Yearly Archives: 2014

I See Stars

Historically, stars have been revered and studied by civilizations throughout the world.They have played a major role in religious practices, celestial navigation and art. Massive luminous spheres of self contained plasma peppered across our night skies are hard to miss and its no wonder why they have won themselves a starring role in so many parts of our society. Over the years, the most prominent stars were grouped into constellations and the brightest were given proper names, a practice that has been mirrored by people throughout time, recognizing the strongest and brightest among us as unique and special.

The Sun itself is a star and has been perceived as a goddess, muse and point of worship throughout history for the important role it plays in our lives on Earth. For these and countless other reasons stars have been represented in art and object form for thousands of years. The oldest dated star chart appeared in ancient Egyptian astronomy in 1534 BC. We see them everyday in advertisements and paintings, on awards, textiles and flags, in books, movies and more.

H256031AstronomyJohnston constellations

 

We’re lucky enough to encounter objects from all different points in history in our everyday work. It only took a few turns around uncommon OBJECTS to find a great handful of star inspired goods. The images in this post only scratch the surface of star related art in our world. We hope you can visit soon and search for your own shining treasures!

New states, new stars      

Cloisonné

The word cloisonné comes from mid 19th century French, literally translated ‘partitioned’. This makes perfect sense when we examine how the art is made; by creating partitioned or divided spaces on the surface of an object to be filled in with enamel. However the art far precedes the modern name, with the earliest surviving cloisonné pieces dating to the 12th century BC. They were rings found in a tomb on the island of Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean known to be one of the earliest places to produce copper. These six rings were decorated with cloisonné enamel that had been fused in place.

Cyprus ringChinese-Incense-Burners-3_edited-1-620x540

Even the most basic cloisonné process has many steps. First an object is chosen, often a vessel like a vase or box, made from copper or other mixed metals. A blue print for the outer layer is often sketched out before the labor begins. Next, copper is pressed paper thin and hammered, smoothed, cut and twisted into intricate designs to be affixed to the vessel. Hundreds of small copper pieces can be used, often bent at right angles to create these patterns. Red copper is almost always used for its extreme malleability.

process

The artist would then affix the worked copper to the object using a strong glue, taking great care to create the perfect shapes to be filled with color. The piece is then fired to permanently adhere the copper design in place, with the help of the glue. Any excess glue is burned away during this step leaving the partitions clean and ready to be filled.

cloisonne_vase firing

Small metal shovel tools and eye droppers are used to add color into the negative spaces created by the copper wire. Vitreous enamel, also known as porcelain enamel, is used. This is a combination of powered glass and substrate that is heated up and mixed, then cooled to create a thin paste. Each divided area is filled using these colored mixtures until the picture is complete. The work is then fired again to set and harden the enamel. The baking process can cause the enamel to sink down creating the need to fill the cloisons and fire the piece repeatedly to finish this step. Last the artist polishes the object until the wire edge and enamel fill are smooth and level.

chinese cloiscloisTurquoise-Cloisonne-Vase1

It is entirely possible that the technique of enameling was independently invented in different regions throughout the world. However it appears that the Byzantine artists in the 8th century were among the first to use the style regularly and begin to shape the techniques we still use today. These craftsmen began to use much thinner wire to more freely create complex designs. From Byzantium the technique would eventually reach China through trade in the 14th century. No Chinese pieces earlier than this are known for sure, however the oldest dated pieces from China show a full use of the skill, suggesting considerable experience. Cloisonné was originally regarded with suspicion by the Chinese, being foreign and having feminine qualities. The early Ming Dynasty however, boosted its production as the Jingtai Emperor was particularly fond of the look. Many of the works created during this time used blue as the predominant color, leading to the Chinese name for the technique, ‘jingtailan’ (Jingtai blue ware). Over the centuries different materials and techniques were adapted and eventually quality began to decline in the 19th century.

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Chinese cloisonné is the best known enamel work in the world however some excellent adaptations exist in Japan, Russia, France and other small regions throughout Europe. Although  the Japanese didn’t join the trend until the mid 19th century, some of their work has the highest technical quality in the history of this art.

