Ghosts of Christmases Past

Christmas brings out the sentimental optimist in me. It’s the time of year when I see the world the way I wish it was, or the way it could be. I put on my rose-colored Christmas glasses and suddenly I live inside the pages of The Saturday Evening Post.

This year has been an especially bittersweet one, as I’ve spent the past 10 months sifting through my mother’s things, learning a lot about vintage collectibles through hours upon hours of research.  I know more about 1940s and 50s ceramics from Lefton, Napco, Holt Howard, Commodore and Relco than I ever imagined there was to know.

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I started selling vintage, too, at flea markets, estate sales, to antiques dealers and on eBay (my mother had A LOT of stuff.) Then, this will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, I fell in love with vintage things and started buying them.

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A Very Vintage Christmas

That’s how my new Etsy shop, Fiddle Dee Doo Dah, an homage to vintage from the 30s through the 60s, was born.

While I’m still in the process of cleaning out my mother’s house, my own house is now filling up! I never thought I’d hear myself utter these words, but I actually told Ezra, my husband, “I don’t think I’ll put up a tree this year.”

The thought of packing and unpacking (which is virtually all I’ve done since June) seems overwhelming. But we’ll see how long I can hold out. The front porch has been decorated for weeks already.

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Follow me on Instagram for more Christmas fun.

However, that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying all my new vintage treasures. No one need send me any Holiday cards this year (you’d better…I don’t want to be like Charlie Brown!) because I’ve been ordering bundles of used Christmas cards from the 1920s through the late 1940s from eBay. If you’re a graphic designer, then I hope you won’t miffed with me when I say, “they just don’t make fonts like they used to.” Ohhhhh, I could rhapsodize about the amazing forties’ fonts for days.

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Or the postmarks! Don’t get me started on the postmarks. When I hold a card in my hands that’s time and date stamped December 23, 1920, 3:10 p.m., I feel transported to that time and place. It’s magical. I can’t imagine a time when you could simply write a family’s name, city and state on an envelope and it would find them. But there was one. And imagine the outrage in the mid-thirties when the cost of a stamp went up from one cent to a cent and half!!! The nerve! How does one pay a half-cent? Something I’ve been pondering for weeks.

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During the month of December, I’ll feature some of my favorite vintage Christmas cards on Instagram. I’ve been repurposing a couple of them, that were falling apart, but that feels kind of wrong to me. I’m holding someone’s life in my hands. Yet, I’m giving those treasured memories new life, too.

This Christmas season will be different for me in many ways. Yet through all of these tangible remembrances of Christmases past, that still contain some of the love and good cheer their original owners felt so many decades ago, I feel inspired. There are many new Christmas memories to be made. And maybe, if I’m lucky, someone will hold one of my cards in her hands some day, and wonder about the person I was, and the Christmases I had, long, long ago.

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The Mysterious Lady Delaney

 

Step into the backroom of Century Girl Vintage Boutique in the heart New Orleans on any given day, and it’s like stepping through the looking-glass. There’s something about the room you can’t quite place, a peculiar other-worldliness. The ghosts of bold, adventurous women with raucous laughs and enviously endless wardrobes fill the room. At first glance you may think you’ve stepped into an artist’s studio. Then you notice the strange objects of Lilliputian ephemera, Gothic intrigue, replicas of historic mansions. You have a slightly uneasy feeling that perhaps you’ve stumbled upon the scene of a murder. Oh, and paper dolls. There are paper dolls, too.

This is the workplace of Lauren Delaney George.

I first encountered Lauren’s talents in 2013, when the young entrepreneur was paying her way through college by selling dollhouse miniatures on Etsy. She began creating miniatures when her Grandpa made a beautiful log cabin dollhouse for her Grandma, called “Kate’s Cottage.” The first miniatures she ever created were Christmas gifts for her Grandma Kate, including family portraits, quilts and a copy of her Grandma’s wedding dress.

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Lauren’s Etsy Shop is a book lover’s delight, with books, magazines and records, Doris Day to The Velvet Underground. She can miniaturize anything. (1:12 scale)

At the time, when I started collecting minis, miniature shops were full of shabby chic dollhouse decor and bakery accoutrements. Lauren’s store was quirky. Things you might find included a package of vintage ladies pantyhose, take-out menus, classified CIA files on the Kennedy assassination, a wall calendar from 1926, a microscopic laboratory slide – all in miniature. Her flair for replicating the minutiae of everyday life in 1:12 scale was uncannily exacting.

