Ms. Blair recently visited Esse Purse Museum and to her surprise, she recognized a specific handbag in the collection. Though it is not uncommon for visitors to find a purse or item that sparks a memory, Marilyn realized that the iconic basket-style Caro Nan handbag held more than just a memory; something more tactile. I asked Marilyn to share her story and personal connection to this piece in the museum:
I was delighted to find a Caro-Nan basket purse with the village painted on it. It makes me remember a lot about the days when I sat at my kitchen table with my little girls and friends playing on the floor nearby. I got that job [hand painting the Caro Nan’s scenery] to make some money without leaving my girls, so it was a nice thing for me. The basket displayed [in the Esse Purse Museum] is the second style of basket ordered from Basketville Vermont. Though the purse on display in the Esse Museum is not a purse that I painted, I have just looked up Basketvillle Vermont and there is a website with a collection of products through the years. One of the house purses is shown and I do believe I painted that one. However, it is hard to tell. We each had our own little flare, but we did not sign them. We painters had no part in the lining or personalizing.
The owners of the project were Carolyn McDaniels and Nancy Steele. I would go to their homes and pick up one or two dozen purses at a time and they would give me little baby food jars of paint. I would first paint the houses around the basket. Then a second coat. Next step was painting a space for a sign on each house so that they could later be personalized according to where they were to be sold. After all that dried, then I had a pen staff and an ink tip to dip into a bottle of India Ink. With that ink I outlined the houses, decorated the roofs, shutters and doors. It was fun! After that, I would paint the grass around the bottom. After a few years, there were baskets with larger slats, so the painting went a little quicker. Many times, I took them to the driveway to dry so that I could take them back to Carolyn and get some more purses.
When the purses were finished, I would pile my girls (and whoever was there with them) and we went on the trip to take the purses back and get some more. One funny remembrance is that it was long before seat belts. My youngest would sit on top of my purse in the car so she could see out. I always had some going. I did it for years and years and I have one of the older purses which I painted for me.