Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Little Tragedy

Some time ago, I was in a Pittsburgh antique shop and came upon this curious tin item. It was at eye level, and as I looked at it, it spoke to me of its history. It had been in a terrible fire that had completely consumed a Victorian household. Virtually all was lost. The family salvaged a few charred remains, and a little girl saved this blackened doll head. She treasured it through the years because it was all that was left of her childhood. Though it was a painful reminder, she carefully wrapped the head in tissue paper and kept it in a top drawer. Years and decades passed by, and at the end of her life, the old lady who had been that little girl still occasionally unwrapped the doll head and sighed.

I saw that whole story in an instant, and then I saw something else. The name Minerva was stamped into the tin, and I thought, "Of course, you're an artifact from antiquity! You were dug up like a bronze that spent eons in a lagoon. In fact, you're a little Roman bust and I must have you so that you can reside in my house."

I shared my little piece of antiquity with a friend named Kip, who immediately saw that she was indeed worthy of restoring as a bust. Kip was talented with a lathe, and he molded an under-structure for Minerva, to which he also affixed a lathed wooden pedestal.

I then painted the under-structure to match the burnt patina.

And here is Minerva as she looks today, a little tin head that for me will always be as fine as any bronze the Metropolitan can offer. Her place of honor is the happy ending to that long-ago tragedy.


  1. it looks amazing! I think it's even more fun that it has such an interesting story - PLUS it's from Pittsburgh (my hometown!)

  2. You have done an amazing job! She looks fantastic. I love finds like this and if there is no story attached I will make up one also!

  3. Now this is why I love antiques...Minerva's imagined history is heartrending and fascinating in equal measure. Yes, I can picture it.

    I think she's marvelous. Great job Mark!


  4. Thank you Stefan, David and H.H.

    Every once in a while I come across an interior design feature that showcases a gorgeous, beautifully appointed penthouse, and there will be an aside that the owner left all the possessions from a previous home and started anew. I can't imagine doing that, for the things with which I surround myself are all dear old friends, and each has a story.

  5. Patrick Gracewood of Shadows on Stone experienced a glitch with the comment box, so I'm posting his comment for him (because I like the thought so much):

    Agree with you on the love of objects, except it's more than that. The art we collect either contains or generates stories that nourish and inspire us.

    The author of the Oldest Confederate Widow wrote an essay about his love of objects and posited that they love us in return, and in event of fire, we'd be the things they'd try to save...

    Patrick Gracewood