Changes

I’ve just looked on my Word Press home page and this is my 107th blog entry.   I promised myself 100 entries.  Tiny drum roll please.   I’m enjoying it, so I’ll keep on going.  My goal has been to write something once a week about an aspect of my life spent in the antique trade, and the pursuit of Canadian folk art in particular. Beyond this my intension has been to go beyond the technical, and take a look at a life spent as I suggest “seeking authentic”. What is it in an item that catches me, and keeps me interested? Why do I care?   Actually, I am more interested in the expression of beauty, and the preservation of it, than I am in the industry per se, but I have also made a living from my full time involvement, so the industry part affects me.  Today I’m thinking about that.

We listen to a lot of NPR in this house.  Jeanine tries to clear her agenda every day at three to listen to Terry Gross on Fresh Air.  I’ve become a fan as well.  It’s too much politics these days, but it’s still intelligent radio. On Wednesday in the morning I was listening to a business review as I was doing up the breakfast dishes, and a report came on about changes in the antique business since the introduction of on-line shopping about the year 2000.  The program confirmed that as those of us in the industry know, the antique industry has taken a hard punch, and is now greatly reduced in size.  I think it suggested over-all the industry is down 60%, but I could have that figure muddled, and after spending a half hour searching the NPR site I could not find the interview to check it.  In any case it’s dramatic.  They had a quote from one of the appraisers from the Antiques Road Show on how half of the shops in his home town of Houston, Texas had already closed down, and the others were in trouble.  The thesis suggested that the value of dark furniture, china, pottery, etc. dropped dramatically as these items became more easily available on-line.  Basic consumerism. Why drive around when you can sit at your desk and order exactly what you are looking for?  This situation is essentially true for all retail, and with rising costs for a bricks and mortar location, it just takes a trip through the down town of a small city to see the results of this situation.  We have big box stores on the edges of towns but less and less independent little shops in the core. It’s a shame really for those of us who live to dig around in crowded, interesting spaces, but it is entirely understandable.

They chose the antique industry as an example because it has suffered the double whammy of changing retail structure, and of changing cultural tastes.  There are now more Millennials than there are baby boomers.  It’s a fact, and so far the kids don’t want their grandparents finely made dining room suites, or their knick-knacks.  Nor do they want their Great-Grandparents diamond point armoire or harvest table as difficult as that is to comprehend.  At this point the show tried to be up-beat by suggesting that the day may come when the children of the Millennials will decide they want fine mahogany furniture again instead of Ikea, and the cycle will begin again;  but I doubt it will be as simple as that.  And what dramatic changes would need to take place in the economy for the rents of commercial space in busy markets to drop significantly so that an antique shop could start to open up again.  I’m not looking to bring everybody down here although the program did not make me feel chipper.  I believe that by looking at the reality of the situation, and acknowledging the changes , we might better be able to make the best of it.  There is no question that the industry has diminished, but there is still a lot going on.

Pickers are still dropping furniture off the back of their pick-up trucks at various antique shows. A lot of the  co-ops, on-line sites, and surviving shops continue to do good business.  Facebook groups, and magazines continue to support and bolster the ideas behind collecting, and at the heart of it all, yes, I still believe that many people will potentially come to grow tired of mass consumerism, and will come to “seek authentic” for themselves.  To everything, change, change, change.

O.K. next week I will be back to tell a humorous story about my truck catching fire or some such thing, but this week I really wanted to acknowledge the effect that radio report had on me.  It can’t all be happy face, and I believe in facing these realities head on to understand and move beyond them.  And the one thing I know for certain is that  some unforeseen thing,  or event will come along that will totally change everything.  We have to remain positive to make  that positive change.  We have to keep at it.  Support and encourage, and enjoy what you love.  It’s still the best game in town.

