PH sends me two pieces of ceramics in the style of Attic figural (Greek) vase painting. PH wants to know if he has something of ancient history, dating from the 6th century BC, worth millions, or a simple keepsake of a relative’s visit to Athens. He has some nice tourist vases from the 20th century. A dead giveaway is the two little lead pieces hanging from the handles. These little bits of lead are a 20th century Greek (honest) gesture meaning “copy.”
PH’s first vase shows Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, winemaking, and wine. He is well built and naked, showing him to be powerful, bearded, and virile. He carries his attributes, a Thyrsus, a staff of giant fennel, which is wound around ivy vines and leaves, topped with a pinecone. He speaks to all things wild, wearing a leopard skin over his naked, massive shoulder, and carries a krater for wine. He is not only the god of wine, of course, but of madness, theater, and ecstasy. One of the three Dionysius figures carries a grape bag over his shoulder. If PH’s relatives were visiting Greece, they'd have known this recognizable god.
The other vase shows Herakles, a god for the Greek visitor, holding his attributes, a club and a lion skin. The skin of the Nemean Lion refers to the first of his famous labors. Also on the vase is a female figure who is eyeing his lion skin: that is Xenodice: Herakles killed her father, and later, her too. Although these are in the style of at least 580 BC, these vases are souvenirs only, but with a great story.
We did not know much about the production centers of early Attic pottery until 1852, when an area of Athens was demolished for a building project. German scholars discovered the Kerameikos section of the 6th century BC, the potter’s quarters in Athens. The 19th century scholars found the workshop of the Jena Painter, whose red and black works are now at the Fredrich Schiller University of Jena. Some of these vases are signed with two signatures, one for the painter, and one for the potter. The scholars could trace back some of the signatures to slaves, employed in the production.
We think of the painters as being the artists, above the skill of the potter, but in fact, the painters were the apprentices, hoping to graduate to the level of potter. The form is of utmost importance, and is a clue to the love of shape and mass in that early culture.
Vase painters were, in that early time, not considered artists but artisans, and their works were imported and traded. Some of the painters were literate, as shown by the naming of some of the gods and figures on ancient vases, but some had faux letter marks in the style of Greek lettering.
The figure of Dionysus on PH‘s vase is significant, because 6th century BC artisans made these ceramics for the Symposia. What a wonderful thing it must have been to experience such an event, not frequented by artisans, but restricted to upper class educated men. First, one dined on elegant lounges with these elegant ceramics for wine and food, and dined off precious metal platters. Then the highly decorated black and red kraters for wine only were bought in by the servants. Drinking wasn't merely part of dining: it accompanied the later conversation, loosening the lips, enlivening the appreciation of dancing, music and learned dialogue, and lustful thoughts.
Almost all households in the 6th century BC had ceramic vessels, as well as wooden platters for eating, but only the wealthy could afford elegant painted ceramic pieces.
The most interesting fact of all is that these red and black pots are found widely in the ancient world: the export market was lucrative. Scholars say that the only subject matter that was NOT exported was images of Greek Theater: trading partners Spain, France, and Portugal wouldn't have understood what magic happened on a Greek stage of that time.
PH, the market for tourist vases made in the 20th century like yours is not strong, but some of the early copies from the 18th and early 19th century are in demand. You could sell them today higher than you could have 10 years ago, because the midcentury modern market seems to like these copies. The value? $50 each.
EE sends me what might be every woman’s wish, here voiced in the form of pop art: Roy Lichtenstein’s print entitled “Well, if they can put one man on the moon, why not all of them?”
This print features this aphorism as well as two gorgeous blondes at a lady’s room mirror, fixing their hair, and wondering aloud about the ramifications of the late 60’s moon landing. EE asks, outside of the fact of the piece asking a GREAT question, what is the significance of the print? Is it a comic or something else?
There’s much interest in mid-century art. Roy Lichtenstein’s graphic images are often seen with art by Patrick Nagel. Nagel’s work features screen prints in flattened colors of seminude work-out girls from the 1970’s. Nagel’s work is not valued nearly as highly as Lichtenstein’s, for many good reasons, and an original print by Lichtenstein is valued in the six-figures.
Lichtenstein’s work turned comic book pixilation into a comment about what a work of art is allowed to be, and is popular because it spans print graphics and fine art. After mellowing for 50-years, it is considered expensive and iconic.
To see if EE has an original screen print, I would need to see the way the pigment is laid on that paper; it would be most valuable if it were signed and numbered.
