April 27, 2013 7:33:06 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Mike and Becky Childs are into recycling. But we're not simply talking plastic bottles or aluminum cans here. The New Hope community couple rescue well-used vintage china and silver plate flatware from obscurity and transform it into jewelry.
"Mike and I both like to see things have a new life," explained Becky Childs. "We're about using every bit of beauty that's already been created and turning it into something that can still give beauty and pleasure."
Becky's pendants, necklaces and earrings made from vintage china, and Mike's flatware necklaces, bracelets, earrings and elegant key rings emerge from a love of artistry the couple was delighted to discover they share some years ago. It may seem a bit unexpected at first: Mike is an industrial engineer. Becky is an audiologist by training. But each relishes the challenge of their crafts and looks forward to sharing it with the public at Columbus' Market Street Festival May 4. Although the Childs are regulars on Hitching Lot Farmers' Market Saturdays in Columbus and have displayed at regional festivals, this will be their debut as Market Street vendors.
In a long, narrow workroom off her home's garage, Becky carefully applied copper foil edging to a delicate china fragment destined to become an earring. She was surrounded by boxes of sorted plates, cups and saucers and dozens of shallow drawers filled with broken fragments, all meticulously bagged and labeled with maker, pattern, year and any identifying marks found. Her oldest identified pattern to date is Gorham's "Richmond," introduced in 1897.
The china, and Mike's flatware, are gleaned from estate sales and flea markets from Mississippi to the Carolinas. Each piece discovered, no matter how old or tarnished it may be, is selected because it sparks the artisans' imaginations.
Pointing toward a recently-acquired, Saran-wrapped stack of Blue Willow saucers and cups, Becky smiled, "There's probably not a single piece in there that's not cracked or chipped, but it's going to be gorgeous. Sometimes I just can't wait to find out what it's going to be."
Mike is a learner by nature.
"I like to learn something new every year," he said, walking down a grassy slope behind his home, to his workshop. Once inside, he settled at a work surface covered with flatware and began attaching earring hooks to ends that had already been taken off of spoons and forks. Handles are also turned into graceful bracelets. Knife ends, which are normally hollow, will become necklace bells. Fork tines are re-purposed as tiny clappers.
"It was pretty entertaining around here when we first started working with the 1935 'Narcissus' pattern and cutting off the ends of the knives, only to find they were all filled with sand, to make the knife heavier," Mike said, with a chuckle.
The couple has been asked to create custom pieces from family china or silver, or sometimes to locate pieces of a particular pattern that is meaningful to a family, to make jewelry from.
"Just this past week we received a baby spoon, to make something for a young man's fiancé," said Becky.
Not long ago, the creative duo began combining Mike's silver plate and his wife's broken china in one-of-a-kind wearable art. But whether in their own workshops, or pooling talents in collaborative pieces, they feed off each other's energy and enthusiasm.
"It's fun for both of us," explained Becky. "We encourage each other; we push each other. We evaluate the other's work. It's good to have a critic that's on your side."
One of the Childs' favorite shared experiences is any time someone gasps with delight -- and sometimes a tear in the eye -- and says something along the lines of, "That was my mother's pattern!" or "My grandmother used that."
"Our goal is to make people smile, and you can do that when you're creating a memory," Becky shared. "They remember that good feeling of family events, of the closeness of relationships, and it adds something to their lives."
At Market Street
Main Street Columbus Executive Director Barbara Bigelow and other festival organizers welcome Becky and Mike to the Market Street family, which will include more than 220 vendors May 4.
"We've added additional booths on Fifth Street South and have filled every one of them with new vendors," said Bigelow, noting that wares range from unusual jewelry to pottery and handmade puppets. "The list goes on and on," she stressed.
Although this is Bigelow's first year as director of Main Street Columbus, she's a veteran volunteer of the festival.
"I can honestly say I never realized how much time and effort it takes from our many volunteers and the Main Street office staff to organize something of this magnitude," she said, thanking former director Amber Brislin for "coming out of retirement" to serve as festival committee chair.
The 18th annual award-winning festival in downtown Columbus opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. with a ticketed concert from the Juke Joint Gypsies, followed by '70s chart-toppers Mother's Finest.
"Then join us Saturday for live music -- including Rockabilly Hall of Fame member Linda Gail Lewis -- fabulous activities for children, a great food court, juried art and quality vendors, like the Childs," Bigelow urged. "It will definitely be a special weekend."
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Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.