member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fabricating Reality

Today’s post was embarrassingly easy to write. The artist did almost all the work herself. Each image she’s made (combinations of drawing, water-color, and collage, often with moving parts attached) comes with the story of its characters attached--marvelous, fantastical stories. All I’ve really done here is point out the places where it became clear to me that she was, in fact, somehow writing about my family...

Aurelia and her Jelly Cruiser

(Please don't miss the amazing bit of technological wonder that is the 'cruiser' in the above image.)

Here is a little bit about the artist, Winona Cookie, in the words of her handler, Ramona Szczerba:

“There aren’t any castles in the suburbs of Delaware and there aren’t any haunted mansions with gloomy mansard roofs, either, and because that fact was nearly too tragic for me to bear as a child, Winona Cookie came to comfort me.
Appearing in a shower of cookie crumbs one rainy thunderstruck afternoon, she has been my lifetime antidote to boredom. While I trudged through graduate schools and internships, Winona has followed her own path, leaving a trail of fanciful stories, watercolors, ink drawings, collages and jewelry in her wake. She favors the darkest faeries, legendary women, arcane subject matter and inventors that never were. She is currently obsessed with the steampunk genre and is running me ragged with collages and stories. They are frankly beginning to pile up! We live in San Diego where I practice psychotherapy and try to find a place for my ill-tempered cat to sit in my studio.
About my pieces:
I work in both watercolor and collage. My watercolors are generally painted ink drawings. Collages are often done on stretched gallery canvases that have been painted with acrylic. I construct my weird little scenarios, portraits and worlds from the vast and groaning collection of vintage photos and images that I obsessively collect from the internet and elsewhere. I add all manner of items from my studio: dresden trim, charms, watch gears, crystal gems, ribbons, bits of lace and vintage ephemera. Oftentimes, originals are interactive pieces with moving parts. Stories suggest themselves as I am working on the piece. I often have no idea what direction they will take once I begin writing them, so I can only conclude that I am channeling your imaginations!”


And so here is a little about me, illustrated and written by her (she’s clairvoyant! I give my word, I’ve never met her!...But it's all true...):

Zoe’s Magic Hat

“I was always told that my Great great Aunt Zoe had quite the spirit of adventure, so it must have come to a surprise to no one when she slipped away from the safe enclave of her Ladies’ College group during the obligatory European Tour. Deciding to opt out of a stultifying march through the Musee d’Histoire Marseilles, Zoe snuck off and found herself in Le Cours Julien and the flea market she found there was to change her life forever. Tired, dusty and a tad tipsy after a few glasses of Pernod and several Gauloises at a dingy but charming Bohemian café, she was about to attempt navigation back to her hotel, when a worn pair of costume wings caught her eye in a nearly empty stall on the outskirts of the flea market. Crafted of enormous dusty feathers, looped together with a crumpled band of once-elegant cream satin and hoisted unceremoniously on a wrought iron hat stand, something about the wings seemed to draw her towards them. “Take them, take them”, muttered the old gypsy woman in broken French when Zoe inquired after the price. “They were my nephew’s, he’s glad to be rid of them, I just want enough for some bread for my dinner.” What could be a better souvenir of the freedom of her off-the-beaten-track afternoon? She quickly fished a few centimes out of her purse and handed them to the old woman who immediately thrust the dusty top hat into her arms as well. “The hat comes with. There’s nothing to be done about it” and she vanished like quicksilver into her peeling little caravan.
Back in the States, Zoe tucked the wings in her wardrobe and wondered what on earth she had been thinking, but she found herself oddly drawn to the hat. Holding it in her lap one day, she felt it wiggle slightly and out leapt a startled rabbit! And that was only the beginning. A ferret in her shoe, a butterfly in her brassiere – one day a lovely white barn owl came screeching out of her overcoat. The day she discovered a school of goldfish calmly swimming around her teacup she decided that marrying her Suitable Fiance was completely out of the question. She packed up a trunk and went on the road as the first female professional magician, wearing her handsome pair of French wings as her trademark. Houdini himself was said to have been quite taken with her. Her scandals were legendary, her adventures were numerous and I heard about them all as soon as I was old enough. The hat survived, but alas, the wings did not, and despite my childhood habit of peering intently into its depths, I was never able to conjure anything out of it. I have had to work my magic on canvases instead, and so bring you this portrait of my lovely great, great aunt, working the magic for which she was so famous.
[Zoe and her magical creatures are depicted with handcut vintage images on this 8” x 10” x ¾” stretched gallery canvas and embellished walnut ink-stained Thai lace paper, brass rivets, a real watchface with spinning hand, an ornate brass label holder and wide black grosgrain ribbon.]”