As to the expression about men on the moon: most of Lichtenstein’s best work incorporates comic book-style one liners: today those one liners have a name: MEMES. And of course, I found a few sites devoted to the meme of the work she owns: Well, if they can put one man on the moon, why not all of them? One such meme site answers the question posed in EE’s print with a modern day answer: “If they put all men on the moon, we would have nothing to complain about.”
The importance of this piece was tied with the late 60’s moon landing. Almost 50 years after this event and the painting of it, Lichtenstein is still a controversial figure in art history. Arguably the first American pop artist to achieve worldwide fame (along with Warhol), his work was inspired by what was considered insipid comic strip material, and was called banal. Instead of copying, Lichtenstein’s canvases blend traditional mechanical print lithographic techniques with meticulous hand-painting.
A word on the art world before Lichtenstein: intellectuals painted in a style called Abstract Expressionism: as the name suggests, soulful abstracted colors and themes distanced the artists and the viewer from popular culture. Lichtenstein reversed the paradigm and brought popular culture to the forefront with all its garish vulgarity and surface decoration. This was a comment on how we consume art.
Anyone who has seen an original Lichtenstein up close will notice his painted dots, which mimicked print media such as illustrated tabloids. These, technically, are called “Ben-Day” dots: in EE’s work, these dots make up the whole of the image. Lichtenstein is asking: don’t we all see through a code? Is that code the very medium of a work of two-dimentional art? Or is that code the filter of common culture? His preferred medium, by the way, was a blend of the high and low: a blend of oil and synthetic polymer paint: itself a confusion of traditional and banal.
EE’s image from the 1960’s zooms in on one figure in a cartoon frame and creates a drama, albeit a comic one: two pretty blondes trivialize the moon landing in one age-old question: what if we didn’t have to live with men? Yet who are they dolling themselves up for in that lady’s room mirror? (Notice the well-upholstered 60’s push-up bra.) And notice the printed language in the artwork: that’s part of the code. The printed word, until Lichtenstein, was primarily reserved for the gallery label. Like so much in the mid-century world of consumerism, EE’s print is a comment on commercial art versus high art (in this case, regarding the earth-shattering moon shot), I should say cosmic art.
Until I see the work in person, EE, you don't have a comic book reprint. You have something much more significant.
JS sends me a figure of an abstracted spread-winged Thunderbird, pictured in an oval necklace made of copper of about 3 inches long. This is a piece from a Fred Harvey Gift Shop: this type of tourist art was, and is, a slice of American travel history. So much so that some collectors for this material refer to it as “Fred Harvey Jewelry.” Fred Harvey Company copyrighted the Thunderbird design in 1909. Of course, that was then, and this is now. You can’t really copyright a design long used by the Northwest Native American Culture. But this is a story beginning in 1900, when such things were done.
I remember the legacy of Fred Harvey eateries, whose restaurants hung temptingly over the Illinois Highways of my childhood. We traveled every summer to Lake of the Ozarks in dad’s huge avocado station wagon; we four kids had milkshakes, and bought souvenirs, with dad’s money, in such restaurants.
At the turn of the last century, Fred developed a brand of traveler’s havens that were revolutionary in their day: these restaurants were inexpensive, fast, efficient, and all-American. Fred Harvey, however, was British.
Although collectors of this type of jewelry use his name for what appears to be Native American jewelry, Fred Harvey (1835-1901) was born in London. In a significant way in the early 20th century it took a Britisher to popularize American travel in the West. Our early tourist trade centered around our growing railway lines. Fred noticed, and concentrated his talents on feeding tourists along the route.
Fred’s was the archetypal American success story. He sailed to the US at the age of 15 and washed dishes in restaurants in NYC. There, he observed the American restaurant until he turned 41, when he formed an agreement with a Topeka railway depot to serve passengers. There, he cleaned up a restaurant and developed a 35 cent hearty menu for breakfast, concluding with a big slice of apple pie. So successful was his Topeka venture that the Sante Fe Railway allowed him to operate restaurants on the AT and SF railway route. He opened 17 lunchrooms, “Harvey Houses” staffed by nice looking American waitresses in pristine white aprons.
The managers of these restaurants noticed that Native American artisans would offer wares to tourists, so in 1880 the Fred Harvey Comany developed their own trading posts, and distributed jewelry making supplies to Native American craftspeople who traded back. In 1880, the restaurants flourished and expanded in 1888 to the operation of dining cars on the Sante Fe railway, a contract held until 1898. Once well fed, tourists would buy.
The Fred Harvey Company appointed Herman Schweizer as the head of “Indian Jewelry:” he distributed die-cut silver, nickel, copper, and turquoise to Native craftspeople: collectors call what resulted ‘railroad jewelry,’ as distinguished from original Native American jewelry.
