July 28, 2014 | The son of Dr. William P. Spratling, a celebrated neurologist and pioneer in treating epilepsy, William Spratling had a tragic childhood, losing his mother and a sister when he was ten, and his father five years later. He went on to Auburn University in Alabama, where he majored in architecture and was apparently teaching the subject there within two years of his arrival. At twenty-one he became an associate professor of architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans, and during the ensuing years he also wrote on architecture and related subjects for Scribner's Magazine, the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, and other publications.
His personal charm, his intellectual abilities, and his writing (he was eventually the author of eight books including an autobiography) gained him entrée into literary circles, where he forged close friendships with such luminaries as Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos, and William Faulkner. Faulkner and Spratling lived together …» More
May 21, 2014 | Although the earliest surviving illustrated botanical manuscript dates from AD 512-the Vienna Dioscurides, a copy of the important medical treatise by the first-century Greek physician and herbalist Pedanius Dioscurides-botanical illustration as a distinctive artistic genre developed in the fifteenth century with the rise of illustrated herbals, manuscripts explaining the medicinal and culinary uses of plants and flowers. After all, in an age living close to the ground, it was crucial to distinguish between a plant that could induce sleep and one that would induce it forever. The introduction of exotic new plants from Asia and the Americas during the sixteenth century prompted continuous publication of accurate pictures to help botanists study, name, and classify the new discoveries. Continued refinements to reproductive engraving and lithographic techniques furthered these publications during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most techniques produced black-and-white…» More
February 20, 2014 | The Italian Renaissance taste for classical art fostered a revival of bronze statuary, wealthy connoisseurs collecting both antique statuettes and new works by artists like Donatello and Verrochio. Likewise, the nineteenth-century fascination with Renaissance art created an even larger market for bronze sculpture. Post-Civil War American sculptors, many European-trained, followed suit.
Cupid by Frederick William MacMonnies (1863-1937), 1895, balances gracefully on a globe while gesturing teasingly to lovers. Signed and dated "F. MacMonnies / 1895" on back of globe and with the French foundry mark on the base. Bronze; height 26 ¼ inches. $50,000. Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York.
Weighty and rich in appearance, bronze is primarily an alloy of copper and tin, sometimes lead or zinc. Because the alloys are stronger, have a lower melting point, and are easier to mold into intricate shapes, bronze is better suited to casting than pure copper. Ancient Greeks and Romans fa…» More
May 8, 2013 | Basket weaving is one of the most ancient of all decorative crafts. It is thought that the idea to create vessels by interweaving twigs was conceived around the same time as the idea to chip shards of flint into arrowheads. Fragments of Neolithic-age pottery reveal that long before the invention of the wheel, potters molded clay around woven basket forms, while remnants of other Stone Age pottery bear surface decoration imitating basketwork. Though fired pottery is more durable than baskets, thanks to the arid climate of ancient Egypt many of the world's oldest baskets and basket fragments have been unearthed there, dating some three thousand years before Christ. Indeed, wherever there were twigs, reeds, tall grasses, or other weavable plants, basketry thrived.
Some of history's most beautiful baskets were produced in Japan, where the craft of plaiting bamboo was initially practiced on a utilitarian level during the Jômon period (10,000-300 bc). Bamboo, a grass, proliferate…» More
May 1, 2010 | Chinese export porcelain is one of the oldest and mostvenerable areas of serious collecting. The term Chinese export refers to porcelain made and decorated in China betweenthe sixteenth and twentieth centuries specifically forthe Western market. The Chinese first exported porcelain tothe Middle East in the fourteenth century, but it was not untilPortugal established sea routes to China that this materialmade its way to Europe. Ironically, it traveled northwardfrom Portugal at the end of the sixteenth century thanksmainly to Dutch pirates, who raided the capacious, triplemastedPortuguese carracks and brought their swag back tothe Netherlands. With a nod to their plundered sources, theDutch called the wares kraak porselein and sold it to northernEuropean buyers, amongthem James I of England.The landscape and animaldesigns on the early seventeenth-century pieces reflectedChinese taste, but theChinese potters often copiedthe vessels’ shapes fromEuropean silver and pewter models. In the meantime, Chinawas able to keep the actual production techniques a secret fromthe Europeans until the early eighteenth century.
Porcelain is essentially a refined form of earthenware, its“batter” a mixture of kaolin (called china clay) and petuntse(called china stone). Both are forms of decomposedgranite, hence porcelain’s ringing hardness. When blendedinto a claylike mass, the kaolin makes the petuntse more pliableand easier to manipulate by hand or shape on a wheel,where it can be worked into very thin-bodied vessels. Porcelainis fired in a kiln at temperatures of 1,280 degrees Celsiusand higher, the ingredients fusing into a vitreous stateranging from pure white to light gray in color. Unlikeopaque unglazed earthenware, porcelain is translucent andnonporous.The Chinese made porcelain for their own use with a varietyof richly colored monochrome glazes, but they also paintedelaborate designs in colored enamels and gold, sometimesapplied before the final glaze (underglaze painting) and sometimesafter (overglaze painting). These designs required additionalfirings at different temperatures, so a finished objectcan represent as many as three separate visits to the kiln.
[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi» View All