Treasures lost and FOUND in Kerrytown

Marissa McClain/Daily
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By Jennifer Xu, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 1, 2010

Correction: This story original stated the FOUND gallery was on 4th Street. It is on 5th Street.

The historic Kerrytown Market District has long been a treasure box of hidden passageways and locally made artwork. Nowhere is this atmosphere better encapsulated than at the FOUND Gallery, a hybrid gift shop, art repository and antique collectibles store peddling “Whimsical Art & Vintage Treasures” housed in 5th Street bazaar’s second floor.

Peek into one of the drawers and a whole mess of tidbits comes spilling out: vintage milk bottle caps from Oberlin Farms, buttons capped in test tubes with ribbons twisting around the tops, packages of Swiss watch springs that quiver when you pick them up. On top of a creaky vintage stove with knobs the size of pool balls, jewelry made from worn Scrabble letters and typewriter keys intermingle with baskets and bags cross weaved with old issues of the defunct Ann Arbor News.

For the past five years, FOUND has settled into a comfortable niche market of old and new alike, both harking back to items from decades past and providing an eclectic and creative means to recycle them. Local artists and curious tourists have embraced this mixture with zeal, eager to experience and craft a unique piece of history, says owner Mary Cambruzzi.

“It’s almost like, I just bring in stuff that I think is cool, and then these people buy it and make art out of it,” she said.

Cambruzzi founded the store in 2005 after a brief stint running booths in other people’s antique shops, but her interest in vintage antiques and collectibles started at a young age — though more out of necessity than pleasure.

“I was part of a big family; we had a lake house that was not too far away from where I grew up,” she said. “It was the kind of place where you could find old wicker furniture, but the cushions were so worn that mom would make new cushions for them. And then for the parties, she always needed more chairs, so she’d buy chairs at auction sales.

“When I went off the college, they didn’t have places like Target where you could buy stuff real cheap,” she added. “So my grandpa went to an auction sale and bid on the stuff that I needed.”

Today, many Cambruzzi’s finds still come from the estate sales and antique malls of her Illinois hometown, partly out of nostalgia and partly out of consideration for her customers.

“I find that I really don’t want to buy that much in the (Ann Arbor) area because some of my customers are also into the estate sale business,” she said. “I don’t want to be the only person grabbing all this stuff at cheap prices and then selling it back to people who already saw it at X estate sale. So in general, I go out of the area to buy.”

In addition to its miscellaneous collection of discovered objects, FOUND also provides its customers with newer items such as soy lotions and paper products. However, the store is perhaps most notable for its diverse assortment of candles.

“I think we have the best candle collection in the area,” Cambruzzi said, picking up a scarlet bird with a wick on top of its back. On the shelf below it, more candles are scattered around: a row of three green peas squirming in their pods, twisty birthday candles in the shape of micelles, fragrant asparagus tapers imported from France, cylindrical pillars from Charlevoix that glow from the inside when lit.

FOUND is also known for featuring several works from local artists in the area, who take recycled items from rummage sales or antique malls and redesign them to their own purposes. For instance, jewelry designer Sue Rosengard, who ordinarily designs hand-blown jewelry for the high-end art gallery Selo/Shevel, has fashioned for the store a series of green, budget-friendly earrings crafted out of old sheet music. Local artist Margaret Shaw creates re-purposed socks out of hand-painted thrift-store sweaters by re-knitting them on antique sock machines.

“I like to use old things in my art. The sock machine kind of goes hand in hand with reusing things that already exist,” Shaw said.

Shaw initially began learning on the sock machine with commercialized wool, but made the plunge into hand-painted sweaters when looking for new inspiration for her artwork.

“It was somewhat of a learning process because the sweaters have to be taken apart very carefully, because their knitting is a one-element process. So when you’re taking them apart, you have to make sure you’re not cutting that strand,” she said.

Another surprising contributor to FOUND’s repository of knickknacks is Terri Sarris, a lecturer in Screen Arts and Cultures who designs her own “found object assemblages”– 3-D collages made out of letter scraps, rusty nails and miniature figurines.

“(Found art) is like telling a story in a little box,” Sarris said. “A box is a really compelling shape and form because it’s this concise little theater that you build a story around. I’m also a filmmaker, and I find a lot of similarity in terms of editing and putting things together when telling a story.”

Sarris finds inspiration in all walks of life, from planets to stars in the sky to birds — even French martyrs.

“For a while I was doing a Joan of Arc series,” she said. “I had this little children’s book about Joan of Arc and it told this story of her hearing voices, and then going and fighting for the French, and then being burned at the stake. So I found little things that represented those various stages of her life to me.”

Among these artists’ diverse found art endeavors, Cambruzzi maintains that the most popular items are John Marchello’s silverware bud vases. These slim vases are made out of a hollowed knife handle with a delicately bent teaspoon as the base. There's just enough room to hold a single-stemmed tea rose. Before he turned his talents to silverware shaping, Marchello used to design metal hockey and wrestling headgear for the University's hockey team back when Red Berenson played for it. Marchello also designs silverware angels, fork wall hooks and spoon rings for the store.

“I think part of the reason that they’re so popular is because he writes ‘Made in Ann Arbor’ and dates them on the bottom,” Cambruzzi said. “For people who are visiting, what better way to bring back a piece of the city than to buy one of these vases?”

Due to the store’s limited space, Cambruzzi must always be selective about what she brings in.

“I never want to have too much jewelry or too much old stuff or too much new stuff, because the whole premise of the store is this mix of the old and the new and things that are made from recycled, found objects,” she said.

This premise even extends to the objects that she finds.

“Two different times I have found cabinets that are made of old wooden cheese boxes,” she said. “Back then, Velveeta cheese came in (Velveeta-sized boxes), and in the Depression-era magazines, they have directions on how to turn those kinds of boxes into something to store all your screws in. I’ve had one that had four drawers down and six drawers across of just cheese boxes in a cabinet.

“I love things like that probably better than anything, things that were made from discards at that time that end up serving a different purpose.”

Indeed, it is FOUND’s unique mixture of vintage knickknacks and art recycled from them that have melded the present, past and imagination into one unforgettable treasure hunt.

“My store isn’t really about selling old vintage stuff; it’s more about having that element that is able to connect generations,” Cambruzzi said. “For instance, these spoon rings. They used to be popular when I was a teenager. Young people come in and buy them because they think they’re cool or because they want to be green, but their mothers come in and say, ‘Oh, I remember wearing those!’ There really is that cross-generational link in this store.”