If people were generally more knowledgeable about the resources used and labour expended in the fabrication of the simplest items of daily use we would find the contemporary privilege of unchecked choice horrific, wasteful and counter to our need for self-preservation as a species.
One day, while waiting for my friend to complete her banking business, I wandered around our local Value Village. In several long aisles there were a staggering variety and number of flower-vases, lined up higgledy-piggledy, cheek to jowl – vases that householders had found lacking in currently favoured taste, and which then they had discarded or otherwise removed from their consciousness and environs. Mind you, there were no un-noticed Daum or Lalique vases with which to tempt the tightwad person of bourgeois aspirations. There were however many acceptable containers in which to temporarily house flowers arriving at our shore from overseas flower growers. Yes – there was that delicately cut bud-vase in which to display that red rose from Colombia, the one that would make its way home from a refrigerated container at the harbour’s edge, to the auction house on Marine Drive and then from the local florist or grocery store. A visitor to the house, where such rose is displayed in its hot-house glory, might sigh in appreciation at the unblemished perfection of the flower amply displayed in the tasteful and delicate cut glass bud-vase. The fact that it is the last gasp of autumn here and no roses can thus bloom on their shrubs would simply not occur to the visitor, the magnificence simply erases all practical and logical thought.
And such is the case with most of North-Americans’ aesthetic manner of living. Special containers need specimen and uncommon flowers to display, and there must be a variety of containers available – to suit every taste and personal economy. It is somewhat doubtful that a fashionable matron in the British Properties, or in Shaughnessy would walk along ditches and fields, collect wildflowers and display them in an empty Smuckers Strawberry Jam jar. No, for such a lady the Meinhardt’s on South Granville or a flower selller on Granville Island or in Kerrisdale might provide the exotic blooms for which the vases are purchased from Atkinson’s or Martha Sturdy on Granville or even Birks, downtown. The aspiring middle-class housewife might purchase her flowers from the local flowershop, or the grocery store, and her vases from Bowrings, Ikea or Homesense. Women, disparagingly classified as granola-munchers, the frugal or the poor ones might just do with a second-hand vase picked up at a garage sale or thrift shop, and if really skint, then put into service the good old jam-jar or milk bottle.
I have to confess that I have often displayed downwardly-mobile tendencies in the past, and continue to do so to this day. While I love beauty in its myriad forms, I feel no pressure to own it. It is enough that it merely exists, everywhere, commonplace hard-wrought beauty. Of particular value are the tools with which life is carried on; they need to be functional and long-lasting – in that resides their beauty. The term, “gilding the lily” comes to mind. One does not have to apply flourishes to something whose inherent beauty is enwrapped in its perfect functionality. The field daisy can vie with the lily; both are beautiful, each in their own way and neither needs embellishment and both look spectacular placed in a plain tall drinking glass, or a tall narrow pickle-jar. An ornate carved crystal vase diminishes the flowers, in my opinion. Possible contemplation of the marvel of nature that is a field daisy is distracted by the context of man-made tour-de-force of elaborate craft.
One of the few wedding presents Rumpole and I received was a gorgeous carved Lalique vase. It sat on our mantle for three years and never once housed flowers. It seemed to overpower the kind of flowers and grass stems I picked up in my forays about the neighbourhood. It never loooked right, and seemed to me a reminder of the kind of rarified life I was to aspire to – one of ease, leisure, and material comfort and a distancing from visceral pleasures of a rather grubby life. Never having been a young woman to whom were given flowers, but rather tin snips, wire cutters, metal files, carving tools and prosthetic arms and other strange, unfeminish items such as strange rocks and concretions or dried dead things. The joke in our house was that if it came from a ditch, field, or midden it took pride of place on the mantle; however if a glorious bouquet of flowers came from a flower shop or decor shop it was left to decay, deform and otherwise gather dust and then it was of value. That poor Lalique vase never had a chance for long survival. Whilst packing up the house to move up north to our acreage and log house in the bush, I was carefullly sorting and determining just what objets deserved careful wrapping and placing into packing boxes. The concretions, shells, bits of bark, twigs, stones and seeds were carefully wrapped and set aside. Similarly, any old and roughed up glass medicine jars picked up from dusty second hand stores and jars of pleasant proportion, with or without lids, were lovingly seated among crumpled nests of newspaper and insulated against brakage. I had left the Lalique vase to the end, considered giving it to my mother, who might have been horrified at what an unsentimental ingrate I was to not value such a beautiful gift. I held it nestled in my hands as I stood above the flagged stone apron of the fireplace, contemplated the vase and what it meant to me,to the giver, to any other recipient who might have valued it; decided that I had neither the inclination nor energy to spend time in seeking a new home for the vase, opened my fingers and dropped it onto the stones. It shattered into fine pieces, which I then swept up and put into the dustbin.
The last item I packed from the mantle was a small plaster plaque which six-year old Renaissance Man had made for me of an impression of a leaf. I still have that sitting on my studio window, next to an empty jam-jar ready to hold a foundling weed flower, and alongside a toy firetruck and some retrieved circuit boards. Oh yes, and a cardboard cut out of a brocade bedecked Renaissance Queen.
That is what I consider jam-jar aesthetics; a not very fashionable one, but which gives me far more satisfaction than the Lalique vase ever did.