By Judy Dykstra-Brown
My grandmother used to come home from her wanderings with her pockets full of little treasures she had found along the way. Cracker Jack prizes, stray rubber jacks balls, lost skate keys, jar lids, rubber heels from boots. These findings were carefully sealed away in old canning jars—preserved as she had once preserved chokecherries or tomatoes. When she died and they bulldozed her house to build the new hospital, those jars were buried under the South Dakota gumbo soil. I often dream of them, now that I have developed my own proclivity toward found treasures.
As an assemblage artist, I have a better excuse for amassing small objects than my grandmother did. For me, it is sea shells, heart-shaped rocks, sea-rusted bits of metal, sea-smoothed glass. Friends have taken to saving for me things they might otherwise have thrown away: tin boxes, bits of broken jewelry, bent rusted nails. One dentist friend gave me a small box of pulled teeth—the most macabre of my idiosyncratic gifts. I have a room filled with these strange valuables—cabinets labeled with the category of finds. Dried rhinocerus beetles and cotton-swathed praying mantises share spaces with tiny rubber ants and scorpions intricately formed of woven wire. Dried seed pods join silk flowers or paper flowers or flowers I’ve made from painted and glued egg cartons.
My grandmother’s ivory flower brooch is nearly obscured by a cellophane envelope of tiny plastic multi-hued daisies. My friend Joe’s old army pocket watch lies nestled within a nest of old watch parts—wheels and sprockets and springs and winders.
The offspring of a thousand yard sales or garage sales or sidewalk sales, the finds of walks through neighborhoods or up mountains or along lakefronts. Crops gleaned from junk drawers both of my own and of friends and relatives. Fast food prizes and bags of tiny plastic animals from carnival booths. Swizzle sticks and liquor labels, old calendars and play money. Ancient bobby pins and miniature perfume bottles, tiny manicure scissors and my grandmother’s glasses case, wheat from my dad’s last wheat crop, charms from old charm bracelets, tiny plastic tables that once held up the lids of pizza boxes, protecting the cheese of pizzas.
What is the value of things formerly hidden, cast away or lost? Is it a stubborn insistence that beauty can be made of anything, given the correct combinations of ordinary things? Or is the beauty in each individual object and their combining into an assemblage merely a type of artistic hoarding?
Certainly, there is a certain zen beauty to be found in simplicity, But for a certain type of person such as myself, there is glory in massed, organized excess as well.