LOST OBJECTS (27)

By: Joe Yonan
October 6, 2019

One in an ongoing series of nonfiction stories about lost objects. In 2017, Project:Object’s Josh Glenn and Rob Walker asked 25 writers to tell us about a significant object they’d lost (or thrown away, or destroyed), then assigned these stories to 25 illustrators. The first Lost Objects series was such a hit with readers, and so fun for us to publish, that we’ve decided it deserves a sequel.

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Illustration for PROJECT:OBJECT by Theo Ellsworth.

For three summers, when I was a kid, my seasonal job gave me rope burns. They stung my hands for weeks, tracing a path along each palm’s life line. I got them because I was paid by the piece, and so I got faster and faster until my hands were a blur of pulling, twisting and knotting, and I’d sneeze from the tiny jute fibers hanging in the air.

That’s when macramé was mindless. Eventually it became anything but.

I had traveled from my home in West Texas to my father and stepmother’s home in Chicago to spend a month visiting relatives, eating steak, riding the elevator to the top of the Sears Tower. And I spent many hours at my stepmother Mary’s electric motors company, where my dad also worked. She liked to give top customers a gift every year, and when she found out I had gotten into macramé in a middle school crafts class, she made an offer: $15 per plant hanger, and she’d buy the rope and matching ceramic pots and “beads.” I’m sure she figured I’d make maybe 20 or 30.

I made 90.

The third summer of macramé, I graduated from plant hangers to owls: a square body with “legs” attached to a piece of driftwood and eyes made of rope-fringed gold rings. While I had started working from a pattern, I soon memorized it and started adding flourishes: a diagonal double half-hitch, say, where most people would do a square knot. I was no mere craftsman anymore.

Then, as suddenly as I had begun, I was done with the gig. Commerce became antithetical to my process. I needed to be free to concentrate on my master work: a free-form, improvisational hanging. I gathered my materials: Enough jute for 20 plant hangers. Mismatched beads, driftwood, scraps of colored yarn. Large wooden letters that spelled my name. A cowbell.

I worked on it for weeks. The rope flew, my skin burned. And the design! No longer did I worry about such pedestrian concerns as symmetry or even conventional notions of beauty. Feathers were involved.

I hung it proudly in my bedroom back home. In time, though, I outgrew it, like a pair of acid-wash jeans. It went into my closet, where it stayed for four decades.

I visited the house three years ago, when we moved my mother, who has dementia, into a nursing home in Maine. We were cleaning out before an estate-sale company came in, and the first place I went was that closet. There it was, still hanging in the back, dusty and disintegrating, behind a letter jacket and a trophy proclaiming me citywide math champion.

It was hideous. I laughed, called my sister to come see, and unceremoniously stuffed it into a trash bag. And ever since, I’ve wanted to see it again, or at least a photo: perhaps the only evidence that one summer long ago, I was an artist.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: See sidebar.

ABOUT THE ARTIST: Theo Ellsworth makes comics, art zines, and woodcut fine art. To see more of his work, click here.

LOST OBJECTS 2: INTRODUCTION | Geoff Manaugh on MOROCCAN TRINKET (ill. Mariana Pita) | Joe Yonan on MACRAMÉ ART (ill. Theo Ellsworth) | Laura Lippman on LABYRINTH GAME (ill. Laura Didyk) | Ben Katchor on LUCITE CARRYING CASE | Neil LaBute on PICKLED OCTOPUS (ill. Disa Wallander) | Miranda Mellis on SEQUINED SCARF (ill. Adam Goldberg) | Chris Piascik on GENERAL HUSTLER BMX | Jenny Kroik on MISSING TOY PIECES | Anita Kunz on FLOWER NECKLACE | Debbie Millman on GLASS POODLE | Heather Kapplow on CERAMIC ARTWORK (ill. Matt Wuerker) | Lydia Millet on ROCKY HORROR NOVEL (ill. Berta Valló) | Ben Greenman on WARHOL CAN (ill. Clara Selina Bach) | Leah Hennessey on BATMAN RING (ill. Dean Haspiel) | Kathryn Davis on PRAYER CARD (ill. Dina Noto) | Mikita Brottman on PINK ELEPHANTS (ill. Sarah Williamson) | Nathaniel Rich on AUTOGRAPHED BASEBALL (ill. Ellen Rose) | Charles Glaubitz on TRACK SHOES | Seth on ENTERPRISE MODEL | Becky Stern on SKELETON SWEATER (ill. Monica Garwood) | Mark Dery on GRANDFATHER PHOTO (ill. Kelli Anderson) | Paola Antonelli on VINYL SKIRT (ill. Guillermo Meraz) | Sara Ryan on FINGER PUPPET (ill. Steve Lieber) | Alex Gerasev on KARMA PARKA | Margaret Wertheim on ECCENTRIC BOOK (ill. Armando Veve).

FETISHES: INTRODUCTION | Josh Foer on DEATH MASK | Beth Lisick on MURDERED-OUT KFC BUCKET | Christina Couch on LEECH ACTION FIGURE | Kenneth Goldsmith on THEWLIS SOCK | Abby Rapoport on MAGNATILES | & 20 MORE.

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 | & 20 MORE.

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. Alison 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.

Categories

Codebreaking, Read-outs

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