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“Your Cat is on Fire” – adventures with Albert

Our adjoining shed workshops

Our adjoining shed workshops

We were just on the phone with our daughter Cassandra, and she reminded me it’s Friday.  Somehow with the jet lag I was thinking it’s still Thursday.  It always takes me a couple of days to get back in to swing of things.  So as not to tax my tired brain too much, rather than going into something more serious, I turn to a little tale of barely averted disaster from back in the days when we lived and worked at the old church in Wyecombe Ontario.  Back in the days when we were called Old Church Trading.

albert

Albert

This story involves our faithful, for the past thirty years, assistant Albert.  Albert is a wonderful guy.  We continue to be good friends.  He is actually more a member of the family at this point,  and at 70 years old he is still happy as a clam to come over from time to time to help us with the garden or whatever, and  he can still out work a man half his age.  We met him early on after moving to the church when we bought some children’s yard chairs that he was making and selling from his trailer home in nearby Courtland.  During the conversation over the chair purchase he became aware that we had lots of work to do on the property and asked if we would be interested in hiring him.  He seemed like a nice fellow and his price was right so we said “sure let’s give it a try.’  Well Albert turned out to be a real blessing.  He would come on time very morning and work hard with enthusiasm and dedication, without ever a complaint.  I have always been more likely to say to Albert to slow down and take it a little easy, rather than to hurry up and get on with it.  Salt of the earth kind of guy.  We soon noticed that he never brought or ate a lunch, and so asked him why, and expressed our concern as to his well being.  He said, “oh I eat a good breakfast and then have dinner when I get home so it’s o.k.  That’s when Albert started having lunch with us.   Albert we came to find out, was a ward of the court and had never learned to read or write. He had lived almost as a slave on a nearby farm until he was 18 and legally able to leave.  I will not denigrate him by suggesting that he is unintelligent because  in spite of his lack of education he is very creative in finding ways to do things his own way, and very capable at many things.  Let’s just say that he is an original thinker, and because he is always working so hard to please, everything is great as long as you don’t leave him too long unattended, because sometimes he is a bit overzealous.  So understanding this, we come to our story.

It was an unusually hot, and windy spring morning, and I had spent it working indoors, while Albert on instruction raked up the leaves and limbs that had fallen on the yard over the winter.  At noon Jeanine had prepared some delicious soup and so we called Albert in for lunch.  As usual we had enjoyed our lunch together and conversation and was just  finishing a cup of coffee when there came a frantic knock on the door.  We opened it to find a local farmer shouting “your cats on fire, your cat’s on fire”.  We looked across the room and saw our cat Elvis sleeping there so we were puzzled to say the least.  “He’s  o.k. he’s right over there.”  We had misunderstood.  “Oh, our shack is on fire” What the…?

We ran out and indeed one of our three little out buildings was indeed engulfed in flames along one wall.  It didn’t take long to realize that Albert had piled up the refuse at the edge of the property, and had taken the initiative to light it.  Then when called him he had then come in for lunch, assuming I guess that it would be fine. Well the wind had picked up and it wasn’t fine. The fire had run along the dry weeds and caught under the edge of the little building. The dry hot wind had fanned it, and it was already burning pretty convincingly all along the wood siding.  Yikes! Crap.  Albert get out the hose and shovels and get over here pronto.  Albert is pretty darn fast when he needs to be so within seconds he was back and we were throwing dirt on the fire and spraying the side of the building with all the water that our little well pump could muster.  It didn’t take a minute to realize it was a losing battle so  Jeanine ran in and phoned the fire department.   Albert and I continued to fight the blaze as best we could but it had now jumped on to the pile of one hundred year old pine barn planks which we had stacked neatly with two inch spacers in between so they would not rot.  Well let me tell you, when that hot dry wind blew the flames across that dry stacked wood, whoosh, up she went like a match shooting flames into the sky. Holy Crap!  Our main effort at this point was to just stop the flames from reaching our two adjoined work shop buildings which were a mere three feet away. All we could do was to spray the walls to try to keep it from igniting.  Of course the work shop was full of valuable antiques and combustible chemicals, and also was just a few feet away from the church so things were beginning to look pretty bad. Just when it seemed hopeless the entire Langton volunteer fire department arrived with both their trucks because they had understood from Jeanine’s frantic call that the whole church was on fire.  They got out one of their big hoses and within five minutes extinguished the burning pile of boards and the burning shack, and left us with a cautionary note and a bill for $175.  Whew, thanks fellows for coming out so quickly and getting this situation back in control. I lost my two big pile of pine boards and we had to restore one side of our little shack but we were so grateful that things had not been worse that we just took a moment to thank our lucky stars and the brave men who volunteer to fight fires.   Albert, of course felt bad enough as it was without reprimanding him further, so we just got on with cleaning up the mess.  However, we all learned a valuable lesson that day.