Friday, September 30, 2016

Paint by Number Mid Century Kitch Catches On

The Last Supper was a popular Paint by Numbers kit

 Paint by number kits, once seen as the decor of choice for the congenitally low class has experienced a major resurgence. Between the Smithsonian's 2001 homage and modern craft shop kits, the old PBNs are showing up everywhere, appearing in popular magazines as a decorating choice for lovers of mid-century, country, and vintage decorating styles. 

First developed in 1951 by Max S. Klein for his Palmer Paint Company, the kits were based on a concept of the artist Dan Robberts. After World War II and the standard 40 hour work week, America became suddenly interested in hobbies. People had time on their hands and the leisure industry was created to capitalize on a middle class with more time and money than ever before. 

Despite being ridiculed by the art world, the kits became a hit. Kits included paints, brushes, and pasteboard covered with amoebic shapes whose numbers matched tiny pots of paint. Popular themes included religious motifs, landscapes, animals, rural scenes, and clowns. Some kits were simple featuring bright, primary colors while others offered more detail and muted hues. Vintage examples can be downright hideous, offering a kitchy charm with flat perspectives and lurid colors.Some vintage examples are downright attractive.
PBN Jesus - religious themes were popular

Today, you can buy new kits in craft and hobby shops. Country Living Magazine offers some beautiful kits in their Simple Country Pleasures feature for $35.00.

If you don't want to go to the trouble of actually doing it yourself, you can find vintage Paint by Number paintings on Ebay and etsy. Prices for mid-century pieces run the gamut from $10.00 to hundreds of dollars. I picked up this charming winter scene at a thrift shop for one dollar!

                                     Below is a landscape that I spotted at a thrift shop.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Recover a Victorian Chair

                                                       And My Sanity to Boot


Eastlake style Victorian chair

 My Eastlake style Victorian chair had been looking pretty sad for years. Not only was the circa 1970's fabric grimy, I never did like it. I recall a time when it was covered in a crushed and ancient burgundy velvet. That's when I fell in love with it and it's husband. My grandmother's chair set beside the French windows in her Victorian living room. But the thought of using velvet made me wince. I did this during an August heat wave and the very thought of velvet made me queasy. 

While drawn to larger patterns, I realized that a large print would cost more in yardage. So I limited myself to a smallish print, one that was on sale. The elephant print in my chosen fabric made me smile. It suited the chair as well as the rest of the room. Think British Colonial India. Think PG Tips black tea. Think gin and tonic with a slice of lime. 

The fabric needed to match a long piece of trim that had been on the shelf. Why waste it. That stuff's expensive!

As I pried off the old Laura Ashley style material (just what a 1970s mom would pretend her teen-aged daughter actually wanted for her bedroom) I noticed some nasty scratches. Rooting around in the supply closed, I found a bottle of Old English scratch cover for light wood. I also found a bottle of cheap liquid shoe polish. Blending the black polish with the oil on a piece of very fine steel wool, I rubbed the chair frame using a little elbow grease on those disgusting, glormy oft touched spots. The next day, I went over the wood with a soft cloth. 

I filled all the old tack holes with wood filler. Face it, that chair had been redone several times in its long life. 

Before attaching the fabric, I stuffed batting under the old padding and resewed the padded roll around the bottom of the seat. After all, I wanted the chair to be comfortable as well as attractive. 

After watching several youtube demonstrations, I decided not to use the old fabric as a template. Mistakes can be made. I jut laid the fabric on the chair, lining it up in a pleasing manner. Then I tacked it down first on one side, then the opposite repeating for the front and back leaving 3 inches or so between tacks.

 It's a good idea to keep checking and smoothing as you go. 

After the initial tacking (or stapling if you prefer)  fill in the gaps between the tacks so there is only 1/2 inch or so between fasteners. 

I once made the mistake of hemming fabric before tacking it down on a chair. This made the edges too bulky. Adding the trim with a hot glue gun will prevent fraying. 

I was quite happy with the result. At the time I was recovering from a personal tragedy. Grief can leave you feeling unmoored. But following logical steps toward an obvious conclusion allowed me to focus and gave my life some sense of order and accomplishment. I may still be sad, but at least the chair looks good.

Victorian chair with its new look

Close up of the old chair with its British Colonial look

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mrazck Czecho Peasant Pottery Made in Letovice Not For Sale

 Pottery produced in the early 20th century by the Czecho Peasant Art Company is easily recognizable by  simple, brightly colored designs based on traditional peasant art of Eastern Europe. Joseph Mrazck who emigrated to the United States toward the end of the Great War purchased a DIY ceramics kit from Macy's Department Store in New York City. The kit contained a dish, paint brushes, and paint. Once decorated, you could take the item back to the store to be fired. 

Mrazck Pottery Plate

Joseph experimented with the process, soon producing enough pottery to sell to neighbors and friends. He bought a kiln, quit his job, and opened The Czecho Peasant Art Company. On a visit to Czechoslovakia, he located a site for a factory in the town of Letovice. You can see the name of the town on the back stamp shown below.

Mrazck Pottery Backstamp

Moving his operation to Letovice, Mrazck hired workers and began producing pottery pieces painted with simple designs. The factory operated until 1933. The distinctive pottery is collectible today and easy to find on ebay and other sites. 

The pieces displayed here belonged to my mother. She bought them at a flea market when she was in a I'm-buying-this-item-because-it-was-made-in-a-country-that-no-longer-exits phase. What a fun collection! The trouble is that I have, like many baby boomers, way too much stuff and am really wanting to get rid of some. Some of my inherited dishware is very old and quite beautiful. Say what you want about Mrazck pottery, but beautiful it is not. Or to me anyway. The other thing about my favorite possessions is that most of them have a story as well as belonging to someone that I either loved or am related to. Okay, the pottery has an interesting back story. But when you are trying to cut down on china, what's a girl to do? I packed it in a box of stuff to get rid of. 

The stuff to get rid of box goes to a thrift store after friends and relatives rummage for anything they might like (just as I, sadly, rummage through theirs). One evening, while pouring through a book on dishes with my sister, I spotted an example of Mrazck pottery.  Because it was there in a book with lots of really cool dishware and because I liked the story of Joseph Mrazck, I began to regret tossing his wares off so lightly. I knew that someone at the Goodwill store would snatch up the bowl and plate and make themselves big money on ebay. (Not really that big, I checked the next day, but still). My regret began to annoy and amuse the rest of our little party. 

(Below find another photograph of the pottery for your viewing pleasure.  You can see the pretty yellow inside the bowl.)
Czecho Peasant Art Company Bow
Sometime later, my sister, who lives in a different town, came to visit me, bringing a gift. It was a surprise! I opened the gift bag and there, wrapped in tissue were the Mrazck pottery pieces that I believed gone for good! My sister had rooted them out of a get-rid-of box. We laughed. How wonderful!

So these little dishes will stay with me until I die. Not that I find them particularly attractive, but they have not one but three stories attached to them. And all the stuff, whether old or pretty, it's all about the story. 

Mrazeck's bright colored, simple pottery

(If you have a piece of this pottery with a back stamp that has been painted over with a black bird, then you own an early version of the product when it was still being made in the USA. Those old versions are rare and quite valuable)