I have often been tempted to photograph an antique I myself have found, and last week, returning to Santa Barbara from an appointment in Calabasas, I stopped at an industrial park in Camarillo, home to a tiny, dusty, fascinating, junk shop Treasures Second Hand Store. Behind the owner’s desk stood two 1950’s refrigerators, old crank tub washers, and 2 vintage stoves: I was hooked.
I purchased this copper sconce, which has no markings, no authorship to be found. Yet it has the quality of early 20th century Arts & Crafts handwork. Yet at first glance, one thinks Mexican 1980’s work. But the edges are rolled into a finish, the piece hangs straight, and the copper repoussé work is hand (burin) tooled and chased. The iconography of a blooming thistle is also telling: this weed, which can grow up to 8’ tall, with its jagged leaves and sharp spikes, is the national flower of Scotland, where the Arts & Crafts tradition of copper repoussé originated.
The Scottish Arts & Crafts movement (1887-99) was centered at The Glasgow School of Art, founded by Charles Rennie MacKintosh, Herbert MacNair, and sisters Margaret and Frances MacDonald (the “Four”). From this school was birthed “The Glasgow Style,” incorporating Scottish icons like the Scottish cabbage rose, Celtic tombstone motifs, thistles, and sprites or goblin mainly in the female form.
In fact, women were taken seriously as artists, and known in the group for fabulous repoussé copper panel designs with Scottish motifs, which were fitted into door panels, pieces of Arts & Crafts furniture, hardware and used on decorative objects. In the first years of the 20th century artistic women, such as the metalworkers Margaret & Mary Gilmour, rose to prominence. Essential reading is the Glasgow Girls by Jude Burkhauser, about this formative era in design. Love, however, did not change the importance of Glasgow women in the arts: the sisters Margaret & Frances MacDonald married “The Glasgow School’s” co-founders: Margaret to Charles Rennie MacKintosh, Frances to Herbert MacNair.
In England, such partnerships in art and architecture were unheard of in the Art Worker’s Guild of the era. Mrs. Albert Waterhouse established the Yattendon Metalworking class in 1890 for women to learn copper repoussé work. She penned the designs, derived from Scottish foliage and fauna, paid for her student’s supplies and materials, and helped sell the works through the Scottish Home Arts & Industries Association and through Liberty & Co. in London.
I have a feeling my sconce was born in Mrs. Waterhouse’s Yattendon School: this is because it is NOT signed. Such a fine piece by a male artist of the era in Arts and Crafts design would have been signed! Although women were recognized as working artists, few women’s pieces were signed or recorded.
And of course, there’s the image of the Scottish thistle itself on the piece, the symbol of Scotland’s highest chivalric order, founded by James V. The image appeared on Scottish coins as early as 1470, and entered Scotland’s coat of arms in the early 16th century. Legend has it that upon the 13th century Battle of Largs, the Vikings under King Haakon attacked the Scots at night, creeping in barefoot to an ambush. The Scots were saved by the thistle, which sorely provoked Norse screams of pain, waking the Scots. The oldest national flower known, the Scottish motto beneath is “Wha daur meddle wi me?,” or “Who dares to meddle with me?” in American English; the ‘proper’ English translation is “No one provokes me with impunity.” I had the great fortune to study art and architecture in Scotland, and delighted in the still extant Glasgow Arts and Crafts Tea Rooms, all in the Glasgow Style, as well as a visit to the beautiful Hill House in Rhu, Dunbartonshire, once owned by my son’s father’s family, commissioned in the Glasgow Style. The Arts and Crafts tradition of course is still very alive in Scotland today.
The value, if I am right, and the sconce is Scottish Glasgow style Arts & Crafts, created by a notable female artist in 1900, is $2,000.
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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