Saturday, 29 November 2008

Isle of Wight Studio Glass Christmas Event

This weekend saw a series of special events at Isle of Wight Studio Glass, nestled under the cliffs near Ventnor. I had been invited down to sign copies of my book, and to chat to collectors about pieces from their collections. And collectors and glass fans certainly turned up, creating a buzzy atmosphere that was made especially festive with complimentary homemade mince pies and mulled wine.
One special visitor, who popped in purely by chance, was Angus MacDonald who can be seen with Elizabeth Harris and I in the photograph above. Angus was one of the two first glassmakers employed by the studio's founder, Michael Harris, in 1972. It was fascinating to be able to talk to him about his memories of the very earliest days of the studio, and of working with Michael. Angus left the studio in 1978 and, although he doesn't make glass any more, he still handles it in his role as owner of CART, a specialist in the transportation and storage of fine art and crafts.
Visitors also enjoyed demonstrations by Timothy Harris, who produced a special range for the weekend. These comprised small but perfectly formed miniature, and enormous over-sized, versions of his popular 'The Seasons' series. Winter, with its dramatic network of branches set against a snowy background was particularly striking - both to behold as a finished piece and to watch being made.
Showing the increasing interest from collectors in Isle of Wight Studio Glass, a large number of my books were sold - each being signed and dedicated by Elizabeth & Timothy Harris and I. I almost felt guilty about the amount of times I had to disturb Tim to ask for his 'paw print' whilst he was making glass. Thankfully he had his skilled assistant, Clare Hocking de Noffski, on hand to take over.
A night at the new and ultra-cool Hambrough hotel in Ventnor, run by Michelin starred chef Robert Thompson, rounded off a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxing weekend. The food is amongst the best I have had, and watch out for the special limited edition platters (left) designed and made by Timothy Harris that greet diners as they enter the restaurant.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Alfie's Christmas Party

Last night, cool collectors and fabulous 20thC design fans gathered for one of my favourite pre-Christmas events - the Christmas party at Alfie's Antiques Market in Marylebone, London. Drinks flowed and the live music, provided by a gypsy band walking around the centre, was punctuated with excited conversation and laughter. It's always a superb time to see new stock, bought specially for the event, and to catch up with dealers, fellow collectors and colleagues. Amongst those I met last night were the marvellously dressed fashion expert and author Madeleine Marsh, notable Art Deco and ceramics dealers Beth & Beverley Adams, mid-century ceramics and glass dealer Geoffrey Robinson, and the fashion connoisseurs and dealers Sparkle Moore and Cad van Swankster.
Although the event seemed to be a little quieter than usual on the business front, I saw plenty of deals being struck, and bags and smiles being carried out by customers. Of course, I was one of them, with my bag containing this studio glass sculpture by Sam Herman. I've been admiring it for some time and thankfully it was still there. Although I can't really afford it, I'm calling it an early Christmas present - to myself of course!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

I had a drink with Darth Vader

I've just got back from the Collectors' Club of Great Britain Fair, run by Collect It!, the magazine I have written a monthly column for over the past six years. It was great to see so many keen collectors braving the freezing rain and winds to visit. Many of them stopped by the Miller's stand to browse our range of books and have a friendly chat. I also joined my friends and colleagues Judith Miller and Eric Knowles in giving valuations of much-loved antiques and collectables brought in from homes across the country. A particular highlight was finding a late 1930s Stevens & Williams 'Rainbow' cut glass vase amongst a small collection of glass brought in by a young collector. He had recently bought it at a car boot sale for £8, which is a complete bargain considering I think it's worth anything from £300-500! Well done Joe! Although he didn't know what it was at the time, he clearly has a great eye for spotting quality.
Other items included a late 19thC carved and jointed wood jointed 'smallest doll in the world', contained in a miniature wooden egg, which Judith valued at £80-100, and the poster I'm looking at here. It was produced in 1986 to promote an exhibition of photographs by Lord Lichfield at the Ritz in London. It featured the famous photograph of Diana, Princess of Wales in her wedding dress looking adoringly up at her new husband, and was also signed by Lichfield himself. It would have been of interest, and some value, had it not been so creased and damaged. As it stands, it's value lies in the owner's memories of meeting Lichfield and seeing the exhibition.
So how did I come to have a drink with Darth Vader? Also attending the event were a number of stars including Colin Baker (Dr Who), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and the imposing David Prowse, who played Darth Vader. At drinks after the first day of the fair, I enjoyed a long and entertaining chat with David. After discussing his days as Darth Vader and the 'Green Cross Code' man, he told me about his career as a singer which varies from rock to Howard Keel. Unlike the character he played, David really is one of the most genuinely charming, easy going and friendly people I have been lucky enough to meet in years.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Fat Lava - The Movie

