passions of collectors represented in the antique shops of Old Town. If you have a penchant for something, chances are others do, too.
My collecting started out with Pez dispensers. From there it was anything with a mushroom on it – which was a lot of vintage kitchen wear. That mushroomed in to barware and ashtrays.
When I had a baby, all that was packed up and stuffed animals (especially flamingos) found their place in my life. Stepping back, I saw I had a nice mix of mommy and baby items that needed new homes and The Captain and Pearl was born in the French Potager.
“Booths are an extension of the dealer’s personalities,” said French Potager owner Martha Whitney Butler. “My booth has stuff from all over the world because I love to travel. Everybody’s different.”
Mix Old and New
Yes, Bay St. Louis is known around the Gulf Coast for being a mecca of antiques. Thanks to shops like Social Chair, Bay-Tique (and many more) shoppers are also loving the contemporary offerings of our town.
Some of the best booths I’ve seen in town have a blend of antiques and almost-new items. A newly embroidered pillow gives an old chair a pop of life. Stick new magnets on an old piece of tin. At Captain and Pearl, we display new items (like our BSL Shirts that benefit Ruth’s Roots community garden) in vintage luggage.
Tell a Story
It’s a modern day mantra: Tell a story.
But what does that mean? In the antiques business, they’ve lived and died by this rule for generations. A pocket watch is just a pocket watch. A pocket watch owned by a famous general and worn in the Civil War - now that’s something special. You place items in a certain time and place in history, and suddenly they take on a whole new meaning.
And it doesn’t have to be a hundred year old story to make it appealing. We put out some pretty cool handmade toys from Mexico, which didn’t move. We decided to give each one a name and write “Handmade in Mexico” on the tag and it gave them a new level of personality and interest.
Refresh All the Time
The best booth owners visit their booths as often as they can to refresh and reshuffle things. Patti Fullilove, who dedicates herself to booths both in Antique Maison and French Potager, visits her booths every day. (#DealerGoals)
It’s helpful to see what people bought, but you can also see what they are picking up. Even if you don’t add or edit new inventory every day, just shuffling things around gives the booth a breath of fresh air, which keeps shoppers coming back.
Get into Your Customers Heads (and Homes)
Customers respond to a curated booth. Things make more sense if there’s a theme or items are in context. If you have lots of vintage barware, put it on a bar cart with some booze bottles and cocktail napkins. Put pictures you snap locally in old frames to make them feel relevant.
Keep in mind, lots of folks on the hunt for antiques like to dig. Have a section in your booth that lets them do just that, but don’t have so many items that people will get overwhelmed. Some people feel most comfortable shopping in retail stores so take cues from your favorite shops on the best way to display your items. Most importantly, help your clients visualize your items in their own homes.
Whimsical Tramp Art pieces can be found throughout Old Town - and has inspired a number of local contemporary artists. But what in the heck is it?
- story and photos by Grace King
Hobo Art, or Tramp Art, is a term referring to art made of found objects - mainly wood, toothpicks, discarded cigar boxes, crates or pallets - and often whittled into layers featuring geometric shapes.
This art form has been traced back to the 1870s and began to die out in the 1940s.
Magnolia Antiques often carries carved knives called Trench Art, a similar art form that refers to decorative items made by soldiers, prisoners of war or civilians affected by wartime who were often literally stuck in the trenches and needed a project to take their mind off their conditions. Of course, they had to work with the materials they had at hand - toothpicks, pieces of scrap wood, wire, popsicle sticks, etc.
I’d seen these rustic forms of art, especially in the Delta, but never knew about Tramp Art.
The South has a long history of self-taught artists, many using discarded materials. Museum sensations like Thornton Dial have made being an “outsider artist” more mainstream.
His paintings and assemblages fashioned from scavenged materials hung proudly in the New Orleans Museum of Art during a popular exhibition in 2012 called “Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial.”
Patrons were so moved by his show that the museum now houses 10 pieces of art from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in its permanent collection. His extraordinary body of work continues to garner recognition.
It’s easy to find primitive art and furniture in the antiques shops of Old Town once you know what to look for.
Antique Maison has some truly one-of-a-kind large-scale pieces. Right through the doorway, shoppers can see a tall form of early folk art — a cupboard with original paint, copper screens and square nail construction. It’s certainly a unique piece made from reclaimed materials long ago.
Further back in Antique Maison, John Walrod’s Steampunk Curiosities are sculptures and wallhangings made from found objects, transformed into fun little creatures, clocks and bits of home goods. Walrod is a contemporary artist whose work brings to mind the intricate and often whimsical works of Tramp artists.
Spencer Gray Jr. at Gallery 220 is also known for his fun, vibrant creations and yard art, also made from colorful brick-a-brack. He creates smaller pieces and larger one-of-a-kind sculptures that are filled with animation and delight collectors.
Artist Joe Derr divides time between Bay St. Louis and New Orleans, creating fanciful sculptures and watercolor paintings. The Derr's paintings carried by Bay Life Gifts & Gallery in Century Hall (112 South Second Street), are "framed" in wooden trays or old cigar boxes.
Bay Life owner Janice Guido says several of her customers now collect Derr's work, vying for first shot at them when he brings in new pieces.
Also at Century Hall, Susan Peterson proudly showed off a small chest of drawers that had all the hallmarks of Tramp Art. Hand carved embellishments, drawers made out of cigar boxes and beautiful bits of decorative wallpaper lined the inside.
Hobo, Tramp and Trench may not be the most flattering names to label a world of art, but it turned out these pieces are some of the most desirable finds in Old Town.
Find them and bring them home before they hit the road.
In a world where going "paperless" is the new trend, artist and ephemera collector Vicki Niolet takes at look at a few of the things we'll be missing.
- story and photos by Vicki Niolet
The term “ephemera” comes from the Greek meaning things that are used or enjoyed only a short time. A collector of ephemera usually seeks printed material other than books, such as brochures, newspapers and magazines.
Handwritten letters, postcards, and manuscripts, basically any loose paper with messages or images, may also be valuable. (Unfortunately this reasoning may empower hoarders who can’t throw anything away.)
Most folks randomly accumulate bits of their past in scrapbooks full of ticket stubs, photographs, class report cards, and love letters for sentimental reasons. Some appreciate the artistry and detail of greeting cards with rich colors and elaborate cut outs, such as “cobweb valentines.” Others spend lifetimes tracking down baseball cards, historical documents, or famous autographs resulting in valuable collections that are anything but temporary.
Advertising pieces are one of the most popular categories of ephemera. Long before Hollywood came up with the idea of “product placement” leaving a trail of Reese’s Pieces in “ET,” tempting messages were fed to us unconsciously in fine print on matchbook covers, needle cases, calendars, and other touchable items handled during the course of a day.
An early example of product exposure is the funeral home advertising on the back of paper fans. It straddles the line of insensitivity and genius, while hitting all the situational marks, strategically located on items that were tangible, visible, and very necessary.
