One Little, Two Little, Three Little Blue Boys

Gainsborough’s Blue Boy has to be one of the most reproduced paintings in the world. I’ve seen it so often at antique malls, that if my housemate joins me on a shopping adventure, we actually keep a Blue Boy tally. It’s like the license plate game. But, you know, with 18th century art.

“Was that six or seven Blue Boys we’re up to now?”

And Blue Boy doesn’t come in just prints, either, oh no! He’s been replicated on everything from jigsaw puzzles and ashtrays to needlepoint and latchhook rugs....

(This needlepoint was an Ebay find-- on the back it reads, “From Grandma to Jeffrey”... Somehow I think Jeffrey wasn’t exactly into yarn crafts of kids in knickers...)

Well, the Counting of the Blue Boys had gone on for quite a good long while. Then one day I found a set of Lefton bisque Blue Boy and Pinky plaques at the Goodwill. And because they were so cheap and made me laugh so hard in the glassware aisle, I bought them-- And promptly gave them to my housemate.

The running Blue Boy joke has moved, fleet-footed. I now have a three-foot-tall Halloween Blue Boy portrait where his face has been replaced by a ghoulish skull. My housemate owns a 30s Blue Boy in an art deco frame, and a seven-inch tall glass figurine. SHE has the idea I should have a wall of just Blue Boy items in a shop someday. I think SHE should have a wall of Blue Boys when she purchases her own house.

Somehow I suspect we’re both going to be up to our bums in Blue Boys.

So I’ve been scanning the thrift stores, looking for the ultimate Blue Boy item to pass along. Because, you know, funny is good, but funny and dirt cheap is really the goal here. So while I still cruise the aisles for proper Thrift Shop Romantic decor, I continue to keep my eyes peeled for that very special Gainsborough goody. I imagine some day soon I’ll stumble on a Blue Boy lunch box, a Blue Boy mousepad. Or, hope upon hope, a Blue Boy on velvet.

My golly, that would be good enough for CHRISTMAS.

Sunday Drivers of Thrift Store Art

I saw Elvis at the Goodwill. A five-foot-tall velvet Elvis, that is. He was in profile, crooning into the microphone. Young Elvis with an unnatural chin. Wearing an Old Elvis jumpsuit…

“Bubba Ho-Tep” Elvis, really.

And the next time I returned to the store? Elvis had vanished. Clearly, someone was all shook up by the opportunity.

Yes, thrift store art is growing in desirability. Velvet Elvises (Elvii?) are not as common as they once were. Prints of big-eyed children are rare commodities. And vintage paint-by-numbers actually show up for sale in antique malls.

But me, I’m more neo-Victorian in my tastes. So while good Bad Art certainly does bring a smile, I figure the shortage of velvet Elvii and sad-eyed urchins is probably something I can endure. Instead, I will simply have to carry on in my quest for Sunday Paintings.

Sunday Paintings, you probably already know, got their name because Sunday was when Victorian ladies would have the time to spend on leisurely activity like art. Subject matter during this time leaned heavily toward still-lifes and landscapes.

Today, work in this spirit will occasionally show up at thrift stores. Think of your Aunt Tillie who took that art class in the 70s. Or your Grandma Esther who always had artistic flair. These are the masters of current Sunday Paintings-- and the products of their labor can work beautifully with vintage decor.

Like the best thrift store art, a Sunday Painting’s charm is often in what the artist felt she needed to express but couldn’t quite perfect. The missing shadow. The skewed road. The barn which defies all proper safety regulations. These weren’t the paintings that the artist and her family decided to keep, cherish and pass down for generations-- for whatever reason. No, these are the ones she used to hone her craft and fill a creative need. Thrift store paintings are the love of art and the learning process laid bare.

But like velvet bullfighters and paint-by-number kittens, Sunday Paintings are becoming harder to find. My last great discovery happened about two months ago, when I stepped inside the back room of a Salvation Army, wholly unaware of the treasures that awaited me.

And there, propped in a far corner, was a painting of a castle. “Unusual subject matter for a thrift store painting, and clearly embracing the perspective techniques of medieval scribes!” I exclaimed.

I was making my move to secure this little masterpiece when my sharp-witted shopping buddy gasped and caught my attention, pointing to the opposite corner of the room. I was awestruck.

“A still life! Note the deft brushwork and classic composition! Also, it will match my dining room.”

I thanked my friend for her acute understanding of my style, and seized that painting, too.

And over here what was this?

Swans! A landscape with swans, whose slender necks turn, as they contemplate just who installed the overhead lighting under that natural bridge. I was in my glory!

There were about three more paintings-- some children with balloons and a rural scene-- which I did not buy, mainly because, unlike the ones in my arms, I didn’t know just where I’d display them. Dolores Sinay was clearly a prolific painter with a flair for the romantic! I had not had such a day since the Tapestry Chair Score of 2005.

Then as I was checking out, the cashier explained how the artist herself had come in to donate them. And the gist of the story is that Ms. Sinay felt that while her skill had improved significantly since painting them, these works of art were simply not good enough to give to family and friends.

Me, I display them proudly, as delighted with their quirks as with their obvious promise.

And that’s the beauty of thrift store art, isn’t it? Thrift stores are the places where everything gets a second life.

Small but Mighty: A Look at Decorative Cherub Rights

Look at almost any vintage lamp, candelabra or soap dish and it's undeniable: cherubs work hard. You see them, alone or in pairs, hoisting up at least four times their weight-- reliably, endlessly, without so much as a whimper. They're like tiny, celluline-ridden Atlases, really. And you've gotta give them credit: they put in the time and effort. And they get absolutely zip for their trouble.

I suspect they're not protected under child labor laws, either. So I've been wondering what would happen if they unionized. With a union behind them, they could negotiate for shorter hours, greater respect and increased awareness of their indentured servitude. Of course, if they organize, they're going to need a name.

I suggest: The Freedom and Liberation Association of Putty (F.L.A.P.)

Can you imagine coming home and finding the soap dish flat on the counter-- its pedestal figure complete AWOL? Or the lamp toppled to the table, its shade bent, bulb broken, and the harp askew?

Oh, I know they'd be sticking it to the Man (er, Woman, in this case). I'd have to prop my lamp up some other way. I'd have to find some other place to rest my guest soaps. But I suppose that would be the price I'd pay for my years of ignorance and neglect. And I think we could work it out, F.L.A.P and I. They could cut back to 40-hour weeks, with maybe overtime when I had guests. Reasonable coverage is all I ask.

I just hope they wouldn't hit me up for healthcare. Small wings, fat bodies: I see a lot of Worker's Comp wing sprains in the future.