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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Collecting treasure

What is treasure? What is precious? Why do we collect things? Why do we make things? Why do some of us blog about our collections?

These are ongoing questions in my mind as I see the news of disasters (the awful earthquake and its aftermath in Nepal, the Clandon Park fire), suffer loss of belongings, hear of illness of people who are dear to me and contemplate ongoing complicated family relationships.

A long time ago I made a treasure box.  Well it was a jewellery box but it contained some of my treasured items, such as inherited necklaces and my Christening cross and chain.  I designed and carved the box myself during a series of woodcarving lessons I had during my late teens when I still lived in Cape Town.  My teacher was a master carver and it was a pleasure to watch him carve leaves or scrolls at speed in a piece of lime wood.  He was patient and taught me the basics of chip, relief and scroll carving, building on my basic self taught woodworking skills I'd acquired during years of making dolls houses and other items at the workbench in my Dad's garage overlooking our back garden (the same workbench where my grandfather had reassembled the Triang dollshouse when I was small).  Carving is therapeutic, sometimes frustrating but usually ultimately satisfying. I made several items during those Saturday morning lessons once I'd carved my sampler of different techniques in jelotong wood.  The items including the carved seat and back of a low stool for my father and step-mother, a barometer surround (still owned by my step-mother), a mirror surround for my art teacher and of course my box.

When I came to England in 1988 I brought the box with me and subsequently carved some bookends for my grandparents (I got those back when my granny died years later).  During the next 4 years the box held my small collection of jewellery.  When we moved to our current town 22.5 years ago it came with us to our new house.  Two months later we suffered 3 burglaries in fairly quick succession and during the second burglary a lot of items were stolen including a Royal Doulton set of dinnerware I'd inherited (it was the set I'd used as a child) but most disastrously my box and all its contents.  None of these items were ever recovered, I later learned that had we visited local car boot sales we might have come across some of our belongings.  To say I was angry, upset and devastated was an understatement - it was really hard moving country leaving beloved family behind, it was hard moving house 7 times in 4 years and it was awful losing something I had made myself, which I was proud of making and which contained treasured items.

My husband replaced the silver locket which had gone in the box and I also got a new gold cross but it wasn't really a replacement for my Christening cross which had my name engraved on the back.  The replacement locket is heart shaped and contains photos of my parents, both of whom died at different times during my teens.  Over time it became an often worn and precious item - it feels familiar to open it and look at the photos, then snap it closed again and hold it gently.

I didn't have the original designs for the box and also didn't have the heart to carve it again - it held too many memories of Porti's guidance and humour as he taught me to carve.  I do have some of my other carving designs and I do have a few very poor photos of my box (taken with an old 110mm camera so the quality and photography is terrible).

I gradually worked through in my mind the issue of possession and loss.  I value people who were kind above how many items we own, how posh (or not in our case) our house/car etc might be, or how expensive or branded our clothes.  I have always known that the value of material things is not as important as valuing and nurturing people, however the loss of precious items brought this knowledge into strong perspective.  I still gradually collected well designed things that appealed to me and my book collection is large (with many books re-read old friends).  The act of choosing and purchasing something has become a process of carefully weighing up the price, the appeal, the design against available cash and the inevitable questioning of 'why collect - isn't the current size and scope of the collection enough already?'  I even find myself quietly observing the collecting habits of others around me - for many, clothes shopping is their all consuming collection focus whereas purchasing clothes is a boring occasional necessity for me, I would rather buy or make clothes for my dolls or children.

A few years ago I suffered a personal private devastation in my extended family and I turned to my dolls as a distraction.  My Palitoy doll Susie had a very expensive reroot - part of my reclaiming of childhood memories - and I started collecting the modern Gotz 19.5 inch dolls, then later a few Trendon Sasha dolls.  My Westville dollshouse still awaits serious attention and sometimes I think I might sort through my doll related collections and sell some items on, especially things which are less meaningful, however I'm too busy to do this at the moment and there is no rush.  Sometimes these items bring comfort when times are emotionally tough, sometimes they don't seem to mean anything at all, usually when I'm really tired or sad. Maybe collecting things is a way of attempting to bring order out of emotional chaos, or at least fool ourselves into thinking we do have control over something, however fragile or tenuous that control might be, in the midst of difficult and uncontrollable happenings all around us.  Sometimes our collections become overwhelming baggage or turn into an all consuming obsession, risking or damaging the precious human connections in our lives.

