Objet Trouve

Correct me if I am wrong Delphine, but I believe the French phrase “objet trouve” translates literally as found art.  Any ordinary object, prized in some way for its aesthetic qualities, qualifies.  as art, that is.  I have questions.  Are there are rules about what constitutes art?  I am instantly over my head here.  Question 2-if there is art that is found, who does the finding?  Is part of the art in the finding?  These questions I can warm up to.  I go to a museum, expecting to find art.  A museum provides a home for art treasured by the greater community, yes?  Generations of museum directors, curators, artists, art historians and museum boards presumably recognize art and fund acquisitions.  In this instance, I am a viewer, not a finder.  I will admit I see some works in museums or galleries that I would not identify as art, except for their address.  This might be ignorance, or it might be that the eye of the beholder counts for something. This particular bracket fungus has been with me at least 30 years.  It means something to my eye.  The shape, the mass, the line, the color-everything about it engages me.  It is beautiful.  It is also the fruiting body of a deadly fungus.  I am a gardener-I think about life, death, and second chances every day.  This bracket fungus is by no means a Degas sculpture; it is an objet trouve.  I am the finder. 

I do collect bugs. Big bugs from Indonesia, Malaysia, wherever-suffice it to say any jewel of a bug will catch my eye.  My bugs-I buy them mounted and framed. Someone else was a finder.  This bug-its size is astonishing. Not the kind of thing I would want to run across in my garden or closet, but behind glass, I can appreciate it.  The substantial body sustains four wings, and a pair of really long legs.  The artist of record here-nature.  There are those of us who would frame mounts of what objet trouve nature has to offer; I am one of those.  

This rock, take my word for it-an objet trouve. This is not just any ordinary white rock; the history is as follows.  This is a chalk rock, from the white cliffs of Dover.  Dover, England.  So many years ago, on an early shopping trip for Detroit Garden Works, Rob found himself on those cliffs.  He pocketed this rock for me, and brought it home.  An English chalk rock with a flint toe that he collected on my behalf-an objet trouve.  It is an object from a place I have never been.  It smells like the ocean.  It was meant for me; I had a part in this trip, but not a presence.  I will admit I chalked the concrete surface it sits on before I photographed it.       

The minerals of the world are can be very flashy and exotic looking, once they are cut and or polished.  Someone had the idea to treat this rock as something very special.  It has been cut in a spherical shape, and the interior surfaces are exposed and polished.  It is gallery ready-the gallery at my house, that is.    

The coulter pine produces some of the largest pinecones in the world.  This pair of cones are 12 inches tall, and weigh 3 pounds each.  The woody scales are enormous, and impenetrable to a a knife or a screwdriver.  The seeds of this pine are indeed well protected.  The ends of the scales are sharp, and coated in congealed pine pitch.  They are hefty and very handsome objects.�
Cattails can be found in any and every marshy place near me.  I have collected them plenty of times for a fall arrangement.  Someone had the idea to cut them in sections, affix them to a sphere shape, and dye them; they did the finding.  Once they determined that a cattail was an object of aesthetic interest, they transformed it in such a way that this particular idea of beautiful is clear to me. 

This very old Italian wood fragment was the beginning of a sculpture which includes a stone base, shells,and a finial of fossil coral. When I first saw it, I thought the wood fragment had gone down with a ship, and been preserved in some primordial mud.  Not so.  The objet trouve is the introductory and organizing shape for the sculpture that came later.

Jenny made me this sculpture for Christmas.  Clearly, it is a pair of pants.  This forked limb had some quality that attracted and interested her.  The resulting sculpture makes that clear.  I like it for what it was; I like much better what it has become, given her sculpting.   

These white porcelain objects are lights from an English dairy farm.  I have no idea why they have this shape.  I am sure it was not a matter of what the cows or the farmer would find pleasing.  It is the special visual gift of utilitarian objects that they are designed simply to function properly and efficiently.   Buck arranged 9 of these lights in a grid.  A light fixture from found objects.  

