After learning about the stories furniture could tell, I decided to learn more from these masterpieces sculpted from cedar and mahogany. I had heard about the crafters in my hometown of Marblehead, and I thought poping over to Salem to look at the “In Plain Sight” exhibit would give me an opportunity to learn about their neighbors, specifically Nathaniel Gould.
When I walked into the exhibit, the first thing I saw was a bookcase, my favorite piece of furniture. Except the book cases during the time of the American Revoltion looked much different than the wide spaced shelves of ones from today. They were more like chests on the bottom with a closed part on top, and the doors opened to reveal small shelves of various small sizes where you could put a small number of books. But the craftmanship was fantastic! And the style reflected what furniture owners in the 1700s would want from furniture. Little drawers in the bookcase part could hold paper and quillls and ink for letter writing. The change in book shelf size shows how much the writing industry has grown, and how much more accesible books are now. We don’t have to be Chaucer’s clerk, who starved himself and his horse to buy books.
The exhibit had other cool sights, like the familiar ball-and-claw feet on the bottoms of chairs and chests, the wedding wall with a dress and pieces that were given as wedding presents, and the plaques with information about the woodwork and the carpenters. They even had pieces of wood and unfinished carvings that you could touch and smell!
Despite the fact that my purpose of visiting the PEM was to see “In Plain Sight,” it was the “Storyteller” exhibit with photographs by Duane Michals that really struck me to the depths of my soul.
At first, I just saw pictures, some with words written underneath them. Then I started to see stories, of lust, of heartbreak, of remembrance. One particular photo/ prose piece made me fall in love with the whole exhibit. The story, told much better by Michals, was that his father told him he’d write and send a letter to him, but his father died before he ever got any such letter. That opened the old wound I got when my dad passed away five years ago, and it opened my eyes to how short time is, and how the memories I have, the stories in my mind that are left untold, are so very important to who I am today and who I will become.