Monday, August 30, 2010

My Cabinet of Curiosities: A New Pig, A Pin & A Chinoiserie Highboy

P1010589 A Pig Pin Cushion

Recently, for my birthday which was in July, my very talented friend J____ , a real Renaissance woman, a master gardener, an antique appraiser and a gifted artist and decorative painter gave me a fab new pig for my collection.  The wooden or metal or perhaps composite pin cushion is fashioned into a boar with menacing tusks.  The cushion area is on the back of the animal and is covered with some sort of fur meant to evoke the real hide of our tusked wild friend.

The finish on the pig looks as if it had been painted at one time or that is the treatment it was given.  I am not sure of its age or history, though decorative pin cushions were certainly an essential item in households of the past when sewing and needlework was one of the chief pastimes of women.  Whether an old or a new confection, I love this recent addition to my pig collection


Along with the boar, my friend J____ felt that such an object needed a pin, but not one for sewing, but a stylish tie stick pin topped by a cube of glowing amber with beveled edges and chamfered corners. P1010591 I have been wearing a lot of ties lately and this stick pin will be a great vintage sartorial accessory.  The history of the tie pin is quite intriguing:

A tie pin (also known as a stick pin), is a neckwear-controlling device, originally worn by wealthy English gentlemen to secure the folds of their cravats, they were first popularized at the beginning of the 19th century. Cravats were made of silk, satin, lace and lightly starched cambric, lawn and muslin, and stickpins were necessary accoutrements to keep these expensive fabrics in place and safe. Stickpins commonly used pearls and other precious gemstones set in gold or other precious metals and were designed specifically for their owners. By the 1860s, wearing cravats had been embraced by the English upper middle classes with a consequently lower quality of materials and designs used in both the neckwear and in the stickpins used to keep it in place. By the 1870s Americans had embraced stickpins and designs were mass produced and included animal heads, horse shoes, knife and fork motifs, crossed pipes, wishbones, bugs, flowers, shields and a host of other figural motifs.

I suspect that my new tie pin is circa late 19th century or early 20th century.  Though not exactly necessary today as in days past, the pin with its honey golden tone will be my “pop” of color for the autumn either with a tie or on a lapel.



As I mentioned at the beginning of this post my friend J____ is a talented and creative artist.  She transformed an old 1940’s “colonial” maple highboy that belonged to my great aunt into a spectacular rendition of 18th century Chinoiserie inspired design.  The once ugly orange finish of the 1940’s piece of furniture now has a black ground emblazoned with an antique gold landscape design inspired by Chinese scrolls.  The chest also has subtle touches of red and blue to complement the fabrics in the room.


The composition of the chest front is quite complex.  In the lower register of drawers, the scene is set underwater with fanciful fish and plants.  As your eye moves up the chest of drawers, you emerge from the water and see a magnificent mountain landscape with a river fed by a waterfall tumbling down the mountain.  The landscape is filled with pagoda-like buildings reminiscent of Chinese architecture.



On the right side of the chest, there is another beautiful landscape in which 2 Chinese Minzhu pigs roam.  I asked my friend to add this touch of whimsy to the chest.  It marks this piece of furniture as my own, as my own expression of desire.


The transformed highboy is an expression of my continual fascination with Western design and objects that are inspired and influenced by Chinese art and culture.  It is a sentiment that informs my collection of 19th century English transferware pottery that is influenced by Chinese style and subject matter and additionally my collecting of  English pottery inspired by the arts of Japan. 

P1010245Detail of shallow 10” black transferware plate in the Napier pattern by J. Ridgeway 1846-50.

This fascination, my own and that of the Western world, not only lies in the beauty and “exoticism” of Chinese form and content, but it is also a complex way in which the Other is understood and conceptualized by the Western mind.  This conceptualization is of course both an exercise in aesthetics and power.  Indeed, Europe colonized and ruled 85% of the world by 1914, a sobering fact.  Art is always inherently political.  The traces of imperialism  expressed by my collection of pottery and my Chinoiserie highboy exists in a long tradition in which the East is mythologized and exoticized by the West.  These facts do not make these objects wrong, but rather imbue them with a complexity far beyond their form and content.

Foreign_armies_in_Beijing_during_Boxer_Rebellion Foreign armies in  Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion 1898-1901


  1. Wow, so many gorgeous things! Love the finish on the pig. And that chest is just stunning. You managed to get some lovely photos of the design. It's so fabulously intricate.

  2. That chest is a major WoW! Thank you for sharing your friend's talent with us.