Even though the Fat Lava exhibition catalogue has sold out, I'm delighted to announce that the official Fat Lava documentary DVD is now available. With sweeping views of the original and first exhibition, fascinating interviews with the owner of the collection, Dr Graham Cooley, dealers including Petra and Patrick Folkersma of Outernational, and I, this is an essential addition for every Fat Lava lover's library. Professionally produced by Nigel Edwards of Inhouse Productions and with a running time of 16 minutes, you can see a sample of the full documentary by watching the 4 minute introduction above. Only 100 copies of this DVD have been produced, each in its own case with full colour slipcover matching the cover of the catalogue. Click here to order your copy now!
Also keep your eyes peeled for exciting details of a second exhibition, revised and expanded catalogue, and special events in early Summer next year. Contact mid20C for more details.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

From Nova Scotia to Notting Hill

Browsing around my favourite junk shop in Notting Hill at the weekend, I chanced upon these rather sweet 1950s style salt and pepper shakers. With a speckly grey background and a handpainted design of stylised, angular fish I thought they were typical of the 1950s. Turning them over, I saw the bases were nicely inscribed 'Lorenzen Lantz Nova Scotia'.
Ernst & Alma Lorenzen first began potting as a hobby in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1945. Demand led to a shop the following year, and in 1949 they moved to Lantz. As well as appealing domestic and decorative wares which increasingly collectable in Canada, they became known for small and finely modelled mushroom sculptures. More valuable than the rest of their wares, these regularly fetch over $300.
I 'm sure my salt and pepper shakers aren't worth anything near that, but I do think the £6 I paid was a bargain. I believe in using antiques and collectables for the purpose they were made for, where possible, so they now grace my new kitchen table. I'd love to know how they came from chilly Nova Scotia to a currently rainy London!

Friday, 14 November 2008


I've just been sent this picture from a dear friend who spotted it in, weirdly, Woman's Weekly. Seeing it instantly brought back floods of happy memories of working at Bonhams on Lot's Road in Chelsea - my first proper job after university. It also made me giggle a bit, as my first boss Alexander Crum Ewing is shown on the rostrum without his trademark ginger beard! When was this taken?!
I'm lucky enough to be able to say that Alex is still a very good friend of mine, even though he has now left the auction business. He's taken his formidable skills to a completely different market, and now runs the superb Indian Dining Club in South London. If you want a damn good curry, and I mean a really damn good and authentic curry, then pop in for a visit. With Alex as the genial and convivial host and a fantastic and varied menu, I guarantee that you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Fat Lava Exhibition in Germany

It's taken a while for Fat Lava to start to move out of the realms of haus greuel to object of desire in Germany, but it seems the dawn has broken at last! An exhibition of Scheurich ceramics from the 1950s, 60s & 70s opened at the town museum of Miltenburg on the 10th October 2008, and runs until the 18th January 2009. Click here to visit their site and find out more, or click here to download the pdf flyer, from which this image is taken.
From the many emails I have received from German fans who have visited already, it sounds like a truly great exhibition. I just wish I could see it! If you do go, please leave comments on this post so that we can all hear about your experiences.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Antiques In Buenos Aires II

