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Posts Tagged ‘antiques’

The allure of patina

In aging, antiques, art, beauty, culture, design, History, life on November 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

In our time, we try to be a bit slick. I think there’s value in the roughness of things

- Marcel Wanders, contemporary Dutch designer

Are you familiar with the Japanese esthetic ideal of wabi-sabi?

Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It’s a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It’s a richly mellow beauty that’s striking but not obvious, that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time-Katherine Hepburn versus Marilyn Monroe. For the Japanese, it’s the difference between kirei-merely “pretty”-and omoshiroi, the interestingness that kicks something into the realm of beautiful.

An antiques term for the wear and tear you find on old silver or wood is patina.

I love the terms used in the trade for the things that are worn and weathered — pottery is crazed, paintings have craqelure and works on paper end up with foxing.

All these evidences of aging and wear can ruin the monetary value of an object, although — depending on your budget and the item’s rarity — much can be repaired by conservationists.

The Japanese tradition of kintsugi is described well here on this blog, with some lovely photos of cracked pottery repaired with gold.

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I found this early 20th-century (late 19th?) jam pot in a small town in France at an antiques shop. Felix Potin still exists today as a major grocery store chain in France.

Everywhere I go, I seek out things with an overlay of use. I find them in thrift and consignment shops, in antique stores and flea markets, at auction and outdoors fairs. I’ll never be the person living in a super-modern, all-glass/plastic/marble/metal home. I want to see and feel the evidence of the people who made things and who owned and enjoyed them before me.

Here are some items I’ve acquired over the years precisely because their patina, roughness or wabi-sabi add to their beauty for me:

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This small green-painted chair, with a rush seat, probably mid 19th century, is so cracked the finish is now called “alligatored.” I found it at a country auction in Nova Scotia in the mid 1980s; I bought four of them for $200.

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I can’t remember where I found this oval, battered wooden stool, which has three wooden legs. I’m guessing it might have been a milking stool, as it’s so low and very comfortable. We use it as a table in the bathroom.

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I found this old mixing bowl at a small-town Ontario auction for about $10. It’s the perfect size for popcorn!

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This is the weathered gilt frame for a beveled mirror, itself with some discoloration from age, I found in New York City in an antiques shop for $300.

Do you like or prefer old things?

Why?

Going once, going twice…the allure of auctions

In antiques, art, business, life, Money, Style on June 10, 2012 at 12:09 am

Score! Total cost $110.

Just went to my first small-town auction in ages. Score! The photo above shows my loot: a folk art horse, two Victorian transferware platters, an early Oriental rug, an early mixing bowl and a handmade wooden box.

Did I need them?

Need!?

How could I resist?

I saw in the front row with my Dad, (who scored a pile of picture frames, a lovely wooden side table and a double bed — a great wooden bed-frame for $20.) There was a serious bidding war over a set of china — that went for $2,100 — but many items went for crazy-low prices, like a gorgeous Victorian wicker rocker for $5.

You can’t buy an hour of street parking where I live for$5!

The lady behind me was thrilled to nab a Victorian platter in her great grandmother’s pattern for $20. A dealer came with her 13-year-old parrot, Winston and he hopped happily onto my hand. The woman beside us beat us out for a pair of Victorian silver plate candlesticks for her daughter’s wedding gift.

I’ve scored many of my favorite things at auctions, whether in Bath, England, Toronto, Stockholm, New Hampshire or rural Nova Scotia.

In Bath, in the 1980s when my mom lived there, I got a lovely little hand-painted pottery jug, (which perfectly fit a Melitta filter holder and became my default coffeepot), for $18. In Toronto, a gorgeous brass bed. In Stockholm, a huge black metal tray with elegantly curved edges and in New Hampshire, all sorts of things, from a senneh kilim for $50 to drawings, etchings and funky objects like early wooden candleboxes or tool trays.

