Stay Obsessed

by John Bloner, Jr.

Last week, I reported on a few of my obsessions: i.e., passionate interests. For this week’s article, I’ve asked friends about their own intense curiosities, and by hearing their stories, I don’t feel alone anymore.

It’s OK to get obsessed and stay obsessed.

They spoke of their passions for pottery, books, antiques, dip pens, knife-throwing, researching their ancestry, and, in the case of retired RN, Mary Nelson, the reason why she goes gaga at the sight of big veins.

Photo by Sabel Blanco at Pexels

“Even as a retired nurse,” Mary told me. “I still have this obsession. Hospital and infusion nurses spend their lives delivering fluids, medication, and nutrition to patients through insertion of intravenous (IV) lines into their veins. The bigger the veins, the better.”

“I could be at a restaurant, eating the best meal” she added. “But if someone passes by my table who has protruding veins in their arms, I’ll stop in mid-bite to stare at them.”

“In a nurse’s career,” she continued. “We experience many occasions when we cannot find a vein in a patient’s, typically as a result of their low blood pressure and dehydration. But, boy! If we find a large one, it’s Christmas in July. It makes us so happy.

Racine artist Jo Thul has a passion for dip pens and their ink. She expressed her love for them through a painting and a poem.

Image and poem by Jo Thul

While they’re a forerunner to fountain pens, many artists and calligraphers continue to use dip pens for several reasons:

  • They may use inks which would otherwise clog a fountain pen.
  • It’s easy to change ink colors. Just dip your nib into a separate inkwell.
  • They may offer a more expressive line.

They’re also less costly and are available in a wider variety of styles, according to The Pen Addict.

I became acquainted with Michael Hopkins of Neenah, WI when he began to submit stories and art to my zine, Moss Piglet, and recently learned Michael has a new passion. During the 2020 pandemic, he found a new obsession.

“In August, I became obsessed with knife throwing,” he said. “Good throwing knives were so expensive that I learned to make my own. I became obsessed with making knives, especially from found hunks of metal and old tools. I think when you are obsessed, especially with something not commonplace, others want to connect with you to feel a piece of it. For me, friends and acquaintances started dropping off metal they found to see what I would make from it.

As you can see from his photo, Michael’s become a craftsman at his new-found sport.

Photo by Michael Hopkins

My studio partner at 16th Street Studios, Jennifer Evans, is known for her floral art, abstracts and stencils, but she recently revealed another passion to me: Vintage McCoy Pottery from 1920s-1950s.

The Nelson McCoy Pottery Company opened in 1910 in Roseville, Ohio, taking advantage of the availability of clay in the region, and established themselves as manufacturers of functional and decorative stoneware.

“I have it all over my house,” Jennifer said. “It mixes all of my favorites: color, texture and pattern. I used to be able to find unblemished flower pots in the ’90s at flea markets, before a lot of people were wise to what it was and all the pricing guides came out. Now I’m a lot more selective. Collectors with a keen eye can spot an unmarked McCoy, which is a delightful find. I love ALL of the colors except for the pink and the brown stoneware that was popular in the 70s. Yuck. “

Racine artist Terry Evans lives large. She and her husband, Hardy, reside in a warehouse that resembles a museum or curiosity shop. Take a look HERE.

“People say they are going smaller, they don’t want to leave a tons of things for their kids to get rid of,” Terry told me. “I’m keeping all of my stuff, and if my kids want a dollar from me they will have to earn it by inheriting my stuff and selling it if they want, because I can’t part with it. I wander around my space and enjoy seeing artists’ work, seeing books everywhere, seeing history everywhere. I am part of something bigger than me, and that makes me a part of humanity.”

Here are just a few of Terry’s obsessions:

Ancestry: Who were my relatives who came before me, and what kind of a life did they have? What did they overcome to survive? Some followed the Oregon Trail, and many were in the military.

I obsess about  other people information, their letters, how they felt, their ration books from WWII, their travel books. I keep track of friends from high school – how important is that? – and my first friends as a young adult

Art collections: I obsess over other people’s property. I covet artists’ art! I love owning someone else’s visions. I want to be their best friend, I want to see their creations. I want to see where they create. I want to own a part of them.

Books: I donated 1,200 of them to the Kenosha library when we moved to [our current Racine home] but I won’t part with my other two-thousand books.

I’ve imagined the reception (not good!) which Marie Kondo would receive if she visited Terry’s place and tried to tidy up.

Photo of Marie Kondo by RISE.

Forget the Kids. Save the Antiques! Racine’s LuAnn Underwood’s family chants this refrain when their wife and mother gets precious with her prized possessions.

Soon after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, another superstorm, Hurricane Rita, bore down on the Texas Gulf Coast, when LuAnn and her family were living in Houston. 2.5 million people hit the road to escape the onslaught; others hunkered down, but not before stocking up on essentials from grocery and hardware stores.

LuAnn had a different priority. She carefully packed all of her breakable antiques, including her cobalt blue glassware. Wouldn’t you want to save these Depression-era pieces?

“I’ve always loved looking at old stuff, wondering or imagining life when these things were used,” LuAnn responded when I asked for stories of her passion. “I became close with Grandma Betty, my husband’s grandmother, who lived in Beloit, WI. She showed me her treasures, and was afraid that when she died, her son would throw it all out.”

Grandma Betty and LuAnn Underwood

“After she passed away, I spent a week alone in her home, out in the country with no tv, in order to take inventory and pack up her belongings. I left no drawer, corner, or trunks uncovered or unturned.”

“Then came the question, ‘What to do with it all?’ After specific pieces were gifted to family members, according to Betty’s wishes, there remained items which were of interest and value. In response, I launched Underwood Antiques.”

Underwood Antiques is located in School Days Antique Mall in Sturtevant. Stop by to peruse items for sale there and say hello to LuAnn.

I have compassion for my fellow obsessives, whose families don’t appreciate their need to collect items. My daughter’s made it clear than when my wife and I die, she’s calling the folks at 1-800-Got-Junk to clear out all of our stuff. Before the truck pulls into my driveway, I have a question:

I wonder if Terry or LuAnn would want it?

Thanks for stopping by. I’d love to hear stories of your obsessions or the passions of your family or friends. Write them in the comments section on this site or share them on Facebook.

See you next week.

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