Sometimes there are catchwords in families, mysterious little monikers that get passed down through the generations until nobody remembers from whence they came. By the time one is old enough to realize that calling a salad fork a bitkibble is not universal, there is no one to ask why it got called that in the first place. For my grandmother, it was “vorpal”, which is to say, an incomprehensibly odd individual. “Eh, what a vorpal that one is!” she’d chuckle. Since my grandmother’s speech was peppered with Yiddish despite the fact that she did not have a Jewish bone in her body, I chalked it up to that and almost didn’t inquire, but since her breakfast dessert (coffee and pound cake) always put her in a chatty mood, inquire I did. “Oh that was that crazy Beatrice and her lady friend”, she said, waving her fork around. This was getting better.
When the 17 year old Miss Beatrice von Vorpal got off a ship in New York City in 1850, the plan was for her to be someone’s governess. Apparently, Beatrice had other ideas. Fascinated by natural history and science, she lasted only 2 years in her post before insinuating herself in low level positions in the Acquisitions departments of a series of museums. While her enthusiasm for macabre pickled medical specimens and insect collections raised a few eyebrows, no one could deny that she had a flair for spotting the unusual. Upon making her way out west in search of a promotion, she made the acquaintance of a certain Miss Elsinore Mittmutter, widely held to be the founder of modern taxidermy. The two became fast friends, and as many would whisper, quite a bit more. As Miss Mittmutter was a woman of means, they began to travel, procuring all manner of oddities and antiquities from the ossuaries of Bohemia to the bazaars of Burma, shipping them all to their home base in a creaking Victorian mansion in my hometown. When the house began to burst its seams, the ladies decided to open a shop (or who knows? Maybe they needed a tax write off) and Von Vorpal’s Curiosity Shoppe was born. “Oh, it scared the bejeezus out of us kids”, my grandmother remembered. “Crazy stuffed dead things, scary stuff in jars, bugs”(she gave a little shudder) “you would have loved it,” she said, with an affectionate twinkle in my direction. “She had some interesting items too – genie bottles, coral and shells, daggers, magic spells – but of course we only paid attention to the nasties”. She sliced off another slice of cake. “Oh and that Beatrice, she was fierce, too. She was already an old lady when I was kid and she wore old fashioned dresses and these wacky hats with antlers and real birds on them – oh my!” My grandmother laughed so hard she inhaled some cake crumbs and had a coughing fit. Dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief, she continued, “But they say she was a real beauty when she was young, the both of them. Elsinore, too. But what fella wants a girl who likes dead things?” She gave me a pointed look. “So don’t be a vorpal, my little cupcake. You’re too pretty for that.” And she toddled off for her nap before I could find out whatever became of Beatrice and Elsinore, or point out that girls who like dead things might not want a fella, exactly.
This 8” x 10” x 3/4” original collage depicting Beatrice von Vorpal, Purveyor of Curiosities, has been constructed on a handpainted stretched canvas of painstakingly handcut vintage images and black handmade art paper and is accented by stamped brass corners, brass rivets, silk trim and small crystals.
This original artwork and story are copyright Ramona Szczerba 2010. Copyright to this material is in no way transferable with the sale of this item. The buyer is not entitled to any reproduction rights – neither image nor story can be reproduced without my express written permission. Thanks!