Fred died at 65: his son Ford (aptly named) took over in 1920, and landed a concession contract for the Grand Canyon National Park. That’s where this type of jewelry really took off. Expanding into National Park concessions, a visit to a park included a visit to a Harvey “Indian” trading post. First, it was Meisel’s Indian Trading post, then the Bell Trading Company (1932-1972, operated by Jack and Mildred Michelson). Both suppliers were based in Albuquerque. You’ll find them stamped with a bell shaped hallmark: when Meisel and Bell merged, they used a hanging signpost hallmark.
The Fred Harvey Company created a market for a lightweight tourist grade “Indian Jewelry,” popularized to the extent that in 1972 Bell Trading Company offered a wide line of “Indian” material, including moccasins. I believe my dad bought me a pair of those in Yosemite. Under the logo of Sunbell, jewelry was made by a Harvey affiliate for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The main artisans were said to be Navajo.
As fascinating as the story of Harvey provenance is, there's an unmistakable flavor of cultural co-opting. These bracelets, pins, bookmarks, necklaces, and rings had their own symbols. Remember Herman Schweizer, the “Indian Jewelry” head? He developed symbolic markings and images for the jewelry, not sourced from Native American culture, on a handy Harvey chart. For example, the image of a lasso “meant” captivity. The image of a Thunderbird, in Fred Harvey iconography, “meant” the “sacred bearer of happiness unlimited.” It says so on the Harvey chart. How ‘original;’ yet this piece of American culture shows our best as marketing geniuses, and at our colonial worst, too. JS’s piece is worth $75 to a collector.
R.S. sends me an ornate Renaissance Revival style hand carved 19th century barometer/thermometer marked G & L Guanziroli, who was a maker of optical instruments in London (Hatton Garden) in the mid 19th century.
Searching for similar barometers at auction, I discovered almost all of the fine thermometers and barometers in the collection of the eminent repository at the Alder Planetarium in Chicago were made in England by Italians. Therefore, R.S.’s barometer is a material example of social barometrics.
Storia Dell’Emigrazione Italiana by Bevilacqua, DeClemential and Franzina tells the story of Italians in London 1700-11. But we must go back to the 1500’s when the Venetian Giacomo Verelini monopolized the British glass industry, importing Venetian glass makers. Glass is the first element of R.S.’s barometer: Italians were famous for intricate glass blowing, so necessary to scientific instrumentation of the 19th century. Since the 16th century, Italians in England knew glass.
A wave of Italian immigrants to London in the mid 1700’s brought skilled mirror and frame makers. The carvers and glazers made looking-glasses (uno specchio), ornately carved frames, and carved birdcages. Note the fine carving on R.S.’s barometer: that carver who made those barley twist columns and supporting caryatid griffin mask could make an elegant frame as well. The style is in the typical mid-19th century genre called Renaissance Revival, appropriate to artisans who grew up in Italy. The style evokes the era of the Quattrocento, the florid classical style of the Renaissance. As the Industrial Revolution raged forth, designers pulled back to an era where everything was hand made for the great Medici family. R.S.’s barometer carries all the classic markers of this style in its small presentation: the naturalistic relief carving of the leaves anchored by two volutes to the top of the piece, tapering down to two barley twist columns either side of the thermometer, terminating on a plinth supported by an opened mouth bearded gargoyle mask head. The housing, therefore, for high tech scientific instruments of the mid-19th century was decidedly Antique. The medium was NOT the message in the mid-19th century: exhibiting a scientific instrument in your house was fashionable, but only if displayed in a form that was nothing like the geometry needed to create the science.
The Italian community by the 18th century in London carved frames, blew glass, created the top of the Anglo-Italian labor pyramid: fine makers of optical instruments. Anglo-Italian became the greatest artisans of optics of the 19th century. Other lesser jobs held by 19th century Italians in London included statue carvers, ice-cream makers, street vendors, roast meat sellers and organists, centered in the London Italian quarter.
The London Martinellis were a family in point: leaving Lake Como in 1800; skilled in woodworking, metal crafting, glass/mirror making, frame making came to London, finding a secure place as sellers of barometers and thermometers. The Martinelli family created barometers in London for 100 years. Italophiles.com tells us that “barometers were the must have, high-tech item of their day, first in the homes of the wealthy, at shipping and fishing ports, and then in the homes of the growing middle class.”
Dangerous job, making mercury barometers. The Italian artisans were of the labor class in London: occupying a position in England rather like the Irish in early to mid 19th century America, they were laborers, builders, domestic workers, cooks. The optics industry, however, offered the opportunity for Italian artisans to come and go between Italy and England, returning to the Clerkenwell, London’s “Little Italy” of the time, to shops on Leather Lane.
