When I was a small child growing up with 7 of us in a 2 bedroom house in a large garden allotment, our belongings were few and therefore valuable. My mother followed advice from all good 60’s women’s magazines and made our home as stylish as she could under the circumstances. Her main decorator item was garden flowers which she put in the front hallway, where they were illuminated by light of the sunset through the raindrop dimpled glass front door. It was a picture of tranquillity to greet my father on returning home from work and before facing the grim reality of a household of children, tucked away in the back part of the house at that time of evening.
Her arrangements were usually artful and fragrant and sometimes held pieces purloined from other people’s gardens. Her wedding presents had included Stuart crystal , Carltonware and Coalport china and they were treated with reverence in the daily task of arranging flowers on the simulated mahogany corner table that fitted snugly into the hallway.
Occasionally she would pick up a bargain piece at Victoria Market from a second hand dealer and had quite a good eye for quality pieces that could show off her flower arranging skills or complete a little vignette. I guess it was the only escape she had each day in which to escape to an artful life .
But among my favourite pieces, was a coloured vase that she had inherited from her mother and which had apparently been bought in Smith St Collingwood in the second decade of my grandmother’s wedded life c1920. I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world with its anemone flower paintings on it and gorgeous pinks and purples.
About this time in my life both of my grandparents died within a few years of each other and conversation often turned to childish curiosity about death and what happens after. For some reason my mother brushed over the gruesome details and always distracted me with the details about sharing out the dead person’s belongings ,which is why we came to have Grandma’s vase.
Apart from a large and probably valuable turkey serving charger which I apparently broke, the only thing I coveted and desperately wanted to claim early was this beautiful HK Tunstall vase. It was quite an unhealthy obsession for most of my younger years and my mother found it amusing because she constantly reminded me that it really wasn’t very valuable as Grandma couldn’t possibly afford much with 8 children and only a modest income. However I think she was secretly delighted to have something that stimulated conversation about her past and her love of her mother and fostered an interest in her little hobby of collecting.
Some years ago she handed me a shoe box and sobbed something at me about how she didn’t mean to. I was baffled but when I opened the box there was Grandma’s vase in many pieces. Mum had kept every piece, bar one crumb, hidden in the shoe box under her bed ashamed to let me know about the accident. She felt sure that I could do some magic with it and so the burden I had put on her to keep it for me, became my burden to make it better for her.
I diligently spent several days piecing it together and then just in case it was still too fragile I drew it over and over to somehow know its beauty and commit it to memory. I also researched the history of it, using the wonders of the internet, which eluded Mum.
In the early years designer Harold Growcotts’ work was scathingly referred to as the poor man’s Moorcroft but in a bleak little suburban heart it ignited a passion.
I compare this story to a recent discovery in New York of a 1000 year old Song dynasty bowl which was uncovered at a garage sale for $3 and then sold at Sotheby’s for $2.2million.
I read about it on Digg.(still haven't worked out all these controls!)
I guess somewhere in its early history that someone really loved it and thought it was important enough to keep passing it on with its story so far away from its original home.