A group of Cenla collectors admit a passion to collecting something mainly for the sheer joy of it. Through the centuries, people from all walks of life have started collections. Today, people can view many of those collections in museums. Researchers note that people collect things for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes people collect items considered trendy or faddish.
Most people, whether they will acknowledge it or not, have collected something deemed valuable to them at some time in their life. People fill albums with snapshots of their vacations or holidays together. Others collect souvenirs or mementos of a place. Still others collect things that remind them of their childhood. Memorabilia is often packed away in a hatbox or private treasure trove to be savored in a quiet moment of reflection.
Whether someone collects just for the appeal of the object of their affection, or for a sense of accomplishment in owning a complete set, common ties are readily found among all our Cenla collectors. Each one collects something that tugs at their heart or brings a smile to their lips. In essence, collecting the things has enriched their lives, but only because the things they are collecting are connected to people.
As a 6-year-old little girl, Leola Thrower collected scraps of cotton material together to patch together a small quilt for her dolls. Her love of sewing has blossomed into a vast quilt collection. Thrower, who is a member of three quilting clubs, including Patience Quilters of Alexandria, has hand-sewn hundreds of quilts and collected quite a few more. On the ones she has made, she appliques and embroiders. “To me, the making of the quilts is the most important thing. I want to know ahead of time if I’m making a quilt for someone, or I cannot bear to part with it. Quilting is something I have to do. I cannot imagine living a day without quilting,” Thrower says with a smile.
Thrower, at age 91, says she has not ever sold a quilt, but has given plenty of these personal masterpieces away to family and friends. She has won countless ribbons for her hand-made quilts entered in quilt shows and fairs. One quilt that took “Best of Show” featured all the presidents’ pets on the quilt. “I quilted Clinton’s Fox and Buddy, his cat and dog, and Lincoln’s turkey. Also, I put Lafayette’s pet alligator on there, even though he wasn’t a president. The alligator visited the White House,” she recalls.
In her quilt collection, Thrower, who worked for 32 years at the Military Exchange in Fort Polk, has several quilts that hold extra special meaning. “I’ve got two quilts from my mother. One is a utilitarian quilt, where you just sew together what you have, no art to it. The other is a bow-tie quilt and it is very special,” she notes.
Thrower says her quilts are like pieces of her heart, stitched together with love during the more than nine decades of her life. “They tell the story of my life.”
In Jim Hayes’ front yard in Pineville, stands a 15-foot handmade grandfather clock with a four-foot diameter dial as a testament to his passion for his clock collection and clock making. Hayes, the founder of Hayes Manufacturing, has even built a two-story clock shop to showcase his collection and his workshop. “The worse off a clock is, the better I like it. I was always mechanically minded,” Hayes says with a big grin.
Included in his clock collection is an 1881 gold bond Ansonia clock that he repaired and restored. He has family members and friends who have brought him crumbled, disassembled, worn-out, tarnished pieces of clocks in a box that he has restored to their former glory and into working order. Hayes has more than 500 clocks in his collection; each one a story of restoration.
In addition to his restoring clocks, Hayes has fashioned and created beautiful clocks out of brass sheets and parts. Ever a creator, Hayes has created sculptures out of melted coat hangers, paints and has built go-carts and automobiles.
Gloria Ritchie, an educator for 39 years in Rapides Parish, first started collecting cookie jars when her daughter gave her husband two for a gift. One was a pig dressed in a police uniform riding a motorcycle and the other was a green John Deere tractor cookie jar. Ritchie’s cookie jars, evoke memories attached to every single one. “I have one from my mother that is a hen cookie jar. One of my favorite cookie jars is a cat with the words ‘A cookie jar of love sweetened with hugs.’ I bake cookies for my grandchildren and put them in it,” Ritchie beams.
Another one of her favorites is a “Taste of Home” cookie jar she bought on a trip to Wisconsin. “I ate in the ‘Taste of Home’ restaurant in the prettiest little town,” she recalls. Many of her cookie jars are like a crumb trail of memories of her life. One jar is shaped like a school bus and was given to her from a former kindergarten class she taught. Another cookie jar is a bulldog dressed like a Marine, which reminds her of her grandson who is serving in the U.S. Marines Corps.
“My reason for collecting is sentimental. Part of the fun of collecting is finding something different or new to add to my collection. My husband and I enjoy going to flea markets and looking for McCoy cookie jars–that’s a hot name in cookie jars. But for us, the fun is in the hunt,” Ritchie adds.
Manie Culvertson of Alexandria started her red glass collection for her private enjoyment, not caring whether or not a renowned designer created a certain dish or vase. “I started collecting red glass because it is so beautiful. If I found something I liked, I bought it. I never cared to research the history of a piece. I either liked it or didn’t,” Culvertson notes.
