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Posts Tagged ‘objects’

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?

My life in 10 objects

In antiques, art, beauty, culture, design, History, life on March 25, 2012 at 1:44 am

Have you heard BBC Radio’s The History of the World in 100 Objects?

I’m addicted!

It’s based on 100 objects in the enormous collection of the British Museum, and I’ve so far heard the fascinating backstories of a Mayan lintel, an Anglo-Saxon helmet and a Korean roof tile; you can download all of them from the link above.

If you’re as much a fan of history, global culture and design as I am, you’ll love it.

This series also made me wonder which 10 objects might somehow sum up my life so far, and how they have shaped or reflected my own history. These are not the only ones, certainly, but each reveals a facet of my character and what matters most to me in life..

1964

Olympic badges from Tokyo

My father went to Japan to make several documentaries and brought me back some cloth badges from the Olympics. I was only seven, but seeing them made concepts like foreign travel, Japan and the Olympics alluringly real to me. It also piqued my  insatiable curiosity about the rest of the world — the hallmark of the rest of my life, really. (I still haven’t made it to an Olympics or to Japan though.)

1966

My Canadian passport

I was maybe seven or eight when I first recall using my own passport, and my first solo trip I remember was flying from Toronto to Antigua. I love being able to move freely between countries.

1960s

Two bears and a bunny

And yes, I still have them…photo of two of them above! The bunny was a gift from my maternal grandmother one Easter and his battered remnants are in the back of my closet. He was so stitched and repaired by the end he was practically transparent. He saw me through some tough times as an only child with no sibs to commiserate with.

The tiny bear is perfectly pocket-sized and kept me lucid and sane through yet another boarding school church service. The larger white bear looks a lot like (!?) my paternal grandmother. Don’t ask me how. He just does. He’s been all over the world with me, even in recent years, and is a very good travel companion. I imagine he has much amused TSA agents and chambermaids.

1970

Acoustic guitar

I attended summer camp in northern Ontario and every Sunday we put on a talent show that anyone brave enough to step onto the stage — in front of the whole (all girls) camp — was welcome to try. Thanks to my guitar and some crazy self-confidence, I did it often and sang songs I’d written. The welcome I received taught me to not be so scared to try new things or in front of a crowd.

1974

Pentax SLR camera

Loaned to me by a friend of my father who knew I had a budding and passionate interest in photography. I sold three color images of the city — one of our garage! — to Toronto Calendar magazine, a monthly — while still in high school for $300, a fortune in 1975 and still a pile ‘o dough. Discovering so young that my work had some commercial value gave me the courage to start freelancing as a (self-taught) shooter and I sold a photo to Time Canada when I was still in college.

1982

Carte de sejour

This little pink piece of cardboard, the official French document allowing me the legal right to live there for a while, was my ticket to the best year of my life, on a journalism fellowship based in Paris. I spent eight months living, learning and traveling on their dime (or franc!) and studied with 27 peers, all of us aged 25 to 35, from 19 countries, from Japan to Brazil to New Zealand. I’m still in touch with a few of them. That year taught me the true meaning of one of my favorite words — se debrouiller (to be resourceful, to figure it out on your own.)

1988

Green card

As the then unmarried child of an American citizen, my mother, I was able to apply for, and get, a “green card”, also known as an alien registration card.  I am a registered alien. That card gives me the legal right to live and work (although not vote) in the U.S.

2002

Softball glove

I started playing softball with a local group of fellow suburbanites, men and women ages 18 to 70-something, which includes a cantor, several psychiatrists, college professors, an orthopedic surgeon, a pastry chef and a retired ironworker. These people know me better than almost anyone here in New York. I usually play second base and can hit to the outfield.

I love having an activity that’s outdoors, social, athletic, fun, builds skills and is competitive enough to be energizing but mellow enough to be enjoyable.

Here’s my New York Times essay about my gang.