Leather Lane, mentioned in a survey of 1538, was an ancient street that became the address of the most famous of all thermometer and barometer makers. Leather Lane housed the large shop of the famous instrument makers Negretti and Zambra, which ceased business only in 1999.
In 1841 the Italian patriot Mazzini set up a free Italian school for London’s Italians, who spoke Comasco (Lake Como’s dialect) mixed with English. If they could speak pure Italian, Italy might be improved by their repatriation. Because of Catholic roots, Catholic services were held by Italian priests in London at the embassy of the Kingdom of Sardinia. The Faith drew fresh immigrants to Clerkenwell: over-crowding lead to dire conditions: cholera (carried by drinking water from the polluted Thames), drunkenness, lack of sewers, and no standing police force. Thus, many Italian scientific instrument artisans left for Canada and Australia.
R.S., your piece is a slice of material culture, anthropologically speaking, but is worth $275-300 today.
JF sends me a ViewTex Filmstrip projector from the 1960's, sourced from Alpha Thrift, complete with its own brown leatherette suitcase. It’s heavy, because of its streamlined style metal shell. JF tells me it works, and has a spare lens and light bulb, necessary in the classroom in the 1960’s. Your teacher, in those days, was not an IT professional; a malfunction with such a machine brought many groans from the class. When JF brought this machine into my office, the dusty electronic smell, combined with the aroma of its rubber feet, and that special machine oil fragrance, brought me back to my classroom.
The image in the classroom has a quiet history, and thinking of this bought back the memory of my first boyfriend, Jim K, a proud member of the Deerfield AV club. He and the other nerdy guys in the AV Club had the special dispensation to skip class time to fetch the overhead projector, a journey in which the boys might lollygag around the halls on the way, without the hall monitor’s study hall penalty for loitering.
The manufacturer of the overhead projector was 3M: our school had about 20 of these massive beasts in a special closet that smelled of electronics. Jim, and the other short-sleeved AV guys, commandeered these beasts down the linoleum of the halls; we had a reprieve from a boring hour of looking at the teacher, (hallelujah) once the machine was geared up.
In the early 1960’s, an inventor, Roger Appeldorn, pioneered that special overhead projection machine from which a teacher could write the features of the lesson on clear plastic. Remember the smell of overheated lamps with hot plastic? Remember that smell, and you’ll remember the overhead projector, especially if you were one of the smart kids who sat in the front row in the 1970’s.
JF’s devise is earlier. The success of film in the classroom was predicted by none other than Thomas Edison, who said, “It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years.” Edison believed the image would replace the book, and he was right; we have seen the procession of videocassettes, DVD’s, and Blue Rays, not to mention a screen in every pocket, into our classrooms.
JF’s machine is not a film projector: that was larger, and was wheeled in for Hour Long Movies (boy, did we love those!): JF’s machine is a filmstrip projector, for short visual lessons, to accompany the teacher’s lesson plan. A film projection machine had a magic black knob: turn that, and the teacher paused the film, to enable class discussion. To do so, a special fan kept the film cool while the teacher talked. Once she starting talking, we all longed for the images to resume!
Remember Sex-Ed? These filmstrip projectors were used in classrooms for this purpose until the 1980’s, among other lessons, in tandem with the more stationary overhead projector used for those tedious math and science classes, and used, most dreadfully, for those English Classes, “graphing” sentence structure.
An invention for the classroom in the early 1980‘s overthrew the dominance of film strip projectors: the Cathode Ray Tube Data Projector, weighing more than 40lbs each. The machine sat on the teacher’s desk, grabbing an image from a computer or TV, shooting that image onto a screen. These clunkers were overthrown by the liquid Crystal Display Panels, and these in turn were replaced by the Digital Light Processors, which ruled the visual classroom of the 1990’s.
The DLP chip enabled the “three-D” projector to project two images at once: students wore special glasses: one type of eyeglasses in which each eyeglass had a special shutter for each image per eye, and another form of glasses, polarized, filtered the right image to each eye. DLP 3D ready projection was a leap forward, according to a major manufacturer, Texas Instruments.
How far classroom imaging had come from the Magic Lantern of the early 20th century, which projected glass slides with the aid of an oil lamp, (dangerously) lighting the process. And of course, slides remained a mainstay even when loaded in that Carousel in the 1970’s.
JF, you'll find a few collectors for these out there, but not many, as their original use is now obsolete. JF tells me he is going to re-purpose this machine into a slide show machine. The value is not much more than what he paid Alpha for it: $50.
