When I came across this terrific series by Australian artist, photographer, and activist Stephanie Valentin, fancy’s flight took me back to my years in grade school. My mother had many framed butterfly “boxes” in what I thought was a gallery, but was actually my parents’ bedroom. I was always dazzled by the ethereal nature of the tiny creatures which I had once thought were akin to fairies. The dedicated wall seemed to be almost animated with an iridescent and rich cobalt blue. Legend, urban and otherwise, had it that my maternal grandmother had brought the shadow boxes home from work in the 50’s.
Dorothy had been an Assistant Curator at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. during her Post-War years. Oddly, it was then allowable and customary that some (but not many) of the donated or discovered artifacts might be placed on permanent display in private collections. Across the Metro area, she and her savvy co-employees became, thus, curators of discarded artwork, porcelains, books, and curiosities.
Gentle Readers, you can only begin to visualize my many gazes of wonderment when, upon visiting, the two of us would explore the drawers of her weathered chiffarobe, the walls of teeming bookcases, or the unexpected and forgotten crawlspaces that only I might find. What a glisten and gleam my curiosity’s unlikely honor medal would receive in that cottage overlooking the Potomac River!
Before I ever experienced the blush of puberty’s angst, I too had bedroom walls and shelves filled precious “things”! It would seem that “yours humbly” returned to N.C. with what’d be precious booty to a child.
On these Raleighwood days and Marklewood nights, however, my earliest recollections of visiting or, for that matter, my grandmother herself are usually stirred the sight of brilliant Lapis Lepidopteran. Such memories and their prompts are unwieldily and infrequent.
I still have a few of the items, my favorites being her many 1st Editions and a few pieces of British potter Clarice Cliff’s hand-painted and etched Art Deco gems. The books are dusty. If I scrutinize intently, the other items seem to be appointing every turn in the house that my beloved and I share … with our indoor cats: Henry, Claudja, and Hermione (as in Gingold, not Granger). Those moments, though, are rare unless there’s a precious prompt, such as these fine pieces by Stephanie Valentin.
Tonight, I shall eagerly carry a butterfly in my ancient robe pocket.
(Images: “Ether Series”, Items No. 3,4, & 7″ by Stephanie Valentin, 2006.)