Treasures Redefined

By: Lisa Hoffman, curator of education on November 25th, 2020

For a daily mini-escape, I stream and watch past episodes of Antiques Roadshow – the U.K. version. In its forty-one seasons, the British show’s format is the same as the U.S. version. People bring objects, seeking an expert’s appraisal, a discussion of provenance or history of ownership, and estimated auction value. Participants vary, from treasure hunters trawling secondhand stores for the once-in-a-lifetime find to individuals inheriting an antique of which they know little or those with cherished memories.

The monetary-value appraisal is each segment’s big reveal. Clever appraisers often nonchalantly describe the item, a catalog of flaws, reasons its value may be diminished, and then disclose a jaw-dropping “at-auction” price. It’s also delightful when appraisers can’t contain their own excitement and begin with superlative exclamations like “I’ve never seen before; I’ve waited my entire career to hold; and I didn’t know this actually existed.”

For items with lower auction estimates, presenters soften appraisals with statements like “I’m so glad you like this item; it’s so lovely to have that connection; and the value is about the history and story.”

Witnessing the respect for and adoration of relationships and memories is what I like best about the show. What I value most about sharing art are the connections and stories.

I find a loose analogy between assessing treasures and all that is swirling in the world. Previous measures of what made the holiday season valuable – how many people gathered at the table, distance traveled, the beloved uncle’s signature dish arriving in a thermal carrier – may need to be re-appraised.

Maybe this season’s value is the provenance of our personal holiday traditions. I suggest reflecting on when certain recipes were first introduced, why the platter embossed with spring flowers is always used for the November turkey, or what story is endlessly repeated and why. Relate the stories of a shared past, in a time that may not involve physically gathering. Create stories about this season to record for future generations.

This Thanksgiving, I plan to open the can of jellied cranberries and plunk the congealed mass into the green ceramic ware and admire the complementary colors. I’ll attempt to make the
scalloped corn dish my grandmother served on the foldable “kids’ table” yet is now known by the next generation as my mother’s recipe. I’ll make my pumpkin pie bars that fill the house with the smell of autumn – nutmeg and cinnamon – and prepare a new traditional fowl – the diminutive Cornish hen – for the few safely gathered. I will embrace the day with the unbridled optimism of the secondhand-store treasure hunter and the blissful ignorance of the antique beneficiary . . . and tell the stories.

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