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Museum of Dead Pens

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I made something for the Museum School Faculty Show called Museum of Dead Pens.  Lots of people have asked about it.  Here is how it came about.

My friend Jeanie Joblin has a business called Clear Path in which she enters the home of people who have trouble organizing.  She visits the homes and helps them let go of things.  She repurposes many objects they no longer need, helping them to simplify and also helping others.  I am often the beneficiary of books, papers, and objects she finds that she thinks I might enjoy.

In this endeavor, she has noticed things that many people have, patterns of objects in our lives.  There are many of these, and one of them is dead pens, and we have been talking about it for a while.

Jeanie lives in San Francisco now, and often when she visits Little Rock, I am out of town.  We don’t plan this, it just happens (at least I don’t think she is planning it).  But if she visits and I am out of town, I offer her the use of my car.  Recently I returned home from a trip with this arrangement to find that Jeanie had also used my keys to enter my house and initiate a spontaneous Clear Path project.  She did some cleaning, but she also left me a big ziploc bag of completely spent pens with the instructions that I was to find something to do with them.

I was irritated by this bag.  Why was someone else’s trash now my problem?  But for some reason I could not throw it away.  I had my own collection of dead pens, sitting arranged on a countertop in a collection of slightly improving mugs that (I hope) track my progression as a potter.

My relationship with pens goes back to some of my earliest memories.  There is an early snapshot of my fascination with how things work in my childhood habit of unscrewing the ballpoint pens my father brought home from work, playing with the spring inside, losing the spring, and then putting the useless pen back together.  I got in a lot of trouble for this, but it was irresistible.

Then were the pens my father brought home from work.  A physician with his endless supply of drug-company bounty, he was forever bringing home the latest fancy pen.  Even if it screamed HALDOL or THORAZINE down the side, I had no idea what that meant.

Then there were the wonderful television commercials in the 70’s for pens as the technology flourished.  The Hardhead Flair, the Bic Banana, the great El Marko marker with his Zorro-like flourishes (ever notice all the anthropmorphized writing instruments were masculine? Hmmm) and best of all, the Bic Four-color Pen Commercial, which was an animated delight to a child who already loved to draw.  I longed for these pens, dreamed about them, and in the days before big box office supply stores, spent hours in the school supply lanes of the drug store and grocery store staring at them.

When I had my own spending money, a good chunk of it went for pens.  I happily accompanied my mother to the grocery store for any reason, at any time to check out the latest pens.  And when I was 16 and was sent to the store for an onion or two, I made up reasons why it took me so long, oh I ran in to someone from school, because I was ashamed to admit I was trying to decide whether to get the new black or blue fine tipped Flair.  And I won’t even start on the joy of unwrapping it, of the first mark you make with it.

So the bag of dead pens made me remember all these things and more, and how important these pens were and I understood why I could not throw them away.

Lots of people have asked about the materials.  The boxes are constructed of 16 gauge steel wire.  I formed the wire around a metal bar to keep each box as closely to the same size as I could.  Then I bent smaller pieces of wire into side pieces and spent a lot of time working on the corners.  I found that if I flattened the ends of the corner pieces, I could wrap the bent ends of the side pieces to the front and back pieces with a thinner steel wire and the boxes were very sturdy.  There is no soldering or glue in the construction of the wire boxes.  I tried many different things and this seemed to work best.  In the back of the box, there is an additional piece of wire that holds the pen.  It was shaped individually with pliers to have a supporting piece for the pen, and then crimped to to the top and bottom of the box.  Then pen was then glued to the wire support.  I used a special glue made for textiles that is made by Gutermann.  I like it because it is not an epoxy and it dries fairly quickly.  I tested so many glues and was disappointed.  This one worked even better than the epoxies I tried. After the glue dried, I covered each face of the box with gut.  As each side was covered, it had to be allowed to dry before an adjoining side could be covered.  I placed the boxes under a bright light on wax paper to dry.   Once the boxes were completely covered and dried, I sprayed them with a sealer.  When the gut dries, it is fairly translucent, and the sealer makes it a little less opaque.

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Written by bethlab

January 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Mixed Media

3 Responses

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  1. Great work, Beth! And I really enjoyed the story behind it all!

    Ellen HH

    January 30, 2011 at 7:21 pm

  2. What a wonderful background story for your exhibit! It brings a little life to your dead pens (LOL!!!).

    Lisa Green

    January 31, 2011 at 4:15 am

  3. I love that Google has helpfully put an ad on the page: “PENS: Easily Search Through Our Wide Variety Of Pens And Order Online” then a link to an office supply place.

    Maybe the local OfficeXXX has space available for a gallery show…

    Tommy T

    February 13, 2011 at 5:54 pm


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