One of my favorite recurring questions to be asked about my current work is, "Where do you get all your vintage stuff?" Though I spend my time in my studio alone (save the occasional visiting preschooler) I am in here with hundreds (thousands?) of items entrusted to me by friends and family members and even my friends’ friends and family members.

With regularity, a friend or acquaintance who has seen my work will approach me and offer me a box of their mothers’ linens that none of the siblings were interested in, or maybe a small bag of buttons that an aunt had collected, 30 bottles of glue that were never used, or a small jar of liquid gold leaf. Oh, and could you use any of these vintage laces?

So far I have accepted it all (gladly!) and count it a privilege. While the givers cannot continue to store and care for these items themselves, the objects often have some special meaning or are at least respected for having a special kind of value that makes the giver loathe to deposit them in a thrift shop drop box. When I am given these boxes of table linens or jars of buttons I am being entrusted with the past. I hope I may be able to help these items live on, to find a new and even expanded meaning and life; I’ll be memorializing them in my art.

I feel really positively about these “donations” not just because prices for vintage items like these can be prohibitively high at flea markets and on eBay, but more importantly I feel like it places me and the giver into a sort of community. We’re collaborating now. And we’re collaborating with other women, these incredibly skilled women who spent countless hours weaving and crocheting and knitting and embroidering things to beautify the lives of those they loved. It’s a multi-generational collaboration I’m involved in now, both with the giver and with the women who have made, collected, stored, and maintained these objects previously.

These givers of the “stuff” are supporting me in a really foundational way, entrusting me with the raw materials that guide the form and the content of my work. My work grows out of the objects at hand: the designs on the linens, the packaging of sewing notions, the colors and textures and associated meanings. So the choices and actions of the givers in sharing their history and treasures from the past with me make my work what it is. I’d say that’s collaboration, and I haven’t gotten over how cool that is.

Michelle Radford