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Well-used antiques can tell quite a story

By John GeluardiDaily Planet Staff
Wednesday March 14, 2001

In a dining room turned art gallery, an antique wooden bowl bears a mark distinguishing it from other antiques. It cracked and was then wired back into use by an owner who had come to depend on it. 

“I think most people who go out looking for antiques want something old and something perfect,” said Bonnie Grossman, who runs the Ames Gallery with her husband Sy. “I think there’s beauty in imperfection.” 

A show called “On The Mend” will be running until April 14 and is made up of pre-1920, common household items such as kitchenware, clothing, tools and toys. The pieces, repaired with staples, strips of tin and leather patches bespeak another time when people who lived in rural areas or had few resources would repair goods rather than buy new ones.  

“I like the history that’s unspoken,” Grossman said pointing to a well-worn, handmade rag doll that has a patch of new fabric under its left arm where the seam had torn. “You can just see the child pulling it by the arm until it ripped and someone put gusset under its arm.” 

The Ames Gallery first opened in the back of a friend’s crafts shop on Vine Street in 1970. Sixteen months later the shop sold and the Grossmans moved the gallery temporarily into their home on Cedar Street. “We thought we could keep it going while we looked for another space, but people seemed to like coming here so we stayed.” 

Grossman said in a busy month the gallery will have 10 visitors and in a slow month, none. She said, because of the publications she advertises in, the gallery has a stronger reputation nationally and internationally than it does locally. In fact, she said if there are any local visitors they are usually brought by someone who is visiting from out of state. 

Grossman said the 78 pieces of the On The Mend Show are for sale but it’s rare to find a buyer. She said interest in mended antiques is growing but her collection is still the only one of its kind.  

Grossman holds up a teetering glass that had a broken base that was replaced with a round piece of leather. She gently removes a Blue Willow Ware Platter from its mounting on the wall to show how it had been repaired with lead staples after it had broken in half.  

Grossman is also fascinated in the time and care of some of the repair work. She points to apron hanging on the wall with barely noticeable patchwork. The mender took a great deal of time to match the fabric and laboriously line up the dots in a way in which the pattern would not be broken. 

“To match that minuscule check so you might not notice it’s been patched must have been a painstaking task,” she said. 

Grossman is selective about the mended antiques she shows. “It can be subtle but it has to be thoughtfully repaired with creativity or humor,” she said. 

Grossman has taken repair humor to heart around the house. When a settling crack appeared in the kitchen wall she didn’t have it spackled and painted, instead she hired an artist to come in and paint metal staples over the crack. She is currently looking for a craftsman to replace a broken piece of her marble kitchen counter with brass staples.  

“There’s no way to hide the crack and why would I if I can have a beautiful repair?” she said. 

Grossman said even though the pieces don’t sell very often she will continue to present the On The Mend Show every so often. “Its a favorite of mine,” she said. “I would like people to learn to look at the art and creativity of repair and not always look for the perfect pieces. A wood bowl is a wood bowl, but a wood bowl with a mend is really something.” 

For gallery information and hours, call 845-4949.