You might think the dust has settled on the story of the collector and the music teacher's home, but it remains an evolving tale. With one more auction in the works, Alex Archbold, through his antique shop Curiosity Inc. will donate proceeds to a new scholarship in Bette-Joan Rac's name--one that will give new Canadians the opportunity for music lessons for years to come.
"Madame Rac was part of ARMTA (Alberta Registered Music Teachers' Association) for about 50 years, and she believed in offering piano lessons at a discount to new immigrants," said Archbold. "The fund will be set up and administered by ARMTA, allowing students to access music education for the next ten years or more. I think she'd have been really happy with this scholarship in her name--it's something Madame Rac would've been proud of."
Thanks to interest from the thousands of followers of Archbold's Curiosity Inc. YouTube channel (he and wife Melissa's life updates, estate and car finds) and the serendipitous tale of how Archbold, his shop and the Edmonton music teacher came to be connected, the entrepreneur has raised over $600,000 auctioning off the contents of her home in recent months.
Over 900 newly-discovered estate items (mostly costume jewelry), means a fourth musician's house auction will run March 27. And because there's still intrigue over what treasures may be found in the homeowner's bank safe deposit boxes (those belong to the new homeowner, not Archbold) and the much-anticipated build of Curiosity Inc.'s new cafe, Archbold agrees it's a story without end.
"The biggest lesson I've learned is not to judge a book by its cover. Madame Rac--her home, how she presented herself, her dreams and what she achieved--much of it is something no one knew about until she passed," said Archbold, who created a well-received tribute video about the former dancer, long time music teacher and lifelong fashionista after clearing her home.
"This sort of story doesn't come along every day, so people have been fascinated by it. They also want to be part of it somehow, with a momento from the auction, but by doing that, they're also helping us do something we normally wouldn't be able to do--build something for our community," Archbold said." And my vision over a year ago, of driving up to our little cafe in my (restored) Rolls Royce; it's going to happen now."
Kira Theilen echoes the sentiments of many followers, saying she wanted get a piece of the musician's estate and help Archbold achieve his dream. The Los Angeles resident said she first heard of Curiosity Inc. through another online group, the Redbird Vintage community.
"The thing that drew me to the story was Alex, his sweet demeanor and his respect for the people whose homes or belongings he acquired," said Theilen. "Alex seems the epitome of a modern urban archaeologist--he respects the history and tells the stories associated with his findings. And I found Madame Rac's story fascinating. She was very much a woman I would aspire to be like--fashionable, artistic and bold."
Theilen admits she paid more than she wanted ($300 Cdn) on a petite gold ring with a tiny diamond at the second auction, "because it reminded me of the ring my grandmother made for me as a child. I went over my personal budget but I knew it was going to a wonderful cause; to help Alex accomplish his dream and give back to the community that loved and learned from Madame Rac."
For Elaine Nixon, a Curiosity Inc. follower who runs her own tailoring business in Camrose, Alberta, it's the educational aspect of the auction items that intrigues her.
"Madame Rac's father's tailoring books--'Europe Trained--Take No Short Cuts', and 'The American Garment Cutter', from 1933--those items have value because of the notes he scribbled inside. For someone into historical clothing and as a professional seamstress, the sewing machines, buttons, scissors, patterns--the finishes on Madame Rac's vintage clothing--those are of great interest. To me, these items symbolize a dying art, and resources and skills that are largely gone," she said. "I had hoped those books were in the bin I won--they weren't--but I got a transcript of a meeting of registered tailors he had jotted notes in. I wish I could've picked his brain."
As for the thousands of pieces of clothing (some from Madame Rac's mother's era--30s up to 50s and 60s wear--but mostly Rac's own clothing from the 70s and 80s), Edmonton-based vintage clothing seller Mark Frost took it all off Archbold's hands for $10,000. Though Frost was working toward retirement from the vintage clothing business, the chance to sell this eclectic, quality collection was too hard to pass up.
"The shoes, purses, fur coats, skirts and dresses--she was quintessentially of the '80s--were all packed away so well," said Frost, who sells online through his Etsy stores Naked in the Bowery and Pontiac Dry Goods. "We took out hundreds of bags from the house and are only about 30 per cent through unpacking things in the warehouse. I've never had anything of this scale and in this good a condition. It's a long-term project."
Frost agrees Rac was a woman ahead of her time, with a broad taste and eye for accessorizing basics with jewelry or brightly-coloured scarves etc. "There's a lot of ethnic clothing from trips to Hawaii, Mexico, India. I think she was a bit of a hippie at heart. She definitely wanted to be noticed."
Though auction sales will soon end, the Rac legacy will live on through her music scholarship, and a Curiosity Inc. cafe will become a reality. Archbold has taken a moment to find meaning in it all.
"We hoped to honour this remarkable woman who spent her life teaching music and being a positive part of our community," Archbold said. "And in turn, it helped to change our lives for the better as well."
To learn more about the scholarship and donate, see https://armta.ca/bette-joan-rac-piano-scholarship/
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