Present day cloisonné has taken on a reputation as a craft for sale or a tourist souvenir rather than a fine art. Although talented and devoted craftsmen still exist, pieces are often rushed or mass produced resulting in a lower quality final product. For this reason we value true antique cloisonné. With such a deep history, genuine pieces from centuries passed can be a wonder for the eyes. Even when the enamel shows wear from age or the copper has lost a bit of its original shine, there is great beauty in a cloisonné object from years gone by.

See you soon!

uncommon OBJECTS

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The Power of Symbolism

 

Today’s blog post explores a symbol used for thousands of years. A symbol that for cultures, religions, tribes and families around the world represented life, light, luck, love, success, eternity and goodness. Most people today know the swastika as symbol of terror and oppression, used by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. And from 1920 to 1945 its true, the swastika became quickly known as the stamp of hate, fear and white supremacy. Today however, we’d like to recognize this powerful symbol’s history, before the fear and before the stigma. As collectors of all objects old and beautiful we see the swastika from time to time, stamped in jewelry, artfully created in beadwork, woven into textiles and used in old advertisements. And although its difficult for us all to look at this iconic shape and see something wonderful, we’d like to try and we’d like to share with you a few reasons to try with us. The world “swastika” is derived from the Sanskrit “svastika” which refers to “well-being” and “good luck”.

good luck ad

Below is a brief outline of the swastika’s use throughout history separated into areas of the world. This is by no means the symbol’s complete story but a guide to understanding its innocent beginnings. Perhaps if we all look long enough we can start to see why this balanced design, this whirling log, this spinning sun, was once the perfect depiction of eternity, fertility and truth.

buddhist 1

Africa

One of the oldest recorded uses of the swastika in Africa is found in artwork by the Akan people of Ghana. It is also found on servants’ dresses in the Ashanti Empire as well as carved into one of the Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela, dating back to the 12th or 13th century.

African swas

Asia

In Asia, the swastika symbol first appears an archaeological record around 2500 BC in the Indus Valley Civilization. Throughout history the swastika spread through many religions throughout Asia such as Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism. With the spread of Buddhism, the Buddhist version of the swastika migrated to Tibet and China. Further influence found the symbol used by Balinese Hinduism and Chinese Taoism. In Thailand the word “Swasdee” is normally used for greeting, indicating a combination of prosperity, security, glory and good. Each adoption of this simple and balanced symbol would often come with specific meaning. Jainism used the swastika heavily throughout scripture and ceremonies, attributing the four arms as the four places where a person could be reborn in the cycle of birth. In Hinduism, the swastika is well-recognized and represents God and his energy(Shakti) as well as the four directions of the world. Buddhism most often used the symbol as a graphical representation of eternity and even used it to mark the site of Buddhist temples on maps.

The paired swastika symbols appear in the Chinese writing system around 900AD and variant characters are used in Madarin, Korean, Cantonese, Japanese and Vietnamese meaning “all” or “eternity”. As the symbol once carried a positive and beautiful meaning its no surprise that it was eventually used in works of art. Often found as a repeating pattern in Japanese works, both left and right facing swastikas would be joined by connecting lines creating unique patterns in positive and negative space.

buddhist 2

North America

The swastika motif used in North America is most commonly found in Native American art. Adopted by tribes such as the Navajo, Hopi and Dakota, the symbol can be found in their beautiful beadwork and silver worked jewelry. For the Hopi clan it represented its own tradition of wandering the land. For the Navajo it was known as a whirling log and was used in healing rituals. The swastika also made an important appearance in the early 1930’s as a symbol of the people of Kuna Yala, after they revolted against cultural suppression from Panama. For the Kuna people, the symbol represents the octopus that created the world, its tentacles pointing to the four cardinal points.

Europe

In the Iron Age of Europe, swastika shapes were used by many cultures including Armenian, Greco-Roman, Etruscan, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic and more. This prehistoric use seems to reflect a rise in folk culture, expanding its meanings to perpetual motion, thunder, the sun and justice. It was even used as an early Christian symbol representing Christ’s victory over death. Polish nobility have used it within their coat of arms, Russians and Greeks have worked it into their coins and armor and it is found in art and jewelry making all throughout pre-twentieth century Europe.

