Searching for Marya Zajac

For those of you who follow my blog, you may have noticed a long pause since my last installment. Please excuse my absence. My hiatus was brought about largely by a real need for a break, but more importantly by a desire to focus more of my time to a documentary project which is near and dear to me.  Well, things are moving along nicely now, so I am back to writing.  I look forward to getting back to one installment a week, or as close as I can muster.

Also during this time I was inspired to sort and re-organize my office.  It’s surprising how many items failed to “spark joy” in me, and got turfed.  However, equally important was how much interesting material I turned up that I had completely forgotten about, or perhaps never known about.  Included in this list is a letter from a Manitoba folk artist named Marya Zajac from Manitoba to my wife Jeanine, along with seventeen photographs of her work.  It is dated July 26, 1994.  The content refers to an arrangement they had made for Jeanine to take the photos to France to show to potential dealers there.  I have the vaguest recollection of this, and when I asked Jeanine about it she recalled that summer 1994 was the timing of her mother’s small stroke, and that when she went to France she was unable to do much more than devote her time to looking after her mother.  She did contact a few of the dealers we knew there, but nothing became of it.  In looking at the photos, I realized that I wish I had paid better attention to Ms. Zajac’s work at the time, and had pursed representing her here.  I think her work is good, and honest, and I’ll bet I could have sold a few to our customers.  This being the “high” times when the market was lively, and we were still doing lots of shows and had a large customer base.

Well, hindsight is 20/20, and I was just about to let it lie, and turf the package as a missed opportunity, when I thought better of it.  Why not at least google her name to see if I could find any evidence of her. After all the work is strong and she states in the letter that she had “placed some paintings in another gallery, and so things are coming along very nicely.”  

Sure enough not only did images of her paintings come up, but one of them linked to an Etsy store named AmpersandEtAl,  that is run by Marya’s sister Barbara MacKenzie, and it carries a few of Marya’s prints and original paintings along with Barbara’s craft items.  I read the “about” section and it stated

“AmpersandEtAl is owned and operated by me, Barbara Mackenzie and my sister Marya Zajac. We are both self- taught artists, retired from our day jobs and living in a small town in southern Manitoba.”  Bingo.  I had found the right path.

 In the upper right, under a picture of two young girls which I can only imagine was of the sisters when they were young, there is a contact button.  I wrote to Barbara explaining the history of my inquiry, and expressed the desire to write about it, and requested their permission to do so.  I waited for a reply.

My search for Marya Zajac also led me to a blog written by Barbara MacKenzie called “Art, and Life at the End of the World, becoming an artist.”  Bingo, again.   Very interesting reading where I learned more about the sisters, and their current situation, and a lot about how Barbara sees the world.   Here is a teaser quote.

The Old House at the End of the World

I live at the end of the World.  Perhaps that a bit of an overstatement.     I live in a town that sits on the border of Canada and the US.   My physical world stretches east/west and north but not south.    The Canada/US border is the end of my world.  Also my age, at 74, I am coming to the end part of my life and therefore my world.   I do say that I am going to live another 20 years but who knows what tomorrow will bring.   My house is old, built in 1895.   Probably one of the oldest houses in town.   But its comfortable, paid for and it suits me.    The garden is large enough for the dogs to run, but not too large for me to look after.

The town is quiet, which suits me.   I moved here 15 years ago, hiding to recuperate from emotional wounds inflicted on me while living in the city.  And I have never regretted the move.   Well, sometimes when I would like to order take-away, and there is nowhere to order from.

I am self -confident enough to think that I have something to say, and arrogant enough to think that other people will want to hear it.

Some set their hearts on a rocking chair

The better to sleep out their days

I’m looking for a reason to scream and shout

I don’t want to fade away

Chumbawamba

This blog is my way of screaming and shouting.   I don’t want to fade away     I wish to be heard

What a treat. I like Barbara’s attitude and writing style so I subscribed to her blog.   I’ve read all her posts now, and look forward to reading more. 