M.M. of Santa Barbara tortured me this week by sending not just one, but a group of dolls, all well-loved. M.M. explained that as an only child she played with her dolls when she was alone; and took them with her if she had a play-date -- in a little doll suitcase decorated with flower-bedecked bears and duckies. She owned a Tiny Tears, which, although it has no maker’s mark (typically found on dolls on the back of the neck), she has judged it to be a “real” Tiny Tears, and precious. So as a young girl, she asked for and received what she calls a “wannabe” Tiny Tears doll, which she allowed her friends to touch. The “real” Tiny Tears was for M.M. alone.
M.M. also owned a collection of Story Book Dolls, made from the 1930’s to the 40’s by the Nancy Ann Storybook Doll Company. M.M. says she couldn’t wait for the next Storybook doll to be delivered by the US Post mailman. Storybook Dolls were “characters:” each doll was different, and the company’s brochures, included in the blue, pink or red presentation box with white polka dots, enticed young girls to beg for the next doll in the series. These dolls stand around 5” tall, with bisque or plastic bodies; some bisque bodies had plastic arms, some had eyes that closed (sleep eyes), or painted eyes. Nancy Ann created 125 doll designs in defined series, an early and successful marketing ploy. The series are “Flower Girl,” in which we see “Black Eyed Susan,” “Storybook,” with such beauties as “Little Betty Blue,” “Around the World,” and “American Girl” (which includes Quaker Maid, Colonial Dame, Southern Bell and Western Miss), “Masquerade” (Gypsy), “Sports,” “Nursery Rhymes,” “Seasons,” and “Family” (such as Margie Ann in School Dress). M.M. has a “Scotch” doll with red hair in a tartan dress.
Nancy Ann Abbott began making dolls from her San Francisco apartment in 1936; she took a businessman as a partner, and by 1942 was grossing $1 million in sales. Faces were hand-painted by artists, especially employable during the war years, when the company flourished. The US Navy felt the dolls were good for morale, and sent them by convoy to Hawaii, where soldiers bought the dolls to send home to their daughters. Nancy Ann remained in charge of her successful company until she died in 1964, changing each character doll’s costume yearly; not each doll was labeled or marked with her maker’s mark. The top years for sales were in the 1950’s when Nancy Ann Abbott oversaw 12,000 dolls per day.
M.M. loves her dolls (as I can tell by the meticulous way she photographed them for me), still in their ducky-bear doll box, yet her favorite perhaps was her Tiny Tears dolls, both the original and her wannabe Tiny Tears doll. Tiny Tears was introduced in the 1950’s by American Character Dolls, shortly after this company noticed the popularity of dolls that wet themselves, such as “Betsy Wetsy” and “Dy-Dee” baby GIRL dolls. You gave the doll water through its slightly horrific pouty red lipped mouth, squished its stomach, and she peed. Tiny Tears improved on the location of the waterworks, moving holes to along side the eyes, so the doll would cry tears, but the company also retained the pee-feature. The doll also came with a little pipe, inserted into an open mouth and filled with bubble solution; squeezing her stomach, she blew a huge bubble unless you pressed the wrong part of the doll, which induced pee. Because most of these dolls were rubber, the water works and bubble-chemical combination usually ate away faces and rear ends, so a good condition “Tiny Tears” is rare today. Sears catalogues featured Tiny Tears doll clothes, whole layettes with the logo: “Tiny Tears Cries, Wets, Blows Bubbles” -- the worst characteristics of any small thing.
Finally, M.M. is trying to kill me for sure with her photo of “Wanda the Walking Wonder” doll, hard plastic, blue closing eyes, blonde wig, with white shoes that hide her WHEELS. That key in the doll’s right hip made the doll move its arms, head, and (horrors) legs enabling a mechanical system in her body to simulate walking. M.M. writes: “she’s seen better days, but still walks: needs a little assistance so she doesn’t fall over – typical of an aging gal.” The value of M.M.’s dolls is minimal because of their well-loved condition, as condition is the determinate of doll value.
T. has a fascinating painting that he found in his grandfather's attic. It resembles a valuable piece by Giorgio de Chirico of 1915 entitled "La pureté d'un rêve" (the purity of a dream). He sent me photos of the front, side and back of the painting to show how the canvas wraps around the wooden stretcher and the type of nails. I can see by these shots that his piece is, in fact, a painting and not a giclée (a reproduction). The line of paint on the side is uneven, which signals original brush strokes. If the piece was a giclée, we might see the color area ending in a sharp line. But we need more research as this could be an original copy.
