After my father died, my mother asked me to help her clear out the attic in the house where they had lived together.
I came across his briefcase, one of those old, rather ugly brown concertina type things and asked her if she wanted
to keep it or not. She said, "that was his last pillow". She had awoken to find him lying dead by the side of their bed
with his head resting on the case. This was 37 years ago - I'm a person that does not generally hang on to things, I have
a fairly monkish existence in many ways but I've carried this case around with me ever since. I never had a close or warm
relationship with either parent and when I was visiting Joakim with the 'pillow' I was overwhelmed by an intimacy I felt
with my father that I had never experienced when he was alive or since. I'd say it was strange but I'm not so sure I find
anything strange these days.
Welcome to The Heirloom Project
What is our inheritance? In popular usage, an “heirloom” is something, perhaps an antique or most popular some kind of jewelry, that has been passed down for generations through family members (wikipedia).
A piece of furniture, property, a photo album, an object; it could be a physical attribute, a gene which determines the way we have to live our lives, when we die or whether we create our own family, religious beliefs, the way we dress, articulate or carry ourselves.
Whatever it is, it will have an impact on our lives in some way or other. The way we see ourselves as people, our history and identity can all be part of our inheritance.
How do I know what I looked like as a child? Simple, my father laboured for hours creating photo albums with humorous titles and speech bubbles. I am partly shaped by my history, what my parents/grandparents/extended family passed on to me in the shape of objects, behaviour and emotional responses.
In this project I am trying to investigate the links between those ‘hand-me-downs’ and how that has made an impact on ‘us as individuals’.
I hope that by presenting these images and stories the viewer will start to ask questions about their own inheritance and how what has been passed down to them has influenced their personality, identity and how they view the world.
I would be very grateful for your contributions, please follow the link to participate. This project is about and depends on your contributions.
After my father died, my mother asked me to help her clear out the attic in the house where they had lived together.
My mother’s ancestors were English, Welsh and Swedish. On my father’s side they were Norman French, via Jersey in the Channel Islands.
I have inherited a condition called Dupuytren’s contracture. Once called the cabman’s disease, from the belief that it came through holding the leather reins of the cab-horse day in day out, it affects one or more fingers that become increasingly impossible to straighten. I first noticed it in my early 30’s in my left hand, my painting hand, which I assumed came through spending most waking hours holding a brush. I have always made large scale oil paintings on canvas with brushes of a size to match. There is repeated re-painting; heavy work in other words. As a problem it has only briefly ever stopped me from working and during the necessary recovery after several operations I was introduced to the pleasure of watercolour, a much more light and amenable medium.
I prefaced this description with a brief ancestry because the condition is prevalent amongst the Viking peoples who settled Normandy and the Channel Islands. My brother-in-law calls Caen “Viking Central”. It feels somehow compensatory to think of them with battle-axe in hand, although more likely gripping an oar hour after hour in freezing seas.
It pleases me to know that both sides of the family are makers. This inclination runs strongly with us. My Welsh great grandfather was a cordwainer, meaning a shoemaker. The word originates from Cordova in Spain and is therefore associated with the use of new leather as opposed to the repairing work of the cobbler. My father was a master-printer in a trade he learned whilst in the Royal Marines. My maternal grandfather was a stoker on the heavy cruiser HMS Terrible.
As a painter I am accustomed to rely on what I think of as the hand’s intelligence. Custom and experience show the body making calculations too complicated for the mind alone. I regard the evidence of my handiwork as a trustworthy acknowledgement or truth of identity, just like a signature but carried and amplified through the highly woven repetitive structure of painting.
Touch is at the heart of the art of painting, which even today maintains its cultural sovereignty in the visual arts for conveying the utmost nuance of feeling. Whether sewing leather, shovelling coal, setting metal type or painting, it seems to me that this hand recalls a wisdom and memory that I barely grasp but certainly rely on.
My grandfather Leonid was a formidable figure. Not the easiest to get along with. He was however an incredible craftsman and artist, and I like to believe that most of that creative flair that runs through my brain is mostly to do with him. He sparked and nurtured my love of drawing.