Occasionally I go through periods of haunting 'carved box' search on ebay in the vain hope that after all these years my box will be listed by someone who bought it in good faith from some stall somewhere and wants to sell it.  But this is almost like torture, the chances are so unlikely that it will be there when I look.  I see many boxes, some of them identical to each other, some beautifully carved, others poorly made.  But never my box.  I don't have to look at photos of my box to remind me what it looks like - the act of carving it implanted it in my mind and when I do look at the photos they just confirm my memory of feeling the wood and the chisels in the act of creation and the sense of exultant pleasure at knowing that it was coming out well, though it was no work of art.

Maybe this is why some of us blog about our collections and in the case of doll enthusiasts sometimes use the dolls to create stories which we share on our blogs.  It is cathartic to write creatively or to assemble a series of photos to tell a story, though it is often quite time consuming and hard work.  The act of writing is a creative process. Sometimes it doesn't feel like as if we're in control of the words and a story imagined and photographed is reassembled in a different order on the blog.  Sharing what we have written with those who might appreciate it is an added bonus, many of us doll bloggers would not have dreamed of creating doll diaries or compiling informal style inventories of our collections before the age of the internet, however exposing our creations and collections to the world online is risky.  We have to be careful how much we reveal about ourselves and locations, or our collections might be at risk of unscrupulous people.  Most people respond kindly and I've made some lovely friends via the blog who share my hobby.  But occasionally what we share appears to be ignored (low traffic or no comments) or all we get is spam comments.  I've never had a nasty comment on my blog, which is a relief and I retain moderating controls which means spam doesn't get published.

Recently I lost my silver locket.  The chain clasp was wrenched by accident when I was carrying something large and the locket must have fallen out of my clothes later (the chain was found on the same day but the locket remained missing).  It was terrible timing (anniversary of death time) and I was once again very upset.  I put up notices, I searched, my family searched, friends searched, but all to no avail.  I decided not to replace it.  Sometimes certain things are difficult to replace, like my unique box.  People are irreplaceable - each special and distinctly different and themselves, each of our loved ones who have died are desperately missed, even years later.  I have learned to endure loss even if I rail against it, sometimes it is unbearable, other times it is manageable, though it never really goes away.  I told myself rationally that the lost locket was just a thing, yes a treasured thing which had special meaning for me, but just a thing - it is not a person.  But it still hurt to lose it.

Then, 2 months later, someone found my locket, stuck in the edge of a drain cover where it may have been washed along by rain water as it lay in the gutter.  This person was honest and shared photos of it online.  A friend spotted the online photos and alerted me.  I got my locket back and couldn't stop holding it and marvelling at its recovery and how we hadn't found it as we've passed that way many times (but it is small and the area is large).  I feel immensely fortunate that it has been returned to me, unscathed and only a little tarnished, thanks to the kindness of a stranger who recognised its emotional value.  The chain clasp is being replaced and soon I shall wear my locket again.  It is a reminder of all the love and loss that we all endure in our lives.  And a reminder of hope.

The front of my box - carved with cape gooseberry leaves and lanterns
The top of my box - carved with honeysuckle leaves and flowers
The back and end of my box (back and front identical design)
My box open, showing the felt lining and hinges
My box behind the wooden jointed doll family I made
(I still have the little girl and boy dolls)


Serenata said...

A very beautifully written post and put so much more succinctly than I have managed. I can feel the anguish of the loss of your carved box - such a theft is hard to accept.

My son's girlfriend lives in Nepal and the devastation and loss caused by the earthquake is just awful, no other words. Her family are safe, but they are currently living outside, cold and often wet and too scared to go in.

I think of us living here warm, safe with all our 'belongings' and it really does seem crazy. But perhaps you are right, it is a way of sometimes controlling our environment and emotions when we need them. The bonus is of course the creativity that has often been discovered and unleashed, and that surely is a good thing?

Not really sure what I am trying to say here - you said it so much better.

Thank you for a great heartfelt post.

DollMum said...

The post has been brewing for months, if not years, a long gestation. Your recent posts and the recovery of my locket was the spur I needed to get it written.

The situation in Nepal is so awful. An SA friend has learned with relief that his daughter and her boyfriend who are in the mountains there are safe, though they were out of contact for a few days which must have been a terrible strain for their family and friends. I can't think of any silver linings for Nepal, except that this disaster might finally result in that country getting a better deal from the rest of the world. Let us hope so anyway.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to everything you've said, so just had to comment. I shall also keep a look out for your beautifully carved box .Vivienne.

Triciamj said...

A very moving blog - so pleased about your locket.

Ginger said...