I bet you didn’t know I was that old already when you started following this blog...

Incredibly, but I swear this is true, this following story Winona wrote actually happened, almost word-for-word, to a Jordan in my family (some of my friends here can even attest to this fact). Only, she never put the gramophone in the attic. In fact, she still plays it, on occasion, and so everyone else in the family and neighborhood has learned to conduct small tests at various set hours during the day to check whether or not a dream is unfolding, masquerading as reality. If one finds oneself awake, yet still sees a fish floating by in the air, one marches directly to her front door to log one’s protest.
Such protests have been known to turn into block parties and reunions, which more often than not last several days. Needless to say, no one in the neighborhood eats seafood.

Ok, that last part might not be true. I *have* heard of protests, but I’ve never, ever joined one, so I can't reliably tell you anything about them. And my inability to eat meat actually has more to do with my magic hat. Anyway, the story of Jordan Quinn:


"There are sentimental sorts, people who save every love note hastily jotted on a slip of paper, every memory-laden matchbook, and then there are hoarders, who throw nothing away at all, lest a rusty paperclip come in handy someday. Jordan Quinn was neither of these types, to be sure. If she hadn’t used a given item in the past week, into the trash it went. She disliked fussiness, hated clutter and was generally ill-placed in a family of nostalgic memento-savers and tchotchke-fanciers. Depending on one’s point of view, that made her either the worst or the absolute best choice to clear out her grandmother’s estate when the venerable grande dame went to her reward. Spindly with turrets and spires, the old mansion teetered precariously on a sea cliff overlooking wild and gray Maine sea swells, and was packed to the gills with dusty antiques, souvenirs and bits of Victorian arcana. Pushing open the carved, creaking front door, Jordan visibly wilted in the foyer when faced with the enormity of the task ahead of her. “What a load of junk!” she sighed, plucking several oversized umbrellas out of the elephant-footed umbrella stand by the door and pitching them into the outsized Dumpster she had obtained for the occasion. Upon consideration, she tossed the umbrella stand in as well. 
Jordan’s stamina was considerable, but not unlimited, and by the late afternoon she simply had to take a break. She brewed up a pot of tea and wandered into the untouched parlor where a relic of a gramophone caught her eye. “Oh why not?” she thought “It’s quiet as a tomb in here.” Opening the cabinet, she picked up the first (wax!) disk on the stack. “’Calypso’, eh?” she muttered, fumbling with the machinery of the mystifying outdated device. As the first scratchy notes staggered out of the horn, Jordan sank onto an oversized and ornate chaise upholstered in a milk-and-dark chocolate harlequin satin. Before she could venture a single sip of tea, she was fast asleep.
Awoken by the brightness of a full moon thrusting its round face between the dusty velvet drapes, Jordan glanced over at the gramophone only to see two large fish swimming happily out of it along with the music, that was, amazingly, still playing. A large octopus had cuddled up next to her and was enjoying a cup of tea from her teapot, which was now apparently hosting a fiddler crab. Another cephalopod had taken up residence in her hat and a small Argonaut had apparently abandoned its shell in favor of her teacup. Although simply continuing to dream seemed like the best option, Jordan knew that she was not. She jumped up and removed the record and the sea life disappeared as fast as the music. At that moment, Jordan embraced the wisdom of hiring someone more knowledgeable about antiques than she to undertake the cleanup. However, she also wrapped up the gramophone and the records and took them with her lest someone become curious about what “Safari March” or “Hurricane Sonata” might sound like. As far as anyone knows, they have been sitting in her attic collecting dust ever since.
This original artwork and story are copyright Ramona Szczerba 2010.”