A few days later, I received a note back from Barbara stating that they were pleased to extend the permission to make them a blog subject, and she gave me Marya’s e-mail address to put me in direct contact.   I’ve written, and am awaiting a response.   I will write again about this when it happens, and more about Marya’s work.  In the meantime, I suggest you check out the Etsy store and Barbara’s blog.  The links are below.

https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/AmpersandEtAl?ref=l2-shopheader-name

I admit that I am highly critical of the effect the internet and in particular, the social media has had on society, but in a case like this, were you can search for the writer of a letter written in 1994, and moments later re-establish contact, I’m impressed.

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Living in the church in winter

 

First up, I’m not a winter whiner.  I like all the seasons.  I dress for the weather, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than  being out for a walk on a crisp, sunny winter’s day.  I even enjoy a bit of snow shoveling when the snow is not too wet and heavy. I’ve got one of those scoop buckets that you run across the surface and then dump, thus not having to lift the snow and throw it.  My shoulders are messed up.  I can’t do that anymore. I take my time. I rest when I’m tired, and I get it done.  My doctor friend Barclay tells me to be careful of the old ticker.  He’s seen lots of guys go that way.  I tell him that I figure if I don’t overdo it, it’s good for me.  He looks at me dubiously.

I like the feel of being in a nice warm house, with all provisions on hand, and looking out at a big snow storm, knowing I don’t have to leave the house for a couple of days if necessary.  I like to hunker down.

Right now, I am at my desk, looking out the window at a bright blue sky with big fluffy white clouds, and just a little spot of open water far out on the otherwise frozen bay.  It’s been open water until just a couple of days ago when the week or so of extreme cold took it’s tole and when I looked out one morning, it was a frozen lake almost as far as the eye can see.  Today it is sunny and gorgeous to look out at, but it’s minus 20C and there is no one out walking around.  I’ve got a proper parka and long-john’s and the rest but minus 20 is my limit for wanting to be outdoors.  I cut my walk short this morning.  They are forecasting that we have another week of this “true Canadian winter” and then it will be going back up to around zero and staying there for the foreseeable future. Suits me fine.

We live in a double brick Victorian with storm windows and a boiler and rads for heat, and we’re toasty warm.  I love rads.  No blowing hot, dusty, dry air around constantly with all the noise that suggests.   We’ve got an outdoor sensor on the thermostat so we set the temperature once fourteen years ago when we got here and we haven’t touched it since.  We have an enclosed sun porch on the south wall and it heats up like a greenhouse in the afternoon. After lunch,  I like to lay on the couch in there soaking up the sun and reading stretched out on the old sofa under a thick wool blanket.  Typically I read about twenty minutes then fall asleep for another twenty minutes.  Then I’m ready for the rest of my afternoon.  It’s something I always look forward to.

It wasn’t like this when we lived in the old church.  I’ve spoken of it  before, but to encapsulate we bought an old Methodist church in Wycombe Ontario in 1981 after reading a small ad in the London Free Press.  We bought it for nothing but it was in rough shape, with much investment needed, but we were young, and strong, and foolish enough to buy it, and figure we could do all the work on it ourselves.  That’s more or less what happened, but like the settlers that arrived here from Europe all those years ago in the fall, we had a rough time getting through that first winter.

The old coot that owned the place had built a Styrofoam wall halfway across the ground level interior and had an old forced air gas furnace  which (sort of) heated that half.  The other side was as cold as outdoors and so that first winter instead of a refrigerator we just kept perishables on a table on the cold side of the dividing wall.  When the wind blew it would ruffle the curtains.  Because there was no basement and just  a crawl space under the floor boards, with the furnace blowing in from above, the cold would come up through the floor and your legs would be numb from the knees down.  We took to wearing legwarmers and layers of under-cloths and sweaters.  In the evenings we would have to gather our legs up onto the couch, and cover ourselves to be warm.   That winter of 81 was bitter cold, and we suffered.  The one thing that saved us was that one of the first things we did was insulate the bathroom wall which faced the rear entrance. There was no window and with the addition of a big electric wall heater we were able to keep this room toasty warm.  If you were cold, and just couldn’t get warm you could go in there, have a hot bath and luxuriate in the tropical air.  Before the second winter hit we replaced the old furnace with efficient, through the wall type gas heaters. We reconfigured the space to use the entire floor, insulating outer walls and repairing the windows, so it was much more hospitable.

