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Archive for the ‘Design Motif’ Category

I was thinking about writing a post to show the variety, similarities and differences of inlay work from around the world when I realized that my own collection was pretty diverse and readily available for photographing. Now that I have rounded it all up here it seems as if I have a lot of inlaid pieces, but because they each seem so different to me I just hadn’t noticed. Every piece has its own story, which is what I love about them all.

When we lived in Hong Kong in 1997 and 1998 I was cautious and slow to make purchases. There was a lot of bad “antique” Chinese furniture at the time, although much less so than today. Besides my 18th century bamboo altar table, my blanc de chine and some Japanese porcelain, I didn’t buy much. The only other item to catch my eye was this late Ming Dynasty lacquer, sharkskin and ivory inlaid box. Yes, real Ming Dynasty, as in the one from 1368–1644. It was, of course, way out of my price range and my sweet husband, while very kind and generous, was like “you want to spend what on a box?!?” So I bided my time and worked a lot and saved and negotiated hard with the dealer, while simultaneously bringing him lots of customers (As one of the best dealers around he did have very good merchandise, so no real ulterior motive there). By the time we were ready to move home, he knew the box had to leave with me. As a side note, it’s not uncommon for very fine antique inlaid boxes, lap desks and the like to be more expensive than much larger pieces of furniture as the finest detail and workmanship went into them as well as the highest quality materials.

Ming Chinese lacquer box inlay ivory shark skin

I’ve never seen a piece to compare with this one. The lacquer is so incredibly soft and silky and the ivory inlay is so fine. I can really see and feel the difference from my bone inlaid pieces. And before some of you get all bent out of shape about the ivory, do remember how old this box is! There are a few small inlay pieces that are green and while I don’t think they are jade as some have suggested, I’m not sure what they are. The edges of the box are wrapped in sharkskin or shagreen, a pebbled leather. There seems to be a four seasons theme, with flowers from each represented as well as the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism.

ivory inlay detail

My favorite view is the side with bamboo, cherry blossom and chrysanthemum.

Chinese ivory inlaid box bamboo detail

At the absolute other end of the price and quality spectrum, this small round-topped table, with its collapsible octagon base is typically Indian by the style of its foliate carving, although such a common form could be from elsewhere in the region. It is not particularly old nor valuable. I found it at Yaskuni shrine, not long before I left Japan and it seemed like a cosmic signal that the move to Doha was a good next step, being somehow regionally appropriate – a rather broad reading of “local”. It has turned out to be the ideal size and height for between my two antique slipper chairs and thus extremely useful and quite decorative.

small side table slipper chairs

The bone inlay on this piece is almost irrelevant – literally besides the point – and clearly not secure as much of it has fallen out. It is the screen-like carving on the sides that catches the eye. Pieces like this are sometimes inlaid with brass in lieu of the bone or a combination of the two.

inlay detail

Indonesia is not the first place that comes to mind when thinking about inlay, but it does exist as a local handicraft both historically and currently, in particular on the island of Lombok, situated just east of Bali. The term used to refer to the mother of pearl inlaid furniture and accessories produced there is cukli. Without having any documentation, there is no doubt in my mind that the art of inlay arrived in Lombok either via the Dutch, who first visited in 1674, before colonizing the region or hand in hand with the introduction of Islam in either the 16th or 17th century. The Lombok pieces are referential to although simplified versions of the North African and Arabic patterns. You’ll see similar pieces in museums made in Burma or the Philippines too, which also had their origins through trade and colonization.

moth of pearl Lombok trunk

My trunk is gently vintage, no more than about 30 years old and in my possession for 15 of those. It is a fairly crude piece, the pattern typical of the work and clearly hand carved and individually glued with small pieces of mother of pearl. It does have a lovely patina which the newer Lombok pieces lack, having often been shellacked to within an inch of their lives.

mother of pearl Lombok trunk inlay detail

Since I arrived in Doha, two new pieces of inlaid furniture have made their way home with me. Just after moving in, I spotted this inlaid Syrian table at one of the few antique stores in town. It caught my eye immediately as I was hoping that there would still be finds to be made here as I was already missing my shrine sales.

inlaid syrian table mother of pearl Doha

I absolutely loved the checkerboard-like detail and the fanciful carvings – it was a much more unusual piece than I’d seen in person before. Since then I’ve seen other even more elaborate museum quality pieces similar to this, but they have had a shiny formality and a stiffness to their design that this piece, with its lovely patina and cheeky pattern, does not.

inlay table detail

I have been moving it around the house as you can tell from the photos, but there isn’t anywhere truly ideal for it here so I am planning on boxing it up and taking it back to our beach house in the US this summer. It would be added into the textile mix of this…

pillow mix Robshaw Ralph Lauren  Nathan Turner bamboo daybed

…and this. Pretty perfect, no?

