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Dragons and Eileen Gray, a New Definition

When ever I think of dragons, I think of the fire-breathing dragon on Looney Tunes who sneezed on things charring them up from strands fire coming out of his nose. After reading about the realized price of Eileen Gray's Dragon Chair very late last night, I might -- after all these years -- have to reconsider my imagery of Yosemite Sam's green companion to Eileen Gray's chair.

I watched Obama's speech addressed to Congress last night and I wouldn't have guessed another auction record could be broken considering the world's current doom and gloom economic conditions. The Dragon Chair (1917-1919) by Eileen Gray was purchased yesterday in Paris at the Yves Saint Laurent auction at Christie's for $28,341,909 -- that's about $25 million more than the estimate which was between $2,587,711 - $3,881,567. (Converting from Euros.)

Yowsa! Is all I can say...

(Apparently there was a bit of a bidding war between a bidder on the phone and one on the floor. The one on the floor won -- who was the dealer who sold it to YSL in the first place in the early 1970s.)

Tastes have certainly changed for connoisseurs of furniture... In the past decade or so, the general market for antiques has weakened. Many antiques have been going for a quarter of what it fetched just a year ago. People don’t want the traditional stuff anymore. Most antique stores have had to close their doors. Modern and Contemporary are the most sought-after. Open any interior design magazine and you’ll find an eclectic array of twentieth century pieces. Magazines, television shows, internet bloggers, retail and auction venues have been calling attention to long forgotten designers. Once an item is identified by a particular designer the interest as well as the price goes up. Original limited edition pieces in the past few years have become extremely sought after over the mass-produced designs by creators for Herman Miller and Knoll.

Eileen Gray certainly has received her long overdue recognition. There have been several publications about her in the past few years. But what I remember most is when her fantastic black lacquered screen which was estimated to fetch between $400,000-$600,000 was snagged for $1.2 million. This was just a small handful of years back. $1.2 million, wow, I thought. That's pocket change compared to now.

Originally from Ireland, Eileen Gray moved to France to create and consort with other artists, designers and writers. She is considered one of the most prolific designers of the early 20th-century. She was independent, educated, fiercely creative, a non-conformist, and determined to blaze a new path. Her furniture creations are tremendously unique. You can read about a house she designed on So Lovely's blog.
And you can watch the Looney Tunes original dragon here:

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? Silver from Hall’s

There was once a time, not too long ago, when the young with career ambitions hightailed it to big cities in pursuit of an urban, work hard and play hard existence. Domestic bliss was dated. Promotions, cocktails and reckless pursuits are how this generation preferred to live. Once they felt good about their careers, then they thought about settling down. But they didn't register for wedding china, etched crystal water goblets or frilly sterling flatware. They went out with friends and ordered fancy drinks; they didn't sit at home planning menus and elaborately decorating the dining table.

But are things beginning to change? Daughters and sons of the baby boom generation are yearning for a little more tradition in their lives. Those of us a bit older (and wiser) are beginning to wish we had listened to our Grandmothers more as they explained why we were to put our forks where. People are staying home and inviting friends over. Entertaining has become an art again. A bag of baby carrots with a container of sour cream sprinkled with onion mix, or a croc pot filled with Velveeta and Ro-tel isn’t the most creative way to entertain. No more tapping a keg and pouring beer into plastic cups, people are thinking about unique recipes to try and creative ways to set the table. Many will spend a Saturday afternoon watching the Food Network Channel for novel ideas.

As this recession has taken hold, we are beginning to gravitate toward the home and becoming more concerned with our own domestic issues. We're breaking away from a Gatsby-esque market and figuring out ways to reuse and recycle.

Why not look to the past for ideas and ways to reuse what has gone before us? Let's bring back the tradition of fine dining and appreciate the items that have once adorned a beautifully set table. Granted, the Victorians went a little overboard creating a specialized tool for every condiment, pickle or spice, but dining has become a dying art. Shouldn't we appreciate the objects once used?

Hall’s on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City has quite a collection of silver plated hollowware. Any one of these items would put a little sparkle to a table setting. The great Patricia Shakelford and I jaunted to Hall’s to meet with Melissa Fritz last week. We decided we would pick out five of our favorites -- we liked many of the same things.

The Victorian notion of appropriate goods to set the table is no longer practiced today. Each object displayed or used once had meaning to a specific activity. When we see some of these objects today, it is their strangeness that makes us pause. This does not mean we can't find new and different ways to use these intriguing objects.


If a respectable Victorian bachelor dined away from his parent’s table, he was most likely at the club. He didn’t have the equipment to cook at home for one. A bachelor couldn’t be bothered by pots and pans. However, the one piece that every proper gentleman must possess was the teapot.

