Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Annual Marmalade Making Adventure Continues

It felt like Christmas in April as I opened Reggie's beautifully wrapped kumquat marmie as part of The Great Marmalade Exchange of 2014
Photo: Chronica Domus


Back in February I posted a piece, that can be read here, on how we, or more specifically my husband, came to make marmalade at home, something that has now evolved into an annual rite of winter.  The first comment I received on the story was from Reggie Darling, the author of the wildly popular Reggie Darling, The View From Darlington House (I'm sure there aren't too many readers left in this corner of the blogosphere who've yet to discover this elegantly stylish, informative, and witty blog).  After a few emails transpired between us, the idea of The Great Marmalade Exchange was hatched.  You can read all about it at Reggie's blog here.

Reggie's preferred way of eating marmie, straight off the spoon!
Photo: Chronica Domus


Who knew that when we began our Annual Marmalade Making Adventure and I wrote about it, it would add impetus to the marmalade making aspirations of one of my favorite bloggers.  This week, I happily received a jar of Reggie's kumquat marmie, beautifully wrapped in blousy tissue paper and ribbon, and nesting in a bed of excelsior.  I can report firsthand that his inaugural effort into marmalade pursuits has resulted in the perfect storm in a jar; a confluence of juice, rind, and sugar making for a puckery spread which is absolutely delish!  Bravo Reggie!  My family and I enjoyed the marmie this morning at breakfast on our buttered toast with cups of tea.  We got through nearly half the jar before my insistence that it be put away so we could all enjoy it again on another morning. It was that good!

I am aware that marmalade is not as popular as other preserves at breakfast time in this country, but could that have come about as a result of having tasted only commercially available cloying concoctions?  Traditionally, homemade marmalade is an entirely different animal; less sweet, more bitter and therefore much more likely to make an impression upon the palate.  Some will never come to love marmalade, but an informed opinion is simply not possible without first having tried a properly bitter batch made fresh at home.  Into which camp do you fall - love it, or loathe it?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Paschal Pleasures: The Egg

Chronica Domus
Eggs in hues of pale green, buff and pale blue
Photo: Chronica Domus


Each year as we prepare to celebrate Easter, eggs are the recurring central theme in the decoration of our home. Whereas many households focus their seasonal imagery around lambs, bunnies and chicks, for us it is all about the egg.  We don't over do it when it comes to decorating, instead choosing to add a vase of flowering seasonal branches, a compote or two of eggs that have been dyed by my daughter, as well as a variety of Easter chocolate confections.

I was given some rather unusual eggs by my sister-in-law that I thought would be an eggcelent excellent addition to the annual Easter egg hunt that my daughter so enjoys.  Here they are in my garden trug awaiting their clandestine spot in the flower bed.

Chronica Domus
Rhea, emu, goose and partridge eggs beneath the flowering Polygonatum
Photo: Chronica Domus


The eggs vary in size from the smallest two inch drab colored partridge example to the largest six inch rhea giants in the most delicate lemon chiffon color.  The darkest egg was produced by an emu and has a granulated surface in deep teal and is about five inches in length.  A pure white three inch goose egg is also in the mix.

Chronica Domus
The hidden eggs awaiting discovery by my daughter
Photo: Chronica Domus


These were fun to tuck in among the spring flowers and they blended in rather well with their naturally colored shells.  I hid the emu egg in a little mound of violas.

Chronica Domus
An Emu egg in disguise
Photo: Chronica Domus


The partridge egg's drab olive tone worked well hidden in the violet patch.  I'm just hoping the resident Scrub Jays don't get to it before my daughter does.  Many years ago, I had displayed a basket of dyed eggs on my kitchen table close to a partially opened window.  To my astonishment a Scrub Jay flew into the kitchen and claimed his bounty by pecking the eggs to pieces.  It was truly a remarkable moment of nature gone bad, but why was I surprised by this?  They are, after all, nest robbers by vocation.

Chronica Domus
Could you have found the partridge egg as is blends effortlessly into the violet patch?
Photo: Chronica Domus


The giant rhea and smaller goose eggs were a little less difficult to find due to their bright shells and large size.

