When I was growing up, my family took a lot of “spins” – my father’s word for hopping into the car and driving around to look at things. We took spins on summer evenings, and winter Sunday afternoons. Sometimes the spins were purposeful, like going to Brookfield Orchards for a bushel of macs. During Christmas week, we took a rare winter’s night spin to see the decorations. But some spins were less mission-driven: just drive around and stop somewhere for ice cream. Summer spins always involved ice cream from the Cherry Bowl, Verna’s, Smithfield, DQ…
When we drove around, one thing we liked to observe was the decorations that people had on their lawns.
Our neighborhood was bathtub Madonna territory. Gazing balls. Pink flamingos. The odd birdbath.
My favorite house passed on the spins was a white, late 19th century farmhouse out in one of the burbs. It had a lovely front porch and a sloping front lawn that featured a small pond with sail boats in it.
It wasn’t on a spin route, but my all time favorite lawn-decorated house ever was the “elf house”, which was near my grandmother’s in Chicago. Shortly after we arrived on our biennial visit, we would clamor that my father take us on a walk to see the house with all the elves in their yard. Elves on swings. Elves splaying cards on toadstools. Those folks knew how to live! What I wouldn’t have given to have a few elf statues in our yard. But we didn’t even have a bathtub Madonna. We just had trees, shrubs, and flowers.
Back on the spins, we could tell we had entered a classy, high-tone neighborhood by the presence of lawn jockeys, holding their lantern to guide people on the path to the house.
Back in the day – we’re talking 1950’s and 1960’s – the lawn jockeys tended to be black, with Negroid features. At some point, black jockey statues were no longer acceptable, and I remember seeing a couple where the faces were painted over with white paint. Yes, white paint. Not pinky-tan, or the color in the Crayola 64 box formerly known as “flesh.” The whitewashing looked really silly.
Anyway, I no longer go on spins, and I haven’t given any thought to lawn jockeys in ages.
That is, until my sister Kath texted a picture of a custom-painted lawn jockey, with the comment “Alas, too pricey for Yankee Swap.”
We may need to raise our $20 limit, given how awesome the custom-painted lawn jockeys are at Saratoga Signature Interiors.
It, of course, makes plenty of sense for a shop in Saratoga to sell lawn jockeys. It’s a racetrack town – completely charming (I’ve been there) – and I’m guessing that it’s a lot of fun to have one of these buddies out during track season.
Horse owners, breeders, jockeys and horse racing fans alike enjoy the heraldry associated with these 40″ statues.
Dan Czech of Saratoga Signature Interiors is the interior designer now jockey artist who paints each jockey. Registered silks are always popular but making up one of your own is fine too. The statues are 100% aluminum so can stay outside and not be effected by weather. Jockeys are shipped all over the country by UPS.
Aluminum is something new, I’m thinking. Lawn jockeys of yore were cast iron, and you can play plenty for one of them (in some cases, over $2K) on eBay, where they have both black and white lawn jockeys. Collectible Americana.
Saratoga Signature Interiors doesn’t mention the use of lawn jockeys as Yankee Swaps, but they do put this idea out there:
Consider a custom painted jockey as a wedding gift to the groom (or bride). Customize using your wedding colors, date on base and a gold ring instead of traditional black.
Imagine the surprise, the sheer delight, when the bride (or groom) opens that gift.
There are a lot of different options, by the way: corporate logos, college or university, sports teams. Whatever fits your fancy.
Here are a couple of my favorites:
That jockey sporting the powder blue is representing Columbia University, which would have been my alma mater if I’d stuck with the PhD program. Which I most decidedly did not.
Then there’s the Irish boyo, with his nifty tri-color jacket and shamrock. (I’m happy to see that it’s a shamrock, and not a four-leaf clover, which in my book is like saying Patty’s Day rather than Paddy’s Day.)
The jockey with the identity crisis – half Red Sox, half Yankee – is, of course my favorite. What an awful idea. I suppose there are mixed marriages. But still. And what’s up with that strategically-placed bat?
The boyo, or a full-bore Red Sox jockey would, I must say, make an ideal Yankee Swap item: weird, impactical… Maybe this year we should raise the limit.