The three works Everyday Use by Alice Walker (Walker, 1994), This is our life by Dorothy Allison and Sonny’s Blues by Baldwin (Baldwin, 1993) bring to light certain ethereal and sublime interpretations of everyday objects. To put it simply, everyday use objects acquire a new meaning and connotations and we see the world from a different perspective.
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In the work Everyday Use by Alice Walker, the simple and much-used Quilt is the reason for a bitter struggle between Mama and her two daughters Dee and Maggie. Now Dee is educated and lives in the city while Mama and Maggie still live in their old home. Dee wants some of the everyday use objects from the home as she wants to display them in a museum. The butter churn and the dasher are objects of art for her and she wants them for her collection.
The main contentious object was the quilt that Maggie has painstakingly stitched over the years. Maggie wants the quilt because it was she that helped her grandma to make it and it has been stitched from old apparel such as the “scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty years ago”, “Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts” and “one teeny faded blue piece…that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform he wore in the Civil War”.
To Maggie, the quilt represents her lifelong association with her family and all those dear to her. For Dee, a quilt is an object of art that is priceless and is best to be hung in a museum as it represents the history of her people and mainly because it would make her famous in her circle of friends. Both people are right in their own way and while Maggie has the moral right to own it, the intent of Dee cannot be termed as wrong.
In a way, certain everyday use objects acquire a special meaning and there is a certain element of art perspective associated with them. An old walking stick that belonged to my grandpa was something kids played with as they played horses or used it for a quick game of baseball and even to knock some fruits out of a tree. But the hickory stick was of the old colonial times, all gnarled and seasoned and had a certain amount of history associated with it. One would realize this when exposed to education and grows.
Another object of daily use was the old pipe that grandpa smoked as he sat on the rocking chair on the porch and rocked himself to sleep, puffing away and seeing the world passing by. After grandpa passed away, the old pipe was put in a trunk in the attic and everyone forgot about it. The rocking chair broke up and no one knows where the legs and the curved rocker are, probably ended up in the fireplace a long time back. The pipe was discovered accidentally a few months back as the attic was being cleaned and as we held it, old memories of sitting on grandpa’s lap as he told stories of his childhood, a century back when automobiles had just made an appearance and ‘scared the life out of my horses as we rounded a corner and ran into one of these machines’.
After the art is nothing but objects that would evoke strong imagery in our minds and bring in new thoughts. Everyday use objects tend to attain a new perspective and become objects of art. While they may not become as priceless as a sculpture by a famous artist, they hold special meaning to someone who has been associated with them for a long time. There was this pitcher in my grandma’s house, all dented and out of shape and we grandma used it to draw water from the well.
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As a child, I walked with her, countless times on the green dewy grass path and waited as she drew it out from the well. To anyone else, it would be just a dented pitcher, but to me, it is an object of art that is priceless in a special way, because it gives me fond memories of my childhood.
The old sewing machine in the attic was another object that was now lying rusty and forgotten in the attic, the belt long decayed and frayed and the bobbin and the handwheel and the foot pedal long rusty and cranky. But to me, it was an art object and brings back fond memories as I watched my grandaunt who pedaled furiously to stitch the skirts and blouses. The whir of the wheel spinning and the foot pedal moving up and down still echoed in my ears as I gazed at the now rusty hulk.
The concept of art and art objects is how we perceive them. They cannot be defined by value alone and while some kind of commercial value of a few hundred dollars may be attached to them, would one be willing to accept that all the old poignant memories are worth just a few hundred dollars? Life and memories go much beyond that. The everyday use objects have to be cherished and treasured as they would be objects of use that would become art objects for our children and grandchildren.
Baldwin James. 1993. Sonny’s blues. Creative Education.
Walker Alice. May 1, 1994. Everyday Use. Rutgers University Press.