Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Stage Set

A couple of months ago, I decided to improve my workspace by creating a lounge area where I could sit and eat and drink coffee. It would give me a space to socialize with the other inmates without needing to brush away paints and solvents and the neglected projects I should be using them on rather than wasting time playing with the computer. Most importantly, it would add a convivial spot for the other entertaining I do here. My gentlemen callers are drawn to the industrial aesthetic of these rough surroundings, the bare brick and exposed bulbs and general rawness and decay of this former freight transfer terminal. They find the moonlit roof, the power tools and sawdust of the adjacent wood shop, and the broken sofa down the hall in the freight elevator lobby stimulating and engaging. I'll continue to exploit all that of course, indeed the settings of my assignations, especially the roof top, have become my trademark (at the wet boxer shorts contest: "...and our next contestant- Mr. Ed! Who's entry is familiar to all who've seen the roof of XXXX Spring Garden Street!") . This new spot would be a little more comfortable.

A stage set for life as much as for theater, creates the tone for the ensuing performances. I wanted to augment the moods that my venue could present. I decided to create a sort of Playboy Magazine 1962 bachelor's lair, drawing on my extensive stores of obsessively amassed mid-century cast offs and collections. The foundation of my den of iniquity is a chair and a sofa/day bed, and a table bearing an amalgamation of tchotchkes.

The sofa is Scandinavian, birch framed , with the original slubby yellow upholstery (stacked now with new cocoa suede and chartreuse silk mattress tufted cushions, two for my head and two for my feet, and a couple of brown velvet squabs). I rescued it from the Sister-in-Law imposed cabbage rose countrification of the post war New Jersey ranch house she and my brother Henry bought in picturesque Middletown. It had survived pristinely with the rest of the interior, until turned over to the twin scourges of Sandy's sponge paint and stencils, and my nephews' Cocoa Puffs and Crayolas. When the "real" furniture was purchased, it was banished to the covered patio where I later found it, much degraded. Like so many items before, I threw it in the back of my pickup truck ( with a walnut slat table and some biomorphic florist's pottery from the garage) and hauled it back to Philadelphia.

Angled conversationally toward it is a slick black vinyl early 1950's Milo Baughman winged lounge chair, made by the precursor to Thayer Coggin. Its angular arms, enveloping wings and slab cushion resemble a first class seat from a 1960's jetliner. Perched on thin tapering cylinder legs, it strains forward, eager for take off, suggesting "Fly Me!". It easily wipes clean. In the crook at the corners of the sofa and chair is a hockey puck shaped wicker ottoman (it slides under the sofa), waiting to support feet from either seat. It is orbited by an early production Florence Knoll white wire legged stacking table (bought for $5 at a roadside garage) ready for my smiley face mug.

Along the wall in the corner between the chair and daybed, is an irregular walnut slab top table. Vaguely Nakashima in style and sturdily constructed in someone's home work shop in the manner described by 1950's issues of "Popular Mechanics". I wandered with the honey gold and tobacco brown crotch flitch top under my arm one boozy afternoon after a Chelsea Flea Market morning. My fellow scavenger Megan carried the legs (along with a dark green 1970's camel hide link belt and a pair of 1940's indigo suede sling back platform pumps) from bar to bar. We abandoned it at Cafeteria, staggering into the late afternoon sunlight wincing like inebriated vampires. The host, wearing a linen vest over bare skin and a multicolored straw snap brim hat, chased after us into the street. "Hey-ay" he called, waving his slender caramel colored arms from the shoulders, "don't forget your surfboard!" The table has proven to be an object magnet, imbued with a high specific gravity, irresistible to interesting useless things. The objects settle on the satiny calico surface as steadily as the accumulating dust.

A current inventory:

A 1970's boom arm lamp; black cube base, black sphere shade, and one chrome rod arm crossing another chrome rod stem at a sliding and adjusting knob. It casts a warm yellow pool on a landscape of nifty stuff. The junk store where I bought the lamp is a favorite if somewhat frustrating destination. Few things are marked, and only the frequently occupied manager can decide on prices. She makes me wait and wait for my quotes, and now that she's figured out that I know a little bit about things, my prices are double anyone else's. I have to send in a proxy if I really want something.