This English example from Hall’s is by Walker and Hall circa 1880 and is based on an eighteenth century Georgian ovoid form. The body has chased tassels and swags and even the once eligible bachelor's initials engraved. It is fitted with a C-loop wooden handle and finial.


Weather serving lobster bisque or chicken chili, any variety of soup would be well presented in this lovely boat-shaped tureen. These simple lines make for a smashing table centerpiece. Keep the lid on or fill it with ivy. I love the scalloped foot and the loop handles with flat tops. It lacks any of the heavy Victorian ornamentation for an item dating around 1875. Although it is missing the original spoon, any large spoon would suffice. Place it on your table, or arrange it with a lamp and a stack of small cloth-bound books on your dresser.


Something many households are amiss is a good carving set. This three-piece American set by Continental circa 1900 has horn handles and sterling silver scrolling strap work overlay. I love this set. I find it very masculine. What a special utensil for the host to carve the holiday turkey.


Another fun example for a table centerpiece, this item might have once been used as an large dish for nuts. It could be used to hold business cards today. The practice of dropping off cards during the Victorian times is an interesting one. There was an entire card leaving ritual with strict codes of behavior. Leaving cards in ornate sterling or silver plated recepticles was a crucial component to maintain an active social life. There were definitions of good taste -- these tid bits of paper were carefully examined. The font could not be too ostentations nor too plain.


This is a tray from the Aesthetic Movement and is perfect inside or out for your next shin-dig to set out a few glasses. It also makes a sharp presentation for food. Think of red and green grapes with a wheel of brie on this oversized tray. When not in use, put the tray on its side and use as a backing for a vase of flowers or plant.

Gustave Caillebotte, Luncheon, 1876
Private collection

Caillbotte has composed the figures tightly around a table allowing for us, as the viewer, to feel part of this scene. As if we were literally sitting at the table. Although many of the items in this painting are glass, it reminds us how each object was used. Mrs. Blanding’s choice of the compote would look marvelous with some fruit nestled in it on this table.

Next time we covet a larger flat screen TV or a new iPod, let us pause for a moment and think about the inherent beauty a silver object possesses and how we can incorporate these items into our daily lives. We spend so much money on electronics in an attempt to make our lives easier, but what about the enrichment of gazing upon a silver object. (At least these objects possess some value as they age -- unlike most electronics.) If someone special says to you: "What do you want for your birthday?" Remember that lovely silver piece. Or even treat yourself.

A "HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY" Greetings to All My Friends

To My Friends Who Are...........SINGLE
Love is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it eludes you. But

if you just let it fly, it will come to you when you least expect it. Love
can make you happy but often it hurts, but love's only special when you give it

to someone who is really worth it. So take your time and choose the best.

To My Friends Who Are............NOT SO SINGLE
Love isn't about becoming somebody else's 'perfect person.' It's about
finding someone who helps you become the best person you can be.

To My Friends Who Are............PLAYBOY/GIRL TYPE
Never say 'I love you' if you don't care. Never talk about feelings if they

aren't there. Never touch a life if you mean to break a heart. Never look
in the eye when all you do is lie. The cruelest thing a guy can do to a girl
is to let her fall in love when he doesn't intend to catch her fall and it works
both ways...

To My Friends Who Are............MARRIED
Love is not about 'it's your fault', but 'I'm sorry.' Not 'where are you',
but 'I'm right here.' Not 'how could you', but 'I understand.' Not 'I
wish you were', but 'I'm thankful you are.'

To My Friends Who Are............ENGAGED
The true measure of compatibility is not the years spent together but how
good you are for each other.

To My Friends Who Are............HEARTBROKEN
Heartbreaks last as long as you want and cut as deep as you allow them to
go. The challenge is not how to survive heartbreaks but to learn from them.

To My Friends Who Are............NAIVE
How to be in love: Fall but don't stumble, be consistent but not too
persistent, share and never be unfair, understand and try not to demand,
and get hurt but never keep the pain.

To My Friends Who Are............POSSESSIVE
It breaks your heart to see the one you love happy with someone else but
it's more painful to know that the one you love is unhappy with you.

To My Friends Who Are............AFRAID TO CONFESS
Love hurts when you break up with someone. It hurts even more when
someone breaks up with you. But love hurts the most when the person you
love has no idea how you feel.

To My Friends Who Are............STILL HOLDING ON
A sad thing about life is when you meet someone and fall in love, only to
find out in the end that it was never meant to be and that you have wasted
years on someone who wasn't worth it.

