Friday, May 20, 2011

Is There Kitsch in Your Kitchen?

Kitsch is a word of German or Yiddish origin that refers to something of inferior value that imitates something else, generally artistic, of greater value. A broader use applies it to items that are generally in bad taste, trite, or that have an exaggerated sense of aesthetics. As we are all probably aware (either because of ebay, QVC and HSN or because of one of our eccentric friends or relatives), one man's kitsch is another man's collectible.

When I think kitsch, I think: black velvet Elvis paintings; Elvis impersonators; leg lamps with fringed lampshades; Buddhas with clocks in their bellies; ornate, imitation gold-leaf frames on everything from photos to mirrors; almost anything with tassels; you get the idea.

Sentimentality reigns supreme when it comes to kitsch. Remember all those souvenir ashtrays, trivets, plaques, salt & pepper shakers, etc., you would buy as a kid when you were on class trips or trips with family to give to your parents or grandparents? Most of the time, with grandparents in particular, they held on to each and every one of them and kept a mental log of what each of them meant. Then you, when it was time to help decide what to do with Mommom and Poppop's belongings, would come upon the items and suddenly be filled with memories as well - all because of a cheap, often Japanese, knock-off that meant everything to them because it came from you.

Well, times have changed. Many of those souvenirs now come from China. Technology has altered our world dramatically. Communications travel at the speed of light (or faster, it seems sometimes). Yet, the love of kitsch has not diminished. Somewhere, in almost every part of this country, somebody is secure in the knowledge that they are true aficionados of whatever category of item that has won their hearts.

My mother's neighbors, the third owners of the family homestead since my grandfather's passing, have done a wonderful job of lovingly restoring the home, carefully making sure that any changes they make or additions they build stay true to the original. But, the wife's domain is the interior decor. And she loves cows. Cow plates, cow wallpaper, cow figurines, cow tree ornaments, cow flags for the front porch, carved cows, molded cows, cows, cows and more cows. It's not that you feel overwhelmed by cow presence - she has actually presented her passion in a very tasteful way throughout the public portion of the house. But, she leaves no doubt that her favorite kitsch critter is a black and white cow.

My friend in Lousiville, Kentucky - the girl loves pigs. She is a porcine princess. She has pig plates, pig magnets, pig knick knacks, several stuffed pigs (OK - I helped her with those, much to her husband's dismay) and, my favorite - a pink pig phone with his curly tail being the handset cord. The pigs are a lot less organized than Mom's neighbor's cows, but they are an expression of my friend's personality, none-the-less. She simply adores all those little porkers. And they all reside in her kitchen.

I happen to like cats. I have all sorts of cat collectibles, some by Goebel, some hand-carved by local artisans, some carved from granite, some purchased from vendor kiosks in a German train station or a visitor's center in Chester England, cat wind chimes, cat blankets I even had cat bedroom slippers once. But, I don't have the display skills to really show them in a creative manner.

Another thing that has become increasingly popular since 9/11, I think, has been Patriotic-themed items especially with families whose children have enlisted and with retired military vets. Flags, American Bald eagles, red/white/blue drapes on porch rails, etc. If it shows love and pride of country, it's a hot item.

For many people, it isn't enough to just have a flag on a pole. Not that that's a minor item. It's just that how they feel goes so far beyond that. Their blood doesn't just run red; it runs red, white and blue and they want it to show! So, they fill their homes and their gardens with every expression of patriotic emblem they find that appeals to them. Not only that, but the style of their expression can run from the serious, heart-on-their-sleeve patriot to the "I love my country, but darn these politicians are funny" tongue-in-cheeker. They don't always agree with how someone shows their patriotism, but neither does it diminish the reality of its existence.

And, of course, you often find any or all of these items in someone’s kitchen. So, my question to you is: is there kitsch in YOUR kitchen? What kind is it? Does it have a theme? Or is it elsewhere?

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