December 16, 2018
The sixth PROJECT:OBJECT volume is a 25-part series of true stories about fossils — which is to say, objects that bear witness to a vanished way of life.
My mother’s father made this fish scaler. He grew up hunting and fishing on the Illinois prairie, like a character in a story by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
During summer visits, he taught me to fish from the shore or on rowboat. My grandparents owned a cabin near Idlewild, Michigan, a famous African-American resort called “America’s Black Eden” in pre- Civil Rights days. During the Depression, my mother’s family would vacation on Lake Idlewild where my grandfather fished the lake for bluegills, largemouth bass, black crappie and yellow bullhead. In the evenings, my grandfather rowed a boat across the lake to take my grandmother dancing at the Paradise Gardens night club on Williams Island. Snug in their beds, my mother and her brothers listened to the music of Louis Armstrong’s orchestra float across the lake.
My grandmother owned the fish scaler; it resided in the kitchen drawer, not the tackle box. My grandmother was a legendary cook and baker. I can see the utensil in my grandmother’s hands, deftly making translucent scales rain down into the kitchen sink as she scaled, gutted, and flayed each creature lying on her cutting board. She taught me to dredge fillets in seasoned cornmeal and fry them until golden brown in a large, black cast iron skillet filled with hot lard. The final result would be a crispy pieces of fried fish served on a plate with home grown raw tomatoes and fried potatoes. A slice of white bread and a bottle of hot sauce always sat nearby.
The fish scaler reminds me of a time before the era of disposable culture and large-scale manufacturing. When I look at the fish scaler, I see my family’s frugality and ingenuity. I’ve moved again and though I don’t use it, because I can easily buy fresh fish — cleaned or fried — at the supermarket now, the fish scaler remains in my kitchen. It is the embodiment of my grandfather’s motto, “Watch your pennies and the dollars take care of themselves.”
FOSSILS: INTRODUCTION | Allegra Huston on SKATAWAY JACKET | Kevin Obsatz on HOMEMADE NUNCHUKS | Ian Bogost on DESKTOP TELEPHONE | Jeff Lewonczyk on CHA-CHA JACKET SCRAP | Kelly Horan on VOLVO KEY | Sarah Rich on WESTFEST EARRINGS | Cynthia Joyce on MELODICA | Kevin Brockmeier on SALADMOBILE | Adam Harrison Levy on PASSPORT HOLDER | Marissa Frayer on BABY BLANKET | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on RML BOOKEND | Jae Nichelle on SHEET MUSIC | Sean Patrick Walsh on TYPEWRITER | Andrew Innes on BUST OF DUCK | Carla Sinclair on FACTSHEET FIVE | Chapell Ellison on SLEIGH BELL | Malcolm Evans on “QUEEN MARY” FOB | Jason Gilbert on HAND CHAIR | Karl Taro Greenfeld on OPIUM KIT | Tony Leone on MODEL TANK | Dave Boerger on TEEN BIBLE | Chelsey Johnson on BREYER HORSES | Erin M. Routson on PAPER WALLET | Alissa Walker on JUKEBOX | Adrienne Crew on FISH SCALER.
FLAIR: INTRODUCTION | Cliff Kuang on ROLEX DATEJUST | Ethan Zuckerman on LAPTOP STICKERS | Ann Shoket on LEATHER JACKET | Kembrew McLeod on KEMBREW MERCH | Paola Antonelli on MERMAID TEARS | & 20 MORE.
LOST OBJECTS (vol. 1): INTRODUCTION | Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Allison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch) | & 20 MORE.
ILLICIT OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Kio Stark on PEEPSHOW TOKEN | Sari Wilson on TOMBSTONE PARTS | Annalee Newitz on CAR-BOMB REMNANT | Tito Bottitta on MOONINITE DEVICE | Eric Bennett on DIRTY MAGAZINE | & 20 MORE.
TALISMANIC OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY | & 20 MORE.
POLITICAL OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Luc Sante on CAMPAIGN PAMPHLETS | Lydia Millet on PVC POLAR BEAR | Ben Greenman on MATCHBOX CAR | Rob Baedeker on PRESIDENTS PLACEMAT | L.A. Kauffman on WHEATPASTE POSTER | & 20 MORE.
SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018) | FETISHES series (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 series (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS series (2Q2020). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.
What do you think?
Thank you for this touching and evocative family reminiscence. One can practically catch a whiff of the frying fish.
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