Fluttering “Last Supper” fans kept delicate ladies from swooning, while subliminally reinforcing the commercial elephant in the parlor. And most importantly, they solved a problem in an uncomfortable situation. No one likes to grieve in the heat.
Pin ups of movie stars boosted wartime morale of soldiers who were encouraged to join the war effort through inspiring recruitment posters. Movie placards and stage playbills have always attracted the attention of the public as well as collectors.
Entertainment ephemera include iconic concert posters (Woodstock, Monterrey Pop, N.O. Jazz Fest) and letterpress prints made famous by “Hatch Show Print” of Nashville.
While these remain highly pursued by collectors, there’s a new breed of collectible creators who capitalize on our need for tangible keepsakes in a technically oriented society.
In 2015 two young entrepreneurs landed a deal on “Shark Tank” for their company, ZinePak. The original idea started as a merchandizing strategy for brick and mortar stores to compete with downloaded music. They gave customers an incentive to purchase CDs with photos, booklets, and souvenirs, enhancing the original idea of album liner notes.
In addition, they design elaborate tickets, programs, trading cards, and mixed media packages for concerts to create a tangible experience lasting beyond the performance. With clients ranging from Dolly Parton to Justin Bieber, the marketing maneuver provides physical proof of super fan status and a new category of 21st century ephemera.
With that in mind, consider the graphic trends of today and you’ll notice a retro vibe. Modern websites employ nostalgic images with classic design flourishes and borders from early paper advertising.
This movement embraces the emotional value of vintage. Circus tent images, art-deco symbols, and printers’ dingbats (the graphic kind, not Edith Bunker) have dominated new print and digital media. Fonts reminiscent of headlines from The Daily Planet echo another era, like facing mirrors, old and new images infinitely reflecting each other.
In general, a disposable feature tends to devalue most items, but in the case of amassing ephemera it is the defining characteristic that sparks a collector’s interest. Although transitory and more fragile than pottery shards or arrowheads, paper paraphernalia also record the history of everyday life.
In the future, flea markets and antique malls full of paper may become archeological digs revealing secrets of the 20th century.
If the trend toward “paperless” continues, eventually anything in our current lives involving paper will become collectible. Imagine your grocery receipt, unearthed in 2099 being scrutinized to discover the secrets of a lost civilization. Be careful what you purchase. You may be defining our primitive society.
Check out the works of Bay St. Louis artist Vicki Niolet on her website,www.vickiniolet.com
Old bottles have bridged the gap between collectibles and chic home decor. Check out the offerings in three Old Town antique shops and create some romance of your own.
- story and photos by Grace Wilson
My husband and I had recently read “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living,” and candlelight is a very important part of the Danish philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. Usually he doesn’t go for my design ideas (which usually involve hundreds of throw pillows) but his eyes lit up when he saw my idea.
We hopped in the golf cart and zoomed down to Magnolia Antiques (200 Main Street, Bay St. Louis). There were two main displays of bottles, and many treasures sprinkled throughout the store. In front of each bottle display were collectors carefully inspecting beautiful bottles one by one. I was eager to start my own collection, but took a moment to enjoy these passionate collectors rolling the bottles in their hands, reading the print on the bottom and holding them up to the light.
It dawned on me that every old bottle has a story as unique as the shape, feel and color of each one.
“It’s different for all people,” said Glenda Schornick, owner of Magnolia Antiques. “For some people it’s the history of the bottle itself or for causal collectors who display the bottles for decoration, it’s more about the shapes and colors.”
Some collectors are looking for bottles from Bay St. Louis Bottling Works, others are interested in old bottles from New Orleans. Others seek big brand names like Barq’s and Coca-Cola.
Colored bottles can easily bring life to an open shelf or window.
“My brother has three or four shelves in his kitchen windows with different colored miniature bottles on each shelf and it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen,” Schornick said.
As I got my turn to pick through the shelf, I admired the color spectrum. Even in the clear glass there was a wild variation of cloudy glass, bluish glass, bottles with a rainbow sheen or some with patina inside them.
Since the Bay is near the Gulf, there are bottles with barnacles on them. No telling how many miles these ocean-going bottles had traveled. There are also many bottles underground because people used to bury them to dispose of them.
“We have a guy that I’ve known for years and years that’s a bottle digger. He’s not alone, there are lots of them. He’s always been one of our really good suppliers,” said Schornick.
After picking our favorites from Magnolia Antiques we padded down to the French Potager (213 Main Street) to see what Martha Whitney Butler and her vendors had to offer. She, too, said that most of her most prized bottles came from the dirt.
“Bottles last because they are glass,” Butler said. “Everything else will rust, but glass will never break down.”
The French Potager had a mix of old and new, glass and even clay bottles. In Patti Fullilov’s booth, there were repurposed bottles - a lamp made from a new liquor bottle crying out for a bar and a mini bottle with a shell stopper that would be a finishing touch to any beach decor.
Butler said the most popular were blue bottles for bottle trees.
“I love graduated bottles with the measurements on the side and other medicine bottles,” said Butler. “I want bottles with famous labels on them or obscure labels, like Mr. Whatever Cure-All — I can just imagine the characters that were those peddlers.”
For those name-brand collectors looking for Barq’s and Coca- Cola, Antique Maison (111 North Second Street) may be the best bet. Not only do they have a large booth at the front of the store, but there is a treasure trove of old bottles in the back by seller Curry Beatty.
Luckily, my last-minute idea came to life in just an hour as the antique shops of Bay St. Louis have many interesting bottles in stock.
From casual decor to a big occasion, bottles can make a big impact on decorating.
“My niece got married in New Orleans at the Pharmacy Museum and she went to town on the decor using bottles,” Schornick said.
As I enjoyed the conversation of the dinner guests and the atmosphere of the warm candlelight, I listened to the stories and wondered about the stories of the bottles in front of us.
I was brought back to the moment as a friend beside me asked, “Where did you find all these cool old bottles?”
As Schornick said, smiling, “In a lot of other things, people have a lot of particular taste and desires, but with bottles there’s always one that appeals to someone.”
This guide to vintage ornaments and Christmas decorations is sure to start a few new collections for those wanting to spice up - or spook up - their holiday decor.
- by Martha Whitney Butler
Either way, these terrifying treasures fetch a high price from collectors all over the world. Thinking about starting a vintage Christmas collection? Check out this beginner's guide to collecting vintage Christmas décor and then hit up that old box in the attic AND your local antique and vintage shops to get started!
German Christmas Ornaments
In the beginning of the annual tradition of Christmas, ornaments varied, from fruits and cookies to pure silver tinsel. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that the spirit of Christmas began its major revival with the help of holiday propaganda via Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens.
Around that time, German artisans set a successful trend with hand-blown glass and embossed cardboard ornaments. These can be found in a variety of shapes, sizes, and functions. A sought-after version of glass ornaments is a "kugel," often found in a grape cluster or fruit shape. Cardboard ornaments from Dresden, Germany were a hit as well, and are highly coveted among today's collectors.