Brigitte Singh Hibiscus Branch TV room curtains

My newest addition was unexpected although very needed. As I mentioned in a recent post, the overhead lights here are glaring and I just don’t have enough lamps. I stumbled across this bone inlaid Syrian beauty lying in pieces at a junk shop – it was so inexpensive that it was well worth the risk of buying. One of the charms of Doha is all the very low-priced services – the antithesis of Japan – and for about $12 the electrician rewired it (he came to my house to get it and drop it off) and then for another $12 the furniture repair guys put it back together (they came to my house to get it and drop it off). Add an IKEA lamp shade, which still needs a bit of jury rigging, and it is spectacular (if only I could stop by Robert Kime for a lampshade – then we’d be talking off the charts spectacular!) Clearly 20th century – it is electric after all – but nicely vintage based on the brass lamp fittings.

Syrian inlaid lamp

The lamp has a typically Syrian detail, the fine wire running through the pattern that in a truly valuable antique piece would actually be silver, brass or another metal. In this case it is also bone.

Syrian lamp inlay detail

My pieces of inlaid furniture aren’t limited to the house here in Doha. The beach house has its own share, both with the table headed there from above and this set of stacking tables. These lovelies are Anglo-Indian – they have a traditional European shape with bone inlay. They were an incredible find in a very run down mixed dealer antiques mall on the Jersey shore in the very first summer after we had just moved in. I spotted them in the corner and knew their petite size and lines would be perfect for the house. After I dug them out, I could feel the radar of every person and other dealer in the place turn and fix on us intently (a comparison I would make to Sauron’s eye in ‘The Lord of the Rings’). I wanted to finish browsing so I turned to my sweet husband and said “do not let go of these for even an instant!” He thought I was being a bit crazy but as the sharks started circling he realized it was no joke. He is nowhere near as experienced as I am in shopping object envy and the way it can make others behave.

anglo indian bone inlay table beach house

You can see how fine the detail is in comparison to my newer rougher pieces like the Lombok trunk and the small Indian side table. At the same time, these tables have plenty of nicks and wear, which adds to their charm. They are so flexible and useful, although most of the time they sit just like this, housing the library books in a lovely custom-made market basket by PaperGlueBamboo.

anglo indian inlaid table detail

And I do actually have another inlaid piece at the shore – a pair of contemporary bone inlay and resin pieces, although I haven’t actually seen them in situ. I ordered the Aleppo side tables from Serena & Lily as my master bedroom night stands at the beach house just as I was leaving at the end of the summer. For some reason they seem to have been renamed the Leila table in the interim and are so popular that they are back-ordered 3-4 months on the website. I’ll have to let you know what I think of it once I get back to the USA for the summer.

Aleppo Inlay Serena and Lily

They are going right in here.

master bedroom

Funnily enough, I just realized that don’t have any Japanese antiques or objects that I consider true inlay. My lacquer pieces are surface based and not inlaid. Odd don’t you think?

If you have any inlaid pieces you’d like to share, please drop me a note and photo!

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Walnut with boxwood, rosewood and bone inlay, the trestle support with iron chains made 1500-1550 Italy V&A

prov-e-nance \ˈpräv-nən(t)s, ˈprä-və-ˌnän(t)s\
noun. the place of origin or earliest known history of something.

In my first Provenance column since my move, I am turning my attention to the art of inlay, which seems extremely apropos as it is one of the high arts of the Islamic world. I was also lucky enough to spend some serious time this past summer with the extraordinary collection of inlaid furniture and objects found at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Even the best photos can only do this kind of detail so much justice and I will confirm for you that the 16th century Italian trestle table made of walnut with boxwood, rosewood and bone inlay shown above in the banner, was even more spectacular in person. That said, this is the kind of post in which all the photos are meant to be clicked on so that the detail can truly be appreciated.

