Cherished Catalogues

During the movie One True Thing in which Meryl Streep's character is dying of cancer, she is gluing together a mosaic table out of plates damaged when her son was "practising juggling". The end result is gorgeous. Using broken plates to make a mosaic is called pique assiette, a fact I discovered while thumbing through Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts. The book features one such table made with what looks like Blue Willow china. It is not hard to see how a table like this would have great sentimental value. I know what it's like to have so few pieces of tableware left that you can't make a complete place setting (although nowadays hostesses are mixing tableware at their parties with excellent results). You hate to part with the remnants of a set that bring back memories of birthday parties or Thanksgiving dinners, so the idea that you can immortalize them and have a perfectly beautiful table in the end, is appealing.

Martha Stewart arrived on the scene not only as the art of homemaking was being denigrated but when there was a great danger that the skills involved were going to be lost forever. I remember fondly watching her initial television shows, shot from her farmhouse, at a time when she was apparently a harridan in real life. (Prison seems to have mellowed her even if her shows are now slick studio productions.) It's not that women are listening to Martha and suddenly making everything from scratch, but she legitimized our right to do so in a period when you can come under heavy fire for just staying home with your kids. She has also been a saving grace for the hundreds of craftspeople she has given airtime to in an era of mass production. I've saved her magazines over the years just to have a record of the right way of doing things. And, if the forecasts of life after cheap oil and the demise of globalization materialize, having the skills necessary to survive at the local level may again be given the status they deserve.