Verso has a somewhat unusual address. A black pylon outside of West Queen West fixture INAbstracto announces it, but you have to pass through to the back, where you'll find an idyllic, tree-filled path and a white-washed, refurbished garage that has housed Verso owner and designer Julie Jenkinson's collection for about two weeks.
What exactly is Verso? It represents a collection that Jenkinson has compiled over the years, including vintage toys, her own work, apothecary-esque items, "scientific oddities," industrial furniture and lighting--in short, found things, some from the turn of the century, "that become sculptural."
Jenkinson comes from a graphic design background, and she gradually progressed into developing her own art. "I've been designing for pretty much my whole life," Jenkinson tells me. "But art and products (such as textiles, bowties, and totes) for about 10 years."
Verso is meant to act as a gallery--one in which everything is for sale--but it also functions as a studio for Jenkinson's art assemblages (around $225), which involve the suspension of strange, small toys in a wood frame, playing with the notion of a toy in a box, dioramas and shadow boxes.
Isolating the toys from the clutter in which they're typically found ends up highlighting the counterintuitive craftsmanship behind them, much as Verso itself does for its found objects. "It made sense to pull together my art and the things that I love," Jenkinson tells me.
As for the name, verso is either the left-hand page, or the back of a photograph which is "referred to in vintage photographs as signature on verso." Visitors can peek in through the voyeuristic front window, and absolutely should come in for a chat. Jenkinson is knowledgeable about her products, and while she hasn't yet taken on custom work, she's not opposed to the idea.
The space is magical. The skylight is a perfect illumination for the thoughtfully placed curiosities, many of which are assigned their own cubby in a modern bookcase that spans one wall. When I'm left to photograph the store, I truly appreciate the gallery aspect. The small lamb enlarged by a vintage magnifying glass escaped my notice on a first tour.
"The toys I'm interested are often no-name, discards, or damaged, and I get to re-contextualize them." Jenkinson's eye for and ability to breathe new life into old odds and bits is perhaps the greatest joy of the space. An old wooden horse ($195) is displayed headless, as it was found, and accompanied by a screw in a glass enclosure--it instantly becomes an installation.
Furniture is priced from $125 for small stools, to a vintage maple workbench priced at $1400. I immediately fall in love with a rough mask of a wolf's head secured by a hidden construction helmet that's not currently priced--Jenkinson bought it for herself as a birthday present, but it's already generating interest, so she might purchase more.
Items also spill out onto the small pathway between INAbstracto and Verso, and her own product line--marked by her talent for sketching and patterns--is housed in the middle room of INAbstracto.
When asked how she'd summarize her work, Jenkinson replies, "Dark and fun at the same time." Many of the items are pulled from markets and private collections in Berlin, Paris, England, and Eastern Europe, and Jenkinson tells me that people always seem to leave with a smile on their face.
Mine is irrepressible, and when she gently inquires, I admit that it reminds my of my childhood--the weird, hand-me-down toys that populated Bucharest side streets, but that I can only truly appreciate now. A nostalgia shop in the truest sense of the word.