05 May 2015
Story of Silver, and Musings on Value Assignations
When I was young, my mother lost her mind in the middle of a weekday afternoon, and to assuage it, began wallpapering the front hallway in a midnight-blue damask. Our spheres of reach span out in concentric circles. You can't change it all. And the most vital things are the most untenable. But she could change this. I remember her smiling in the hallway late at night when it was done. Such an inconsequential thing -- but there, a smile a daughter could catch.
For years I followed a mantra, plucked from the pages of a particular design book --
"Have nothing in your home you don't know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
Then. A small (essential) edit occurred:
everything ought to be useful and beautiful.
Pardon a soliloquy. I'm not much a fan of the word "curate" in relation to home -- it's become a bit trite. I like to think of this as a re-assignation of value. Defining the use and aesthetic value of things in turn defines your relation to them. I worry in our overly "curating" age, we remove ourselves from the equation. In favor of appearance only. It all grinds to a gestalt: is this (this life, this stuff, this shape of consumption) adding to my happiness? Or deterring it?
Over the years, I've amassed a teeny collection of silver findings -- candlestick holders, cutlery, a baby's carousel bank, trays. I have a great-great-great-great aunt who, with her family, packed up a covered wagon with only the essentials, then stowed a few silver implements wrapped in towels. The intentionality of that. I think of them passing, slow like molasses across the land. A storm walloping the canvas sides. The slowness is beautiful. Somehow, through the passing of hands, these things have been left to me, aggrandizing as they gather stories.
And in the silver story, there it is. It's not in vain to own things. But it is in vain to own things...without intention. (That we can have this discussion betrays our privilege. That we could own things...haphazardly. This point does not escape me.)
Like my mother's wallpapering fit, this recalibration of thought is transformative. There are things that are lovely...but not useful. They will go. Some, like our silver things, will stay -- will be added to, will be passed in some small trunk to someone else's hands.
And, like polishing silver, this process dispels a certain cloudiness. A cloudiness, that, if left too long erodes something...more essential. Which is humanity. Which is not what do I have, but what do I give? I imagine a mother's hands stirring with a spoon, small fingers pushing pennies into the top of a bank. It's not things, but what things facilitate. And in the best case, it's a gift. It's memory.