Last night I wrote about how the topics I choose for posts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse often come as a result of gifts from readers – gifts of ideas, or of photographs, or of actual things. Since we are coming up on (as of Jan. 6, which is Epiphany, or the day after Twelfth Night, or the day before Orthodox Christmas, depending on how you approach it) the end of the Christmas season, a time for gifts, I thought that in the next few posts I’d share with you some of the lovely and interesting things that have come my way recently in the form of gifts from readers who thought – or in some cases, just knew, thanks to reading about my tastes in mid-20th-century vintage stuff – that I’d like them.
The first such object is a delightful little thing – at least, in my view. I must tell you that in the view of the person who gave it to me, my Queensborough friend Elaine, it’s ugly, and she never liked it, and she was awfully glad to give it a new home with someone else – someone who did like it.
And what is it? Well, as far as either Elaine or I can make out, it’s a jewelry holder for your bedroom dresser – or dressing-table, as perhaps it would have been called back in the era when this little artifact was made. Remember when your grandmother had a little chair or stool in front of her dressing-table, so she could sit down and observe herself in the mirror as she applied face powder (yikes!) and lipstick and jewelry? Wow, talk about a lost era… though a charming one, I think.
Anyway: the first reason Elaine thought I would like the little china slipper was because its exterior is turquoise, more or less, and by now the whole world knows (since I’ve written about it so often) that I love turquoise. But also: it’s from the midcentury era into which also fits the early period of my childhood growing up at the Manse here in Queensborough – so there’s that connection too. There is also the fact that it is just plain funky – a jewelry holder in the shape of a ballet slipper. (At least, that’s what Elaine and I think it is supposed to be.) And finally, there’s the fact that its original owner was Elaine’s Aunt Hazel, who was Hazel Thompson (Elaine’s father’s sister), a teacher and a force of nature. And that’s really the best part of all. Here’s part of an email Elaine sent me about her Aunt Hazel:
Aunt Hazel started teaching at English School, SS#8 Madoc (readers: SS in references to schools from back in the day stands for “school section”) from 1927 to 1930. Her (annual) salary was $800, later $1,000. Then she went to Codrington where from 1930 to 1932 she taught at Holland School. She taught from 1932 to 1967 in Belleville. Most of her time there was at King George School.
Aunt Hazel was a strong-willed, independent woman who liked kids. She disciplined us (that would be Elaine and her sister and brothers, in Queensborough) as if we were her kids. She did not suffer fools quietly but loved a good time. She travelled the world and liked to take us on little trips.
She never married but was engaged once when she was young.
I could talk for a very long time about Aunt Hazel.
Now, I have two things to add to this: one, I realized as I copied and pasted parts of Elaine’s email that I had not taken her up on her offer to look through her Aunt Hazel’s diary, which I must do; and two, that this evening when I spoke by phone to my mum, Lorna Sedgwick – who lived here at the Manse back in the middle of the 20th century not just as my mum but as the minister’s (my dad‘s) wife and as a bit of a trailblazer because she was a full-time teacher as well as a minister’s wife and mother of four little kids – and mentioned Elaine’s Aunt Hazel, she happily recognized the name and recalled what a terrific person Hazel Thompson was. “She was a person you respected!” she said, enthusiastically.
So all of this is why I love my little ballet-slipper jewelry holder.
But on to a tiny bit more about it (as opposed to Aunt Hazel). Here is a closeup of the top:
And here is the underside …
… which reveals it to be a piece of Carlton Ware. Now, until this evening when I started to write this post I knew nothing about Carlton Ware. But in the intervening hour or so, I have discovered the site Carlton Ware World, which seems to tell you, or link you to, everything you might ever want to know about Carlton Ware. Which was, the site tells us, “pottery (that) was first made c1890 by Wiltshaw & Robinson in the town of Stoke in the County of Staffordshire in an area known as The Potteries. Its wide-ranging, high quality output is well represented on the Internet, emphasizing its importance.” (Whatever that means.)
I also discovered in poking about the site that this little slipper from Aunt Hazel is probably a piece of what was called Twin Tone Carlton Ware (from its “Contemporary Ware” range, introduced in 1956, close to the high point – 1959-60, I’d say – of midcentury style): in Twin Tone pieces, Carlton Ware World tells us, “the inside was painted in one colour and the outside in a contrasting colour.”
That would be my turquoise and pink ballet-slipper jewelry holder, would it not?
I love that little thing thanks to my newfound knowledge about Carlton Ware, and to its being a pretty piece of midcentury English Carlton Ware. ( And “Handpainted,” as the stamp on the bottom points out.)
But I love it way, way more because it belonged to Elaine’s Aunt Hazel – and thus has all those connections to both Queensborough and to a strong, independent woman who seized life and travelled a lot and didn’t suffer fools quietly but loved a good time. My kind of person.
Thank you, Elaine!