Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Antiques in Buenos Aires I

The undoubted heart of BA's antiques scene is the historic San Telmo district, the first district of this mega-city to be settled and built. Divided into a grid, head towards Defensa, starting at the crossing with Av. Belgrano, only minutes walk from the famous Plaza de Mayo.
You'll soon be confronted with an unparalleled array of stores offering what must be the best selection of antiques in the Americas. The city's immense wealth in the early 20thC meant that, armed with impeccable taste and bulging wallets, its residents could afford to import the very best of Art Deco furniture, ceramics and glass. It's these that the hundreds of dealers found here specialise in - I promise that your jaw will barely leave the floor!
Check out Gallery 800, on the right as you head down towards Plaza Dorrego. Despite its name, its 10 or so dealers don't specialise silver, but instead devote themselves to glass. The central and back stands are particularly interesting. I was tempted by some reasonably priced Charlotte Rhead chargers, but decided to save my money for something more unusual, or Argentinian. On that note, pack the credit card and don't expect to find bargains. The quality is very high, but so are the price tags. As I keep saying, dealers aren't stupid and these professional dealers know what their stock is worth.
Continue down the street to see more of the best of designs by Daum, Gallé, Lalique and others. Leave plenty of time, as there are also plenty of side streets, most of which are lined with more stores or arcades of stores. Galeria de la Immaculada Concepción on Defensa 845 is one, with its 'cages' full of treasures from the high end Deco dealers to lower end part-timers (my favourite!).
In the cavernous Remate San Telmo, at Defensa 819, I managed to find my first treasure. Sitting innocently in this street-side cabinet (above) was a Namiki maki-e lacquer cigarette case.
Maki-e lacquer has been produced for centuries in Japan, and designs can take many weeks to execute. During the 1930s, the Namiki Manufacturing Company revived the technique, applying it to pens, cigarette boxes and lighters, many of which were sold as luxury products through a partnership with Britain's Alfred Dunhill. This was decorated with an goldfish, the most common pattern.
The all-important mark on the back (left) showed it was by Makizawa Shobi, who was born in 1880. He became a pupil of Shosai Shiroyama in 1899, joined the staff of the Iwate Prefectural Technical High School in 1905, became an independent lacquer artist in 1907. He was also one of the six committee members at the time the 'Kokkokai' group of maki-e lacquer artists was founded. An important guy indeed!
The gold washed interior was inscribed with the owner's name (Jose Pablo Costa) and dated 8-12-1941 - an interesting year given that Pearl Harbour occurred in December.
The lacquer was also a little worn, so this was obviously a much-loved piece, which perhaps explained its 500 peso price tag. Some serious negotiating and the use of a magnifier later, and it was mine -- for 250 pesos, which is around £50! Maybe there are bargains here after all, as I think it has to be worth around three time that, at least.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

A gourd time in Cusco

Our flight back from Cusco to Lima has been 'delayed'. Apparently, the airline sent a smaller plane than was expected, so it was either a seat on the wing or a later flight. I opted for the latter! This means I am writing this entry sitting on a balcony in a fabulous eaterie in Cusco that happens to have a wireless connection. I've just scoffed the most delicious breakfast omelette known to man. Of course, after four days of trekking along the Inca Trail, any breakfast omelette would be welcome, but this was truly exceptional with its combination of free range eggs, chunks of chorizo, onions, chilli peppers and more.
My stomach was complaining after a lengthy but utterly fascinating walk around the Convento de Santo Domingo, and its odd mix of almost unearthly Inca buildings within a traditional Western-style Christian convent. There, we stumbled across a selling exhibition of traditional Peruvian hand-carved gourds. The carving of gourds with complex scenes of people, jungles, wildlife or devotional motifs dates back over 4,000 years in the Peruvian Andes, and entire families and even towns are dedicated to producing this sought-after souvenir today.
This exhibition featured the work of master carver Angel Alfaro Nunez, who is part of the renowned Nunez family of artist carvers, and was being looked after by his brother Charles Alfaro Nunez. Charles explained the process with the help of magnifying glass and, captivated by this intricate work, the banker and I left with two small examples as souvenirs. The image of mine, carved by Charles and shown here, really doesn't do the detailed design on this diminutive artwork justice. Seeing really is believing - particularly as regards the perspective and level of detail. I was delighted when Charles offered to sign and date my new acquisition, making it just that little bit more special.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Antiques in Cusco

