Each morning, I roll over toward my nightstand and pick up a small, grainy-gray rock alongside the clock-radio. Cradling it in my palm, I brush my thumb lightly along its rough, sloping edge. Each night, I do likewise.
Each time, I smile slightly. Each smile is a mental snapshot, of the big boulder from which the stone was scooped, at a New York park overlooking Long Island Sound. There, for decades, I would go to gaze at the waters rippling by, listen to the cries of seagulls, feel problems and pain dissipating into the mist.
Utter peace at the center of my soul.
Should that gritty little slab on my nightstand ever go missing, so will an irreplaceable piece of me. It is my talisman, my … precious object.
Around these gallery walls, two dozen other people reveal theirs, inspired by a photographer’s curiosity.
“I was moving and getting rid of tons of stuff, and I asked myself, What was the possession that was most valuable to me? I realized there wasn’t one, but it got me thinking about objects representing more than just what they are,” says Cleveland photographer Charles Mintz, whose exhibit, Precious Objects, is spread between two city-run galleries—at the Las Vegas City Hall Chamber and the Charleston Heights Arts Center—each featuring different portraits. (The full complement of 170 photos are compiled in a book of the same title, available at Barnes & Noble at 2191 N. Rainbow Blvd.)
Simple but elegant, Precious Objects collects 24 of Mintz’s portraits of everyday people holding objects of special significance that, if lost, they could not replace, accompanied by their own handwritten explanations of the items’ meaning.
There is Roxane Lawrence, holding the tiny yellow dress she wore when she was picked up by her new adoptive parents when she was 3 months old in 1964. “My mother always told me that other babies come into the world naked, but I came in a little yellow dress,” she writes.
There is Robbii, pictured holding a container with his late father’s false teeth. “My father was never very talkative,” he writes. “Now I keep his teeth and talk to him every morning. He still doesn’t say much, but I am hopeful.”
There is Betty, who holds a standup microphone used by her late father, a New York musician on the wedding/birthday/bar mitzvah circuit. “The microphone delivered his musical talent and great sense of humor,” she writes.
As his subjects multiplied from acquaintances to volunteers to people who answered his Craigslist posting, Mintz found the stories compelling, one standout being from an ex-inmate named Trevis. “He showed his inmate card from prison, and his library card, because he wanted to show people how far he’d come from the days when he was in trouble—it’s amazing,” says Mintz, who wanted to take an unadorned approach to the portraits, instead of one that smacked of artistic interpretation.
“There are ways that photographers make portraits to reflect not just the person, but the photographer’s opinion of the person. I wanted to let people be themselves in terms of how they dressed or stood and what they brought and their expression.”
Many of those expressions are smiles, both slight and wide, but all reflective of meaningful memories. Photographed holding a piece of paper, a woman named Loli Kantor writes: “This is my mother’s handwritten letter, dated April 21, 1946. My mother, Lola Kantor, died in childbirth with me. This is the only handwritten piece by my mother that I own.”
Displaying a tiny dime, John W. explains in his note that he was a toddler at a summer party with his family when his ill grandfather was taken away on a stretcher. “He made the ambulance driver stop by me as he was taken away,” he writes. “With difficulty, he reached into his pocket and gave me a dime, saying he was Santa Claus. He died that day.”
Summing up his exhibit, Mintz says: “I realized this was a way to make a value statement.”
A dime, a prison ID, a little yellow dress, a set of false teeth. And other touching stories and photos about wedding rings, wing-tipped shoes, letters with bittersweet echoes of the past and a stuffed animal named Trixie. And, unphotographed, a gray rock on a nightstand.
Precious objects, all.
7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon-Thu through April 10 at City Hall Chamber Gallery, 495 S. Main St.; and 12:30-9 p.m. Wed-Fri and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday through April 23 at the Charleston Heights Arts Center Gallery, 800 S. Brush St., free at both galleries, 229-1012, ArtsLasVegas.org.