ACCORDING TO Rosemary Lenard, there are two things in life worth living for: Jaguars and white wicker furniture.
"I get goose pimples when I see a piece I especially like," says the diminutive 67 year old Silver Spring grandmother who occasionally likes to speed around the Beltway in her silver Jaguar XKE, tape deck blaring Mozart concertos.
My neighbors think I'm strange," she deadpans.
For the past 20 years, Rosemary Lenard has collected antique wicker. I just love it," she says. "It's very lazy, but cheerful.
Every year she travels around the country searching for unusual pieces, some of which she will (reluctantly) sell during the summer months from her suburban home. She doesn't make much of a profit, she says, because it's only a hobby. Her prices are reasonable: $40 for amagazine rack, $100 for a sofa.
People say it looks like a fairyland," Lenard says. The freshly mown lawn is dotted with white wicker furniture, sofas, Newport chairs, rockers, several tables and an old horse buggy painted pink and green. The astro-turfed front porch (heavily guarded by pink azaleas and the smell of lilac) is crowded with white wicker planters (the one with the bird cage goesfor $225. woven wicker chairs and a small doll house (50).
Inside, the front parlor takes your breath away: white wicker Deco "Cleopatra" sofa ("I'll never sell that"), antique "swooning" chaise longue, one of a kind Edwardian portrait chair ("That's over 135 years old and not for sale"), 10-foot Victorian wicker planters, tables, lamps, desks, magazine a queen-size wicker baby carriage filled with plants, tea cart set with rose colored cups, a large white wicker bird cage ("Everybody dies when they see that"), delicate cut-glass Tiffany lamps (over $1,000 each), white lace curtains, hanging plants and wrought iron wall fixtures.
"When someone comes in and likes it as much as I do," the owner says, oblivious to the effect of wall-to-wall wicker, "I feel like a million dollars."
Rosemary Lenard sits on the Cleopatra sofa, stroking a stuffed toy poodle. Her hair is the color of champagne and her lashes flutter Blanche DuBois-like over pale blue eyes. Her mouth is crimson with perhaps a little too much lipstick, and if she smoked, you would expect her to use a long cigarette holder. If she wore glasses, they'd be rimmed in rhinestone. Rosemary Lenard is a dramatic women.
"Silver Spring is very dull," she complains. "I don't know any interesting people."
Rosemary Lenard was a child prodigy (Rosemary Von Finckel) who grew up on Chopin and Beethovan, studied music and performed at the White House before giving up her concert piano career at the age of 47. "I was a complete wreck," she recalls. "I went to the doctor and he told me to stop playing. But I knew I had so much energy, I didn't know what I would do with it. He asked me if I was interested in anything else. I wasn't. He told me to think about it. So I said, 'Jaguars and wicker furniture.' I've been fine ever since."
Three years ago, Rosemary Lenard started advertising in local newspapers, billing herself as "Rosemary Wicker." Her husband, Price, says they've bought, repaired and sold "about a million" pieces. "She goes to every house sale, every flea market and every auction," he says. The garage is overflowing with wicker furniture in various states of repair. Some of the more unusual pieces will find their way into their house, sooner or later. The rest will be sold. Price does most of the repair work himself. "Oh, DON'T put that in," Rosemary Lenard cries. "We don't want any business."
But wicker is getting scarce, the Lenards say. "It's almost impossible to find. Everybody's got in now. It's the rage. I think people are fascinated by the beauty of it." She doesn't think much of the machine-made modern rattan. "It's terrible, just awful. You touch it and it falls apart."
The future, she says, "worries" her. "I don't think there's any more wicker left." Friends and acqaintances are constantly trying to buy her favorite pieces, offering outrageous sums of money. Rosemary Lenard finds it amusing. "I'm writing it all down. Every piece is in my will."
Does it bother her? Would-be wicker owners waiting around for her to die? Rosemary Lenard chuckles. "At least I know it's going to people who will love them as much as I do."