Friday, June 20, 2008

the 'bastard'

Please click on the images to see the details better.

This old 7-foot cabinet stands in our family room. It was named "the Bastard" affectionately by a local antique dealer because of how it combines several furniture styles: bits of Empire, Rococo, Neoclassical, etc, and the extra wooden base added at the bottom for height.

My mom's mom, Grandma Olive, made a living as an artist~illustrator~designer as a single mom in the 1920s and -30s when she and my grandfather were divorced. My mom was just 6 then, in 1924. I think I met Grandma Olive at least once (she lived several states away), but she died in1960 when I was 4; I have no memories of her. I wish I could ask her about many things, including this cabinet, which belonged to her.

Grandma Olive painted the Romanesque scene on the door of the cabinet, above. Here's a detail, below.

Mom told me that Grandma Olive was always picking up stray pieces of furniture at a bargain on the back streets of NYC (they lived across the bay in Bayonne, New Jersey), then taking them home to rejuvenate with her artistic imagination.

When I got this cabinet after my parents died, it was hard for me to put anything on the shelves besides "pretty" things - like the vases on top. But something in me rebelled against pretty decorating for the sake of form and not function, so now I keep my oversized books and some of our CDs there. Since I think books are beautiful, and piles of books even more so, I am okay with my own "bastardization" of this old treasure.

I dream of someday writing a book about four women: Grandma Olive, my mom, me, and my daughter Lesley. In it I would have to "create" Olive, since all I have are some things she touched, created, repaired, loved, and a few words about her from my mom and dad, and my older siblings. Although Olive had, and created, many beautiful things, I've read a couple of her letters that show material things weren't all to her. She had a big heart, but didn't always know how to share it.


freefalling said...

(That's a weird coincidence, isn't it? You do realize we have done that more than once or twice?)

I LOVE your bastard!
It's an absolute bewdy!
But I have to say, most of all, I love the close up of the bluey-greeny vases.
I think I know someone who would like them too - I'm gunna send her over.

You hanging out with the chickens this weekend, Ruth?

VioletSky said...

Affectionately called "the bastard", I love it!

That is the strangest looking cabinet. I am feeling Grandma Olive had a longing for a dreamier life with that painting on the door.

Mrs. M. said...

The red room at Hukilau is a great resource for more discoveries about Olive--we can go on a hunt if you're interested over the 4th! I bet Katy would love to join us...

Anet said...

I think it's wonderful! Grandma Olive sounds wonderful too! She was a very talented artist. And a incredible women to be a single mother back at that time, must of be very hard.
And Ruth... I look foward to read the book someday:)

Gwen Buchanan said...

Yes looks like Gramdma Olive had the strength to rebell...and to stand on her own.. and to see beauty in what others have shunned... I would have liked her...

Sharon said...

I definitely think you need to write that book before the idea of Grandma Olive (whether fact or fictionalized) is lost. Because for as little as you know of her, Leslie must know even less, and Leslie's children and/or nieces and nephews will know even less someday someone looks at your wonderful cabinet without any of the sentiment or connectedness you feel for it.......that would be sad.

Sandy said...

YOu had Aunt Olive, I had Aunt Julia. She was a sensational wild type woman back in that same era. Divorced a few times, expressed herself loudly and flamboyantly. She loved sparkles and I got my love of jewelry (which I never wear now) from her.

That is a beautiful piece of furniture and a great painting she did. Sure wish these great people in our past would write their autobiographies.

My dad did before he died, and left it up to my sis and me to type it up and do what we wanted with it.

I keep thinking some day I'll start a separate blog and post it along with his art work and poetry.

but what a chore that would be.

Enjoyed your post today.

Sandy said...

oh, meant to say, I'm glad you were a little surprised by toddler toes. I didn't think it was very good so didn't bring notice to it when I did it.


André Lemay said...

Beautiful, no matter what it is called, I like the name, it makes it a unique piece of art.

Bob Johnson said...

Ruth I love the cabinet and how she personalized it with an awesome painting, the fact your grandmother was an artist-illustrator-designer-single Mom would be quite the accomplishment in today's world, back in the 20's it would have been doubly so.

I agree with Sandy, too bad people we have had in our past that we admire wouldn't leave more notes, that's one of the reasons I'm doing my blog.

Drowsey Monkey said...

I love that, 'the bastard' lol. I use my fancy china cabinet for books too. I like the look.

'she had a big heart, but didn't always know how to share it' Damn, that hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it. I've know relatives like that, and I dare say, I'm like that as well. I love the description.

I left a note about the photo on flying today basically saying that only you could take something that would normally freak me out and make it look magical. You've done the same thing here today but with words.

Rauf said...

Everything looks so strang Ruth, even my own blog which i opened on my sister's putter after a couple of months looks very strange.

There is no place for bastards like that in my room now, i would love to have it Ruth. Its gorgeous.
i am getting some shoddy things made, but they are strange designs highly personalised, perhaps this is what my friends like. Those designs are actually not designs coming out of my imagination. They come out of financial constraints, lack of space and bad carpenters, cheap wood. For instance, the shelf to keep my clothes has 3 compartments. The top one has regular doors, i wanted the middle and the lower one to have sliding doors as the doors cannot be opend, my putter table is blocking them. Now there was no money to buy sliding door channels. so the middle chamber has no doors. This itself has become a design and my friends love it, a couple of them want to have one made like that.

Hope you Don Lesley and Peter are doing fine. Now i want to see what Mystic rose is upto.
To make matters worse, i frgot my passwords, its been so long Ruth. hope you are enjoying the summer.