 

20th Century Europe

The swastika experienced a resurgence in the Western world in the late 19th century as archaeological work by Heinrich Schliemann discovered the symbol in ancient Troy and began to associate it with ancient migrations through Europe, specifically to Germany. It was seen as an important link to religious ties with remote ancestors, connecting Germanic, Greek and Indo-Iranian cultures. By the early 20th century it was used worldwide and represented good luck and success. At this point in history we begin to see the swastika used in a broader scope, through fashion, advertising, art and jewelry making.

Capitalizing on the swastika’s widespread popular usage, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party adopted the symbol in 1920. It was used on the party’s flag, badge and armband. Hitler described the swastika as a representation of “the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man..”

nazi swas

Since the swastika’s use by the Nazi party in WWII, the symbol has been dropped or altered by cultures and organizations across the world. A once beautiful design, representing eternity, balance, justice, and good luck, the swastika has been tarnished by its powerful association with the suffering of war. However we believe it is important to remember its origins and recognize its use over thousands of years. We cherish uncommon objects of all kinds and urge everyone to see the beauty of a symbol that was born from a need to communicate peace and good fortune. Below are more examples of swastikas used throughout history, some found online and others from our shop and vendors’ personal collections.(Thanks to Steve Wiman, Daniel Schmidt and Mandy Lyne) If you’d like to see some in person come by the shop and ask, we’d love to share with you!

See you next time!

american postcard Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset swastika fashion NA 1 jewelry swas

Better Than Before

You may have heard of ‘Make-Do’ antiques before, old objects with homemade repairs that have been stapled, stitched and coaxed back to life. But as avid admirers of timeworn objects we think the term ‘Make-Do’ might not do at all. It implies a temporary fix or a result that isn’t as effective or attractive as the original design. These thoughtful repairs however, often add an element of beauty and interest. They show an object’s history and prove that they were once needed or loved enough to take the time to mend.

Plates, bowls and glassware often carry great examples of antique repair. From ironstone platters to fine Chinese plates, broken pieces could be fitted and fused back together with a train track of handmade staples. These staples, or braces, were made to fit particular breaks and cracks and were sometimes made into decorative shapes. A dedicated metalsmith might use flat pieces of metal cut to resemble a heart or a scepter. Each shape would also have a short pin attached, which passed through small holes drilled into the broken object. The result of this process could bring a dish back to life and perhaps more importantly create a completely unique object bordering on folk art. Handmade Staples

Make-Do repairs weren’t just for dishes though, anything and everything could be repaired if the user was crafty enough. Handles were another popular fix and were often reinforced or replaced entirely. Wrapping a weakened handle in wire or even tightly binding it in cloth could extend its life. In the picture below you’ll see a corn cob handle was used as an inventive solution for an iron tool. Thread spools have been converted into knife grips and candlesticks turned to bell handles. Each example always has one goal in common; make it last. Homemade Handles

Perhaps the most joyful examples of antique repair come from toys. The more a toy is loved and used the more likely it is to get damaged. In many cases they were fixed up and made to live on. Toy canons would be patched with tin. A doll’s damaged legs were replaced by clothespins or bits of wood. In one case a cast lead dog from the 1930’s lost a leg and a new one was fashioned from a small nail and some twisted wire. (Image from www.andrewbaseman.com)

Some of the most visually stunning fixes are found in the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. The process binds the pieces back together and creates an effect of thin golden veins throughout the object. Kintsugi

The list of Make-Do’s goes on and on. For centuries people have found inventive ways to fix the tools and treasures that are important to their way of life. Though the population of fixers and tinkerers has declined over the years, we see a resurgence of do-it-yourselfers from time to time. We find beauty in these once broken objects and try to learn from their owner’s ingenuity. One of the leaders in preserving and documenting repaired objects is Andrew Baseman. An interior designer and author from New York City, Mr. Baseman collects and cherishes all kinds of repaired antiques and like us, finds incredible value in artful reconstruction. To learn more about his collection and its history check out his blog, ‘Past Imperfect’ over at www.andrewbaseman.com.

