Kate at Needled published a thoughtful post about the reinvention of remnants and oddments as jewellery: by turning the recovered scraps of things and people into new objects to wear about our bodies, we both transform them into new objects and keep the ghosts of their old forms about us. A picture, a button, a miniature portrait – all these things can be “a tiny detail that, because it is broken from its context, can now be looked at, scrutinised, properly treasured.”
Kate compares mourning jewellery of the nineteenth-century with the found-object aesthetic. The idea of loss and partial recovery followed by reinvention is constantly replayed and reconsidered in Victorian writers’ responses to bereavement. (Thomas Hardy used an epigraph from Virgil at the head of his Poems of 1912-3, the sequence marking the death of his wife Emma: veteris vestigia flamae – ashes of an old fire, sparks from an old flame.)
Kate’s post reminded me of a curious piece of jewellery I bought from the end-of-term show at Sheffield Hallam a couple of years ago (I have sadly lost the maker’s details). This broach is an old packet of hook-and-eye fastenings set in a block of perspex. The snaps themselves sit at the bottom of the broach, as though they have spilt from their packaging and had their fall arrested by the plastic. And there is something mournful about it. The oval of the logo is like the frame of a miniature. It is a lovely thing to wear, but the fastenings themselves are never going to fasten anything – as haberdashery, they are dead things embalmed on my lapel. The simple cardboard packet with its so-mundane, so-lovely old-fashioned commercial typography is one of those unremarkable objects which has become special by dint of sticking around longer than its peers.
And now, wrapped in plastic, it can stick around for still longer, a portable monument to its little metal charges who will never perform their intended function. It’s painfully special for being irreplaceable, and terribly ordinary, for it lives on the collar of my winter coat and gets worn in the wind and rain on every cold day of the year.