Artifacts II

Photos by Jennifer Wetzel

There is a popular quotation from the poet William Morris which says, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” As an incidental and often accidental collector of many useless and sometimes unattractive objects, I find it hard to abide by this axiom. But I suppose Morris’ quote does not demand that the objects be beautiful, but only that they are believed to be. Fortunately, most of the items I hang on to are fairly small, and from move to move, more and more of them find permanent homes in cardboard boxes in the garage. But a select few remain in a shadow box on the wall, gathering dust but still emanating their subjective sentimentality. One of them is this figurine.

The miniature Cristo Redentor was a gift from my cousin that she brought back from Brazil. I have never seen the actual, 130-foot-tall statue in person. I’m fairly certain that in terms of scale, this is the smallest version of the biggest thing that I own, which is a reminder that grandiosity is not always a measure of size. I also like it because I am fascinated by singular city landmarks, which, due to their towering stature, cannot be ignored by their city’s occupants. Eiffel, Sutro, Space Needle, or Gateway Arch: almost every major city has at least one, of which Rio’s is the Redentor. They command attention, serve as a referential compass point, or simply blend in with the natural landscape, probably depending on whether you are a resident or a tourist. Whatever their intended purpose, they become more than just part of the skyline, and if possible, I am always drawn to visit the tops of them whenever I visit a new city. Lastly, I like the statuette because I have always liked the song “Corcovado” by AC Jobim, which contains the line “Da janela ve se O Corcovado/ O Redentor que lindo.” When sung by João Gilberto, this line contains all of the subtle, mysterious grandiosity and nostalgia for the unknown that I believe to be wrapped up in this figurine.

– David W.

I was living in a house with upstairs neighbors who were a group of art students.  One year we had a secret santa gift exchange. This was what I received. The person who gave it to me had only just finished making it, and when I unwrapped it, it was lashed down with a heavy nylon cord and buckle. Not realizing what it was, I had a slightly confused look on my face. The person who gave it to me rushed to me to say he hadn’t been able to finish it in time and that he was “sorry I had to give it to you with a strap on.” And that was the best time I’ve ever been able to say, “That’s what she said!”

Willie M.

This is the bell I picked from my grandma’s collection after she moved out of her home and into the nursing home where she would be for the last 18 months of her life. She had a small table in her living room that was completely full of these small chimes, and while I was growing up every child who came to her house would inevitably end up kneeling in front of them, ringing one at a time to hear the different tones. I don’t remember ever having to be told to be gentle or careful or quiet with them. I don’t know where she got them (probably garage sales) or how much they were worth (probably nothing), but when her house was being emptied there was an unspoken collective understanding in the family that each grandkid would pick a bell from the table. I don’t know if any were particularly special to her for any reason other than the sound of their ringing that meant we were together.

– Kate N.

My Great-grandpa Bichelmeyer was a storyteller. Larger than life, bigger than the family itself, he was the family patriarch. One day when I was little, while riding in the car with him and my other family members, we passed an old wooden wagon.

“You see that wagon over there?” Grandpa said. “My uncle Joe used to have a wagon just like that. Way back in the ’20s or ’30s. It’s still out near the home place. He loaned it to one of his neighbors, and he never got it back. For some reason, they kept it. It’s still out there, you know — Why don’t I take you and your sister out to see it?”

That was my introduction to the wagon and its guarded location. Over the years, the group of us made a few trips out to see the wagon, with its wheels partially buried in the dirt that it had settled into. Grandpa even wrote to the current owner of the land asking if he might be willing to part with the wagon for a few hundred bucks, but he lived in California and wasn’t interested, so there it remained.

Years after my grandparents passed away, I continued to visit alone every couple of years. What was left of the old farm always seemed to decay, while the wagon and the barn that covered it always seemed to persevere.

Recently, I told two of my cousins about the wagon, and we planned to take a day trip even though I could tell they were slightly skeptical of its existence. It’s just a short trip out south of Eudora, Kansas, but a place you have to know how to get to or you’ll never find it. After turning off of K-10 for several miles and passing a few landmarks that I use to mark the turns, we pulled off into the brush out of sight from the road.

You can see the remnants of the old farmhouse that was still standing when I visited, long gone today. Part of the white picket fence still stands around the property. Along with the wagon itself, a few outlying buildings, a couple of barns, the foundation for a windmill, a silo, and a giant well are all that’s left here.

The last building I examined no longer has most of its roof. In the center of the square structure, you can see what appears to have been an old stovepipe. Scattered across the floor are remnants of a past that has been lost to nature and time. Old bottles strewn about the floor, leaves, broken dishes and a couple of lightbulbs. But amid the sea of lifeless color, I caught a glint of green and rust partially hidden amidst the rubble. I walked through the doorway and stepped over the door that has long since been removed from its hinges. I took a few photos, reached down and moved the brush away. “What’s this?” I wondered.

It’s a key of some sort — just the right size for a souvenir. Looking closer at the key revealed that it must have been to the backplate to an old thermometer. No matter — for a key collector, a key is a key.

But to me it’s much more than that. It’s a story years in the making, built upon the ruins of another story not yet lost to the ages, handed down from great-grandpa to great-grandson.

– Brandon G.

For more Artifacts, see last month’s piece here.

Categories: Visual