The Experienced Skinner…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

boarOnce, when we were in La Havre, Peggy and I went into a grubby antique shop on the waterfront. Although I was financially underprivileged, just being in that old place made me want to buy something. Maybe it was the ambience of it all.

So I looked around and saw three cannon balls “From Napoleon’s personal collection,” and many souvenirs that were left over from the French Revolution. A few gave me pause: a used guillotine blade, a hangman’s noose with the requisite 13 coils, several experienced peg-legs, and other fiendish French inventions of dim distinction.

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Le Havre France

But in a far back room, in a dungony-dark corner I saw an old trunk that just smelled with character. It was as if some terrible Viking had used it for storing things I didn’t even want to know about.

When I raised the squeaky lid the trunk appeared to be empty – and then I noticed a rusty old skinning knife with a character-weathered antler handle. It was covered with dust and must’ve been concealed in that dark place for years and no one knew it was there but me.

An old, yellowed price label said $100.

“Wow,” I thought, this thing probably was used to skin a thousand wolves, wild boar, and chamois.  My desire for it preceded critical acumen so I grabbed the knife and ran up front to the shopkeeper, “I want this knife,” I said. “Sacre’ bleu,” he replied, “Veer deed you geet zee extraordinary antique veapon?” Ha, I was in luck, he didn’t even know what it was.

A small sign on the wall said, “les ventes sont finales”.

I quickly handed the clerk a couple of twenties, some tens, a five or two and a bunch of ones – nearly all the money I had. My wife’s expression said that I should be saving up to buy a padded cell.

As we drove away I developed buyer’s remorse. If that knife had been in a display case in the front of the store with a price of $20, I wouldn’t have wanted it. Then it hit me. That well-seasoned Frenchman got to me with a trick that was the oldest ploy in the history of trading: It didn’t matter how special the knife was, it only mattered how special he could make me think it was.

I wanted to return it and get my money back but I knew that wasn’t going to happen, and besides, I’d have to admit to the sales jerk that he’d outwitted me, and that wasn’t going to happen either.

So I gulped and kept driving, not feeling very cerebral, and not looking at my wife.

But there was some profit in the deal because it provided me with a rule I would remember, “When testing the depth of the water, don’t do it with both feet.” I think that was the rule, but maybe not, I had so many.

In later years I decided that the hundred bucks I paid in 1957 were well spent because bad experiences build character. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with all of this character.

 

Olmec Jadeite Mask…

by forrest fenn

Many of the objects in my collection are significant in a very small depiction of world history. Most are more interesting than they are important. Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to remember that each piece represents who we once were in a time that used to be, and that I will never be anything more than its temporary custodian. 

 

olmecfaceFor a thousand years, beginning about 1500 BCE, the Olmec people flourished in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico. They were the ancestors of all subsequent Mesoamerican civilizations.

Their artists were famous for carving well-fed looking human faces in stone. Some as large as 20 tons still stand where they were made. You can see them if you go down there.

The Olmecs especially liked Jadeite. They sawed it by drawing a taut string back and forth and using abrasive powders to cut, a process that could take years. Jadeite was the stone of the heavens, they thought, and when they carved it their hands were guided by the gods.

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Nephrite and jadeite are the two types of Jade. A rocksmith once told me they were so alike that a layman couldn’t tell the difference. But he could, he said, because one is colder than the other. He just couldn’t remember which was the coldest.

This 9-inch jadeite mosaic mask has a commanding appearance, and his splaying ears balance the temperament of his face. The rounded chin emphasizes his gaping mouth, and the wide-set eyes add depth to the overall expression. Its features make obvious the charismatic power of the wearer, who probably was a ruler or a shaman.

Such masks were considered images of transformation. The color green was associated with growth, longevity, renewal, and rejuvenation after death.

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I acquired this mask from a woman who sold antiques. She had 8 white St. Bernards and about 200 white pigeons. That was okay, but she poured beer in zip lock bags to save space in her purse. I thought she was a little weird. Her personality grated me and my dread of visiting her always seemed appropriate. Sometimes I forgot when I arrived why I went there in the first place. Maybe it was because leaving her was so much fun. Some folks think I’m weird too. What do you think?