Ruth said...

Letitia, it doesn't matter that you're in Australia and I'm in Michigan, we have a good connection. Glad you like the bastard, I know you love your own.

Yes, just hanging out with the chickens this weekend.


Sanna, thank you, I'm glad you love it too. I do think Grandma Olive had a beautiful world in her head, and she created a lot of art and items that reflected it.


Mrs. M., I used to take regular inventory of the items in the red room, when they were in Grandpa's gray cabinet (now ours with different items). I'd sit in his study and pull the contents of a drawer out, and browse through her life in illustrations. Let's look with Katy! I'm so happy you'll be at Hukilau!!!!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Anet. I have to decide if the book should be fiction or non-fiction. But then, the difference between the two can be indecipherable!


Gwen, you are an artist and recycler extraordinaire. I think there is something about that combination that goes deep into the soul, because when I see your work, I don't just admire the beauty, I admire the ingenuity, resourcefulness and imagination. I feel that way about Olive too.


Sharon, what you say reminds me of how I feel when I watch the Olympics every couple of years. The athletes are just competitors until I hear about their personal stories, and then I get attached to certain ones, and my imagination for the human family takes off. With blood family it's even more important, because the stories reveal realities about ourselves as well as the family member. I need to at least write down the memories, without worrying too much yet about the genre.

Ruth said...

Auntie Sandy, it sounds as though you know a lot about Aunt Julia, that's so great. I wonder how much of you blossomed because you knew her?

Oh a blog about your dad and his art and poetry sounds wonderful! Maybe some day you'll get a desire to do it, and it won't be a chore. I hope so.

And I thought toddler toes was sweeeeeet!


André, thank you so much. Technically, I don't think it's the right name, since 'bastard' doesn't mean a combination of various parents. It should probably be 'mutt'!


Bob, the more I think about Olive, the more impressed I am with what she accomplished. Blogger and other blog sites have made it so easy for us to be creative, but what you do with yours and your unique perspective on not just the skies, but the human excitement about the world out there, is one of the best examples I know of using this format to its highest quality.

Ruth said...

Drowsey, it was a revelation to me when I found two letters Grandma Olive wrote, one to my mom and one to my brother, when we cleaned out my mom's house after she had Alzheimer's. I was stunned by her sweet, loving spirit, because I had heard more about her stormy, artistic nature up to that point. That's an example of how important it is to keep telling these stories, because who we are is partly who went before us, and when these layers are revealed, our own nature is revealed too I think.

I just love what you wrote, both here and at Flying. Thank you so much.


Dear long lost rauf!! As strange as the computer looked to you, seeing you here looks strange to me too! And that's sad. And happy at the same time!

Necessity is the mother of invention, and you discovered something good in your need. I too love open shelves and cupboards. The problem is you have to keep them neat, hehe. But maybe that's not a problem for you. So now you will be a furniture design consultant, along with a shopping consultant, graphic arts consultant, photography consultant, etc., etc. You are another one like Grandma Olive and Gwen, an artist with a love of recycling.

I hope you will be all set up and comfortable, with your own putter soon!

Don said...

Although it is a bastard, we love it like it's our own.

Ginnie said...

It seems to me you know more about G'ma Olive than I do, Ruth...or at least some things I didn't know. I had no clue that that cabinet was hers or that she painted the scene on top. I wonder what else you know!! Maybe we can share some stories soon at the lake!

Cloudscome said...

This is really beautiful. What a treasure! I love to hear the family stories too.

Sandy said...

the painting is beautiful.

Don said...

Speaking of bastard, remember when Lesley (our daughter) first heard the word and thought it sounded great, so she started using it? In fourth grade, she was following second grader Peter and his friend as they walked to school one morning and kept saying: "c'mon you little bastards go faster, we're gonna be late!" How come the second graders knew it was a naughty word?

Sandy said...

I'm so glad Rauf posted!!

I do have a lot of stories of the family that were told to me. I always felt for my generation I was the family historian, saved everything written down that I could get my hands on. My grandfather was a writer, poet and artist and I have some things of his. My dad wrote poetry, his autobiography and also painted.

I have so many tales to tell of my family that if I would just focus I could write them out on my blog.

Ruth said...

Don, that is one great memory. How can you ever take that word seriously after that?


Boots, sometimes I wonder if I'm making this up! Hopefully my memory serves correctly. If not, maybe it doesn't matter? Remember that little chest of drawers Dad had in the entry under the stairs? That was another one she painted.


Thank you, Cloudscome.


Yes, Sandy, I think so too. Thank you.


Auntie Sandy, I know! Loring chanted, and next thing we know, rauf appeared!

Oh it would be great to keep reading your family history and memories. I loved your post about you and your sister.

Loring Wirbel said...

We have this strange hand-painted off-kilter wardrobe in the dining room, a product of Bavarian drunk artisans, methinks, called a "schrunk." ("shrunk"?) Lots of jokes about that one.

Rauf is back, the world still has a chance.

Ruth said...

Loring, and where did this Bavarian beauty come from, family? Schrunk? Like, trunk combined with . . . schloset?

Yes, you chanted him back, at least for a minute until he doesn't have to use his sister's PC.

Amy - "Twelve Acres" said...

It's a wonderful piece of family history. I love all the details. And your pottery on the top is perfect.

Ruth said...

Amy, sometimes I'm wondering if I'm making things up. I mean my sister Ginnie who's 11 years older didn't know this story. But I know Grandma painted it. I love the pottery too, thank you. Some is stuff we bought, some given, and some inherited from you-know-who: Grandma Olive.