Monday, July 26, 2010

The Backstory: Collecting Early Appliances

Part of the Patrick Sheary collection, photographs courtesy of the author

Patrick Sheary has been my friend and antiques shopping buddy for almost 20 years. We met when he came to the museum, where I was curator, to oversea the furniture collection. His talents were quickly evident and he gradually, more or less, took over the rest of the museum's collection of early American decorative arts. Except for the textiles (my part) of course.

I have spent countless hours with Patrick; examining objects, discussing conservation issues, arguing about historical accuracy and listening to him talk about his passions-preserving DC's historical and cultural architectural treasures and early electric appliances.  This man is obsessed! When he gets interested in something, he is like a dog on a bone-he doesn't let go until he satisfies his curiosity and his need to acquire. I have lived through years of his obsessions--a particular rare typewriter, an early 20th century reproduction of a Samuel Pepys bookcase, ingrain carpets, the "right" shade of French gray, a magnificant French birdcage chandelier, and appliances. I will admit that sometimes I think I should get an MA degree just for listening to him discuss and ponder these material obsessions.

This man is an expert's expert. He not only scours and studies secondary sources for clues to his latest folly, but, he painstakingly searches for every object and piece of collateral material related to his obsession. His collection of books, catalogues, and pamphlets about early electric appliances is vast--a scholars library.

Since I had been asked by Bill Indursky of to write about collectors, I natually began with my friend Patrick. I knew he would be honored and eager to tell people about his collection as he truly believes everyone should know how fabulous these appliances are. He agreed to being interviewed and to have them photographed. 
The photography is the difficult part--once we both spent 3 days with a professional photographer trying to photgraph a silver teapot without the reflection of the camera showing. We built a huge tent! In the case of the appliances, we were limited by the quality of my camera and my talent as a photographer. The first 30 or so pictures I took were shot without a flash and had to be deleted. But, finally we were able to get enough pictures to illustrate the article. The detail on the appliances is fabulous.

Little chicken feet on a green glass ball.

We had a great time playing with the appliances-without actually touching them, of course. No fingerprints as the oils corrode the nickel finish. In the end, we had a very nice article with images that were passable, but not great.

As Patrick doesn't drive, I usually take him to the local antique shows. This past weekend was one of the summer's best. He always looks forward to this show where he meets with his "secret source." After the article had "gone to press," he purchased a group of early appliances-in copper rather than the usual nickel. His nickel-plated egg cooker shown in the article, and below, now resides next to an identical one in copper. Oh, how I wish I had that picture! 

Egg Cooker

No comments:

Post a Comment