Chapter Two: A Book
Thatcher Freund wrote an article that was published in the New York Times Magazine Section in 1994. His topic was a card table that had been made around 1750 in Philadelphia by a cabinet maker known as the Garvan carver (Garvan after a piece of furniture made by the Garvan carver and owned by a family of that name). Indeed, the cover of the Magazine Section was deep blue with a photo of the card table on the cover. It was stunning! The article impressed me so much that I managed to snag a second copy and laminated both of them because I thought I might be able to use it in the class room (unfortuantely that didn't work for a number of reasons). Freund told the history of the table using the few facts available about the table itself, its owner, and the possible craftsman who made it. Some of the article was speculation based on historical research for the earlier years but then it followed the "life" of the table up to its sale at a Sotheby auction in 1991 for $950,000.
I still have one copy of that article. The second one I gave to the man whose family donated the Severin Roesen paintings to the Metropolitan Museum. I thought he would appreciate the story of the card table and the family that owned it. As I glanced through the laminated copy, I was struck once again by the writing. Thatcher Freund has an easily style; he could be sitting at a dining room table telling his story much as our host told me the story of those paintings. The next step was to find the book from which the NYT article was adapted and to read it. His book is Objects of Desire (Freund, Thatcher. Objects of Desire. New York: Pantheon, 1993), and it is available by request through our library system.
In it Freund tells the story of three specific and truly outstanding American antiques in such a way that you understand how some people fall under the spells those pieces weave. In Freund's book, it isn't about coveting something no one else has because that will make the owner special and powerful (he gives that a brief nod and one owner may suffer a little from that), but rather it's the beauty of the pieces and their histories that evoke visceral responses which fascinates the author.
But it's the Willing card table (commissioned by Thomas Willing) that drew me to the book, and then the Garvan carver about whom I'd love to know more. I don't want to dwell on those things because it was something else I found in the book that caught me and that I want to share. But first, I've found some photographs of pieces attributed to the Garvan carver on Google Images that you must see. The first is a Chippendale clock, and you can see immediately why people find his work amazing.
The second is the card table. Imagine having this pass down through your family! That story is amazing. The card table was discovered wrapped up within a sealed storage crate in the basement of a bank. The family name was on the crate as well as an address and some other specifics that I don't remember right now. The man who found the crate wasn't looking for it because he didn't even know it existed. He just happened to be a direct descendent of Thomas Willing. Now did he find the card table or . . .
Did the card table find him?
If you need any more clues, here's the part that relates this chapter to the one I posted yesterday, Towards the end of the book (p 287), Freund has this to say:
"Things possess the possibility of immortality. They are pieces of human industry frozen in time. They connect their makers to everyone who ever owns them and everyone who ever touches them and even to those who only stop to look at them. When a mother hands down her silver service, she is connecting her child to a past full of rich texture and meaning to her. She is connecting the child to her past, but she is also connecting herself to her child’s future. She is passing a piece of herself to the hands of her great-grandchild. She wants to survive.
Even those things people don’t inherit – things that hold no ancestors inside – can affect their owners through their histories. The objects tell stories. They hold the dents from room handles and the oils from a thousand hands and the unconscious thoughts of everyone who has dusted them."
Think about this. What's your reaction to Freund's statement?