It's rumored that F.W. Woolworth tested the waters with cost-effective glass Christmas ornaments from a small German village and capitalized on the cottage industry by introducing them in his chain stores. This started a movement of mass production, so when seeking out these ornaments, keep in mind the delicate, hand-blown ones without a mold seam are the most valuable.
More German ornaments and décor include paper mâché Santas, candy containers, spun cotton elves, and chalkware nativity figurines. But perhaps one of their most notable productions is of a mythical Christmas figure often dismissed as a traditional Santa or elf - the dreaded Belsnickel.
Belsnickel was a helpful acquaintance of Santa who visited German children in the weeks prior to Christmas. Unlike the friendly pushover Santa Claus, Belsnickel carries a single branch that he uses to beat greedy, misbehaving children. He visits door to door, village to village, bearing the gift of beating and a sack full of candles.
In true "good cop/bad cop" fashion, he throws the candles at the feet of the "good" children and sternly raps the knuckles of those too anxious to take their gift. After his abusive reminder to refrain from succumbing to avarice, he sends Santa in later to make nice with the kiddies by showering them with gifts. Some traditions are better left across the pond... Or are they?
When searching for the rare Belsnickel, look for paper mâché, chalkware, and cardboard German versions.
As quickly as these imported seasonal sensations became affordable to the masses, their prices began to climb due to trading complications and the growing threat of war with Germany. Manufacturers like Woolworth's began to seek other alternatives to cheap production and turned their attention to the East.
Japanese Christmas Ornaments
Japanese manufacturers were the kings of knock-off kitsch and immediately started filling orders for shiny glass ornaments, paper mâché Santas, and cardboard candy containers. Instead of traditional German pastels, the Japanese preferred bright, shiny colors in their glass production. They can even be credited with the creation of cardboard Putz houses and Santa dioramas.
While still very collectible and valuable, Japanese Christmas décor is the most common vintage find because it was available at every five-and-ten store around. With the overseas sweat-shop labor, they were very affordable to the masses. When the US entered World War II, these imports fell out of favor in the States and manufacturers began to seek American-made products.
American Christmas Ornaments
With American glass production at an all-time high, glass companies were interested in the mass production of these delicate decorations. Glass makers like Corning were mass producing millions of wholesale orders, and companies like Shiny Bright began to get in on the action.
At the beginning of the war, the nitrates used to silver and shiny up the ornaments became scarce and ornaments were a little less bright and shiny. These ornaments and those marked "Made in Occupied Japan" appeal to collectors because they serve as a wartime reference.
Retro Christmas: The 40s and 50s
In this era we begin to see the usage of plastics like celluloid, rubber, hard plastic, and glitter. Lots of glitter. Tinsel trees started to pop up in homes all over the country and bubble lights decked the weary branches of over-burdened trees.
Safer than candles, these strands of multi-colored lights brought the ultimate wow factor to the Christmas scene. Mall Santa seemed to ditch the scary paper mâché mask for a more realistic white beard... and children still cried when they sat in his lap.
Serial Killer Santa with the angry rubber face was a favorite stuffed toy for kids all over and a less-breakable plastic nativity scene became the household preference. Christmas spilled out into lit-up lawns and the neighborhood competition heightened. Among the most fun collectibles from this era are feather trees, tinsel trees, and figural light bulbs.
While this guide touches on a few easy Christmas collectibles, it barely scratches the surface. Visit your local antique shops and consult with local experts on the various vintage décor. You're sure to find items to add to your collection and, if you're lucky, a creepy elf or two.
Questions about your vintage Christmas décor? Email Martha Whitney
Vintage Vignette - Oct/Nov 2017
What many believe is the finest antique store on the coast is also a place where customers feel like they're right at home.
- story and photos by Karen Fineran
Countryside Antiques, 151 Highway 90, Waveland; 228-467-2338; www.csantiques.com, or find them on Facebook. Open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sundays “by chance” or by appointment.
A woman who was obviously a long-time friend and customer of Mike and Tom immediately struck up a conversation with me about the small jewel-like contents of the glass counter in front of us. Recognizing that I was not a regular visitor to the gallery, she animatedly pointed out to me each of the delicate items that she thought was a particularly good deal.
“This one,” she stated confidently, pointing to a glittering platinum and sapphire ring. “And these here,” gesturing to a pair of dangling gold and diamond earrings, “these are both really fine pieces, and an amazing deal. I’ve bought all of my jewelry here for the last twenty years,” she confided with satisfaction.
“This place has the absolute best prices on jewelry and objects d’art that I’ve ever found anywhere – and believe me, I’ve looked around!”
As I wandered over the next hour through the expansive space of the gallery, with its aisles of glass showcases and nooks of porcelain treasures, I chatted with several other customers. It became clear to me that, to the antique enthusiasts of the Gulf Coast, Mike Mayo and Tom Cottom are more than just store owners.
“Tom and Mike are charming guys . . . incredibly knowledgeable about antiques . . . helped us get our houses back together after Katrina . . . Mike and Tom are the best.”
Antique connoisseurs Tom Cottom and Mike Mayo moved to this area from New Orleans nearly forty years ago, buying the building at 51 Highway 90 in Waveland in June 1978 and establishing Countryside Antiques.
Steeped in heirlooms and history, and surrounded by azaleas, the gallery has become a fixture in Bay/Waveland. It shows off Tom and Mike’s hand-selected and constantly changing collection of European antiques from the 17th to 20th centuries.
Countryside specializes in items from France and England, and most of the antiques date prior to 1900. The varied collection includes furniture, silver, oil paintings, art glass, Majolica (finely painted pottery from the 19th century), English Delftware, Staffordshire porcelain, cut glassware, Persian carpets, jewelry, cast iron planters, and miscellaneous decorative objects.
Lauded by many as the go-to shop for European antiques on the Gulf Coast, the store’s stellar reputation seemed to me well deserved. Among row after row of well-lit glass showcases and hand-carved wooden furniture, I came across lovely vignettes of whimsical porcelain dogs and other creatures, French armchairs, crystal chandeliers and sconces, brilliantly illustrated 18th century books, brightly colored plateware, imposing mirrors, gilt-framed oil paintings, intricate woven carpets, crystal serving pieces, unusual lamps, and sterling silver urns. The owners have even converted the traditional screened porch of the residence into a separate showroom for more rustic pottery, furniture and décor items.
One factor that makes Countryside Antiques stand out among the many other furniture stores and boutique shops in Bay St. Louis is that the owners’ passion is antiques, and antiques are all that they sell. You won’t need to sift through new items and reproduction vintage pieces in order to find the true antiques.
There, you will find many examples of the European furnishings typically found in old Mississippi and Louisiana estates and plantation homes. These antiques harken back to the history of our Gulf Coast, reminding us of who we are and where we have been.
Over the last forty years, Mike and Tom have earned their reputation for quality and knowledge in the antique trade. Shopping at random for antiques can be a tough proposition for those who lack a professional eye. It’s difficult to know what’s reasonable, what’s authentic, and what’s mostly creatively marketed smoke and mirrors (read: junk). The help of knowledgeable curators like Mike and Tom, who work with their customers on a personal level to help them appoint their homes, can make all the difference.
