Handmade Alf Doll from The Flea Market Collection

"Not Quite Antiques Road Show" by Shane Miller for NYArts Magazine Vol. 10 No. 5-6.

Some years back, while trudging through a stint in the housekeeping department of a hotel located on the campus of a Midwestern University, I found myself in the middle of the annual convention of the NTHCS, or National Toothpick Holder Collectors Society, for the uninitiated. For three days, any available flat surface in every room was occupied by all manners of toothpick holders, not one of which was actually holding toothpicks, as if putting them to their intended use would somehow diminish their value.

Curious as those collections were, an even more curious collection is currently on display in the storefront window of the City Reliquary in Williamsburg. Hillbilly troll figurines peddling moonshine share space with a 55-piece jigsaw puzzle of West Virginia and that stateās similarly numbered counties. An improbably colored teddy bear wearing a button from the movie "Ghostbusters" leans up against a puzzle of 80s childhood star Punky Brewster, while her colleague Jesse (you know, from "Full House"), also permanently preserved in jigsaw form, hides behind an unlicensed, handmade stuffed doll of T.V. alien Alf. A personal favorite is the one-string guitar with an empty Bush's Shredded Kraut can acting as the body.

The collection belongs to the West Virginia/New York-based art collective The Poo Syndicate, and the items in the collection share one thing in common - they were all acquired at flea markets throughout West Virginia and Southeastern Ohio. Members of the syndicate have spent the last 15 years rescuing items that represent a unique view of reality that could only originate in the Ohio River Valley, items that are easily found peddled at these makeshift strip malls.

In the eyes of The Poo Syndicate, that reality is best represented in the handmade Alf doll. The doll's knitted body, large cloth eyes and crude, trunk-like nose are not only a classic example of simple folk art, but also reveal a unique obsession with television and pop icons. If this version of Alf had been made by a "professional artist" and put on display, the viewer could probably come to some sort of Warholian commentary. With the knowledge that is was picked up at a flea market and likely meant to be a child's toy and not necessarily an object of observation, the viewer's first thought is "what the hell were they thinking?"

Some insight comes via a short, 30-minute documentary that was shot over one weekend at four different flea markets. The film is on a continuous loop as part of the display and is subtitled, so if you have the time you can sneak a peek into the flea market culture and hear (read) stories that are as interesting as the objects on display, from a man who had his idea for a space blanket stolen by the government to the disastrous effects of a home remedy for poison ivy on the skin of a lady who goes by the name Retired Irene.

Those stories are what give the collection its inherent fascination. Unlike the toothpick holders, these objects have been put to their intended use - and then rediscovered by the Syndicate and given new meaning, primarily by their juxtaposition with each other. A miniature flea market behind glass.

The ultimate goal of the collector is to complete his or her collection. That can easily be accomplished with numbered objects, but in a collection bound by place as opposed to subject, The Poo Syndicate has a long way to go before they have a full set.

For more on The Poo Syndicate visit www.thepoosyndicate.com.

For more on The City Reliquary visit www.cityreliquary.org.

To see more images of The Poo Syndicate's display at The City Reliquary go here.

To watch The Flea Market Project video in it's entirety go here.