I'm a little weird in that I look for the old, dumpy pieces of furniture with a hint of character hiding under the grime. We picked up a piece at auction a couple of months ago. My husband thought I was a little crazy because the piece was old, broken, grimy, the back was missing and the top was cracked. I liked it because it had wooden handles on the drawer.
The cabinet has four layers of paint on it and in order to get to the fasteners to remove the top without breaking it, I had to remove everyone of them. I brushed on stripper and scraped, cleaned and repeated. As I began to expose the details of the cabinet I noticed that it had very beautiful craftsmanship. The handles were hand carved wooden leaves and nuts. The detail in the carvings had been filled with old paint. The doors were meticulously carved. But the real cincher in this piece? The square nails that I eventually removed from the top of the cabinet.
Most people are not familiar with square nails, these nails are not actually square but more rectangular with a small flattened head. Why are they so unusual? Because these are hand crafted nails. Before the industrial revolution, nails were hand made by blacksmiths. By the beginning of the 1800's steel mills began producing long rods that could be cut and finished by blacksmiths making the process easier but it was not until 1880 that the wire nail became widely used and by 1900 wire nails were found in every tool box.
So as I sat with my chisels painstakingly removing paint from carved details and I wondered, where had this piece been? How many homes had it served? How many families had found a purpose for this piece? What parts of history had it endured. We don't think of those things much because we live in an instant society. But think about it for a moment, these nails were probably made between 1800-1880 and we can guess that this piece was made somewhere at the end of that time period. The civil war was fought from 1861-1865, President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, The Homesteader's Act was signed in 1862, Colorado became an official state in the union in 1876. People traveled in wagons, your house was furnished by cabinets, dressers and sideboards. The piece has a story, a legacy of travels and people.
That is why I take the time to repair, restore and repurpose these pieces. They have already stood the test of time. This piece is probably 120 years old, more or less, and even after all the use, all the paint and all the travels, it is still useable. The pieces of furniture that we find in stores today will not have the same legacy. They may not make it 5 or ten years before they begin to fall apart, they cannot stand the test of time and there will be no legacy. It won't be around to be passed on to the newly married daughter or son. It won't be a dowry gift from a grandmother to a granddaughter.
That made me think of something I read the other day. Are we going to leave a legacy? What are we doing to make memories or to be memorable? Are we working solely for our "resume virtues" or are we working for our "legacy virtues"? In other words, are we doing the easy thing and focusing on building titles or are we building relationships? Leaving a legacy. What will your children say about you? What about your grandchildren? What will you be remembered for? When all the kids have grown and the grandkids have grown will you have good memories to keep you company? Give it some thought.
I better get back to scraping now.