Sunday, October 16, 2022

Interesting Interview: Aaron Rubin

To see Aaron Rubin is to immediately be taken in by his sense of style.  Aaron has been studying the history of art, fashion, and jewelry for years and has lectured on these topics throughout Los Angeles and San Francisco.  He also wrote an article in a recent issue of The Baker Street Journal reminiscing about his early years as a Sherlockian and being possibly the youngest person to recreate Holmes and Watson's sitting room.

Aaron is one of the newest batch of Baker Street Irregulars from this year's class and I've been very lucky to get to know him over the course of this year through emails after we were invested.  And through this week's interview, I got to learn a little more about him.  I love knowing that there was a family connection to this hobby and that he has been involved with his home scion since the age of TWELVE!  If you already know Aaron, you know you're in for some words from a really nice guy, and if you haven't met him yet, get ready to learn about someone you're going to want to get to know better!

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?

I believe that a Sherlockian has read the Canon at least once, has the inclination to read it all again, and is at least familiar with the concept of the Great Game (or the Higher Criticism) whether they practice it or not. The road to becoming a Sherlockian can start anywhere, but no matter how devoted you are to the Basil Rathbone films or the Benedict Cumberbatch series or to any series of pastiches, if you haven’t read and digested the entire Canon then you’re really just a Sherlock Holmes fan. That is, a fan of the character named “Sherlock Holmes.” And there’s nothing wrong with being a fan, but a Sherlockian has pushed past fandom into something else entirely. Obsession, I suppose. But whatever that something else is, it should be built on the foundation of the original source material.

How did you become a Sherlockian?

I was extremely fortunate to have Sherlock Holmes introduced to me by my sixth grade teacher. I was instantly hooked, and I was blessed to have parents who could see that my new passion was more than a fleeting interest. My mother was something like a Sherlockian in her youth, and she did the research to find The Curious Collectors of Baker Street and signed us up for membership. Being part of a group of exceptionally friendly and welcoming Sherlockians, at such a young age (I was twelve), meant that I had the support and encouragement to pursue this passion all through my awkward teen years, high school, college, and beyond. 

Age twelve, delivering my first “scholarly” paper at my first Curious Collectors of Baker Street meeting.

What is your profession and does that affect how you enjoy being a Sherlockian?

In my previous life I worked at a major auction house for about nine years. I spent most of that time assisting the Fine Jewelry department and the Entertainment Memorabilia department. I can’t recall any Sherlockian overlap in my work with jewelry (although I was always hunting for an emerald snake ring for my collection), but Holmes did pop up occasionally in the world of Entertainment Memorabilia. I won’t say too much, but it’s pleasing to know that Basil Rathbone (in 1939) and I (circa 2013) wore the same sized jacket!

What is your favorite canonical story?

I recently reread The Valley of Fear and enjoyed it so thoroughly that I was surprised. I probably hadn’t read it in over 20 years and had only a vague memory of finding it rather dull. Mea culpa! Maybe I just didn’t “get it” back then. I suppose it’s a favorite at the moment. For sentimental reasons I always say that “A Scandal in Bohemia” is my favorite. 

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?

Maggie Schpak! Maggie’s career in film and television props, jewelry, and costume design is endlessly fascinating. And every marvelous object she has made comes with its own equally marvelous story or humorous anecdote. For decades she has supplied bespoke Sherlockian medals for the Curious Collectors of Baker Street annual medal quiz. And countless tiaras, brooches, stickpins, earrings, etc. (all either explicitly Sherlockian or Victorian-inspired) have been prominent highlights of fund-raising auctions and raffles for both the CCOBS and the BSI. She is a font of amazing stories, great humor, technical expertise in an assortment of fields, a dedicated Sherlockian since childhood, and one of my personal style icons. I guess I tend to assume that everyone knows Maggie, but if you don’t, you should. 

Just a typical teenager’s bedroom.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?

