Prop Hunting in a New Hampshire Barn
Updated: Apr 29, 2019
Last weekend I had the opportunity to rummage for props on a beautiful property in Sandwich, NH. I'd been to the house a few times before, and peeked inside the barn once. I vividly remembered the primitive furniture, handmade vintage quilts, baskets hanging from the rafters, and windowsills filled with knick-knacks. When I was offered the opportunity to visit in search of salvaging, I didn't hesitate.
While I was thrilled at the prospect of filling my car with unknown treasure, I had to remember that a delicate situation was at hand. The elderly owner of the home was being moved to a nursing home, and would be present as I sifted through a lifetime of her belongings. It was an unusual opportunity and one that I only had access to thanks to a mutual friend.
I've been to in-home "picking" situations before, but always ones where people were actively wanting to purge their home. This was quite different, as the homeowner loved most of her belongings, but knew that her children wouldn't want many of them. I tried to stay mindful of what was happening, curbing my excitement for prop hunting and realizing how sad of a day this might be for others around me.
To put things into perspective, the decision to move the Mother to a home had only been made days beforehand. A daughter was present, guiding my through cabinets and closets, letting me know that certain items weren't for the taking. Eventually I was left alone to rummage, but the rawness of the day could be felt as I overheard conversations about which family members might take what furniture, and listened to the Daughter promise her Mother that certain things would never be discarded.
I spent a short amount of time in the house before moving to where I really wanted to look - the barn. I knew it would be in this forgotten building, hidden beneath years of piles that I would find the most unusual items. I was mostly looking for small items since I have a tiny apartment, and the type of photography that I style requires small props. I was well prepared, having changed into closed-toe shoes and strapped on a headlamp for searching the dark corners. I spent over two hours in the barn sorting through multiple mouse skeletons, droppings, and by the end I was exhausted from moving boxes and shifting furniture to squeeze into every possible corner. Let me tell you, it was absolutely worth it. I could have filled my car with trinkets, but I tried to be selective so as not to appear greedy. Here are my choice finds...
This desk organizer was trapped beneath crates and boxes. I knew from the moment I saw it what I'd do with it, and I'm so glad I rescued it! It has given my desk a welcome makeover.
A serious collector, and former naturalist & science teacher, I felt a sort of kinship to the Homeowner and could string together bits of her life based on what I was finding covered in dust out in the barn; Old maps, boxes of fossils, shells, and rocks. Someone had spent time making jewelry there. Another area was clearly a classic workshop, while the back room had at one point been the storage area for classroom accessories. To the blind eye, this probably wouldn't have been noticeable. Mounds of boxes covered in dirt with random objects placed on every surface disguised what once might have been a very orderly outbuilding.
I couldn't leave behind these vintage flashcards. They're the type of thing I love, but rarely do anything with besides look at (hoarder life). I chose the green handled knife and corkscrew for unknown reasons - they just called to me. I imagine using the little galvanized bucket for some sort of sauce in food photography at work, and the Kodak film canisters were too precious to leave behind.
I've been a Jadeite collector for a number of years, and display my small collection on a bookshelf in my apartment. These pieces are not easy to come by "in the wild" and are pretty expensive at flea markets and antique stores. Most of my pieces have come from Brimfield, besides my prized batter bowl which my Dad snagged for me at a yard sale for .25cents. NO JOKE! So, you can imagine the squeals that echoed throughout the barn when I found this Jadeite shaker. I was in a back corner of the barn that required moving 5 large items just to get back there. I had browsed the tools, old jars, and mouse poop to my satisfaction, peeked at the shelves beneath and seen what looked like stacks of old files. There wasn't much room, but something urged me to duck my head underneath the tool bench. I twisted into an awkward position, moved the files, and saw a color that always makes my heart skip a beat...JADE. I was beyond excited. I quickly added it to my "to keep" pile, shocked that I had almost moved on from that corner without bending over. Thankfully, this happened in the beginning of my search, and propelled me to look closely in every area that I could access!
This little hummingbird makes me smile each time I look at it. The mildew spots don't bother me at all. In fact, I think they add character.
The best part of picking from someone's home as opposed to a flea market is learning the stories behind objects. I found out that this bowl was always used for baking and serving macaroni and cheese at the family table. These details are what connect me to the objects that I bring to my home and use in my work as a Prop Stylist. I love any crackled dishware, and while its cracks mean that I won't use it for serving food, I will likely place this on a coffee table to stare at with admiration, remembering the importance it had to a particular New Hampshire family.
Last but not least, I'm particularly enamored with this little Philadelphia cream cheese crate. I have no personal association to that brand, but again, I like knowing what something was used for and where it came from. And let's be real, cream cheese is just delicious.
As you can see, I didn't go nutty with my collecting on this trip, but I am quite pleased with what came home with me. I might have taken more if the situation hadn't been so raw for the family. I also wasn't sure what type of prices they would be putting on items. Sometimes sentimental value can affect a seller's base price, and given what was going on in this family, I was worried that my prices might offend someone. In the end, I placed my finds in a pile and had the Daughter review them. She didn't want to keep anything that I had chosen, and said that if they were going to a home that appreciated them, her Mother wouldn't want me to pay. Her one request was that I bring the items inside to show the Mother so that she might find some joy in seeing what I had chosen. It was meaningful for her to know that someone else appreciated her things. I gladly agreed and enjoyed the few minutes that we spent together. I ended up finding one small green bench that was priced at $10. I was happy to find something that they wanted money for, as it gave me the chance to give a bit more. I went to my car and wrote a check for $50. It still didn't feel like enough money for what I brought home, and being given the unique chance to look through someone's home that I barely knew. Driving away, I felt excited yet humbled, suddenly aware that one day I will be in the position of this family, giving away the treasures that I spent a lifetime collecting on days like this.
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