I still own, use and love three painted, rush-seated chairs I bought at a Nova Scotia rural auction (and shipped home to Toronto by train.) Their original paint is alligatored, their rails and stiles weathered and worn.

My most recent major auction acquisition is a lovely teal-tinted armoire, said to be 18th. century, which — including shipping from New Hampshire to my home in New York — still cost less than junk-made-in-China-on-sale from a mass market retailer. I bid on it by phone, having only seen a small-ish color photo on their website. Talk about a blind date!

It arrived with a few unexpected scratches and cracks, but I love it.

At yesterday’s auction I saw its twin, and a lady standing beside me said, “I have one just like it. It’s really old.” So maybe mine is 18th century after all…

When I lived for a while in a small town in New Hampshire I had no friends, family, job or other distractions so for amusement I began attending a local regional auction house every Friday. I learned a lot:

what’s a marriage (two pieces of different origin, materials and/or period that have been recombined)

what local dealers wanted (early American furniture) and did not (rugs and drawings)

how to make super-quick decisions

how to trust my gut (after doing my research on periods, materials and construction)

how to decide on my top price and stick to it (buyers usually pay an additional 15 percent premium, easy to forget if you get into a bidding war)

Have you ever bought at auction?

Snag anything great?

A wordless post: photos from Philadelphia

In antiques, beauty, cities, culture, design, photography, travel, urban life, US on April 18, 2012 at 1:34 am

I take a lot of photos, and thought I’d share a few from my visit to Philadelphia last weekend.

None of them, of course, show anything even vaguely touristy…

I don’t know the name of these things — shutter-hold-backers? — but I love how this one looks like a highly-polished seahorse.

I am crazy for weathered, beaten, battered objects. This bit of alligatored paint was in the doorway of a building we walked past on our way to brunch.

Found this flattened tulip in the yard of one of the city’s oldest churches.

Isaiah Zagar has covered many city buildings with his astonishing mosaics. This is a tiny fragment of one of them.

We went to the Fourth Street Deli and ate huge sandwiches. Their collection of early cash registers included this one.

We found many narrow, cobble-stoned streets and mews. This was one.

A detail of a church stained glass window. Jewels!

I hope you enjoyed these.

I plan to share more photo posts.

Which eyes do you see with?

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, History, life on April 16, 2012 at 12:14 am

In 1988, I took a class on connoisseurship, to learn about antiques, at Historic Deerfield, in Massachusetts, led by its young, enthusiastic director. Five women showed up for the class and our first session showed us a battered, ugly, brown shell of a chair. And a bright blue, very pretty Bible stand.

Which one, he asked us, was authentic — i.e. of the period — and which was a reproduction?

Of course, the repro was the blue box. To our, then 20th century, gaze it was small, neat, tidy. And so pretty!

But not at all the right size or shape to be true to its time. Inevitably and until then unconsciously, we were seeing it through a contemporary lens, thinking how it fit into a 20th century home and life.

The hideous chair, of course, was the real thing, and terribly valuable.

That class taught us some indelible and powerful lessons:

not to make snap judgments

not to be beguiled by the externally soothing

not to be seduced by mere aesthetics

Whenever I see an early painting or building or use an early textile, (like this one, in the photo above, that covers my desk, sitting beneath my Mac, a 19th century woolen paisley shawl), I wonder about the people who made it and used it. They didn’t have electricity or television or computers or cars or effective anesthesia or antibiotics.

I know my love of old things is some powerful desire to time-travel, to place myself, even safely and temporarily, inside the lives and minds of those long gone. I often start my mornings, if I wake up before sunrise, by lighting several candles. The illumination is gentle and makes me ponder how the world appeared when that was the only source of light.

Imagine how different everything looked!

Having studied interior design, I’m passionate about interior (and exterior) beauty, whether in materials, colors, use of space. I live in suburban New York, but I often buy and read design magazines from France, England and my native Canada to see how differently their homes are created. I find them inspiring and often much more adventurous than the looks offered by American publications. The light is different, the use of historical allusion easier and colors often much richer and more muddled.

