By Caitlin Kelly
Why do we form our attachment to certain objects?
Whether something inherited from a beloved ancestor or a gift from a friend or our partner or spouse or something we buy that we’ve always wanted or have saved hard for.
I was listening to the terrific NPR radio show Radiolab as I drove into Manhattan recently to attend the Winter Antiques Show, arguably the best show in that city each year, and probably one of the world’s best places to look at — and buy –museum-quality objects of every possible material, design and period.
One of my favorite travel moments was finally seeing the Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux, Normandy, France. As someone passionate about early textiles, I had long wanted to see it in person, and so we did. Amazing! It’s actually embroidered on linen, 230 feet long, created in 1070.
I grew up in a home filled with interesting art and objects, from Japanese prints and Eskimo sculpture, (now called Inuit), to a Picasso lithograph to my father’s own handiwork in oil, silver, lithography and etching.
I’ve also been lucky enough along the way to be able to buy some art and photographs and antiques, so our apartment is filled with reference books on art and design and a variety of decorative objects we enjoy using or looking at.
So attending the Winter Antiques Show was a special treat. Admission is $25 and it’s held at the Park Avenue Armory, an enormous red brick building on Park at 67th. It accepted 75 dealers from all over the world, from Geneva to London to California, some of whom wait for years to be allowed into the show.
And what a show!
Imagine being let loose in a great museum, able to touch, hold and examine closely the most exquisite objects — whether a fragment of an Egyptian sarcophagus or a 16th century atlas or a piece of porcelain made in 1740.
You can wander about with a glass of white wine or champagne, coming face to face with a boy’s sword from 1300, ($20,000), or an astrolabe made in 1540 for the Spanish king ($1.3 million). I assumed I wouldn’t be able to afford a thing, and many prices were four, five and six figures.
But, despite my worries, it never felt snooty.
Sure, there were women wearing furs and quite large diamonds and lots of cashmere; I wandered about in my black Gap cotton Tshirt and black leggings. I’ve studied antiques at several institutions and bought and sold them at auction, so I know what I’m looking at when it comes to several categories.
For me, it was absolute heaven, and most dealers were surprisingly kind and welcoming, making time to explain their objects’ design and histories, like a $55,000 blue enamel pendant made by a famous British architect as a birthday gift.
It was originally found at a flea market!
Having bought some good things for low prices at auction and flea markets, I’m also always curious to find out their current market value and learn more about them. Dealers are de facto always passionate about their area of specialty, so no one seemed to mind my curiosity.
I even bought a photograph.
That was a huge surprise, and I hadn’t bought art in ages. But I discovered a Finnish photographer whose black and white work mesmerized me and the price was manageable — less than the cost of three months’ groceries.
Here’s a link to his work, and the gallery I bought it from.
One reason I so enjoy flea markets, auctions and antiques is making my own design choices. My maternal grandmother owned some very good things — but she never bothered to pay tax on her inherited fortune, so when she died almost all of it was sold to pay off those debts.
I never saw a thing from either grandfather or my paternal grandmother and almost all my mother’s belongings were also sold quickly when she suddenly had to go into a nursing home.
Jose’s parents left him a few belongings, but we’re not a family buried in heirlooms.
Almost everything lovely in our home, then, is something we’ve bought, and an expression of our aesthetic and taste. My husband is a career photographer, (here’s his blog), so we have a growing collection of images, from one you might know (of JF Kennedy standing at the window of the Oval Office) to an early Steichen.
These 3 pendants were given to me by my mother, a friend and my late grandmother. They have sentimental value to me as a result.
My favorite objects include:
my Canadian passport, a stuffed Steiff bear the length of my thumb, another small stuffed bear, a few good photographs, two silk Hermes scarves, a photo of my paternal grandfather, who I never met.
What — if any — objects do you treasure and why?