Tom and Mike’s clientele come primarily from the South. There are the devoted locals who scour the shop on a regular basis, and there are the loyal New Orleanians who make a special point to stop and browse every time they are in the area. Clients from Memphis, Houston or Atlanta will call Countryside on a regular basis, to ask Mike and Tom about particular items that they are seeking.
“Many of our clients are discerning collectors, dealers and designers. Some of them are private collectors, and some of them are in the design trade and buying for their own clients. When they need something, they give us a call first, because they know that we are likely to have the particular item that they’re looking for,” explains Tom.
Tom and Mike travel to Europe every year to hunt down their bargains at markets and from estates. By doing their own buying, they eliminate upcharges from middlemen, and pass those savings on to their customers. They also sometimes take their shop on the road with them, especially in the Southern states, traveling to well-known antique shows and events such as the Original Round Top Antiques Fair in Round Top, Texas (the “Big Red Barn”).
Antiques give individuality to even the newest of homes (or offices), and impart a sense of history and refinement. “When you buy antiques, you end up with something unique and original, and it’s usually much better quality – and still, it’s often less expensive – than similar objects that are new. And we have such a variety of pieces here, I think that we probably have something for everyone’s taste and budget,” noted Mike.
The store receives new shipments of antiques from England, France and Belgium on a regular basis, so if you check back frequently to see what they have, you stand a good chance of finding the right treasures to enhance your home for years to come.
Something For Everyone
Martha Whitney Butler's primer for antique shopping defines shops, malls and consignment places - and gives invaluable etiquette tips for bargain hunters.
Antique Mall vs. Consignment Shop
One of the biggest misconceptions I encounter at the French Potager is people thinking we are a consignment store. A consignment business takes individual items based on an agreed-upon percentage that the store takes upon selling that item.
The agreement is between the consignee (store owner) and the consignor. This is a common type of business for items such as designer clothing and formalwear. Some antique malls adopt this method for items like artwork or high-end furniture, based on availability and space.
An antique mall rents spaces or booths to individual dealers for a monthly fee and a percentage of sales: the dealer displays items, and the shopkeeper takes a very small percentage for selling them. This is the most prevalent type of business in our community, giving us a healthy variety of goods.
Booths and Dealers
Dealers are the people who rent the booths or spaces within an antique mall. Most are experienced, seasoned entrepreneurs who rent space and flip items as a hobby or business. They often have day jobs, are retired, or use booths in other towns as satellite locations for their brick-and-mortar stores.
Dealers often spend countless hours at auction; they are the early birds getting all the proverbial worms at the best estate sales, and they take exhaustive trips around the country (or world) to seek out objects of interest for their clientele.
It's back-breaking labor to lift furniture, rehab pieces, and haul items from place to place. Considering all the dilapidated structures I've climbed into, the snakes and bees I've encountered, the things I've toted for miles and miles on cobblestone streets in Europe, and the paint fumes I've inhaled, you might understand my urge to cringe a little when someone asks if I'd take less than the price marked for a particular treasure.
Often I oblige, because I want nothing more than to do it all again. The thrill of the find is unsurpassed by everything except for the thrill of the sale. Knowing that you can relay the provenance of an item to someone else and they will appreciate it and cherish it is the highlight of this business.
Death and Taxes
I recently read an article about the dying world of antiques – how millennials aren't receptive to the concept or appreciative of the old.
I'm a millennial. I own an antique store. Enough said.
That brings me to the “taxes” portion of this segment. I often hear, “If I give you cash, could you not charge me taxes?”
If you do this, be prepared for a long-winded speech about streetlights, potholes, and education! The answer is no. Unless you are buying the item solely for resale purposes, and have what is called a resale certificate, you have to pay sales tax.
Evolution of the Antique Mall
Fun, funky, brimming with personality, and serving a broader range of clientele, the shops
in Bay St. Louis cater to both locals and visitors. Don't worry, we still sell vintage and antique items, but we would also like to stay alive.
Which brings me to my point: we've evolved our business to sustain the desires of our customers. We might not be all antiques anymore, but don't be put off by new items for sale in our stores. Variety is the key in our business, and Antique Maison’s motto says it best: “Something for everyone.”
There's a thrill in it! I understand, trust me.
But there's a right way to haggle and a wrong way. This could be another article in itself, but I'll graze over it here.
Malls have different dealers, and thus different prices and personalities. Some dealers will deal, and some won't. The shopkeeper knows which ones will and which ones won't, and they often know who will discount at a certain percentage. Please don't shoot the messenger when she tells you that dealer won't come down off the price!
The best time to haggle is when you buy several items from one particular dealer. Also, a little kindness and understanding goes a long way. If you come in for the second time to visit a $350 piece of furniture that you absolutely adore, I would love nothing more than for you to have it – discount approved!
Dealers are usually not willing to deal on items under $50-$100, so picking up a bottle opener that's $5 and offering $2 seems out of place. Be reasonable, be kind, and put yourself in our shoes when playing “let's make a deal.” Also, have an offer in mind and make it. We applaud decisiveness in these stores.
I hope this article helps you to understand some aspects of how antiques malls work. It's not traditional, and it may seem odd to walk into an antique shop like the French Potager and find a florist in the back!
The booths in these malls provide so much more than gifts, goods, and furniture. They're hobbies for retirees, attractions to tourist towns for antique-lovers, and one of them might even belong to a 16-year-old, hustling entrepreneur who dreams of opening her own shop one day - like I did!
Are you interested in opening your own booth? Some shops around town currently have waiting lists or openings, so be sure to inquire!
Mad for Mid-Century
Tips about picking up great mid-century finds and where to hunt for them in Old Town Bay St. Louis.
- story and photos by Karen Fineran
Clean lines and a streamlined, sleek appearance are the characteristics that define mid-century modern furniture, putting the emphasis on function and utility. With its understated look, less becomes more.
Without intricate lines or cluttered adornments to distract, mid-century modern style furniture tends to be highly practical, serving many different purposes to meet the demands of the modern lifestyle.
Form follows function; many furniture designs nest, bend, stack or fold in order to be used more conveniently. Bold, vibrant colors abound, as do graphic blacks and whites.
Another distinctive feature of MCM furniture is their use of the alternative man-made materials that emerged during World War II. Post-War designers integrated stainless steel, glass, molded plywood, fiberglass, vinyl, and plastics such as Plexiglass, Lucite and Bakelite into the design of their creations. Many MCM designers also used natural woods, but the one that tends to predominate is teak wood, with its warmth and strength.
Popular culture also has helped to bring mid-century modern design into the mainstream. The AMC series Mad Men, which ran from 2007 to 2016, is an obvious cultural influence. The show's reputation for period accuracy extended to the sets, which were specifically designed to reflect East Coast interiors in the 1960s.
MCM collector Amy Irvin moved to Bay St. Louis two years ago from New Orleans, where she had started her first antique business, MCM Furnishings. Irving’s collection of retro furnishings, barware, and accessories can now be found at Identity Vintage, at 131 Main Street in Old Town Bay St. Louis.
