I fancy myself a collector of amazements. I am forever unearthing interesting objects to take home, or, at least photographing my non-portable finds. As you might expect, after several decades of adulthood, I’ve acquired an abundance of things! I have collections. Many different collections because I have diverse interests. There was a childhood giraffe phase that lingered well into adulthood. Mermaids, owls, polar bears, colored glass, feathers, carved walking sticks, shells and masks are timelessly fascinating. And rocks. We have lots and lots of rocks and pretty stones as our entire family enjoys them. I have rocks that I found on vacation when I was 11 years old, and I have passed the rock-hound DNA down to our kids. My husband likes to joke that I’d rather look for cool stones than shop for clothes. He knows me very well.

And just to enhance and intensify that avid collector streak…..

For several years, our family owned a gift boutique called “Beyond”. Our theme was “Intriguing objects beyond the ordinary” and we catered heavily to those with large imaginations. We were the kind of store where people could bring their kids, sit on the floor and try the beautiful wooden games or play with sand art. Dragon kites adorned the walls along with murals and a gallery of fantasy paintings. We sold a bit of anything and everything, but only those items that would compel you to stop and say, “Cool!”.

As head buyer for this shop, (aka: Super Happy Shopper), I was in my glory buying oodles of beautiful things. My hunting skills were honed and I grew quite selective (we won’t call it picky). This is where the title “Collector of Amazements” originated. I was bringing in lovely items from around the world and spent my days arranging treasures of every shape and size. What richness!

I didn’t expect it; but, as so often happens when you get what you think you want, I simply tired of all the stuff. It was fun for several years, but I grew a bit jaded. It became more difficult to find things that I hadn’t seen before or that really excited me. I grew tired of dusting everything! I will always cherish my personal pretties, but have lost the urge to acquire more…at least for now. We eventually moved on from the shop, and the family is now into different ventures. I do continue to honor the tradition of my collector ways, though, but in a different environment than the trade shows, craft fairs and antique malls of a few years ago.

Our current home is temporary while we build our new nest, so these days many of my collections and keepsakes are resting quietly in storage. It is a space issue. I simply had to downsize to only my most favorite things when we moved. (Because my most precious keepsakes still live with me, small house or not, I need to have my things scattered about to feel at home).

We live in a very little log cabin in the middle of acres and acres of pine forest. I’ve always had a fascination with “the woods” and tend to explore and wander about. I have reclaimed my childhood ways of loving my time out in nature, (we won’t call it being a hermit or introvert!), making friends with squirrels and trees, chatting with whispering streams and finding baby birds in their nests by ear. (and yes, sometimes I sing to the dogs. They seem to like it.)

.As you might have guessed, I also tend to bring home special things that just happened to call my name. Almost daily, Mother Nature gifts me with something that catches my eye and makes me whisper to myself, “Cool”! I bring these finds home to join my other bits and pieces that hold places of honor. Most of it has been found over the years, or gifted by those who love me most. Baskets, window sills, and antique glass dishes hold my current favorite collections.

Small discarded feathers. each perfect and beautiful in its own style. Interestingly shaped bits of wood, reminiscent of wizard wands. Tiny, perfectly formed spirals of snail-shell absent their previous owners.

Dried blossoms and seed pods from my little sister’s wedding bouquet. Framed photos of wild life encounters that will never be replicated. Stems of lavender picked from the forgotten plant I found by the old well and eventually nursed back to health. The absolute biggest pine cone I have ever seen. Smooth as egg river rocks and stones with holes through them, which we all know are windows to the land of fairy.

The memories tied to each of these objects are what make them precious. All are amazing in their perfect simplicity, but the unique quality of that particular feather is not its iridescent color, but the memory of the afternoon hike a few years ago when my husband found it on our trail and gifted it to me. The beautiful rocks and stones hold echoes of my children’s laughter from a perfect camping trip years ago. All I have to do is hold them, feeling them warm in my hand while long ago giggles from little children now grown reverberate through my heart and mind. The feeling never fades….it is always there. Anytime I wish I can live those days again in memory. (and anyone who knows me at all will tell you I am very sentimental!)

