How does one place value on memories? What do we say when families ask us if a piece is worth repairing? Usually they are trying to justify their expenditure by putting a value on something that will never be sold.
Mostly we offer that we don’t do appraisals, they are a conflict of interest for us in the business of conserving and repairing antiques, etc. We offer a list of appraisers.
Rarely we tell them “Yes!” Those are the time we happen to be familiar with the value of a piece. We may say they should be able to pull this investment out of the piece if they decide to sell and have the right place to market the piece. That is rare, and the response is always the same, “I would never sell it; I was just curious.”
Mostly we ask them to put a price on their memory of the piece, and being able to share that memory with their children or grandchildren. Families often begin to share their memories and why the piece is so important to them; in this way, working on family treasures becomes intimate.
“It’s okay if some of the glitter stays on the table; my son and daughter used to make holiday cards with glitter.”
“I sat at this dressing table and went through my grandmother’s earrings, trying everything on, and then would sneak some of her favorite perfume so I would smell like grandma.”
“My husband died two weeks ago and I don’t want to celebrate Christmas, but thought if I could repair these two chairs my stepsons would like having them.”
“This desk is the only piece of furniture that my father ever bought; mom was a controlling person, and the study was the only room she had no control over!”
In the studio, it is time for brushwork. Dipping my brush into ruby shellac I drop the two-pound-cut onto the top of the now-clean, prepared surface of the dressing table. It puddles in the center of an area the size of my palm, and I quickly swipe the puddle in three strokes that are still thick. Quick, before it sets up, I stroke the brush long widths across the area, moving the three thick strokes into the thin layer that will start the buildup. Five-six-seven even long low scrubbing strokes, making sure that the brush doesn’t flick drops. I think of baseball, the follow through of the bat for a good hit; the same movement keeps drops from flying, moving my whole hand instead of just my wrist to move the shellac.
Dip, drop, spread, then brush brush brush. I move quickly. Glitter dots the tabletop and I think about their kids, now almost out of the house, and how it will be home for their holiday. I finish the tabletop and move to a dresser.
I can’t stop once I start or the shellacked top will be ruined. Roseanne Cash becomes George Harrison. The world drops away and it is only wet brush, the detailed surface of the dresser, and the music. I suddenly smell perfume. Lilacs. A ghost from years past. “That’s the perfume Grandma wore. . .”