A note about days, before I continue my Buenos Aires collecting blog. Plan your visit well! The main day for browsing and buying is Sunday. On Mondays, and often Saturdays, many of not all stores, malls and arcades are closed. You'll notice that my last blog entry was on Tuesday - plenty of time to plan my big Sunday!
I almost couldn't believe my eyes - the street had come alive! The previously empty pavements of Defensa were filled with all manner of street traders, and the road with crowds of people. Anything related to Argentina's best export - beef - was for sale from moccasins to bags to wallets, and a whole lot more carnival style items. In fact the event felt m0re like a carnival than a street market, complete with street musicians and entertainers. And it went on for miles...! Fighting through the happy crowds down the street, I saw the stores and arcades were packed and enjoying a healthy trade with souvenir hunters a plenty.
Before I knew it, it was lunchtime, so we stopped off in local restaurant Desnivel (855 Defensa) for great steaks in a traditional 'parilla' setting packed with locals. This was one of the very best steak restaurants we visited on our trip. Others were Defensa al Sur, (Defensa 1338) and La Cabrera (Cabrera 5099), in trendy Palermo - ideal after a day pounding the streets in search of on-trend Argentinian fashion. Apparently a 'competition' exists between top tier La Cabrera and La Brigada (off Defensa), where we enjoyed our final lunch before leaving for the airport. I can still taste the amazing steak in a very simple yet effective pepper sauce, and the perfectly matched bottle of Argentinian red wine recommended by the waiter. As well as the excellent food, marvel at the sports memorabilia on the walls of La Brigada.
It's all too easy to say 'wonderful, wonderful, wonderful' in this city, so I'm going to say something negative for a change - avoid Francis Mallman's over-rated Patagonia Sur in La Boca. Alleged to be the Gordon Ramsey of Argentina, I nearly ended up sounding like Gordon Ramsey on a bad day after tasting the over-complex, over-cooked courses we were served. Fine quality ingredients he may use, but in my opinion they were ruined as soon as the chef got hold of them. I've had much better, especially for the price (around £70 per head), which was by far the most expensive we (relunctantly) paid in South America. One final 'nail in the coffin' so to speak. Mallman's restaurant reminded us of movie portrayals of Castle Dracula - both in terms of its deathly quiet atmosphere, lack of life and other people, and dark, oppressive decor. Despite what the guidebooks tell you, I'd honestly avoid this one.
Anyhow, enough of that and back to Sunday and its antiques. With stomachs filled with juicy steaks, the banker and I were ready for the next leg - the walk down to Plaza Dorrega. This town square is the centre of the antiques and collectables trade on a Sunday, and is packed with stalls, many who travel into the city for the occasion each week. Browsing around, one thing I did learn is that the Argentinians produced vase amounts of flashed and cut glass. More commonly associated with Czechoslovakia (or Bohemia) in the 19thC, they produced red, burgundy, blue and green versions cut with traditional patterns into the 1970s and beyond. I now know that if it isn't labelled, it'd be very difficult to tell where a piece came from -- Argentinian and Czech/Bohemian pieces really are very similar in style, weight, pattern and colour (see photo above).
Alas, I didn't buy anything today. In fact, I missed out buying a rather nice piece of Argentinian studio glass due to my 'greedy eyes'. So desperate was I to make the right purchase that I missed out on something very good just in case something better was around the corner. It's a problem that I'm sure you've experienced before. Silly boy.
I nearly came home with one of BA's most popular 'antique' souvenirs - a coloured glass soda bottle that used to adorn the city's many bars during party times. Looking very jewel-like on the many stands that stocked them, they're candy for kidults. But these days it has to be a very special pieces to enter Hill Towers, so I declined the extra weight in my luggage. Still, with prices as low as £5, they make a great souvenir and I saw plenty being carried home by tourists smiling in the Springtime sun.