A teardrop shaped Russell Wright water pitcher, the chartreuse color accidentally matches the silk pillows. After wanting one for fifteen years, I finally broke down and bought it on eBay from an ebullient Midwestern woman. Her curlicue script note is tucked inside; "THANK YOU!!! DON'T FORGET TO LEAVE FEEDBACK!" additionally punctuated by a cheerful smiley face.

Peering sternly at me through the pitcher's handle is a black and white photo of General Douglas Macarthur, inscribed "To T***** with the admiration and affection of his old comrade in arms". I found it rummaging through Great Grand Dad's foot locker in the weeks after his funeral at Arlington.

Another tiny sepia photo of me in a longshore man's cap, wearing a similar expression. This one is autographed by the broad shouldered Mexican painter who took it the winter I spent snuggled in his powerful arms.

A spiraling 1820's powder horn. Snatched from the lingering clutter in my late Grandfather's emptied house. It echoes the pitcher's sensuous curves.

So too does a 1940's polished sterling footed tray, shaped somewhere between a fig sliced lengthwise and a kidney swimming pool. My charging cell phone rests there.

Contrasting that is the severe constructivist geometry of a 1920's silver cigarette lighter composed of cylinders, rods and slabs of sterling, and an accompanying rectangular silver cigarette box. Both have a lovely grey patina of tarnish, darker where the pieces join, emphasizing the forms. I keep condoms in the box.

A tiny mahogany windsor chair, whittled and meticulously assembled a hundred years ago by a workman who fell off the rectory roof. He gave it to the son of the pastor's wife who nursed him through convalescence. Later he (the Reverend Hall) gave it to me (his paperboy) years after his own retirement from the ministry.

Sized to sit down in it if her carved wooden knees could bend, is an African figurine from before World War II. I lost the index card recording it's date and origin. Her fecundity is asserted by proud breasts and eagerly protruding ebony labia.

A swatch of Christo's orange fabric, given away by The Gate's tenders. I really wanted to snatch a whole banner in the days it was being disassembled, but I'm too chickenshit.

A conical blown glass beaker wheel engraved with cubic centimeter measurements. I have them in sizes from shot glass to liter. Somewhere.

A stack of gilt edge cylindrical porcelain cups with matching saucers and desert plates, from Limoges France. Their wide grey green borders are the color of the horizon over long island sound on an overcast day. They match my eyes. *blushing*

A hollow lacy sphere made of arcs of copper wire punctuated with carnelian glass beads. It folds flat. The Polish village where it was made and the Jewish peasants who lived there didn't survive Hitler.

Some egg shaped mixed metal trays from Taxco Mexico. Pieced together of copper brass and nickel triangles and trapezoids, they seem to record a topography of metallic farmers' fields seem from far above.

I added a series of English cathedral engravings framed with natural walnut in a line over the sofa, a tall narrow vertical black and inset brass framed mirror behind the table reflecting the objects on it (and anything which might occur on the lounge chair or end of the sofa) and high above them, a brass and black steel starburst clock. The whole is reflected in a dining room table sized mirror, crisscrossed in a diamond grid with shallow bevels(from a demolished department store) on the opposite wall. It's pretty swanky, if I do say so myself. Since I started writing this a couple of weeks ago, a yellow fiberglass Eames shell armchair and a black and chrome Arctic Aire electric fan (shaped like a DC-3 engine housing) have arrived. Other items will surely crowd in later, pulling me that much closer to a looming Collyer Brothers' type fate. I've been out of town every weekend for a month and a half, so haven't yet broken in the ensemble with it's intended purpose. I'm staying put this weekend, to visit some of my neglected haunts, perhaps invite someone back to "see my studio". On the other hand, there's a big flea market this weekend. I'll need a to turn in early if I want to get up and out there before all the good junk is taken. Maybe the christening will have to wait.
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