Mexico Cooks! reads a lot of blogs, some about Mexico, some specifically about Mexican culinary affairs, some about photography, and some of general interest. Once in a while, a particular blog post jogs some deep connection and keeps us pondering the subject for days. When I read the April 6, 2008, post on Billie Mercer's Billieblog (written from San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato), I was stopped in my tracks.
Billie had read and linked to this article about the psychology of collecting. I'm not so sure I buy the various theories that the article discusses, but the topic really pushed my buttons.
When I was a very small child, my family lived next door to the Fords. The Ford family included Mr. and Mrs. Ford, their my-age son, and Mrs. Ford's mother, who seemed from my six-year-old perspective to be very, very old. She was tiny, her face creased with age, and her white hair was wound into a bun high on her head.
Once a week, Mrs. Ford washed her mother's hair. I often sat chatting with her mother while Mrs. Ford brushed and brushed the long white hair until it was dry. While we chatted, Mrs. Ford's mother let me hold a little doll that she had owned since her own long-ago childhood. Unlike my own hard plastic Madame Alexander dolls or my nearly-real Baby Newborn, the old doll was made of what I learned to call bisque. She had real hair and open/shut eyes made of glass! She had four teeny-tiny china teeth! Her wee blue shoes and white socks were also bisque, part of the mold that made her legs. Her hand-sewn clothing (including an apron) was from another time, not from the 1950s. Mrs. Ford's mother knew that the little bisque doll was from Germany and that she had received it as a birthday present when she turned seven--the very same age that I was about to be! That small doll fascinated me. It seemed to hold clues to a life not my own and a time I did not understand.
When the week of my birthday arrived, Mrs. Ford and her mother presented me with a small ribbon-tied box. The doll! They gave me the doll! She sat in a place of honor on my bookshelf, her tiny white teeth gleaming, and she went with me every time I visited Mrs. Ford's mother. When my family moved away, my hardest loss was those weekly visits to another childhood far removed from my own.
That little doll, so special to me, started my collection. My parents and my grandparents began giving me other antique dolls on big-gift occasions: birthdays and Christmas often brought a new addition to my doll family. Soon my father's antique glass-doored bookcase moved into my bedroom to house my own books along with these antique children.
For me, the fascination of collecting antique dolls was in large part about the mystery: whose dolls had they been originally, where had they traveled, what happened to the little girl who first treasured them? The mystery also included the information treasure hunt: who made the doll, and when, and where? How much did it cost when it was first made, and what was its value today, and why?
As a young adult, I lost interest in my dolls and eventually sold the collection. During the following years, I occasionally experienced what I think of as 'collector's lust', the hunger for a roomful of this or that. In my case, I lusted for one-of-a-kind early American folk art. The idiosyncratic, the outsider, the slightly off-kilter intrigued and beckoned to me. Beloved pieces still decorate my house in Mexico.
Later, I learned about late 19th and early 20th century Mexican arte popular (folk art) and began to accumulate a few examples. A friend of mine says, "Two of anything is just a pair, but three is a collection." My collection, then, is primarily of old Mexican folk art. Newly made pieces do occasionally creep into the house, but I prefer to find little treasures that verge on the antique.
The blue-and-yellow Mexican fantasía plate dates to the 1920s. The painted Lake Pátzcuaro box was made in the late 19th century and has its original key. My partner and I commissioned the calabaza de barro (clay squash) from the artist.
Why do I collect? It's all about Mrs. Ford's mother, that German bisque doll and the fascination that hooked me at age seven. Why do certain things grab my attention and others leave me cold? The jury is still out on that one.
So I wonder: what do you collect? And why do you collect it? Please leave your comments, I'm collecting those, too!