Around the world with knickknacks

Thursday, March 21, 2002

March 21, 2002

Dear Julie,

Before leaving for vacation last week, DC and I assaulted our house with cleaning supplies and brooms and tried to reduce the clutter so we wouldn't be too embarrassed when our new cleaning woman came to the house while we were away. We wore our old cleaning woman out.

DC is glad we "reorganized" because she found many things she didn't know she had.

Does someone qualify as a collector if the assemblage seems to have no rhyme? DC's collection of thousands of things includes a cannonball, old toys, new toys, a Chinese wedding box, dozens of planter figurines on shelves and a banana crate.

Another thing occupying space in our house includes a box filled with gifts that were good buys she will find a recipient for someday.

The basement is the great unknown. A box of organ pipes is down there for some reason and enough Christmas decorations to light up the whole neighborhood.

Last week in Austin, we encountered the life's work of another collector. Charles Moore was the architect responsible for Sea Ranch in Northern California. He also was the dean of the architecture schools at Yale and the University of Texas. He was important among architects. Now that he is dead, his house is home to the Charles W. Moore Center for the Study of Place.

Historic preservation students at UT give tours of his home. The house is hidden away on a side street and is almost indistinguishable from the other modest homes in the neighborhood. As it's so easy to forget, it's what's inside that counts.

Moore's house is a cacophony of folk art. The soaring walls and the shelves on them in the living room hold hundreds, maybe thousands, of masks and animal figures brought back from his travels around the world. I thought DC's was overboard for knickknacks.

Moore's knickknacks would impress a museum curator much more, but he's still working in the knickknack tradition.

This man well known for public architecture also wanted whimsy when he was at home.

On the concrete floor he painted white circles the size of tractor-trailer tires.

In the house are structures the tour guide called "moose columns," tall cardboard cylinders topped by antlers. I don't think they're supposed to make sense.

His shower was made of galvanized steel and could accommodate 20.

Much of Moore's work has been associated with the 1960s. One nook of the house is a low-lying profusion of cushions and pillows that has come to be known as the "opium den."

The stairs to the second floor consist of alternating left- and right-foot steps.

The house embraces an interior courtyard with a decorative lap pool in the middle.

I asked the tour guide to describe Moore's philosophy. He believed a house should reflect who you are, she said, not some culturally agreed upon standard of taste. That seems sensible to me.

The house is an amazement. I'm just glad I don't live there.

My center for the study of place would contain a couch, a TV, a stereo, a bed, a computer, some lamps, some bookcases, golf clubs, a guitar, a bit of art, magazine racks and somewhere to put the old newspapers. That's all. Less chaos is more to me.

In the spirit of marital give and take, DC now claims she has enough things. She doesn't want any more birthday, anniversary or Christmas gifts.

I'd believe here but she was an hour late to dinner last night because a local store was having a going-out-of-business sale.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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