The Same Ax, Twice: Restoration and Renewal in a Throwaway Age

Mansfield, Howard
ISBN:
9781584651178

An old farmer boasts that he has used the same ax his whole life -- he's only had to replace the handle three times and the head twice. In an eclectic, insightful meditation on the powerful impulse to preserve and restore, Howard Mansfield explores the myriad ways in which we attempt to reconnect with and recover the past -- to use the same ax twice. Mansfield's In the Memory House (hailed as a "wise and beautiful book" by the New York Times) explored the complex interconnections of memory and place, showing how the loss of a sense of place in our ever more mobile society has profoundly impoverished our collective memory. Now he tracks our need to reconnect with place and memory. Moving easily between meditative reflection and compelling insights, he offers lively journalistic descriptions of some of the extraordinary people who are imaginatively, lovingly, sometimes obsessively, realizing their own visions of the restorative impulse. Mansfield himself is deeply engaged in the search for restoration. He travels with Civil War reenactors to help recreate the Battle of Antietam; he enrolls in auctioneer school to observe the endless recycling of artifacts, and he compares this process to the sterile preservation of these same objects in displays and museums; he tours 18th-century houses that have been variously restored to their "original" condition or stripped to their essence; he observes the ever-ongoing work of preserving the USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides," a ship that has been replaced over the years board by board. The act of restoration, Mansfield concludes, whether it's rebuilding antique engines or reviving the village model of community organization, must contain an element of renewal. Rejecting the sentimentality of nostalgia and the superficiality of commercial appropriation, Mansfield argues for an understanding of restoration that is concerned as much with the future as it is with the past, that preserves and communicates a spirit as well as a form. Editorial Reviews Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly A cross between Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic and James M. Lindgren's Preserving Historic New England, this volume delightfully investigates Americans' penchant for fixing up old stuff. New Hampshire journalist Mansfield (Skylark: The Life, Lies, and Inventions of Harry Atwood) introduces readers to engineers who spend their spare time trying to replicate the Wright brothers' original plane; to devotees of historic Deerfield (a colonial village come to life in Massachusetts); and to the tourists who visit places such as the Shaker Village in his hometown of Hancock, N.H., and Graceland. He eavesdrops on gravestone restorers musing about 17th-century slate headstones and provides tips for preserving photographs and furniture. (Don't place nectar-dripping flowers in a vase you want to last; blot--don't rub--at alcohol spilled on furniture; don't drag furniture if you care either about the chair or your floorboards). Similarly, Mansfield investigates the meaning of Old Home Day orations and auctioneers' rhythmic cadences and provocatively contrasts New England villages--of yesterday and today--with gated communities in the suburbs. Our fixation with restoration, he concludes, has meaning beyond the idle fascination of rich folks with nothing better to do than fix up old trunks and sleigh beds. Rather, as his subtitle suggests, we find renewal in our reclaiming of objects from the past. "The best restorations," writes Mansfield, "are truly restorative." Reading this book is equally so. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.| From The Critics Filled with insight and eloquence . . . A memorable, readable, brilliant book on an important subject. It is a book filled with quotable wisdom. Library Journal This meditation, which explores the nature of memory, history, and restoration, carries forward Mansfield's thesis from In Memory's House (1993) that a defining New England characteristic is the conviction that we choose our past. The title refers to a farmer who respects an ax so much that he replaces both blade and handle twice. Thus, the axe is both the same and totally different, the conclusion being that rebuilding an object accurately uncovers its essence. Through richly layered essays, Mansfield argues that only through living with the past can we keep it alive. Otherwise, as rootless beings we will inhabit a sterile, disposable world. The author parades before the reader numerous people and the things they have preserved, from a builder reassembling historic homes to a farmer preserving land for future generations. This beautiful, haunting work about people laboring to keep history's spring flowing is highly recommended for collections dealing with restoration and related issues.--Nigel Tappin, Dwight, Ont. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\ James Campbell . . . filled with insight and eloquence. . . . not a particularly coherent book. Like his hero Thoreau, Mansfield is discursive and conversational . . . These are minor lapses in a memorable, readable, brilliant book . . . --New York Times Book Review From The Critics Filled with insight and eloquence . . . A memorable, readable, brilliant book on an important subject. It is a book filled with quotable wisdom. Library Journal This meditation, which explores the nature of memory, history, and restoration, carries forward Mansfield's thesis from In Memory's House (1993) that a defining New England characteristic is the conviction that we choose our past. The title refers to a farmer who respects an ax so much that he replaces both blade and handle twice. Thus, the axe is both the same and totally different, the conclusion being that rebuilding an object accurately uncovers its essence. Through richly layered essays, Mansfield argues that only through living with the past can we keep it alive. Otherwise, as rootless beings we will inhabit a sterile, disposable world. The author parades before the reader numerous people and the things they have preserved, from a builder reassembling historic homes to a farmer preserving land for future generations. This beautiful, haunting work about people laboring to keep history's spring flowing is highly recommended for collections dealing with restoration and related issues.--Nigel Tappin, Dwight, Ont. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\ James Campbell . . . filled with insight and eloquence. . . . not a particularly coherent book. Like his hero Thoreau, Mansfield is discursive and conversational . . . These are minor lapses in a memorable, readable, brilliant book . . . --New York Times Book Review

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