Be sure to check out more photos below from our shop as well as our vendors’ personal collections! See you next time!

Stapled SpoutNew states, new starsReinforced HandleIroning board fabric replaced time after time.Repaired GrainsacksBound Cookware

In the Heart of Tramp Art

The world of folk art is expansive. It encompasses a wide range of styles and mediums including tribal, primitive, outsider, naïve, traditional and more. But no matter what form folk art takes it is almost exclusively expressed by untrained and unprofessional artists. Often set apart from “fine art”, folk art is not typically intended to be sold and nearly always self-taught or learned in a small community setting. The spirit of folk art is not influenced by art movements in academic circles but instead thrives on a basic need to create and reflect the personal lives of the artists.

  Tramp Art

Arguably one of the most beautiful and obsessive forms of folk art is known as Tramp Art. Tramp Art is a style found throughout the world in which small pieces of wood, primarily from discarded cigar boxes and shipping crates, were whittled into layers of geometric shapes having the outside edges of each layer carved into notches.

A slightly more complex puzzle-like version called “Crown of Thorns” is made from interlocked pieces and involves a bit more engineering.

As is true in many kinds of folk art, tramp artists would use only basic tools, often a single pocket knife, to carve and construct their work. Most commonly used to create boxes and frames, Tramp Art hit the height of its popularity in the United States between the 1870’s and the 1940’s. In its most elaborate forms, tramp artists would create abstract shapes, objects of whimsy and even full sized furniture.

Tramp Art is truly a testament to genuine creativity and cunning. We cherish objects that are born from a person’s innate desire to build even when materials and money are scarce. We hope you enjoy the photos below, taken from both our shop and from the wonderful personal collections of Mandy Lyne and Van Harrison. Also be sure to click the link at the bottom of this post to watch a great video of Tramp Art expert Clifford Wallach, found on the Martha Stewart website.

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Click the photo below to watch a video with more information on Tramp Art!

Until Next Time,

uncommon OBJECTS

Let’s shake on it

Hello uncommon FRIENDS!

     As you can see we’ve updated the website with some awesome new content! We want our friends and fans around the world to be able to share the excitement we get from all things unique and beautiful. We hope our new look reflects the textures, colors and energy that we hold dear.
     And with that redesign comes our new logo which centers on the shaking hands symbol. In today’s post we want to give you some general history on this iconic image and tell you how we connect with it.
     The handshake is one of the most powerful gestures in the world. It’s been used throughout history to unite, divide, seal deals and broker peace. Shaking hands as a greeting or to seal a contract has been done since the second century BC. Originally the gesture demonstrated that the hand holds no weapon, and is a symbol of good sportsmanship, equality, and trust. Shaking the right hands sealed a bargain, but it was important not to use the left as that hand would dissolve it. It’s no surprise that the gesture has been turned into a meaningful symbol used in great art throughout history.
     Perhaps what we connect with most is the handshake used as a symbol. Carved from wood, cast in metal, shaped into ceramic, presevered in plaster, printed in books and painted on banners, we find the shaking hands represented though many incredible mediums, each carrying its own sort of strength and mystery.
     The mystery of the shaking hands is often attributed to secret societies throughout history who clasped hands to communicate without words. A handshake could identify you as part of a group or send a message. The Freemason Society is one of the most well-known and longstanding implementations of secret handshakes. They have at least twelve known universal secret handshakes that were implemented in their society, however, there are believed to be many more. The Freemasons use their set of unique greetings to not only identify members of the society, but also to identity the different levels, classes, or castes of people within the societies. We often see it in Society books or banners, beautifully printed or hand painted.
     For us, as for the rest of the world, the symbol of shaking hands means many things. We connect with its age and mystery. We admire it’s tangible strength. And most importantly the shaking hands has inspired people from different times and cultures to create art, preserving the symbol as an object for us to enjoy for years to come.

