A Collective Story

“I love the way objects sit next to each other, each one’s past bouncing off the other to tell a collective story.” – Comedian Zoe Coombs Marr

The most powerful objects in my life have personal meaning that shifts and changes over time as new objects are added and other ones released.

I’ve found this amazing fabric called ‘Paintbox’ by Carlucci Textiles. It’s a sumptuous velvet with a bit of a 1970s vibe. I think it’s going to be the latest re-upholstering experience for my 1990s sofa. Buying that sofa (half price at Myer but still a financial stretch at the time) felt like such a significant step into adulthood.

I’ve been pairing up some of my existing objects with this potential new fabric to see whether they can live harmoniously together.

A framed wall-hanging by Pony Rider bought many years ago that I wake up to see each morning. A reminder of the Lou Reed song which encapsulates the meaning of life so purely and never seems to age.

My vintage ‘Galaxy’ crockery by Casual Ceram.

I bought the ‘Galaxy’ crockery and six orange striped glasses at McKay’s Mart on Unley Road. Established in 1912, McKay’s Mart has been in the Townsend Family since the 1940s, and is the oldest business on Unley Road. I remember going there to buy second-hand furniture as a child with my parents. It hasn’t really changed at all and I still enjoy regularly wandering through to see if any treasures await.

In my ‘apartment ready’ downsizing I’ve now given away all my other crockery except for this set. I’m committing to the things I love and enjoying their use every single day. I’m thinking of it as a ‘best in category’ approach to life.

The ‘Phoenix’ copper enameling is by my late aunt Dawn Baily from the late 1960s or early 1970s. She used to exhibit in group shows at Aldgate Crafts which was a gallery in the Adelaide Hills established in 1967. I remember gallery openings in the heart of winter complete with an open fire and grownups talking endlessly and drinking mulled wine (I’m still not a fan).

Each of these objects, old and new, has an individual story. But somehow I feel that the collective story they create by simply co-existing is even more interesting.

These objects are my autobiography. An edited autobiography of course! We all get to write, and re-write, our own story in our own way through the objects we choose to live with.

Previous Instalment

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My Granny was born at the end of the nineteenth century in rural Australia. In the 1960s she and Grandpa retired from a successful small business and went on a world cruise.

When I was a child, my family would make the long drive to stay with Granny for the holidays. In the early morning I would creep into her bedroom before anyone else was awake. She would invite me into her warm bed and tell me stories of her world cruise adventures.

Well, actually she would tell me one story about the single most exciting aspect of her trip: nylon dresses she could hand wash and hang up to dry overnight. She may have also told me about exotic countries and extraordinary sights. I don’t remember. If she did, these stories never outstripped her pleasure and awe in these miraculous nylon dresses.

Granny and Me

Granny saved the colourful luggage labels from her cruise and put them on display. She died when I was a teenager and they were the one thing of hers I really wanted to have.

Even with contemporary reframing, they are increasingly golden and translucent under years of ageing paste and varnish. That doesn’t matter. After I die there will be nobody else who will find meaning in them anyway.

But for me they are about both an important life and a relationship of deep significance to me. They are about a girl growing up on a farm doing the exhausting weekly work of hand washing a family’s clothes. A girl who couldn’t possibly imagine the changes and inventions the twentieth century would bring to her life.

And perhaps they are also a reminder that we can take as much pleasure in the ‘everyday’ as we do in our ‘once in a lifetime’ adventures.

It all started with a family game of Scattegories.

For those who haven’t played, Scattegories is a word game in which each player tries to come up with a unique name for an object within a category starting with a particular letter.

In this particular round the letter was P and the category was COLOUR.

There were plenty of Pinks and Purples but my godson and I both thought we had the winning answer that nobody else could possibly have: Prussian Blue.

Why or how we simultaneously picked something so obscure remains a total mystery.

But now, years later, whenever he and I experience a moment in which we are of one mind, (particularly when those around appear to have lost theirs) one of us will say to the other, with a knowing look: Prussian Blue.

I came across a Prussian Blue print by Australian designers Querkus & Co and bought it as a gift for my godson. It now hangs proudly above his bed.

So what is all this about? And why do I think it’s important?

I strongly believe the colours, furniture and objects we surround ourselves with are capable of deeply enriching our lives.

Even when I am long gone, my godson’s Prussian Blue print will be in his home as a daily reminder of a happy game-playing evening, of those magic moments in life when you feel totally in sync with another human being, of how much he was loved by his godmother.

These memories and emotions strengthen us and enable us to move more capably through the difficulties and challenges of life.

Home is deeply important to us all. Yet we can still get distracted and mixed up. We start talking about real estate and capital gains. We imagine our homes have a role in showcasing to others how well we’re doing (whatever that means).

Prussian Blue reminds me that what really matters is that our homes are places where we connect with our selves and those we love. Where we are amongst things and people that make us happy and strong.

Querkus & Co is a wonderful textile design and printing company based in Sydney, Australia.

textile design

To find out more about the history of Prussian Blue (and 74 other equally fascinating colours) I highly recommend ‘The Secret Lives of Colour’ by Kassia St Clair.