I Don’t Know Art but I Know I Like Vintage Purses How This Writer Became a Museum Curator

by Wendy Dager

The imaginary handwriting was on the virtual wall. Or more precisely, the end of days for traditional newspapers began as soon as social media became the preferred form of receiving information.

This has resulted in round after round of staff layoffs nationwide at newspapers large and small. Some freelancers, like myself, survived for a while because our services were still needed as the newsrooms emptied. We’re inexpensive labor. Corporate doesn’t have to provide us with benefits such as 401(k)s and health care. And we’re dependable. At least, I was dependable, getting steady assignments to write crime blotters, real estate stories, entertainment pieces, and “advertorials” for special sections.

Then they stopped calling. But I’m a cockroach—a colorful one with pink hair and vintage skirts—and I’ve weathered a few career nukes. I’m one of those weirdly adaptable writers who’s done a lot of different types of work. In addition to newspaper articles and advertorials, I had a biweekly opinion column for sixteen years, wrote greeting-card copy, button and keychain slogans, magazine articles, video and flash animation scripts, press releases, ad copy, corporate newsletters and blog posts, a couple of novels, and, most recently, piles of SEO copy for an online company. I’ve always said, “When one door slams shut, another might open a little, so you better wedge your foot in there while you can.”

About three years ago, I anticipated losing my main source of income—the newspaper for which I’d freelanced since 1998—so I thought about what I’d like to do instead. Sure, it still says “writer” on my tax return and I’m not going to stop writing for money as long as someone will have me, but…

It’s time for something different.

Besides working as a writer, I am a collector. I have an enormous collection of vintage clothing, jewelry, shoes, hats, and purses. Lots and lots of purses. Too many purses. As my vintage purse collection grew, I began thinking they’d make a great exhibit. In 2014 I got a certificate in Art Museum and Gallery Studies online from California State University, East Bay, with the intention of starting my own purse museum. Don’t laugh—there are three in the world: the Esse Purse Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas; the Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam, Netherlands; and the Simone Handbag Museum in Seoul, South Korea. Purses are portable works of art. They can be beautiful. Breathtaking. Scenic. Silly. Whimsical. And they have an enormous fan base.

As a native Californian, I was smitten with the idea of establishing a West Coast purse museum. Lots of folks who have talent in one form of art find they can do something else with equal aplomb. For instance, there are plenty of famous actors who are accomplished painters. I figured it wouldn’t be a stretch to go from freelance writer to museum curator. I love collecting, but I also love the history of bags and get excited about researching their origins. There are, however, obstacles. Big ones. Mainly, unlike your favorite A-list actor, it’s hard for us regular folks to finance what amounts to a vanity project. I live in a suburb just outside of Los Angeles County, which you’d think would at least be geographically accommodating of a vintage purse museum. Yet, upon doing a ton of research during the museum certification process—including two museum internships and the feasibility study that was my final project—I learned it would be too expensive to establish a museum, given the high rents, building permits, insurance, and other costs. I ruled out creating a nonprofit, because besides having to make an initial substantial personal monetary investment, owning a museum’s collection while being director and/or curator of the nonprofit is a gray area. There’s a scary possibility that one could establish a nonprofit museum, donate or lend one’s collection to the museum, then be ousted by the nonprofit board.

Yep, I have looked into every angle. My husband and I even discussed moving to a less-expensive and more arts-friendly community to create a for-profit museum, but we are currently unable to leave California because of family obligations and financial reasons.

So here’s where I’m at today. The Vintage Purse Gallery, www.VintagePurseGallery.com, is my online-only vintage handbag museum. It’s free to “visit” and is obviously open 24 hours a day. I have Google ads on the main website and its various sub-websites, which earn a few cents a week. Meaning that it’s not at all profitable—especially since I keep using my own limited funds to add to the collection. Nor will it turn any sort of profit until we figure out how to make money.

In the meantime, I use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote the site and draw traffic from all over the world. We are also in the process of creating a mobile purse exhibit out of a 1961 Aristocrat Land Commander trailer. It’s a pretty cool little trailer and my husband, who is rehabbing it, is the most incredible man on Earth—talent-wise and tolerance-of-me-wise. Once it’s finished, we want to bring the mobile exhibit to local vintage car shows, “glamping” rallies, and other one-day events, in the hope that event planners will pay us to attend. But they’d have to think it’s worth it.

We’re also making purse-themed items, which we’d sell online and at these events. My ultimate goal is to turn this hobby into a career, but most art, much like most writing, is an undervalued commodity. If we were to open a brick-and-mortar and expect it to support our existence, the exhibits would need to be supplemented by a gift shop and special promotions such as fashion shows, tea parties, vintage-themed celebrations, food trucks, and so on.

This can be done, but it’s greatly dependent on timing, finances, and the will to make it happen. I definitely have the will. I’m just hoping the other two elements will eventually fall into place.

Wendy Dager is a professional freelance writer whose career has spanned nearly three decades. To read more about her work, visit www.WendyDager.com. To visit The Vintage Purse Gallery, an online handbag museum, go to www.VintagePurseGallery.com. For more about the mobile purse exhibit, The Rolling Vintage (RV) Purse Museum – Where the Handbag Meets the Highway, check out www.RVPurseMuseum.com.

From the Editor June 2017

Email InboxIs your inbox overflowing? Can you find an email when you need it? It’s in there somewhere and the search option won’t always cooperate. Barbara Florio Graham explains how she keeps her emails in line.

