Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Collecting: Exotic Woman

Have you ever seen "The History Detectives" on PBS?  Essentially, it is a bunch of historians/appraisers who start with an undocumented artifact and scour the country looking for clues that will help to prove its provenance.  The formula, as well as the personalities of the appraisers, can wear a bit thin at times, but all in all it is a worthwhile program.  I feel a bit like the "detectives" when I come upon some gem in a thrift store that leaves me yearning to know its history.  As I have mentioned before in a post entitled "June Weddings & Rape Whistles," my resistance to the siren song of strangers' discarded photos is futile.  I can't help but wonder who the people are in the photos and why they have been abandoned.  There is something so sweet about those faces peering out in black and white saying, "My real family didn't love me enough to keep me.  Will you be my new papa?"  A good detective would do his best to extract the history from the clues in the photograph; sometimes there will even be helpful notations on the back with some names, a date, and a location.  But I am no Sherlock Holmes and as there are usually precious few clues, I am satisfied to take the photos home and just imagine a backstory.  I dare say, my imagined history is probably far more dramatic than what actually occurred in many of the photographs, but I'm not so sure about this one; I think her history is beyond my wildest dreams!

Mistress Magnolia Blossom the Exotic Woman

Not so long ago, we were out doing our usual rounds of hunting and gathering.  I was sifting through a stack of miscellaneous papers/sheet music/ephemera and came across Mistress Magnolia Blossom.  She was loose among the other papers and fell to the ground before my brother picked her up and handed her to me.  I was immediately drawn to her based on the time period, the setting, and the scale (8x10").  Who was this exotic woman?  Was she an artist, a wanton woman, a housewife who used the family camera to take a special photo for her husband?  Was her husband the amateur shutter bug; how hard did he have to try and convince her to take some "artistic photos?"  Whoever she is, she is wacky tacky gold and there are several things I truly adore about this picture.  

First, I love the magnolia blossoms; they appear as if in 3D and seem to jump right off the page.  Second, I love the "make do" attitude of the photo - this one definitely appears to be a homemade portrait.  "We don't have a studio, but we can use the dining room floor." (see it peeking out in the upper-left corner?)  "We don't have tropical orchids and birds of paradise, but we have that magnolia tree out back."  "Remember, we've got a couple yards of that Tapa cloth I brought home from the South Pacific, that'll do."  Mostly, I love Mistress Magnolia Blossom, herself.  Classic beauty?  Not really.  Trained model?  Hardly.  But there is something lovely about the way she grasps the magnolia leaf and the way her hair haphazardly cascades behind her resting head.  At first glance, she seems rather melancholy but I think that is actually her interpretation of the languid, seductive stare of an exotic, island woman as she gazes into the enchanted sea.

"The Enchanted Sea" - Martin Denny
A fitting song for Mistress Magnolia Blossom


Mr. Tiny