An heirloom is a story that travels through time. Traditionally, an heirloom is an object that is passed down for generations between family members. Beyond tradition, heirlooms can also be sacred objects and oral histories passed down through friendships and non-familial kinships.
The things we inherit hold the stories and dreams of those that came before us. We hold these legacies in material treasures, but also in our faces, in our poems and songs. Heirlooms are an archive of the souls who make us. The ancient meaning of the word ‘loom’ is tool, which brings forth notions of labour into love and kinship. Heirlooms are a continuation of legacies, material or immaterial.
How do we carry the stories of the ones we know and love?
Written by guest editor
The sun was bathing us in morning glow when he told me to close my eyes. It was my birthday and he always reads the card he’s written out loud to me. Although once he began, this time, it seemed more like a story.
Many years ago now, he said (or something along those lines anyway), a woman was traveling around Florence. She found herself alone in a small church. She welcomed the quiet, a pause from the bustling streets outside. She stood in the stillness of it. Stained glass windows lined the walls, illuminating the room and spilling colour all over the floor. Looking down she saw something else on the ground. A glistening linked rope— a golden bracelet. She picked it up, held it in her hands, and after— slipped it in her bag. Years later, she found it again, she had never worn it. She decided to put it in an envelope and send it to a friend. The friend, not wearing gold, put it in her jewellery box, and too, never wore it. Another twenty years or so passed and the friend came across the bracelet again. A tiny ‘E’ on one of the links. She gives it to her son. “This is hers, she tells him, it has taken a long time to get her, but is meant to be hers”.
When I opened my eyes, I saw what they had seen before me. The gold braid lying loose in my hands.
Our son soundly sleeping beside us, our tiny E. A long and golden rope rolls out before us. Precious and sacred.
This heirloom is of fortuitous chance encounter. Of noticing, seeing, giving.
Ophelia af m Jones is a mother and artist. With a focus on photography she leans towards capturing the fleeting, the everyday and the romantic. She lives in Northland, Aotearoa with her son and husband.
I am a descendent of the girmityas, who were Indian indentured labourers brought from the subcontinent to work on sugar cane plantations in Fiji, between 1879 and 1919. Some months ago, my mother gave me a mohur ⸺ a gold coin that was minted in India during the British Raj. On one side is a man on a horse, and on the other, the profile of Kind Edward. It belonged to my great great-grandmother Mira, who lived in the lush green island of Taveuni. It is a haunted artefact that reminds me of the resilient spirits of those who came before me. Often, women would get paid for their labour with mohur coins. They would make necklaces with the coins, and hang them from their ears, as symbols of wealth and beauty. To me, the mohur is a symbol of grace and resistance.
Manisha Anjali is a writer and artist. She is the author of Naag Mountain, forthcoming with Giramondo. Manisha is the founder of Neptune, an archive and school for dreams, visions and hallucinations.
My heirloom is my maternal great-grandmothers silver cutlery and cream crockery, not a full set. My great-grandparents thought to hide some possessions in the cellar of their Paris apartment during WWII. Of the family of 4, only my grandmother Ida survived. Rescued by a Catholic priest, she avoided the death camp that took her parents and little brother. Her two aunts survived and they gathered the belongings in the cellar. My infant Mum, her parents and the possessions sailed by ship to Australia in 1952.
Ida was my last living grandparent, and I was 24 when I inherited the crockery. I had them on display for a while in her old deco side cabinet - which later filled completely with books. The past 2 years the crockery has been in storage - which seems like another phase in their history of waiting to be held. This week my home is being painted cream, so I’ll find a place for them soon, their colour suits the interior perfectly. I’ve long felt they’re too precious to use, but perhaps at least once a year I will create a special meal for Mum and me, to cherish an imagined memory. On second thought maybe just use the cutlery, it won’t break.
Yvette Coppersmith is a painter whose practice spans portraiture, still life and abstraction. In 2018, Coppersmith was awarded the Archibald Prize for her painting Self Portrait, after George Lambert. She was the 10th woman to win the Prize. As a Melbourne-based artist, Coppersmith graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2001 and has exhibited across Australia and internationally. The making of her 2017 Archibald portrait of Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs features in Foxtel Arts’ documentary film 'The Archibald' by Mint Pictures. Coppersmith is represented by Sullivan+Strumpf. Her upcoming solo show Carnelian is at the Jewish Museum, Melbourne, June - Dec 2023. It is the inaugural contemporary commission by the museum, to accompany a show of Marc Chagall.
I have dark circles under my eyes. They've been there since I was very little. A vampiric undertone in childhood imagery of me, complemented by my very pale skin.
My grandmother was born in Croatia, as was my mother. Dark circles are somewhat a marker of our heritage. They are, at least, our genetic commonality. Throughout my teens I obsessed over correcting them, as I'm ageing I've begun to grow kinder to these little imperfections. They draw me back to where I've come from.
Myself and my matriarchs have always been rather averse to having our photo taken, another (perhaps darkly comedic) shared trait among us three fiercely different women.
An odd coupling of heirlooms - being dark eyed and camera shy.
MELISSA IS A STORYTELLER, THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF MUSIC & POETRY. SHE IS ALSO SUSPECTED TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR BEFORE MARCH.
My most precious garments are those my Omi gave me, treasured heirlooms that have been worn by the matriarchs of my blood line. Each hole carefully darned, the fabric softened by time, stories and love woven into every thread. When I slip on a dress purchased from her travels as a VIP Lufthansa air hostess in the 70s, I think of her adventurous spirit. My favourite linen and boiled wool trachten jackets take me to the little house by the lake in Austria, where my Omi spent her childhood and still returns most years. I think of the little castle in the middle of Lake Traunsee where she was born at the end of World War II. Her engagement ring gleams on my finger, and I am reminded of the legacy love brings and the cosmic implications a fleeting moment can have.
Yet, my most precious heirloom is the blood that pulses through my veins. My ancestral lines that gave me life. It is a story of love, an heirloom that I have now passed on to my two daughters, binding us together in a timeless tapestry of cherished memories and enduring strength.
Sondrine Kehoe is a renowned perfumer and the visionary founder of Cygnet Perfumery. Her creative process is driven by a profound fascination with the hidden dialogue between people and plants, as she artfully crafts natural perfumes and skincare products that transform intangible moments into tangible olfactory experiences.
My Nani’s Ring
My superstitious Nani gave this ring to my mama over 30 years ago, right before she left to start a new life in Australia. A ruby to keep her safe and sane. Most jewellery in India has a paranormal purpose beyond its beauty.
My mama never wore it. She could never carry such an audacious ring on her dainty fingers. Luckily I inherited my father’s beefy hands.
The 22 carat gold band clutches a giant ruby the size of a kidney bean, the colour of a kidney bean in fact. My Nani kept it safe on her ring finger for years before I declared my love for it.
I've worn it everyday since I was 19, the same age I was when I returned to India the first time as an adult. Wearing this ring coincided with the beginning of what I like to think of as my awakening. The beginning of an ongoing and complicated pursuit to connect with my motherland. Maybe it's a coincidence, or maybe I inherited some of my Nani's superstition.
Sometimes I get scared it will fall off my finger, or that the gold will melt and bend and the ruby will fall out. It's frightening to place so much value on a material possession. But maybe that's okay. It's not just a ring. It connects me to all my favourite things: India, my mama, and my superstitious Nani.