I am not sure where he got the fly ashtray from which we always called simply Mukha (Fly in Russian). I wish I'd asked before he died. It says it costed 10 roubles at the time. Which would have been a sixth of an average wage in the 1960s Soviet Ukraine. I was obsessed with it from an early age, and I strongly suspect it triggered my love for slightly weird, visceral aesthetics. When I was eight he clocked my obsession with it and gave it to me to store my 'treasures' in. I think some of the treasures were Donald Duck gum wrapping paper-a novelty in the newly-formed Ukraine. The fly is now with me in London and is now a treasure in itself. It would be one of those things I'd save if my flat went on fire. Although it'd probably the only thing that would survive blazing flames. It's so solid and heavy - a real industrial beauty of an object.
"As children we viewed these soldiers as precious antiques, despite their bedraggled state, chipped paint and absence of limbs. They represented the halcyon days, a time of heroic adventure and derring-do. My father grew up in the Second World War and these soldiers were some of his favourite toys - he and his cousins would fight imaginary battles where arms and heads would be blown off, horses maimed and planes shot out of the sky. At the end of the day they would be packed back in a box ready for next time.
When we were growing up, war was always glorified and celebrated - in comic books, in films, on television. It took us a very long time to understand anything of the real horror that war invariably inflicts."
This hei-tiki is made of Kahurangi Pounamu a precious nephrite jade greenstone, discovered by the indigenous Maori in New Zealand (Aotearoa) and found within boulders of the crystal clear mountain rivers of the South Island. It was passed down to me as an heirloom (Toanga) from my sister Fiona and through our NZ born mother. Though we were raised as children in North Wales, our mother’s homeland The-Land-Of-The-Long-White-Cloud 41° 00' S and 174 ° 00' E featured significantly in our upbringing. This special relationship continues today and whenever we are away from NZ we always ensure we are closely connected to its land and people. The term tiki is applied to carved human figures, both by the Maori and by other Polynesians and is usually worn on the human figure as a pendant or neck ornament. The full name is hei-tiki.
It is a very hard stone and a laborious skill to work, especially so with the primitive grinding tools available to the Neolithic Maori.
Although the Maori have occupied New Zealand since about 1280 AD, the historical origins of tiki are not understood as they are virtually absent from the archaeological record. For a precious item, this is not surprising because few would have been lost or discarded. Tikis are considered prestige items in New Zealand and protected as heirlooms in both Maori and European families. They increase in mana (prestige) as they pass from one generation to another with the most prized Tiki being those with known histories going back many generations. They are worn by Maori on ceremonial occasions and are highly valued treasures to their owners.
It is likely this hei-tiki was passed down to my mother through my grandmother Beatrice the great-granddaughter of William Beetham RA the English portrait artist who founded the NZ Academy of Fine Art in Wellington and who painted several Maori Kings and Chiefs and received in return their precious treasures. It may also have come via my mother’s second cousin Eric Ramsden (writer and art critic) who was a close confidante of Maori Princess Te Puea Herangi who he assisted in important Maori affairs with the colonial NZ government.
It is thought that the hei-tiki ornament is a fertility charm representing the human embryo, and should be worn only by women, although early European visitors saw Māori men wearing the hei-tiki.
My mother continued this tradition and passed the tiki to any of her friends in Wales who were hoping to have a baby and having difficulty conceiving. I know it had a successful mission on the very first occasion it was put to use and the mother was thrilled.
While I have only cloudy memories of the house where I grew up, I can still recall every room in my paternal grandmother’s house in photographic detail.
On Sundays, after we’d eaten our fill of dainty sandwiches – tinned salmon and tongue were regulars on the bill of fare - and three different kinds of cake, my dad vanished behind a newspaper or into the television while my mum and grandmother talked over the washing up. My brother and I now had free rein to play throughout the house.
It was a 1930s semi with bay windows, a pantry, a wash-house, a phonebox-sized cloakroom and an apple tree in the back garden. In every corner of the house were objects of great fascination - totems which demanded frequent observance. A Spong mincer; a leather playing card box with fold-out compartments; a wooden monkey clothes brush with posable limbs; a miniature figurine of Old Father Time.
Raiding a chest of drawers in the box room, we found astrakhan and fox fur collars, a pair of christening shoes – like tiny silk oyster shells – and a box of slide photos dating from my dad’s early days in the Merchant Navy. One set showed a Crossing the Line ceremony, and the figure of a Demon Barber, with distended eyes (a halved ping pong ball) and a blood-drenched white coat, gave recurrent nightmares to a little girl who didn’t know about fancy dress.
