Marcus Kingston was walking in downtown Fredericton about a year and a half ago when something in the rubble of a construction site caught his eye.
“I saw lots of reflective specks coming out of the dirt,” he said.
Kingston was on Queen Street, where the Legion had been torn down to make way for the construction of a new apartment building.
“I knew that that area used to be like the edge of the city, where people would throw their garbage, like the city dump,” he said.
Kingston, a Fredericton artist, is known throughout the city for salvaging items from old homes that have been torn down. It’s his way of preserving some of the past and bringing it into the present.
So he collected some tools and started digging.
With a rake and a hoe, he clawed back dirt from the excavated site and his hoped-for treasures were soon revealed – pieces of teacups and teapots, medicine bottles, shoes, even a cast iron toy horse.
Every pull of the rake “was like pulling the arm on a slot machine, because you never knew what you were going to find,” Kingston said.
“Sometimes you’d see the back of a piece and you’d flip it over and hope that there was something nice on the other side. Or you’d see a corner or something, hoping it’s a full bottle.”
Over the course of several months, Kingston scoured the site for items.
In the end, he gathered about a dozen large green Sobeys bags full of little pieces, each bag weighing about 20 pounds.
He estimates the pieces are from about 1850 to the early 1900s.
“These tell of a time when esthetics were important. Design was important. Beauty was important,” Kingston said. “So I feel like these tell a story of early life in Fredericton … There are things here that the lower class would use, the middle class would use and the upper class would use. And it was all just thrown in together.”
Kingston saved the fragments and sorted them, singling out the pieces that told a story.
He photographed every piece and both the items and the photos are now on display at the Gallery on Queen in an exhibit called Vestiges.
Kingston said the “serendipity” of the finds, what he calls the “chance-ness” of it all, intrigues him.
“I love the ones that show, by chance, something surprising,” he said. “There’s one up there of a musician playing an instrument and there’s a female figure watching him play. Of all the pieces to be saved, from either the backhoe that broke it or the person who broke it in 1860, it’s just nice to find those little stories.”
Kingston said he hopes the exhibit helps tell the story of Fredericton’s everyday past.
“We remember the important stories, the stories that are written down and put in textbooks that are told of famous people doing famous things,” he said.
“But these are the stories of your mom, your grandma, your grandparents, your dad, your siblings, what they used every day, what they drank from, what they ate from, what they used in their workplaces.”
Vestiges is on at the Gallery on Queen until Sept. 16.