A couple of years later we bought some out buildings, so I had a big insulated workshop with a powerful wood stove which allowed me to get the space warm enough for the refinishing chemicals to work, and the finishes to cure.  We kept in warm in there.  You could work in your shirt sleeves.  At night I would fill it with wood and there would still be enough hot embers in there in the morning that I just had to throw in a bit of small stuff and a couple of logs and it would come right back.  One of my favourite times was first thing in the morning, sitting with the door of the stove open.  Sipping on my coffee and staring into the fire. My front and face almost hot, my back still cool.  Another fine winter day.

I believe that to enjoy winter, you must embrace it.  Put on the proper cloths and get out there for a walk on the days when it is sunny and the wind is not blowing.   At the church we could cross the road, take the path through the woods and continue along fields and through more woods, eventually passing three irrigation ponds and then more woods and fields before returning home.  We called it the three pond walk, and it took about 45 minutes on a good day.  It was also possible to take a detour and pass by two more ponds, but that five pond walk took over an hour and was generally too much to consider in the winter.  I remember the second pond was spring fed and there was a little patch of open water there where it flowed year round. There was a nice big log by the spring and I would always pause there and take it in for a while before moving on.

I have fond memories of winter at the church, but I can’t overstate the joy I felt when moving into the house here and having the bottom ten inches of my legs not feel cold.   There’s no going back.

Falling down the rabbit hole of Christmas memories

It’s  5:15 pm and it is dark outside my window. Above is a picture of how it looked at 3:00 pm.  Living on the north shore of lake Erie, we live in what Ontarians call the banana  belt,  and we are spared from much snow fall.  The prevailing winds blow from the north and typically dump snow on the American side, which we love to watch on t.v.   But we’re not laughing today.  It is rare when the snow comes in from the south west but when it does we get buried.  Today is such a day.  It started at about nine this morning and it hasn’t stopped since.  We took an early run for the supplies we would need and hunkered down.  I do look forward to a nice snow storm from time to time as long as we are home and the hydro is on.

About 11:00 am I set about working on my blog.  I had decided my subject would be folk art at Christmas time, and folk art created for Christmas.  I wanted to write about the effect that Christmas ideology has on folk artists, and inversely how folk art has effected Christmas ideology.   Folky, Grandma Moses like images of wintery villages, people skating,  and horse drawn sleighs still adorn many Christmas cards and Holiday biscuit tins.  But then again who sends Christmas cards anymore.  I think the polar bears drinking Coke actually figure larger in folk ideology, but in any case.  Within this context I wanted to show how some of my favourite Canadian folk artists interpreted Santa Claus, etc.   That’s where the trouble began.

Three Kaz Kizik Santas

I have documented several pieces of  Christmas folk art which we have owned and sold over the years,  and so I had to do was to go through my photos,  find some examples, and scan them.  Easy squeezy.  You would think, but no, not really because although I have managed to keep our photos reasonably organized: and when I say reasonably I mean that some are in books by subject and labeled, while others are in more randomly arranges in books.  But actually most  remain in photo envelopes awaiting  further sorting, and the labels are very general.  Us in France, Exterior church shots, Us with Friends, Christmas 1997, etc.  So at least I was able to skip several envelopes when looking for Christmas Santa Claus carvings.

Barbara Clark-Fleming
winter scene

But here’s where the soft, hypnotic snow fall outside the window comes in.  The feeling of being shut in for the duration. The sudden urge to do a 1000 piece puzzle, or as the case was today, to fall into hours of looking at old images of Christmas past, and places visited, and happy occasions remembered, and loved ones who have passed on.  I call it falling down the rabbit home.  It happens to me from time to time when I look at photos, or more often when I research something on the internet.  For instance, the other day I was reminded of the Talking Heads song “Same as it ever was”, and so downloaded the original video on You Tube.  I had never seen it and it excited me, so I watched the next video which was an interesting interview with David Byrne, and then came an amazing one hour video of the band performing live in Rome in 1980.  When I resurfaced three videos later, I came away with a deeper understanding of the talent and contribution of these fine musical artists, but the morning was shot.