T. also sent me a photo of the bottom of the painting that indicates it has been eaten away. Here again, I see the application of real paint, including the rippling of the paint surface, called craquelure, indicating stress. The canvas, once coated with semi-flexible oil paint, supports the even surface of the oil paint — that is, until the canvas comes into contact with, perhaps, a blunt instrument. You will then see a spider web of small cracks radiating from the center of the impact. This is hard to fake, and is a sign that the painting has traveled a bit and has some age.
Looking at the back of the painting, I see another good indication: "bleed" into the canvas support. In other words, in an aging painting, an appraiser would expect to see certain colors (such as white) bleeding through the canvas over time. This is because titanium and zinc pigments will bleed and yellow in oil-based enamel. A good question for T. to ask a professional restorer who has worked on paintings by de Chirico is how did this artist mix his white paint?
If T. finds the great de Chirico really did paint this work, he may be a lucky man. T. has done enough research to find the existence of a painting by the artist that looks similar; it was painted in 1915 and measures 25.6 x 19.7 inches. However, T.'s painting shows an autumn-colored tree, and the painting that is directly attributed to de Chirico bears a tree with green leaves. T. wonders if de Chirico was behind a dream series of paintings in seasons. This is worth the research. After all, that similar painting sold in 1997 at Sotheby's for $1.5 million.
De Chirico was an Italian artist known for his depictions of dreamlike town squares, as he had great fondness for metaphysical themes. He influenced the great Magritte and Breton, and indeed all surrealist painters.
Here is where this quest gets interesting: In 1919, de Chirico renounced surrealism, turning to classic ways of painting, such as realistic figure paintings, which did not find favor with his critics. However, in his later years, he copied his metaphysical paintings of an earlier time for the money.
De Chirico died in 1978, and his work is held in the great museums of the world: the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, the Tate in the U.K., the Guggenheim in Venice, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Just so T. knows, the most expensive de Chirico painting was sold at auction for more than $14 million.
What would I do if I were T.? I would send good photos to de Chirico's old residence in Rome, now a museum devoted to the artist and his life and writings: the Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico, located in de Chirico's former apartment, on the top three floors of the 17th century Palazzetto dei Borgognoni, in the Piazza di Spagna! The artist lived there for the last 30 years of his life with his wife, Isabella Pakszwer Far, who donated the premises in 1998. There, T. will find an archive, a library and knowledgeable scholars.
T., write to this foundation or, better yet, make a pilgrimage to the 1960s wing of this house museum, which holds the neo-metaphysical paintings of the last 10 years of the artist's life. If you are lucky, you might possess a painting of that period.
L.S. from Lompoc writes me a lovely card in which she stuck two photos of a clay Buddha purchased 25 years ago at an estate sale, a heavy thing at 16 inches. She wonders who and what this figure represents.
This is the Buddha Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, and although different Compassion Buddhas in this form have different names across cultures, the attributes remain the same, as well as the iconography of the clothing, stance and objects held. In Sanskrit, L.S.’s Buddha is called “Avalokiteshvara,” the lord who looks down on the world with compassion. Looks down, because his great power enables him to see suffering of humans and other beings in any of the six realms of existence. The realms in the Buddhist cosmology are realms of rebirth. He’s especially called upon by those in harm’s way, such as humans in a wreck or a fire. This Bodhisattva will hear a call in any of the six realms: in the three good realms- heavenly, demi-god, and human, and in the three evil realms – animal, ghostly, and hellish.
The Lotus Sutra says that an earnest call to this Bodhisattva will be heard and acted upon for one’s relief. The Huayen Sutra says that this Bodhisattva will appear in the guise and shape, profession and age of the one who calls for help. That’s how close this divinity is to humankind. If a child calls to him, he appears as a child in order to help.
Because he has the power to remove temporal suffering, he holds out a string of prayer beads in one hand, and in the other, he often holds a willow branch, a water vessel, or a lotus blossom. Suffering, however, like all things of samsara is contained in the cycle of existence. The 8th century Indian Buddhist Master Padmasambhava, dear to Tibetans for the construction of the first Buddhist monastery at Samye, also known as Guru Rinpoche, said: “If you want to know your past life, look into your present condition; if you want to know your future life, look at your present actions,” as quoted in Sogyal Rinpoche’s 2009 book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
Yet this Bodhisattva is so alert to temporal human suffering that he shows discretion in acting out of compassion on a case-by-case basis, even though the distressed individual may have brought the suffering into being. The objects associated with him/her are emblematic of healing towards purity. Willow is said to be curative, water purifies, and the lotus is sacred. In Buddhist iconography, the Lotus is symbolic because, although it is rooted in mud, the flowers rise to the top on long stems, to blossom above the dark water of desire and attachment. The lotus petals repel these muddy droplets, symbolizing detachment. Thus, the lotus is an example of purity achieved. Buddhists think of the lotus as a symbol of pure thought, speech and mind.
