August 5, 2013

Old Things

Why is it that so many of us love poking around in antique shops, flea markets, and yard sales? Is it the possibility of that one exciting find? or a simple pleasure in seeing old things, things that have accumulated the emotional resonances of use; everyday things that are designed differently than contemporary objects, therefore treasured for their sensibility; things that trigger memories. I find beauty, or fun, or outrageousness (how could anyone have worn that!?), in these things, an opening of possibilities of design. The array of color and surface and shape in bakelite bangles in a bowl is a gorgeous sight.

I love the delicate iridescent surfaces of lusterware, here framed by an old wrought iron head board.

There are so many amusing things that people collect, such as salt shakers, or here, little dogs.

Many booths in antique centers show an incongruous miscellany of objects, from costume jewelry to old sand buckets to small ceramic statues... moderne lamps alongside old furs.

This array of light fixtures and wall art, including starburst clocks, takes us back to modern design of the 1950s, some of it marvelous, some of it "oh dear". But such fun to see and think about how our taste has changed over the years.

Sometimes while rambling around an antique shop I see something stunning and new to me, such as this midcentury Mushroom Lamp by Laurel Lamps. I loved the shape of the shade and how it seemed in perfect balance with the smaller flaring base below. Its curves are so beautiful and satisfying.

Rarely, I come across some genuinely old American pieces, such as a handled pot from the early 19th century or a late 18th century mortar and pestle. I get a similar pleasure from the swelling curves of the 19th century piece and the 20th century lamp.

I have a small collection of old things, gathered years ago when I had a small photo business, greeting cards and framed prints of still life. The "American primitive" objects, which I still enjoy looking at, went well with my old house; built in 1821, it is also American primitive. A couple of years ago I did a blog tour of the house; you can see some of the posts here. A favorite quote about things comes from Samuel Beckett, in Molloy:
"To restore silence is the role of objects."

My treasured lusterware cup and saucer, depicting fanciful houses, rests alongside two red vases. Sometimes when I photograph still life, the depth of shadows reminds me of 17th century still life painting:

Francisco de Zurbaran, Still Life with Lemons, Oranges, and a Rose, 1633; oil on canvas, 24 1/2 x 43 1/8 in. (see this in high resolution on the Norton Simon museum website.)


  1. Eyes are hungry, especially an artist's. Everything is food, everywhere is a painting.
    Love the blog...thanks