My Father’s Things

For years I imagined meeting my father. I was 20, an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, when I went to the campus library and looked up his number in the Cleveland area phonebook then wrote to him. A few weeks later, at my rooming house on Lincoln Avenue, I got his phone call. We talked, and he arranged for me to spend the holidays with him and his wife. Gentle reader, you’re probably wondering how this falls under the heading “Inspiration.”

Since my teens, I’d been fascinated with design–furniture, lighting, dishes, industrial pieces, rugs, flatware, you name it. When I saw my father’s things, it was as if we were the same person. The first thing we did was go thrifting. I bought a blue Westinghouse refrigerator pitcher at the Salvation Army. That night he stood in the living room and talked about all his Russel Wright dishes. He even had boxes of them stored in a coal chute in the basement. I hadn’t grown up around anything like this. His sofa was by Dunbar. My mother was the exact opposite; the centerpiece of her living room was a gold brocade couch, covered regally with a custom-made plastic slipcover. She could have been front and center in a Kerry James Marshall painting. Was it the genes? Who knows? But when I had to take care of his things at the end, at the estate sale, I watched as two men came up from the bar/recreation room in the basement with an armload of my father’s design books, excited that one was about George Nelson. Can you be inspired without knowing it? Dear reader, that’s the question.

Antique brown leather briefcase
Fisk University anniversary program from 1933


Alexander Girard fabric

Leather Sofa, Florence Knoll

Rectangular blue dish
Mid-century modern coffee server
Betty Price smiling

Alexander Girard fabric

Charles Eames Chair

Flat green dish with circular cutout in the middle
Pointy shaped wooden bowl