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A different kind of heirloom

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 27, 2007

FORT SMITH - Gisela Becker of Fort Smith has an unusual kind of family heirloom - a chair.

But not just any old chair, although it is old.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Gisela Becker of Fort Smith has a 300-year-old chair in her home. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Becker said, according to her family, the chair dates back over 300 years.

"I don't know the exact age," she said.

Becker said, judging by chairs she has seen in European museums, the hardwood chair is likely three centuries old.

The chair comes from her mother's side of the family. They were among a German-speaking minority who lived in Czechoslovakia for about 300 years up to the end of the Second World War.

Becker said her grandmother and mother told her it was in the family for many generations.

Her great-grandmother, who was born in 1882, remembered the chair from her childhood.

The chair had an amazing journey to eventually end up in Fort Smith.

In the late 1930s, the Nazis invaded Sudetenland, the largely German-speaking part of, what was, Czechoslovakia.

When the Nazis were defeated, the region was occupied by the Soviets, and one night the German minority was told to leave immediately.

"They could take what they could carry," Becker said, adding her grandmother took the chair in a packsack on her back.

"My grandfather said she was crazy to carry that chair," she noted.

The family made it to Communist East Germany, before escaping to West Germany in the early 1950s.

"And along came that chair," said Becker, who was born in West Germany in 1962.

Before Becker's mother died in 1986, she passed along the chair to her daughter.

"That chair has been ever since with me," said the Fort Smith midwife.

When she moved to Canada in 1995, it came along and has been with her in Fort Smith for seven years.

Becker said her mother told her the chair was originally part of a dining set.

It was probably made in Czechoslovakia, either by a carpenter or a family member.

"It's still in pretty good shape," Becker said, noting there was very good craftsmanship at the time the chair was built.

In fact, if an extra chair is needed when guests visit her home, the old chair is sometimes used.

"We usually try to put the lighter people on it," she said with a laugh.

The chair does look very old, with a crack running sideways along the seat and obvious wear on the surface.

For Becker, the chair is more than a chair.

"Somehow it symbolizes in a way what my family had to go through having to leave their home and leave everything behind," she explained.

Becker has never had the chair appraised as an antique, and doubts it has any real monetary value.

"It has a personal value for me," she said. "I wouldn't sell it."