Throughout her home, Culvertson has various shades of red glass in a variety of dishes and items, including stained-glass windows. Her collection pieces are everywhere. “I have everything imaginable. My favorite piece is a big pretty bowl I have on my coffee table, and is the most valuable piece I have,” she says.
The majority of her collections are antiques, and many are hand-blown glass. She has not ever displayed her collection publicly, but often shares the collection with friends in her garden clubs.
Collecting Marilyn Monroe memorabilia has captivated Dan Forest, a local stylist in Alexandria and host of the “Your Style with Dan Forest,” on KALB Channel 5. “Marilyn Monroe is the most iconic movie star, and she will always be young and beautiful. There’s that mystique about her,” Forest says.
At the salon where he works and in his home, Forest has a vast collection of Marilyn Monroe items, including about 40 dolls. Some of the dolls and items have been gifts from friends, while other dolls Forest has found through auctions. “I have been able to get some of the dolls online at a fraction of the cost because maybe they weren’t in pristine condition. I’ve been like a doll doctor fixing the doll’s hair,” he adds.
He has been able to collect some “elusive” Marilyn Monroe dolls, both vinyl and porcelain. “As a collector, I don’t want to keep Marilyn in a box. I like the joy of touching, fixing her hair, the tactile feel of her items. The cool thing about collecting is when you find it at a bargain. When you find something you like, you procure it, and then you’re hooked. It’s the joy of possession. You want the whole set,” Forest notes.
Besides the dolls, Forest has collected Marilyn Monroe books, movies, lunchboxes, shot glasses, dishes and even a backpack. “I’m not collecting for the money I might get from selling. I think collecting should be enjoyed. I’m in it just for the joy,” he adds.
Rapides Parish Sheriff William Earl Hilton has also caught the collector’s fever, and has started an antique gun collection. As a law man, the guns are a welcome indulgence, he says about his Winchester rifle Model 1873. “It’s the gun that won the West, and something I grew up with and cherish. It’s the gun that fits me,” says Hilton.
There is a lot of American history linked to the Winchester guns, Hilton adds. “Winchester guns are part of America,” he says, adding that the cowboys could use the same ammo in the rifles as their pistols with the same caliber. Another favorite gun of Hilton’s is the Winchester shotgun Model 12, a gun noted as the “best repeating” shotgun. He hopes to add more Winchester, Browning and Colt guns to his collection.
Dale Genius, the director of the Louisiana Historical Museum, has the largest collection on record of historic postcards depicting Alexandria, Pineville and Central Louisiana, and more than 50,000 postcards in his overall collection. The postcards date back as far as the late 1800s.
A former antique dealer, Genius said he and his wife have traveled all over the world, and have collected postcards from all over the world. “We literally wore out three motor homes traveling and collecting. Postcards fascinate me. They are like a picture into the past; like a time machine. They give you details of a time and place, and you can place yourself in the photographer’s position,” Genius says.
The majority of the Cenla postcards show a forgotten era, according to Genius, as many of the historical buildings are no more. He has published a book entitled, “What Once Was,” showing old businesses, homes and other sites that are long gone, as well as some that remain standing, such as the Bentley Hotel in downtown Alexandria. To view the “historical masterpiece” postcards in his collection, visit alexandrialouisianapostcard.blogspot.com
Jim and Lynda Waters are a collecting couple here in Cenla. Jim, chief executive officer for AFCO Industries, collects old currency, while his wife, Lynda, collects beaded and mesh antique purses. Both say the history connected to the coins and the purses they collect are what draws them. “I went from coins to collecting currency. In high school, a friend’s father gave me some Confederate currency paper and that was my first introduction to old currency. I really like the artistic quality in the currency, and as a history buff, I am very interested in the history of the currency,” Jim says, adding that 50 years later he still has that same Confederate currency given to him in high school.
The oldest currency Jim has dates back to 1768 and is Colonial currency. He said the money was square rather than rectangle. During the Civil War, Waters said, individual states issued currency. Through the years, he obtained a 1934 $1,000 bill in U.S. currency, which he keeps locked up in a bank vault.
Twenty-seven years ago, Lynda Waters started collecting beaded and mesh purses dating from 1875 to the late 1920s. Most of her collection, which takes up two walls in her home, were designed by Whiting & Davis or by the designer Mandillian. The first purse she bought at an antique shop in Denver, Colorado. Several of her purses have come from France. “The main thing I am interested in when I buy a purse is the history of the purse. I try to imagine what lady might have had it and what her life was like. It’s like taking a step back into history,” Lynda says.
Her sister went to China not long ago, and bought a special purse for Lynda. “The purse is more than 160 years old and belonged to a Chinese princess. We put the purse in a frame. It’s silk and has beading on it. It’s a beautiful purse,” she adds. Her collection also includes purses from Germany and England, one even featuring a sapphire and the Queen’s mark embellished on it. “I’ve always loved purses,” admits Lynda, adding that she has passed that love on to her granddaughters as they will inherit her collection someday.
