Most of the posts on this blog are articles previously published in national periodicals. Folks have been asking for these to be collected in one spot...and this is that spot. And, unless otherwise noted, illustrations are by David Gillett as well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Curator of Kitsch

Originally published in Cottage Life magazine.

After making a nuptial agreement worthy of Faust, David Gillett was blessed
with matrimonial bliss.  But then his cottage began to shrink...

                I made a pact with the demons of bad taste at my first wedding shower:  In exchange for a happy marriage, I would offer up our tacky gifts to the cottage altar.
                I got the happy marriage.  And the cottage is getting crowded.
                Our friends and wedding guests, many of whom have a strong attraction to plastic wood-grain oddities from roadside stands in Tennessee, were not merely generous to us:  They were practically philanthropic.  Not one but three sets of Hawaiian hula mugs showed up under the matrimonial tree.  Four clocks of the “hide-it-until-they-visit” type graced our tiny apartment (including one with plastic Gothic numerals superimposed on a soft-focus waterfall-and-birch background).  A plaster dog, a plastic duck decoy, and a black-light portrait of Sting all came to live with us.
                We were caught between a rock and dumpster.  Although we were young and carefree, we realized we couldn’t just toss the stuff.  Instead, we trundled it off to the family cottage at Juniper Point on Clearwater Lake near Gravenhurst.
                Our cottage turned out to have an affinity for these aesthetically challenged oddities.  Every rotting board, curling shingle, and rusting faucet silently rejoiced at the arrival of each new piece of junque, friends in the world of the tasteless underdog.
                Sisters and brothers caught the vision.  Soon, trips to the cottage became adventures in gift discovery:  Who brought what, and just how ugly is it?  The obligatory pink flamingos took refuge in the bathroom.  A satirical Pierre Trudeau bust, cast in plaster, made its way onto our bookshelf, next to the outdated political tomes.
                And slowly, even the most hideous bits of the growing collection underwent little miracles of transformation.  We forgot that we had once considered the painting “Autumn Goose Pond” too gauche for words.  We forgot why we’d ever removed the Hawaiian cups from our home.  The ugly duckling became the graceful swan:  Juniper Point worked its magic, and in the shadow of the rickety old cottage, even the most inane curios seemed to glow with character.  We ceased to laugh; we began to adore; and this eclectic collection of wedding mementos has now become a matter of some family pride.
                That’s the upside.  The downside, however, makes me wonder why on earth I ever decided to go public:  What about the givers?  Do they read Cottage Life?  Do they visit our cottage?
                You bet they do.
                And do they know the whereabouts of their thoughtful tokens now that the wrapping paper and niceties are history?  Nope.
                To help us avoid embarrassment, my resourceful brother-in-law suggested a computerized inventory:  Punch in the name of the surprise guest spotted at the dock and the screen would display a warning such as, “Aunt Dahlia:  Green plastic frog trio on kitchen counter:  Stow in toilet tank.”  Or perhaps, “Nutty Gerald:  Spanish sword on crest above wood box:  Hide behind lime-green beanbag chair.”
                But the reality of the situation is this:  We like the green plastic frogs and the plaster sword.  And besides, the person who gave us the lime-green beanbag chair might show up at the same time.
                So I’m preparing for the day when the inevitable confrontation occurs.  I plan to say, straight-faced and without sarcasm:  “Your gift is here because this is where the most special gifts go.”  And if my detractors point out the ethical implications of such an approach, I’ll ask them what they did with their special wedding gifts: their velvet Elvis portraits, their macramé plant hangers.  At least we’ve given the pieces a new lease on their otherwise tentative live, adding some artistic depth to the recycling movement.  Plus, it’s therapy for people inundated with design magazines and the trendy hip-hype of the style makers.
                On quiet cottage evenings we scan our calendars for the next gift-giving occasion, hoping for that package from a special someone.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ll receive another Trudeau bust.  Apparently it’s worth something now.

David Gillett is a designer and writer who likes his pink flamingos.  Honest.

( Originally published in Cottage Life magazine )

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