Between my hat and that gramophone, a lot of strange little animals began wandering around, and when that happens, new breeds of scientists can be expected to follow, desiring their study. Miss Elsinore Mittmutter, ahead of her time, prepared for just such an eventuality, becoming the world's first taxidermist, and funding her efforts with a little shop where the specimens could be housed as they awaited their study...

Curiosity Shoppe

“Sometimes there are catchwords in families, mysterious little monikers that get passed down through the generations until nobody remembers from whence they came. By the time one is old enough to realize that calling a salad fork a bitkibble is not universal, there is no one to ask why it got called that in the first place. For my grandmother, it was “vorpal”, which is to say, an incomprehensibly odd individual. “Eh, what a vorpal that one is!” she’d chuckle. Since my grandmother’s speech was peppered with Yiddish despite the fact that she did not have a Jewish bone in her body, I chalked it up to that and almost didn’t inquire, but since her breakfast dessert (coffee and pound cake) always put her in a chatty mood, inquire I did. “Oh that was that crazy Beatrice and her lady friend”, she said, waving her fork around. This was getting better.
When the 17 year old Miss Beatrice von Vorpal got off a ship in New York City in 1850, the plan was for her to be someone’s governess. Apparently, Beatrice had other ideas. Fascinated by natural history and science, she lasted only 2 years in her post before insinuating herself in low level positions in the Acquisitions departments of a series of museums. While her enthusiasm for macabre pickled medical specimens and insect collections raised a few eyebrows, no one could deny that she had a flair for spotting the unusual. Upon making her way out west in search of a promotion, she made the acquaintance of a certain Miss Elsinore Mittmutter, widely held to be the founder of modern taxidermy. The two became fast friends, and as many would whisper, quite a bit more. As Miss Mittmutter was a woman of means, they began to travel, procuring all manner of oddities and antiquities from the ossuaries of Bohemia to the bazaars of Burma, shipping them all to their home base in a creaking Victorian mansion in my hometown. When the house began to burst its seams, the ladies decided to open a shop (or who knows? Maybe they needed a tax write off) and Von Vorpal’s Curiosity Shoppe was born. “Oh, it scared the bejeezus out of us kids”, my grandmother remembered. “Crazy stuffed dead things, scary stuff in jars, bugs”(she gave a little shudder) “you would have loved it,” she said, with an affectionate twinkle in my direction. “She had some interesting items too – genie bottles, coral and shells, daggers, magic spells – but of course we only paid attention to the nasties”. She sliced off another slice of cake. “Oh and that Beatrice, she was fierce, too. She was already an old lady when I was kid and she wore old fashioned dresses and these wacky hats with antlers and real birds on them – oh my!” My grandmother laughed so hard she inhaled some cake crumbs and had a coughing fit. Dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief, she continued, “But they say she was a real beauty when she was young, the both of them. Elsinore, too. But what fella wants a girl who likes dead things?” She gave me a pointed look. “So don’t be a vorpal, my little cupcake. You’re too pretty for that.” And she toddled off for her nap before I could find out whatever became of Beatrice and Elsinore, or point out that girls who like dead things might not want a fella, exactly.

This 8” x 10” x 3/4” original collage depicting Beatrice von Vorpal, Purveyor of Curiosities, has been constructed on a handpainted stretched canvas of painstakingly handcut vintage images and black handmade art paper and is accented by stamped brass corners, brass rivets, silk trim and small crystals.”

