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Your Kitsch May Be My Kitchen Sink

As I do every year, I dropped in the other day on the women of the Pasadena Art Alliance to catch them in the frenzy of preparing for their annual treasure house sale.

This year the sale is not being held in an old house but in the vacated Gene Burton store at 505 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena. They’re calling it the Super Souk, souk meaning an open-air marketplace in North Africa or the Near East.

Scattered through the store’s various spaces was what looked like the yield of every garage, basement and closet in the northeastern area. Near the entrance was what they used to call their “garage” area. “Now we call it the attic,” someone told me.

It was a jumble of objects that looked as if they had outlived their usefulness or hadn’t quite worked out: typewriters, toasters, sewing machines, waffle irons, scales, bicycles, clocks, power tools, a water polo ball, baseball bats and numerous sets of skis and ski boots. I had an idea that skiing was high on the list of things that didn’t work out.

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Rising from a bed of roses on a cluttered table was a pink plaster of Paris nude. A straw hat leaned against her ankles; a large butterfly was perched on her head.

I couldn’t believe that anyone would buy such junk. Peggy Phelps said, “Our motto is that one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.”

Someone asked, “Have you seen the piano tuner?”

There were hundreds of baskets and dozens of framed prints--a beach scene by Henri de Kruif, Monet’s water lilies, man in cowboy hat and raincoat by Michael Schwab. Dogs in chic clothing sat at a bar, drinking, in a 12-foot mural. Very high kitsch.

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Marion Haines had the book section pretty well in hand. She showed me some treasures: Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” illustrated by Gustave Dore; Pearl Buck’s “All Men Are Brothers,” illustrated by Miguel Covarubius. “But Enough about You,” by Cynthia Heimel (author of “Sex Tips for Girls”), was on display and opened to a chapter titled “What Makes Women Tick.”

“I didn’t know women ticked,” I said.

“We purr,” said Haines.

“That’s a cozy corner,” I said of a corner with a sofa and an easy chair, a rug with animals on it, a large standing globe of the ancient world, a brass machine that looked as if it might be a wine opener, and a silk-screen print of a mounted cowboy by Bill Schenck (said to be worth close to $2,000).

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“Interesting you’d say that,” Phelps said. “We call it the men’s corner.”

Marsha Bohr got a bottle of Pouilly-Fume to show me how the opener worked. It had a wooden base, a steel shaft and a brass head with a handle. She fitted the bottle into the head and worked the handle up and down. It pushed the cork into the bottle.

“It does work,” she said, exasperated. “I know it works.”

The racks in the boutique were already bulging with the rages of long-past seasons: beaded flapper frocks, a flapper dress of lace with appliqued velvet flowers; a purple felt hat, a gray fedora, a pith helmet, a blond wig.

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“Somebody will buy them,” I was assured, “and give them back next year.”

In the dining room section Vicki Baker was polishing English china. “Everything has to be shining clean,” she said. “It’s probably the only part of the sale that’s that way.”

A table was covered with bags and envelopes of sachet. “You put your undies in a drawer with this stuff,” said Sally Hurt. She picked up a conch shell and blew into it. It made a sound like a French horn. Phelps said, “I thought only little boys on Polynesian islands knew how to do that.”

Marsha Bohr caught up with us. She was lugging the wine opener and had a new bottle of Pouilly-Fume. She fitted the bottle into the opener and worked the handle. The cork came out. She worked the handle again. The cork was replaced in the neck. “I told you it worked,” she said.

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The public sale takes place Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

I don’t know whether I want the plaster of Paris nude or the bottle opener.


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