My mother retired to an apartment in Raleigh. I emptied her house. Dismantling a house is like reducing a story to its component letters or selling a Picasso brushstroke by brushstroke. Meaning and value get tossed out with the context.
By the time I was done I was no longer the beloved daughter of 13 American generations, as I no longer had the dishware to prove it. The Deco Baccarat tumblers were gone, and I was weeping on the floor of a shower in an overblown B&B a bit west of Deer Isle, Maine.
When I returned home, I borrowed a friend’s family crystal glass set to capture shadows. She had the same sort of family as mine, in which specific objects can place you among people, providing a code so that similar people could recognize you, such as how the pinstripes on a suit jacket line up from sleeve to vest. Just as the Deco Baccarat, Spode, and the rotting Louis XIV chair, though useless to me, placed me on a map of human society.
Without them I felt a little lost.
I drew the shadows of Karen’s parents’ crystal to remap my location. Her parents bought the set when he was appointed cultural attache to the American Embassy in Switzerland. They were exactly the right set for that year to mark his substance as a person.
I drew their shadows for the message they telegraphed.
A few months later I found my grandmother’s Spode. At least the dessert plates. I had handed them off cheap to a Boston auction house with the last fifty objects left in the house for $1500. There they were, beautifully lit at the entry to the sixth floor of Bergdorf Goodman, priced at more than I paid for my first car.
I should have given them to the owners of the house I grew up in. They would fit there.
Later, I drew shadows from glasses with similar notes of nostalgia: the mesmerizing deep carmine of 70s San Francisco hippie goblets from Taylor and Ng and Susie’s dad’s decal bar glasses play “Tiajuana Taxi” in my head. In Goldberg Variations, I arranged the glasses based on Bach’s musical notations to see if musical arrangement was visually pleasing as well.
Collectors of these works sometimes mistake the irony of my titles like ‘Important Stemwear.”
There is no such thing. Glasses are not important.