The desire for ornamentation is universal and in the case of inlaid furniture, has transcended both time and geography. From the earliest known Mesopotamian example to those from ancient China, Egypt and the Roman Empire, artisans employed the technique of hollowing out cavities on the surface of an object and filling it with a different material – the inlay – to create contrast and pattern. Wood is most often the base material used for furniture, with other woods, ebony, ivory, bone, horn, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl and other shells being used for the inlay. Over the centuries the basic techniques have stayed the same, although the tools used have progressed hand in hand with technology, from early simple carving sticks to modern-day computerized cutting. More recently inlay materials have expanded to include the man-made, such as resin and other composites.

Inlaid furniture also tells the story of cross cultural influences and trade across borders. Inlay techniques were already perfected in North Africa before they were introduced by the Moors into Europe through southern Italy and Spain. Italian Renaissance artists carried the techniques further with their incredible detail and precision as the technique spread from northern Italy into Germany and then on to London via Flemish craftsmen in the later 16th century. It’s fascinating to compare the detail on this early 14th century Mamluk door from Cairo, inlaid with ivory, ebony and other woods, with this Venetian coffer made around 1520, also inlaid with the same materials. While the style of the inlay on the Italian piece is Islamic, the overall shape of the chest is most definitely Western European. This is not so surprising as strong trading links between Europe, the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East were already in place.

mamluk door detail inlaid coffer ebony ivory venice italy 1520

For the purposes of this post, I am going to neglect the development of similar indigenous European techniques such as marquetry and parquetry, in which pieces of wood veneer are applied to furniture (not inlaid) for decoration and pietre dure/pietra dura, in which semi precious and other colored stones are inlaid into marble. Equally compelling, they perhaps deserve a post of their very own.

french-marquetry-desk-via-1st-dibs annotated italian_pietra_dura_2_annotated

As European exploration and colonization of India, the Middle East and Asia expanded, the Portuguese, Dutch and later English traders and then settlers arrived with a need for furniture and other objects such as sewing boxes and lap desks as there was little domestic furniture available. They had their European furniture and other imported pieces copied in native woods and then ornamented with traditional inlay techniques. Over time bustling export trade markets developed. Nowhere was the fusing of practical European pieces with local design more successful than in India and the Anglo-Indian furniture style – often referred to as British Colonial – was born. Bone inlay, as an alternative to the rarer and more valuable ivory and ebony, became the inlay material of choice because it was plentiful and readily available. Examples include this late nineteenth century colonial teak dresser inlaid with bone after it was made and what became an almost ubiquitous piece of colonial life, the planter’s chair. Both are highly collectible, extremely decorative and would look very at home in any global eclectic interior.

Victorian teak dresser with bone inlayBone Inlay anglo-Indian 19thc planters chairs

In North Africa and the Middle East local pieces such as dowry trunks and small tables were purchased and added to western style interiors, this being particularly popular in the latter half of the 19th century when exoticism became the rage during the Aesthetic movement.

northa african mother of pearl inlaid tables and dowry chest

late 19thc inlaid Syrian table

They have cycled around to being incredibly popular again in today’s interiors and it is rare to find an interior photo spread these days that doesn’t include at least one octagonal Syrian or Egyptian table in this style. I could choose from hundreds of photos, but I love the unexpected combination and color play in this Tom Scheerer interior. The table is tucked in the corner and it demonstrates its versatility well in this unusual mix.

Interiors of Tom Scheerer for Book

And let us be sure not to neglect Eastern Asia, where the art of inlay had been flourishing since before the 8th century. In Japan, mother-of-pearl was the most popular material, in addition to mixed metals and other techniques on lacquer pieces. While Japan’s production was domestically focused, the Portuguese began commissioning local workers to produce objects designed to appeal to the European market, like this tankard, in the latter half of the 16th century. Again we see a traditional western shape decorated in the local style. By 1635 the Portuguese were expelled and Japan remained closed to foreign influence for 250 years. Once reopened, design ideas from Europe were rapidly absorbed (as were design ideas from Japan in Europe). This elaborately inlaid curio cabinet or shodana, in the high Victorian/Aesthetic taste, was made for export in the late 1880s.