My most ambitious Sherlockian endeavor was the transformation of my childhood bedroom into a re-creation of the sitting room at 221B Baker Street. I should clarify that I did this while still using it as my bedroom. I was limited by space, resources, concessions to practicality, and my as-yet-undeveloped knowledge of the period and antiques. But I dove into that project with all the zeal that one might expect from a teenage Sherlockian. 

For my birthday one year I asked for an entire fireplace! Then I discovered that an antique sideboard worked just as well for holding clothes. And my bed could be turned into a reasonably convincing settee. I made it work, and the room evolved in stages over a period of about five or six years until the necessities of a twenty-first century adult lifestyle came crashing in and ruined the fantasy. 

When your parents won’t let you sleep on an antique sofa, you make do with what you have. 

But although my sitting room is long-since disassembled, I have never lost my passion for Sherlockian room re-creations. There are certainly enough of them around the globe to classify them as a subset of Sherlockiana. Creating these spaces (usually interpretations of the famous sitting room) is like playing the Great Game on the highest level, and I admire anyone who attempts it. 

Generally speaking, the approach to this Herculean labor falls into one of two categories. There are those who want to cram a room full of as many Canonically-listed or implied artifacts (whether they would/should be in the sitting room or not) and then furnish the space around these items; and then there are those who attempt to create an authentic period room, meticulously building a late Victorian interior and introducing Sherlockian/Watsonian trappings with an eye to making the space believable. I prefer the latter approach and, if I were ever to have the space and money required, would love to try the project again from this angle. But any manner of re-creation (from tiny miniatures to full-scale rooms) is always a magical treat!

Just a typical teenager’s bedroom.

You are well-known in Sherlockian circles for your fashion-sense.  How has that enhanced how you enjoy our hobby?

Am I? I’m flattered! Here the link with Sherlock Holmes is concrete, but the other way around. Being a Sherlockian gave me an avenue to explore and develop my interest in fashion. The CCOBS has always been blessed with a hefty contingent of historical re-enactors, dancers, and costumers. The club’s annual Gasfitters’ Ball was the history-immersive highlight of my year, but all of our events were (and are) excuses to don period costume. Consequently I went from being a schlubby teenage nerd in a t-shirt to being a teenage nerd in a top hat, white tie and tails, and I never looked back! 

From there my tastes moved chronologically from the 1890s to the present day, and I have finally settled into a “look” of my very own. I rarely wear full period costumes anymore but I do wear frock coats and capes as often as possible! Holmes may also have been responsible for revealing my then-latent interest in jewelry. Now I am rarely seen without a brooch, ring, or other doodad, but it all began with scion society pins and quiz medals!

As someone who has been a Sherlockian since you were a kid, how has your interest in Sherlockiana adapted over time?

As is the case with so many of us, my passion for Holmes manifested as the “collection mania in its most acute form.” When I was just starting out on this journey I voraciously acquired any and every Sherlockian item I could get my hands on. Every book, monograph, tchotchke, artwork, matchbook, or scrap of newspaper I could find – as long as it had at least a deerstalker on it - I had to have it. Now I find I am much more selective and deliberate about my acquisitions. This is largely because, as I got older, I started collecting SO many other things beyond Sherlock Holmes. So space and finances had to be shared among my many passions and hobbies. There are plenty of Sherlockians who have devoted every square inch of available space in their life to the storage and display of Sherlockiana, and I probably used to think that I was destined to be one of them. I admire those people but I’m glad that I have found a way to maintain a healthy Sherlock-Life Balance.

About age twenty, dressed for the CCOBS annual Silver Blaze Handicap at the Santa Anita Park.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?

It’s a clich√©, I know, but Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes is an essential. As a kid it was my first exposure to playing the Great Game, and those annotations confounded me, vexed me, inspired me, and made me want to read the entire Canon to get to the bottom of things!

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?

“Sherlock Holmes” the character isn’t going anywhere. There will always be new renditions and interpretations of him (or her, or them) in print and on screens both big and pocket-sized. And as long as the character thrives then (hopefully) so will Sherlockiana. It doesn’t matter how you find Holmes, as long as you do. Of course I hope that people will continue to love the character so much that it compels them to read the original stories and join a club!

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