night hockey game in Ottawa, circa 1945,
by Elmo Phillips

So that’s what happened. I found several of the photos I wanted to use right away, but a photo of a big Santa and Rudolph made by Ewald Rentz which we used to display by the back door of the church eluded me.  Strange, I thought it would be the easiest to find, but no.  At first I flipped quickly and efficiently through many books before the power of some of the images caused me to slow down and think.  Think about what I can remember of the moment. To observe how different we all looked.  To think about our relationships then. Before you know it, you are adrift. Down the rabbit hole.

Nostalgia is a bitter sweet mix which I rarely indulge in, but today I really let myself go.  I took a deep drink, and now I’m so filled with personal memories that for now I’ve lost the urge to talk about folk art. Another time.  I just want to go down to see what Jeanine is up to.  Knitting probably.  And finally, I want to wish everyone a very happy holidays and solstice; however you chose to celebrate, or not celebrate as the case may be.  Enjoy, and create some new memories to look back on some day. The snow continues to fall.  Tomorrow I’ll get out the shovel.

Santa and Rudolph
by Ewald Rentz

Discovering the stash

Most people are happy enough to keep their money in the bank but some folks, be it because they have lived through a time of bank failures, or shortages such as the war; or just because they have a general mistrust of institutions, and prefer to keep their money in their sock:  Or hidden in a cupboard, or buried in the back yard, etc.  People can be very imaginative when it comes to squirreling away money.

We live in Norfolk county, where if you ask around, you will hear lots of stories of lost and found money. This is perhaps due to the large contingent of Belgian, Dutch, and other European farmers who immigrated here to develop the tobacco industry. A lot of these people had experienced unstable financial times. Or maybe it’s the same everywhere.

Friends who bought a local farm decided to wash and put back the existing curtains, only to find that when they opened the washing machine to add softener, the drum was full of curtains and floating money.  The old couple had sewn hundreds of dollars into the hem of the curtains.  They had died without telling anyone.  Thus it was just dumb luck which averted their fortune being thrown into the dumpster.  I know a family that spent weeks digging up the back yard when they realized that dear old dad, before the Alzheimer’s had set in, had been burying money in canning jars back there over the years.   It makes you wonder how much money is swept away and forgotten.  The problem with secrets is that they are quite often buried with their creators.

It was on a late fall trip to the pickers barns in Quebec in the early nineties that I had my brush with dumb luck.  I was solo on a quick two day, there and back run to pick up more stock for the then active Harbourfront Antique market in Toronto.  During this period I would often leave our house at 4 a.m. make the ten hour drive to Victoriaville; then see three or four pickers that afternoon and evening before crashing.  In the morning I would make a few more stops before heading home about noon, which meant I would arrive home  about 2 or 3 a.m. if all went well.

On this particular trip I ran into some particularly nice western furniture at the barn of Alan Chauvette.  It turns out that the rumors were true.  One of the local pickers had family in Manitoba, and in spite of not speaking much English, he had returned home with a huge load of western pieces.  Many interesting  Ukrainian and Dukhobor pieces as well as furniture from early French  settler’s homes.  I bought five or six excellent cupboards, and chests,  feeling happy to have arrived at the right moment to have a crack at it.  I also spent a lot of money. More than I had budgeted.  Jeanine has always kept the books, (thank goodness as I am a disaster), and my method was to simply spend all the money I had, and write a couple of cheques if necessary.  I didn’t keep a running balance, but had an intuitive sense of when to stop.  Well, I threw that sense right out the window this time, for the opportunity to buy some good Western pieces. I knew I was pushing it.  We kept a tight operating budget in those days, so if we didn’t want to dip into savings  a big buying trip meant I really had to have a good Sunday at the market.   I wasn’t sure how, but I knew it would work out.

