Thursday, June 13, 2013

If these walls could talk ...

My neighbor to the south, frazzled by weeks of sorting for last week's auction of his household goods, made a trip over, sat down with a box of World War II-related items for the museum in his lap, looked up and said, "Good heavens, you've got more stuff than we do." 

It wasn't the first time he'd sat there, but sorting through the debris of 80-plus years had raised his consciousness so far as stuff was concerned. And it is true that around here every wall and every available surface is covered with stuff. Frankly, I'm tired of dusting it all. Much of the time I don't. But for better or worse, nearly everything has a story. So it stays put --- for the time being.

These are a few items pulled off the walls (or left in place) this week when I was experimenting, trying to figure out how to take a snapshot for a cousin of a vintage family portrait, elaborately framed and protected behind glass that either reflected the flash back at me or, sans flash, reflected me and a lampshade. Still working on that one.

The image of British statesman William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), top, now in an overwrought frame from Hobby Lobby if I'm remembering correctly, was first prize in an elocution contest won by my maternal grandfather sometime during the 1890s. He bought an impressive frame and admired it --- until he got married. Then an enlarged wedding portrait was inserted in the frame with poor old Gladstone hidden behind.

So when I inherited the portrait, having heard the story, I disassembled the frame, rescued Gladstone and eventually --- after he'd rested under beds for several years in several houses --- framed him. I like to look at the old boy.

Underneath Gladsone is a first-day cover commemorating the failed marriage of Charles and Diana, picked up in Windsor village by a friend who happened to be visiting England when that royal wedding occurred. I'd been asked if I wanted a souvenir of the trip and suggested the first-day cover --- easy to carry, not very expensive. The framing (added on this side of the Atlantic) has considerably more value than the cover.

There are four of these paintings on burlap executed by a Saigon street artist with whose work I became obsessed. The framing consists of scraps covered with fabric and burlap held together with tacks and gilded molding. Two are Chinese scholars; the other two, hunting scenes.

A variety of souvenirs came home from Vietnam with those of us fortunate enough to make it out in one piece. There's even a story, probably apocryphal, of the guy who sent home a jeep, piece by piece. These were easier to manage and I still like them.

Finally, a framed Civil War letter written to Thomas Etheredge, second husband of my great-great-great-grandmother. Unfortunately, it was framed without much thought to the future, so it wasn't transcribed (both sides of these sheets are covered with script) and the signature is hidden, too. One of these days, when I've nothing better to do, I'm going to take the framing apart and find out who the heck wrote it.  

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