chapter ii

chapter ii

8.11.2010

S'more of Victorian Proportions

I think about the concept of "things" often enough, and my thoughts tend to center around 3 main principles:
1. Moving- because I have moved almost every year for the last 6, the less I have, the less I have to move.
2.Economy- how much do you really need? What sort of things still have value or justify spending?
3. Our Store- we have and are continually collecting beautiful things.


And I think it's reason number 3 where I have discovered justification. Beauty may sometimes seem superfluous, but in reality, there's a lot to say for something that can make you think, feel, or act in a certain way. One of those characteristics that triggers the response in me is when "things" have a story. I love stories. And I love feeling like something with a story of its own can be incorporated in to yours.


That's where I find a compelling purpose for material things, while empty or aimless collecting seems pointless, and maybe wasteful. There's a lot to be said for creating a personalized, inspiring space for yourself (or others). And there is also something very fun about coming across an interesting story behind an object, in this case, a couple of paintings.


It was in a recent issue of Antiques Magazine where I luckily stopped to read an article about paintings done by two premier artists, William Merritt Chase and Eastman Johnson, of a Chicago socialite from the 1800's. Her name was Harriet Hubbard Ayer, and her story was almost lost. A story that can be described as intriguing, difficult, tumultuous, successful, inspiring, and filled with reinvention. In one word: s'morish. A s'morish quality made all the s'more so by the time period her story is set in.


And she must have been turning in her grave that no one had stopped to consider her story for such a long time, and how awesome that it surface again thanks to art/art history.


So, once upon a time, in the great fire of Chicago in 1871, Harriet lost a child. In an effort to recover she moved to Paris for a year. "By the time she returned to Chicago in 1872 she was fluent in French and a devoted Francophile, much to the dismay of her husband and the envy of her social circle."


By 1883 she had divorced her "philandering alcoholic" husband, moved to New York with her lil chirrins, and had taken a job as a saleswoman for an interior design company. While on one of her regular trips to Europe to find goodies for a client, she ended up in Paris purchasing a formula from a chemist for a face cream used by a "famous beauty" of the time.


She came back, and started a company that she marketed and advertised brilliantly. Next thing, this woman has achieved man success in the 1800s, setting the stage for Elizabeth Arden, Estee Lauder, etc etc. Unfortunately, this jerk James M. Seymour who had loaned Harriet the money for her to start her company, became jealous once the company became so successful. He then set out to take it from her. And I imagine she'd have just handed it over rather than be victim to his twisted machinations...along the flavor of controlling a teacher at the finishing school her children attended, convincing the children that their mother was an alcoholic, drug addicted, crazy person who needed to be committed.


When Ayer attempted retaliation, Seymour isolated and drugged her until the kids finally committed her (Flashback-Mary Todd Lincoln) and she lost her company. [insert infuriated sigh here] Once released, she took him to court to regain her reputation and respect of her children, won, and then was eventually offered a job by New York World where she became one of the "highest paid newspaper women in the US" writing articles about "health, beauty, and manners...that were in the vanguard for women seeking to improve their lot during the last quarter or the 19th century."


So, even after all of those ups and downs, she continually reinvented herself in interesting and exciting ways. I mean, there would be nothing worse than knowing you were sane and having no one believe you. I'd imagine you'd go insane.......


Anyway, just like raising a glass, or beers for my homies, I'll stick a marshmallow in the fire for Harriet Hubbard Ayer.

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