In China, this deity is named Kuan Shih Yin, or Quan Yin. The word Yin implies “all sounds” because the deity can hear crying, moaning, tears and anguishing. Since China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907) most Quan Yin figures are portrayed as female, perhaps because of the feminine energy of watchful care. L.S.’s figure is androgynous, and could be either male or female, but because L.S.’s figure holds the prayer beads, called the Crystal Rosary, the odds are the figure is portrayed as a male Bodhisattva. If L.S.’s figure was created from the clay of the Putuo Mountain, an island near the city of Wingpo, in Zhejiang Province, it would be very special indeed, because this is a sacred space for the worship of Quan Yin.
Another form of Quan Yin represents her with eleven heads, 1000 hands and eyes located in her palms, symbolic of arms reached out in service and eyes that see all. In Tibet, a many-armed Avalokiteshvara is “Chenrezig” of the White Lotus.
L.S.’s sculpture stands in counterpoise; in art, this is called contrapposto, an Italian term for an asymmetrical stance in which the weight is on one foot, thus shoulder and arms twist off axis from hips and legs. This fluid contrapposto stance is seen as pliant, feminine and gracious. This stance portrays the feeling of movement, which in L.S.’s sculpture is echoed by the flowing draperies that swirl, with heavy beading and many layers. The figure’s headdress is anchored by a top knot from which flows ribbons.
This sculpture dates, stylistically to 1875, and is worth $700.
BI sends me a little silverplated model of an early 20th century bi-plane. She asked if it's worth keeping and polishing? I love all things aeronautic, since my brother won the International Glider Pilot’s award for the highest and longest flight some years ago.
In 1836, a hot air balloon broke records by flying 500 miles from London to Germany in less than 20 hours. As of the date 1783, no human had gazed down on the earth, and if a human tried, mythologically speaking, we failed. Consider Icarus, Mephistopheles, and the Valkyries. The great early photographer Felix Nadar took the first known aerial photograph from the basket of a hot air balloon over Paris in 1858. Poet and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery said: “the aeroplane will become a tool, like a plough.” After the first successful flight in the early 20th century, Le Corbusier wrote, from the Bauhaus, that flying would offer the modern world “a new standard of measurement” and thus it came to pass, including the standard of the destruction of cities such as Dresden and Hiroshima – by plane.
Thus I found BI’s little plane mentioned in the September 4, 1919 issue of Flight magazine of England. Notice the plaque proudly stating “Makers Rogers Bros. Farnham Royal Slough,” with the stamp 185. In this magazine the Rogers Brothers premiered their unique tribute to pilots who had grown attached to their WWI flying machines, offering scale models “made of metal, heavily silverplated and strong.” Although the models could be fitted with ashtrays, the Rogers would make any plane for you, if you kindly send drawings. In fact, here’s where the story gets interesting: BI writes me that she and her husband in 1958 had a friend who had mounted this little plane on the hood of his Rolls Royce, and gave this to BI’s husband when he sold his Rolls. In 1919, Mr. Rogers suggested to his clients that they use his model planes as mascots, on real scale planes and cars.
The Rogers Tabloid Series included the Avro, the B.E., the Blackburn Kangaroo, the Bristol Scout (Fighter, and Mono), the D.H., the F.E., the Handley Page, the Henry and Maurice Forman, the Martinsyde F., The Nieuport 27, the R.E., the S.P.A.D., the Short, the Vickers Vimy, and the Sopwith Pup, Carmel, Strutter, Triplane, Snipe, and Dolphin.
Mr. Rogers the inventor of these toys for former pilots (perhaps the first aeronautical boy-toys), was formerly in construction with the aeronautics firms of Bleriot, Fairey, Martinsyde, Sopwith, and Whitehead.
The growth in flight enthusiasts was, in the early 20th century remarkable, considering Rogers was engaged in making model planes of WWI only 16 years after Orville and Wilbur’s successful flight. In fact, this December, we celebrate the 115-year anniversary of the Kitty Hawk success.
