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I'm most recently a writer.  In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot.  As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades.  An unwilling transplant from the South,  twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US.  Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect.  When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do.  Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Me and Teddy Roosevelt--We Go Way Back

It's fair to say that in my family, we keep things. Not because they are of particular value. Not always because they have significant sentimental connections. Things of interest are kept because. . .well, they are interesting. It seems the right thing to do, keeping anything unusual, anything with an amusing story attached, or anything we aren't absolutely sure might not someday turn out to have real monetary value. Antiques Roadshow is loaded with folks like us, who keep things because.

That's how I became involved withTeddy Roosevelt. He's been around as long as I can remember. Legend has it he came to reside with my parents when I was still a baby. As closely as my mother could recall, he was discovered while clearing out the basement of a building chosen to house the vocational school where my father would be teaching. Someone in charge permitted my father to take him, hinting that someday this slightly damaged bronze casting of horse and rider might be worth a lot of money. My father, always in need of a lot more money than he had, brought it home, added a false mustache to compensate for the horse's missing tail, and for most of my childhood, Theodore Roosevelt served as an interesting doorstop in our living room. It's always been obvious that Teddy was intended for better things. While not an original bronze casting, this replica must at some point in time have held a more exalted position. But no one uncovered his origins, no one knew exactly where he resided before he came to us, and frankly, in the grand scheme of our lives, he wasn't a priority. He was just there, to earn the occasional comment from a visitor, and to be dusted.

Wish I was a better photographer!
Fast forward several decades. When I was packing up my mother's home in Virginia, preparing to move her into a senior apartment out here in Kansas where so many of those "kept" things couldn't be kept any longer, I discovered time had not treated Teddy kindly. Not only was his horse tailless, but Teddy himself had lost a foot, boot and all. I carefully packed up the remains and brought him to Kansas, because. . .well, Teddy was still interesting and something of a mystery, one I wanted to clear up if possible. I felt I owed it to Teddy, not to mention my parents, to finally uncover whatever history and value this thing might have. Surely with the wealth of information at my fingertips via the internet, I could dig up something. My mother still held out hope that Teddy represented that ship she'd been waiting for all those years. It would be wonderful to find out this thing we'd lugged around for decades was really a treasure, but it would also be nice to put the pipedream to rest.

Well, I pretty much failed at learning anything beyond the name of the artist who created our Teddy. Turns out all along, if anyone had looked closely enough, the signature was right there next to that poor lion. "Bofill" led me to Antoine Bofill, Spanish sculptor, 1875-1921, who apparently worked mostly in Paris around the turn of the 20th century. There are a few photos of his other works, mostly small bronzes, but nothing, absolutely nothing to tie him to the 26th President of the United States.
I did find a very skilled restorer to put Teddy and his horse to rights. The cost of the restoration probably far exceeds the market value of the piece, but it was well worth it to me to toss out that old mustache and proudly display Teddy on the mantel instead of hiding him behind a door.

I have pieced together a vague provenance for Teddy. Turns out that building where he came to my father's attention was once part of the Richmond public library system. Given the condition when found, Teddy was probably stuck in the basement after some unfortunate incident broke the tail off his horse. Since this is likely one of many such replicas of the original, it makes sense that someone deemed this representation of our 26th President suitable décor for a public library. In a time when big game hunting and a dead lion would not have offended anyone's sensibilities, the 26th President astride his horse astride his most recent kill would have been deemed a classical pose. I can imagine some wealthy donor of the day purchasing Teddy for the new branch of the library, where he would have held a place of honor--Teddy, not the donor. After a series of future presidents came and went, Teddy was probably delegated to a less prestigious spot where some clumsy person caused the aforementioned unfortunate incident. A tailless horse would no doubt have offended the sensibilities of any number of animal lovers, and thus Teddy was sent to ignominious exile in the basement, to be discovered by my father and rescued.

I do wish I could learn more about our Teddy. Where is the original, for starters? Why was he cast in bronze by a Spanish sculptor in Paris? Why that pose? What was the name of the horse? If anyone out there has any clues, please let me know. Meanwhile, President Theodore Roosevelt, known to me as Teddy from the time I could talk, resides on the mantel in our humble library here in Kansas. I'm really a little proud of myself for having saved him. He remains one of the "kept" things I treasure, not only for his "interesting" qualities, but because I feel he and I have shared a long and arduous journey. He's been with me all my life and when we part, I hope those who come after me will find him interesting enough to keep around.

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