My grandma also had many ornaments roosting on mantelpieces and dressers. The most prized stood on lace doilies. I remember that nearly all of them had sustained injury at some point: there were glue lines around the necks of shepherdesses, the stems of fruit and the ebony trunks of a family of elephants. I don’t remember, of course, my brother or I being responsible for any damages.
This pair of musician dogs, posing mid-tune and entirely free of dried glue, were always my favourites. Perhaps it was their human - yet quite unreadable - expressions. When my grandma passed on, so too did nearly all of her possessions. I sometimes wonder how much of the diaspora still belongs to someone, and how much ended up in a binbag.
Anyway, I’m incredibly glad to have inherited the musical duo. Without knowing it, Ivy Corlett – the only grandparent I knew as a child – passed on to me a love of antiques and odd collectables, and the dogs now live amongst a growing collection of inessential – yet absolutely essential – treasures.
These are my hands, I inherited them from my parents.
They came as a pair. I take them with me everywhere, and use them *all* the time.
When I look at my hands, I see my parents' hands. Oddly enough, the backs remind me of my father's hands, the palms remind me of my mother's. If I want to think of my parents I just look at my hands.
Of course, these hands weren't invented by my parents. *Their* parents had hands too, and I often wonder how similar and how different those might have been.
And what about further back? Our earliest ancestors had hands, with opposable thumbs, and I inherited mine from them. And we've all held hands, one with the other, through the generations. So they are an heirloom. But these are also quite definitely my own hands, with specific scars to show the evidence of use.
When I die, my hands will be entirely useless, and it makes me sad to think of that. But I will pass them on, because I have a daughter and she has hands that look just like mine did when I was her age: slender, smooth and pale.
Her hands also look a bit like her mother's - but that is another story, another inheritance.
This is a portrait of my grandfather, painted in 1922 by the father of a family friend who happened to be a neighbour in the same tenement in the Bronx.
I actually love the painting, but it's in stark contrast to my feelings about my grandfather who was estranged from the family for most of my life, and who was actually a very vindictive, bitter, and spiteful character. By all measures, he wasn't a nice man and treated us very badly. Growing up I so wanted to know him and be close to him, mainly because he had so much knowledge of our family history that I desperately wanted to learn, and he was quite a dandy which impressed me. He was known for his sartorial splendour, and one of my last encounters with him was meeting on Santa Monica Blvd in the 1980s where he was dressed in a denim safari suit, with matching cap, and white patent leather shoes and belt.
I have been told by others in the family that he was always a mercurial character, even as a young man, with a quick temper but that he wasn't particularly nasty. With the onset of diabetes in his middle age, his personality changed completely and he became ill-natured and hostile. He died at the age of 89, taking his secrets to the grave with him and leaving me angry and resentful. It was only after he passed away that a few items of his finally made their way over to my father, and eventually on to me. Apart from this painting, my grandfather really left us nothing, certainly no fond memories, but I do actually love and cherish this painting as it is actually a frozen moment and a link back to my family's narrative.
When my stepfather died I inherited all sorts of miscellaneous items that my stepbrothers didn’t want, including my stepfather’s worn leather riding boots, a few top hats and two Stetsons that I’ve pinned up in the hallway of my house as kind of picture memories of the past. The Stetsons date from my childhood when my stepfather, a former cavalry officer for the British army and an accomplished rider with a huge passion for horses, organised a rodeo in the middle of Rheindahlen in Germany. Rheindahlen is a giant army camp – a British enclave in the middle of another country – where I had my first ever job as a security officer for the Naafi and then as a cherry bottling worker at a factory down the road aged 16. I also helped ‘Peppie’ as we came to call my stepfather, put on a rodeo. It was a spectacular event that brought a real flavour of America to our corner of little Britain in Germany. Both my stepfather and mother were given hats at the end of the event and these are the pieces I’ve inherited. They are slightly moth eaten but symbolic of my stepfather and mother’s ingenuity, enterprise and sense of fun. Hats have a big meaning for me – when I was four I lived in Saigon during the Vietnam war. One day all us expats were by a pool at the country club at the outskirts of the city, and a US helicopter flew overhead, swooshing the water everywhere as the chopper descended lower and lower – probably, now I come to think of it, to catch a better glimpse of all the gorgeous mums there, including mine. As the helicopter swooped down, a laughing American soldier tore off the army cap from his head and threw it down to us awe-struck kids below. I caught it. Ever since, I’ve always associated hats with poignant and fun memories.
