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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Collector: Cherylee Duncan dishes up joy

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

In the mid-’80s, Cherylee Duncan found a tiny white ceramic bowl and pitcher at a thrift shop, and bought it. That first piece launched a collection of what she calls “lumpy whites.”

China dishes porcelain vases, and ceramic knickknacks fill a display cabinet in her kitchen and are scattered elsewhere in her South Hill home.

But what exactly is a lumpy white?

“Well, they’re white,” she said, smiling. “Some are kind of lumpy, some have ridges or curves. I’m not a dish aficionado, but I know a lumpy white when I see it.”

Duncan and her family moved frequently.

“I had them here and there around the house and didn’t even realize I had a collection until while unpacking one of our many moves,” she said. “I set everything I was taking out of its paper wrapping onto a counter. Later, I came around the corner and saw them as a group. I found them striking and began displaying them together.”

Her current items are actually her second collection of lumpy whites. In 2005, most of her pieces were casualties of a magnitude 6.5 earthquake in Atascadero, California.

“Our house shook sideways and back and forth,” Duncan recalled. “The refrigerator walked two feet and everything flew out. I was so scared!”

A pitcher her husband, Brian, had bought her survived, as did two of three scalloped-edged Haviland china serving pieces that had belonged to her mother-in-law.

As she was sweeping up the shards, her husband said, “Why don’t you save some of the bigger pieces?”

Duncan, an artist, had been making mosaics at the time. When they moved to Spokane 15 years ago, the box of shards came with them and found new life. She used the fragments to create small mosaics, which were then incorporated into their bathroom tilework.

She pointed to one of the tiles.

“This little cherub my daughter bought me is now incorporated into the tile,” she said. “When I shower, I look at these, and I remember what they looked like when they were whole and who gave them to me.”

After the earthquake, Duncan felt depressed.

“I wasn’t going to have any more lumpy whites,” she said. “But my sister ordered me a piece to start again, and it was the same as my very first piece! It inspired me.”

Many of her items are gifts from friends and family.

“My son gave me this mortar-and-pestle and these two apples.”

She picked up a teapot.

“My daughter gave me this. I love the curlicue handle.”

A creamer with raised beading around its lip prompted a smile.

“It reminds me of dotted Swiss fabric,” said Duncan.

On the top shelf, a rooster with a swirling tail stands tall.

“My first rooster got broken, but while we were still in California I went to one of those paint-your-own-pottery places and painted and glazed this rooster. I actually like it better than the original.”

She found a small ceramic cat at a Dollar Store.

“I love the way its tail is curved around to keep it warm,” she said.

An elephant creamer was purchased at a Thai restaurant they frequented in California.

Her oldest grandchild adores the animal knickknacks.

“When he visited, he always wanted to take the animals down and line them up,” she said.

Her most recent addition – a three-tiered Mikasa serving stand - matches the set of Mikasa dishes they use every day.

Duncan said her collection isn’t just for display.

“We use about 50% of it,” she said, pointing to a nest of square bowls. “Those are our popcorn bowls.”

While she’s not actively adding to her collection, she doesn’t hesitate if she spots a lumpy white that she doesn’t have because just looking at the pieces brings her joy.

“I love how they sit here and sparkle.”