Writer and Researcher
Amy Gale
Dealers & Artists Writing Samples
“Simple Items from Yesteryear,” Hartford Courant, June 26, 2009 Making do is the new philosophy in decorating. The big no-expense-spared project is out and reusing, patching, and piecing together is in. For Dianne Zweig creative thrift is a family tradition. Zweig, who lives in Avon, has been collecting, selling, and writing about antiques for many years.  Her first book, Hot Kitchen & Home Collectibles of the 30s, 40s, 50s, came out two years ago and was inspired by her memories of growing up in New York City at mid-century.  While the book includes swooping angular dishes and appliances with zippy streamlined banding the homey dime-store things are more plentiful.  Zweig sells the same type of wares at Kitsch ’n Stuff, her booth at the Collinsville Antiques Company in New Hartford. Many customers are baby boomers and they often experience (in Zweig’s words) “a rush of memories” while looking over the inventory.  Zweig knows the feeling well.  She remembers her childhood in Fresh Meadows, Queens as a time of freedom and stability.   “I used to ride my bicycle to the candy store, which was owned by the same man for years. And we played stick ball and hide-and-seek.” The young collector may be tempted to lump all those years together as “back then.”  Zweig, however, distinguishes the 1930s and early ’40s from the postwar period. Beginning in the 1930s, the kitchen lost some of its reputation for behind-the-scenes drudgery. Coordinated cabinets in red or green were fashionable.  The well-stocked kitchen had a bread box, cake saver and canister set for flour, sugar, and other staples.  After the war ended in 1945, there were once again resources for decorating. The kitchen became a second family room with a place to dine and visit.  Primary colors were popular as were tables in chrome and linoleum. In the 1950s, the fashionable palette was pastel with lots of pink and turquoise. Period fixtures included Formica countertops and tables. It was during this decade that plastics (Tupperware, for example) began to replace glass and ceramic for serving and storage. Creating a 1950s-style kitchen would require assembling pieces made not only in that decade but in earlier decades. The postwar era tends to be remembered as a time of carefree prosperity—which may have been the case compared with what went before. There was, nonetheless, a prevailing frugality and the kitchen would have had old and hand-me-down equipment. Home canning was a popular tradition, judging by the advertisements and supplies reproduced in Hot Kitchen & Home Collectibles.  Pantry shelves were lined with jars of forgotten favorites, like beets. (The far-sighted housewife laid up a store of both sliced and diced beets.) And while a new generation has rediscovered the savings in leftovers, you’d have to go 50 years back in time to experience the deep anxiety over “meat shrinkage.” The desiccated roast was one of the great problems of the age, if you believe old foil wrap publicity.  Zweig’s book certainly confirms the fact that—for better or worse—a woman’s place was in the home. It wasn’t all cooking and cleaning, though. There were also opportunities to decorate. Kitchens had embroidered towels and matching pot holders and toaster cover.  These were typically made by the lady of the house, who would often be wearing another homemade creation, an apron. Coordinating the patterned shelf liners with the decorative trim that was tacked to the shelf edge was a popular practice.  The modern woman may feel ambivalence at the thought that had she lived a half-century earlier, she would have spent her day getting the scalloping on the edge trim just right. Zweig began collecting mid-century kitchen things after the death of her grandmother.  “It was a very, very warm and simple time,” she fondly recalls of the 1950s and early ’60s. “Grandma Sophie” lived in Brooklyn, where she presided over a thrifty household and turned out daily home-cooked meals.  Zweig’s latest book, Cottage Collectibles for Vintage Style Homes, which was published last year, is also granny- inspired. The idea for the book was conceived when the Dow-Jones Industrial Average was chugging upwards to 15,000.  That time seems as remote as the Roaring Twenties, which makes the advice on adapting old furniture and bric-a-brac appropriate. Because the cottage look is not finished or comprehensive there’s no need to start from scratch.  It can be as inexpensive as painting brown furniture white.  It’s also the opportunity to make use of the odd pieces of china that you probably have stowed away in the dining room hutch.  While writing Cottage Collectibles, Zweig drew on memories of her other grandmother, whose inventive recycling is a family legend.  “Grandma Esther” is remembered as a forceful and charismatic matriarch, who was always on the hunt for a good find. “She would take old things that people were throwing out and do things with them.”  “Grammy chic” is Zweig’s name for the eccentric decors that she was able to make look just right. Financial austerity has been forced upon us once again, but as Zweig’s memories suggest, frugality is not the same as deprivation. It can, in fact, be stimulating.
amygale@amygale.com 212-787-5971