If you have every wondered why Architects of a certain age stereotypically wear bow ties; the reason is simple practicality, not sartorial elegance. Before working with a computer screen and a mouse, Architects spent hours hunched over a drafting board putting pencil to paper. Those Architects who wore normal ties were forced to either invest in a tie clip and look like a 1950’s accountant or throw their tie over their shoulder like a World War One flying ace.
Part of drafting, prior to the undo button, was erasing which created large deposits of rubber and paper debris. To clear one’s drawings, all Architects kept a drafting brush to hand. My heirloom is my Grandfather’s drafting brush. Dating from the 1950’s or 1960’s, it was manufactured by the German firm of Dietzgen from 100% sterilized horse hair. The brush also features the letters “BE” carved into the timber frame. These are the first two letters in his surname, Berry. The rest of the letters have been rubbed away with time.
When I started architecture school, my Grandfather passed on his drafting tools to me. While a majority of the tools were of sentimental value only, the brush proved its usefulness over three years of graduate school and seven years of drafting before my board was replaced with a 21” monitor.
The brush has now found a third life for itself. Despite my best efforts to keep it hidden away in my man drawer, my young daughters are convinced it is really a crumb brush and should, like in a fancy restaurant, be used to clean the table between dinner and dessert.
After my parents divorced in 1948, I went to live with my grandparents in Carnerigasse 35 in Graz, Austria. Almost every day grandpa would tell me stories about his time on the Eastern Front during WW1.
They featured Cossacks mounted on horseback skewering Austrian soldiers with long pointy iron lances.
During an attack in Galicia he was shot in the head but survived. Sometimes I was allowed to poke my little finger in the bullet hole inside his head.
This lamp has been something that has been in my life since I was born. It belonged to my maternal grandmother, given to her by my paternal grandmother for Christmas in the early 1960's.
My mother was born during the Second World War, and the house was bombed heavily, and my grandmother lost everything. Photos of her family from the 19th century, favorite possessions from her parents, heirlooms, everything. So after the war she started collecting things from her travels, or friends would give her interesting items. This lamp was one of those.
It sat on a sideboard in the dining room or periodically when they decided to "have a change" and move all the furniture around, it sometimes sat next to the chair where my grandfather would sit in to watch telly. It had a light blue pleated shade with pompoms on the bottom, quite charming and hilarious at the same time being on top of this Chinese carved man!
I always loved looking at it, it seemed the most exotic thing at the time, in amongst all the velvet curtains, pink sofa and shaggy rug in front of the fireplace and the very english porcelain figurines.
My grandmother passed away a few years ago now and my mother asked if there was something I would like to have from my grandmothers possessions, this was top on my list, and I had to wait to find out if I could have it, there were so many grandchildren to ask.
After my dad died a year and a half ago, I started to explore my roots, and acquired a family ledger dating from the nineteenth century. The shabby brown leather tome had spent a good many years in an attic in East Sussex. In florid pen and ink, its pages list all the properties that my great great grandfather owned and leased across London.
It details purchases, sales, freeholds, leaseholds, deeds, ground rents, drain plans, maintenance and repairs, ordinance survey maps, photographs, newspaper articles, as well as many illegible notes and instructions scribbled in the margins.
I was astonished to learn that in the late nineteenth century my great great grandfather had built an entire estate more or less at the end of the street where I now live. Much of what was then known as the “Furneaux Estate” is still there today.
I also discovered – thanks to a 1936 receipt for headstone cleaning and repair - that there is a substantial family grave in nearby Abney Park cemetery. More unbelievably still, it turned out that my daughter goes to school on the site of her great great great great grandfather’s house and garden.
When I moved to Stoke Newington seven years ago I had no idea that there was any family connection. My discovery, particularly after the loss of my dad, feels like the most extraordinary and wonderful gift.
No one in my family ever seemed to notice how weird it was that one day my grandmother started wearing a Swatch.
I have no idea how it came to her, or when.
