Treasure Chest Thursday: The Lady Plate

 

My mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca used to say that my grandmother, Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon, was her own best customer when it came to their Chicago antiques business, Chatham Galleries.

 

The Lady Plate, signed by the artist Dapoigny and undated, was with
us so long, she was practically a beloved member of our family.


One of the most stunning pieces in the Chatham collection was the large porcelain plate pictured here.  Measuring about 27 inches in diameter, it bore the likeness of an aristocratic lady dressed in vivid hues of burgundy, white, pink and blue, painted on a gold field with raised designs.    The plate was signed “Dapoigny”on the bottom and was not dated.

The lady on the plate appears to be French.  Beyond this, we know nothing of the plate’s provenance.  This was one of the articles my grandmother and mother brought back from Europe, though I do not recall hearing where they found it.

The “Lady Plate,” as our family called it, hung in Chatham Galleries for a while.  Like so many other things, she eventually made her way to my grandparent’s home, where she reigned in splendor for nearly a decade. Before my grandmother died in 1963, she gave the Lady Plate to my mother, knowing she would always cherish it.

 

My mother at Chatham Galleries, the antiques business she and my
grandmother owned.  The Lady Plate hangs behind her on the wall.  The
gentleman with my mother is unidentified.  Chicago, Illinois, 1951.

The Lady Plate became a special part of our family, and we accorded her the reverence and love as the grande dame she was.

She came with us when our family moved down to Mexico City and again a few years later when we moved to California, both times safely cradled in a bundle of blankets on my mother’s lap in the front seat of our yellow 1962 Ford Falcon station wagon. This was no small feat, considering the plate’s size and heaviness.

The Mexican roads were not the best, even the modern toll roads.  My father did all he could to navigate around bumps and holes in the road, but this was not always possible over the 3,000 or so miles we covered.  There were no seat belts in those days, so we were jolted back and forth and up and down as the car rounded sharp curves, dodged erratic drivers, or hit the inevitable surprise pothole.  Through it all, my mother held tight to her treasured bundle.

Thanks to my parents’ diligence and care, the Lady Plate survived without a scratch.  She seemed to graciously accept her new place of honor on the living room wall wherever we went, presiding over us with her peaceful countenance.

The Lady Plate hung on the living room wall of my grandparents’ 
Chicago home, circa 1950 – 1959.

My father, Gilbert Cayetano Huesca, always carefully anchored the Lady Plate to the wall to keep her intact and safe.  Despite her vintage, which we guessed to be between 200 – 300 years, she never grew old but remained serenely beautiful, outlasting her many owners, including my grandmother and my mother.

She was there for us during the milestones of our lives: our first steps, birthday parties, graduations, marriages.  She was there as we faced the loss of our mother to cancer and when we brought our newborn children home to visit their grandfather.

She seemed invincible all those years, surviving the jarring  7.1 Loma Prieta Earthquake that struck Northern California in 1989 and who knows what other calamities centuries before.   Yet like many things of beauty, she could not last forever.

Her long life span finally came to an end one afternoon in 2008.  My precious father, by then 92 years old and still strong and independent of body and mine, was deep cleaning his living room when he moved the couch away from the wall.  Somehow he must have bumped into the Lady Plate, and she came crashing to the floor.  Thank God he was not hurt.

Not knowing what had happened, I arrived at his apartment for lunch a short while later and found him sitting at the table with his head in his hands, a large plastic bag containing the pieces of the beloved plate by his side.  He was overcome with grief.  I think he felt as though he had lost a good friend who had been a part of his life for over fifty years.  To him  the Lady Plate represented my mother – his wife, the most beautiful and important Lady in his life and the owner of his heart.  We held each other and cried.

It could have happened to any one of us. My dear father, the most careful and meticulous person I have ever known, was not at fault for the demise of the Lady Plate. Ever mindful of my mother’s love for this prized possession, he had cared for the plate for over two decades as one who had been given a priceless treasure to guard.  Sometimes, though, things happen, no matter how hard we try to prevent them.  Perhaps it was simply her time.

I have the Lady Plate now, carefully put away in her new form.  A large part of her face is still intact, but the rest of the pieces were not so lucky.  I just cannot bear to part with her, even in her fragments.  Maybe some day I will be able to have someone put her back together so she can resume her place on our own living room wall to lovingly watch over and be cherished by future generations.

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

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