In his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote, “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.” Wilde, I fear, would not have forgiven the person who created the object pictured below.
This object was designed for a very practical purpose, to be a wastebasket, but I’m sure that the designer thought it something to be admired as well as used. For me, at least, the interweaving of its structure produces an effect that is pleasing to behold.
I was told that it was an original wastebasket from the Texas State Capitol, and thus a relic of a by-gone era. I do not know where in the Capitol it was located. It may have been used by the Texas State Library while it was housed in the Capitol, then carried with other office furniture to the then-new Lorenzo de Zavala Archives and Library Building in the 1960s. In any case, it became a fixture of my office at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission some time in the 1990s when the person whose office then harbored it decided that it was not wanted. I was quite happy to provide it with a place to stand.
Officially it was on loan from the Texas State Preservation Board, which had taken control of all the Capitol’s property in the 1980s. At least once each year Richard Eisenhour, Collections Coordinator for the Preservation Board, would appear in my office, bearing his inventory of items on loan. He would verify that the wastebasket was still in my possession, then we would have a brief but pleasant discussion about the wastebasket and other artifacts that were then housed in the Zavala building.
I never put waste into this basket as long as it sat in my office; I preferred to leave the effect of crosshatching against crosshatching uncluttered by bits of paper or other detritus. Waste went into an anonymous little grey plastic wastebasket that sat under my desk. But the cleaning crew knew that it was a wastebasket and consistently lined it with plastic each evening.
The Preservation Board took the wastebasket back into its protective custody just before I surrendered my office to escape renovation of the Zavala building a year ago. I assume that it is now in storage, along with many other treasured relics of the Capitol, waiting for a new place to be useful, and, more importantly, to be seen.
Wilde may not have approved, but I think Duchamp would have understood.