Antique Ephemera

Sometimes it’s the materials that inspire the piece; that was the case with The Gift. Perusing through my piles of vintage and antique ephemera, a relationship between some of the materials began to form in my head. It’s never a whole story, but just bits and clues – an emotional context from which a story might be suggested.

If you’re not sure what antique ephemera is, I have explained it more thoroughly  here.  To put it simply, it’s old items, usually paper or cardboard, which were meant to be discarded after use. Below is a good, clear explanation, which I have posted previously.

Weird Old Stuff

People often ask me where I find all the “weird old stuff” I use in my work, and how did I even think of using something like that? Well, finding it isn’t really a problem. I have found some on etsy, in particular the metal items such as keyhole escutcheons and jewelry findings. I also go to flea markets, and will frequently buy old books there. Scouring the booths for piles of old stuff, such as letters, cards, and notebooks is a little more trouble, but can yield surprises that are real treasures. I’m not sure what got me started on using antique ephemera, but using discarded junk and found objects goes back to the very beginnings of collage as an art form. The work of Kurt Schwitters, one of the first artists to use found objects, was particularly inspiring to me.

Rossfett, Kurt Schwitters, 1919

[Kurt] Schwitters introduced the use of collage as a snapshot of the everyday. He integrated scraps of cardboard, bits of text, and ticket stubs found in the street, their juxtapositions emblematic of life’s chance encounters.” (From Cut and Paste to Action Montage: 100 Years of Collage History)

A Few Examples

The first photos show some things that were contained in two old school binders that I bought at a flea market. I bought a 1940’s ledger book from the same vendor; you can see it at the top of the first photo.
Besides school assignments and drawings done by a little girl in the 1930’s, there were many cards, letters, and ads.
The other binder contained pages from a 1919-20 botany lab specimen book, a physics lab book, and some engineering drawings done at a technical school in 1939 (bottom left corner of top photo).
Fabrics may not technically be ephemera, but can certainly carry the nostalgic sense of another time. I had collected old textiles for years, but the rest of these items came from my grandmother’s sewing box. I can actually remember her using some of these trims on doll clothes she made for me when I was a child.
Here are some miscellaneous old product packages and ads. Near the front is an old parcheesi game (without the board) in the original box. These came from places mostly forgotten, except for the sewing items, which I found in my grandmother’s old treadle sewing machine drawers.
Maps are one of my favorite art materials, and I’ve been collecting them for years. Shown here are also some cabinet card photos from around the turn of the century, and a beautiful engineering drawing from the 1920’s.

The Gift

The Gift

mixed media collage on vintage leather book cover,  13.5 x 9 x .25 inches

ingredients: antique and vintage ephemera, antique book pages, monotype, pressed flower, stitching, lace

This piece definitely has a narrative quality, I think. It was the two figures, and the suggestion of the relationship between them, that sparked this ‘story’.  The girl – fairy? – with the flower hat seems to be offering something to the other woman, perhaps a rose, or is it her arm? The story goes wherever your imagination takes it. The Gift is for sale in my Collage and Book Arts Gallery.

To learn more about mixed media art and artists, check out this blog by Pixpa: “15 Inspiring Mixed Media Art Portfolios that You Must See.”


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