Amy has been passionate about vintage fashion and design for more than twenty years, beginning her vintage collecting with costume jewelry, dresses, shoes, and fur coats. Five or six years ago, her collecting focus shifted to mid-century modern furniture. Amy was attracted to the era because of its style, its aesthetic, and its functionality.
Amy became particularly enamored with the sophisticated drinking culture of the 50s and 60s and its beautiful barware – like slender cocktail shakers and geometrically-etched martini and cocktail glasses.
In an age when we have seen the price of some other antique furnishing styles soar, Amy appreciates being able to find more inexpensive pieces. She loves the hunt for the next treasure, a pastime that she can pursue whether she is at home on the Gulf Coast, in New Orleans, or road-tripping about the United States.
It’s easy to find vintage MCM items that fit your budget, Amy explains. All you need is one statement piece to set the tone nicely, and you can build the rest of your room around it. It does not have to be a set, but for best effect, avoid too many patterns and stay within a color range. Sleek and slimmed down furniture in open spaces gives the MCM home a light and airy feel, especially compared to the boxier, darker and heavier furniture styles from other eras.
Suzi Walters, the owner of Identity Vintage, the Main Street vintage store where Amy Irvin’s MCM pieces are found, is also a connoisseur of retro pieces. Many of the vintage hats and accessories in Suzi’s collection are mid-century modern, and she also creates décor items from mid-century fabrics.
Suzi also has a passion for collecting and selling vintage vinyl LP albums (she has accumulated nearly 1,000 classic albums in her stock already), and she carries vintage turntables to play them on. Now, that’s retro mid-century!
The distinctive MCM furniture style combines beauty, innovation, and function. Look for mid-century in other Bay St. Louis antique stores as well: Antique Maison (111 North Second Street), Antique Maison Ulman (317 Ulman Ave.), the French Potager (213 Main Street) and Magnolia Antiques (200 Main Street). Although mid-century isn't the focus of their collections, they often have wonderful MCM items for sale.
Although finding genuine and timeless mid-century modern articles can sometimes be hit or miss, what better reason could one have to frequent Bay St. Louis’ diverse retail shops to enjoy the search. Happy hunting, mid-century enthusiasts!
The Doctor is In
Meet Annie Breault, one of the few certified doll doctors in the region, who also offers an the most extraordinary collection of doll-related collectibles on the coast.
- story by Martha Whitney Butler, photos by Ellis Anderson
Her work speaks for itself. Rather than stuffing your early 1800s straw doll with poly-cotton blend, Annie patiently searches for the historically accurate materials. While this might require some patience on the customer's end, they all agree that this love and care is what keeps them coming back. Sometimes Annie even orders and buys materials from countries like England and France since they have a deep, rich history of doll-making and collecting.
From her stories, it sounds like Annie had a beautiful childhood. She can identify and tap into the childhood memories of her customers and bring them to the surface with one of her many vintage toys.
She's a good listener, too! After all, it's hard not to share the fond memories you had with your Raggedy Ann doll or your Dr. Seuss books while you're standing in her booth at Magnolia Antiques. She's got a few up her sleeves.
Annie has traveled overseas to find some of the most interesting objects. Nothing misses her eye when she shops, making her selection of items vast and varied. One of her favorite trips was to Germany where she got to dig up the remains (for lack of a better term) of miniature porcelain Frozen Charlottes from an abandoned doll factory. These tiny little ladies sometimes make their way into her lively art dolls and jewelry pieces.
She's repaired dolls that have been through fires, floods, and the toughest elements - grandchildren. She's even had a customer send her a haunted doll! Now THAT is pretty creepy.
There are so many touching stories that she has shared with me. She once told me about a doll that a little girl carried throughout the holocaust that bore a secret message inside of it. Sometimes I think she repairs much more than just the dolls-she heals the customers too.
When I start to miss my Glo-Worm, or when I go home and assess my 401k retirement plan of Madame Alexander dolls and Beanie Babies, I just call Annie up and chat with her. Once in a while she'll give me an awesome broken doll face or cracked composite doll head for me to use in my bizarre artwork.
She's constantly making people's days and is just a great person to know and talk to. So if you're ever in need of some doll medicine, or just want to revisit your childhood, go see the doll-faced doctor (with the best bedside manner in town) at Magnolia Antiques, 200 Main Street, Bay St. Louis on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The Language of Flowers
Shoofly columnist Martha Whitney Butler takes a #tbt to #tve (the Victorian era) to translate the language of flowers.
Floriography, as it is formally known, was practiced most famously during the Victorian era as a way for lovers to convey cryptic messages to one another. Often times these messages were skewed and wrought with folly, but if the sender took the time and care to pronounce the "words" correctly, they could be translated quite accurately.
When the sender selected a bouquet, he or she would carefully select each flower based on its meaning. Several flowers could create an elaborate display of affection, but one wrong bud could send the recipient flailing into a pit of despair. Some even used it to schedule a secret rendezvous right under a watchful guardian's nose.
It quickly became the language of young lovers engaged in whirlwind Romeo and Juliet romances. In this era of etiquette, it was considered impolite to express emotions in public. One could not peacock themselves on Facebook and express their joy or disdain, so they expressed themselves with poetry, romantic literature, and flowers. Real flowers - not to be confused with flower emojis. They actually gave each other flowers. Allow me to translate:
When I design flowers for weddings and daily arrangements, I am often cognizant of the flowers I am using and the stigmas attached to them. For example, you wouldn't want to send your mother a bouquet of red roses because they denote passion - gross. When I create a bridal flower crown, I often use myrtle as the base because it symbolizes a happy marriage.
Besides reading into the meaning of each flower, there was a whole set of etiquette that applied to the hand off. Handing over a bouquet with the right hand would denote a "yes" response, while handing it over with the left hand would mean "no".
For example, if a lady received a bouquet, plucked a bloom and handed it to the gentleman with the right hand, she was accepting his token of affection. Handing the bloom over with the left would mean rejection.
Remember, the Victorian period was exceptionally rigid when it came to social graces. To reject someone in a subtle manner such as this was the polite thing to do. A form of this is still employed today: "swipe right" when you like someone and "swipe left" to make them go away on dating apps like Tinder. Some things never go out of fashion... Subtle rejection is one of them.
If you look up each flower, you will see like in any language, the translations vary. However, if you're lucky enough to find an antique copy of The Language of Flowers, scoop it up! Several of these texts were created in pocket-sized versions so that they could be produced on the spot. Equate it to the Pokémon Go craze of our era - it was THE thing to do!
I do caution people to not look into it too much, but it was a fun pastime in the old days to receive a tussie-mussie and scurry to your flower dictionary to interpret a meaning that may (or may not) lie within the blooms. Can you just imagine some poor gent handing over a freshly-plucked hydrangea (heartlessness) to his fair lady? Oh, the humanity!
Below you will find MY TAKE of a few favorite flowers that are readily available this Valentine's season and their meanings. For a more comprehensive (and true) guide, check out the Old Farmer's Almanac.
