Making Tough Decisions

Many years ago, soon after I had moved to North Carolina from Iowa, I came across a Gustav Stickley footstool that literally looked like it had just been lifted out of its 1910 packing crate. The finish was pristine, the paper label crisp, the red decal was bright, and the leather was smooth and strong.

I brought the footstool home in my Dodge Caravan that I used to drive around North Carolina with my young rotweiller Abby searching for Arts & Crafts antiques. Back in 1986 very few people in North Carolina wanted anything Arts & Crafts, so while the region was never a hotbed for Arts & Crafts furniture, that which I found was usually reasonably priced and in good condition.

But this footstool was beyond good. It was great. It was perfect.

I set it in my office, then stepped back to admire how well it looked on the oak hardwood floors of our 1920s bungalow. About that time our cat, a black and white male, sauntered into the room. He took one look at me, sitting there smugly; another at Abby, who wasn’t quite sure what the fuss was all about; then nimbly leapt upon the footstool and prepared to use the leather as a scratching pad.

My shout nearly blew him across the room before he could sink his claws into the defenseless leather. Before long, however, he slunk back into the room, drawn by the scent of the aged cowhide. Despite my loud objections, he could not resist, so with great resignation I was forced to hide the footstool in a closet. Whenever he wasn’t around, I would quietly slip it out and set it next to my Gustav Stickley rocking chair I had scored at an art museum silent auction. Within minutes, however, he would awake from his nap, sniff the air, and trot into the room, headed for the footstool with claws sharpened and ready for scratching.

Naturally, I tried distracting him with new scratching pads, but to no avail. I even wrapped one with natural leather, but he could care less about it. Turning him into an outside cat on our busy street was not an option. Removing his claws, a practice I find cruel and selfish, was never a consideration; besides, he also had to share the house with a rottweiler.

Before long my prized Arts & Crafts footstool was spending all of its time in a dark closet. Eventually, I knew what I had to do and was finally able to admit it. I built a plywood crate, lined it with styrofoam, and shipped the Gustav Stickley footstool off to auction, where I hoped it would find a home that it did not have to share with a cat.

In its place I soon had found a more typical Stickley footstool: one that had been refinished and the leather replaced with naugahyde. A few days later it emerged from my workshop looking similar to the one that once hid in my closet. I set it in my office in front of the Stickley rocking chair, then waited. Within minutes the cat arrived, took a look at Abby and me sitting there, sniffed the new leather seat, turned and walked away.

That was 29 years and at least five cats ago.

And I still think about that first footstool, a black and white cat, and the decisions we make as collectors.

– Bruce