IS IT A BRICK OR IS IT A STORY
by Libby Holloway
Published August 19, 2009 in the LowCountry Weekly
We were recently in Williamsburg, Virginia to pick up a son who had spent the summer studying history and archaeology at William and Mary. He was very excited about finding part of an old foundation where the group was digging up whole bricks from the late 18th century. His joy at holding a brick that was made over 200 years ago reminded me of just why many of us love our antiques and collectibles.
Americans are proud of our history, short as it is. We study our forefathers’ (and mothers’) drive and determination and admire the spirit that created this new country. I watched the faces of people from all over the world as the re-enactors at Colonial Williamsburg told the stories of how our Revolution came about. There was a spark in many faces that reflected a renewal of spirit to face our current challenges. I believe that most of us who collect old things do so because we love the reminders of what has gone before us. There are some family pieces in our home that remind me of afternoons at my grandparents or the great, great aunt that I was named after. I have a wedding ring that once belonged to my husband’s great aunt that I treasure because it reminds me of her wonderful faith in God. (That’s a long story for another place and time.) We also have some items that I don’t know a lot about but I know where they came from and about when they were made. When I look at the pieces of furniture I see craftsmen who were taking skills learned in Europe and adapting them to the tastes of a new type of client and using new materials. I see silversmiths who melted down English silver and created a new piece that appealed to residents of a new republic. I see new forms created to meet the needs of families taming a new frontier. I see determination to survive and to create art forms that were uniquely American.
Now I realize that not everyone who collects creates huge romantic sagas for every piece of pottery in their cupboards. After all, some of my readers have lives. I do think that even if it is almost subconscious, we feel a comfort from our old things that stems from the sense of permanence those things represent. Whether it be the drama of history, a preservation of an old family history or even just a desire to show a sense of wealth and taste, we collectors all have a psychological attachment to our things. There is a new area of study called Material Culture which seeks to explain how objects reflect history and why we have an emotional link to them. Scholars in this field are attaching a sociological importance to items that are commonly seen as mere utilitarian objects. Who would think a sugar bowl would be used to show our wealth or a button on a coat could have political meaning? Many mundane objects now have great meaning. Hmmm….those of us who are collectors know that this is not new at all. It just didn’t have a name before. Material Culture is an interesting and thought provoking field. As a former social scientist, history buff and antique appraiser I love it.
I hope you will all be able to view the items in your home with a fresh desire to know where things came from and why they were significant to those who had them before you. Take a little time to thanks the creators of the objects we love and love to use to make our houses a little more of a home. And take a little time to remember and appreciate those who made our country the great one it is now. Maybe George Washington slept in that chair in your living room!
Libby Holloway is a certified antiques and residential contents appraiser.
She can be reached at 843-379-0130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.