Published on September 25, 2020

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Photography by Benjamin Reynaert

The most beloved things in our homes aren’t just things—they hold the stories of where we come from and where we’re going. In Conversation Piece, creatives explore their roots through one meaningful object.

Benjamin Reynaert always knew he was going to be an artist. Adopted from South Korea at 3 months old, Domino’s style director arrived in his hometown of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to his new extended family at the airport, where they welcomed him as if the terminal were a hospital waiting room. Growing up, he attended a small, private elementary school and middle school where “there was one art class that you could just repeat every year if you wanted,” he recalls. “And I remember thinking, I’m going to need more than that.” At age 12 he negotiated with his parents to let him go to the local public school, where more niche art classes, like ceramics and photography, were readily available. “I was always very drawn to independent creative activities,” he says. “I just loved drawing. I loved making things with clay. I loved art.” From there, it was straight to the Rhode Island School of Design for college, where he studied fine art and architecture before moving to New York City to begin his career as a creative director and stylist.

Through it all, Reynaert has kept an heirloom near and dear: a box of colored pencils passed down from his father as his blossoming artistic inclinations became clear. Now merely nubs, the pencils are a reminder of the importance of creativity; valuing an artist’s tools; and his dad, who encouraged Reynaert’s passions from the beginning. Here, he tells us their story. 

The Object

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Photography by Benjamin Reynaert

The box is barely staying together. It’s seen a lot of wear and tear. All of the pencils are different heights—some are really small and worn, others taller. Because they’re from the ’70s, I feel like the colors are just better, more saturated; they write more smoothly. 

One Christmas, all I asked for were pens, pencils, erasers, a stapler, memo pads, and a desk blotter, and my parents shockingly obliged. I loved office supplies as a kid, and I was drawn to the layers and different packaging elements. This set has an outer sleeve and an inner folding pencil holder. The box is covered in my dad’s scribble marks, so I can recognize his touch all over it. He wrote his initials on it, too, which feels really special to have on display. 

The Backstory

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Photography by Benjamin Reynaert

My father was born in the late 1950s. He got the pencils from Green’s, a little family-owned art store in Birmingham, Michigan, where he grew up. The cover is inscribed with his childhood address and the art class he was enrolled in at the time: Commercial Art, 1st and 5th period, room C211, taught by Mr. White. As an adult, my father worked in a more traditional field—he was corporate travel consultant—but he still found time to be creative. He built and designed our first house and he hand-drew antique Model T–era cars, which he had framed in his office. They were really incredible and large-scale. I would look at them and know that he had used the colored pencils on his desk to make them. So I always thought they were special because they created something so impressive.

The Journey

When it came time to apply to college, I knew I wanted to go to art school. For some of my portfolio applications, I had to submit three drawings, one of them only in pencil, so, of course, I used my father’s. Then they just came with me as I moved to Providence, then to New York. Now they live in my apartment in Queens.

The Whereabouts

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Photography by Benjamin Reynaert

The box definitely fits in with my personal style. I love a decorative box! And it’s the perfect size for leaning against a wall on a desk or console. Right now, it’s propped up on a little side table in the dining room; I walk by it every day. Seeing it makes me feel safe and secure. It definitely brings forth a strong sense of nostalgia.  

The Significance

For me, an object is really about the story, whether it’s that the item has been passed down in your family, or was something you wanted for a really long time and worked hard to get, or maybe you bought it on a trip or a friend gave it to you. If it has that added narrative around it, it doesn’t necessarily need to be the most aesthetically pleasing thing. The memory attached is what makes it beautiful. I like the idea of simple, seemingly insignificant items having a ton of meaning. Treat a thrift store painting as you would a Picasso.

The Lesson

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Photography by Benjamin Reynaert

The pencils inspired, or kind of forced me, actually, to learn to take care of things. They weren’t disposable. They belonged to my dad, so I knew they were special. I’ve tried to not just throw them around and lose them. They taught me to be respectful of the tools that I use for work. 

It’s important for me, and for all of us, I think, to remember that nurturing creativity at a young age is very significant. And I believe that it’s important for us to remember what it felt like to be creative as kids, and to apply that feeling to how we think about creativity as adults.

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