This grouping of mostly ceramic and glass hands on a table in Joan McKeever’s home recently welcomed a new addition, the hard plastic “reclining” hand in front. PHOTOS COURTESY JOAN MCKEEVER

Conversation among six ladies at the back table at a recent bridal shower ran the gamut from volunteer work to hobbies, to the game being played and the food and wine being served.

During a brief lull, out of nowhere, one woman said, “I have a collection of body parts all over my house.”

Since she now held everyone’s rapt attention – in her hand, so to speak – Joan Moreau McKeever continued.

“It started when my kids were young. I’d become a single parent and, to supplement my income, I started a side business – “My Favorite Things” – selling little vintage items that I could transport, along with my boys, to flea markets and craft fairs,” she said.

McKeever, who now lives in Bluffton, said she loved all things vintage and had a penchant for jewelry, which she would wear while displaying her wares at the markets.

“I stored the rings on an old porcelain hand vase I had purchased in an antique store,” she said. “When that one filled up, my sister bought me one … then my mom got into the act and gave me another … and so my collection of hands was born.”

It was unclear from an internet search when ring holders in the shape of human hands became popular, though some were found from as early as the 1930s. They can be made of ceramic, porcelain, glass, metal, wood – and even marble and jade.

McKeever began to look for various kinds of hands.

“It became a game – finding hands that were one-of-a-kind,” she said.

Then the collection expanded to other body parts. “When my stockpile of necklaces and pins got too large to fit in a drawer, I purchased a vintage mannequin, dressed her in my white lace outfit and adorned her with flapper beads and Bakelite pins,” McKeever said. “Eventually I ended up with quite an inventory.”

She continued to sell vintage items at markets and fairs for several years. “This was a wonderful outlet, but life changes,” McKeever said. “I got busy with a real job and no longer loaded up the car to schlep to the market.”

But that didn’t quite stop the urge to collect.

“Roll the clock forward to when my kids wanted to learn how to play golf,” McKeever said. “The teaching pro convinced me to buy a set of clubs so I could play with my sons.”

The sport was enjoyable, but McKeever was less than thrilled with the attire she expected to wear. “The worst part of golf? The clothes for women,” she said. “We look like fire hydrants in men’s polos and shorts, with the balls sticking out sideways in too tight pockets.” No woman wants her hips to look wider, after all.

McKeever, who had learned how to sew as a young girl and made her own clothes through high school, decided she would create a clothing line for women golfers.

“And for that,” she said, “I needed another mannequin.”

Another one arrived soon after, and then another. “Sometimes when people know you collect certain objects, they feel compelled to gift you more of the same. I ended up with four full-size mannequins and a couple of miniatures for good measure,” McKeever said. 

Though her dream of the clothing line didn’t materialize, she kept the mannequins around for fun and display. She still has all but one of her original group of bodies.

The hands, on the other hand, continue to appear.

“The last time I counted, I have 36 hands,” McKeever said. “All my hands are one-of-kind, made from porcelain, milk glass, metal or wood. My latest addition was a hand I found made of hard plastic. It had been unscrewed from the rest of its body. I checked with the gang first to ensure they were OK with this new addition: ‘All in favor of adding her to the collection, raise your hand,’ I said.”

It was unanimous.