Thursday, January 29, 2009

I HEART Weevils

Really - they are very cute. What's that I hear you say?- a sneaky flour-eating little pest that deserve to be fumigated? Hush your mouth!
I'm not talking about that sort anyway. I'm talking jungle weevils, weevils as big as your thumb, weevils in spangly colours, Saturday-Night-Fever weevils, weevils that could put a mirror ball to shame.
The breadcrumb eating cupboard weevil is to these guys what Julie Andrews is to Boy George.
The jungle ones are a pest too but you wouldn't want to find one of these in your breadcrumbs. They wipe out fields of crops.

You know what I really love? Their noses. They have these big great hooters that can be almost as long as their bodies.
For a while I started collecting them. I was already purchasing papered butterflies and carded beetles from an ethical source in the States and the option of adding a Mr. Sparkles weevil to my order was just too tempting to resist. I built up a modest collection that ironically was eaten by museum beetle. A friend who found out I was collecting them and who is an origami obsessive made me a beautiful origami weevil which I still have (and which is included in the photos of favourite things).
Now I just draw weevils. I draw them the way they actually look (as best I can) and then I sometimes draw them in knickerbockers and wearing a smoking jacket.
The little guy above is called Eupholus. He's from Papau New Guinea.
I'm meant to be finishing roughs for a children's book about him. I got a mentorship with an editor from a publishing company and one of their illustrators. My story-book weevil doesn't live in the jungle. He lives in a Chocolate Wheaten Box mansion and is a food obsessed fop.
I guess what I'm doing right now is procrastinating writing about and drawing weevils when I should be writing about and drawing weevils.
It's amazing the lengths to which I'll go, really.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I used to own and run a scientific curiosity store called Wunderkammer, which means 'wonder chamber'. It was designed to look like a Victorian era museum with wooden shelves, lots of small drawers to open and cabinets that could be reached by a stepladder. The drawers and shelves were filled with scientific and medical instruments, fossils, models, butterflies and beetles, taxidermy and other ephemera. My friend Igor -yes, that is his real name- and I built the business including all the fittings and fixtures ourselves from cash earnings that we deemed surplus to requirements -the requirements being food, rent, booze, and cigarettes.
After a few years of the brief but heady financial highs and the long and dispiriting financial lows of retail obscurity we sold the business to a regular customer - an energetic and entrepreneurial older gentleman called Ray. Whenever Ray was in the store customers would approach him- distinguished, silver-haired gent that he was- to ask the price of this or that, or to request information about an item. Ray would shrug his shoulders apologetic and embarrassed and point them in the direction of me - the unlikely young red-head girl.
That business is still going (see
I have no regrets about selling Wunderkammer. When that door closed a whole batch of other doors swung open and now I'm making art, writing and illustrating books, managing a small arts company and have become a mother.
What I do miss about Wunderkammer is this: when you sit in a curiosity shop all day, chances are that something curious will happen.
Odd things, wonderful things, unpredictable and sometimes downright bizarre things happened in Wunderkammer if not on a daily basis, then at least once a week. Surprising things still happen to me now, but I am convinced that being in Wunderkammer probably tripled or quadrupled the odds.

Some examples:
Two regular customers meet - Conrad, the man in black, a wry and sometimes inscrutable mathematician and 'Very Impressive' whose name (changed by deed-poll) is utterly appropriate -a rainbow garbed giant, booming, jovial and queer as all get out.
'Very' develops an instant crush and asks me if Conrad is available. I tell him Conrad isn't gay but Very is undeterred until I mention that he is also colourblind.

A man walks into the store. He is loathsome. He offers to sell me the head of a Turkish soldier that he has in a velvet-lined box. He tells me that his great-grandfather shot the Turk during the war and smuggled the head back into the country as a souvenir. I assume he is delusional and tell him that even if he did have such a head not only would I not sell it, I would consider calling the police and reporting it. The next week the papers are abuzz with the scandal of a World War I Turkish soldier's skull that has been anonymously sent to the war museum. The papers allege that an Australian soldier had taken the skull as a souvenir and kept it in a velvet lined box in his wardrobe. The Turkish consulate are making a lot of noise and the department of vetrens affairs desperately trying to hose down the media frenzy around our 'digger's dirty laundry.

An elderly woman comes into the shop. She is clearly out of place and nervous.
" I'm sorry to bother you" she says. " I wasn't sure where else to go. My mother died recently - she was very old. We, our family that is, have been going through her things and.. well.. I found this her delicates drawer. Do you know what it is?"
This happened often. People brought things in to be identified. Sometimes they then sold me the objects. Other times they went away pleased with their newly identified curiosity.
The object fits in the palm of my hand. It is a very delicate little device that looks like a wishbone on the end of a spring. It is made of pure gold.
I give the woman a receipt for the object and tell her to come back in a day or two.
When she comes back I tell her that it is her mother's contraceptive device - a wishbone pessary - one of the very early forms of IUD. This is one of the most beautiful medical collectibles I have every seen. With every ounce of my being and every covetous collector's bone in my body I pray for her to sell it to me.
" Oh." she says. " Dear me - well, I can't have that"
" Would you like me to find out what the gold is worth?" I ask. " Lucky next door is a gold and silversmith."
"That would be very kind of you" she says.
I am reminded of Sei Shonagon who, in the tenth century, wrote in her pillow book of ' Things that make one's heart beat faster".
Be still my beating little greedy heart.