Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Grandmother's Furniture

One thing I've always had going for me is good timing. My move last year into a 100 year-old row house in LeDroit Park coincided perfectly with my grandmothers transfer into a smaller apartment in her retirement home. A generous woman with impeccable taste, she offered me two roomfulls of beautifully-preserved antiques. As a dedicated Navy wife, my grandmother lovingly moved this furniture all over the United States and Guam without so much as a scratch on her oak clawed foot end tables. The day of the move, she explained to me once more how hard my great-grandmother had worked to hand-embroidered the cushions of the dining room chairs. I saw her nervousness at giving her free-spirited granddaughter these family relics, and although I have never been much of a housekeeper, I vowed that I would care for her gift. 

A year later, I still am trying hard to protect my family heirlooms. I am proud of my signature move of sliding a coaster under a dripping glass so quickly that my guests don't even notice.   Still, much to my horror, I sometimes listen as my mothers voice escapes from my lips and asks a good friend to take her feet off the couch. Yep, with my grandmother's gift comes the knowledge of how time is laughing at me for thinking I would be different than my parents. Yet, as the only professional artist in my family history, I think that I am starting something new. Which is probably why I recently began to fantasize about  using the lovely pink silk chair in my bedroom for a Houndstooth's portrait.  Upon waking this summer, I'd lovingly stare at it, and then promptly imagine the disappointment in my grandmother's eyes.  

Then came a brisk Sunday morning with perfect sunlight was streaming in through the windows. I had woken up feeling brave and was just finishing a photo session outside with joyful Vidalia and her very sweet owner, Amy, when it the thought occurred to me that we could just try a few test shots.  I glanced at Vidialia, a pit-bull mix, who in her rather dignified way had kept her paws quite clean.  This was going to work. I took a deep breath, spread the thin blue scarf out over the smooth cushion, and asked a silent pardon from my generations past. With Amy's help, Vidalia hopped right up and started posing for the camera. As you can see in the picture, she definitely has an inner supermodel that was waiting to come out. 

I'm starting to understand that the true value of all material objects lies in the memories they evoke for us--and those memories are tied back to the people and animals that share our lives. When one undertakes the understanding that a life well lived is one in which furniture sometimes gets ripped or stained or finally just withers away with use of time, then the most practical thing to do is make a piece of art, which can last for a great deal longer.  An art lover herself, I think my grandmother would actually agree with me, and if not, I find comfort in the fact that she has never quite taken to using the internet. 

P.S.--Congratulations to Amy, who recently got engaged in a very romantic, tropical location!

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