Found objects have their place in a landscape, or a garden.  A landscape and a garden can provide no end of objet trouve.  I so like a street that goes both ways.


Faiencerie Figueres & Fils is a shop in Marseilles France well known to us.  Rob has been buying their glazed ceramic creations for a good many years.  It is a but one of countless small creative businesses that exist all over the planet. It is a very small family owned business.  They work very hard, producing objects of great beauty.  We happen to love their plates and bowls of fruits and vegetables.  They create sculpture from a love and appreciation from the bounty of nature.   

Their enterprise began in the 1950′s-the brainchild and passion of the Figueres family. I will admit to a fondness for this particular vintage.  Beyond the family business, Gilberte Figueres has herself spent a lifetime creating and painting china in the tradition of the Vieux Marseilles faience. She and her husband, and their children, to whom they refer with great affection, as the rookies, have made a life from their art. The first time Rob shopped with them, they insisted on a proper introduction.  To the family, and only then, to the business.    

The fruits and the vegetables of Provence inspire their work.  I remember from so many years ago Rob explaining that each piece is cast, and bisque fired.  The glazes are clear when applied.  So how would they know the application of a glaze or group of glazes that would transform a bisque fig perfectly into a convincingly colored fig?  I have no real need to know; I love the magical quality of their work.    

There are the plates.  Usually white.  There may be peas applied to that plate, or mushrooms, or apples-some whole, some cut.   The plates can be hung on a wall.  The footed dishes are piled high with fruits, nuts, figs, pears, apples, lemons.  The day all of these sculptures arrived and got unpacked-a good day. From balls of clay they fashion the individual figs-some whole, some ripe and split open.  

I made a home for these extraordinarily beautiful sculptures-why wouldn’t I? They come from a place very unlike where I live. There is a very different life, a very different aesthetic at work.  No matter what seems strange; I have no problem letting go of that.  There is a common thread.  A local person with passion and direction -I recognize what looks like passion from a long ways away, just as easily as I recognize it next door. 

This arrangement of pears is a pretty quiet affair. Should I take or have the time to focus on it, I am taken with the spots, the lumps, the bruises, and the splits.  Anyone who gardens recognizes the blush of the summer sun, the spots characteristic of a given variety, the ripe fruit splitting,  the bruises or blemishes from bugs or hail-all those signs of life.    

The signs of life-they are many.  I could read every day about the production of fruit, and in the end, not know much more about it than what I see here. 

I have very few of these beautiful sculptures left.  I am not surprised.  They appeal to me in the same way as hand made Italian terra cotta, or handmade shutters or window boxes. Once these sculptures are gone, I will be longing to have them again.  Never anywhere else have I seen anything quite like them.  This is a wordy way of saying genuinely felt and hand made objects catch my eye.  The evidence of the human hand interests me.     

The big idea here?  Handmade counts for so much.  Your handmade-as in the Christmas jam, the holiday letters, the package wrap, the Sunday dinners, the vegetable patch, the paintings and sculptures, the landscape and garden design-I am likely to pay close attention. Handmade is the real work of a particular pair of hands.  I like whenever possible to recognize and support talented people.   Handmade-you are looking at it. Read for yourself.  www.faiencerie-figuere.com.  Let me know what you think.

Sunday Opinion: The Greens

The topic of today’s opinion is vegetables, and not vegetable gardening.  Let me explain.  I have no opinion about what varieties to grow, or how to nurture them through the harvest.  I know nothing of companion planting, spacing, sowing vegetable seed, designing or installing a vegetable garden.  I cannot hold forth on which tomatoes are a must grow for my zone.  Should you want to talk peonies, I might have something to say and the experience to back it up. Should you shriek the word beets at me, I would raise both hands and say yes. Beets, and their greens-a favorite.  Not to grow-to eat. Though I am a better than decent horticulturist, I eat greens of which I have little or no knowledge.  Buck buys Shanghais most every week-I love these greens.  What is a Shanghai?  Should you know, please write.  I grow cardoons for the beauty of the plant-I would not dream of devoting space, time or thought to cultivating artichokes. Were I stranded on a desert island, I would only wish to be stranded with good bread and butter-and artichokes. zOK, I would probably learn to feed myself if I had to. I could pass a wand over my vague body of knowledge of indeterminate growing, cross pollination of corn, successive lettuce plantings, brassica pests, the cultivation of grains, raised vegetable beds and the efficacy of worm castings;  an uniformed person might be convinced I knew something about growing food.  Not so.  I am so lucky that other people grow great vegetables that are available for me to eat.

