A friend of mine decided to refinish a table that had been in her family quite a long time. When she was working on it the other day I asked her how it was going.
“I was unable to get the water marks out of it from someone putting a sweaty glass on the finish – probably years ago,” she replied. “I sanded and sanded. Bleached. But it’s still there. It looks a lot better than it did and I guess that’s just part of its history. Maybe I was the one who put the water stains on it in the first place.”
She went on to explain, “I remember it next to my bed when I was a kid in Wisconsin. It was also in our living room and then somewhere along the way it made its way to the lake. Now it’s in Franklin, Tennessee!”
“That is a great history!” I remarked. “Like all valuable pieces of furniture it has a ‘provenance’. I learned that word long ago when I was at a fancy antique show at the Opryland Hotel.”
Then I went on to explain: “In one booth at the show, I said to a friend, ‘So how are they so sure this desk belonged to James Madison (or whomever) and that it was made in 1790 by Wilkie Woodcutter? I mean it is one thing to claim that, or guess it could probably be true. But how do they know?’ ”
And I told my friend, “The dealer apparently overheard me and answered haughtily, ‘Years and years (yee-uhs and yee-uhs) of research and study…blahdy blahdy blah. And so we know the provenance of each of our pieces.’ ”
I am still somewhat skeptical. I know some exceptional pieces can be traced liked that, but other histories get lost in the shuffle of everyday life.
So I said to my friend, “You should record the provenance of your table! That way your family of today and also of tomorrow will KNOW its provenance.”
“As for your refinishing work – I bet it looks great! Most importantly it has character, and a story!”
“Thank you,” she responded. “I know that each time I look at it I will think of my mom and dad and the history of the table. I’ll remember its provenance.”