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Valentines for everybody

Custom card-maker returns to her craft

  • Submitted photo<br/>One of Pauline “Cerise” Davis’ custom valentine card creations.

    Submitted photo
    One of Pauline “Cerise” Davis’ custom valentine card creations.

  • Submitted photo<br/>One of Pauline “Cerise” Davis’ custom valentine card creations.

SHELBURNE FALLS — Back in the 1980s, artist Pauline “Cerise” Davis had a second-floor studio on Bridge Street, with a sign on the window that read “Cerise Pauline Valentine Maker.”

A photo of that art studio now rests on a wooden table at Trolley Stop Antiques and Collectibles, along with handmade valentines that C. Pauline Davis made this month. Some vintage valentines that Davis has collected over the last 30 years are also for sale, but the largest ones are collages she made from art materials from as early as the 19th century.

Each card made by Davis is a one-of-a kind. And, along with the traditional hearts and flowers, they contain other objects people love: a snowy home in winter, a blue pickup truck, a background setting of a waterfront pier.

“After the killing of the children in (Newtown) Connecticut, all the talk about guns was without end,” said Davis who lives in rural Buckland. “It was separating us into groups. The whole conversation was so disturbing to me that I thought, all of the sudden, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ This was affecting me too much.”

So Davis returned to her longtime love of valentine-making.

“As soon as I did, I had this vision of all the things that we share in common. So I started with materials that I collected over the last 30 to 40 years.”

In the 1980s, Davis made part of her living making valentines in her Shelburne Falls studio, then selling them in Boston and Cambridge. She traveled to ephemera shows to collect such things as antique lace and bits of old wallpaper from the Victorian era, old paper roses, cupids, hearts and other items.

Davis was inspired by the story of Esther Howland, a Worcester, woman whom Davis says brought the valentine tradition to America in the 1800s.

Born in 1828, and educated at Mount Holyoke College, Howland received a valentine’s card from England, fell in love with it, and decided to design her own.

“Her father was a stationeer, but there were no materials (for valentines) in this country But they were making valentines in England and she imported all the parts, said Davis, referring to the paper decorations, paper laces, flowers, cupids, animals and other details we see on old-fashioned valentines.

These first American valentine cards were a hit. Howland’s brother took her card samples around and came back with $5,000 worth of orders. She named her business the New England Valentine Co. and eventually grossed $100,000 per year.

To make the huge quantities of valentines as quickly as possible, Howland devised an assembly-line system of helpers, to cut and paste decorations and poems onto the cards.

In the tradition of Howland, Davis makes collages, using French vinyl paints, art papers from around the world, antique wallpapers, gift wrap and other materials.

She has made 68 cards over the past three weeks, but hasn’t lost the passion for making more. Although she has photos of them, she says she doesn’t want to make printed cards.

“I want people to experience original art,” she said. “They give a tactile feeling, almost as a form of sculpture,” she said. “They just emerge, like little art pieces. I just keep having visions of them. I’m going through hearts like crazy.”

When asked if valentine-making has changed over the years, Davis thought for a moment, then said: “These are all about things that I love, that I also think other people will love.”

“I’m trying to introduce a new idea — for showing expressions of love more than from one person to another.”

“I don’t see why valentines can only be sent on Valentine’s Day,” she added. “I think we should be able to send them any time we want.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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