Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How it all began

 I should have put these black and white wood musicians up as my first post, because this is how the collection began. My mother, Jeanne Parsons, whose birthday is today, found them through a wholesale florist, and gave them to me for Christmas in 1978. Mom was a great florist, working as manager of three shops in Boca Raton, Pompano Beach and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea for many years and serving as a leader in various florist associations and as a floral design teacher. This was about the same time I had begun collecting penguins in general.

My first penguin came in 1964 in Nancy Leslie’s art class at Deerfield Beach Junior High. I made it myself as part of an assignment in a technique called slab sculpture, where you roll out the clay like cookie dough, cut out shapes and put them together to create the sculpture. My idea was to join two penguin-shaped slabs together in the back and leave the front open, painting the inside white to look like its belly. Smaller pieces were attached to make the feet, wings and beak. Miss Leslie gave me a lot of coaching to make the penguin strong enough to survive the kiln. “If your sculpture breaks, you get an F,” she proclaimed to the class. We would leave our finished projects to be fired overnight and find out the next day if we passed or failed. A lot of things could go wrong. Another project I did was supposed to be a white platter with a bas-relief grape design in the middle, but it came out orange because everyone else in the class was using red clay. Miss Leslie convinced me that it looked good that way, but I always wonder how it would have looked in white. Well, the penguin had a mishap too. “It’s going to break,” Miss Leslie predicted on the day I handed it over to her to be fired. It survived not only its first trip to the kiln, but also the second after I had painted it with glaze. The color of the glaze doesn’t show until after it’s gone through the firing process. Somehow the labels got mixed up and my penguin came out a shiny green instead of black. Miss Leslie tried to convince me that it looked good, just like my orange platter, but I insisted on another coat of glaze to cover up the green. She was still amazed that the penguin had survived two trips through the kiln and warned me again about my grade. I insisted on firing it again and she agreed. It actually took two more firings to get it to a point where I was happy and I think I ended up with an A.
It was my only penguin for years and it didn’t get much attention, but when I moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1978, I had it on display in my living room where it became a conversation piece. Everyone wanted to know, “Why a penguin?” I never had a good answer. They’re cute. They’re funny. They’re interesting. What’s not to like? Whatever it was about 1978, I was soon seeing penguins in shop windows and at art shows. I was getting penguins as gifts, and then at Christmas, I got my first penguin tree ornaments from Mom. Their crude construction has a kind of slab sculpture style to them, which fits in nicely with the sculpture I made as an eighth-grader. It was a good way to start collecting.

Black and white set of four wooden penguin musicians
Acquired: December 1978, gift from my mother, Jeanne Parsons
Number: 1-4
Size: Each about 2.5 inches tall

Slab sculpture penguin, 8th grade art class project, about 8 inches tall

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