Monday, May 16, 2016

Curios-er and Curio-served

Cabinet space has become a bit of an issue for me, lately. My collection grew in a very short time span, and I have not been able to acquire the fixtures to keep up. Not for lack of trying, but most of the time, it's logistics of cabinet weight and size. I am also changing the way I display, which is moving away from the "library stacks" style, and towards a more artistic, museum-display style. That style requires more real estate, but the enjoyment of the artworks is maximized. I also can consider more fanciful, less practical cabinet designs.

There is a forsaken corner of my studio that has needed a makeover, for years. It had a cheap bookcase, and a open-edged, dust-magnet, tiny cabinet. These became catch-alls for all manner of studio debris. The cabinet is a bad match for a dusty pottery room, and needs to be moved to the clean office. I needed something that kept dust out, and also lit up the corner.

I recently completed a collecting goal of one of each of the HR DW foal molds. To me, foals are the true gauge of an equine artist, because they should not look like miniature adults. Although I love them as reference, they were jammed to the back of my large curio, a foot away from the viewer, and shadowed by larger sculptures. They needed to be in a cabinet that they wouldn't get lost in.

My mother-in-law and I love to do the occasional "junking", hunting at flea markets and thrift stores. I have found great monsters and tiki at these low-end resalers, but never anything for my own collection. In a single day this month, I scored not one, but TWO small curios to ease the clinky congestion. 

In the last booth, in the last indoor flea market, I spied a tall corner cabinet. It was very reasonably priced, even with delivery. The seller assured me that the third glass shelf was included, she just was displaying a tall figurine in the bottom. The bottom section of the curio was a solid cabinet, for stashing books and the like. It looked mint, in the dim corner, and the booth was so crowded with junk that I took her word that the light fixture worked. It looked ideal for my studio corner, and I felt like a Responsible Collector, getting a proper, safe place for my foals.

The cabinet was delivered the next morning. This seemingly innocuous event was but the beginning of a three-hour physical workout and brain tease. The gentlemen who worked for the flea owner carried it in, brought the glass shelves, and stood it in the corner. Well, more like, leaned it out of the corner, looming towards the room. We checked that the light worked, even with a plug unlike any I had seen before, and off they traipsed. It had been cleaned before delivery, which was about the only relief to what followed.

With the curio at six feet tall, a bottom quarter being the solid section, and only three shelves, there was no question of DW headroom inside. Still, I needed to inspect the shelf holders and the shelf height options. Imagine my surprise that there were none! Yes, it was mighty dark in that booth, especially with the cabinet light off. Only enough holes for the existing three shelves, forever stuck at those heights?! Who built this crap? This must be made in China.

Then, I got a good look at the shelf holders. Clear plastic. One had shorn off inside its hole, rendering the entire shelf useless. The bottom shelf. You know, the one that had been removed to "display that tall figurine"? Uh huh. Who used cheap plastic to hold up heavy glass shelves? This must be made in China.

Now, the geometry of a corner cabinet, being an Isosceles triangle, means that the acute angles where the shelf holders are inside their holes are such that the rear ones cannot be pulled. That's right, the shelf holders were installed before the mirror and backing were mounted to the entire curio. Forget drilling new holes when they shear off and ruin those existing spots, because you will never fit a drill up against that mirror, anyways. Who assembles a single-use curio with no shelf height options? Who seals in those pegs with a mirror and staples? This must be made in China.

It had become abundantly clear to me, at this point, that I had a fixer-upper on my hands. I can't abandon it. It has to be dealt with. There are no other options: I must remove the entire back wall to reach the mirror, then access the pegs jammed in that acute angle. After that, I can measure and drill new holes, and set in steel shelf holders. You know, like a reasonable furniture manufacturer would have done, in the first place. Who made this disaster? This must be made in China.

Yes, this curio was delivered by two men. So what? I understand leverage and I am nimble. I doubled a quilt (because all the furniture moving blankets I keep buying have disappeared) over my utility sink and floor, walked the cabinet over to it, and leaned it there for surgery. The paperboard backing wasn't even the strong Masonite you see as backing on cheap furniture. Nope, this was like barely-pressed-together sawdust, the worst grade of paper fiberboard. It turned to dust when I tried to remove the staples. I then made the backing's weakness work for me, and ripped it... Let this sink in... I ripped the entire backside off a curio, like it was upholstery fabric. Who uses sawdust paper as furniture? IKEA would reject this. This must be made in China.