Ok, it wasn't a fluoro coloured glow-in-the-dark Keith Haring edition.
It was a relatively demure black one with a white face and roman numerals.
But still, it was a Swatch.
Visually, I'd always thought of my grandmother as a prototype "little old lady". Classic, a bit elegant, with no particular acknowledgement of current styles or trends beyond the comfort zone she'd mapped out years previously.
Throughout my childhood she wore the same delicate thin gold watch with a very tiny face, in keeping with someone born in an earlier part of the twentieth century.
She wore it with black leather open toe shoes, forties style, opaque white stockings and dresses. Always.
From these givens I could take some unintellectualized kid comfort.
When I first caught sight of the Swatch on her wrist, I couldn't quite process why I found it so curious.
But the disconnect between my grandmother and this plastic disposable pop-up fashion item was so huge to me, I wondered what else I might have to re-evaluate in my life.
The reverberations were potentially massive.
From that day on, I could think of my grandmother in no way other than Swatch wearing.
And it never became any less curious to me that the gold watch had mysteriously been replaced with something from another era.
The one we were currently living.
When she passed away I knew I had to inherit her Swatch. Just that. Nothing else mattered.
No one really understood my obsession.
It was happily handed over to me.
My dad died when I was just a lad leaving me with just a few vague memories of things we did together. The things I tend to remember more are the things he did funnily enough. He was always doing something, be that making furniture, printing his photography in the darkroom, screen printing, painting, or just sitting drinking whisky late at night playing his guitar. He never made it feel like we couldn't join in though, it was just he was busy and we were all happy to fit in around him because it made him what he was.
Memories can be triggered by many things, none more so than our sense of smell. So If you put a bottle of Rotring ink under my nose today I know I'd be straight back to dads study. His wooden swivel chair, his blood red desk, Letraset pages scattered all over and his Rotring pens all laid out, whilst he toiled over his latest poster for a local theatre or communist party poster . I always loved the coloured collars they all had and thought they must be very special. By Day his proper job was teaching kids with behavioral problems at a local school, but at night he'd let loose on his current creative outlet and we might not see him for hours. Its funny but as I write this I realise i'm becoming exactly the same. Every night I escape to my studio at home, somewhat oblivious to everything around me, and sit there and make music or work on images until the wee small hours. Got a lot of my dad in me I guess, although I never did get the taste for whisky.
My dad, Eddie Garrett, was a Telegraphist Air Gunner in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II. He mainly flew in the old open-canopied Fairey Swordfish bi-planes, affectionately known as ‘stringbags’. This was the same type of plane that famously pursued and sank the German flagship, Bismarck. He sat behind the pilot, facing backwards and was responsible for staying in communication with his base just using morse code, and for defending the plane from attack from above and behind.
This is dad's leather flying helmet, which he kept after being demobbed and gave to me some time before he passed away. The tubes connected to the ear pieces are not electronic but merely open pipes which plugged into the console in front of him and allowed him to converse with the pilot above the noise of the engine.
In the early 60s it was clear that England was still living in the shadow of WWII. Consequently people such as me, who grew up through that period, have a curious sense of nostalgia for aspects of the war even though they have no actual memory of it. This helmet gives me a direct and enduring physical connection both to my dad and to a period of history from which I am obviously disconnected yet feel strangely familiar with.
When I was 5 years old my grandfather gave me this ‘stuffed’ baby crocodile. It was already a very old specimen. He claimed it was found on the banks of the Nile in 1904. Whilst it probably dates from around this time, I think he may have made up the story to appeal to a child’s imagination! I thought it was incredible and it became my most treasured possession. It was the centre-piece of my bedroom ‘museum’ and undoubtedly sparked an interest in taxidermy and curiosities. Many years later I discovered just how ordinary such things are, but it never lost its appeal. It now has pride of place housed under a glass dome in my ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ at home and it’s my children’s favourite piece.
"Humphrey" is his name, and he symbolizes everything I remember about my Grandpa. My grandpa, a very special man in my life, who sadly is not with us anymore.
Humphrey is made out of scraps of wood and an old sock and was made for me when I was just 9 years old, now 20 years on and he is still with me.
A part of my grandpa, the creative carpenter who always took the time for his grandchildren and inspired me to follow my dream and enter the world of design.