Phil with Marcel Gosselin

I was feeling pretty satiated when I arrived at picker Marcel Gosselin’s barn about 10 a.m. as a last stop before returning home.  I was still picking up a half dozen stoneware wash sets from him every trip, because they were still popular at the market and he was still finding lots of them. He was also my source for Aime Desmeulle’s folk art, which was selling well at the time.  As I finished filling in the last remaining little spaces in the load with smalls, I was about to write the cheque when Marcel piped in “Are you sure that’s all Phil? I’ll sell you that small cottage chest for $175.  You know you’ll get about $400 for it.”  It was a tidy, little 4 drawer pine cottage chest from Nova Scotia which were very popular at the time.  I looked at my full truck and thought about the cheque book.  “Thanks for the offer Marcel, but look, I don’t have room for it.”  The load was already well above my racks. “ Look there Phil, on the right side of your tailgate.  I can put it on its side and tie it on right up there.”  Sure enough, I could see he was right. “O.K. Marcel, throw it on and give me the total.”

I got home very late, and went straight to bed.    Next morning, going into the kitchen for coffee, there sat Jeanine looking at the cheque book, and looking worried.   “I understand this was a great opportunity, but it’s going to have to be one heck of a good market on Sunday, or we’re going to have to dip into the savings to cover ourselves.”

By the time we got all the wonderful pieces upstairs we were feeling good about it, even if it meant cutting it close.   We still have a wonderful four colour Ukrainian  sideboard from that load that I fell in love with while scraping it down.  We had a good dinner,  and I decided to go upstairs to look over the stuff one more time before hitting the sack.  I was excited by the pieces, but also feeling concerned about so completely blowing the budget. I continued to open the cupboards to inspect the interiors, and  when I finally came to the little pine chest I had bought from Marcel, I opened the top drawer to see how well it travelled in and out. What’s this?   I was amazed to see a small plastic wallet lying there in the middle of the drawer.  How did that get there?  It wasn’t there when I looked at it in Quebec.  Then I remembered that we had put the drawer on it’s side to fit it into the load, and sure enough, when I felt up inside under the top, someone had built a little open shelf up there.  The wallet was full of crisp, old issue Canadian cash.  $1,300 in all.   I couldn’t believe the luck.  I could easily imagine that had I continued to carry it upright I would have sold it  full of cash as it were, and maybe even then it would go into a home upright,  and never be discovered.

Jeanine was having one last coffee before going to bed.  Yes, she can do that. She looked puzzled when I handed her the little wallet.  “ I know you are concerned that I spent so much, and I thought this may help”.  It took her awhile to believe my story, and our good fortune.

When I saw Marcel a week later, he was surprised when I shoved a folded hundred in his shirt pocket.  “What’s this for?”

“Never mind.  Just take it and don’t ask any questions.”

Nova Scotia or bust

One summer, back in the late nineties we decided to take a quick trip eastward combining some antique picking and vacation activities as a fun time together with our daughter Cassandra before she left high school to go to university.  The objective was to have no specific plan, and wander eastward as we saw fit buying along the way, with the ultimate goal of reaching Nova Scotia.  Even if we didn’t have the time on this trip to explore further once we got there. We put about $4,000 in an envelope for purchases, packed out bags and food hamper into a full size cargo van we borrowed from our son Brodie, leaving him our pick-up to use while we were gone.  We were not looking for furniture on this trip, and felt it safer to leave our small sized purchases locked up inside a van at night.  We got a good, early start and made it to our regular stomping grounds around Victoriaville in time to do a quick circuit of the picker’s barns there before settling in for the night at our regular spot, the Motel Marie -Dan in St. Eulalie.  We didn’t buy much, wanting to save our money for buying in the previously untraveled regions to the east.

Day two, after a hearty breakfast we shot down #20 expressway past Quebec city until the village of St. Jean Port Jolie.  This pleasant little village on the banks of the St. Lawrence river is the home of the Bourgault brothers, who founded the “École de sculpture de Saint-Jean-Port-Joli” in 1940 with the support of the Quebec government.  The carvings became very popular with tourists and locals alike, and still today the village is chock a block with wood carvers.  To be honest although we greatly respect this form of carving, we were hoping to find  a unique folk artist more towards the lunatic fringe of the spectrum who might be hanging out there.   We had a great time looking at the museum and several shops but didn’t find what we were looking for.

