Simplify, simplify, simplify. Then divest. Frightening words to a confirmed hoarder.
I thought it would take a conversion on the order of St. Paul’s on the road to Damascus (admittedly a sad choice of comparison these days) to make me part with architectural fragments squirreled away over four decades or volumes sequestered half a century in glass-fronted bookcases.
But it’s happening. Gradually. Reluctantly. And it feels like the wave of relief when you unbutton too-tight trousers after a bout of gluttony.
It didn’t happen all at once, in a blinding flash of realization. Last spring, when I came across the Capehart gramophone — the first 78-rpm console I remember in my parents’ New Orleans house — in Madewood’s attic, I deemed it a keeper. Now it’s on its way out.
And what about the set of encyclopedia that we acquired, volume-by-volume, week-by- week, for a small sum with a grocery purchase at the Metairie Road Piggly Wiggly, resident for years in a cupboard at Madewood, pages unturned for decades?
Got to go — but it’s just a curiosity, something not even the Symphony Book Fair would deign to accept. I briefly thought about cutting off the spines and pasting them to the wall as a faux-book cornice in a powder room; but that would be desecration, and too much of a mirror image of using actual faux books to give the impression of erudition to a Robber Baron’s otherwise-empty library shelves.
These were small steps on the road to divestment, but the inspiration to persevere to the end came from two local newspaper articles this week.
I remember 33 years ago when sculptor Ersy Schwartz covered my face with petroleum jelly, stuck plastic straws in my nostrils, and began to apply plaster of Paris to my visage as I lay helpless in her Esplanade Avenue studio — where an extraordinary on-site auction of items, some dating back to her great-great grandmother’s time, will be held on February 1.
Apparently Ersy, like her ancestors, takes a fancy to things and won’t let them go. Until a time when Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s re-election could be in the hands of auction-goers who might be holding up bid paddles, trying to catch the attention of Delia Graham and Mark Cotten of Rain or Shine Auctions, instead of voting.
I remember the space and some of its contents from that odd night three decades ago, when I was writing about having a cast made of your face, upon which Ersy would layer materials, inspired your persona, to create a fantastical evocation of your being.
As far as I know, the process was never completed. Was I a complete cypher? Or might the mask show up in the auction, resting beside the 10-piece Rosewood parlor set?
A feature last week in Inside/Out, the home and garden section of The Times-Picayune, chronicled the Hollywood incarnations of Banks McClintock’s and Julie Simpson’s lower Garden District raised center-hall home. I’d walked past it several days before, speculating that it might be the work of Henry Howard, architect of Madewood.
The couple seems to agree with my attribution, though proof at this point is lacking. But what impressed me, both in my walk-by and in the photographs accompanying the article, were architectural fragments and other memorabilia lying around the house.
I would warn them: Beware! This kind of behavior inevitably becomes addictive. Remember, you can live without “it.” Let it go now, so you won’t have to auction it off later.
Of course, I’m keeping the large breakfront and etched glass doors, built for director Bill Condon’s early feature — Sister, Sister — that was filmed at Madewood. The cabinet later fit perfectly in the kitchen, and the doors turned out to be an elegant addition to the Rosedale building on the grounds.
You just have to know the difference between hoarding and creative recycling of priceless treasures.