Now I enter the next stage of my life and hope one day to inspire my children and grandchildren as he has me.
A very special man;who created something very beautiful...from a sock!!
The Metropolitan Police whistle made by J. Hudson and Co in Birmingham was introduced to the police service circa 1884 and replaced the wooden, football-style rattle as a means of communication between constables on adjoining beats or between constables and their supervising officers. There were a variety of whistle codes to signify various messages such as “where are you?” (a single three or four second ‘peep’) and “I am here” (two ‘peeps’). This was a necessary means of communicating right up until the second half of the last century, after two-way personal radios made their first appearance in the 1960s.
The whistle in this photograph, dated 1918, was issued to my grandfather, Constable 215A Samuel Garrett, when he joined the Liverpool City Police on 4 August 1919. He carried it when ‘on duty’ until his retirement on 31 March 1968, a total of 48 years and 8 months service, the longest period of service by any officer in the history of the old Liverpool force.
I followed in Sam Garrett’s footsteps and joined Merseyside Police in January 1978. I served within the boundaries of the City of Liverpool for a little over 24 years before retiring on medical grounds in June 2002 ...and I still have the whistle I was issued with too!
In the early 1970s I was nine years old when my family scrimped, saved and borrowed to take a train from Liverpool to Jersey for our first and only holiday 'abroad'. The hotel had palm trees and a swimming pool, and seemed like the most exotic place in the world. My sister Joanne was five years younger and hadn't yet learned to swim, but on our first evening she walked backwards into the swimming pool. There was nobody else around, so I jumped in fully clothed and lifted her from under the water to the side of the pool. I was more concerned about being in trouble for getting my clothes wet, but my parents were beside themselves with gratitude, and recounted the story to everybody in the hotel. We never had much money at the time, so I was amazed when they offered to buy me a watch the next day while out in the town. They were thinking of something small, inexpensive and age-appropriate, but I pointed to a large, ostentatious diver’s watch, which was well out of their budget. We left the shop empty-handed, and I thought nothing more of it until the next day when they surprised me with the watch. I wore it constantly for years after, and now it sits in the bottom of a draw, but in my mind it will always be a most valued possession to pass-on, representing the love and selflessness of my parents.
My father died when he was only 41, and I was 14. He was a craftsman and enjoyed working with wood. Apart from losing him, one of my biggest regrets is that he died before I had the chance to talk to him and learn this craft from him.
My most treasured possession is his old toolbox with his metal initials on, ‘MSC-Michael Stanley Cook’. This box contains some of his most-used tools. It’s a strong wooden box he made, and the felt lining shows the respect people had for tools back then, trying to minimise damage and scratches.
In recent years I’ve become accustomed to using these, (using books and the internet instead to glean knowledge), and now also collect vintage tools to add to my collection. Soon I will need to make my own toolbox.
I can remember my grandfather would sit in his chair in what he called the television room. It was dark, lit by a tall lamp with a patterned fringed lampshade.
There was an old gas fireplace which was surrounded by small ornaments and items that he had collected.
Next to the chair there was a large ashtray in which he kept his pipe.
This was the smell that first greeted me when I came into the house although not what you probably assume to be an unpleasant stale smell but a comforting subtle smell.
Even after my grandfather passed away this smell still lingered and when we cleared his house I knew that this was the one item I had to keep as whenever I smelt it, it reminded me so much of him.
This knife was given by my grandmother as a gift when I left my parents home, at the age of 20.
It was part of the cutlery she received as a gift from her mother when she married my grandfather in their hometown Vassouras and settled in Rio, in the 1930s.
The handle and blade are originals. I have other knifes, more modern and sharper, but this is my favorite.
It has a very comfortable grip, which reminds me of my family every time I use it.
These medals belonged to my grandfather and great grandfather. The smaller ones are from the First World War, and the larger ones are from the Second. My great grandfather Felix was a musical hero, he wrote ‘Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag’ for the soldiers of WWI. He sang them through the battles in the trenches of France, keeping their hearts and spirits alive. My grandfather Harley was an RAF officer involved in installing radar systems across England to protect us from German bombers. When the war was over he was part of the Berlin airlift giving food and supplies to starving German citizens.
