The Crazy Story Behind this Family Heirloom

Even a family heirloom expert like myself comes across a buried treasure in a dusty garage once in a while. Sit back and listen in as I share the story of this antique oil painting from 1900 that I rescued from my Dad’s  North Carolina garage.


I am fortunate to have so many treasured family heirlooms that have been passed down to me over the years from family members. When you’re the old soul of the family, folks tend to think of you first (or at least before tossing items) when no one else will take them or has room for them. I can’t bare to walk passed old things and let them sit, especially when they’re actual heirlooms from my own family.

I’ve forever been nostalgic of the notion of buying an old farmhouse in the country, peeking into the attic and discovering a dusty old trunk filled with treasures & antiques. How romantic a notion. I never considered that I might actual have a dreamy, undiscovered family heirloom story of my own but here we are.

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I was visiting my Dad last summer at his cabin in North Carolina, where he’s recently built his retirement home. It’s in a tiny town that I grew up visiting in our old family cabin since I was born and return year after year. North Carolina in itself is a treasure trove of old things and I love to go up there to vintage source for our website assortment of Vintage Goods. I had come home that day from one such hunt and Dad asked me if I had found any goodies. I listed off the myriad of things I had bought, seen and come across – one of which being some oil paintings that I hadn’t purchased.

He happened to mention in a very flip manner that he had an old oil painting somewhere in the garage that was painted by one of our family members years ago. My ears instantly perked up and I insisted that we must go and dig for it in the garage and that I must see it immediately. I followed him into the garage where he pulled out a large, clear garbage bag wrapped around a frame and tied in a sloppy knot on top. A garbage bag, of all things.

I quickly went around to help untie the bag and peeked inside. I couldn’t believe my eyes when this gorgeous antique floral oil painting appeared in its original gold frame in near perfect-condition. It was like I was on one of those hidden camera shows. He said he’d been toting this thing around move after move and had this thing in his garage for the last 40 years or so. I’d never seen it or heard rumblings of this exquisite piece in my life. I told him we needed to dust it off and find a place at the cabin to hang it. He said it didn’t really fit the vibe so I could have it if I wanted it. YES PLEASE.

The 40 years comment had my interest so once my initial shock wore off from the reveal, I started really investigating the painting itself. I saw a signature in the corner from the artist “Fannie Templeton Paxton.” I’ve heard the name Paxton from my ancestral searches before or someone mentioning it along the way and recalled the name being from family in Virginia. Below the artist’s name she had dated it neatly. 1900. WOW. I can officially say antique since it’s over 100 years old, 123 years to be exact. I again marvel at how well preserved the piece is from years in a trash bag in a garage.

I then got to work on some google searching and digging through my family tree that my dad’s sister (my Aunt Phoebe) had compiled for many years before her passing. I found Fannie on the tree and was able to trace along the path to see how she was related to me (a lengthy chain of branches). My Dad called his sister (my Aunt Janet) and on speakerphone she shared with us what she could recall hearing of this distant relative. She told us stories of the large plantation home in Virginia and how she remembered visiting the estate property called Belmont as a young child many, many years ago. I could imagine her painting it on an old, wooden easel and it hanging proudly on one of the old walls above one of the many mantles in the home.

I proudly and carefully brought the antique oil painting home with me and embarrassingly left it in our guest room untouched for several months. I finally took it up and dusted it off carefully with a white cotton cloth. It needed a little cleaning but like most of my vintage finds I didn’t want to do too much to mess with the original nature and patina of the old piece. I like things best when their character shines through and antiques are generally much more valuable in their original condition than they are having been too restored.

After a little cleaning up I was off to find the perfect place in our home for this family heirloom to shine in all its glory. I have had several pieces over the mantle in our keeping room over the years since we moved in, none of them feeling quite right. I had actually been looking for a rounded brass mirror recently to hang in this spot, but when I held up the antique oil painting over the spot I knew that was the perfect place for it to reside.

With (a lot) of help from Shane, we got the piece up there securely and at the right height. It’s quite heavy so it was a two person job to get it just right. I styled the mantle simply with some vintage brass candle sticks that I’d sourced for the shop. I love a collection of similar objects as a curated way to make a storied look in your home. The guild from the brass is the perfect compliment to the ornate gold frame that surrounds the oil painting.

Now I pass by this little slice of my family history every time I walk by the room, so daily. I still can’t believe I can say I got my surprise family heirloom moment thanks to a little digging in a dusty old garage in North Carolina. It’s my hope this piece will stay in my family for many more generations, along with the treasured story and family history that it envelopes.

Love to know what you think of this piece and where we hung it. Do you have a crazy family heirloom find yourself? If so, I’d just love to hear it! And, if you’re looking for some vintage artwork or brass candlesticks to style in your own home to recreate this look, be sure to pop over to the Vintage Goods section of our Heirloomed site to see some of the items I’ve sourced recently that you can shop.



heirloomed is a lifestyle brand with a mission of “keeping heirlooms around for another generation.” Our blog features stories about family recipes, creating traditions with your family, interior design and entertaining by mixing new and vintage pieces, classic style, and small town + historic travel. Our shop features a collection of “goods inspired by the past, for generations to enjoy” with an array of products and meaningful gifts including linen apronstabletop linensartceramics and beyond. Learn more at www.heirloomedcollection.com

I’m an old soul based in Atlanta, GA and mom of 3 with a deep love of all things from the past with a story to tell, on a mission to keep heirlooms around for another generation - whether it be a tradition, splattered family recipe, or historic home.

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