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hand-colored-photography

Hand colored photography

Today’s post covers the beautiful art of hand colored photography. Whether it’s a touch of rose on the cheeks or a lavishly full colored portrait, hand coloring sought to bring life’s sparkle to an, at that time, strictly black and white medium.

Hand coloring refers to any method of manually adding color to a black and white photograph, generally either to heighten the realism of the photograph or for artistic purposes.

Typically, watercolors, oils, crayons or pastels are applied to the image surface using brushes, fingers, cotton swabs or airbrushes. Hand colored photographs were most popular in the mid to late 19th century before the invention of color photography and some firms specialized in producing hand colored photographs.

Although hand coloring photographs is not at the level of popularity it once was, there are still some who keep it alive and well. Please watch this wonderful video featuring the Ansari Photo Studio, in Afghanistan, where hand colored photography is still a cherished medium.

Till next time…

Le Petit Phantom
February 2014

Daniel Schmidt

Welcome to the next installment of our staff/vendor interview series. Today we would like to introduce you to one of our newer staff members and vendors, Daniel Schmidt. Daniel has a keen eye, a scholarly knowledge of antiques and a love of the organic. Here is our interview with Daniel where he discusses his first childhood collection, his favorite item in his space and what keeps him collecting.

daniel-schmidt

 

Daniel, can you tell our readers how long you’ve been at Uncommon Objects, and what it was that sparked your interest in antiques?

I started working at Uncommon about a year and half ago and I’ve been a dealer for about eight or nine months. I think my interest in art history drove me towards antiques. I went to graduate school for art history and have worked behind the scenes in museums so I’ve spent much of my life surrounded by old objects.

bones-and-coral

 

taxidermy-ostrich-feet

 

It’s a given that most of the staff and vendors at Uncommon Objects are collectors. Do you actively collect anything? Were you a collector as a child? Do you remember your first collection?

I collect far too much. My first collection was of bones collected from road kill or from the beach. I was probably five or six when I first threw a carcass on a fire ant pile to clean it so I could get a nice skull. Now I still collect skulls as well as Renaissance prints, coral, and shells that have been used for producing mother of pearl buttons, amongst many other things.

sawfish-bill

 

coral

 

taxidermy-and-china

 

Your space at Uncommon Objects has such a thoughtful flow to it. Can you give us some insight into how you curate your space and what goes through your mind as you’re out finding objects? Is there a particular item that is your “holy grail” or a special piece that got away?

Thank you first of all. My goal is for my space to be as close to a 16th/17th century cabinet of curiosity as possible and I try to stay fairly true to what was prized and collected then, hence a focus on natural objects – big shells, coral, skulls, taxidermy, etc. I don’t personally collect taxidermy or human bones so I keep all of that in my space. I’m also very interested in the history of animal and plant taxonomy so anything involved with that – 16th century natural history engravings, old medical charts, etc – I absolutely love. I have countless holy grails. I’ve managed to obtain a few of them like my sawfish bill and Jacob ram skulls. A few I’ll probably eventually get like a nice big coco de mer, truly antique coconut shell or ostrich shell goblets, and taxidermy stingrays. Probably my number one holy grail item that I’ll almost definitely never obtain would be a Mixtec skull – a 16th/17th century Mexican ceremonial skull that was encrusted with turquoise, obsidian and shell. I worked with one hands-on a few years ago at a museum I was at but there are very few in private hands and they are exceedingly expensive. The best though are the unexpectedly amazing items that you don’t even know exist like the taxidermy ostrich feet I recently acquired.

glass-boxes

 

taxidermy-vintage

 

You were asked to pick your favorite item in your space. Can you tell us about it and why it’s so special?

My favorite item would be my sawfish bill. It’s just such a classic piece to be included in a cabinet of curiosities. You’d be hard pressed to find an engraving of a 17th century cabinet that didn’t include at least one. They’re beautiful and bizarre and increasingly hard to find.

Thanks Daniel and thanks to everyone for reading!

Le Petit Phantom
January 2014

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