Ranunculus - "I don't know what this flower is called, but the florist said you would love them."
Roses (gas station variety)- "I bought you this rose and a pack of Camels too!"
or "I bought you this rose so I could use the glass tube it came in for a chemistry experiment."
Roses (grocery store)- "I forgot the milk, but grabbed these tie-dyed roses on my way out in an effort to appease you."
Roses (florist)- "I thought about you in advance and wanted you to know how much I love you."
Auld Lang Syne - What Does It Even Mean???
One columnist's quest to see why we all sing a ballad at New Year's that no one understands.
- by Martha Whitney Butler
The words in the title roughly translate to “old times’ sake” with a message at the heart of the song telling us to cherish our old friendships and the events of the past year.
The song is brimming with nostalgia, and even though I didn't know the words, the tune and the fellowship that it evoked around me was moving. Some years you can see it have a jubilant effect on a crowd and others you see it wash over everyone like that scene in Forest Gump where Lieutenant Dan is just sitting there staring off into space with confetti streaming all over him.
Every year, this song gets a little quieter because it hasn't thoroughly been instilled in our new generations. I'd put it right up there with cheetahs at these point. It's almost on the endangered species list of songs.
I'm hopeful that Beyoncé will cover it and we'll see its revival, but until now, all we have is you, Shoofly readers. Check over the lyrics and see how you feel.
Don't worry, the words didn't make a lot of sense to me either, but I'm really digging the "cup o' kindess" part. I'll have three of those, please!
I would think most of you don't recognize the full version because the first part is what we traditionally hear when the ball drops in Times Square (thanks, Dick Clark). So let's learn it for this year, sing it at the top of our lungs, and then put on David Bowie's “Changes” as we turn and face the strangeness of 2017.
That's A Wrap!
Shoofly collectibles columnist, Martha Whitney Butler, wraps up this year by exploring the art of gift-wrapping.
I am, in fact, a second-generation gift-wrapper. It's in my blood! My mother was bored one holiday season and took a job wrapping gifts at the department store she modeled for called Sullivan’s in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
One of her best gift-wrapping anecdotes is the time June Carter came in and purchased 100 pairs of panties for her staff and friends and my mom had to wrap them all. After all of that, Ms. Carter left her a $4 tip.
Which brings me to my first holiday hint: tip your service people adequately! They're working in an extra-high-stress environment and their ultimate goal this time of year is to please every single person they encounter, and that's certainly a feat that merits monetary encouragement.
I wonder how many people out there stop to think about the origins of the particular practice of gift wrapping. It is, after all, almost an instinct to hide the gifts once we purchase them.
This notion has held true for centuries. In fact, the practice dates back to the invention of paper by the Chinese in the second century B.C. Almost as soon as humans invented paper, they started wrapping gifts in it. Amazing.
Then, the paper was made of fibers like hemp and bamboo, and was often coarse. Other papers and fabrics were employed, but it wasn't until Hallmark started coming out with decorative paper that we started to yearn for more possibilities. Boy, are they infinite!
Personally, I fall prey to a good printed paper. I want my gifts to stand out under the tree. I like to visually keep track of them as they are passed around the room. Each year, the paper is different, but the technique (passed down from my mother) is the same.
At my store, I like to giftwrap purchases with vintage wallpaper, newspaper, or brown craft paper. The paper I use is thick, durable, and easy to crease on the corners. Holiday hint: crease all corners of the wrapped box for a sharper look.
I love using the newspaper and craft paper because they just remind me of a time when giving and receiving gifts was rare and tape hadn't been invented. I consulted my grandmother on depression-era gifts and she told me she “was lucky to get a candy cane” at that time. She did tell me that she remembered wrapping gifts in newspaper and making her own paste with flour to seal the packages. Then she'd top the gift with a big red bow. I think this is a classic look that will never go out of style. Craft paper with a plaid bow is also a look that will never be surpassed by the likes of 100 grinning snowmen.
If you buy paper from a school fundraiser, pick something you like. You will most likely have plenty left over the next year. When you buy from a store like Walmart, make sure to check how much you are getting. It might only be $1.50, but when you run out halfway through your second gift, you'll be cursing.
Also, the thicker the paper, the cleaner the cut. Holiday hint: thicker wrapping paper allows to you slide the scissors through rather than chomp angrily at it.
Some more tips: When it comes to the actual wrapping, if you're OCD like me, you'll want to get the paper with the grid inside. As for tape, please get the clear kind, not the unsightly frosted type. For a clean, professional look, make sure the paper exceeds the boundaries by one inch, then fold the excess under at the edge of the box and tape horizontally.
You can find many resources on YouTube for professional wrapping tips and bow-making. However most stores in Old Town offer this as a courtesy with your purchase. I have several clients that drop their gifts off with me and I wrap them all for a fee. I've been doing it for the same people for years and nothing makes me grin inside like knowing what everyone is getting for Christmas. It’s a great feeling and a special way to wrap up the end of the year.
For professional gift-wrapping services, please contact The French Potager at (228) 364-3091. Accepting gift-wrapping orders until 12/22. You make the list, we check it twice. We wrap anything for anyone, naughty or nice!
Ready… Set… The Table
Table-scaping your way through the holidays with your beloved serving ware (and family) with Martha Whitney Butler.
After that one brief episode, every holiday table has been something out of Southern Living and the paper plates a family joke. It’s a production of sorts, just like we remembered growing up, laid before our unworthy eyes and grubby little hands. I think we all make it a point to place aside our aggressions and issues with each other to dine peacefully with only the sounds of laughter and clinking of sterling silver upon the china polluting the air.
The time the table scape was absent and the silver sobbed while being hidden away in the drawer was just plain rotten. It proved to me the importance of the moment around the table shared with family and a colorful mixture of my brothers' flippant girlfriends. It was my mother’s time to shine, the home’s time to be full of life, and our time to be thankful.
I think the best table scapes come from the heart. You can quite literally place your memories upon a table for all to feast upon. It is a moment of glamour, self-sacrifice, and indulgence that we need a few times a year. There is nothing wrong with taking the time to create an environment like this for you and your family.
Alternatively, there's nothing wrong with NOT doing this, but please do leave inspired by the décor when you leave the table of someone who has taken the time to do so. Better yet, help them wash the dishes afterwards since these are not items to simply cast into the jaws of a dishwasher.
Or better than that, help them dive into the trash to retrieve the sterling silver pieces that have gone unaccounted for post-meal. Here’s a tip: before you suspect your kleptomaniac aunt or the gum-chewing girlfriend of taking the sterling flatware, check to make sure it hasn’t fallen down the disposal or accidentally scraped into the bin.
Whether you are a few salad plates short of a setting, or swimming in inherited sterling and crystal, you might at least try your hand at it this year.
If you haven't been endowed with heirloom china, you can always scout it out at your local antique shops. Even be on the lookout for it at your local thrift stores, as it often goes neglected.
Also, don't be afraid to mix and match. I often find myself flipping over my china to see what company produced it at the Sycamore House. Its a fun and delightful way to set a table, especially if you have the desire to learn about different patterns and origins.
