Finding Enid with LOVE is an anthropological project to study and celebrate American folk artist and fashion designer Enid Collins, as well as how people live and have lived with her work (she referred to this collectively as "Collinsiana"). Through academic research methods such as interviews and document analysis, as well as new, informal practices such as the story-sharing Community section of this website, I aim to collect and clarify information in pursuit of establishing an anthropological record of Collins works. I also work to educate buyers, sellers, collectors, students and other academics about Enid Collins, her works and how to identify, restore and care for vintage pieces.
In 2011, I took a trip back to Chicago, where I had lived in my 20s, and revisited old haunts in Wrigleyville and Wicker Park. I couldn’t tell you which, but I walked into some vintage shop and there it was: an Enid Collins “LOVE” box bag. The jewels. The colors. The sense of humor. On a box bag. This odd little object wasn’t just a purse or some piece of kitsch. It was beautiful and alive. It was art as experience. And it just made me happy. As Enid might say, “It was LOVE at first sight.”
I picked it up for a closer look and saw the “Collins of Texas” inscription. “Who is this?!” I wondered. The shopkeeper told me what she knew about Enid Collins, which wasn’t much. I bought “LOVE” for $180, a “Glitterbugs” bag for just $15 and headed home.
As much as I loved my new finds, I didn’t buy more until we put on a folk-art show at Manifest Art Gallery. I started browsing eBay and Etsy and ended up with about 50. Most were in rough shape and almost all were missing jewels. I tried replacements from craft shops, but quickly realized that the low-quality mock jewels available today are no substitute for the vintage acrylics and glass jewels Enid used. I searched eBay and purchased some lots of authentic vintage jewels but, just my luck, the colors or shapes I needed weren’t among them. I bought more lots and lucked into buying a shoe-box full of about 4,000, a stash a granddaughter of a former Collins employee had nearly forgotten about. Eventually, I began buying canvas totes in irreparable condition to cannibalize for jewels.
All of my wrong turns and dead-ends had a hidden benefit: they forced me to look closer at details, to revisit research, to collect and analyze information with critical thinking. In other words, to study Enid Collins. I was developing an eye for jewel patterns, color combinations and periods. I was learning about Enid Collins herself. I was also unconsciously applying my academic training in anthropology and archeology, a method that was gradually transforming my personal project of fleeting vision--I don’t think I’d ever call it a “hobby;” I’m too intense for that--into a professional process. I wasn’t just buying purses. I was doing “purse anthropology.”