Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chalkware, Cheap and Chic

Carnival chalkware, sometimes called "poor man's porcelain," was comprised of mold-casted figures made out of calcined gypsum and was first advertised in America in 1768 by master Boston stonecutter Henry Christian Geyer. Today chalkware of this era is appreciated as folk art. 
More recently, chalkware was given out as carnival game prizes during the Great Depression through the 1950s, and took on the whimsical, somewhat slapdash appearance that collectors today love. The little lady above is from The Vintage Ruby's Nest shop on Etsy. 
This figurine, with her jaunty beret and pantsuit, dates to the 1930s. The glitter trim on her collar and belt is common for the era; glitter began to be applied to chalkware during this time. This figure is sometimes called a "sweater girl" by collectors. I found her at GasLamp Antiques, one of my clients in Nashville. 
Here, a sexier "sweater girl" is found on Ebay in this curvaceous female figure wearing pants.
Yes, even Jesus and Mary made it to the chalkware world. Oh, the strangeness of some tipsy sailor winning these for his girlfriend. From GasLamp Antiques. 
Monday, August 22, 2011

A Resounding "Woof" for Staffordshire Dogs

Diana Vreeland, the grand dame of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazines from the '30s to '70s, was a lover of the Staffordshire ceramic dog figurine, as was the legendary interior designer Dorothy Draper, who placed them throughout the fabled Greenbrier Hotel.
A pair in interior designer Anna Spiro's office. 
During the Victorian era, it was considered fashionable protocol to put a pair of Staffordshire King Charles Spaniel figurines at each end of one's mantel. This Victorian era find, grouped as an lavish collection, is in the home of Libertine co-designer Johnson Hartig. 
I got this odd incarnation of a King Charles Spaniel at GasLamp Antique Mall in Nashville. Granted, it is not a Staffordshire dog, as evidenced by the bizarre color and the lack of the tell-tale chain that typically joins the collar. But for $16, it's a whimsical deviation. 
Wouldn't this silver whippet statue look fabulous bookending a fireplace? 
£135.00 at
Greyhounds flanking a fireplace in House & Garden, May, 1988, photograph by Oberto Gili.
Friday, August 19, 2011

Why Don't You ... Think Pink?

Pink, in its many incarnations, seems to have an uncanny ability to make women happy. As Diana Vreeland once said: "I adore pink. It's the navy blue of India." I think in some parts of America, say Palm Beach, Miami, and Beverly Hills, it is equally beloved. 
Kentuckian Elva Fields, the current darling of the costume jewelry world, is hot on the heels of masters Kenneth Jay Lane and Gerard Yosca. This stunner, called "Real If You Believe," is made of carved pink coral cylinders heightened by a vintage brooch and earring set made of faux pearls and aurora borealis stones ($228.00 at I'm a believer. 
These champagne-and-strawberry truffles make for a luxurious nosh (Charbonnel et Walker truffles, $25, But every time I see the box, I just want to put rose-scented talc in it, topped by a fluffy, ribboned pouf. Qu'elle idea, non?
The opaque glass of these pink lustres from the Victorian era is so striking. I recently interviewed the grandson of the last private owner of the Hope diamond (before it was sold to Harry Winston and then donated to the Smithsonian); he had her lustres proudly displayed in his dining room. My own grandmother kept ruby ones on her dresser. So glamorous. 
What's not to love about a Tord Boontje chandelier ... except the price tag? Boontje's paper version, called "Midsummer Lights," is marked down to an affordable $69 at 
This blush-colored room, designed by Hal Williamson for a New Orleans home, is a great example of how to make pink look sophisticated in a room. Featured in the October 2008 issue of House Beautiful.
Thursday, August 18, 2011