Not to mention I live and work in a one-bedroom apartment. The bathrooms and kitchens featured in American magazine are sometimes bigger than my living room! Europeans are more accustomed to designing well and intelligently for much small(er) spaces.

I love that elegant European homes often mix very modern and very old objects, as our does ours; a Tizio lamp and 18th century engravings of a South Seas voyage, to name two. For inspiration, check out Elle Decoration, Marie-Claire Maison, every version of Cote Sud/Ouest. etc.; my absolute favorite is British magazine,  The World of Interiors.

Having lived in Canada, England, France and Mexico — each of which has distinct aesthetic styles that also vary by region, in materials, colors, scale, proportion — I see design with an eye that adores the brilliant pinks and blues of Mexico, the deep black-green of Canadian forests, the gentle tones of a William Morris print, the impossible elegance of a Parisian maison particulier.

This afternoon I walked the cobble-stoned streets of old Philadelphia, looking at homes built in 1752. How did those streets appear then to the first residents?

On Saturday we visited a show of van Gogh’s paintings and I was most moved by one image, of a field in a downpour, the view through his hospital window. If you click that link above, the painting I love is in it!

How did his physical and mental state affect how he saw?

How do you see things?

What has influenced your eye?

My greatest weakness is…

In behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life on April 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm
La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:fr. La ori...

La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:fr. La originala priskribo estas: Six fromages (du centre, puis dans le sens des aiguilles d'une montre) : Valençay, Ossau Iraty, Bleu d'Auvergne, Époisses, Cœur de Neuchatel, Saint-félicien. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was talking to a friend who’s a doctor who admitted he can’t be safely left near any large container of ice cream. It’s all or nothing.

Made me think what my weakness(es) might be.

Sadly, it’s a long-ish list, including:

Tabletop. Anything used to set a table, from bowls to linens to candlesticks. Yes, yes, all of it! I love to set a pretty table and entertain, so I collect anything charming in aid of same. Jose threatens often to de-bowl me as I keep bringing them into our small apartment.

Antiques. Specifically, jewelry, textiles, prints. Anything from 1860 and earlier, and 18th century and older is a big draw, if more difficult to find here in the New World.  We live in a one bedroom apartment, with very limited space to add anything new. But (yes, I admit) we also have a garage. And a storage locker. OK, several storage lockers. Small ones.

Scarves. As someone who loves to travel and pack lightly, scarves are a fab way to make the same outfit look different every day, doubling as shawls or even sarongs when necessary, adding warmth and style.

Almost anything French. My new hip even has a ceramic head made in France. Chic! Having lived in Paris for a year and traveled to France many times, j’adore les choses francaises. These include everything from my polka-dot apron and mini-juicer, both bought in Paris, to a funky little Art Deco perpetual calendar to my super well-cut black cotton jacket whose elegant proportions are so utterly not made in China.

If you’ve never heard the late, exquisite chanteuse Barbara or the raspy Mano Solo, check them out.

– Cheese. Speaking of things French. My friend who loves ice cream went into a little lusty haze as he began rhyming off some of his favorite French cheeses: Brie, Camembert. I’d add Cantal, Roquefort, Gouda, Cheddar, fresh creamy Mozzarrella. Yum!

– Beer. As a Canadian, this is a legitimate weakness, as some great brews come from my home and native land. If you ever get to Quebec, try to find this gorgeous apricot tinged ale. Love Magic Hat No. 9, Hoegaarden and Blue Moon (even though it’s really made by a major manufacturer of really bad beer, Coors.)

Jewelry. Thank heaven for a husband who indulges me! I buy a ring to mark major life moments, like the silver one I bought at Saks when I sold my first book and a gold ring, with the impression of an ancient Greek coin, bought from a local designer, when it was published. I love wearing my Deco earrings from the LA flea market, my pottery ring from Mesilla, NM and my pendant charms found in Atlanta.