17th-century-mother-of-pearl-on-wood-lacquer-japan-tankard japanese-meji-period-shibiyama-shodona-cabinet

Elaborate inlaid cabinets were not limited to Japan and I cannot resist including these two absolute tour-de-force pieces that I was lucky enough to see at the V & A. The late 19th century Korean chest on chest used for storing clothes and bedding is decorated with phoenixes, cranes, peach trees and fish and utilizes stylized butterfly shaped metal fittings. The fully inlaid South American bureau is more of a mystery. It has been dated to around 1820, but little is known of it. It’s fascinating to see the European shape and techniques imported to the new world. More on each of these extraordinary pieces can be found here and here.

korean-1890-1910-inlaid-wood-lacquer-mother-of-pearl-and-brass-with detail

mother-of-pearl-inlay-bureau-mexico-c1820-with detail V & A

Inlay continued as a popular technique in the 20th century being perfectly suited to stylized designs appearing on Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces. The modernist movement found a use for it as well, often simplifying from elaborate obvious pattern to accent and texture, best epitomized in these contemporary 1970s bone inlaid pieces by Karl Springer.

art-deco-ivory-inlaid-dressing-table annotated karl-springer-bone-inset-ottomans annotated

Interiors that feature inlaid pieces are irresistible – adding vibrancy with their mix of materials. Here are just a few examples from designers who are masters at using such pieces, including in clockwise order Anna Spiro, Katie Ridder, Amber Lewis, Schuyler Samperton and Ashley Whittaker.

anna-spiro- katie ridder pink-curtain-inlaid-chest ashley-whittaker-schuyler samperton amber lewis inlay

Pieces from every era are pricy out in the marketplace. Well made new items are also expensive as even with advances in technology they continue to require a high level of craftsmanship. Bone and mother-of pearl are most commonly used on new inlaid furniture in the light of 20th century bans on the use or import of ivory and other precious commodities.

So where to find it? Antique pieces can be sourced from 1stdibs and auction houses, always a great place to look price wise if you know what you want. I’ve been quite lucky at flea markets and local shops, finding a small inlaid Indian table at a Japanese shrine sale, a colonial era set of tables at a run-down New Jersey antiques mall and most recently, an antique Syrian piece at a small shop here in Doha. Pretty global distribution if I do say so myself. Major online retailers like WisteriaSerena & Lily and even Pottery Barn, as well as the drool-worthy UK-based Graham & Green carry the very figural mother-of-pearl and bone pieces we see a lot of these days, both in furniture and lovely accessories. Numerous online importers ship straight from India as well, although I don’t have any personal experience ordering from them.

retail inlay pieces collage

The appeal of inlay is timeless as it adds a luminous and luxurious layer to any space and a whiff of exoticism and far off lands. On that note, the next few weeks will be devoted to the art of inlay here on Tokyo Jinja. From my own personal collection to contemporary interpretations of the craft, watch for numerous upcoming posts on the subject over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, if you would like to catch up on my previous Provenance posts you can find them over at Cloth & Kind as well as my related Provenance pieces here on Tokyo Jinja.

Victoria & Albert Museum, 2. My photo, Mamluk doors part of the The Museum of Islamic Arts collection, 3. Italian coffer from Victoria & Albert Museum, 4. Marquetry desk via 1stdibs, 5. Pietra dura via 1stdibs, 6. Chest photo via Wisteria, 7. Planters chairs via 1stdibs, 8.Table pair Christies, 9. Trunk Christies, 10. Syrian table close-up my own photo, 11. From Tom Scheerer Decorates by Mimi Reed, photographed by Francesco Lagnese, 12. Tankard Victoria & Albert Museum, 12. Shodana cabinet Bonhams, 13-14. Korean chest Victoria & Albert Museum, 15. Mother of Pearl chest Victoria & Albert, 16. Mother of Pearl detail close-up my photo, 17. Art deco desk 1stdib, 18. Karl Springer ottomans 1stdibs, 19. Anna Spiro in Absolutely Beautiful Things, 20. Katie Ridder in Elle Decor March 2008, photo credit: William Waldron, 21. Amber Interiors, 22. Schuyler Samperton, 23. Ashley Whittaker, 24-27. Tray and mirror via Wisteria, Commode and nightstand via Graham & Green, Bone inlay bathroom set via Pottery Barn,

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Energy exists within, between and around everything from the infinitesimal to the astronomical. It seems to have tendencies that manifest itself in similar ways at all scales, a common language.
- Mariana Heilmann

photo

I had both the visual pleasure and an amazing hands-on experience with Colombian born artist Mariana Heilmann’s Resonance exhibit at Katara Art Center this week. Heilmann is a Doha-based contemporary artist who is delving deeply into matters of energy, time and space through a technique of perpetual motion and the innate tendency that chaos has to bring order to itself. Her long-term interest in science feeds and enriches the visual vocabulary of her work as she explores dispersion, connection, repetition and sequence in a variety of mediums.

