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Aesop's Mirror: A Love Storyby Maryalice Huggins
"[I]n an age in which art's bottom line is generally thought to be the bottom line, the book attests to the true reasons we cherish rare objects that have come down to us from the past: the way they elicit our desire to possess their beauty and their mystery." Benjamin Moser, Harper's Magazine (read the entire Harper's Magazine review)
Synopses & Reviews
"Everything I needed to know about Fox and Grapes mirror, I knew the moment I first I saw it."
What antiques restorer Maryalice Huggins knew when she stumbled across the mirror at a country auction in Rhode Island was this: She was besotted. Rococo and huge (more than eight feet tall), the mirror was one of the most unusual objects she had ever seen. Huggins had to have it. The frame's elaborate carvings were almost identical to a famous eighteenth-century design. Could this be eighteenth-century American? That would make it rare indeed. But in the rarefied world of American antiques, an object is not significant unless you can prove where it's from. Huggins set out to trace the origins of her magnificent mirror.
Fueled with the delightfully obsessive spirit of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, Aesop's Mirror follows Huggins on her quest as she goes up against the leading lights of the very male world of high-end antiques and dives into the historical archives. And oh, what she finds there The mirror was likely passed down through generations of the illustrious Brown family of Providence, Rhode Island. Throughout history, mirrors have been seen as having mystical powers, enabling those who peer into them to connect the past and the future. In Aesop's Mirror, Maryalice Huggins does just that, creating a marvelous, one-of-kind book about a marvelous, one of-a-kind American treasure.
"Antiques restorer Huggins delivers a knowledgeable, however overstuffed and ultimately frustrating, frolic through the high-end world of the buying and selling of early American decorative arts. Well experienced in spotting potential masterpieces from her longtime work as a furniture and mirror restorer for antiques dealer Israel Sack Inc. and the big New York auction houses, Huggins by chance found a large, exquisite rococo mirror at an auction in Clayville, R.I., and for the next 10 years allowed it to follow her around 'like a beloved pet elephant.' Obsessed by tracking down its provenance, she knew only that the fanciful carving of the gilded frame, modeled on the Aesop's fable she calls Fox and Grapes, must have been from a Thomas Johnson design, while the wood was North American white pine and the primitive craftsmanship probably American. As an early Block Islander, Huggins was familiar with the old families of Rhode Island, and delves into the probable original owners, the Browns of Providence, specifically, Anne Brown Francis Woods and her daughter, whose first (rejected) suitor was the future Irish statesman Charles Parnell. The Irish question takes Huggins into a valid, unfashionable consideration of the mirror's manufacture in Dublin, although her long digression into the imagined lives of these families strains reader patience. Nonetheless, so-called experts (all male) are deliciously proved fallible in this informative, creative exegesis on how antiques attain their value." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WILLIAM SAROYAN INTERNATIONAL PRIZE FOR WRITING
Falling in love at first sight with a mirror in a Rhode Island auction, Maryalice Huggins sets out to discover its history and learns that it was likely passed down through generations of the illustrious Brown family. Certain of the mirror's prestige, she goes up against the leading lights of the fascinating high-end antiques world and discovers that the value of a beautiful object and its market value are not the same thing at all. As Huggins concludes her "delightful" (Jacki Lyden, NPR) quest of sleuthing, research, and obsession, she learns the true meaning of art.
About the Author
Maryalice Huggins is a restorer and gilder of antique mirrors. She has worked for museums, interior decorators, and private collectors. She lives in New York City and Middletown, Rhode Island.
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