Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Discovering Vancouver I

After the excitement of the wedding, we drove and flew on to Vancouver to see in the new year...and do a bit of shopping. After hitting the chain stores along Robson St, some time was found for purchases of a more vintage nature. Searches on the internet had shown Main Street, between 6th St and 30th St, but mainly 16th St and 25th St, as being a great hunting ground.
Starting at the beginning, the first target was the rather positive sounding 'The Fabulous Find' at 1853 Main Street, between 2nd & 3rd streets. Stocking a great range of mid-century wooden furniture and accessories to match, there was plenty to please the eye - at prices to please the wallet. I was particularly taken with a pair of Carstens Fat Lava vases and a display of cast iron candleholders and other objects by Dansk, some designed by the late designer Jens Quistgaard.
In the long walk up to 30th St, another five or six antiques or retro shops were found, as well as some great looking vintage clothing shops. We found it was always worth having a look in these, as many used ceramics, glass and furniture of the period as props which were also for sale. If you have a spare afternoon, you'll certainly have fun ambling up Main Street and enjoying the 'experience stores', but if you want to target antiques and vintage shops, it's best to ride the buses that go up and down on a regular basis, hopping off when necessary.
Although it was warmer than the prairies, it was still just above zero, so we needed warming up after a chilly walk. The famous Granville Island provided just the place, with a selection of caf├ęs and restaurants, as well as more retail therapy with North Western tribal art and other galleries a plenty. But we saved our appetites for dinner at the award-winning Bin 941 on Davie St, where we dined on its renowned sizeable portions that range from crab cakes to steak.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

A wedding in the prairies...

The highlight of, and reason for, the visit to Western Canada was to attend the wedding of Darla and Wayne. Held in a small town in western Saskatchewan, some 5 hours drive northwest from Calgary, two grand prairie families were brought together with over 400 guests helping them celebrate. The bride was supremely elegant in cream silk and vintage mink, the groom beamed proudly, and the party rocked!
A special thank you to Darla, Wayne, Jerry and Doreen for putting me up, and putting up with me. Thanks also to Treena, Lynn, Doug, Clara, Vera, Betty, Louis, Darren, Jerry-Lee, Curtis, Trina, Tanya, Igor, Tony, Alvin, Eunice, Chad, Jenny, Shirley & Ed - it really was great to meet you! Another particularly memorable delight was hearing the beautiful voice of up-and-coming Canadian contemporary folk singer Alexia Melnychuk, who sang at the wedding. Click on her name to visit her website to hear for yourself - I predict big things...and you heard her here first!
It may have been a small town, but it has a big heart. And just like their skies, their minds are bright and wide open.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Festive Banff

In search of the elusive 'White Christmas', this year the banker and I travelled to the Canadian Rockies, where snow is pretty much guaranteed. So is icy cold, and with temperatures as low as -27 degrees, it's certainly the coldest I have ever been. Still that didn't stop us getting around, driving through the beautiful Banff national park up to a frozen yet still picturesque Lake Louise.
Although best known as a skiing resort, Banff also has a great range of shops. Although we didn't stumble across any antique or vintage stores, we did manage to find a couple of great galleries.
The first we encountered across was the Willock & Sax Gallery, on Bear Street. They specialise in Canadian art, with a strong focus on artists from Alberta. The gallery is light and bright, acting as the perfect foil for the displays of studio ceramics and glass, photographs, prints and paintings. They also stock a superb range of Inuit sculpture and prints by notable artists such as Kenoujak Ashevak, Kananginak Pootoogook and Mary Pudlat. I was particularly taken by a central display of carved soapstone polar bears, shown above.
With my luggage already tightly packed for a wedding in Saskatchewan just after Boxing Day, souvenirs had to be small. I opted for a small ceramic wall dish hand-printed with a bear by noted Canadian ceramicist John Chalke. At only 20 Canadian dollars (about £12) it was certainly at the affordable end of his work - as to whether it'll be a collectable of the future, let's see! Whatever, I am delighted with it.
Inuit carved Polar bear sculptures were also on display in the second gallery we found, which was just down the road. Canada House also specialises in Canadian art, ranging from carvings to studio glass to paintings and prints. Price tags tended to be a little higher than the previous gallery, and the quality was again excellent.
A wonderful day of wandering was finished off watching the sun set over the Rockies from the rejuvenating warmth of the Banff Upper Hot Springs, and their 1930s outdoor pool and bath house. The steam and silky, sulpherous water felt fabulous after the drying cold, but the most surprising side was the fact that whilst my body was very warm, my exposed head was freezing. Quite literally in fact, as stiff icy spikes formed in my wet hair!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Reading Retro

I've just spent one of the most enjoyable days of the year in Reading, Berkshire, at Mid20C, owned by my friend and long-time antique and 20thC design dealer Al Baynham. Those who have bought the Fat Lava DVD will have seen him being interviewed at the original Fat Lava exhibition in 2006. It was unsurprising, then, to see a fantastic and wide variety of West German vases from the 1950s-70s on display. I spotted stonking, classic designs by Scheurich, Ruscha, Roth and more, with prices ranging from £30-over £200. And pricing is an important point to make with Al's stock. I've been to many 20thC design shops where the prices have made me gasp - in horror! The only gasps you'll make here are of delight, or you plan how to get everything you want to buy home. His prices really are on the (much) better side of fair.
As well as Fat Lava ceramics, you'll find a great selection of eye-catching Whitefriars, Czechoslovakian and Scandinavian glass, classic mid-century modern furniture by the likes of Eames and Saarinen, and a selection of collectable ceramics from around the world. Arranged in two large and well-lit, newly decorated rooms, it's a joy to browse and a real retro jewel in Reading's crown. Al also lists some of his stock on eBay, but tells me that many buyers prefer to come to collect their new purchases, chat about their collections and see other pieces he has on offer. If you're in the area, it's a must to visit.