Roman Mars, my favorite name for a writer, encourages urban pedestrians to look down and appreciate that, in years past, industrialists incorporated elegant design in utilitarian objects such as drainage grates and manhole covers. In his book The 99% Invisible City, Mars explains that aesthetic detail under foot in late 19th and early 20th centuries elevated the mundane primarily for the pleasure of a walking public. (The trend waned as vehicle use increased, but some urban dwellers continue “drainspotting” on sidewalks and streets with the same determination as shell seekers at low tide.)
I study the ground as I walk too, but on north Baldwin County trails I look for the shards and sherds of utilitarian objects like dishes and liniment bottles. I run my finger over a weathered wide bottle lip or raised lettering on a jar fragment etched with time and ponder its use and original owner. I marvel at a tiny bubble suspended in amber glass, trace the veins on pottery pieces, and examine a busy blue transferware pattern and then wonder how this remnant landed in my path. Who was the child that cared for and then lost this pitted marble? (Maybe she buried it so a wanderer could discover it decades later.)
My walks turn up nothing of value, no prized arrowhead or soldier’s buttons, the kinds of objects that excite collectors. But art is where you find it, even in a mosaic of random rubble from early farm life.