There's a small river near where I live that rarely gets deeper than a few feet. Named the Mill River, it once powered dozens of mills, and there are remains of them found all along its length. Many houses were built near its banks. The river gets heavy use in the summer by swimmers and waders, including me. I've never visited it without finding some piece of man-made something-or-other from the past. Near the area where the huge state mental hospital used to be, there are lots of shards of institutional-style Prolon melamine plates and bowls.
An interesting thing I learned: Prolon still exists, and is manufactured in Mississippi. The pieces I've found in the river are from when Prolon was still being made in Florence, MA, which the Mill River intersects. You can just barely see the "MASS" on this fragment.
(Once I was extremely lucky to find this spoon — and then, a few months later, a second, identical spoon, which I gave to my sister — half-embedded in a stream bed on the grounds of the old hospital. They were not officially in the Mill River; I just wanted to brag.)
Every once in a while I'll find a piece of actual china, or a section of a huge brown crock. And every once in a great while, I luck out and find the most precious thing: a piece that had a glimpse of pattern on it.
A couple of years ago, I was visiting a friend's apartment and he casually showed me a typesetter's tray completely packed with my holy grails. He was generous enough to tip me off to his hunting ground, which is a bit further upstream from where I usually go. That's where I found many of these.
Now for the $64,000 question: What do I do with these? So far, they have been living in a decorative bowl, on display. I have seen necklaces made from similar fragments, but for whatever reason, they just don't attract me. I could cement them onto a pot, or use them in a mosaic. But so far, I enjoy merely picking them up and feeling their smoothed edges and imagining where they came from. Who ate from this plate? How did it end up here? It makes me feel connected to the history of this place.
Do you have any similar finds?
I'm Debbie Way, an artist and writer who enjoys making things.