After a nice lunch we made our way along the coast on the two lane Hwy # 132 past Riviere-du-Loup  as far as Trois Pistoles, a trip which would ordinarily take about an hour, but in our case took over four due to several stops at yard sales, markets, and shops. We hadn’t expected it, but we found a lot of wonderful stuff and by the time we stopped for a coffee in Trois Pistoles the cargo area of the van was almost full, and our envelope was over half empty.  We had a little conference, and thinking of Nova Scotia decided that instead of going further into the Gaspe we would turn back to Riviere-du-Loup, hang a left on Hwy #85 which becomes Hwy#2 as soon as you cross over into New Brunswick  and on a good day with steady driving will get you to Amherst, Nova Scotia in about eight and a half hours.  Our goal was to sleep in New Brunswick.

It was dark and raining by the time we had made our way past the endless forests of this part of Quebec and then we hit the construction.  On a 1 to 10 scale of “hairy” driving this was a solid eight. Pounding rain, mud, and lots of starting and stopping. We white knuckled it for about another hour and finally made it to Grand Falls, New Brunswick.  It was pushing ten o’clock, and we really needed to stop.  Turns out there was a convention in town and we were turned away at every motel, and feeling quite desperate before we got the advice that the only room we could get would be at a bed and breakfast in a recently converted old nunnery a few miles out of town.  We’re not big B and B fans but great.  We’ll take any port in this storm, and after a call ahead to confirm they had a room, we went off with the little hand drawn map we were provided.

The storm grew stronger, and the thunder and lightning more brutal, as we wound our way up into the surrounding hills, until there in a flash of lightning worthy of Alfred Hitchcock, the huge, old, Victorian Gothic Institution appeared, with a giant cross above the entrance;  and we drove up the hill and pulled into a parking space, wondering what we had gotten ourselves in to.

I can’t recall, but I’m sure we were greeted by a perfectly nice night attendant, although in my imagination he was someone akin to Igor.  We were lead down a long, dark, corridor to a pair of rooms which seemed to remain untouched from their former life.  I remember the institutional green walls and old steel beds.  They were small, and basic, but a blessing in our situation.  In bed, with the lights out, and the still frequent flashes of lightning and thunder I began to hear people moaning in the distance. It kinda freaked me out, but I had no desire to investigate.  I put the pillow over my ears and did my best to fall asleep.  It was a long night.

Next morning, we met Cassandra in the canteen, and after coffee and hot chocolate decided to get the heck out of there.  “Did you hear all that moaning” Cassandra said.  “It really freaked me out”.  “  “Me two.”  “Me three” said Jeanine.  We saw the caretaker on the way out, and he explained that it had become a B and B, slash old people’s home, and that some of the old dears were restless.  The place didn’t look all that spooky in the daylight.

In town, we sat in a little mom and pop restaurant, finishing breakfast and discussing our plan.  We had learned that the construction which we had only experienced about an hour of, continued for several more hours ahead as they were making the highway into a divided four lane.  Desperately need by this point especially with all the summer tourists.  We sat there for a while discussing our progress, and what lay ahead.  We were grateful for the use of Brodie’s van, but it was noisy and fairly uncomfortable.  We realized we had a full day of crappy driving ahead just to reach Nova Scotia, and then we would only have a couple of days to look around before heading back.  Then our conversation turned to how much we loved Quebec City, and we could be there by late afternoon if we turned back.  It was an easy decision for us.  We called our favorite, cheap hotel in old Quebec, Le Manoir des Remparts and made a reservation for three nights.   We had a wonderful time, and felt happy and relaxed on the twelve hour drive home.  Resolving to make it to Nova Scotia another time.  Perhaps, looking into air fares.

