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Wednesday, 03 May 2006 00:00

Wrighting a winner: Tale of an unusual find wins Jackson writing contest

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Local writer Jeanne Nutter, 72, of the Caney Fork Community took first place in the Jackson County Extension and Community Association’ s recent Cultural Arts Contest.

Nutter’s story “The Firehouse Table,” is on display at Livingston’s Photo in Sylva along with the winners from the Extensions’ sewing, knitting, dollmaking and various other categories. First place winners in each category will be entered in district competition in Murphy.

Selected first place category winners include: sewing — Cheryl Sears; knitting — Elsbeth Timmerman; crocheting — Dorothy Kirmse; hand needlework — Mary Ann Budahl; crafts — Arbra Gibson; heritage skills —Annie Lee Bryson; baskets — Elsbeth Timmerman; jewelry — Eula Mae Kilby; machine quilts — Nancy Friedrich; hand quilts — Harriet Parker; quilted wall hangings — Mary Ann Budahl (also winner of Best in Show); photography — Elaine Haskett; dolls — Charlotte Alexander.

The Extension and Community Association offers a variety of craft workshops throughout the year through the ECA Craft Club. Their next event will be held May 18 when Carolyn Hopper will teach a workshop on making Terra Cotta Tabletop Water Fountains. For more information about this or any other ECA programs and how to get involved, call the Extension Office at 828.586.4009.


The Firehouse Table

There is no doubt that the past exerts a strong pull on our lives today and the amazing story that has evolved from a past purchase I made still boggles my mind.

In those years, when my husband was fire chief of a fire district in Sarasota County, Fla., he was always busy with fires, training and other functions associated with the district. After the district’s newly built fire station was completed, with its own board room, a conference table for the board of commissioners was needed.

One day Irv asked me, “When you are out browsing the second-hand shops, keep your eyes open for a conference table for the board room at the station. New ones are too expensive but a good used one would suffice.” Although I frequented the many church thrift shops, boutiques, consignment and antique stores on Third Avenue, I had never seen a conference table for sale but agreed to hunt for one.

After searching in vain for a few weeks, I actually forgot all about a conference table when I happened to drive by the Salvation Army Thrift Store one Monday morning on my way to an appointment. A spur-of-the-moment impulse made me stop and go in. There in the rear of the store, which served as a furniture department, was a long, mahogany table with eight green, crushed velvet high-back chairs! Hardly able to contain my excitement, I asked the salesman to measure it, and it measured 10-feet-long.

Afraid that someone else would buy the set while I was looking it over, I had the salesman put a “HOLD” tag on it right away and called the fire station. “Guess what I found? A table with eight chairs just perfect for the conference room! And ... it is only $150 for the entire set!” “Great! I trust your judgment,” Irv said. “Write a check and we will pick it up this afternoon.”

Later that day Irv and I picked up the set with his truck. Once ensconced in the commissioners’ boardroom, the table looked absolutely regal with its sleek lines and engraved edges, along with the eight curved, high-back chairs. The set served the fire district well from 1977 until Irv’s retirement in 1983.

One Sunday night in May 1991, six years after we moved to the mountains, I received a phone call from Barbara Fitzgerald, a staff writer for the Sarasota Herald Tribute. I couldn’t imagine why someone from the Sarasota paper was calling us. After introducing herself, she asked, “Are you the lady whose husband was fire chief of a fire district in Sarasota County?” I answered hesitantly, “yes,” not knowing what was coming next. She then added, “Did you purchase a table and chair set back in 1977 for the fire department?” Now, she really had my attention as she shot one question after another at me.

Did you buy it at the Salvation Army Thrift Store for $150? What made you buy it? Did you have any idea of its value?”

When she quit, what seemed like the third degree, I answered, “Yes I bought a table and chair set for the fire department many years ago at the Salvation Army Thrift Store for $150. I knew it was good quality, priced right and appropriate for the fire station’s boardroom but hadn’t a clue as to its value or where it came from. Why all these questions?”

“Well, here’s what I have learned about that firehouse table and chair set, but needed your verification before I wrote the story up. Though the table and chairs stood quietly in the firehouse since 1977, used for training seminars, meetings, occasional lunches, the table continued to be used after your husband retired in 1983. After five years it began to show signs of wear and Firefighter Barry Keegan was asked to refinish it. But when he started removing the original lacquer, he noticed the branded signature of Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most influential and famous architect, on the table’s underside! A 1982 catalog values it at about $10,000, although the appreciation makes it much more valuable now. Do you wish you had the set now?”

Even though this news was a total shock to me, I truthfully answered her question, “No, that table and chair set wouldn’t fit in with my country home up here in the mountains.” Silence at the other end of the line ... she probably didn’t believe me.

She continued on, “When word got around that this was no ordinary table and chair set, the fire station was ordered to surrender the set to the county’s Historical Resources Department, and that is where it resides today. I’m writing this story right now for tomorrow’s paper. Thanks for your help. I’ll send you a copy of the article.”

The next day the story, “In its Wrightful Place” appeared on the front page of the Metro-State section of the Sarasota Herald Tribune with a color picture of the table and chairs, along with a verbatim quote by me. Everyone we knew sent us copies of the article.

One of these days I intend to go and see my most awesome purchase, the firehouse table.

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