Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Wonderland Excavations III

Peppercorns from the Duchess’ Kitchen (inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Antique nineteenth-century pharmacist’s bottle with original cork; black, green, and pink peppercorns; vintage kitchen twine; hand-stained print of illustration of the Ugly Duchess, her Cook, and the Cheshire Cat by Sir John Tenniel

It was the epitome of Georgian elegance; a veritable jewel box of a house—three-storied, white-walled, black slated roof adorned by a pair of matching chimneys. Egg-and-dart cornices surrounded. A triangular portico rose high above its main entryway, where liveried finny and froggy footmen once hurried in and out, bearing royal invitations. Its classically sashed, twelve-paned, rectangular windows at the front looked out upon a clipped carpet of grass. In the spring and summer months, rhododendrons blossomed in explosions of white, purple, and fuchsia. The whole spoke of simplicity, of refinement. It was owned by a duchess, that much is true; the duchess of what and who she was (or the duke was, for that matter) is now lost, unrecorded. What is known, though, is that she was very ugly, had the deportment of a bulldozer, and had a penchant for garish flowered prints and oversized medieval millinery.

The house is a wreck now, barely standing; its exterior battered and blighted by time and weather. The chimneys have fallen, the roof caved, the windows smashed. The formerly immaculate lawns are unmown, weed-ridden, and strewn with splinted slates and slivers of shattered glass.

Beyond the collapsed bricks and past the absent front door, the foyer stretches, the terrazzo there a chess board of disjointed marble tiles where dead leaves gather and swirl; the skeleton of a grand staircase is straight ahead, its steps ascending to nothing more than the ghost of upper levels. On either side of the foyer, rooms lie open to the elements, paint peeling, wallpaper stained, buckled, and bubbled. No furniture remains, fireplace hearths are bare, carved mantelpieces chipped or missing. The only chamber that continues to reflect its former function is the kitchen. The floorboards are a minefield of broken crockery, scattered knives and spoons, a badly-dented, tarnished coffeepot. On walls besmirched by smoke, an empty plate rack encircles, embroidered with spider webs and encrusted with desiccated beetles. The stove—a massive wrought-iron monster—stands cold and rusted. It was here that the duchess’ cook, in apron and mobcap, held sway before steaming soup cauldrons, ladle in one hand, peppermill in the other. The strong pungency of that overused spice can still be smelt above the rot; clinging, saturating the woodwork, almost eliciting sneezes while peppercorns crunch under foot. It was in front of this stove that the duchess would sit, nursing a howling, porcine baby, singing to it strange, unsettling lullabies:

I speak severely to my boy,
I beat him when he sneezes;
For he can thoroughly enjoy
The pepper when he pleases!

It was here too that a curious cat curled, warming itself by the fire, purring, content, one could almost say grinning.

From above, beams suddenly creak ominously, a blizzard of dust drifts from the fissured plaster ceiling—it’s time to grab what little can be salvaged and be gone.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Wonderland Excavations II

Painting the White Roses Red (inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Lacquered burlwood frame; dried white rose; red paint; white wax; custom cut mat; colour print from the original illustration by Sir John Tenniel; colour print of grunge hearts; colour print of dripping red paint

And then she found herself at last in the beautiful garden, among the bright flower-beds and the cool fountains.

The beautiful garden that so entranced Alice is now nothing more than an overgrown thicket. Neglected, abandoned, nature has reclaimed that which was once originally hers. The fountains have long since dried up; their pipes rusted, their marble basins splintered and silvered, where weeds flourish in the ever-expanding cracks. The manicured trees, the pruned boxwoods, and the carefully-tended topiaries have gone wild, their tidy geometric shapes scarcely distinguishable from the rest of the tangled wood. Cypresses sway, taking leisurely, theatrical bows prompted by each passing breeze. In the distance stands the dome of a massive orangery, its metalwork bent and twisted, a steel skeleton barely supporting its last few unbroken panes of glass. And surrounding all is a confusion of rosebushes—once the pride of the garden they, too, have proliferated untamed, untrimmed, their branches a cat’s cradle of thorns. Here and there, lost in the leafy turmoil, can be found the heads of a few withered white roses, their dried husks mottled, splashed and splattered with red paint; the haphazard and hurried brushstrokes of a trio of living playing cards a testament to the frantic correction of an error long past—

“Would you tell me, please,” said Alice, a little timidly, “why you are painting those roses?”
Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began, in a low voice, “Why, the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put in a white one by mistake, and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off…”

Gardeners in threat of being deadheaded; much like the flowers they care for—that’s pure Wonderland logic.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Curiouser and Curiouser: The Wonderland Excavations