You might ask why a British model toy plane maker was the first to pioneer such boy-toys. In 1910, The Smithsonian refused to display Orville Wright's successful 1903 plane. Apparently, the U.S. aeronautical engineering community questioned whose shoulders the Wright brothers stood upon to calculate THEIR engineering of the first plane. Thus, Orville sent his original 1903 machine to the British National Museum, specifically the Science Museum of London. Later, the Smithsonian instead showed the alleged first “man-carrying” machine, the Langley, also of 1903, re-engineered and flown by Glenn H. Curtiss in 1914. This was, at the time, a huge controversy, throwing into question the moniker of THE “pioneer” of aeronautical flight. Britain witnessed American ingenuity in flight before the U.S. could, and the British Aeronautic industry didn’t look back.
BI, although your little model of a Sopwith Camel 1919, holds this entire narrative, I wasn't able to find a value for such a one as sold. However, I was able to find a vintage Biplane trophy replica 1908 Flyer’s Club Loving Cup in silverplate offered for $500. In fact, BI’s plane had been living in her garage, when recently her son discovered it, and asked for it, as he has just become a commercial pilot. He’ll keep your little plane, and polish it, lovingly! Not only that Rogers would be thrilled with both the growth of aeronautics since he made the first airplane silver-plated boy-toy in 1919, 16 years after the Wright Brothers famous flight, and your son’s great achievement as a pilot of those huge planes Mr Rogers may never have imagined,
E.E. sends me a huge Oceanic tribal mask from Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River area. This would scare anyone with its awesome energy. E.E. tells me her husband won't have it hanging in their home. He doesn't want to come upon it as he raids the fridge at 2 AM, she says. The mask is painted on light wood, the face with extensive shell inlay under hair composed of straggly tail feathers. Although the face is anthropomorphic, just how much of the human is in this piece and how much of the animal spirit world?
Some of these Sepik River masks range from a few inches to quite a few feet, and could be worn in any location over the body, and in fact, some were not used by human dancers at all. Masks could grace special musical instruments, and head the bows of favorite canoes, or blessed personal lucky charms.
The mask, although presently owned by a woman, was more than likely never handled by a woman in its own culture. Only men who were initiated, and knew exactly what the mask stood for, could handle, wear and dance the spirit of the mask. In fact, when the mask was not in use during the dance, only a select few males knew where the shaman stored this sacred item.
This type of material culture is Oceanic or Melanesian: perhaps no other mask-making culture has so many different and widely produced masks as the New Guinean culture.
The valuation question: is E.E.’s mask made for ritual purposes or did the natives make it to sell to tourists? A large variety of Papua New Guinean masks were made for ritual, and made for tourists, but never for BOTH. Only the ones made for the purposes of ritual ceremony are the really valuable ones.
The question is – how can E.E. tell? Besides picking up the energy of the mask, experts look for certain characteristics of ceremonial use. One of the most interesting of those features is evidence of a ‘bite-stick’. Take, for example, the Sepik masks that have riffled pierced crenellations lining the sides of the face of the masks. These holes were meant to thread a stick, and the stick was meant to hold the human face to the back of the mask face with the teeth of the wearer.
Another indication of ceremonial use is more subtle: that is, the expression of the mask. Power and menace should shine through the simplicity of the mask, and certain features, such as eyes or lips or ears should be exaggerated to that end. Remember, throngs of people saw these creatures as wearers danced by, constantly moving.
Not only wood is used as the base medium of New Guinea masks. On some, a deep natural red pigment covers the mask. Others are packed with shells that are set in some kind of sacrificial amalgam material. The area of shells, like those on E.E.’s mask, are segmented in areas around the chin and in bands. Very few masks feature women’s faces except the mosquito masks; many of these were produced, because of their novelty, for tourists.
A few peoples of the Sepik River wove basketry masks in elaborate swirls, and some of these were worn as hats. Some of the basket masks are so detailed as to be other-worldly, with huge protuberances of eye sockets and lips. Each region around the long river had a distinctive feature to their masks, for example, the full-body rattan masks from the Papua Gulf, and the conical shaped embrasure masks covered with tapa cloth, painted in shades of red, white and black, the favored colors of Sepik masks.
The masks are part of a complete dancing costume composed of raffia and fibers with plenty of swirling capacity. Huge circular eyes, 3-4 feet tall surmount Baining masks. Each region celebrated something distinctive in its people, such as masks with huge pierced ears, or elaborate Mohawk hair crests.
E.E.’s mask is large and so detailed with shells; I suspect that if it had been ceremonially danced, it may not have come down to us in this kind of perfect condition, because the same mask was danced numerous times in ritual. Also, the protein base of shells and tall feathers tend to be eaten after a good period of use and years. Thus, I am not sure E.E.’s mask is old enough to have been used ceremonially, although today, the Sepik culture still dances its masks. I place the value in the $600-700 range.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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