Building on a youthful fascination with the treasures of the natural world, antiquarian Robert E. Smith of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, shares his life-long passion for acquiring beautiful things
Having been born in the 1940s inthe small bayou town of New Iberia,Louisiana, what was there for a boy to do? I came into the world with a strong (possibly sometimes viewedas excessive) drive to collect. At age 6, I was making Lilliputian-sized flower arrangements with wildflowers in seashells. As a young person withno budget, what else could I collect? Louis XV houses, furniture, and decorative arts would have to wait a few decades to become realities. From my memory and old photos, it appears I had two possible avenues: there were found objects from the beaches (Neptune’s castofftreasures of driftwood and seashells) and pass-along plants from relatives and neighbors. Spending lots of time in the summer at our family camp at Cypremort Pointon Vermilion Bay and being a confirmed loner, I would comb the shoreline for new treasures from the sea and little jewels from the land in the form of wildflowers. I can vividly remember making it triumphantly back to the camp with a new piece of coal-black driftwood in one hand and, in the other, some brilliant-purple wild morning glory flowers on their vines. There on the screened-in porch I confected an arrangement entwining the morning glories around the driftwood. This was at about age 8. Everybody else was out swimming or fishing, and I really think I did these arrangements for my own entertainment and didn’t much care whether they entertained anyone else.
Collecting plants was, of course, a viable course for this acquisitive drive of mine at a budgetless age. The first plant that I was given and that I considered my own (as if anyone really ever owns a plant) was a Rose of Montana vine given to me by veteran gardener Margie Pendarvez. Soon after, there were other gifts of plants and the discovery that propagation by cuttings was an easy and, to little me, a fabulous way to sizably enlarge my collection. I was also fortunate to have a grandfather who collected camellias in a big way and had even acquired a part interest in a local nursery to help satisfy his collecting drive. Having at least one member of your gene pool with a similarly spirited drive for collecting does help one feel more normal.
Pick up our Winter 2011 issue to read Robert Smith’s complete Scentimental Journey essay
Robert E. Smith is the proprietor of Au Vieux Paris Antiques in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Visit www.auvieuxparisantiques.comor call 337.332.6053 for more information.