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I got the very best birthday present this year: a passel of rusty old metal, courtesy of some dear friends and their 140-year old farm. There are nails and screws, washers and springs, hinges and handles, locks and keys: all lovingly hand-picked, colored by history in shades of deep orange and warm red. Who wants a pristine, shiny package when you can have a gift pulled from the clutches of spiders in the back of the barn? To some, all that rust may just seem like tetanus waiting to happen, but to me it is the sweetest kind of treasure.

Maybe I appreciate it all the more because I’m feeling a little bit vintage myself these days. I’m certainly showing some wear (I like to call it “patina”), but I still work hard and have some pretty good stories to tell. If there is beauty in being authentic, then all my creases and chipped edges make me positively radiant. :)


It was that theme — the value in building a life with layers of wear and age — that inspired my most recent collage. I used my favorite hinge from my collection of vintage bits (yes, I have a favorite hinge) because its dusky blue reminded me of the sky in an old oil painting. I also picked out a few gears and some rusted nails to bundle in twine, then set to work assembling a multimedia landscape.

The background is a 5″x7″ watercolor illustration board painted to look like a piece of worn metal. This was the perfect opportunity to use Sophisticated Finishes, a liquid copper finish that can be custom-antiqued with a selection of blue and green patina solutions. It is little more than chemistry in action, but it gives me a thrill every time I watch a metallic surface fade and oxidize before my eyes.


The paper pieces are from a 1952 travel magazine highlighting the charms of the midwestern United States, a great fit considering most of the vintage pieces I used hail from Kansas. I snipped and sanded a little balsa wood house, wallpapered with a page from an old hymnal, and set it against a fence made of sculpture wire. The final addition was a grove of stamped, embossed trees.


There is such an obsession in our culture today with looking younger than we really are, smoothing out our wrinkles and blemishes until our faces have all the interest of a buffed wax floor. I am not sure how having the forehead of a 16-year-old became so important, but I think a society that values appearance above character has just hammered the perfect, shiny nails into its own coffin.

I value wisdom and experience, and that stuff usually comes with the price of aging. I would rather show and feel those years and know I really learned from them, than stay the unwrinkled, unknowing me I was a decade ago. I suppose that line of thinking also makes me sound increasingly vintage, but I don’t mind, because I’ve figured out how much promise that holds.