Is this an art project, or a history assignment?

Four months ago, this old farmhouse window was stacked with several others in the back room of an antique mall on 8th Avenue in Nashville. As of Palm Sunday, it’s been redeemed.

I love this window-turned-junk-turned-photo-art-thing because it’s layered in stories. Here are some, most of them true.

The window itself. I have no idea how old it is or whose rooms it sheltered. In my imagination, it’s a woman who kept it open in the spring, lacy curtains teasing her babies and kittens. She baked pies and set them on the ledge to cool. In the summer she repainted them herself, even though someone would have gladly done it for her because she was so beautiful and baked amazing pies. She did NOT bother to scrape off the old paint first, though. She left THAT chore to me.

Women Hear Us Roar pane

The photos in the window. There are eight panes in this window, with two-to-four images per pane. Eight mini-collections I carefully considered. There’s the Boozy Blissful Outdoors pane: my extended family on the porch at my great-grandparents’ lake house, my mom and grandparents at an Auburn tailgate, and several girl cousins lounging in a park in what I believe is outside Atlanta. There’s the Women Hear Us Roar pane: one grandmother showing off her golf swing, another grandmother posed in her underwear (you read that right), my aunt seated at a typewriter in the office, and my great-grandmother’s yearbook photo from when she taught fifth grade. And there’s the Just The Two Of Us pane: My mother reading the paper with an infant me in her lap, and my brother and I facing each other on opposite hammocks.

Choosing the window. I bought the window during an antiquing jaunt with my dear friends Arienne and Fran. Fran and I enjoy all things old, sentimental and romantic. Arienne indulges us. One store sold nothing but architectural pieces and I fell in love with a $5,000 stained glass church door. We stopped at a furniture boutique (the only non-antique place), and we sat on overpriced but gorgeous sofas. Fran bought silver candlesticks that day, and she had them out several weeks later when she invited Arienne, my daughter and I over for lasagna and card games. It’s funny the little things you write down because you want to remember them later. That was a nice day.

Choosing the photos. My friends David and Courtney found the half-naked grandma photo. They found two, actually. I used the one where she’s 25, and I’m not going to say anything about the other one. They were sorting through my family photographs during an “Arts and Crafts Party” I threw when it was still cold outside. I asked everyone to bring a project to work on, and my friends did not let me down. We spent a few hours over cocktails and conversation, working on everything from needlepoint to electronics.

Refinishing the window. So much paint to chip away. So much sanding. I did every bit of it by hand, mostly because by the time I figured out they made chemicals to help with this, I was pretty much finished.

Mounting the glass. (Breaking the glass.) Replacing the glass. Mounting the glass. (Taking a deep, deep breath when the cat broke the glass again.) Replacing the glass. Mounting the glass.

Realizing I should have mounted the photos before mounting the glass.

Using the wrong stuff to mount the photos. Buying other stuff. Starting over. Being thankful I tested everything on bad photos first.

Going nuts at one point during this process – not because of this project, but because … well … because life has been somewhat challenging lately – and calling my friends Courtney and Justin and crashing at their house for the rest of the day and night. I helped them build a raised vegetable bed, meaning I stood with Courtney and watched Justin nail things. I made them dinner. I slept in their beautiful guest room after watching Sex And The City then Golden Girls then Jersey Shore marathons.

Finally, I finished this thing during a weekend spent mostly at home with my daughter doing very me-things, like running long distances, puttering around the garden, eating spicy things and listening to LOUD, awesome female musicians. My daughter helped me hang it, because it is HEAVY, and the whole time I whispered “please, oh please, oh please, don’t drop.”

So yeah. Make this window thing. If you are anything like me, it’ll be a trio of architectural, personal and real-time history. (But for your practical side: here’s a more traditional how-to.)

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4 thoughts on “Is this an art project, or a history assignment?

  1. I have always dreamed of buying an old window and hanging in my backyard from a big shade tree. I have no idea where I got that idea from, but I love old windows. I don’t live in the same old house with the giant shade tree anymore, but I have a big wall behind my couch that is begging for something on it. I just may adopt your idea here. I adore your window with the pictures in it! I may drop you a line to get some tips sometime.

    • Ooh, the tree idea feels very Alice in Wonderland! Like a good dream. I’d love to see that someday, but a wall is nice too. Let me know if you get stuck. I messed this up a million ways before I figured it out.

  2. The park-like place outside Atlanta was actually Calloway Gardens – it was a beautiful day and the first real outing I had gone on after you were born. We had a great time that day – I’d like to go again.

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