Review by Mary Sieber
The Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s Past, One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time by Lisa Tracy is a heartfelt memoir full of wry observations, honest feelings, and practical advice about dealing with heirlooms and the family members who loved them.
It is also a quintessential treatise on a dilemma that strikes most of us at some point in our lives: Not taking time to know and understand our parents and grandparents until it’s too late.
After their mother’s death, Tracy and her sister, Jeanne, must decide what to do with their family’s belongings, which include a “George Washington” chair, a pair of “Aaron Burr” dueling pistols, a stack of Canton china, and multitudes of other antiques and collectibles acquired during their military family’s wayfaring ways. The sisters relegate the items to two storage units while they decide how to deal with them. Finally, years later, they agree to auction them, and during the course of preparing them for auction, they come to learn (too late) just how much sentimental value they possess.
“We can…never be free of our stuff until we have dealt with the stories it carries,” Tracy sums up at the end of the book’s prologue. “In the end, it does indeed tell us something about who we are.”
And this book does just that. In the course of researching the provenance of her belongings, Tracy not only learns things about the items themselves, but also about both sides of her family, including unknown information about her paternal grandmother, an aunt she never knew existed, and other genealogical facts. Unfortunately, most of these lessons occur after the items have been consigned to the auction. But better late than never!
The Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s Past, One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time by Lisa Tracy, Bantam Hardcover, 2010. Hardcover with dust jacket, 256 pages, $25. www.objectsofouraffection.com/.
Woman’s Painted Furniture a remarkable resource today
The newly released Woman’s Painted Furniture 1790-1830, American Schoolgirl Art is a remarkable resource for readers today. This quality volume from University Press of New England opens the door to the past art of girls and women applying a flourish of paint to boxes, tables, and other wooden objects.
Research by author Betsy Krieg Salm presents fascinating American schoolgirl art in its entirety including its origination, materials, and techniques. Further there is personal history on the girls of long ago who created this enduring work.
Salm moves on to document the socioeconomic, cultural, and aesthetic history women’s painted furniture. It was a time when talented females painted items as small as jewelry or souvenir boxes and as large as chairs and bureaus.
In the process of it all the book carefully chronicles the painting process itself, including a selection of cabinetmakers and woods, varnishes and paints, and specific tools and techniques.
“The most endearing thing about this work is that most pieces were signed and dated with places of origin,” notes Salm in the book’s introduction. “The signatures belong to young women, twelve to 36 years of age, who attended or graduated from schools and academics in New England between 1790 and 1830. Their hand written endearments, poems, prayers, and memorial testimonials scripted onto the boxes make the art very personal.”
Some of New England’s most famous families had daughters who were artisans of women’s painted furniture including Emily Dickinson’s paternal aunt Lucretia, and Harriet and Catherine Beecher. Many attended special boarding schools in which they learned the art.
Salm is a scholar, artisan, and teacher of the historic are of women’s painted furniture. Her own work has been exhibited in numerous shows.
Woman’s Painted Furniture 1790-1830: American Schoolgirl Art by Betsy Krieg Salm, hardcover, 221 color illustrations, 248 pages, index, is $60 from University Press of New England. www.upne.com
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