The Resonance exhibition actually stems from a continuation of her earlier 2005-6 Energy series, which was an epiphany moment for the artist. By releasing her energy through music she found a universal message:

It was a process of sustained repetitive mark making, involving a suspension of thought and a spontaneous release of energy; an attempt to witness and record how continuous, random and chaotic movement tends towards order. The resulting image was like looking through a microscope and a telescope at the same time.

Number 37 21:07:2005

Using one print from the earlier series as the basis for all the work in the exhibition, Heilmann has created a mixed media show, featuring prints, collage, string and some more unusual materials. By manipulating the original image in a variety of ways, she ruminates on the cosmic and the microscopic. The show-stopping piece in the entrance, 4 floor-to-ceiling panels – a blow up of the original work divided and hung randomly – sets the tone for the beautifully arranged exhibition. Of course, I had visions of an amazing loft designed around these monumental prints…

photo

A smaller monoprint has one quadrant repeated as mirror image fourths and reads as a kaleidoscope or stained glass or perhaps even neural pathways in the brain. It reminded me of a more visceral version of these from the Damien Hirst exhibit earlier this year. And the church-related analogy turns out not to be very far off.

photo

Other works featured map-like collages which are actually enlargements of small fragments of the original drawing fleshed out by cut up x-rays. The light and dark spaces have been reversed in these lucite sandwiched pieces and the cut up x-rays are fragmented and ghostlike.

Thanks to scanning facilities and large scale digital printers I am able to feed off the image and explore how manipulating scale can reveal layers of similarities with the natural world. (neurons, bone structure, surfaces of a leaf, skin, road systems, city layouts, etc.)

My immediate visual connection to these pieces was seemingly unrelated to Heilmann’s references as I saw the traditional architectural jali screens so common to this region. But my comment sparked a larger conversation about the nature of Islamic ornament – so often geometric – and its relation to god. From there we touch on the perfection of the universe, which brings us right back round to the works being a meditation on the universe and the interconnectivity of everything. Functionally, Heilmann has dreams of these pieces being used in just the manner I suggest, as large-scale panels or dividers, perhaps quite apropos in the entryway of a hospital. I love that you can see our engaged conversation as a reflection in the photo.

photo

Also included were some elaborate two-dimensional works made from string. The photos cannot begin to do these pieces justice, making them look just like drawings, but take my word for it, they are spectacular.

The thread pieces have come from a very different tempo than the fast and chaotic energy of the drawings.  Nevertheless, they are still an exploration of repetitive movement and the resulting web that emerges from this.

1-Thread piece

Earlier work, from an exhibit at Virginia Commonwealth University last year, was a meditation on similar themes, in this case using end of life materials like milk cartons assembled into mysterious landscapes.  This last-gasp final dispersion of energy from these disposable objects is about as good of an end game as a milk bottle could ever hope for. The link between this piece below and the one above, while reversed in color, is a  similar examination of the microscopic versus the cosmic.

DSC_1374TT_lowres

All of her work has a luminescent beauty, but nowhere more so than in these translucent collages. Again, are we viewing moonscapes or cellular bodies?

DSC_1321T_2 DSC_1298T1_2_5

On Saturday night I participated in her Action Drawing Workshop, which “allows the participants to embark on their own exploration of how energy manifests itself.” We rocked out to techno music while allowing our conscious minds to let go – basically a rave for the artsy set.

The piece I made to the song in the video was my best attempt and I am thinking of grabbing an IKEA Ribba frame and hanging it – not for the long-term, mind you, but as a placeholder until I find something I really want.

photo

As I am finishing up writing, my mind leaps ahead to my upcoming trip back to Japan (yes!!!!) and it occurs to me that the x-ray collages are also reminiscent of resist dye techniques like tsutsugaki and batik. The indigo variations in this piece look hand-dyed by a master!

photo

If you are in Doha, the show runs through March 8 at the Katara Art Center. Don’t miss it. And if you see Mariana around, be sure to introduce yourself – she is absolutely lovely! If you are interested in contacting her, feel free to drop me an email at jacquelinewein[at]yahoo.com.

All images copyrighted by Mariana Heilmann. Please do not re-post without writing to me for permission. Thank you.

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