‘Fess up, mes cher(e)s…what are some of your weaknesses?

Why Old Things Have Such Power

In antiques, art, beauty, design, History on September 27, 2011 at 12:05 am
Ru Ware Bowl Stand Detail of Glaze/Crazing, Vi...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m no fan of things that are made of plastic or chrome, things that buzz and beep and demand my constant attention, let alone charge cords and batteries. I use them because they’re useful. They make work easier.

But I much prefer objects with patina, provenance, crazing, chips. Made of wood and stone and glass and porcelain, often worn smooth by others’ hands, cradled 100 or 200 or 500 years ago by someone long gone.

I admit it without embarrassment — buying antiques also allows me to own crystal and silver and beautifully made objects that don’t carry today’s retail prices.

I recently leafed through several worn black leather photo albums from 1912, awed by the women in their bonnets and boots, the men standing proudly beside the very latest in technology — a hand-cranked car, an airplane.

What were their lives like? How did their air smell? What music did they enjoy?

When I drink from a tea bowl from 1780 or sit on a chair made in 1850, I’m intimately connected to history. I’m a part of it — as we all are — but attaching myself, physically and emotionally, only to the shiny and new, is too seductive. It de facto erases the past; an “old” cellphone may be barely six months past its date of production.

I’m drawn, inexorably, to antiques, to items that have passed through history, whether from a distant farmhouse or shed or a merchant’s home or a trader or a teacher. I like the fact they are memento mori, the implicit reminder we’re all just passing through, borrowing — for a few decades — the objects we allow to define us and our taste to others.

For now I’ll enjoy them: rush-seated painted chairs; early gilt frames with bubbled glass; botanical prints; heavy silver forks and light-as-a-feather coin silver spoons; hand-woven rugs and linens. My most recent antiquing trip yielded terrific finds, from a large ironstone pitcher ($16) to a swath of mustard-colored charmeuse silk ($10.)

One of my latest acquisitions, found in Port Hope, Ontario, is a black painted wooden folk art horse, about a foot high and a foot long, beautifully hand-carved, standing on a base painted with the words “Souvenir de”.

That’s it.

A memory of….what? Did his creator lose interest? Forget? Die?

I love this omission. It gives me something to wonder about.

TapTapTapTapTap — Ding! The Return Of Typewriters

In antiques, art, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, design, History, journalism, Media, news, Technology, work on April 6, 2011 at 11:13 am
Typewriter adler3

Image via Wikipedia

Typewriters are back!

Not only are they back, but hipster kids newly discovering the joys of a Smith Corona (not some obscure beer) or Olivetti (not an olive oil!) are even holding type-ins to celebrate these quaint, sturdy little writing machines, reports The New York Times:

“Can I touch it?” a young woman asked. Permission granted, she poked two buttons at once. The machine jammed. She recoiled as if it had bitten her.

“I’m in love with all of them,” said Louis Smith, 28, a lanky drummer from Williamsburg. Five minutes later, he had bought a dark blue 1968 Smith Corona Galaxie II for $150. “It’s about permanence, not being able to hit delete,” he explained. “You have to have some conviction in your thoughts. And that’s my whole philosophy of typewriters.”

Whether he knew it or not, Mr. Smith had joined a growing movement. Manual typewriters aren’t going gently into the good night of the digital era. The machines have been attracting fresh converts, many too young to be nostalgic for spooled ribbons, ink-smudged fingers and corrective fluid. And unlike the typists of yore, these folks aren’t clacking away in solitude.

They’re fetishizing old Underwoods, Smith Coronas and Remingtons, recognizing them as well designed, functional and beautiful machines, swapping them and showing them off to friends. At a series of events called “type-ins,” they’ve been gathering in bars and bookstores to flaunt a sort of post-digital style and gravitas, tapping out letters to send via snail mail and competing to see who can bang away the fastest.