And finally, where there are saved dead things and unexplained trinkets, there is magic:

Lydia and Her Lizard

“It can be immediately apparent that some men are going to be nothing but trouble, and if Lydia Esperanza were to be completely honest, she knew Jimmy Varanus was going to be one of them from the very start. But his dark hair was so glossy, his glittering black eyes so piercing, his voice so smooth it was almost a hiss – she found herself smitten despite her best judgment. Of course, Jimmy then wasted no time in slithering into every corner of her life, insinuating himself so firmly that dislodging him would be massively inconvenient if not downright destructive. Luckily, Lydia’s sister, Lena was not fooled for a moment and being unambiguously lesbian, was utterly immune to Jimmy’s dubious charms. She pressed a lavender powder neatly folded into a packet of waxed paper into Lydia’s palm. “Just in case, hon. You never know. I tucked the instructions into your tobacco box,” Lena whispered.
Lydia probably could have put up with the missing cash, drunken late nights and flagrant cheating, at least for a while, but when Jimmy’s words became viciously hurtful, she knew it was only a matter of time before she began accidentally walking into doors and falling down flights of stairs. She began collecting Jimmy’s cigarette butts, a few strands of his hair from the sink, a single dark eyelash from his sleeping cheek, and on a night so foggy it seemed a cloud had swallowed her house, she tapped a few drops of quinine and the mysterious powder (now green!) into Jimmy’s whiskey bottle and topped it off with some malt liquor. She pretended to be asleep as he drained most of it and instantly passed out cold. Mixing the items she collected into her pipe along with some tobacco, she lit the mixture and smoked slowly while she recited the words passed from sister to sister for generations for just such unfortunate situations. Lydia woke up with a jolt, a rude ray of sunlight smacking her right in the face and glanced over at the sofa.
On a stack of oriental cushions, an enormous black monitor lizard blinked its black glittering eyes at her. “Jimmy?” she whispered and the squamate critter flicked its forked tongue at her a few times. “Well I guess that’s that!” Lydia said, emptying the bottle of whisky down the drain. It turns out that Jimmy made a much better pet than he did a lover. He was quite affectionate, as giant lizards go, as well as protective – it takes a reptile to know one and he could sense a cad before he hit the front stoop.
This 4” x 6” x 3/4” original collage depicting Lydia Esperanza and the much improved Jimmy Varanus is constructed on a hand painted stretched gallery canvas with vintage images and is accented by black Dresden trim, brown satin ribbon and a brass lizard with a silver finish at the top. Lydia’s corset is adorned with silk trim and taupe crystals.”

Original works, such as this one:

Mattie and her Glass Case

and this one:

Teacup Travelers


can be purchased at her Etsy Shop, and prints of those works can be purchased at Red Bubble.

Alice and the Caterpillar

Last, but not least, you can buy me this time-traveler’s T shirt here:


along with various mouse pads, mugs, tote bags, and T shirts for yourself-- or for me, of course (I like surprises, too). Go forth! This is a treasure trove of artwork and stories for you to dig into this weekend!


  1. ok, one more link...
    there's an excellent interview with her here:


  2. "A ferret in her shoe, a butterfly in her brassiere – one day a lovely white barn owl came screeching out of her overcoat. The day she discovered a school of goldfish calmly swimming around her teacup she decided that marrying her Suitable Fiance was completely out of the question. She packed up a trunk and went on the road as the first female professional magician, wearing her handsome pair of French wings as her trademark."

    God, this is fun!:)))

  3. un grand 'MERCI' pour cette série de collages magnifiques..le texte est malheureusement trop confus avec google traduction.. dommage! mais mes restes d'anglais scolaire m'ont permis de déchiffrer l'essentiel..

  4. Thanks for sharing this fascinating artist, Zoe! She should do a book, if she hasn't already. I could just sit cuddled up with a cup of ginger tea and look at her pieces all day, while the stories magically emanate from an old broken gramophone...

  5. Did you know that you can shorten your long urls with BCVC and make $$$$ for every click on your shortened urls.