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"Past Times" newsletter for June 2002
The monthly newsletter from Ruby Lane Antiques, Collectibles,
Fine Art, and Arts & Crafts
Welcome to Past Times!
IN THIS ISSUE:
o An Introduction to Siam Sterling Nielloware by Charles
o American Folk: The MFA, Boston Collection by Mark Favermann
of The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles
o Share Past Times with A Friend
AN INTRODUCTION TO SIAM STERLING NIELLOWARE BY
The following article has been excerpted from Charles Dittell's
upcoming book, "Overview of Siam Sterling Nielloware."
Siam Sterling Nielloware: Basic Information The jewelry and
related items called "Siam sterling Nielloware" are unique,
attractive, and fascinating collectibles. These gray-black
(charcoal black) and silver items reflect facets of recent and
ancient Thai culture, and illustrate skillful Thai
craftsmanship. From about 1933 to the late 1990s, hundreds of
types of Niello items, from jewelry to kitchen and household
items, were created, primarily for the foreign market. Only a
limited number of non-jewelry, rather expensive items (such as
urns and tea sets) are still created (by Thai Nakon, the
"original" commercial Nielloware producer). A very few Niello
jewelry items are currently crafted anywhere in Thailand. There
are almost no Niello craftsmen left to continue this Thai
Collectible Sterling Nielloware Called "khruang thom" (or
"kruangthom," or "thome") in Thailand, sterling Nielloware has
had an impressive period of popularity, primarily from the early
1950s to the early 1980s. Although the Niello process has been
utilized for hundreds, indeed, thousands, of years (and was
especially popular with the nobility in the 13th through 15th
centuries), only some items from Russia (and Siam sterling) are
currently seen in antique shops and shows.
Siam sterling items of other colors (including a variety of
shades of blue, green, red, pink, white, yellow and
multicolored) do not use the Niello procedure but a less
demanding enameling process. Some Siam sterling items were
produced with black enamel. Black enamel Siam sterling is more
deeply black and shiny than the grayish, slightly sparkly
charcoal black of Nielloware. Side-by-side comparisons will
usually (but not always) clarify these differences. A few items
of Niello-like jewelry -- primarily pins and bracelets -- were
produced using brass or bronze as the primary metal. In addition
to Nielloware and enameled items, many all-sterling jewelry and
related pieces were also produced, often with designs similar to
Where to Find Niello Items Finding Siam sterling Niello can be
exciting for collectors and dealers who enjoy visiting antique
shows, flea markets, pawn brokers and antique stores. Items such
as dress pins, earrings, cufflinks and small bracelets are
easily found. These items may also be located on the Internet,
using one of the common search engines and then hunting for
"collectibles silver jewelry Siam" for a start.
Flea markets provide an excellent opportunity to acquire
inexpensive Siam sterling Niello items, especially cufflinks,
earrings, pins and small bracelets. Dealers will probably have
better luck at country antiques/collectibles shows, where some
of the larger and more ornate items are often found. Some nice
items or sets may be found at pawn brokers, although one may
need to visit many shops to find them. Antique jewelry stores
occasionally have these items, although prices will tend to be
higher, especially in the larger cities.
Serious collectors and dealers might find it worthwhile to
purchase a want ad in a local newspaper, or a regional or
National antiques/collectibles magazine.
The following is a listing of most of the
Ramayana/Ramakien-based figures seen on these Niello items:
Dasakantha (Dasharatha): King of Aydohya (Land of the Giants)
Eravan (Erewan): The Three-Headed Elephant
Hanuman: The "Monkey-General" (King of the Monkeys)
Matcha (Naninaccha): Queen of the Mermaids
Mekkala (Mekala): Goddess of Lightning
Nang Fa (NangFa): Fairy of Happiness
Rama: The Prince, hero of Ramayana/Ramakien
Ramasoon: God of Thunder
Ravana: (Evil) Ruler of Ceylon (Lanka, Sri Lanka)
Sita: The "Daughter of the Earth," wife of Rama
Suvarnamacha: The Mermaid Queen of the Sea
Thepanom: God of Welcoming
Thephaboot: Angel of Peace
Typanom: Dancing Angels with Rope Garland
Visinu (Vishnu): The "Preserver" (a 4-armed god)
Wat Arun: The Temple of Dawn
The following is a listing of the "non-Ramayana" Niello designs
seen on these items:
Anchor: Represents the Thai Navy
Chedi Klang Nam: The Floating Pagoda
Garuda: Thai National Symbol (half human, half bird)
Lakorn Chai: Classical Thai Male Dancer
Lakorn Ying: Classical Thai Female Dancer
Oil Wells Design**
Pan Am Airlines Design**
Rajas*: The Lion (representing the Siamese Royal Emblem)
Skiers**: (Apparently contracted by American Ski Resorts)
Suphanahongse: Thai Royal Barge
Woman Playing Harp*
*Rarely Seen **Probably on contract with an American importing
We invite you to visit the following Ruby Lane shops who carry
Siam Sterling Nielloware:
Asian Arts - Exotic Gifts at Mann Gallery: Asian Arts Exotic
FAVERMANN OF THE JOURNAL OF ANTIQUES AND
"A Rose is a Rose," Gertrude Stein's clear descriptive object
formula, just does not work when defining American Folk Art.
