Cloth Paper Scissors went on the road recently to attend the Brimfield Antique Flea Market, an outdoor market so enormous that it’s impossible to cover the entire thing in one day, much less two. The goal was to find props for upcoming photo shoots for the magazine and to see what other treasures could be found. And by treasures, I mean stuff to make art. Because this place is a mixed-media artist’s paradise. You can also find great studio storage pieces here, such as antique boxes, baskets, cabinets, and jars, for when you get tired of translucent plastic.
I set my alarm that morning for quarter past the crack of dawn and got on the road before the commuters were even awake. The flea market is a good hour and 15 minutes from where I live, and traffic in the small town of Brimfield, Massachusetts gets backed up early. So if you want a parking place and donuts fresh out of the fryer, you have to drive bleary-eyed as the sun’s rising.
Did I say donuts? Yes, donuts. I joke that my real motivation for attending Brimfield is the donuts, but I’m only half joking, and honestly, not joking at all. Faddy’s starts making their apple cider donuts around 8:00 a.m., and by then there’s a pretty good line of people lured by the smell of dough and cinnamon sugar. Carb-fueling is essential for flea market shopping, and if you don’t believe me, you have never been to a flea market, and you have never eaten donuts. These were amazing. I inhaled two and then maybe another half, but I think I also went into a sugar-induced fugue state, so I don’t really remember.
Armed with a ginormous tote bag and a wallet filled with small bills, I hit the market. Vendors set up on each side of the long main road, but the booths go back and back and back from the street, allowing you to get lost in a maze of incredible stuff: vintage furniture, clothing, books, jewelry, textiles, prints, photographs, dishware, gadgets, décor pieces…and more. Much, much more.
I always have an open mind when I come to Brimfield, or any flea market, because you never know what you’re going to find. I enjoy seeing the same vendors and the particular pieces they bring, but there are always a few wild cards that surprise me. My first stop is usually a huge tent shared by several vendors; one in particular brings great lace and fabric scraps, and sometimes vintage sewing patterns and old books. This time she had a bowl filled with vintage metal charms, and at six for a dollar I couldn’t resist.
Down the road I found these great vintage wooden crates—a little too large for what I needed, but they would look great in a studio, no?
Another tent had vintage wooden thread spools of every sort—more than I have ever seen in my lifetime. Who knew there were so many different types of spools? Wouldn’t these be great for assemblage?
I couldn’t resist getting a few of these, still wound with gleaming silk thread in every color imaginable. They may get a chance at stardom in the pages of Cloth Paper Scissors soon!
Collecting ephemera is a large part of my reason for living, and one Brimfield vendor had something that made my heart skip a few beats: vintage die cuts, likely meant for diner-type restaurants. An entire table was filled with larger-than-life- illustrations of pie slices, scoops of ice cream, frosty glasses of beer, banana split sundaes, and more. These are referred to as new old stock; items that are vintage, but were never sold, and are usually in pristine condition.
There were smaller pieces, such as vintage butter containers, coffee bags, and popcorn bags, but I’ll be honest—there was so much of it that it became overwhelming, and I ended up not buying anything. Not even these huge sheets of uncut Monopoly money. Forgive me, flea market gods, for I have sinned by not purchasing. Can you imagine making monoprints on this? Or covering books with it? Ugggh, now I want to go back.
I knew this cabinet would be light years away from my budget, but I admired it anyway. The piece likely came from a hardware store and was used for holding screws and bolts. The drawers are triangular, making it impractical—but fantastic—art supply storage.
I sometimes run across tempting items that I have no idea what to do with, but I purchase them anyway. Case in point: these rolls of wool scraps. At $1 each, there is no way I could resist. They’ll be great for fabric scraps for photos, and are also terrific for fabric collages. I might felt some of the strips as well. At the very least they’ll make great funky ribbons for gift boxes.
My philosophy about flea market purchases is fairly simple: I only buy what I have a positive visceral reaction to. If I’m on the fence, it means I will probably never use this thing, either as a prop or in artwork. It’s that simple. The times I’ve ignored my inner hoarder who thrills at the sight of a 1950s-era Montgomery Ward catalog, I’ve sorely regretted it.
One thing I never knew was available on the market until I started going to flea markets are old tin ceiling tiles. They come in various sizes, and, if you’re lucky, they’ll have great patina on them. These are terrific surfaces for photographing books, jewelry, and sometimes fabric pieces. They may not look like much here, but get these babies in front of a camera, and magic happens. Yes, I got one.
The items in the last tent I visited were tailor made for mixed-media artists. Tables were piled with vintage metal tags, skeleton keys, board game pieces, metal numbers, and more. I got a few large metal numbers and some tags (we always seem to need embellishments for props), then called it a day. After walking 12,000 steps I needed a break—and maybe another donut.
Flea market season is almost over here in the Northeast, but you don’t have to miss out! We’re giving away five prize packages filled with my flea market finds, plus the September/October issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Head over to our Facebook page for all the details!
If you love vintage items, here’s some great inspiration for how to use it in your mixed-media art: