To Anna Corba, beauty can be found in small and exceedingly unexpected places — a slip of paper, a postage stamp, a single graphic letter cut from an old primer.
From her tranquil Found Cat Studio high on the ridge of Sonoma Mountain, a place neatly filled with what might be seen as a child's treasure — bowls of ribbons, sheets of music, stamps with old-fashioned fonts, ancient ledgers handwritten in beautiful script, cigar boxes, rolls of ribbons and trim and jars of buttons, Corba turns random bits of stuff and everyday objects into usable art.
Here, amid these little common objects that she sees as intriguing and beautiful, Corba also teaches others how to make vintage crafts with paper.
Alone, her materials are modest and unremarkable. But when artfully combined — old postcards, labels, pages from a French dictionary, bottle caps and empty wooden spools, lamp shade tassles and wooden rulers — all become treasures.
Color copies of old sepia-toned photos affixed to an index card stained in tea to look old, then adorned with rickrack and buttons and punched with a hole, become memorable gift tags the recipient won't throw away. Vintage wooden clothes hangers rubber stamped with a fun phrase — ooh-la la, c'bon or someone's name — and dressed with ribbon and other adornments from velvet flowers to wooden alphabet beads — become a keepsake or a place to hang something truly special.
"I just have a sense of feeling for the life they have had. How could you just discard something like that?" Corba says, trying to explain what draws her to old utilitarian objects that have lost their intended use.
"I'm drawn to trying to continue its life. It doesn't have to be here in perpetuity, I just want to keep that thread running."
A day in the hands-on workshop is warm and fun, not unlike the happy inhibition of a small child set loose with construction paper and glitter. Everyone gets a nice lunch served on Corba's long farm table and goes home with several pretty things to give us gifts or to keep for themselves.
On Sunday, Dec. 1, she will teach beginners how to make collage ornaments or jewelry pendants under beveled glass, a class that will cover the basics of soldering.
On Dec. 8, she will hold an open studio so people can shop for finished projects or explore upcoming workshops. Corba usually has at least one workshop a month.
"It brings them back to a time in their life when they were playful, creating with their hands, which they don't necessarily make time for anymore," Corba says of the many students who make their way up the mountain for a class that some have said leaves them feeling like they've spent the day at a spa. For two weeks a year, Corba also leads week-long creative retreats at a chateau in France.
Her art in life didn't start this way.
Growing up in Michigan, like a lot of young people, Corba was far more attracted to the contemporary than anything old. After studying art history, she moved to San Francisco and got a master's degree in fine arts at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Although her early work was abstract, she found herself slowly melding them, collage style, with forgotten ephemera that she had begun collecting from flea markets.