Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Joy of Antiques

Antiques are one of the joys of my life and through this BLOG I hope to be able to share some of that enjoyment and maybe spread the infection a little bit at the same time. My attachment to antiques is based on a number of different things.

First is Artistry: Many antiques are one of a kind pieces of art that expresses something from the maker to you. And I am not talking just about traditional one of a kind art items like a painting. Many of the multiple “manufactured” items also end up being unique one-of-a-kind items. Blown glass is an example of one of these multiple but “unique” kind of pieces. Even when a glass blower is going to make large numbers of the exact same item, because of the process each one ends up being one-of-a-kind. There are slight variations in colors, alignments, thickness, dimensions and craftsmanship that makes each one different and unique, if you take the time to really look and see those variations.

Second is Craftsmanship: This is related to artistry. Though the artistic concept may have been someone else’s, the ability to transform a concept to an actual product is an art in itself. This even relates to many factory made items since they often required a level of hand work that is unthinkable today. An example would be a glass cutting, you start out as an apprentice and it would take 20 -30 years of experience to finally become a master cutter. Look at a cut glass bowl, and remember each cut was made by hand holding the bowl against a thin copper abrasive wheel. The cutter has to hold and rotate the odd shape of the bowl to the wheel to get a straight line, even depth, and correct alignment for other cuts. One slight misstep and the whole thing has to be thrown away. The British museum has a Cameo glass platter made by John Northwood that after 8 years of work was near completion when it was dropped and cracked through. It was kept in the family since it was not sellable and eventually ended up in the museum since it is such an amazing piece. But this shows what could and did happen when hand work is involved.

Third is History: All antiques are connected to or a part of history, but only some in special ways or with special meanings. To hold a Civil War Saber that was used in battle, to feel the weight and power of it and remember it was used against another soldier, a fellow American maybe even that person's relative gives a connection that can evoke thoughts and emotions far beyond the simple object itself. It can cause personal connections to the people of that time or cause a search to understand how and why it ended up being needed and used in the first place. That’s a dramatic form but even a simple object like a dinner plate can connect you to history. Think of the family that ate off of it, what their life was like, how it was the same or different from our own, even as expressed by the piece itself. Was it a piece bought by the rich or the poor, was it for everyday use or only for special occasions, why was this type of design popular, etc.

Forth is Love: This is the only word I can think of to describe what I mean -- the personal connections to objects by individuals. This is expressed in the Artistry, Craftsmanship and History to some degree but it is beyond those. It goes to the attachments and meanings these pieces had to the people in the past. Our world today has far less connections to our possessions than ever before. We have a disposable mentality. However, in the past the average person bought items thinking this is something I am going to live with and pass on to my children and they did. So a simple dinner plate can include the many hands that washed and dried it after 100 years worth of meals and the sentimental attachment that can add to the piece. For some items their survival is a matter of chance but for many they were saved because they meant something to somebody. For me when I see an antique I see beyond the item itself, somehow part of the previous owner has become a part of it, making it something more than it was originally.

I hope to share some of these things with others of like mind and maybe to educate and bring into the fold a few new antiquers.