Defined in many ways by primitive, stylized, indigenous,
regional, naive, hand-crafted, non-academic, vernacular, rustic,
unschooled or (for the 20th Century) outsider art, Folk Art is
often highly recognizable but not easily prescriptively
definable. Collectors, dealers and scholars have been involved
in debate and continual controversy around folk art. Not only
have its aesthetic definitions been questioned, but issues of
social class, ethnic identity and cultural heritage have been
weighed against issues of taste and history. However, what has
not been debatable is that at times utterly extraordinary pieces
have been created by quite ordinary people.
In fact, the whole area of American Folk Art was not recognized
as a particular artistic direction or definable craft area until
February 9, 1924 when a distinctive grouping of works was
exhibited at the Whitney Studio Club in New York City. The
majority of these pieces were borrowed from the then major
contemporary artists Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth and Yasuo
Actually, the first show of folk art paintings, "American
Primitive Painting," was exhibited at The Newark Museum in
Newark, New Jersey in 1930. The exhibition later traveled to the
University of Rochester and the University of Chicago. This was
followed in October of 1931 by "American Folk Sculpture--The
Work of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Craftsman." Perhaps
the most influential early exhibition of Folk Art was held in
1932 at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Titled "American Folk
Art--The Art of The Common Man in America 1750-1900," again,
most of the 175 pieces were from Mrs. Rockefeller's
After these first trailblazing exhibits, the rest of the
American museum community quickly followed and soon folk art
became a popular art historical focus. Folk art is an expression
of the living quality of the story of American origins in the
visual arts. Major encyclopedic museums such as the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, Washington's Smithsonian Institution as well as
The Brooklyn Museum all house major collections of folk art.
However, only occasionally does a prominent museum display a
significant amount of American folk art or have a meaningful
major exhibition. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is once
again leading the way with its magnificent exhibition, "American
Folk." The exhibition, which has been enriched by important
loans from New England collectors, highlights over 200 works
including rare monumental family portraits, narrative quilts,
painted furniture, wood decoys and unique toys.
The organization of the "American Folk" exhibition is a creative
structure. Developed to showcase everyday life in 19th Century
America in an entertaining as well as informative way, it is
organized by theme. The four themes are "Family Album," "Birds
and Beasts," "Land and Sea," and "God and Country." Each of the
MFA curatorial areas involved are represented in each of the
thematic sections of the show. Here, clearly the sum of the
parts in each case is greater than the whole.
"Birds and Beasts" is a menagerie in metal and wood that
includes barnyard weathervanes, a flock of duck decoys and an
elegant boot-scraper in the shape of a chicken. Also included is
a carousel greyhound created by one of the most prominent makers
of carousel figures, Charles Looff. This highly decorated
elegant figure has glass eyes and ears "rippled" by the wind.
Also there is a wonderful regal lion carved by Wilhelm Schimmel
(1860-1890) and a sweet giraffe drawing done about 1836.
The "Land and Sea" section demonstrates the connection between
the environment, both man-made and natural and the people. A
unique and beautiful illustrative quilt brings to life the
importance and effect that the railroad had in the 19th Century.
This is a prime example of the end of rural isolation that the
railroad signified. Probably made in Peru, Indiana, the appliqué
letters might refer to the Erie & Western Railroad which passed
through Peru. Then, again the "E. R." may just be somebody's
initials, either the quiltmaker or its recipient. The
"Meditation by the Sea" (1860s) by an unidentified painter is a
moody, eccentric rendering of rocks, stylized surf and somberly
dressed figures that collectively transform a conventional
seascape subject into a masterpiece of folk art.
Another section of the exhibition, "God and Country,"
illustrates spiritualism and national pride. One of the
masterpieces of the exhibition (and many, many pieces are
certainly masterpieces) is a truly extraordinary pictorial quilt
(created about 1895) by Harriet Powers, an African American
woman who was born a slave who could neither read nor write.
Through this quilt, she told complicated stories with humor, wit
and dramatic expression.
Before the discovery and embrace of the Folk Art tradition in
the United States, most art historians, commentators and critics
felt that American Art had only come here on ships. We certainly
now know quite differently. From all aspects of society,
creativity abounded in the building of our American heritage.
Extraordinary works by ordinary people? No, extraordinary works
by equally extraordinary people in an extraordinary exhibition.
For the complete American Folk article with color photographs,
we invite you to visit the Journal of Antiques & Collectibles at
Journal of Antiques
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