He was also a brilliant theatrical actor on the West End stage. Both Harley and Felix were brave and talented men. These medals remind me of my grandfathers living room, the carpet was red with roses all over it. The cabinets were filled with trinkets from all over the globe, but one cabinet was filled with things only from the war. They were always fun to play with, but when your young you never realise their real value. I never met Felix, and only shared my early years with Harley. I wish I could go back to that living room and listen to all the great stories he had to tell.
My dad was a fundamentalist born-again hellfire preacher, and I grew up in a very antagonistic relationship with him. My normality as a teenager was hoping new girlfriends wouldn’t notice the faith-healing, amens and hallelujahs going on in the front room. I left home as soon as I could and it took me over a decade to sort out the mess that kind of religion leaves you with. Then I was able to notice the man my friends had – funny, eccentric, generous (he loved cartoons, he regularly gave away more money than he could afford, he taught himself Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic so he could read ‘what the bible really said’). We still disagreed on almost everything, but we found we had a lot of common interests.
Shortly before he died he gave me his sermons. It was a brilliant, tongue-in-cheek gesture from him (mixed with some earnestness). They’re dated, with where he preached and what hymns they sang, and they're passionately annotated and reworked. They were the thing that I most wanted, because they were him put down on paper. I can never read more than a couple of lines though, because they’re so intolerant, aggressive and angry, and that’s not how I want to remember him. But that’s also why they’re so great, because their accidental message to me is about not being too hasty to dismiss someone because I dislike their attitudes. I’d have missed some great conversations that way. My heirloom reminds me that we’re all weird, and we only think we aren't because we choose friends who are weird in the same way as us.
The little green plastic box is usually to be found tucked away in a drawer. It contains a humble pair of tarnished silver cufflinks, my fathers. A gift I think from his sister when she lived in Canada during the 60s.
Although he's been gone some twenty years it's only now, in my forties, that I'm starting to understand him more. He worked hard on the roads but the only picture I have of him is at a similar age, dressed in Sunday best. I don’t sport shirts requiring cufflinks very often these days but if I did I would most surely wear them.
My grandmother’s rocking chair. It reminds me so much of afternoons spent at her house getting bored while the grownups were busy lunching or conversing or just being boring. I remember sitting in it and rearranging the matching nest of tables she had. And trying to think of ways to play with the wooden monkey and stacking soldier she had – pretty much the only toys in the house and they got boring pretty quickly.
My grandmother was not one to fuss over small children but she was very conspiratorial with me – I sat in the rocking chair and she taught me to play backgammon and cards instead. The other ‘toy’ I was given to play with was a tin of foreign coins and banknotes – much more fun – and useful in backgammon games! It’s funny now, doing what I do, to be so frequently appraising the design of mid-century Ercol furniture and Rosendahl wooden toys, I certainly didn't appreciate that at the time and I'm not sure my family did either. They probably did though. Nature or nurture - who knows?
This old Swedish book, a manual on photography my father gave me and a little picture of my god father seemingly trying to stare into me, both gives clues to me being a photographer, as well as my permanent curiosity about what makes people who they are and what goes on behind the facade.
This type of clock used to be known as a granddaughter clock. It is a French timepiece in an English cabinet and an engraved plaque on the front reads: “Presented to Capt. Geoffrey W. Sherston by the tenants of the Grantley and Brimham Estates, March 1935”. The tenants were farmers on large country estates in North Yorkshire and the recipient, my grandfather, was the manager of the estates. The clock and chime mechanism both have to be wound with a large key once a week, and there is a highly sensitive adjustment lever to adjust the speed of the clock if it’s gaining or losing a few seconds over that period.
This is the day book kept by my step-grandmother, Monica Sherston, from January 1923 to March 1927. It was not unusual in 1920s English society to keep such books and this is a beautiful specimen, packed with mementoes of dinner parties, hunts, county balls, political meetings, European cruises and family life. One of many highlights is a luncheon in Burnley, Lancashire on 5 February 1927, hosted by the Burnley Conservative & Unionist Association for the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill. A warm, handwritten thank you note from Winston to my grandfather Geoffrey, his host as president of the local Tories, is proudly pasted in the book.
When I was a child I would spend long summers with my grandparents in Shamokin, a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. They lived in a quite ordinary and modest house, but I remember it being full of the most extraordinary objects.
