Friday, September 3, 2010

Green Antiques

Lately I have been noticing a change in the antiques business. It is not just that the economy has collapsed. It is not only the fact that the housing market is nonexistent. It is not even the problem that antiques have become harder to find; in fact there are more and better pieces available now and at better prices than in the past 30 years.

There is an entire generation of Americans who simply aren't interested in owning or collecting antique objects. Their parents, who have been my clients for years, report that their kids just don't want this stuff. In addition, the parents, who are of my generation, are logically downsizing and would like to pass on their collection, but the kids walk away.

Some of this I attribute to the failure of education in America. Without getting too political, I always believed that an educated population was the natural strength of any country. Creativity, aptitude, initiative, research, and a diverse educational background all combined to make this country the world's leader during the 20th century. When I entered U.C.S.D. in the 60's as a freshman, Dr. Saltman (the Provost) addressed us as we were the first freshman class of the new university, and he wanted us to understand that we would become "renaissance men." In addition to my studies in math and science, I was required to study history, humanities, literature, music, religion, and many other subjects which represented a diverse spectrum of Western Civilization.

I realized the importance of this approach when I decided, for many reasons, to walk away from the nuclear physics industry and teach Decorative Arts classes, while simultaneously opening a pre industrial furniture conservation business. I thought to myself, if I can do physics, how much harder is it to fix furniture?

In fact I became a green business which relied entirely on recycling materials, organic glues and finishes, and human power. At the time no one was concerned about global warming, depletion of natural resources, or the ozone layer. Now everyone is discussing the problems of industrialization. All business has become "green" and "organic" as a selling point.

I assume that antiques, by their nature, will not disappear from the earth. They have been around for centuries, and at different periods have been ignored or sought after. The collecting of well made and well designed objects will always be significant. But, when this young generation realizes that the early furniture represents a balanced management of the hardwood forests, with raw material harvested by humans and animals, transported by sea using wind power, worked into the final form entirely without a "carbon footprint" and finished with insect excretion, how can they not be interested?

Finally, the picture shows me fixing yet another broken table. This poor Victorian table has been repaired by some farmer, using what was available to him in the barn. Although he made considerable damage to the table at the time, he prevented his wife from throwing it out. Thus his efforts kept it alive, until it became valuable enough for a professional restoration effort.

I can report this table is now back on its feet, and you need to look very closely to see any damage. The next generation of collectors will have the opportunity to discover it in some dusty antique shop and place it proudly in the center of their room for all to see.

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