Even though the missus and I do not currently hold job titles that indicate we will be paid for creativity, we remain artists. We are used to using our intelligence to take everything we go through and everything we own and trying to turn it into some form of creative expression. A fun part of our current de-cluttering project is re-purposing material we have acquired but do not need. In the last entry I mentioned using award trophies as coat hooks. This week we re-framed an expensive item that used to hold great significance for women of an earlier generation.
Mary’s mother died a long time ago. Mary owns and cherishes possessions that held meaning for the both of them. It’s comforting to have totems of our ancestors, but some of what we inherit will inevitably conflict with our current system of values. Mary and I do eat animal flesh, but we eat a lot less of it than our parents did. We also use some animal products, like leather goods, but we are more conscious that another being died providing the product than our parents were. Value is relative. Things are priced and traded based not only upon concrete things like scarcity (supply and demand) but also upon the symbolism we affix to the totem.
Back in the mists of antiquity, humans used to kill and convert animal skins and feathers into clothing to shield against the weather. I think that’s justifiable under the requirements of survival. However, we have since become more sophisticated in the technology of raiment and can make what we need from plants, and use processes that don’t require killing, such as wool-gathering and silk manufacture. We can even get feathers without killing, and can make synthetic imitations as good or better than the original animal pelts. Faux fur costs less and is more durable. But enough of this philosophic beating around the bush. The problem we had to solve was what to do with Mom’s mink coat.
Ah, mink coats. They were once the epitome of mass-marketed glamour in the first half of the 20th century. Mink was worn by film stars, fashion models and rich people. Ordinary women dreamt of being given one, and ordinary men believed a woman given one would be theirs forever. There’s an episode of I Love Lucy about confusion over a rented mink coat. It’s an item still worn by hip-hop idols and clueless sex symbols.
There’s nothing unique about the coats of these inquisitive little weasels. They were just cheaper and easier to trap and hunt than beaver, fox or bear. There used to be an aquatic variety of mink, but we hunted them to extinction a hundred years ago.
Despite the fact that she looks nice naked inside it, Mary doesn’t need a mink coat. We talked about the different disposal possibilities. Give it to the homeless or a charity? We decided that for us, that would represent a kind of symbolic oppression. Are you one of society’s have-nots? Fine, here’s a fur – now go find a cave to live in.
After thinking about the history of how mink has been used in movies, I realized the coat would still be useful and appropriate as costume. Mary called up our local community players, the Key City Public Theater. They understood our intent immediately, and were thrilled to have the donation. Some day Mom’s mink coat will adorn characters in the plays of Noel Coward or the comedies of Kaufman and Hart. And I don’t mind seeing minks in the movies. They are symbols of another time and another place, the rags-to-riches America of celluloid dreams.