When 1st Dibs Visits the Wrong Side of the Tracks

Many years ago I heard this strange-but-true tale of a drug kingpin's décor. I tuned out most of the story, being uninterested in the drug trade or the finer details of pit bulls. However, one point stuck: Due to his work's secretive nature, this gentleman could not flaunt his wealth. So he lived in a small bungalow with a bland exterior. However ... however ... the interior was tricked out like Kimora Lee Simmons was his stylist, lavishly over-the-top.
I have delusions of such drug kingpin grandeur whenever I visit 1st Dibs. In my fantasy, my home's exterior still looks like it belongs in its zip code. But with a few purchases, the interior becomes the domain of a Palm Beach grande dame, one who owns these 1930s-era Dorothy Draper chairs from the Crown dining room of San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel.  
And of course, why own one pair of Dorothy Draper chairs from San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel when you can own two? This pair, of cast aluminum, was made in the 1950s. J'adore.
In my fantasy, these fabulous English girandoles, circa 1775, also make their way into Chez Moody. 
While chilling in my Dorothy Draper chairs, I could play a game with the man of the house. This backgammon board was originally designed for Lucille Ball by Charles Hollis Jones, who said, "Lucy ... was a fierce player." 
Where better to tuck away said backgammon game than in this 1950s Dorothy Draper chest from The Espana Collection for Heritage? 
My, this fantasy was as fun as a trip back in time to the Greenbrier Hotel when Mrs. Draper was the decorator. Now back to work ... or to rob a Brinks truck for a perfectly criminal ode to a criminal's interior.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Glenn Harren and the Amazing "Everyday"

Glenn Harren studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts during the late '70s, then went on to an assortment of odd jobs: dishwasher, short-order cook, bartender, cabbie. Exposure to vast quantities of "ordinary life" led to his ability to depict the "everyday." He now produces giclées of his original canvases, so we can all afford a glimpse into the infinitely, innocently intimate ( 
Lambertville Flea Market. Can't you feel that crisp morning air of early fall with this image? I can smell the musty book scent from here.
The Yard Sale. I love the Technicolor brightness of this one. And those kids ... they were so excited about Mom planning this sale. They want candy money. 
The Farm Stand. I love how the girl decided to dress fashionably for her farm stand marketing. I'd buy fresh eggs from her. 
The Backyard. This one seems tinged with mystery to me. Is the woman pregnant again? Is she tired? Worried? Bored? I sense some tension here. The kids in the background are, naturally, oblivious. 
Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When the Galapagos Islands Exported Turtles

After visiting a museum exhibit of antique toys, I realized vintage board games make for charming art. Then, for $6, I found this 1950 Cargoes game at GasLamp Antique Mall in Nashville. Cargoes was made by Selchow and Richter, a 19th-century game manufacturer from Bay Shore, New York, a firm best known for creating
 the games Parcheesi and Scrabble. 
The Cargoes box top exhibits stark mid-century modern graphics. But it is the board itself I plan to frame. The colors are vivid, and, naturally, there is a sea monster swimming in the lower left-hand corner. 
It is, after all, a board game, so it also has cute playing cards. In a fashion similar to Monopoly, winning Cargoes involves the acquisition of property. But the property, cargo, involves what was popularly shipped along international trade routes of the 1950s. Some of it is quaintly outdated. For example, ivory is no longer the primary export of Lagos, and the Galapagos Islands probably aren't shipping out too many turtles these days. But olive oil from Naples? Send some my way. 
To get an idea of how vintage boards
games can look as art, here's an antique Steeplechase game in a frame. 
Friday, August 12, 2011

Lee Miller, Muse and Beyond

There is currently an exhibit called "Man Ray, Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism" at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts (it runs through Dec. 4). These two photographers shared a romance and a photo studio from 1929 to 1932, and from the white heat and ashes rose some incredible images that changed the face of photography. Miller lived the glamorous life of a fashion model in New York City during the 1920s, but she ultimately found her inspiration behind the camera. She met Man Ray soon after moving to Paris in the late '20s, and the two went on to perfect solarization. 
A solarized portrait of Lee Miller by Man Ray.
A famous Man Ray shot of Miller. 
Her swan-like neck, perfectly captured by Man Ray. 
Being a model, Miller had her beauty captured by other famous photographers. George Hoyningen-Huene took this one in 1928.

In this 1931 photo, shot by the famous Horst, Miller wears Lanvin. 
Miller's likeness was also distilled, this time in oil on canvas, by Pablo Picasso in 1937. She also inspired Joseph Cornell to create a mixed-media piece named after her. Miller went on to have an illustrious career as a photographer during World War II; she was one of only two women known to have photographed combat (the other was Margaret Bourke-White). However, from this experience she received psychic wounds that never quite healed. She retired early to a life of relative domesticity in the English countryside, punctuated by problems with drink.