Sometimes I Sits and Thinks, Other Times I Just Sits
I was sitting yesterday, as I often do, and thinking, as I sometimes do, about how we decide what we collect. What draws us, among the tens of thousands of items we might see at an antiques show, a museum or a gallery, to one particular piece? Why it? What sets it apart from all the others? And for you, but not necessarily for the person standing next to you?
It has to begin, I decided, with design. That complicated combination of dimensions, proportions and decorations. Add an inch too many and a table becomes spindly. Deduct an inch too much and it becomes squat. Add an extra leaf and a vase becomes too busy. Omit one and it becomes too boring.
The test of a great design, of course, is how many people are attracted to it. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a work of art, a Morris chair, a candlestick or a vase. If the designer doesn’t find that perfect combination of dimensions, proportions and decorations, people walk right on by. But when its right, it draws a crowd.
But do people stand in line to view the Mona Lisa because it’s a great work of art — or because they have been told it’s a great work of art? At what point does what we know about a piece and its designer – was it his first work, or his last; was it produced for years, or only for a few months; did it always remain in the family, or has it been in every shop in the city – affect our intuitive attraction?
And, of course, there is the question of how well it was made. Craftsmanship, we call it. Was it as carefully crafted as it was designed? Or does the craftsmanship — or the lack of craftsmanship — detract from the design?
Interesting, isn’t it, to think how often you see a piece that has been meticulously crafted, right down to the precise location of each peg or the perfect curve of the bowl, but something about the proportions or the dimensions or the decorations just doesn’t do it for you. Yet, as you turn away, the person beside you can’t write out her check fast enough….
What so often distinguishes those we deem the major makers, the Gruebys, the Rookwoods, the Stickleys, the Van Erps, is the pairing of pleasing design with quality craftsmanship. You don’t need to know that Dirk van Erp stamped his mark on the base of a copper and mica lamp to fall in love with the design and the craftsmanship apparent from across the room.
Which brings up the question: at what point should your education, your acquired information enter into the selection process? Would an early piece of Gustav Stickley furniture or Van Briggle pottery be as highly valued if we did not know that each had designed it during his first year in business? Certainly knowing the difference between one of a few Lorelei vases that Van Briggle made himself in 1902 and one of the thousands that are still being mass produced is as critical as knowing the difference between $50,000 and $50.
Education enhances appreciation. Knowing who made it and what year and under what circumstances does not change the design, it does not affect the craftsmanship, but it does increase our appreciation, our respect and, ultimately, our enjoyment.
And, as Arts & Crafts collectors, we are fortunate to have so many opportunities to increase our appreciation, our respect and our enjoyment of what we collect and live with on a daily basis. Every Arts & Crafts show, every auction, every shop, every lecture, every exhibition and every conference gives us the opportunity to see more and to learn more about the pieces we collect.
Head, Heart and Hand.
Education, Design, Craftsmanship.
Have a great week!
Until next Monday,