The greens-I don’t grow them.  More than likely, I would do a poor job of it. Eating them is a different story. My first and best love-beet greens. Next up, a close second-chard.  Bok Choy, turnip greens, rapini, Tuscan kale, any green leafy thing gets my attention.  Buck has no use for lettuce-what is wrong with him?  Escarole, endive, romaine, Boston bibb, leaf lettuce-even iceberg.  I could chow down a half head of iceberg splashed with Girard’s Champagne dressing-a feast. I could go on to say I could eat any lettuce plain, and be happy.  Cole slaw-bring it on.  I like my cabbage dressed with balsamic vinegar-no sweet slaw for me.

Lima beans-my favorite bean, though I have never been faced with a bean I did not like. Peas and their pods-delicious. Field peas-a new addition ala Buck. Broccoli has such an undesevedly bad rap-it really tastes great.  Brussel sprouts taste even better, but my favorite green thing is the artichoke.  I have been known to eat a pair of them at one sitting.  I grew up with a minimum of 3 vegetables on the dinner table every night-this in addition to the salad. I am talking about the 1950′s here.  Some were cooked, but lots were raw.  On the regular raw list: lettuce, radishes, celery, lettuce, kohlrabi, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, carrots, spinach.  Broccoli and potatoes-I like them just fine in their raw state.  I prefer raw kohlrabi or the heel of a head of celery to an apple.  Buck likes his vegetables cooked, but over the years, he has scaled back the cooking time.  There was a time when my penchant for raw vegetables and his love of vegetables cooked for days in slabs of bacon was a topic of much discussion.  If I can’t have a vegetable raw, I like it hot and almost raw. One of the few things I remember about being a freshman in college was how many others had never eaten any vegetables beyond tomatoes, peas, carrots and corn.  Not that I don’t like these, but there is so much else out there. 

I shop the farmer’s market and my favorite grocery stores for my vegetables-on and off.  In the late summer, I go to market at 6am-I call Buck that I am dropping off the greens.  He meets me in the driveway.  Buck and I shopped two grocery stores today together-January 2.  He ordinarily does all the grocery shopping; he walks through the door with a list, scoops up what he needs, and heads home.  As I rarely go, it was a shopping trip for me.  It was amazing the variety of food that was available under one roof.  I had to look at everything. The Nino’s in Rochester of course specializes in fruits and vegetables.  I saw plenty of vegetables I had never seen before-what a treat.  The bulk of our purchases-vegetables, fresh pasta,  and cheese.  And enough greens to have them every day of the week.     

There are plenty of other vegetables I would not want to do without besides the greens. The yellow, white, red, yellow, green and bulb onions, the Cippolinis, the chives, the Vidalias, the leeks.  Just yesterday I persuaded Buck to buy an eggplant-we’ll see what he does with it.  Peppers, mushrooms-they are all good to eat. This focus on food is a phase unique to my winter. Soups and stews are not just good to eat-they warm the soul.  Good eating is a winter event.  I can barely remember what I had to eat in May.  When I am gardening full tilt, I eat with the express purpose of keeping my energy level where it needs to be.  In the winter, I am much more likely to eat for fun.

Growing vegetables is not my idea of fun.  Thank heavens that so many people like to, so I don’t have to.  I might go so far as to pot up rosemary, or tomato pots ringed with basil and chives.  I do plant lettuce and parsley in my spring pots. I read seed catalogues all winter long. But this is as far as my vegetable gardening gets.  Eating vegetables-this I am good at.

At A Glance: Winter Reading