I hadn't really relished the thought of spending a few days in Cusco. After the chaotic - but honest - hustle and bustle of the developing city of Lima, I wasn't particularly looking forward to a city described in all the guides as 'touristy'. How wrong they were, as it proved to be one of the many highlights of the trip. After getting used to the altitude, I decided to get used to Pisco Sour, a cocktail made using egg whites and Pisco. Yummy! Next up was buying a suitable hat for the trek in the market, which was found for the princely sum of £2.54. Tours around the incredible cathedrals that line the main square nourished the brain and gave my culture-hungry eyes plenty to soak up. Religious paintings that at first glance appeared like those in thousands of Christian churches across the world, but at second glance included intriguing uniquely Peruvian details, proved particularly fascinating. A narrow second to these were the two museums behind the Cathedral, with their superb collections of pre-Columbian pottery and metalwares. The display of Inca mummies is also somewhat unforgettable!
I was inspired. I just had to find a small Peruvian souvenir to take back home. Cue spending the rest of the late afternoon scouring the city centre for antique or junk shops! I only found a couple, grouped together on and around the steep Cuesta de San Blas, behind the main Cathedral. All offered South American 'tribal' or domestic items, including ceramics and devotional or religious works, with a fair smattering of old cameras, partly rusted tinplate toys and other vintage imported oddments from around the world thrown in for good measure.
After browsing through a selection of charming naively painted Andean domestic pottery in the shop shown above, I settled on the small carved stone object shown here. As to its meaning (and indeed age, if it has any), I am sad to admit I have no idea - yet. My skills in Spanish are somewhat basic, meaning I couldn't understand the shop owner's detailed explanation. Still, the transaction was conducted with smiles and gratitude from both sides. I do know that the stepped protrusions have something to do with Inca mythology, but that is about all - so now I have some research to do!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Trailing The Inca

Back in July, I mentioned that Alpine walks 1,950 metres up would help prepare me for my Summer holiday. Well it did, even though the Inca Trail, at over 12,000 feet above sea level, was quite a different story. To be honest, I'm amazed I did it, as I do rather like my creature comforts. However, it's not that hard if you have a reasonable level of fitness and 28 Peruvian porters and 4 guides to make the journey easier. Nevertheless, I thought I had left camping behind with the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme at school!
You notice it right after stepping of the plane from Lima to Cusco - even there the altitude even makes you feel giddy and light-headed. Sort of like being drunk without the good (or bad) effects of drinking. On the first day in Cusco, climbing even a single flight of stairs leaves you breathless. Still, it gets easier as you adapt during the day, which is just as well given the full four days ahead of walking up mountainsides at even higher altitudes. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw on my journey - everything from jungles to arid mountains to ancient stone ruins. And Llamas. And Alpacas. It really is a truly and uniquely amazing experience and there's nowhere near enough space here to describe everything I saw, felt and experienced. As you can see from the image above, we were quite a large group and the camaraderie amongst us was one of the loveliest aspects of the trip.
The final day sees the epic end to the trail - Macchu Picchu. It's an early start, and I left my cosy sleeping bag (and damp tent!) at 3.15am to be amongst the first to reach the entry checkpoint for 4am. Then it's ready, set, GO after the gates open and the queue of unshaven, unwashed and slightly tired (yet excited) hikers make their way up the final mountainside to reach the final pass which overlooks the famed ancient city of the Inca. I'm still amazed, and I could be wrong, but the banker and I managed to cover the 6km up the mountain in around 45 minutes, making us the third and fourth humans to set foot on the ridge that morning. And the view is nothing less than incredible - it actually did bring a tear to my eye. Seeing the sun rise over the ruined city is certainly one of life's unforgettable moments. And then you descend, not only to see and experience the city, but also to return to civilisation...and a hot shower!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Fat Lava - SOLD OUT!

You can't have any more. They're all gone! My very first publication, produced in association with the Graham Cooley Collection, has completely sold out. I've even sold the 'seconds' due to a rash of desperate requests over the past few weeks. The reason for this? Fat Lava has gone volcanic! It has appeared in all manner of magazines recently, including the latest edition of Elle Decoration that plopped onto my doormat this morning. Not only that, but an exhibition of Scheurich ceramics is opening in Germany (yes, the country that until recently hated them!), and a major exhibition in Canada is slated for sometime in 2009.
If you didn't manage to lay your hands on a copy, the good news is that I will be reprinting due to continued demand. Not only that, but my consultants and I will be revising and updating all the information contained in the original, and also introducing new photographs. The launch of the second edition will be held in association with an exciting new event that Dr Cooley, Petra and Patrick Folkersma of Outernational, Al Baynham of mid20c and I are planning right now. Scheduled to be held in late Summer next year, watch this space to find out more. In the meantime, here's a picture of Martin Rosam and I filming for the BBC's Antiques Roadshow with selected objects from his fantastic collection.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Spitalfields Antiques Market

A nice new discovery this one. I wrote some time ago that it's often easy to ignore things right on your doorstep. I had heard about this thriving antiques and collectables market, run by Sherman & Waterman every Thursday close to Liverpool Street railway station, but I had never actually made the effort to get up to go.
Well, this morning I levered myself out of bed to arrive for a 7am start. The early bird catches the worm, and all that. And what a surprise I found.... because nothing was ready! Although some 30-40 dealers had arrived, they were still setting up. So it was off to the coffee shop for a pleasant hour sipping a latte or two and reading the newspapers.
When I returned, everything had flipped up a gear and I was forced to do the same. With eyes peeled and sharpened by caffeine, I spotted a number of interesting purchases. These included a rare example of Stuart's 'Dark Crystal' range from the mid-1980s, a uranium glass ball vase that looks like it might from Walsh Walsh's 1930s 'Pompeian' range, and a rather cool Danish wine glass that looks like it would make even the plonkiest bottle of vino taste good.
The total cost? Well, I had to go to the cash machine, but that was only because I was too sleepy to do so before arriving. So £30 can't be bad. As I say, this is a nice new discovery with a buzzy atmosphere and a varied range of stands when it gets going, so I'll certainly be back.