Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What’s to become of my artifacts?

Assuming that any museum and/or auction consignment house would be delighted to have them, I am about to start cataloging my artifacts.

And now I find that I have to have the full provenance of each item, going back to before 1970.


I mean, I know in my own brain and heart that my artifacts pretty much pre-date 1970, but how can I prove it?

Crap and a half. I’m thinking of calling Alan Dershowitz to commiserate, because:

Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, is in a similar bind. An antiquities collector, he is eager to sell an Egyptian sarcophagus he bought from Sotheby’s in the early 1990s. But he is stymied, he said, because auction houses are applying tighter policies to the items they accept for consignment.

“I can’t get proof of when it came out of Egypt,” Mr. Dershowitz said. (Source: NY Times.)

Fortunately, I don’t think I have to worry about any of my artifacts walking like an Egyptian. On the other hand, when I decide to unload I’ll have a lot more than one crummy sarcophagus to put on the market or donate.  Putting them on the market may be the easier move:

Museums typically no longer want artifacts that do not have a documented history stretching back past 1970, a date set by the Association of Art Museum Directors, whose guidelines most institutions have adopted. Drawn up in 2008, the rules have been applauded by countries seeking to recover their artifacts and by archaeologists looking to study objects in their natural settings.

And good luck to an archaeologist studying these beauties “in their natural settings:”

Those steer horns originally hung in Rogers Brothers’ Saloon, which closed with Prohibition. My grandfather dieSteer hornsd before the fatwa on brew was called off in the 1930’s, so it was never re-opened. And, since the children of the Rogers Brothers are themselves long gone – my aunt Margaret, who died in 1996, was the last of those who would remember this establishment and its theme song, Back Home Again in Rogers Barroom (That’s the place I long to be). No one’s quite certain where it was – somewhere in Webster Square in Main South Worcester – and whether the building it was in was razed. Or whether the dream continued as Mulcahy’s or McGuire’s or The Village Pub, all quite elegant local watering holes.

And that cider jug. Alas, Parson’s Cider Mill has been closed for quite a while, and it went to plastic jugs well before it closed. So I’m guessing this was from the 1960’s. Oddly, given that I grew up in the city. we had things in the ‘hood like a quasi-working farm (it had cows, anyway) and a cider mill. On Thanksgiving morning, we would walk up to Parson’s with my father, who would be pulling the Radio Flyer red wagon, to buy our cider for the day.  I actually think we brought the same jug back every year for a refill. (Pardon me for a bit while I tear up at the memory of my father, in his orange and brown plaid jacket and Stetson fedora, walking home from Parson’s with us, talking about how wonderful that cider was going to taste. And it did.)

And you can’t really see what makes that grey and blue pitcher such a tremendous artifact. On the reverse side, there are massive cracks all gunked up with heavy glue where my Grandmother Rogers repaired it back in the whenever. It was never going to be used to actually drink out of anyway, so what the hell. With its back turned, a man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice that the fix – which was echt Nanny - was in. So there.

Artifacts, artifacts, artifacts. I have got them coming out the ying-yang.

Who wouldn’t want to get their mitts on these gems:

Sure, you’re probably asking yourself just what they are. Trinidad dollsWell, it’s a couple of Indian dolls my father sent home from Trinidad when he was stationed there during The War. (Readers of V.S. Naipaul will recall that there are beaucoup d’Indians in Trinidad.) Sure, other kids had fathers who were at D-Day, or Guadalcanal, or the Battle of the Bulge, but someone had to be in Trinidad. And if my father had been in some dangerous place, and hadn’t survived, he never would have been stationed in Chicago and met my mother. And there would have been no trips to Parson’s with the Radio Flyer.

“Collectors know that without provenance it is impossible to know whether an object was first acquired by illegal or destructive means,” said Neil J. Brodie, an archaeologist and former director of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.

Knowing my father, I’m not worried about his having acquired these dolls by “illegal or destructive means.” He paid. It might have been with a can of Spam, but he paid.

My mother, of course, made her own I contributions to my artifact collection. This shot does not do this crewel embroidery of Japanese lanterns in a modern vase justice. And while I don’t have any official IMG-20120715-00051paperwork, I did watch her make the darned thing. It hung for years in our family room before I spirited it away and paid a ton of money to have framed. If (probably when, what with the polar ice caps melting) the Flat of the Hill ever floods, this is probably the first object I’d save.

Which means I’d probably have to leave these behind, two lovely New England scene watercolors done by one of my mIMG-20120715-00053other’s Chicago girlfriend’s as an engagement present. Best engagement present ever (especially after, fifty years or so later, your daughter goes to the same pricey frame-shop where the crewel work was framed and gets them all duded up). In keeping with the modesty of the era – this was 1945 – these watercolors aren’t signed, except for a tiny H. (Which stood for Helen Curtin, the sister of my mother’s best friend, Margaret. Helen died in 2010, which I know thanks to the power and glory of the Internet. One of her daughters was also named Maureen.)

Well, I could go on, but I really do have to get going on the provenances of all of my treasures.

“Objects are guilty until proven innocent,” said James J. Lally, a Manhattan dealer in Chinese art and antiquities.

I’m assuming that this sweeping statement also encompasses non-Chinese art and antiquities, like this example of volksdeutsche kunst, a sampler done by my Grandmother Wolf in 19IMG-20120715-0005412, when she was  11 or 12. When I was a kid, I thought the German alphabet was different, because the letters are in an odd order – with the capitals, things seem to break down a bit after “G”. Magdalena made up for it, more or less, and put most of the missing letters in a bonus row. For some reason capital “X” never made it in to the mix. (The lower case alphabet does contain an x.)

Meanwhile, as if I have nothing better to do with my time, I have to start establishing the provenance for all my artifacts.

Life doesn’t get any simpler, does it?

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