FROM PAULA: “Quite often when I travel I take an unconventional approach. It is not about learning about buildings and places that I visit, or knowing all the dates and names; it is about stepping into the past, and if I am lucky enough to have only the company of my choice with me, it is like a time travel in which I write my own script.”
Well put. I feel that way not only when I travel, but it is the reason I collect antiquities. Each is a physical piece of the past. I hold it and imagine how many other hands have held this piece of pottery or sculpture. Who were they? What was the world like? How did it happen that this fragile thing could survive a thousand years when, at any time, a slip of the hand would have shattered it.
Yesterday, my son gave me an old, small (as these things go) Victorian secretary with a glass display top, replacing a piece that I’d bought from a carpenter friend that was charming, but not exactly a great piece of furniture. I have spend the last 24 hours cleaning small things, finding things I’d forgotten I have, moving stuff around from this shelf, to that shelf. The former piece was open, no glass. There were just two shelves, one open top, the other 16-inches tall. The secretary’s shelves are about 13-inches high, so the taller things have had to move elsewhere, and some of the plates will fit, but not on their wood stands. Housing and displaying very old, delicate things is not as simple as it looks unless you have a lot more space for display than me. But, I did it. I gave away one picture — big 11X14 of the dawn over Ogunquit beach to my son and his partner. I have many things that need a piece of wall and there’s no wall available. I own the original of that print, so I can make another. Maybe I will. On canvas, this time.
I remembered something I’d put out of my mind and it saddened me. Last March, I (me, no one else, just me) knocked down a display cabinet in the living room. I wrote about it here: WHEN GOOD SHELVES GO BAD.
I had forgotten that the Qianlong (1736-1795) porcelain vase (the white vase with the Chinese characters) was one of two fatalities in that crash. I’m very glad I took pictures of it. It was probably my favorite piece. The prettiest and in the best condition of any of my antique vases. It was, in fact, almost flawless.
It no longer exists in this world. That’s the thing about the antiques and antiquities we collect. We collect them for ourselves because they are beautiful and rare and come from the mists of time. But we also preserve them so they will continue to exist in this world. Sadly, I failed in this and one other much older small vase.
There is more to collecting that just “having stuff.” Real collectors know this and it is probably more addictive than heroine. And possibly, even more expensive.