Sunday, July 26, 2009

A treasure trove found and a new-found quest.

Downtown Guelph, Feb. 14, 2009

It was a pleasure sleeping in today until 9, having a leisurely breakfast of scrambled eggs, sauteed yellow peppers and green onions, shredded swiss and cheddar cheese, and bits of bacon (from Klops, the Guelph establishment that is a gem of a deli...makes me forget all about everything else from Bloor West Village), all rolled into a tortilla wrap. Washed down with coffee, of course.
All this with the added pleasure of Mary sitting across from me (the boys were still asleep, YES!)... she was into the Life section of the Saturday Globe, myself into that rarest of things: an advertising supplement that actually informs (and entertains). This was a beautiful full-colour photographic collection of all the beers that the LCBO has to offer. Suitable for framing, a major compliment, in my way of thinking. From now on, I don't have to freeze in the dedicated beer section of any LCBO outlet, deciding on which 2 cans/bottles I will take home for the week.
I had come home at 1:30 after shooting a wedding at the Old Mill in Toronto. Why do I keep shooting weddings? It certainly is not just for the money. But this is for another blog entry.
Breakfast was the start of the kind of day that is made for possibilities. Since I (we) are culturally conditioned to have a purpose in our endeavours, we set out to get some spices and pumpkin flax granola from the health food (a redundant phrase, one thinks) store, and water from Water Depot. And so, we started our meandering...
Mary had heard that Kama, a Guelph institution selling tie-dyed items, futons, yoga and meditation items for the last 22 years, was closing it's doors for good. It's the kind of place that springs from the founder's desire to spread a message and at the same time, making a living selling locally made products. I had seen their tie-dyed sheets early on when we moved to Guelph and I had seen their potential as backdrop material for my photography shoots (various items at home are from Kama). We went in and I put down my name for the items that were still on display (Mary got a bed cover and pillow sheets). We had coffee at the Cornerstone, and while I nursed my cup watching the street scenery, Mary went into 2 other stores. I finished my coffee and strolled to Jack's, a consignment place that was also closing it's doors.
Jack was re-retiring, having been a career teacher and vice-principal before starting this place. Jack's place was full of items with history and charm (not faded charm). Items that were too valuable for a garage sake, items whose only value came from what their owners attached to them. Kitsch to some, dust collectors to others. However, I believe that all things, even man-made ones, possess an energy that can be felt by a receptive receptor. For me, this store was a deafening chorus!
I picked up a queen-anne's-lace flower frozen in time within a clear plastic bubble. You know the kind I'm talking about...beetles, butterflies, scorpions, to mention a few, get the same treatment. As I'm paying for the bauble ($5), Jack and I talked about the vagaries of life, the current recession, lease payments, as well as what drives most people to do what they do. Jack's (the store) is a labour of love, never in the red but certainly never in the pitch black. I think Jack made money by being paid in kind: talking to people, being inspired by people, breathing in the life that honest people generate.
As I'm talking to him, I see under the glass counter a collection of mounted photos wrapped in cellophane. I asked to see it and as soon as I held it in my arms, I could sense some sort of Gregorian chant going on in my head. These were studio portraits, lovingly mounted on thick card with elaborate designs. From the patina, the expressions on the subjects' faces and their outfits, I daresay they were taken, at the latest, in the early 1900's, some perhaps, from the late 1800's.
There were 12 altogether, 2 of unknown provenance, 1 from "Richmond, Cambellford", 1 from "Wadds Bros." of Vancouver and Nelson, 1 from "W.S. Clarke" of Belleville, 1 from "Shorey's New Studio" of 318 Yonge St., Toronto, 1 from "Weese" of 279 Front Street, Belleville, 1 from "G.E. Fleming" of Red Deer, Alberta, 1 from "J. Fraser Bryce" of 107 King Street West, Toronto, 2 from "Topley" of Ottawa, and 1 from "A.G. Pittaway" of 58 Sparks Street, Ottawa.
The intrinsic value of these items lies in their ability to speak to us from the past, in a language that is understood just below the threshold of consciousness. I got them (I will be the temporary owner for now) for $24 but their value as artworks is beyond measure. If art is a measure of an object's ability to enlighten, inspire, educate, and motivate a person, then these items, to me, are priceless!
I will be doing some research on the history of these photos, or rather, the history of the photographer. I will post my gleanings in future blog entries. I will never know the names of the people in these photographs. I just know that they are you and I.
This is the treasure trove I found, and I will be on the search for more of these in the dusty and forgotten drawers of our lives.

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