Her creativity spurred my own, as I let myself venture outside the confines of creating kitchens and Parisian boudoirs. Lauren gave me permission to create vignettes that I found compelling, that told a story.

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My homage to the tortured writer. All documents and office supplies come from L.Delaney on Etsy.

When I needed classical sheet music for an October vignette I was creating, I knew Lauren’s shop was the only place I could turn.

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“At their essence, miniatures are story-telling tools. As in theater, tiny scenes immerse the viewer in worlds inhabited by ghosts, infused with memory and promising adventure and exploration” Lauren said.

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The Haunted Dollhouse

Late last summer, Lauren announced a new adventure she was embarking on, “The Haunted Dollhouse.” I asked her to explain it to us in her own words.

“In New Orleans, truth is stranger than fiction. This is especially true in the case of “The Haunted Dollhouse,” a violent crime involving a 1920s miniature collection. The dollhouse was created by an inmate at New Orleans’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane and is directly linked to a murder which took place in the French Quarter. Appraisers have spent years trying to crack the cryptic messages hidden in its construction. I’ve spent the past year researching it in the New Orleans archives and the inconsistencies of the murder investigation are so bizarre that I felt obligated to make them public. Amateur sleuths, crime connoisseurs, and miniaturists are all invited to take a crack at solving the case and may subscribe to receive the pertinent documents (and bloody artifacts) via www.TheHauntedDollhouse.com.”

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Critical acclaim for The Haunted Dollhouse

Those brave (or foolish) enough to assist me with the investigation will receive a series of five packages over the course of 1-2 months.  Each package contains a cache of clues, miniatures, and archival documents.  Clues may take the form of an old telegram, a 1920s newspaper clipping, miniature artifacts, and simple DIY projects.  Each package is like another “chapter” in the deepening mystery, and as the story progresses, investigators reconstruct a dollhouse which is—EGADS—actually a crime scene.”

I, myself, helped Lauren solve a mystery last fall, and it was a one-of-a-kind experience. I couldn’t wait for each new package to arrive with clues. It was like receiving mail lost for 100 years. A cadre of my closest cohorts were just as eager as I was to unravel the mystery! Here we were in Minnesota in 2017, plumbing the private lives of the upper echelon of New Orleans society in the early 1900s.

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These sumptuous jazz-age dresses could be plucked right out of Daisy Buchanan’s bedroom.  Shoes, tissue box, letter, book, and shopping bags all from Lauren’s shop, as well.

As you may have gathered from Part 1 of my interview with Lauren, Lauren is to vintage glamour, what Anna Wintour is to Vogue.  So, of course, when Lauren first added her  prohibition-era, paper confections, embellished with ribbon and sparkly bits, I was the first in line to snatch them up.

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L. Delaney’s All Dolled Up is a love letter to the women whose dresses now gather dust in antique shops and attics.

They also caught the eye of Dover publications, who published Lauren’s first book in March of this year. Finally Lauren had the opportunity to marry her talents for costume design with her paper artistry, with her book, All Dolled Up.  

“I enjoyed creating paper dresses for my Etsy shop, but I had no intention of creating a book until Dover approached me.  I learned so much through the process of creating the dresses and miniature sets, then photographing and laying them out. It was a huge challenge and I’m really proud of the end result.

I have always loved draping as a method of design, and this process of creating paper dresses is similar.  In fact, there is a whole section in the book about “paper draping” for (tiny) fashion design.  With any creative project, you have to observe the properties of your chosen material and then let it do what it wants to some extent.  Probably the single most important step in the design to fabrication process is choosing the proper materials, whether it be a paper dress, fabric dress, or miniature world!”

As if offering to be Chickadee’s first featured artist wasn’t enough, Lauren has also offered to give away a signed copy of her book. In addition to a great story, paper dolls and richly-detailed backdrops, the book also provides step-by-step instructions for creating your own vintage couture designs. All Dolled Up will delight paper crafters and fashion-lovers alike. For your chance to win, simply comment below. The winner will be chosen by random drawing on May 15th.

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Since her creativity seems to flow from an endless spring, I asked Lauren what she saw herself doing next.

“Well, I’m in the middle of working on my second book, and I’m also excited to expand the world that I first introduced in The Haunted Dollhouse. There are more mystery adventures in store.

I love the unpredictability of life. Ten years ago, in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have cooked up my current life. Ten years from now, I hope I’m still working at the things I love – designing and creating.”

For more information on Lauren’s many, many projects, visit www.ladydelaney.com.

Part One of Lauren’s Interview (her background and creative process)