Bobbi Christmas says there is such a thing as a good rejection. Really? Yes, if you use the rejection as a learning tool. Did the letter say they don’t take unagented work? Read the submission guideline more carefully. Compliments often spur new ideas, so pay close attention. And if “it’s not right for us at this time,” that may mean they’d take another look later.

Sabrina Ricci has three tips if you are considering freelance writing. The independence and freedom come with certain responsibilities. But if you like making your own hours, this could be the work for you.

Since summer is vacation and travel time for a lot of people, look for ideas for articles as you cover the miles. Is there an unusual destination? What about travel with kids? How do you balance visiting the parents and in-laws with a getaway trip for your own family? And what about a getaway trip just for the adults—who take care of the kids? The possibilities are endless, from the food to the housing to the music. Take notes, relax, and refresh and you’ll be able to face the blank page when you return home. Remember to take high-resolution photos to go with the article. Many publications pay extra for those.

We have some great articles lined up for this year and are always looking for more to coordinate or contrast with what we have so far. Suggestions are still welcome! What would you like to learn? See more of or less? Feedback is essential, so send a note to editor@spawn.org and let us know.

Sandy, Editor, SPAWNews


October 2016 From the Editor

coloring-book-2This month we’re talking about creativity. Think you’re not creative? I’d bet you just haven’t found your happy place yet. For every child prodigy who knew at the age of five that she wanted to be a writer or who sold his first finger-painting to Grandma for a nickel, there are many more of us who come to the game later in life.

That doesn’t mean we’re lagging behind; it means we have more to bring to the table. Would you write the same story today as you would have written when you were twenty? Older artists mix experience into the paint and words that bring to mind a complete scene. We can always learn more, teach more, and experience more, and by then, we’re old enough not to care what anyone else says about it!

Start coloring outside the lines and find ways to create in the coming year. For tips on how others do it, read Barbara Florio-Graham’s last in a series of five articles about creativity, how Lucy Francis combined two passions so she can enjoy both, and how Daniela Frongia creates cover art and characters. There’s also a piece about the adult coloring-book craze; if words are your passion and you can draw only stick figures, maybe getting creative with someone else’s drawings will open up new ideas for you. You can even make coloring-book pages from your own photos at www.reallycolor.com!

What would you like to learn? See more of or less? Feedback is essential, so send a note to editor@spawn.org and let me know.

Sandy, Editor, SPAWNews

Writing What I Don’t Know

KayeGeorgeby Kaye George

Sure, I write what I know. Sometimes. For the Fat Cat series, which I write as Janet Cantrell, I model the tubby tabby after one of my own rescued ferals. I use the setting of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and I lived in Minnetonka for a few years. (And love that area!) I actually try out all the recipes in the books, the ones for people—dessert bars—and the ones for cats—healthy cat treats. Continue reading

Editor’s Note May 2016

Final coverThis month we’re talking about how to do it all—write, self-publish, promote, and still have a life. Linda Formichelli’s new book shows you the way. She says stress is not a bad thing, doing too much might just be enough, and finding what’s the most important to you in your life as well as where you want to go and how to get there should be at the top of your list. It’s a long article, but should answer any questions you might have about going full-tilt at self-publishing. The new book is How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life—While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie.

Last year, Linda wrote Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action. That’s the approach she took for her new book—take everything you know and everything you have access to and use it all to get the results you want. This may be more than you can or are willing to do, but her article breaks down all the actions she took. She wrote the book about three times, hired a publicist, a cover designer, layout people, and more. The cost to the penny is included.

In upcoming issues, look for topics on travel writing, why to hire a PR person, what agents are looking for, how to combine history, nature, and fiction for kids, why coloring books are booming, taking great photos, and how to use real-life experiences to write non-fiction and to add color to fiction.

What would you like to learn? See more of or less? Feedback is essential, so send a note to editor@spawn.org and let me know.

Sandy, Editor, SPAWNews

Editor’s Note April 2016

SweetCharmofDistanceThis month we’re talking about what publishers are looking for from writers. Livia Washburn from Prairie Rose Publications tells how the publishing company was formed, how many books they publish each year, and what they’re looking for, specifically. Jay Hartman of Untreed Reads talks about starting in the publishing business six years ago and what changes he’s seen since. Bobbi Christmas emphasizes the need to follow submission guidelines, from how to submit to word count. We also have the scoop on Allworth Press, Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, and Henery Press.

It’s conference time again. Look for the list of upcoming conferences from April through July. If you know about a conference we haven’t mentioned, drop me an email.

April 23 is World Book and Copyright Day. Rhonda Rees suggests all writers take time to make sure their work hasn’t been pirated and offered for free. Look for more information.

In upcoming issues, look for topics on how to do it all (from idea to published book and what it costs to go full-out to do it); travel writing in a magazine available only on iTunes and how YouTube videos help with recognition; why to hire a PR person; what agents are looking for; how to combine history, nature, and fiction for kids; why coloring books are booming; taking great photos; and how to use real-life experiences to write non-fiction and add color to fiction.

What would you like to learn? See more of or less? Feedback is essential, so send a note to editor@spawn.org and let me know.

Sandy, Editor, SPAWNews

PR Advocate Spearheads Campaign Asking Authors to Check Their Books This April

During the month of April, Rhonda Rees is staging a PSA campaign to alert authors and publishers to check their books to correspond with World Book and Copyright Day on April 23, 2016. Rees is asking that during the month of April they run Google and Bing searches to see whether or not their work is compromised by being offered for free without their knowledge or permission. She would like authors and publishers to plug in the title of their book, or books, the author’s name, and the words ‘free downloads’ to spot what comes up. For further information, contact Rhonda Rees.