Coming in on a wing and a prayer- part one

In the eighties and nineties, in spite of spending a lot of time on the road going back and forth to Quebec and doing weekend antique shows all the time, I  never had auto club coverage. It’s not that I’m against auto clubs.  I’m sure they give many peace of mind, and before the days of google map they would plan a nice trip for you.  But I inherently have faith, I guess you can call it, that things will generally go well, and should trouble arise I can handle it.  This may stem from being influenced as a young person when I watched a t.v. interview with Orson Bean, who was a political commentator and popular comedian at the time.  He argued that he doesn’t believe in the value of insurance.  He proposed  that if you saved all the money that you spend trying to insure yourself against every eventuality, you would have plenty of money to cover yourself should anything actually occur.  Of course this was before the days of multi-million dollar liability settlements.  But I took his point, and have avoided buying any insurance other than car and house which I consider essential, and it’s worked pretty well so far.

Here’s how I deal with a breakdown.  The first thing is to get the vehicle out of harm’s way.   Then relax, take a deep breath, and realize that the plan has changed.  When I become comfortable with this fact I then go about finding and contacting the nearest garage.  If possible I seek out local input.  Because I am not afraid to make contact with strangers, if someone is around and looks reasonably normal my first move is to explain my situation to that person, and ask if they might direct me.  Gratefully, breakdowns have been rare, and touch wood, my luck has held.  Here’s an example.

It was the mid-nineties and I was heading solo to North Hatley, Quebec to participate in the mid-summer show there.  The truck was tightly packed and I remember there was an almost full size folk art moose tied to the front rack.  At a passing glance, it looked like I was hunting and got lucky.  So, I was bombing along happily, East-bound on the 401 near Gananoque‎, Ontario when the engine started to sputter and choke.  There was an exit right ahead so I took it, hoping I could make it to a garage or at least a parking lot.  I just made it up the ramp and it started to die out, so all I could do was to pull over as far as I could on the shoulder and it shut down. I was distressed in that it was late in the day and although I had planned to stop soon for the night, I was counting on getting up early and driving straight to North Hatley so that I would have time to set up before the seven o’clock opening.  If it took all morning or longer to repair the truck I would not make it in time.

At first I just sat there, and took stock. It was a beautiful late afternoon. That time of day when you get the wonderful clear horizontal light as the sun slowly sets.  Around me were green fields and a couple of small houses nearby. As the motor stopped I could hear the sound of a lawn mower. Excellent, there’s my first move. I hopped out, crossed the road and waited until the man on the riding lawn mower turned the corner and was headed back towards me.  Putting on my best non-threatening smile and waving, he saw me and waved back.  He drove right up to me and killed the engine.  “Beautiful evening.  I don’t mean to trouble you, but that’s my truck over there.  I’ve just broken down and I need to phone a garage. Could you suggest anyone?”.  We exchanged names.  “Well, I work for the Canadian Tire in town so we could fix it tomorrow sometime, but I’ve got a buddie who’s got a country shop just down the road and he may be able to get you going faster. He’s cheaper and better too”  I appreciated his honesty. “Sounds great. Can we give him a call?” “ Sure can.  He’ll probably still be working at the shop” .   A half hour later the truck was hooked up to his tow truck and we were headed the few kilometers to his shop.  He was a great guy.  Right away he offered to stay and work that evening to get me going first thing in the morning.  He figured correctly that it was the fuel pump and he had a rebuilt replacement on hand. When I asked him about a place nearby that I might spend the night, he suggested that his sister had a bed and breakfast, and he could take me there and pick me up in the morning.  How Ideal is that?

His sister and her husband also turned out to be really nice people, and offered me a beer and some sandwiches when they realized I had not had dinner.  After a good night’s sleep, and seven o’clock breakfast I was ready to be picked up at eight.  The truck was repaired, the bill was reasonable, and I was on right on schedule to arrive in North Hatley for set up.  Thank you kind people, and here’s to serendipity.

But as fate would have it, this was not the only “test” I would experience on this particular trip.  I will continue the story in next Friday’s blog.  Stay tuned, as they used to say.

A Ludwig Black Beauty happens to be a very special snare drum

I guess everybody gets lucky once in a while if they open themselves to the possibility.  I think antique dealers wake up every morning believing that this will be their lucky day.  And most nights they go to sleep thinking “maybe tomorrow’.  But occasionally we do find ourselves in the right place at the right time and we get lucky.  It happened to me one morning in mid-90’s.

