Before the doors of the Uncommon Objects shop open for the day in Austin, TX’s bustling and diverse South Congress neighborhood, an intriguing cast of characters moves in a flurry of creative energy. Former bank tellers, animal scientists, Peace Corps members, dollar store CEOs, set builders, art gallery owners, magicians, architects, folk artists, tarot readers, professors and chefs work in concert. They carry medical charts, Italian tole, Navajo turquoise, mineral specimens, fraternal memorabilia, antique Kodak cameras, tramp art, industrial furniture and schoolhouse maps to their booths, creating artistic vignettes. Every nook and cranny of this unique shop is filled with antique curios, vintage treasures, folk art, timeworn furniture, parlor crafts, timeless jewels and beautiful designs — a breathtaking museum of the past’s unheard whispers. Here, rare beauty is an everyday thing.
Steve Wiman and Ed Gage opened the doors of Uncommon Objects in 1991. Eventually, Ed moved on to help create the amazing Marburger Farm Antique Show in Round Top, TX. However, Steve, along with over 20 dedicated vendors, has spent the last 25 years on a quest to find unique pieces that fit the shop’s one-of-a-kind aesthetic. Uncommon Objects’ vendors shop all across the United States — and all over the world — to seek out the unusual. Over the years, Steve, who earned his MFA in studio art from the University of Texas, has served as a creative director of sorts, teaching the staff about color, texture and patina in visual display shifts, steering the store toward a cohesive visual approach, despite the vast array of vendors’ styles.
“One of the things that’s so interesting about the shop is the diversity of personalities. In walking through the store, you can see the various personalities of the vendors who occupy all the different booths,” says Mandy Lyne, jewelry antiques dealer at Uncommon Objects. “From booth to booth, you see stylistic differences from talented creatives. People are attracted to all sorts of styles, and the subjective nature of the artists really shines in their displays.”
Working at Uncommon Objects is like entering a porthole into an unexpected and magical land that sparks the imagination and sometimes lights the warm flicker of introspection. “When I first started working at the shop, I had to pack up a full human anatomical skeleton for a customer, bone by bone, into its original wooden box in the front window,” says Mandy. “It was such a strange experience to think about life and death in a window display with the whole world walking by.” Mandy studied Japanese and politics in college, but after one visit to the store, she fell in love with antiques and promptly got a job there. After a couple of years learning the ins and outs of antiques, she decided to hone in on her passion — jewelry. She now exclusively buys and sells vintage and antique jewelry for the shop and designs the jewelry display for all 25 vendors.
“We get to see so many beautiful things,” says Mandy. “Not a day goes by at the shop when we don’t bring up some item to show each other and marvel at the color or texture or curves.” Mandy says it is tough to pinpoint the most beautiful or rare item the store has ever seen. “The rarest item has probably slipped through my hands without me even knowing it,” she says.
It takes a truly exceptional item to tempt a vendor to keep it from the store. Mandy’s favorite items are tramp art boxes — a style of folk art from the early 20th century, where discarded cigar boxes are whittled and stacked into geometric shapes and pyramid reliefs — which she collects. “They remind me of spaceships. No matter how much I sit and stare at all the hand-carved chip edges, I can’t quite wrap my head around it,” says Mandy of the tramp art boxes she so adores. “I’m always amazed by the amount of work people put into them. No one has time-consuming hobbies like that anymore. My favorite one is a simple pyramid box with each layer ever-so-slightly smaller than the next. I think its maker must have had a beautiful mind.”
And therein lies the beauty of Uncommon Objects. There’s an element of playful rule-breaking to the shop. These are the folks who daydreamed while the teacher was talking. These are the people who eschew the “common” and set out on long journeys to root out the rare, the overlooked and outcast items and to celebrate their beauty. These are the imaginative seekers and creative souls who bring these lost treasures to light, where they can adorn homes, start conversations and allow imaginations to wander into new worlds.
Uncommon Objects in located at 1512 South Congress Ave., Austin, TX, 78704. Hours are 11 a.m to 7 p.m., seven days a week, and until 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, call (512) 442-4000 or visit uncommonobjects.com. And follow Uncommon Objects on Instagram at @uncommonobjects and @uncommonjewels.
Thank you to Matthew Whalen of Whalenography for the terrific images of Uncommon Objects!
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