by Joan Tyor Carlson
For the past seven years, at the Sag HarborFest, antique dealers from the harbor and nearby present an Antique Dockshow in which dealers appraise items of interest brought in by their hopeful owners. Since I used to publish a regional antique guide (from Moriches to Montauk), I was asked to organize and run the show, which is given at the Sag Harbor Yacht Club’s glorious blue-tented pavilion.
Most of the items, even those of value, are not astounding but this year, photographer Renate Pfleiderer brought in a piece that continues to fascinate me.
The dealers/appraisers this year, working at two round tables were Bill Burton, Eliza Werner, Paula Brennan, Ruth Chernaik, Reuben and Julia Adams.
The bulky, time worn work of art that Renate brought to the Dockshow is a miniature kitchen, measuring 26x17x14 – inches high and filled with doll sized cooking implements and items found in a rural farmhouse.
“The appraisers said that it was an exceptional piece – one of a kind. Is it Folk Art? It’s up to the beholder,” says Renate. “My grandparents owned a hotel in Bad Wildbad, high on a mountain in the Black Forest. We all lived in the hotel, which is very different from a regular home. My great grandfather crafted the kitchen, over 100 years ago, for my grandmother Elise and her sister Anna – to give her a sense of belonging. My mother played with it. When I was a child, the kitchen was hidden during the year in a cabinet normally holding hotel mattresses and bedding. We never knew where it was but for two weeks of Christmas vacation it would appear and my brother and I would spend hours playing with it,” says Renate.
“I mostly played alone, imagining that this was a real kitchen in my own home. My brother shared it with me and there were many fights because he wanted to be in charge and so did I. Later, he became a chef and got his wish. We would cook French fries, using hot oil on the little stove with burning copper sulfate inside (real dangerous). We also could “wash” dishes in a little blue bucket and let the water drain out through a hole in the sink to a big bucket hidden underneath the table,” she continues.
There remains a sixty-year-old chocolate pudding in a metal-topped glass jar awaiting a diner. The interior of the cabinets are made out of cigar boxes. The table and a pair of chairs were her great-grandfather’s own design. There is a handmade wooden rolling pin and carved wooden dowels. Tiny Smalztopf pottery, quite rare and valuable and some porcelain pitchers and bowls share space with a tiny pressed glass butter dish. Pots and pans and cooking utensils could be used by very small people today. Most of the pieces are between 1 and 2 inches in size.
A blue enamel pot that once was inset on the stovetop and a soap dish saying “Seifo” on it, a ribbed mold, a colander with fancy lacey cutouts for drainage. A tea set sat on the larger table. “A klepto stole the tea kettle from me. I got it back but he had lost the lid,” says Renate.
Renate did wax the linoleum on the floor but she did not remove the dents and tears this old kitchen sustained throughout the years. It holds a patina that makes it even more precious. I loved the big aluminum pot looking just like one of my own with a dent on the side by its bottom. Doesn’t everyone have a kitchen that they miss? I do.
Sadly, there was once a living room built by her great grandfather and given to her mother’s half sister’s child. When Renate asked about it, they told her “Oh we threw it away a long time ago.”
When Renate moved away from the hotel, she received permission to take the kitchen to Hamburg. And, since she came to Sag Harbor, 22 years ago, it is displayed in a prominent place of honor.
Renate plans to move to Costa Rica in a few years and would like to find a good home for her kitchen. Yes, it is for sale but only to someone who will keep it intact. No tear down here.