Are you the newbie - taking on the service for the first time? No one expects you to offer a Downton Abbey-style dinner. If you need china, don’t be afraid to ask your family. I believe they would be absolutely flattered to be asked to teach you their ways. The veterans may very well be at a “paper plate” stage, but instead of just throwing your hands up, ask for help. There is bound to be an eager new daughter-in-law or impermanent girlfriend just waiting to showcase their “traditional” hot pink fluffy Pinterest-inspired dessert or multi-colored deviled eggs (guilty as charged on the latter.) Use it as a time to pass on your knowledge and ancient wisdom.
If you're attending a well put-together service at your in-laws, please graciously offer your help to them, and if they refuse, insist. I would rather have a daughter-in-law break a piece of heirloom china than have one that never offered to help do the dishes.
And for the persons who have simply run out of time this year, call in the professionals. This is a service offered locally by your very own Shoofly columnist, moi.
Go forth and be thankful this season. Show it in every way you can. Put out the china, silver, and crystal for your loved ones and deck the halls. I hate to be trite, but we really never know when our time will come and the last holidays we want to reflect upon are those littered with paper plates and plastic memories.
For professional table scape services or consultations, etiquette advice, home décor, floral centerpieces, silver polishing, linen pressing, and wine pairing, please call The French Potager 228.364.3091.
Vintage Cookbooks Add Spice
Why you won't find some of the South's best recipes online: Collectibles expert Martha Whitney Butler reveals the tried and true sources - collectible cookbooks.
If you think about it, Mrs. Butler is not going to embarrass herself by submitting a dud of a recipe. The ones she submits are for the most beloved, tried and true, consistently-pleasing dishes. The (sometimes-too-honest) feedback that her friends and family have spooned out over the last forty years is folded into each culinary composition with careful consideration.
Other local cookbooks to look out for are produced by Junior Leagues and Junior Auxiliaries. Those broads over at the Junior League would wear white after Labor Day before they submitted something off the side of a box. That’s what makes these particular cookbooks so trustworthy. These gastronomic assemblages of nonpareil regional cooking represent the palate of an entire community, and they WILL NOT disappoint. If you see one, don’t hesitate to grab it. You’ll be able to identify them easily, as they’re usually the ones with ragged covers and stains from the years of reference they endured.
Living close to the gastronomical capital of the U.S., there’s no shortage of fantastic publications out there authored by our favorite Chefs de Cuisines from New Orleans. I can’t help but get tickled every time I see Justin Wilson smiling from the cover of one of his Cajun cookbooks. I’ve referenced him twice already, if you haven’t noticed.
Paul Prudhomme will take you on a glorious exploration of Cajun Cuisine (and inspire a little melancholy since he recently passed away). Frank Davis lit up a conversation that I had with my husband just last night while Emeril was staring up at us from the coffee table.
Food is important in this house, with my husband being a chef. It’s really about all he talks about - there are food sermons every night in this house, and the cookbook is his Good Book. Even though he doesn’t ever follow directions (or ask for them), he uses the books as a guide for ingredients and inspiration and often quotes his Gospel of Gumbo this time of year.
His other sacred chef's go-to is a historic French encyclopedia of food wine, and cookery called Larousse Gastronomique by Prosper Montagne - purchased in a Bay St. Louis Old Town shop. The preface written by the maitre de cuisine, Escoffier, is particularly compelling and assures us that this book is pretty much the Webster’s Dictionary of food and recipes.
Historic cookbooks like this provide a lot of insight on how and why we prepare things the way we do. A lot of gastronomes of great tend to reference their grandmother’s or mother’s cooking in regards to certain dishes. I find that I mostly cook out of nostalgia. Recreating happy memories through the food on my table is something I do every year.
I call my grandmother every year to get her grandmother’s blackberry cobbler recipe. Even though I’ve memorized it by now, I just like to call her to tell her I’m making it and that I love her. Food will make you do that.
One of my favorite cookbooks, Mandy’s, is an example of a character formed from the memories of an author’s favorite cooks growing up. These types of cookbooks not only bear the heart and soul of a chef and author, they reveal the most intimate and loving aspects of the meals.
Even if we’re away from home, we can still take those recipes with us. Minutes after I posted an Instagram photo of a book I was selling - The Junior League of New Orleans: The Plantation Cookbook - a Waveland native living in South Carolina bought it. That’s the power of good cooking. It’s something that never leaves us and sticks to our insides like a perfectly prepared dumpling. We long for it and the notion of it resides within us forever.
Be on the lookout for these gastronomic gems this season, especially if you love regional fare. They are scarce and get snatched up fairly quickly at estate sales and by eager sister-in-laws.
I once had a customer who bragged to me of her mother’s estate, “My sister-in-law got the jewelry, but I got the cookbooks and recipes.”
They’re THAT important! If you really want to stumble on a gold-mine of great recipes, shop at your local bookstores and antique stores. After all - behind every great meal is an even greater cookbook.
Step into the Glamorous World of the Raw Oyster Marching Club! The Glam Gals have opened a costume shop on the third floor of Bay Emporium.
- story and photos by Martha Whitney Butler
The booth is decked out in their signature colors, green and gold, and of course features a large cutout of their heroine, Kitty West. It's definitely a nod to Mardi Gras and to the group.
You'll find a variety of costumes, jewelry, party supplies, and accessories. They've even stocked their space with children’s costumes AND costumes for pets! The booth represents the life of the party that the Oysters have become. With the upcoming holidays and parade season on the brink, be sure to check out their space for some inspiring finds!
Not only are the Oysters selling their items, they're taking donations! If you would like to donate your costumes, shoes, jewelry, and party accessories, please email email@example.com OR message them on Facebook. So before you head off to Party City or zone out for hours poring through Amazon, remember Haute Mess on the third floor of Bay Emporium!
Come and visit with the fantastic ladies of #ROMCBSL at the grand opening of Haute Mess: Second Saturday, September 10th from 5-7 p.m. on the third floor of Bay Emporium.
A Floor to Explore
The third floor of one of the Bay's most beloved historic buildings is now filled with collectibles and antiques, a treasure-hunter's dream world.
- by Martha Whitney Butler
A Love Affair with Color - My Honeymoon in Mexico
On honeymoon in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, columnist Martha Whitney Butler starts a new life chapter with the vivid colors and eye-opening perspectives of an old culture.
- story and photos by Martha Whitney Butler
Click on any of the thumbnails below to open gallery!
Directly after the festivities and a monumental all-nighter, we found ourselves passed out from exhaustion in the large, crowded Mexico City airport. When our zombie bodies walked through the doors and into the orange early morning light of Leon we knew we had finally arrived.
We left stress at the door and took a car to our final destination, San Miguel de Allende. Our sweet driver, Miguel, did his best to entertain us with the cultural and political history of the area while we repeatedly nodded off in mid-conversation. In a dream, we passed through mountains and deserts filled with strange plants that danced in the sun and waved us into the city. (This was likely the hallucinatory effects of altitude sickness, but we enjoyed the show and kept our eyes peeled for roadrunners and coyotes.)
