by Henry Lane Hull
Over three decades ago, Ed and Joan Thurber decided to leave the hubbub of New York City and moved to Historyland. They began building a house on Dymer Creek and opened a business on Irvington Road in Kilmarnock. They called the business The Renaissance Shop, an appropriate name for their line of work, namely the restoration and conservation of antique furniture and works of art.
The business became a mecca for antiques aficionados from all across the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. Ed held a bachelor’s and master’s from New York University and had taught architectural drafting for many years prior to their move to the Northern Neck. He was an extremely gifted craftsman, who could see pieces in near ruin in their restored state and knew that he had the talents necessary to bring them back.
When we were preparing to remodel our old farmhouse, I asked Ed to draft the plans. He agreed and produced a paper that was quite easy for the builders to follow. One of Ed’s favorite words was “doable.” He was undaunted in undertaking projects, knowing that he had the ability to be a Renaissance Man in his own right.
Ed could carve pieces of wood to fit into cavities where identical pieces once had been. He could clean and restore paintings, enhancing their original patinas and giving them renewed life. He had the ability to reunite broken elements of marble in harmony with their original composition. He could take marble dust to fill in missing sections with such exactitude that most people could not tell that restoration had occurred.
Joan was able to remove and clean wooden surfaces in preparation for Ed’s final touch in applying the new surfaces. She was meticulous in carrying out her part in bringing great furniture back to its former beauty. Joan was also a gifted watercolor artist, who studied under James Hazel and produced prodigiously from her studio. Her use of vibrant colors and mastery of composition were striking to everyone who beheld her art.
The Renaissance Shop moved to larger quarters in White Stone, then finally to a large new building on Route 3 north of White Stone, with a capacity for restoration in the rear and display of pieces Ed made for sale and of Joan’s paintings in the formal front rooms. Ed was fascinated in making wooden boxes in the form of tea caddies, lap desks, document boxes and silver chests. He used multiple rare woods and hardware appropriate for the period. Each was a stellar work of art and the pieces became his signature products.
Ed and Joan took their meals every workday morning at Lee’s Restaurant, as well as many lunches. They always sat in a booth, each with a book, reading through the entire meal. Reading was their hobby and they continued to learn all of their lives. They were extremely happy in following their life callings and in simply being together. They were married when Joan was 19 and Ed was 20, and were inseparable for the next 69 years.
After moving to Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury, they commuted the short hop over to The Renaissance Shop until Joan’s health began to fail. As her memory faded, Ed devoted himself almost exclusively to her care, visiting her in the health care center repeatedly during the day, taking her on outings to shop and constantly working to keep her active mentally and physically. His last restoration project was the rebuilding and finishing of the large steamboat wheel for the Steamboat Era Museum.
Finally Ed had to move to the health care center himself and last month he died at the age of 89. He and Joan were a model of marital love and fidelity. The happiness they found with each other they shared with everyone they met. They were always eager to make new friends and spend time with old ones.
Through Ed’s restorations, his exquisite boxes, Joan’s wonderful artworks and the use of their multiple talents across the spectrum of their time here, many folks in our area have pieces that will continue to evoke their memory. As to their time in the Northern Neck, one can say, “They came; they saw; they contributed.” In the process they brought happiness and joy to many others.
Edwin Ward Thurber, Jr., November 8, 1928 – June 20, 2018. R.I.P.