It was a sunny Monday last week, the beginning of July, as I walked briskly toward Accident And Artifact with my camera slung over my neck and bouncing off my belly. The entrance spoke of abundance and fertility, bedecked as it was with vibrant plants and vines. And it felt equally bright and alive once I stepped inside. Situated on the main floor were two leather love seats in burnt sienna with a small baby blue vintage coffee table at their center. There were books, flowers and small dolls made by Tijuana artist Natalia Cervantes, all of which invited you to not just shop, but visit the place. As Larkin Small, employee and right hand woman to owner Martin Holden, put it, “it’s designed to be an interactive store space.” Martin echoed that notion, saying “I feel, from my background in retail, that with a store, inevitably, there needs to be a conversation…where you walk in and you’re part of a family.” Thats a sentiment that’s fully realized here. What you may not notice immediately amidst all of is that Accident And Artifact is full of things that are antique, primitive and, sometimes, brutal. One object in particular, seemingly non-descript, initially might appear to some as perhaps a kind of trowel for digging. But that isn’t the case. In fact, Martin discovered it at Alameda Point, and listed it as one of his favorite pieces in the store. His explanation summed up what makes Accident and Artifact wholly unique. “It’s actually a whaling harpoon tip which, if you think about it, is kind of an awful instrument.” Yet, as a piece, separated from modernist notions about what is and isn’t palatable, has this inherent beauty to it, so steeped in history and real life and death. Martin said it perfectly – “It’s beautiful, and tragic.”
And while this is the store’s most poignant truth, the shop itself has undergone some changes of its own since it opened three years ago and Martin took full ownership last July from Gideon Padwa, whose initial vision was a bit starker, or scholarly, and more along the lines of a gallery or a museum. Since then, Martin, who helped open the store with much of his own collection, a good deal of it from his years at Alameda Point, has taken great pleasure embracing the contemporary as well as the rudimentary. “The main theme is that, while material objects are trivial, when someone recognizes something and it brings a story out of them, there’s a connection there. It starts with inquiry. I’d like it to be a conversation with the street, where a sophisticated collector is going to come in here and find something of interest, but then someone who just wants to come in here and find a gift for somebody, you know, thats interesting and beautiful, that they can too, at an approachable price point,” Martin explained. Which means, in addition to strange relics, you can also find products like the gorgeous and painstakingly made line of indigo dyed bags by Job And Boss, which were brought in by Martin’s younger staff under his encouragement to give the store a new feel by emphasizing the contrast between the old and the new. Particularly lovely is a line of pottery vases made in Emeryville by Sara Paloma, whose secret is referencing, of all things, electric line simulators in her design work. Martin even goes out of his way to highlight new and local artists, like the intensely personal paintings by artist Timothy Wilson, or a selection of jewelry from assorted local designers. Not only that, but people are welcome to just come in here and talk, or play the piano. Apparently, even that is for sale. “Our rule is that everything is for sale,” Martin said.
And, oh, how I wanted that piano. Or to leave with some earrings to bring home to my girlfriend. Or maybe just read a book and fall asleep on one of those love seats. And, indeed, Martin and I did talk. For a good hour. I could have stayed much longer. But walking away, it was still those old, crude, dirty artifacts that made the biggest impression on me. History is like that, and has a way of silently booming its voice from a distance, leaving you with feelings of nostalgia you may have no explanation for other than you’re connection to the timeline itself. I mean, there’s a reason why all that is antique and vintage appeals to so many of us, and I’ve a feeling it isn’t pure aesthetic. Some of the most beautiful things aren’t always shiny and brand new. Like the weathered Stickley chair, sitting beside a vintage sculptured tiny horse. Or the original 1930′s U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, its leather nearly tattered, itself a vessel for thousands of stories and letters, but still handsome enough to wear around town. There’s a dusty set of natural dyes culled directly from the surface of the earth. And, if you’re really in the mood to capture art that is so purely by accident, take a look at the yellow jacket nest hanging inside one of the two glowing storefront windows. That’s a contrast, and quiet agreement, to beauty that comes from the unlikeliest places, and ends up, somehow, with the right eye, in the same store as the Oregonian crafted Olo perfume line, exquisite and the antithesis of ancient.