When we would go into London  to visit my sister, we liked to stop en route at a little antique mall situated in a strip mall right off the 401 and Wellington St.  Although not large, it had a few good dealers and quickly changing stock so it was worth a look.

One sunny, summer morning we were arriving in good time so decided to pop in and do a quick tour.  Jeanine went one way and I went another.  We tend to spread out and then call the other one over when we see something of interest. We are usually quite casual about it, and relaxed.  And so it was on this morning with lots of things to look at but nothing of interest jumping forward.  I looked in all the booths where I would regularly find something, and it was all “sorry, not this time.”  I wandered around for another ten minutes or so and decided it was time to find Jeanine and barring her having found something of interest suggesting we split.  Then I looked down at the floor in a booth otherwise filled with china figurines and tea cups and there on a little box sat a really interesting old snare drum. I don’t have a lot of knowledge of musical instruments, but I know that a good one can be worth a lot of money, and also that this is particularly the case in some handmade instruments such as violins, and in classic guitars and drums associated with rock and roll.  Also, as you continue in the trade if you are paying attention you continue to develop an instinct for age are rarity.

When I laid eyes on this drum, it immediately hit all my buttons.  Obviously early and in untouched but good condition, it was made of pattern engraved chrome.  There on the side above the air hole was an early Ludwig drum logo.  The heads were ripped and the springs were hanging loose but I could see that everything that mattered was there.  I anxiously turned over the price tag already calculating how many hundreds I would be willing to risk on this venture.  $28.  I  was elated.  And below it written old chrome snare drum, and the venders number, so I knew it was legit.  I clung that thing to me like a beloved baby and scurried over to Jeanine.

“Have you found anything?” I asked.  “Nope. What’s that you’re holding?”  I could barely contain myself. It’s a really cool, old snare drum, and it’s only $28.”  “But is it worth anything?  Look the top is all ripped and torn, and besides are we buying drums now?”  Well there are times when you can be patient and have a meaningful discussion, and then there are times when you just want to buy something and get the hell out of there before someone clues in, so I was a tad abrupt.  “Yes, today we are.  I know what I’m doing and we are buying this drum. Trust me”.   Jeanine could sense my excitement,  and so even though she did not share in it, she tossed me one of her famous Gallic shrugs and said “whatever”.

The guy at the checkout was suspicious.  “Where did you get this?  I didn’t see this come in.”  In that booth over there I gestured, and it is clearly priced at $28 with a description, and booth number, so I would like to buy it now please.”  He rung it up registering his reluctance, and as soon as he handed me the receipt, jeanine and I were out of there as fast as we could go. Reminds me of that great Ikea commercial that comes on around Christmas where the woman shouts “Start the car.”  No ne followed us.  So the drum came home.

Without doing any research I knew that we would at least get a few hundred dollars for the drum based on aesthetic value alone.  Then research revealed that it was a very special drum made  by Ludwig from the 1920’s until the mid-1930’s called the “Black Beauty”. It was made from a single sheet of brass that is machine drawn into a seamless beaded shell, and has a specific and revered tone.  We still didn’t know what this might mean in terms of dollar value,  but we realized that we needed to reach the widest range of  drum aficionados possible so we listed it on E-Bay.  Jeanine was listing a lot of French pottery at the time so this was not for her typical buyers, but by putting Ludwig Black Beauty in the listing we were sure to catch anyone doing a search.

I think we started it at $100 thinking that if the worst came to worst we’d be fine with that, and then we went about our business and didn’t check until the next morning.  Holy moly, it’s up to $600 already!  We were pretty happy right there.  Then over the next four days we had the great fun of checking in on advancements.  Watching it creep up and up until the hammer finally came down at $2,800 U.S.  Not enough to retire on, but enough for us to go to France for a family visit and picking trip. What we felt can only be described as ecstatic, tainted only slightly with a nagging suspicion that it was not at all likely to happen again.  At least not soon.  Lightening striking twice, and all that.  Still, I’m a big believer in counting my blessings, and celebrating the little victories.