Collectors of Character

While rearranging his many pottery pieces, a novelist contemplates what — and who — set him on the path to collecting charm


HOMEFRONT | in residence
This McCoy vase is perfect for a tall arrangement of cherry blossom branches and pussy willow.

Growing up, I was fascinated by my grandmothers’ sense of style. Although they had wildly different sensibilities in fashion and design — one more classic, the other kitschy — their love of collecting united them.

In fact, they were crazed collectors before collecting was cool.

Both seamstresses, they collected beautiful buttons, pretty pushpins, and colorful thread, along with a variety of fabrics.

When it came to decorating, my paternal grandmother was devoted to Depression glass and antique wood furnishings, while my maternal grandmother collected cake plates and breadboxes.

But the collection that united them most was charms. They both had beautiful charm bracelets filled with charms that told their lives’ stories.

“The simplest things in life are truly the greatest gifts,” they would tell me, as they explained their charms. And although their charms were simple, their symbolism was grand: The charm of an ice cream cone was for a sweet life; a puzzle piece was a reminder of a life filled with friends who complete you; a loon charm was for a love that always called you home; a mustard seed charm for a life filled with faith.

As I grew up, I realized their collections — like their charms — were also great gifts that told incredible stories of the lives of my whole family.

The cake plates held my grandmother’s favorite desserts — cherry chip cakes and lemon chiffon pies with mile-high meringues — while the wood furniture held, literally, generations of family, and were the places I first heard the stories that influence my writing today.

My grandmothers gifted me many pieces from their collections, including their charms. And I knew I had met the man of my dreams when Gary Edwards, and all of his and his grandmother’s collections, entered my life and home.

Gary collected all the things his grandmother had loved: Cookie jars, desert rose dishes, and vintage resort/lakeside tchotchkes. Gary also inherited his grandmother’s love of gardening.

“Turkey Run,” our Michigan cottage, is set on 4 acres and features stunning gardens filled with Gary’s gorgeous flowers — many of which began from starts given to him by family and friends. They, too, have a history and story.

When Gary and I decided to begin our own collection together, we wanted one that was unique to us and that could showcase Gary’s flowers, but it also had to be one that honored our grandmothers’ traditions. We opted for McCoy pottery.

At first, we innocently scouted antiques shops; over time, casual scouts became serious hunts. We started buying vases and planters in every color, shape, and design. Then we researched McCoy pottery, and — like most collectors — we became obsessed. We sought and bought creamers and cookie jars, fun frogs, and delightful ducks. We collected McCoy in the shapes of logs and pinecones, emblazoned with gnomes and dragonflies, pieces that looked like hyacinths and hydrangeas.

Eventually, our McCoy collection gobbled up Turkey Run.

And I couldn’t be happier. We use them nearly every day, for dinner parties and tabletops. I rotate flower arrangements on my desk year-round. I love them because they are filled with quirk and character — just like our home, our grandmothers, ourselves.

Meet the Author

WADE ROUSE'S DEBUT novel, The Charm Bracelet, will go on sale March 22 (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books). He wrote it under the pen name Viola Shipman, as an homage to his grandmother. Rouse is also the author of four memoirs. St. Martin’s Press plans to publish his second novel, The Hope Chest, part of his “Heirloom Series,” in 2017. 


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