As someone old enough to have begun her journalism career working on a typewriter, I remember well the joys and frustrations — fingers covered in Wite-out! No delete key! Physical cutting and pasting! – that went along with it.

My first typewriter was a lightweight correspondent’s model with its own vinyl shoulder carrying case, a Hermes Baby. My lifelong dream was to file from exotic locales and, for decades, this was the tool to use! I loved its turquoise letters and drop-proof metal casing. As long as I had the essentials — paper and a fresh ribbon — I could write anywhere, anytime, knowing, and feeling a cool sort of kinship with, all the others before me who had filed their dispatches in similar fashion.

The part I miss the most?

That delicious Ding! when you hit the end of a line.

Not to mention the delicious crunch-and-toss of every offending page that just wasn’t good enough.

How Our Stuff Defines Us

In antiques, art, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life on March 6, 2011 at 8:34 am
Tie dye dresses drying

Mom loves textiles, color, antiques....Image via Wikipedia

A few days ago, I sat in a room in a nursing home with my mother, sorting through boxes of her belongings, from books on theology to a black lace merry widow corset.

When you move into one room, you’re quickly forced to shed about 95% of the belongings that have defined you, and your taste, your memories and history. If, as many of us do, we acquire and keep objects and clothes and shoes and accessories, we choose and keep them for a reason, maybe several.

Often reasons quite unknown to anyone else.

Everything I pulled out for our mutual decision making made me wonder — who is this woman?

At least she’s still alive and we had a chance to make those decisions, however wrenching, together.

I learned more about my Mom in those four hours than in the past, very private, four decades as we went through it all:

Those impossibly soft red leather Cossack-style boots? (That didn’t — damn! — fit me.) Bought in London. She once tucked a pack of cigarettes into the the top of one.

That black and white Marimekko print gown? Worn to the open house when she moved into her Toronto home 20 years ago.

The tie-dyed Indian cotton dress? She designed it while traveling there.

That corset? My mom was one confident hottie! I wish I had the nerve, and the figure, to rock a black lace Merry Widow…

The battered paperback book by Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian liberation theologist? Autographed to her. Good thing I hadn’t tossed it in our purging.

Not to mention love letters, recent ones, from Australia, New York and beyond. Good work, Mom!

I fly home to New York in two days, with a new, painful and acute sense of how much stuff I own, and how much if it I have to get rid of, now! I cannot imagine my sweetie having to go through it, box by box, trunk by trunk, and make any sense of it without me there: photos, letters, books.

Why am I clinging to it?

Am I still me without it?

Then what?

Have you ever had to sort, purge and toss out a lot of your stuff? Or someone else’s?

What was it like?

The Stuff We Inherit, From Chairs To Pistols — Then What?

In antiques, design on March 25, 2010 at 6:34 pm
Image representing eBay as depicted in CrunchBase

One solution...Image via CrunchBase

What do you with your family’s stuff if you inherit some decent things and have to go through it all?

Sell it — on Ebay? Craigslist?  At auction? Donate it to Goodwill?

An intriguing new book, “Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s past, One Chair, Pistol and Pickle Fork at a Time”, delves into the subject. Lisa Tracy, a journalist, auctioned off many of these objects in 2003.

From The New York Times:

She still regrets aspects of the sale; prices were mostly a few hundred dollars. During the auction, she had hoped to tell buyers about the back stories: how her grandparents entertained on the Canton rose-medallion plates and collected wooden chests while posted with the American military in China and the Philippines, and how the protruding hardware on one trunk always snagged the clothing of anyone walking past.

But as Ms. Tracy approached successful bidders in the parking lot after the sale, they brushed her off politely. “I was so dashed by that,” she said during a recent interview at a Manhattan coffee shop. “But I realized people wanted to start investing their own stories in the pieces, about how they got it at this auction.”

