Rare treasures from The K-Mart

My maternal grandmother wasn’t what you’d call a lover of the great outdoors. When she and Grandpa camped, it was always someplace with picnic tables, brick barbecues, and indoor “facilities.” She firmly believed yard work was for men and enjoying the outdoors was something you only did after chores were complete. But she did love birds.

Robin by Arthur Singer

Sometime in the late 1950s she began collecting Arthur Singer ornithological prints. She bought them at “The K-Mart” thirty or so miles from her house; probably as part of K-Mart’s weekly “blue light” specials. The sole grocery in their tiny town stocked only the essentials and so once a month my Crazy Auntie Dottie and Gram would hop in Grandpa’s Galaxy and hit the road. Their big adventure to the big city of Springfield Mass.

Mockingbird by Arthur Singer

For those of you who’ve never heard of K-Mart, they were granddaddies of Costco, Target, Marks and Spencer – places where you could easily get lost in mile after mile of discounted products of all sorts: Clothing, towels, sheets, pots and pans — you name it. Heaven for housewives from small impoverished towns. I even thought it was a big deal as there were no large discount stores in Reno Nevada back then. And they sold big bags of buttered popcorn at prices even a child like me could afford.

Grouse and quail by Arthur Singer

Auntie Dottie went to The K-Mart to buy do-it-yourself hair dye and perm kits —- not for herself, mind you. But for her “clients.” Women willing to pay for a dirt cheap perm or dye job from someone who’d never set foot in a beauty school. One month she got a good deal on “Golden Highlights” and half the women in town were suddenly red heads. Their husbands were thrilled but the Vicar accused Dottie of tempting the Devil. Being Catholic, she just went to Confession and was absolved.

Western Meadowlark by Arthur Singer

Gram probably bought wash clothes. She was of the opinion that you could never have enough wash clothes. And she might pick up a bottle of Old Spice for Grandpa. That’s what he always smelt like. Old Spice. While they drove, she probably snuck in a bit of unwanted parenting advice or a reminder that it was not exactly legal to pretend to be a beautician. Which Dottie would ignore.

Chickadee by Arthur Singer.

Supposedly Arthur Singer created eight of these so-called ornithological prints. Each contains the male and female of a species and the flora and fauna typical for their environs. I don’t know if Gram collected all eight; only five survived life with Mother. Anyway, I have taken them out of the cheap plastic frames they were in and reframed them for the next generation. They may not be worth much, but I can’t look at them without thinking of Gram and Crazy Auntie Dottie and the excitement of those trips to The K-Mart.

30 thoughts on “Rare treasures from The K-Mart

  1. I love these prints, Jan. No idea how many of them exist now or what they’re “worth” but they’re fun to look at and bring back lots of memories for you. What’s better than that?

  2. These prints will always remind you of these wonderful stories. Thanks for sharing both prints and stories. As for K-Mart, don’t forget the “blue light specials!”


  3. What a lovely post. If those prints remind you of them, then they were well worth whatever she paid. I live just across the border from Springfield, MA in CT. I didn’t grow up here, but I remember when K-Mart opened in the area where I did. It was a trek, but my mom loved it.

    1. Thanks Dan. I remember it was a big deal to go to the K-Mart. My gram would get all dressed up. Auntie Dottie would go in flip-flops. They were quite a pair.

  4. The minute I saw the word K-mart I remembered smelling popcorn. Talk about a Pavlovian response. The bird pictures are beautiful and kind of surprise me. My memories of K-mart are of cheap stuff & blue light specials.

    1. You couldn’t go in and buy the whole set – you had to come to the K-Mart every month to buy the current release. I guess they figured once they had you as a regular customer, you’d keep coming back!

  5. Well Jan I absolutely loved reading this, the telling of the life of you family always enthralls me. It always sounds exoctic to me travelling in the car to the city to K.Mart… an urban child we had the shops but not big discount ones that I remember.
    I really enjoyed reading about your Aunt and grandparents. As a lapsed catholic myself I guess she went to confession then carried on beautifying the women of the town feeling absolved, the priest frustrated and the men pleased!
    I have to say regardless of worth those are lovely prints 💜

  6. Hi Jt – those are beautiful prints and I bet the new frames Enrich the five you have left

    My own memories of Kmart flooded back with this post!
    I remember the back eating area had a spin the wheel for the price you pay for a banana split – and my crabby grandmother won a workout suit- when we walked into the store they gave everyone a raffle ticket and she won while in the store –
    Anyhow – most Kmarts are gone but I am glad to have experienced the blue light special (whoever thought of that was Brilliant)

    And smiling to imagine the red heads and home perms

      1. Omg – yes – Lucille ball
        And my aunt passed away a while ago – but one year – a long time ago – I realized she sometimes acted like Lucy from
        I love Lucy –
        This pout and playing simpleton or a little cutesy dumb!
        I called her out on it (not in a bad way) and it was a good insight –
        I only noticed because as a family we were showing our boys some old
        Shows with the DVR recordings – it was fun

  7. Also
    Many years ago we watched a documentary about how they got Martha Stewart to sign with their store chain
    Something like they never imagined she’d sign with them and they made her an offer – she asked for four times the amount and they all
    Smiled because they just wanted a yes from her – and got it

    1. Interesting! I’ve heard her say she just wanted to give people a chance to buy high quality items for less – but it actually was all about the money! Lol.

      1. Well it likely was money motivated for most of these folks we see in the spotlight – and power !
        But it doesn’t mean she didn’t have great ideas and she sure did change the way some stores offered items that felt chic (which I think target is king of doing now)

        I believe that we stopped at a Kmart while in the Florida keys a coups year ago – I need to check – but they sure failed to change ugh the times and evolve –

      2. You’re right -Celebrities do help the discount stores offer people the chance to buy nice things for less. I can’t remember the last time I was in a KMart – they didn’t do that well on the west coast.

      3. The last time in a Kmart was to get a dry Erase board for my son’s room – and I think it was 13 year ago!
        The store felt in a time warp!
        Felt like it never changed in decades –

        And my earliest memory of a Kmart was end of middle school
        And using my allowance to pay my older cousin to take me to Kmart to get a new bike tire – weird memory!

  8. OMG! Those prints are gorgeous! You are fortunate to have them & kudos for having them re-framed.
    “the Vicar accused Dottie of tempting the Devil” Hahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!
    We had a KMart in Winnipeg. I never saw these prints, but the women…aunts… moms…. grammas…. friends all were competitive collectors of KMarts Blue Mountain ceramics. They were more of a teal colour, and everyone had at least 3 ashtrays, a candy dish and an assortment of animals. However, you were a no one without the panther. I loved the panther. Swan was #2.
    Thanks for the memories, JT!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s