I carefully examined how the mirror was secured before attempting removal. What luck! It wasn't secured, at all. It was held in place by gravity against a tiny lip of oak at the top of the "solid" segment of the cabinet. Who sells and ships glass mirrors, just bobbing loose in paper backing? This must be made in China.

... But, how did it survive overseas shipping?

The staples, meanwhile, were dug in like ticks, bonded to the narrow frame. They made clinging Job One- being just about the only thing in the whole curio, besides the light, that had a work ethic. I had to pry each staple out of the entire six feet twice, and the top and bottom, for it covered the entire back surface. The staples could not be left in place, or else the backing would not go back on flat. The bottom stability segment was not "solid" oak, at all. It was half paper! Staples, paper, plastic. Is this a TPS report on my desk? No, it's a curio cabinet, made fast and cheap in China, I guess!

My husband checked in, saw the insanity, heard me huffing and hauling on staples, clattering nails, and was like, "What piece of junk did you get?!" Something made in China .

I didn't bother doing my workout that day, because it was Arm Day on the curio machine, apparently. I carefully measured for new holes, from the curio's own landmarks. I got the correct diameter drill bit, placed the holes horizontally slightly off-center of each back wall frame, so the steel holders would not occlude and crack the mirror backing. There was no centimeter spared in this construction, not even when common sense said "You will break." This must be made in China.

I set the steel shelf holders in place, laid the mirror back on its rest, and put what was left of the paperboard back in place. I hammered steel finishing nails in, sometimes using an old staple hole for the hardest parts of the wood. Then, I had the bright idea to sweep out any spiderwebs that may be left in the base underside, while the cabinet was at a 45-angle. When am I going to have access to the bottom again, really? I bent down, reached under with my hand-broom... And heard the bristles strike something that wasn't oak. It was paper. A paper label, this will confirm my worst fears.

This was not made in China.

It was made in my state, one hour's drive away, 36 years and 1 day from the date it was delivered here. If that datestamp doesn't give you the shivers, it should.

Commence the TNsplaining. Begin with the there-theres. 

Thoroughly geography-shamed, culture-shamed, industry-shamed, I now began to baby the curio. "I can't believe you survived 36 years in the state of your birth without being broken! I know residents who can't claim that." I stood it back up, dusted it off, positioned it in the corner. It still lurched forward, posture not really being a thing in TN. I grabbed the heaviest objects I had handy- my own plaster molds- and loaded the cabinet bottom compartment until it stood solid, pressure fit to the corner. Please no jokes about Tennesseans having to be loaded to look normal.

The mirror is reflecting a painting.
Check out the crazy plug.

The last thing to do was to wipe down all the glass again, after soiling everything with my drill sawdust. The rubber holding the glass of the door had been originally installed crooked and curled. Ah, you know, these things happen. QC is clearly not the same thing as Quality Assurance Production Control. Don't be silly. They only need to assure you that the quality is the usual for all production. This is usual. Of course, decades later, that rubber fitting wasn't going to be coerced into a correct position. It was done. I cleaned the shelves and set the first one in place, wearing gloves so it had no fingerprints. What's this? My carefully measured-to-the-cabinet-landmarks holes were off. Not a little, a lot. I can't believe this, I grumbled, as I reached for the bubble level. The cabinet can't be taken apart, now. Who makes furniture in a factory where you can't adjust the shelves, and their holes are crooked, to begin with?!

American made, in Tennessee. Can't blame China for this one.

I was forced to locate some adhesive foam padding, cut it to fit the pegs, and stack it until the weight of the glass held it firmly in place. They had drilled one shelf's worth of holes correctly, so I had one shelf that likewise was solid on the first try. 

The happy ending is that it is a great display for my HR DW foals. I really love it, when I just look at it and don't remember anything. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who are not ceramics collectors, complimented the set up. The modified cabinet is doing its job, and that is all I needed it to do. The serving of humble pie was a bonus.