Monday, May 16, 2011

Olive Commons

If you've been following my blog or my jewelry-making over the last few years,
you'll know that I have a deep affection for china-painted

I remove the old (normally about a century old!) porcelain brooch from the brass c-clamp, clean it gently (the old-timey numbers on the back are such a great part that I don't get a chance to show - they're from the maker of the porcelain blank, and the script is so loop-de-loop and special)

and set it in sterling and fine silver.

When I first began this process, I would get rather weepy over these pieces:
I wondered over the maker, thought about how they would feel knowing that their work would
sing again,
a more modern song, surely....

I wonder what they looked like, what they talked about as they painted with friends
or if they were alone with the phonograph
like I am in my studio with my country radio...

Mostly, the painters are completely anonymous, and their work is not original, per se, but created from the fashionable templates of the day:
water lilies
gold at the edges
arts and crafts designs

There is a woman whose work stands out to me with such clarity it's nearly astounding:

Olive Commons.

She began painting her little cameonas (as she called them) when she and her husband moved to Florida.
They depicted scenes of a rural south, swamps and oceans and

Pretty soon, she was running quite an operation as the popularity of these little things grew:
the one in my palm above is 5/8 of an inch wide by 3/4 of an inch tall. Details
beyond compare.

Olive Commons was a small-business owner and a trailblazer:
before I was lucky enough to find her work on eBay, I bought a decal-imitation brooch that was made around the time of her heyday -
a company developed a line that was meant to look like her pieces, just like they do today when a small artist gets popular now!

I have been taking china-painting classes on Tuesday mornings:

me and a quartet of women over 55 and a man who loves to give me a hard time, to whose bait I rise and give him a good "what for!" as the ladies say.

It's quite a delightful scene, with chocolate chip cookies and coffee,
me and the conservative republican china painters of San Jose.

I love every minute (though I resist the urge the defend my beloved POTUS because seriously, what good would it do? I am not going to change well-entrenched opinions!)

Now that I am learning the art, I hope someday to introduce my own pieces into my work

for now, I troll the internets,
searching for the good old stuff that abounds in the right places.

I've still never found anything quite like the tiny art of Olive Commons, and I doubt I ever will:
she was a wonderful artist and an inspiration to me.



Sybil Ann said...

Oh Sunny Allison - having moved to the sunshine state recently these are SO special to me too! I love that you give them new - and enduring - life. May your classes lead to more beauty for us all.

Word verification: colitint - heee

kerin rose said...

so cool Sunny....I never knew anything about this stuff...!....would be such fun to see a contemporary spin on this art form!...xo

sarah said...

I just found your blog and am happy that I did. Your work is gorgeous. I loved this story and can really relate to your 'wonderings' you had while reworking them. We have big old trees planted in our garden at least 120 years ago. I always wonder who planted them, what they were doing that day, the weather that day? did someone call them in for lunch? Imagining the little snippets of conversations they might have had..... So I really enjoyed reading this post!

Juliana Pace said...

If you can believe it, I think I stumbled upon an old pin of my Grandmother's that is by Olive Commons....but it has been in my possession since the year that she passed away, 1972. I love it and don't know that I'd part with it if I found out that it was worth a bit but I would love to learn more about her work. Actually, I took a photo of it thinking I might try to sell it and during editing I noticed the Spanish Moss on the trees. I live in Florida now so that got me inquisitive! Can you help me with a site where I might find more info on this lady and her gorgeous art? If I had a link to send the photo, I would send it to you! Thanks & God bless...Juliana