We all experience so much. The happenings that we sit around today and reminisce about with our family are simply amazing to me. Each one wonderful, rough, strange, hilarious or quirky. As busy as we are, when we look back we’ve packed an extraordinary amount of living into our lives. Reunions, once in a lifetime trips, disastrous vacations, comical near misses, concerts and circuses, medical scares, unplanned litters of puppies, and lovesick teenagers over to spend the night that just never go home…we’ve had all sorts of family adventures. (And they do say that adventures are often just misfortune viewed in hindsight!)

Each treasure I save is a poignant reminder of how much life I am living. I cherish the object to honor the experience. These objects of mine, not only are beautiful, but are daily symbols of how lucky I am to be here. Living this life…with this family…..in this place. I am so often overwhelmed with gratitude when tidying my house…dusting and arranging each gossamer thread of memory. What richness!

Some of my collections seem to be unintentional compilations of significant events. Several of my most memorable adventures can not be tied to a single object that I can keep on my windowsill. These experiences are given life by my brush and immortalized in color. My ‘collection gene’ often shows up in my artwork as my way of preserving small slices of time. Mental freeze frames that are incredibly filled with meaning rendered and distilled down into a simple image. They’re fun to paint and I love to brainstorm with several ideas and see how they all fit together. It is always interesting to see which ones make the cut!

I’ve now done a few Collection paintings. (I call them “Curios”, as in the old-fashioned Cabinet of Curiosities.) The first still hangs in my home and is an homage to our North Dakota childhood under blue prairie skies. My husband and I selected several scenes that were meaningful to us, and I then combined them with scenes from our grown up love affair with the Idaho mountains It took me months and is made up of 18 different images. It is a record of our marriage and all we have done in our lifetime together. I’ll never sell it. My heart is in it.

The second Collection painting was a commission from a hometown classmate (and long-lost cousin) to commemorate his North Dakota roots. I really fell in love with the Curio concept during this project. Planning and putting it all together was like creating the perfect soup….a dash of nostalgic family windmill, a pinch of hard-working farm boy, a large dose of sunset mixed with endless fields ….all his requested images had to meld perfectly to give the flavor that I remembered as “North Dakota”. It was incredibly entertaining and I am very proud of how it turned out. (and he loved it!) I couldn’t wait to try it again on scenes of my own choosing.

Over the last few years, I’ve again been playing alchemist with sentiment and life’s incredible happenings. This current painting, which I’ve titled “Sensory Perception” is the latest curio collection of my personal amazements. Some may see the special and amazing linked only to large and important things. But I’ve learned to see the astonishing everywhere, and especially like to watch for the tiny and overlooked.

Small miracles are happening around us every day. We’re usually too caught up in the sticky webs of our own making to pay attention. But the miracles are there, whether you notice them or not. Every minute of every day, something miraculous happens somewhere. The moment we remember to stop and look up from life’s tiny details , we are awed by the overflowing sights, sounds, and experiences that are offered to us on a silver platter. This life is continually a feast for both the senses and the emotions. We humans do like to taste it all. And the world just keeps loading the buffet line.

Our perception of what constitutes a miracle is a source of our individuality. Some of the biggest things in my world may be quite invisible in yours. It is up to each one of us how we want to view things…miracle, serendipity or happenstance? We are all such different snowflakes. What we feel and how we feel it make us even more individual.

Yet, we all basically go through the same life, experiencing the difficult, the beautiful and the strange. These occurrences then birth a myriad of very unique emotions that we sift through, process or repress and bury…depending on the circumstances, time frame, and personal inclination. No matter how you deal with them, these feelings will forever be tied to particular images, and triggered by certain sights, smells or sounds.

This painting is a collage of some of mine. The feelings I experienced are now forever linked to this color representation of the last few years. All are firmly embedded in the paint. There is a lot…if you look closely. All those messy human emotions and life events that we wade through…. Intense Joy, Deepest Sorrow, The expectation of New Life, The Dread of being Stuck, New Growth, Loss of Time and Direction, Brilliant Creatures of the Depths, Fluttering Wings in the Air, Timeless Love, Enduring Skies, Bright Blossoms, Heart heavy Tears, (or maybe Life Giving Rain?)

The images chosen combine to form a mental snapshot that evokes voices and moments from my life. A visual journal that instantly brings back so much…..Another collection of Amazements.

And I’m still grateful to be living this life…with this family…in this place.

Theresa Stahl

June 7, 2017

to take a closer look at “Sensory Perception” (the latest curio painting): https://www.owlsflight.com/?p=2067