Thank you for this post and I share so much of what you wrote. I am so happy your locket was found! A restoration of faith in the goodness of most people. Your box is so very special and I am glad you have the photos at least. I have found our family photos are more and more important to me as I get older and have had losses of my those who are so dear to me. I miss them now more than ever so time may heal some wounds but time does not heal the deep voids inside. Your dear little carved family is very precious. I am greatly admiring your talented hands once again. :) xxx

Dee said...

A very moving post.Life can deal us some blows from which we feel we cannot recover but the human spirit is not easily broken and so we get up and carry on.That does not mean that those grief's or bad times are forgotten, just stored away until we can deal with them without the pain.
Your box is precious because of the memories from it's making and the treasures it held, most peoples treasure is not of value to other's but only them due to the memories.
It was lovely that after all this time your locket was returned and such a shame that your box which is beautiful is still missing but the one thing you can keep are those memories and the photo's and fate can be a funny thing and who knows one day you or a member of your family may yet come across that box.

Kendal said...

So wonderfully and truly written.
I'm so pleased that your locket was finally found and returned to you but so sorry that your beautifully and painstaking carved wooden treasure/jewellery box is still missing.

Some many years ago now a few pieces of my jewellery (a gorgeous gold link bracelet given to me by my parents on my wedding day {this giving of a gold bracelet on this day has now become a family tradition!} an antique gold, pearl and garnet brooch in the shape of a little tied bow given to me by my husband on the same day, a beautiful gold watch set in a gold bracelet given to me again by my parents on my sister's 21st birthday {there’s a story attached to this!} and two most useful gold link neck chains given on two very special occasions by my mother} that I wore on a regular basis went missing from the house and have never been found..... even though I searched the place from top to bottom.
I can only presume that they must have got caught up in some clothing that I was donating to charity.
(The rest of my jewellery was being stored in a bank safe deposit box with not wearing quite them as much.)
It isn't the momentary value but the treasured memories associated with them that I miss.
Like you I can only hope one day that they may re-appear.

KT Miniatures said...

I often read your lovely blog DollMum but rarely have the time to stop and leave a comment. However this morning, after having read your posting from beginning to end, I felt compelled to stop and tell you that I have found your words very moving indeed. I can relate to a lot of what you have so beautifully written here too. Am so glad you got your locket back...Celia

Elisabeth said...

Hello Dollmum.

I have been reading your blog for a while and I am so moved that you have chosen to share so much of your life and treasures with us in words and memories. There is really nothing that I can add to your wonderful post.

I know about collecting. I have a collection addiction myself, and sometimes I have to be very strict with myself and both enjoy what I have and restrain myself from meaningless purchases "just because."

Your box story is so moving and sad. Such a treasure, collected not for collector's sake, but to hold memories and precious sentiments. The carving is absolutely beautiful, by the way. I really pray that somehow it is returned to you, but even when our precious things are stolen, our memories can't be, and even when the distance between what we have and what we lost seems heartrendingly far, our memories will still make the bridge.

I take a lot of pictures of beautiful scenes, precious people (and pets), and exciting trips, but sometimes I just have to remind myself to put down the camera and just soak up the moment. The memories will always be there, and even though the pictures can help bring them back, it is the memories that are the true treasures.

I am sorry about your box, but whoever selfishly stole it for their own gain, without regard for its true value in your heart can never take away the joy it brought you, or your beautiful words that express a loss familiar to all of us, so poignantly.

Thank you for the insights and beautiful perspective. God Bless.



Elisabeth said...

Dear Dollmum,

I have been reading your blog for a while, and I am so grateful to you for the wonderful thoughts and sentiments that you share along with your delightful photos and stories.

This post was a particularly moving one and I admire your courage to share something so personal and painful with all of us. I am so sorry about your box, the carving is absolutely beautiful, by the way; and even though it may seem cliched, the person who selfishly stole your precious box, cannot steal the wonderful memories and the joy it gave you.

I know the lure of collecting, and I often have to stop myself, just so I can give up collecting for the sake of possessing, and just enjoy what I already have. That way if I ever lose them, I will remember the joy I took in sharing and treasuring them and not the sorrow of losing them.

I do pray that by some wondrous miracle that one day you will find your box again, but even if you never do, sharing your story about its creation and the joy it gave you, has now been immortalized with your beautiful words. All of us who have enjoyed this lovely post can share in that joy and the wonder of that box, so it lives on in not just yours, but all of our hearts.

That's already miraculous in my opinion, and thank you for sharing it with all of us.


Elisabeth (Doll Mommy in Pennsylvania)

Kiki's Korner said...

You said everything so beautifully in this post that I have nothing I can add except that I wanted to let you know how touched I was reading it.