Sara Avery Turns Collecting Kitsch into Curated Art

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All photos by Carly Schorman

by Carly Schorman

Sara Avery is a difficult woman to define.

I might start out by saying she is an artist and designer, but the very broadness of those terms might be too limiting. While it’s true that she is an artist and designer, she is also a collector of kitsch, an avid secondhand shopper, an entrepreneur, and, perhaps above all else, a curator of curios. And, when taken as a whole, I would have to say Sara Avery is a visionary.

Now you might be wondering just what it is that makes her so magical, but allow me to explain: Sara Avery collects ephemera. Ephemera suggests a limited lifespan; it is created to be enjoyed for a short window of time only. These are the souvenirs from vacations, the trinkets gifted to mark occasions, the baubles we collect throughout our life that (seemingly) retain little value beyond their ability to call to mind a certain place or time. These are the castoffs that Sara Avery craves, the things she hunts for at thrift stores and estate sales. The colorful knickknacks so casually disregarded by other people are gathered up in her net so that she might sift through for the treasures.

sara avery 09From the moment I walk into the kitsch wonderland she calls home, hidden in an unassuming Phoenix neighborhood, I know I am in for something special. The home Sara Avery shares with her husband, Ryan, is a mecca for the weird and wondrous. Given free range to explore is like being turned loose in a museum of everyone’s favorite childhood memories.

And, yes, I found my personal memory too.  Behind a salt-and-pepper shaker set and some wind-up teeth, I found a grey-haired troll, a progenitor to the popular tiny troll dolls with their brightly colored hair, brought to life a forgotten summer trip when my parents gifted me the toy that held the triumphant place of “favorite” for a stretch when I was just shy of turning eight. My folks might have tossed the once beloved doll in a donation box back in 80s and, I imagine, she traversed a harrowing set of circumstances before arriving at a new place of honor, nearly 30 years later, on Sara’s carefully cluttered shelves.

sara avery 07The Averys both, in their own way, seem to take on one of the most polite fuck-off attitudes toward popular culture I’ve ever seen and yet, in doing so, each has established their own unique aesthetic in a world overly saturated with sameness. When I ask Sara what drives her collection, she says, “I just pick things that make me happy.” What makes her happy right now? Chained animal family figurines and polka dot plastic. I’ve always been a firm believer that the most interesting people are the ones who celebrate their weird proclivities. Sara Avery provides my case in point.

She doesn’t stop at kitschy collectibles. New art from living artists can be found amid the Averys’ tchotchkes. A Bert figurine, of Bert & Ernie fame, in a proactively modern pose (for a muppet) stands amid the menagerie. This piece, “Bert’s Tit” by Jim Tozzi, was a birthday present from Sara to Ryan one holiday season and I hope one day, at least one hundred years from now, a vintage junkie rehomes this piece of the Averys’ ephemera.

sara avery 04Pieces of Sara’s continually curated collection can be seen not only in her home, but also through her online shop: Later Operator.  And, this weekend, she’ll be hauling out some of her treasures for the first Black Market at Dark Hall Coffee on Sunday. Sara Avery will be there with Later Operator while Ryan spins tunes and sells records on behalf of Related Records, his label. Other local merchants and artisans will be on hand including Moon Goddess Market, Spaceboy Robot, +  G A L P A L.

For more information at the Black Market happening this weekend,
including a complete list of participants, head here.  

And make sure you check out Later Operator on Instagram and Etsy.

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