If he isn't worth it now,
he's not going to be worth it a year or 10 years from now
. Let go.....

My wish for you is a man/woman whose love is honest, strong, mature,
never-changing, uplifting, protective, encouraging, rewarding and unselfish.


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reported the year 793 began with visions of frightening omens, lightening storms, high winds, famine and flying dragons. In June, from across the sea, three Viking ships left Scandinavia and arrived on the shore of England. A high ranking official had been sent to greet them but he was killed on the spot.

The Vikings approached the monastery. They did not come to pray with the monks. They slaughtered them then grabbed everything of value: gold and silver chalices, silk vestments and altar cloths.

"And they came to the church of Lindisfarne, laid everything waste with grievous plundering, trampled the holy places with polluted feet, dug up the altars and seized all the treasures of the holy church. They killed some of the brothers; some they took away with them in fetters; many they drove out, naked and loaded with insults; and some they drowned in the sea."

This tragedy is the first clearly dated event in the saga of the Vikings. But it wasn't the last. The years 795, 802 and 805 saw raids on the island of Iona off of Scotland. The British Isles costs were dotted with monasteries, rich and ripe to attract Viking raiders.

By 820, the Irish Annals of Ulster recorded: "The sea spewed forth floods of foreigners over Erin, so that no haven, no landing-place, no stronghold, no fort, no castle might be found, but it was submerged by waves of Vikings and pirates."

From 830 to 860, Vikings attacked almost every single year. An Irish King, Aed Finnliath, fought back with his troops destroying the Viking settlements in the north. The Vikings moved south and ravaged monasteries and sanctuaries, destroying and stealing books and reliquaries are they went. In 867, a monastery in Scotland was raided. News reached the Mother Superior who gathered her nuns around urging them to disfigure themselves in hopes to prevent being violated. She cut off her nose and upper lip and the nuns proceeded to do the same. The Vikings were repelled and burned the entire building to the ground with the nuns inside.

Even monasteries set on inland rivers were thought to be secure. They fell victim to the Vikings. Their graceful, narrow, lightweight and virile looking longships could row upstream. These boats were fast and could be navigated in waters barely over three feet deep. They could quickly dock and were light enough carry over ground. They traveled from Ireland to Russia, Iceland to Greenland and even as far west as Newfoundland.

The Vikings did not destroy, demolish and devastate because they could. They organized and strategized to colonize these lands. The vigor, vitality and restlessness that the Vikings showed in their raids spilled over to their art. The metal work, stone and wood carvings leave behind a characteristic quite opposite of that of the merciless and brutal barbarian. Their style had gracefully curving and intertwining lines. It was expressive and dynamic. Contorted and distorted. Deftly carved, very controlled and creates a memorizing rhythm.

Only a small number of Viking objects survive.

I've always had a thing for the Vikings. When I first learned about them in my budding pre-pubescent years in history class, I had a crush on Leif Ericsson as my other classmates were pining over David Cassidy.

I didn’t know about the nuns. They didn’t tell us about that in the fifth grade.

These manliest of men who weathered extreme and harsh freezing conditions, also kept themselves quite well groomed. The Irish said they had the strangest habits -- upon rising they washed their faces and trimmed their beards. Even their nose hairs. There is archaeological evidence of ear scoops.

They fastened their capes or fur-lined cloaks with intricate and ornate broaches.

Women fastened house keys to their broach as a sign of authority and rank. Keys were a symbol of female power while the sword was the sign for the man.

A Viking woman had rights in those days. Although she had no say who she could marry and her expected vocation was to run a household, she could divorce her husband if he mistreated her or her children. She could divorce him if he was lazy, a good-for-nothing provider or if insulted her family. The process of divorce was quite simple. All she had to do was call a witness and proclaim she was divorced from her husband at the front door and at their bed. Save on lawyer's fees. Everything a woman brought into a marriage was hers. It did not become the property of her husband. This must have saved quite a bit of time and energy from fighting over things when splitting up. Women even kept their last name upon marrying.

Not much furniture survived. Some beds were made to be quickly broken down and set up again on ships. Some had ornately carved and painted head-posts.

These stylized animals are fascinating. They cannot be identified in the natural world. Many designs of these animals were called Gripping Beast taking on a dragon like appearance. As time went on, the animal forms became thinner, more sinuous and began to arch sharply.

I don't know why people are attracted to various applied arts from different cultures. Some objects can strike a deep chord within us in just a moment, while other objects leave us tepid. But when it strikes it never seems to leave us, despite horrific stories about the people who made them.

Interesting mini-films on PBS of the recreation of Viking villages: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/vikings/village.html

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