Everybody Has Won, and All Must Have Prizes (inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Antique nineteenth-century pharmacist’s bottle; antique nineteenth-century sterling thimble; genuine beach sand; sea shells; drift wood; blue jay feather; wired French heliotrope-coloured ribbon; altered art pieces—“Carroll’s Comfits” candy label, hand-coloured dodo bird print

The English countryside summer afternoon, heat, dragonflies buzz on prismatic wings, living darning needles skimming the tranquil, mirror-like surface of brackish ponds, towering oaks standing in sun-mottled shadow, clouds of pollen and gnats, infinite silences, time stands still—just the sort of afternoon that once sent a drowsy little girl named Alice dreaming. Tall reeds converse in whispers by the riverside, their roots extending down into damp soil, crisscrossing past and along worm tunnels, pressing ever deeper until they burst through the ceiling of an improbable hallway, doors to the right, doors to the left, paneling and frames warped and snapped, brass knobs and hinges corroded. A small three-legged glass table lies shattered, a tiny golden key fallen, cast aside. And what’s this? A bottle labeled “Drink Me” by some unknown hand. Doors? A glass table and bottle? One tiny golden key? But how can this be so far underground?


The rabbit hole has long since caved in, the pool of tears evaporated, leaving nothing in evidence but crystals of salt. Moving deeper, fungi proliferate, mushrooms of variegated colours sprout, some bright, some muted—on which did a large blue caterpillar smoke his hookah lethargically, stopping only now and then to pose psychologically probing questions? Broken crockery is strewn about, an outsized peppermill tossed casually in the scrub. White roses grow in abandon, untended, their heady scent perfuming the air, their stiletto thorns lethal, protecting secrets. The surrounding lawns, formerly a well-maintained and manicured croquet ground, are now neglected, overgrown, tangled, the game long abandoned; the flamingoes taken flight, the hedgehogs lost in the underbrush.

What to uncover here?


Each article retrieved carefully, cleaned and catalogued.

The first of the Wonderland artifacts presented was taken from the shores of the lachrymal lake, that said pool of tears, the one formed by Alice’s weeping. A sample of beach sand, mixed with an abundance of dehydrated salt, has been poured into a Victorian pharmacist’s glass-stoppered bottle; the relics here include a pair of sea shells (so far from any known ocean), a bit of drift wood, a timeworn label from a disintegrated box of sweets, and a nineteenth-century sterling thimble—the latter two oddities, to be sure, until one remembers the nonsensical events, which took place so very long ago on this very shoreline: a loquacious Dodo bird presiding over a competitive lunacy called a Caucus Race. In addition, we have an, as yet, unidentifiable ornithological specimen - a feather from that very same long extinct Dodo, perhaps?


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Frigid Jr.

Frigid Jr. (inspired by Gabriel Setoun’s 1920 children’s poem, Jack Frost) – Hand-distressed frame; beer; Epsom salts; dried honey locust thorns; sterling silver paint; watercolours; black paint; matte varnish; cardboard; colour print of antique Victorian daguerreotype; colour print of icicles; colour print of winter grunge wallpaper; hand-stained colour print of vintage “Frigid Jr.” embalming fluid bottle label

For, creeping softly underneath
  The door when all the lights are out,
Jack Frost takes every breath you breathe,
  And knows the things you think about.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mother Goose X

What a Good Boy Am I! (inspired by the 1725 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Little Jack Horner) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained Victorian green damask wallpaper; tarnished Christmas tinsel; antique blown-glass miniature Christmas balls; vintage rusted “jingle” bells; dried mistletoe; dried roses; matte varnish; watercolours; black paint; enlarged colour print of antique Christmas postcard; colour print of Victorian boy holding plum tintype

Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner,
Eating his Christmas pie.
He stuck in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said, "What a good boy am I!"

Friday, November 1, 2013

Mother Goose IX

They Licked the Platter Clean (inspired by the 1765 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Jack Sprat) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained vintage menu art; shattered pieces of an antique china soup tureen; genuine desiccated longhorn beetle; dried grape stem; dried carrot flowers; Fuller’s Earth; cardboard; watercolours; gold-leaf paint; matte varnish; colour prints of two antique carte de visites of circus sideshow performers; colour print of grunge Victorian wallpaper

Jack Sprat could eat no fat;
His wife could eat no lean.
So between the two of them,
They licked the platter clean.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mother Goose VIII

And There He Kept Her Very Well (inspired by the 1825 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained orange grunge paper; antique key; desiccated Hexarthrius parryi paradoxus beetle; dried pumpkin seeds; rusted tacks; dried leaves; matte varnish; watercolours; colour prints of pumpkin pulp; hand-stained antique engraving of chastity belt; colour print of nineteenth-century daguerreotype of a young woman

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn't keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her, very well.