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Variations of Recovery

Whether you are an antiquer, collector, curator, or just someone who enjoys bringing old things back to life, the word “recovery” as it relates to items you restore, unearth, or repatriate is central to your interests, vocabulary, and hobby.

When we talk about antiquities, recovery is often used synonymously with repatriation, the returning of an artifact or work of art to its country of origin. In the last decade, repatriation has become a hot topic in the arts and antiquities world as well as in diplomatic and legal circles. Items looted, stolen, or taken as spoils of war are now actively being sought out and their ownership challenged in a court of law in an attempt to return them to their rightful owner, whether that be an individual, museum, or country. In just the past few months of 2023 alone, hundreds of looted Neolithic to Byzantine artifacts, including a second-century bronze statue of Alexander the Great, have been returned to Greece after a 17-year legal battle with a notorious British antiquities dealer; New York City’s Met Museum repatriated 15 sculptures to India that were illegally removed from the country before being acquired by The Met; and India is looking to secure the return of potentially thousands of artifacts taken to Britain during the days of the British Empire, in particular the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which is one of the Crown Jewels held in the trust of the King. Repatriation is an ongoing story of recovery taking place around the world and you can learn more about this timely topic in our July issue.

The word recovery can also be used synonymously with the word restoration as it relates to returning something to its earlier and usually better condition such as a building, piece of furniture, or in the case of Baumgartner Fine Art Restoration, your fine art. Julian Baumgartner is a second-generation master craftsman of fine art conservation and restoration who employs only the finest archival and reversible materials and techniques to conserve and restore the paintings he works on.  Traditionally a solo trade that usually takes place in the back rooms of museums and art galleries, Baumgartner shares the painstaking process of art conservation and restoration  – complete with before and after comparisons – with the over 1.74M subscribers to his YouTube channel. You can learn more about Julian Baumgartner and watch him in action on YouTube here.

When it comes to adding new life to an old piece of furniture or an antique, furniture dealers, antiquers, and DIYers turn to Howard Products for their recovery projects. With a little vision, elbow grease, and the right products and materials, almost anything old can be made to look new again. But is everything old worth restoring or upcycling? And how do you know what products are the best to use for your project? Brett Howard shares his expertise and a few examples of ‘before and after’ projects from his customers with us in this issue, as well.

Another interesting turn on the phrase “recovery” is explored in our story of the recovery and return of Edith Wharton’s complete personal library to her summer cottage, The Mount, in the Berkshires of Massachusetts after a century overseas. Wharton packed up her beloved books in 1911 when she fled the Berkshires for France when her marriage crumbled. Upon her death, these books were scattered and bequeathed to intimates and family members before being reassembled and cataloged by a British book dealer in 1984 and ultimately sold back to The Mount in 2005, the collection to be returned almost in its entirety to the bookshelves in her library.  While the return of these books to their original home was a coup for The Mount in its mission to restore Wharton’s home to its Gilded Age glory, they came at great expense and a financial burden that almost shuttered the museum’s doors. Today, Wharton scholars and fans can not only tour the restored home and grounds that Wharton personally designed but learn more about her from the books she read and cherished, now back home where they belong.

Coming from a different angle of recovery, we also explore “White House Relics and the Stories They Tell” with author Wayne Smith. Here is a fascinating look at the collecting of recovered items from the building of the White House and its expansions and renovations over the years. Many of the souvenirs and relics of the building of the White House come from the three major renovations of the last century. Theodore Roosevelt’s 1902 renovation was the first major structural work done since the British burning in 1814. Calvin Coolidge replaced the roof and expanded the third floor in 1927. Harry Truman dismantled and replaced the complete interior of the White House between 1948 and 1952. Learn more about the ‘takeaways’ from these 20th-century renovations and the stories they tell in Wayne Smith’s article on his new book.

In the context of this issue, recovery is also a word that infers the archeological unearthing or discovery of something lost or taken away. Beneath the asphalt parking lot of America’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg, gravesites linked to one of the nation’s oldest Black churches remained hidden for decades until last year when archaeologists excavated three burials at the original location of the historic 18th-century First Baptist Church, launching a months-long process to unearth information about who was buried there and what kind of lives they led. For the Black descendants of residents in Williamsburg, this effort is long overdue. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Black residents made up more than half the town’s population and members of the church included abolitionists, teachers, and farmers. In this issue, you can read more about this historical recovery of the First Baptist Church and the stories newly unearthed about its congregants.

As collectors, we are continually looking to recover historical objects of interest. We are drawn to their history, tangible connection to people, places, cultures, and makers, and the stories to be told. Our recovery and context breathe new life and significance into these everyday objects from the past and carry them forward for the education and enjoyment of future generations.