The Art of the Afterlife
- by Martha Whitney Butler
Things, treasures, stuff. Junk. Material possessions: they don't matter. You can't take them with you when you’re gone. That's one school of thought, but I refuse to play into that belief. I believe that some things do matter. I believe they have a soul. I believe these things enhance our lives, surroundings, and well-being. I also believe that when something is broken, it can be resurrected and given a new life that's even more interesting than the one it led before.
The luckiest objects get a chance at an afterlife. Someone took the time to dig it up and cradle it in the palm of their hand, pondering its future. As a result of this, especially around the Bay, we find many of these pieces living a new life in the form of artwork or repurposed furniture. These broken things are often woven into the proverbial fabric of art, displaced only temporarily, and brought together again to form a community of color.
Artist and entrepreneur Vicki Niolet blows my mind with the pieces she creates. Even her jewelry lines center around broken clock parts and re-purposed found objects. You can find them at Bay Emporium, and if you're lucky, you can catch her shopping around town with a bag of newly purchased doll parts in tow.
At The French Potager, jewelry designer Maureen Blanchard tastefully puts everything from Bakelite belt buckles to Victorian-era jet together to form magnificent, wearable pieces of art. Most of her pieces were summoned out of her "Katrina pile" where her shop once stood. I even dabble a bit in the art of found objects. As an antique dealer, it gives me much pleasure to find a purpose for the things that have been retired from function.
Artist Lori Gordon made a name for herself with the Katrina Collection, a group of assemblages that she produced from her collected objects post-Katrina. Pieces of that collection have found their way onto the walls of many celebrities and local art enthusiasts.
Perhaps one of my favorite collections of reformed broken china pieces is Patti Fullilove's mailbox. I'll never forget turning into her driveway (I definitely knew which one it was) and seeing the menagerie of meaningful pottery shards and occupied Japan figurines hot glued onto the mailbox. I couldn't take my eyes from the splendor. I knew it meant so much to her, and I knew she could tell me the provenance of each piece.
So while these broken things meant a great deal to their owners or former owners, discarded they've found an even deeper meaning. The soulful re-purposing that a second life brings gives us all cause to carry on.