2009

A pink and orange polka-dot apron

I love to cook and to entertain and a big, pretty apron is a must! I bought this one, in such deliciously French colors, at one of my favorite Paris stores, BHV. If you visit Paris, check it out.

If you were to select a few items that could explain your life to those who don’t know you personally, what would they be and why?

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?

What’s A Museum For?

In antiques, art, behavior, business, culture, education, entertainment, History, parenting on August 26, 2010 at 1:35 pm
NEW YORK - MARCH 13:  A woman looks over print...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal:

Not so long ago, directors were proud to say museums were “cathedrals of culture,” collecting, displaying and preserving the best art. Today, that’s regarded by some as elitism, and it’s not enough. Reacting to demographic and social trends, they are bending the art-museum concept to reach new audiences and remain relevant. “We live in a more global, multicultural society that cares about diversity and inclusivity,” Ms. Feldman says. “We’re thinking about how we increase our service to the community.” …

There’s no shining line separating the generations, of course. Some directors have been preaching the “populist” gospel for years, often translating that into exhibitions about guitars, hip-hop or “Star Wars” paraphernalia and live music nights with cocktails, DJs and dancing.

Current thinking goes much deeper. Many young directors see museums as modern-day “town squares,” social places where members of the community may gather, drawn by art, perhaps, for conversation or music or whatever. They believe that future museum-goers won’t be satisfied by simply looking at art, but rather prefer to participate in it or interact with it. “The Artist Is Present” show by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art—silent, one-on-one encounters between volunteers and the artist, which viewers hung around to watch—is a recent, popular example.

New technology and social media, from blogs to Facebook to YouTube, are helping to drive the trend. “We’re on the cusp of a huge change in the way technology will change the visitor experience and how people learn about art,” Ms. Feldman says. Adding to the pressure are changes in the art world, which is growing more global and more interdisciplinary, and in education, which skimps on the arts and is forcing museums to provide more context.

I recently visited the Metropolitan Museum, my goal to marvel at Big Bambu, a rambling, growing, insanely unlikely structure made of bamboo poles atop its stolid, sober, gray roof. It was a golden summer afternoon and the place was a mob scene: kids, tourists, hipsters, investment banker boys in their $3,000 suits. There was a giddiness to it all that was lovely, and unlikely, and engaging. This was art you could touch and stroke and walk on and peer through, the towers of Manhattan like some distant Oz captured between fronds and poles.

Then I wandered the museum, visiting my favorite object, a Hungarian shield from the 15th. century, covered with carnations. I admired Greek funerary statues and some cloisonnes and, when I got lost, was told to “turn left at the table” — a stunning pietra dure splendor in itself.

I don’t think museums are just for amusement or titillation. I think they are, and should remain, a place to slow down. To stand very still and contemplate — without the desperate need to interact or touch or listen to a noise — what extraordinary things man has created for milennia. In the Greek galleries, I saw, and coveted deeply, a pair of gold earrings, a pair of doves each ridden, with reins in their beaks, by a cherub. Want them!

I was very fortunate in growing up in a home where my father was a painter and artist in his own right, as well as an avid collector of all sorts of objects, from Japanese masks to Eskimo sculpture and prints to lithographs and engravings. I took for granted that my life, somehow, would always (as it has) include great visual beauty.

When I visit a museum or gallery, I feel deeply refreshed. Beauty feeds my soul. I need to remember, we all do, that every culture, in every century — whether working in clay or gold or gouache or plastic — has made objects worth contemplation.

How many young students now feel the joy of making lovely things with their own hands? How many will ever go on to appreciate that others, too, have created and continue to make, things well worth an hour or two or three of our time?

A recent study of museum-goers found that, on average, most people were spending barely a minute in front of any one piece.

Kids now spend seven hours a day engaged with technology, things that buzz and beep and tell them they are extremely cool and connected. It’s a closed, comforting repeating tape loop of narcissistic fantasy.

How, if at all, to bring them — to bring anyone — into a place of quiet beauty?

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