“Once upon a time”… those few magical words that instantly had us, as youngsters, spellbound and transported to a fantastical world of impossible make-believe. And few characters are as symbolic of that world as the mythical unicorn.
This creature, prominent in Medieval European folklore, was first mentioned by the ancient Greeks, and was widely believed – even by the educated elite – to have actually once existed. Symbolic of purity and grace – and whose horn was believed to contain healing properties when crushed and consumed – many thought this woodland dweller could only be enticed by a virgin, on whose lap it would lay its head and rest, allowing it to be captured.
It sounds fabulous, doesn’t it?
Or perhaps more familiar than fabulous, and certainly not when you consider that one day, when our contemporary world is not nearly in the distant past as the Middle Ages mentioned above, our young descendants will be told incredible stories of extinct species that once roamed our planet. Indeed the rhinoceros, sadly seems doomed to be the unicorn of future generations.
Our world today is a precarious place, which appears to be largely our fault, with our “don’t care, someone else’s problem” attitude, as we pursue our lifestyles of excess.
I read somewhere recently that the average North American’s individual carbon footprint is several acres each. Anyone reading this newsletter here in South Africa is probably not much better in terms of sustainability.
But what exactly is a carbon footprint? Jo-Marie Rabe, who co-owns Piér Rabe Antiques in Stellenbosch, explains “A carbon footprint is a measure that indicates the direct and indirect effect anything or anyone has on the environment during a defined period of time; it indicates the amount of greenhouse gases produced and is calculated in units of carbon dioxide.”
How do we individually reduce our carbon footprints? “Reduce, re-use and recycle!” says Jo-Marie. “And if you are really serious about becoming carbon neutral, save a tree: buy antiques – they are green – especially if they are sourced locally: no deforestation, no manufacturing processes and no land-fill issues.”
The sentiment that antiques are “sustainable, reusable and re-saleable” is echoed by Nigel Worboys,who launched the antiquesaregreen.org website in England in September 2009 “to promote the green credentials of antiques”, on which several SAADA dealers are registered.
The website’s statement says the following, “The importance of protecting the environment cannot be understated. The environment is not ours to destroy, but something which we have been given to protect for future generations.As a world we need to consume less and reuse more – ‘antiques are a perfect way to take the green movement into our homes’”
It goes on to detail the findings of a September 2010 analysis carried out by Carbon Clear, an independent consultancy in the United Kingdom, in which the carbon footprint of an antique chest of drawers was compared with that of a modern equivalent. The analysis looked at the manufacture, as well as the assumed subsequent life-span, of each item.
The results showed what most would expect: that the antique piece – a mahogany chest manufactured circa 1830 – was indeed “greener” than the similarly priced modern piece from a high street retailer. But what came as a surprise was how significant the difference was: the latter had a carbon footprint 16 times higher than that of the former!
Taking the above into account, SAADA is high-lighting the highly pertinent “green issue” in selecting “Recycle the Past, Ensure our Future” as the theme for the upcoming fair to be held at the Wanderers Club in October.
While discussing the theme, fair organiser and SAADA chairman Jeremy Astfalck of The Old Corkscrew in Franschhoek, expressed that, “In the ‘throw away’ society that we live, we would do better to appreciate antiques, not only for their aesthetic appeal, but also for the fact that they are not using up our precious non-renewable resources”.
As part of his collection, he showed me a silver rhino pin cushion that he will be exhibiting. “This pin cushion was made in Birmingham in 1908, and is modelled as an Indian or Javan rhino as it only has a single horn”.
I asked him who else we can expect to see represented at the fair, and he said Jeremy Du Mughn of Jeremy Stephen Antiques in Parktown North, Johannesburg, will unveil yet another exceptional collection of antique and 20th Century glass pieces. “Glass by its very nature is delicate and recyclable. Glass has to be one of the ultimate ‘Green’ forms of packaging. Art glass by top makers such as Venini and Lalique are the ultimate green statement as they now have a value that far surpasses their initial production costs”.
Jeremy Stephen Antiques are also very excited to have an Alexis Preller painting – “done in the magical blue of his early works and using so much of the symbolism that Preller is known for” – that they will be exhibiting at the SAADA Fair in October.
Another magnificent piece that will be exhibited – now at the Kunsthandel H.W.C. Dullaert stand – is a Dutch late 18th century bow-front corner cabinet.The cabinet, fashioned in mahogany and rosewood, is beautifully inlaid with satinwood, essen and oak marquetry.
“The marquetry is of fabulous quality” Ricus Dullaert explained as he described the piece. “Celebrating nature, we see large flower bouquets with birds and butterflies on the doors, the design of which was inspired by Dutch 17th century flower still life’s… And around the doors we find a dazzling array of other marquetry patterns. Musical instruments like hunting horns, violins, drums and clarinets can also be seen”.
I always enjoy chatting to Henry Franz of Dornoch Antique Clocks, who speaks with such passion and knowledge of his marvellously displayed collection.This year he will be showing a circa 1878 Grande – Sonnerie Verge table clock by A & L Moses Portsea.
The moulded ebony veneered case – housing an arch brass composite dial, chime selection and an 8-day, pull quarter repeater movement – has decorative features such as an inverted bell top, four gilt brass finials and gilded fret work, and – indicative of how craftsmen have always found inspiration in wild-life – the clock case sits on four gilt claw feet.
Read’s of Rosebank – who celebrated their centenary in August – will also be in attendance, with a dazzling treasure trove of jewellery and fine silver. “Antique jewellery is really just carefully preserved and recycled elements of our heritage” said Pam Thomson. “And most of it is handcrafted with such precision and expertise, which you won’t easily find in pieces made today, much of which is mass manufactured and machine-made, and produces such terrible pollution”.
And finally, in a fitting nod to the start of this newsletter, Unicorn Antiques – itself a legend of the South African antique trade – will also be exhibiting at the October fair. I caught up with George Korten at his studio in the Rosebank Mews, where I found the master of preservation polishing and restoring some of the treasures he will be showcasing on his stand.
He pointed out three Chinese Celadon pottery bowls crafted in the Southern Song period (1127 and 1279). “Made from readily available and environmentally responsible resources taken from their immediate surroundings, notice how each craftsman decorated each bowl with fish or flower motifs”, George explained.
While doing so, two carvings of traditional houses amid treed landscapes caught my eye. “Ah, these are both mint condition Chinese carved boar tusks,circa 1940… The meat of the animal would have been consumed, and by-products – such as the skin and these tusks – would then have been used to make useful or decorative items… Again you can see how the inspiration was taken from the physical rural environment”.
But perhaps the most imposing piece from Unicorn Antiques will be a European bronze and glass centre-piece. “A useful antique helps make a good antique”, stated George, “but it should also be arresting in its beauty”, and this centre-piece, the base of which has been fashioned as a large griffin – another creature of ancient folklore – encapsulates this perfectly. “Just notice the fierce expression and focus in the eyes!”
And, seeing the expression on my face, he quickly added, “It’s not for sale… yet!”
So be sure to diarise the dates…
DATE: 10am to 6pm, Friday the 26th to Sunday the 28th October 2012
VENUE: The Wanderers Club, 21 North Road, Illovo
R50.00 Entrance fee
Gala opening Thursday 25th October 2012 by invitation only
For more information visit www.saada.co.za