Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Artists of the Week - Ruth Bayard and Nora Floyd of A Checkered Past

Posted 4/8/2012 10:49:00 PM

In a cozy studio space behind Momo’s Bistro in Columbia, Ruth Bayard and Nora Floyd sift through a treasure trove of beads, ribbons, antique watch fobs and vintage bags. The two have been friends for years. Fueled by their passion for all things old, they started their business, A Checkered Past, with an eye towards breathing new life into old handbags and jewelry, transforming outdated accessories with good bones into contemporary, timeless, wearable works of art.

I recently sat down with them in their studio to talk about their passion for antiques, their friendship and their shared love of art and fashion.

Q: Tell me about your background and how the two of you met.

Nora: Both of us are the products of military families – Army on my side, Navy on Ruth’s – and we both moved to Columbia … and we met, actually, through a friend doing volunteer work at Children’s Hospital. And we hit it off, formed a friendship and had an idea to do something at a booth in one of the antique malls and waited for our oldest child to get to a certain age before we could … go forward.

Ruth: Nora and I … were always moving. So your mother’s always getting rid of your favorite teddy bear or your favorite anything. So Nora and I both arrived at adulthood with nothing. That’s what happens in the military … So I think that’s what’s drawn us to old things, to history, other people’s history. It’s nice to be around something that was somewhere else, that was touched. We’re trying to stay connected to that. We both have a real appreciation for “old.”

Q: How long have you been doing this? Can you talk about the evolution of your business?

Nora: I think we started easily 15 … 18 years ago? Because our girls are now 30 and 31 and they were in first grade when we started. We love the old garden pots and statuary and iron pieces so we started doing architectural artifacts and would kind of schlep our stuff to different shows but primarily feed Columbia Antique Mall down on Blossom and Huger, and we did that for a good number of years. Then it started getting harder to find, a little more expensive, but our love of old and rescuing … I mean if we were in the car, much to our children’s chagrin, and, it was like, “Look at that thing on the street! Let’s go get it!” “Mom! No!” The kids are diving under the seat.

Ruth: Nora and I both have a way of looking at something and saying, “Oh no, that’s not what this should be used for, it should be used for so and so.” We just look at things differently. We’re always trying to not let it be what it is. It just needs to go down another path. Don’t you think?

Nora: Yeah. And then with the pocketbooks … our friend was turning 40. She was a master gardener and has a garden consulting business and we did a pocketbook for her covered in all sorts of flowers on a straw bag.

Ruth: It was just fun, you know? It was just a whim -- we didn’t know what to get her.

Nora: And then it was like “Whoa! Where did you get that?”

Ruth: Everybody wanted one! Then we get in deeper and deeper. We found a source in New York for new bags – just basic forms – and so we tried some of those for dress up. We both had taken some trips and brought ribbons and things back from Europe and wherever we could find things and just started putting those together. And now that we have accumulated as many things as we have now we feel like we’ve got some go-to things. We’ve kind of gone into a niche with the vintage bags.

Nora: It’s really been a journey…

Q: Where do you find all of these beautiful things?

Nora: Estate sales, auctions, garage sales on the street, friends who will pass on old handbags saying “You guys can do something with this…”

Ruth: Things are from everywhere. These are from an African trader in a flea market…

Q: You clearly have a shared aesthetic and a shared vision. What do you think you have in common and what qualities do you have that are different from each other?

Nora: I think our background is definitely a major common ground.

Ruth: Travel. Nora lived in Germany, had an opportunity to live overseas. We both travel (not as much as we would like to) … I think you and I are both drawn to unusual things.

Nora: Yes, and we both love the arts.

Ruth: We love things with a story.

Nora: We probably have more things in common than not.

Ruth: Nora’s a very fine craftsperson … she’s very detailed. I’m more of a…

Nora: Bigger picture.

Ruth: Big picture kind of person … in that way we’re different … Nora’s very organized and exacting. I’m a little looser on all fronts.

Nora: Sometimes it can be a little Oscar and Felix in here because I’ll come in here…

Ruth: She’ll want to clean it up and I’m like, “Come on!”

Nora: I’ll say, ‘I can’t work here! I don’t know where anything is,’ …it’s like the whole workshop someone just went like this, tossed it up in the air and let it land where it did. I’ll be the proverbial Felix and I can get testy.

Ruth: But somehow we can work together. We’ve been friends a long time.

Q: How would you describe the ideal woman who would wear your bags or jewelry?

Nora: Someone who has enough confidence in herself. Someone who’s a risk taker and can step out of the box and feel very comfortable … in an Anthropologie look or a very contemporary big city look. It’s just having the confidence to go with it.

Q: What is the next thing for you?

Ruth: I think that we need to sell some of our ware. (Both women laugh.)

Nora: We’re trying to get on a regular schedule. We have a tendency to be a little “Hello! Bye-bye!” and then we won’t be in here for 4 or 5 weeks. Then someone will call and say, “Hey, we’re getting ready to do a show, do you guys have anything?” and then we’re in here eight hours a day, four days in a row. We’ll leave at five, come back at 6:30 with a bottle of wine and work until 10:30. We create better when we have consistency.

Q: I always like to ask our artists for some advice about traveling and you both seem to take a lot of inspiration from the places that you travel. So if someone were coming to visit South Carolina where would you send them to be inspired?

Nora: Oh, gosh, I think our art museum is about as good as it gets.

Ruth: I do too, and I think 701 Whaley and [Gallery] 80808 

Nora: If you are into the arts, Columbia is a hidden treasure.

Ruth: It really is … it’s a very, very nice arts scene here. Our beaches are wonderful. Nora spends a lot of time at Edisto – and the smaller towns are quite interesting, Walterboro.

Nora: The Riverwalk and the walk in West Columbia and Congaree Park.

Ruth: The Nickelodeon Theatre.

Nora: And Trustus.

Ruth: And I love the All-Local Farmers Market at Whaley … that’s a fun thing.

Nora: There are so many things to do and I don’t even take advantage of what there is to do.

For more information about A Checkered Past email Nora Floyd at norafloydsc@aol.com.