Adopting Nostalgia: the final resting place of second hand collectibles

Adopting Nostalgia: the final resting place of second hand collectibles

In some ways estate sales are an intimate and nostalgic visit into another person’s life. There is nothing like it and its unjust to equate “shopping” with rummaging through a recently deceased person’s home looking for collectibles, or something unique.It’s reverent and should be approached as such. I think of my own home. And always I think of Kay Ryan’s poem Things Shouldn’t be So Hard and her gorgeous verse, a visit into the intimacy of living and dying. As Ryan contemplated:

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail

What happened to all these lives?

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And what would the former home owners think of the long line of people outside their home, waiting to get inside and pick through their belongings. The ordinary household objects maybe not so sentimental, as Ryan describes:

the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark

And yet other things more deeply personal, meaningful. Objects that contain and preserve our emotions.  I always feel time is unfair. We get old, our children get old, and how possibly can gorgeous professional wedding photographs end up in a cardboard box, in a pile along with an assortment of vintage post cards, snapshots of other families, with pin up calendars? All for $6.00?


So a part of me–and other estate sale enthusiasts I’ve spoken to share this sentiment or guilt– a part of me wonders if it’s crass. I wonder how the family’s relatives feel, despite their decision to hire a company to come into their loved one’s home and stick price tags on their possessions. What does the granddaughter of the beautiful 1950s bride thing of these pictures. She must have studied them over the years, laying on a bed in a spare bedroom flipping pages of an album trying to imagine her aged grandmother once youthful and in love.

Or are those my romantic projections? For once I had been that child in the back bedroom of my Nana’s house, flipping through pages seeing my father, my aunts and uncles. Running my fingers over black and white pictures imagining the past. My family had secrets perhaps that is the cause of my longing for the past, is to understand what my grandmother was hiding and what she was trying to say by leaving a photograph of a step daughter who ran away from home at 16 and was never heard from again. There in that old album, a photograph under a yellowing plastic film was my aunt Betty a 1940s beauty in a cashmere sweater and a string of pearls. Betty was one of our inherited taboos.

On a lighter note. While working on my article about Antique Dealer Robin Caton and a hoarder’s house she was dismantling and selling off, I spent a few minutes interviewing customers as they waited in line (with great anticipation ) to get inside the house and start hunting. I asked them what they were hoping to find, what compelled them to wait in the cold raining Portland morning for a first chance at the sale.

One customer Beth Hansen-Winter, a photographer, gardener, and collector described some of the old architectural pieces she’d found at the sale last week. We talked for a minute or two about her finds. Before she entered the house she asked me if I was interested in seeing what becomes of the things she finds at estate sales? The objects she’d purchased from the hoarder house. She invited me to her home out in the country. Acres of beautifully designed gardens both formal and untamed. She welcomed me into her home, a collectors paradise; folk art complimented by old world antiques. I will be featuring Beth in an upcoming article here on Words and Pictures so for now I’ll share a little bit about the reincarnation of the things she found at the estate sale in Portland.


Beth is a regular at estate sales and auctions looking for unique hardscaping materials, art, and ornamentation. her love for folk art is reflected indoors and out. Even in dormancy the garden is evocative and timeless. During my tour Beth pointed out unique items she’d acquired including a set of cast iron gargoyles that once sat atop a street lamp in Mexico City, a favorite escape of Beth and her husband who passed away two years ago. The Mexican folk art in her home and garden reflects their love for art and culture. Both artists themselves, the lines between nature, art, and inspiration are fluid. I will feature an interview with Beth in the coming months and spend more time on her photography and her husband’s sculptures and paintings.

One of  the many of Beth’s husband’s (Peter Winter) sculptures. This one created for an erotic folk art exhibit now inhabits the dining room.

Items Adopted from the Hoarder House

Beth had found unique objects at the hoarder estate sale. She began re-imagining them in her garden and home. I loved that her gardens were so expansive and lovely. It made for a beautiful resting place, eternal.

garden items purchased at the estate sale:

a peek into Beth’s gardens:

and a few estate sale finds inside Beth’s home:

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I’d like to think one’s spirit–at least partly–is attached in  one’s possessions. And when we die things we treasure are adopted and cared for. If not by our loved ones than by collectors who sense the meaning of every day objects.  That way, perhaps, Ryan might take some comfort in knowing that evidence of a soul and spirit is not lost in death.

The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small—
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.

Note to Readers:
Look for my article on Beth Hansen-Winter in the coming months when her garden is in full bloom. We will talk about her and her husband’s art and how their home came to  be an extension of their folk art aesthetic. Here’s a peek at Beth’s garden and home, and of her husband’s art.

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