As we began our descent into San Miguel we awoke, startled by the vivid colors and enchanting historic buildings. It was the beginning of our honeymoon. We were in love with each other and together we fell in love with this new place and its colors.
Immediately I could see this was a place of art. The buildings reflected the colors of the sunset and were accented with deep turquoises — the color palette of our wedding. It was somehow so foreign, but so familiar that we just melted (almost literally) into the landscape like we belonged there.
It was that kind of place. It was a place full of life, colors, artwork, smiling faces, fireworks, cacti, and cobblestone walkways that all led to new adventures. I suddenly spoke Spanish and didn’t care for air conditioning. I ate cactus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and drank tequila like it wasn’t my mortal enemy from my college days. The folk of Mexico and I had become one, and it was in those hot, hazy, tequila-infused nights that I finally understood color.
This wasn’t a place that paved over their rough cobblestone streets to make it easier to walk on them. Instead, they seemed to be adding more and widening the walkways. Things weren’t polished, they were patinated and loved for it. To understand Mexican folk art, you have to embrace primitive. You have to love color as a distraction from crude craftsmanship.
In a place called Atotonilco, a 20-minute drive from the city, we found a revered artists’ market. Not a lot of people had set up on this weekday and I felt almost like the Pope as I walked through with the vendors vying for my attention and pesos. They totally deserved both. It reminded me of a Mexican ArtsAlive!.
Each vendor wasn’t demonstrating per se, but they were set up making their objects out of necessity. I stopped in one booth where a lady was using a can-opener-like apparatus to cut the tin for her shadow boxes. I thought, “Why isn’t she just using one of those metal lasers to cut that?” and then realized what a foolish question that was to ask myself. She had made hundreds of these things in all shapes and sizes, only to be selling them to some foolish gringa who had the audacity to question her methods.
It wasn’t the ease of her craft that enticed me to buy her things; it was her work ethic. I appreciated her labor, her willingness to show up in the 90+-degree heat and cut sharp, rusty tin by hand. I bought several of her pieces, and I didn’t even haggle (which is weird for me).
I went stall-by-stall and did the same thing, watching the artists create. Several of them stopped to pay me attention and show me their artwork. It was a very moving experience, the same feeling I get when I watch artists at home in Bay St. Louis. I felt like a stitch in the embroidered tapestry of something bigger than myself.
Each object was handmade. Every glance at an item prompted the shopkeeper to say it was made here. There was nothing paved over about this art. I left with a greater understanding of folk art, something I must have never captured in my years of college classes on the subject.
To see my new husband so astonished at all that was happening was a delight, and his encouragement of my purchases was even more delightful, as I had made a vow that I wouldn’t work on our honeymoon. But when you love something, it really isn’t work.
People have always told me that, but we both understood it during this trip. I felt like Marco Polo, compelled to bring these objects and share my stories about them with my customers back home. Bringing back items from travels to offer to people in the community is in the blood of every merchant, just like bringing back inspiration is in the blood of every artist.
I’m grateful to be both and so thankful that I got to experience what I like to describe as “Bay St. Louis in Spanish.” Nothing thrills me more than the prospect of getting to dwell in color during Frida Fest on July 9th, when the downtown is converted into a little Mexico of sorts. I will forever relish my newfound ability to breathe blues, hear reds, and embrace the warm oranges of love.
A sculpture in El Pegaso, an awesome restaurant recommended by an American ex-pat. The walls were filled with Katrina doll shadow boxes, some of which we purchased as honeymoon souvenirs. The server even had the artist come sign them for us while we were at our table. It turns out the artist was also the chef!
Vinyl in Vogue
Guest columnist Suzi Walters (Identity Vintage, in Old Town) gives us a primer for beginning collectors of vintage vinyl records.
- story and photos by Suzi Walters
In addition to hearing the material sequenced as the artist intended, there is cover art, sometimes in full gatefold format. There are liner notes, dedications, lyric sheets, and cryptic messages etched in the vinyl dead wax. Collections of songs on a record offer a cohesive glimpse of a musical artist at a certain time in his career. To own the art in this format is an experience as the artist originally intended.
For the casual music lover there are represses of most artists’ work easily available at many mainstream retail outlets. For the collector that resides in many of us, the vinyl hunt in the secondary market is a hobby that is fun, challenging, and a constant learning experience.
The basics of record collecting are quite simple — the most important being buy what you love. If you find joy in a certain artist, that truly defines the value of the object.
However, to get the most bang for your buck, it is helpful to do your homework before the hunt. As a book collector hopes to acquire a first edition of a beloved volume, for a vinyl collector a mint condition first pressing is the most desirable version. With millions of records available out in the secondary marketplace, this can get confusing.
Determining an original pressing can be quite the task, but there are key things to look for. Familiarize yourself with the label the artist originally recorded under. Many times a repress is on a different label, as over the years smaller labels were absorbed by larger companies.
A perfect example of this would be the Beatles, whose discography has been repressed many times under labels like Parlophone, Capital, and Apple, as well as many import labels. To help sort this all out, there are many online databases available where one can enter in the record catalog number. This may help ascertain the generation of pressing. The catalog number is usually found on the top right corner of the back of an album’s cover.
Album cover art is also a key clue, as many represses will have subtle differences in the artwork. Differences may also exist on album inserts such as lyric sheets.
The most important thing is, of course, the music itself. Secondhand and vintage vinyl should be clean, glossy, and appear flat. Imperfections to the eye do not necessarily mean the record is unplayable, though. Unless new and unopened, most used vinyl will have visual flaws. Rule of thumb is to run your finger over these imperfections; if you can feel the flaw, your turntable stylus will likely react to it as well.
Collecting records is akin to collecting an art form, the fun in it being that there is something for everyone. For the serious collector, there are box sets, limited editions, picture discs, colored vinyl, split colored vinyl, imports, and out of print pressings. For the casual collector, vintage and second hand vinyl is not hard to find, and the hunt is an absolute blast.
Whether taking a joyful ride down memory lane or discovering tunes and soundscapes that inspire and entertain you, the real truth is that records aren’t just back, they’re here to stay!
The Mother of All Takeovers!
As a nod to Mother’s Day, Martha Whitney’s mom shares an intimate account of what it meant to pass on her love of antiquing to her children.
- story by Marcia Butler, photos by Martha Whitney Butler
As I left the house at 6:30 every Saturday morning to make the 65-mile drive to Harpersville, Alabama for Martha Whitney’s riding lesson, did I have horses on my mind? Heck no! I was busy contemplating my purchases at Danny's Antiques and David Tim’s Antiques on the return drive home.
Martha Whitney looked forward to seeing the glitzy costume jewelry and the artwork, not to mention the free Cokes and gifts (which were sometimes kittens) Danny had awaiting her. Usually, all the children looked forward to our antiquing trips because each had a favorite item they stayed on the lookout for: Heath: sports memorabilia; Ben: knives and fishing tackle; Will: fishing lures; and Caroline: antique quilts.