Lawrence Menache, M.D., a radiation oncologist in Alexandria, has a collection of over 300 paperweights. He first became interested in paperweights while on a vacation in Italy. Initially, he was interested in art glass, and then learned about the techniques of making glass paperweights. He started collecting the small glass masterpieces from Italy and France. “When I travel I seek out paperweights. It is amazing to see the details glass blowers can achieve in these paperweights. The artistry is beautiful,” Menache says.
He has acquired some significant pieces from the Baccarat and St. Louis glasshouses in France, some Irish paperweights, and some unique American paperweights with “fun” designs. One American paperweight in particular showcases a whole aquarium with fish inside it. “I am always trying to find the elusive or rare Pantin paperweight from France. I was able to get one of those,” Menache adds.
When searching for a new paperweight, Menache seeks out paperweights that are free of bubbles and examines the bottom of the paperweight closely to determine the intrinsic value of the piece, accepting only the most remarkable.
Jimmy Bradford, a retired insurance agent from Alexandria, likes a weighty clinking in his hand when examining his collection of silver coins, which he keeps locked up in a bank vault. “During World War II, I was a kid in grammar school and I liked playing with lead Army soldiers. Metals soon disappeared, and were unavailable. But as long as I can remember, I’ve always liked a little weight in my hand. I have always liked silver coins,” Bradford says.
At age 30, Bradford started collecting coins, and his first silver coin was a Barber quarter, which was made between 1892 and 1916. It was 90 percent silver and 10 percent alloy, Bradford says. He then started collecting Morgan dollars, which were minted starting in 1778. “Collecting coins gives me satisfaction because they are beautiful,” Bradford says.
At the bank, Bradford has collections of dimes, nickels, quarters and silver dollar sets. He has a few gold coins, but prefers silver. He also has an uncirculated Jefferson nickel silver set. “Every serious collector knows how to grade their coins. An uncirculated silver dollar is worth more than a circulated silver dollar,” he notes. Anyone wanting to know more about coin collecting is encouraged to attend the Cenla Coin Club meetings on the second Tuesday of each month at Cajun Landing Restaurant, beginning at 7:00pm.
Bud Albright, a history teacher at Pineville High School and musician in the band Cypress City, waxes nostalgic when looking through his vast collection of vinyl albums. “With vinyl, the sound quality of music is better. Analog sounds better than digital. Digital sound is too compressed, and the sound is so sterile. I have a big collection of vinyl. It’s not a valuable collection, but it’s a sentimental one,” notes Albright.
As a teenager in the ‘70s, Albright says he grew up listening to Elton John, the Beatles and a lot of other musicial “greats”. By the mid-‘80s, vinyl records popularity declined and gave way to the CDs. Albright said he sold his stacks of records at that time, only to revert back to searching for vinyl in the ‘90s. “The most I ever paid for a vinyl record was $60.00 for a Stevie Wonder record,” Albright says with a laugh. He hopes to increase his collection of about 1,000 albums, and diligently searches for vinyl in pawn shops, flea markets and at the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans. “Vinyl is making a comeback, especially among young college students,” he adds.
While most collectors in Cenla can be considered enthusiasts, Jimmie DeRamus, the owner of Silver Dollar Pawn and star of Cajun Pawn Stars, has been a professional collector for more than 25 years. In fact, he has such a huge American civil rights collection, DeRamus says he wants to establish a museum to showcase the items. “We educate people every day when they come into the store about so many things. History is skewed so much, where both sides have never been told. We tell both sides and let the people choose what they want to believe,” DeRamus says.
His pawn store features several historical items, items that tell the story of the American Civil Rights movement, the fight for women’s sufferage, the Native American “Trail of Tears” and many other historical events in American history. On display in the store is also the 1966 Cadillac hearse used by R.S. Lewis & Sons Funeral Home in Memphis, Tennessee to transport the body of Martin Luther King, Jr. following his assassination.
DeRamus’ son, Chad, who was killed in a plane crash several years ago, had an interest in obtaining the vehicle. So, DeRamus tracked down the car, which had been stored under a tarp in a warehouse for 40 years, and restored the hearse in honor of his son. A foundation to honor Chad is currently in development.
Catherine Pears, the director of the Alexandria Museum of Art, hopes to spread the word that the museum holds more than 800 original works of art in its permanent collection, including works such as Andy Warhol’s Chairman Mao. “The mission of the Alexandria Museum of Art is to preserve, exhibit and promote visual art through Central Louisiana in a way that contributes to the quality of life in Cenla. To accomplish this, we educate, in order to advance the public’s knowledge of and appreciation for the value of art as a source of beauty, inspiration, information and expression,” Pears notes.
Most of the art in the AMoA has been donated by artists, collectors or have been bequeathed. The museum’s permanent collection encompasses prominent 20th and 21st century artists from Louisiana and the South, artists whose work reflects the unique cultures of the region, as well as artists who have influenced or been influenced by the South.