Her book is part of a minitrend of literary memoirs based on longtime possessions. Last year the antiques restorer Maryalice Huggins’s “Aesop’s Mirror: A Love Story” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) described her inconclusive research into the origins of a gilded mirror dripping with high-relief fruit. In August Farrar, Straus will publish the British ceramist Edmund de Waal’s “Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss,” about his inherited collection of some 360 Japanese ivory carvings that were smuggled to safety during the Holocaust.

From Random House’s website:

After their mother’s death, Lisa Tracy and her sister, Jeanne, are left to contend with several households’ worth of furniture and memorabilia, much of it accumulated during their family’s many decades of military service in far-flung outposts from the American frontier to the World War Two–era Pacific. In this engaging and deeply moving book, Tracy chronicles the wondrous interior life of those possessions and discovers that the roots of our passion for acquisition often lie not in shallow materialism but in our desire to possess the most treasured commodity of all: a connection to the past.

What starts as an exercise in information gathering designed to boost the estate’s resale value at auction evolves into a quest that takes Lisa Tracy from her New Jersey home to the Philippines and, ultimately, back to the town where she grew up. These travels open her eyes to a rich family history characterized by duty, hardship, honor, and devotion—qualities embodied in the very items she intends to sell. Here is an inventory unlike any other: silver gewgaws, dueling pistols that once belonged to Aaron Burr (no, not those pistols), a stately storage chest from Boxer Rebellion–era China, providentially recovered family documents, even a chair in which George Washington may or may not have sat—each piece cherished and passed down to Lisa’s generation as an emblem of who her forebears were, what they had done, and where they had been. Each is cataloged here with all the richness and intimacy that only a family member could bring to the endeavor.

As someone unreasonably passionate about antiques, I get it. I love feeling connected to the past whenever I use my brass push-up candlesticks or sit on my 19th-century rush-seated painted chairs or use my 18th. century teapot — $3.50 in an upstate junk shop. I wear antique shawls and, as I write, a pair of green glass Deco-era drop earrings I found in an L.A. flea market for $40. My computer desk is covered with pale green ticking bought in the Paris flea market.

Worn and beautiful, well-made old things comfort and soothe me in a way no slick, shiny modern thing (OK, except my Itouch and Mac) can match.

I bought all of it.

We have very few inherited pieces, for a variety of reasons.

What objects have you inherited that you cherish — or couldn’t wait to dump?

Patina — The Beauty Of The Weathered And Worn

In design, History on November 7, 2009 at 8:05 am

patina Some things are best enjoyed shiny and new: electronics, cookware, lingerie. When it comes to decorative and functional objects, patina rules. Patina is the change in appearance that occurs after years, decades, centuries — even millenia — of use. It comes with delicious names: craquelure, foxing, crazing, all of which denote what is, in effect, decay and ruin of the orginal, but a ruin that shows its age. Some can be repaired or restored and some must be left alone — like the paint on good, old furniture — to retain its commercial value.

I love patina. It reminds me that whatever objects I own today once belonged to someone 60 or 160 or 300 years ago. It passed through their hands as it will pass through mine. Shiny new stuff is so deeply seductive because it’s yours alone. But only for a while.  Patina is a sort of memento mori, a reminder of life’s transience and the urgency of appreciating its beauty, now, in whatever form I can discover it.

These three images are from my home. The gilt frame is probably 19th. century, 1860s to 1880s, maybe earlier. The chair, one of three I bought at a country auction in Nova Scotia, with rush seats, even earlier. The teapot, a gift from a friend who is equally enamored of fine old things, was found at a Connecticut estate sale, also 19th. century.

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One of my favorite books, a real inspiration if you, too, love patina is The Well-Worn Interior, with images from Ireland, England, France — and  Manhattan’s East Village, with an apartment interior of delicious decay. Drayton Hall, a house built in 1738 near Charleston, South Carolina remains one of the U.S.’s finest examples of simple, understated elegance. I still remember the sense of stillness and light inside its enormous bare rooms.

If you crave athenticity in re-creating a historic interior, here’s a helpful site.

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