When I got bored of lazing around on the porch, I would climb up to the attic and sit there amongst the discarded furniture, peering into wooden chests full of furs and feathers, pulling out hats from dusty boxes and rummaging through piles of piano music – popular show tunes and radio hits from the 1930s and 40s. Even now, there is a particular smell – a mix of heat and dust and old varnish - which transports me back there in an instant.
After my grandmother died, my mother shipped many of her things back to England. I don't think she could bear to leave anything behind. This lamp used to sit on my grandfather's desk and was probably bought by his father. I remember being fascinated by the metal dragons and how, when the bulbs were lit, they seemed to breathe fire. It is very precious to me, not only because it is a thing of great beauty but because it has this magical power to evoke very loved people, places and times.
Ever since I can remember I’ve had this paperweight, playing with it as a child I payed close attention to it's cold touch and it's rough texture. It once belonged to my Australian grandfather, a person I never met and know very little about. Although I have always known it was his its significance never occurred to me.
Only now do I look at it and wonder who he really was. Sometimes I think this sleeping wombat knows more about my grandfather than I do.
During the last few years of my father’s life, I rarely saw him out without this slightly battered hat. We travelled a touch together and my abiding image is of him during this time is perched on a stone just inside the gates of the Guggenheim in Venice with stick and hat, watching the young go by. It hangs on a chair opposite my desk, and always will.
This Kowa camera used to belong to my Japanese granpa in Osaka. He died when I was 19 and I inherited it.
He was a keen amateur photographer, loved taking photos in camera clubs and used to show off the images of beautiful models posing.
He was also a keen English learner who would translate his favoruite ABBA records into Japanese and wrote to his Hawaian pen-pals in English. Now he must be enjoying his second life living inside me, speaking English every day and being a photographer in England.
Without his influence, I would not be what I am now.
This pair of jugs were always there in my Grandmother’s kitchen, a place of security and inspiration. They had belonged to my Great Grandmother, and I was sometimes allowed to carefully hold them. I loved to trace the vivid turquoise edges and the golden painted flower patterns while my Grandmother would tell me stories of my Great Grandmother, her Mother. who danced and sang on stage, had long flaming red hair, and who took in other peoples washing when her husband was killed in the first world war. Sometimes she shared two boiled eggs between four children for tea. Her floor was so clean that you could eat off it, and she later sent a parcel every week to London and my Mother when my Grandmother married an RAF Officer, my Grandfather and moved to London. I now make ceramic and bronze sculpture and decorated plates.
My Grandmother always said that the jugs were to be mine, as I loved them. They sit in my far less tidy kitchen (though I love cleaning floors) and are for me a symbol of strength and beauty, gaiety, courage and love.
I inherited this bible after the death of my grandfather, Manuel Simeão da Silva, but the most important thing I inherited from him was his stories. My memory of him wasn’t so much as an ardent bible reader but as the adventurous young man he once was and for his playfulness.
He lived in another state and I was about 4 years old when I first met him. I remember him swinging me on a hammock, feeling terrified by his wrinkly face and dark skin every time the hammock swung close to his face. He was a cafuso, his mother was Brazilian Indian and his father an African.
It was only later when he came to live with us, after my father’s death, when I was 11 that I got to know him better.
He had mellowed by then; he wasn’t the severe man I had heard about. In fact, I think his old age regression matched my age at the time.
He was a great storyteller, telling me the wild tales of his youth and how he was quite the Don Juan. There were many stories about travelling through the jungle, and in particular his encounter with a dangerous snake. How he had eloped with my grandmother and how her father contracted bounty hunters to kill both of them.
It was only much later that I realized I was the only one he told those stories to. At times, I would get bored of listening as he repeated them over and over again. In hindsight I can see the wisdom of the repetition, because I can now remember those stories.
My “grandma” was a professional ballet dancer and these beautiful faded pointed shoes were passed on to me. I suppose there couldn’t really be another item that could so perfectly describe her and her entire life which was devoted to the ballet world. For me they bring back memories of rifling through her wardrobes which were stuffed with tutus, feathered creations, Russian inspired costumes, lots of sequins and glitter – so exciting for a little girl (still is!). I also have memories of her dancing, stretching and teaching in her living room right up until the last few months before she died. And so I take these pleasures into my own life, and try to fill it with dancing, and beautiful things as much as possible.