Chronica Domus
Not so much hiding but looking pretty in the spring garden
Photo: Chronica Domus


These naturally hued jewels are such a fun twist on the traditional Easter egg hunt that I think I'll do it all again next year.  I'm sure both adults and children alike would enjoy hunting for these whimsical beauties.

I wish you all a very Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Auction Day



The bough (or cache) pot of my dreams: A John Turner black basalt pot with lid (circa 1780 to 1806), as seen in an article written by the ceramics expert Mrs. Willoughby Hodgson, author of How To Identify Old China


As I left off in in my previous post, which can be read here, I could hardly stand the wait until the commencement of the auction the following day.  The small distraction of having my daughter's friend stay the night helped pass the time a little more swiftly, as I was charged with whipping up a Sunday breakfast to impress two ravenously hungry young  ladies. Freshly baked popovers with lashings of creamy butter and a dollop of raspberry jam, scrambled eggs, ripe strawberries and, as if I needed the stimulating effects of caffeine, a personal pot of strong coffee to fortify me through the lunch hour.

The auction is to begin at 10 a.m. sharp, and as the lot I am interested in will not come under the hammer until later in the day, we leave the house in the early afternoon to make our way to the sale.  Upon arrival, plenty of time remains to register at the desk, collect our paddle, and watch as several lots sell. My husband and I take the opportunity to assess the collection of ceramics on offer in the event I have missed anything of interest from the prior day in my excitement.  There are certainly some tempting pieces; the urn shaped vases and incense burner speak to me in particular.  If we are to hold hope for a successful bid on our lot of interest, we will have to remain focused on the prize and keep our powder dry.

I'm sure by now you are wondering what exactly it is that has tingled my spine and induced me into such an excitable state.  I should note that although my holy grail of the basalt world is not something which would necessarily appeal to everyone, for me the piece encompasses both my passion for flowers as well as for  containers to arrange them. I am drawn to the severe urn-like form of this piece (I have a "thing" for urns), its neoclassical cartouche decorations, its plinth, ball and paw feet, as well as to the item's intended purpose. In fact, it is something I have long coveted since it arrived at my notice, by way of an old photograph, contained within a book on ceramics (illustrated above).  I have never seen one of these pieces in the flesh prior to my nail biting day at auction.

So, here I am, with not just one of these long sought after items, but two.  Yes, TWO, and they are both offered within the same lot.  Can the necessary variables withstand such luck, namely my husband, my nerves, and my bank account?

Chronica Domus
The lot that lead to my undoing
Photo: Chronica Domus


For many years, I have hoped to stumble across one of these illusive beauties, and introduce it to my little collection of black basalt. Outside of the pair photographed above, I have never actually seen one for sale. While researching this piece, I discovered such a pair had sold at auction in London many years prior, but  were notably missing their perforated lids.  In this instance both the pyramidal surmounted lids are included and intact.  There is not a chip, scratch or repair between the four pieces.  They are perfect in every possible way, and I want them!

These bough pots (or cache pots as they are sometimes called), were made by John Turner, the master potter, friend and rival of Josiah Wedgwood, sometime between 1780 and 1806. Interestingly, many of Turner's designs unabashedly reflected the influence of Wedgwood. Look at the following photograph I found in my copy of the auction catalog from the Milton Milestone Wedgwood sales held in New York in 1975 and 1976. Clearly, the Wedgwood pots and the Turner pots could have been made by the same hand.  Don't you agree?

A pair of Wedgwood bough pots in the collection of Milton Milestone that was sold at Sotheby's on April 6, 1976 in New York
Photograph: Chronica Domus

As the ceramic lots begin arriving on the block, the auction room is about half full.  I have speculated in the run up as to who, if anyone, should be my rival when pursuing my quarry. My husband and I are seated toward the middle of the room which places the majority of bidders behind us.  We really cannot get a good grasp on the competition.  After much dithering, we decide to move towards the back of the room which, to our way of thinking, affords a better vantage point on the proceedings.

The black basalt tea ware lots are selling fast, one after the other.  Most sell within the estimated range, which I take as strong indication that I may be in with a chance when it comes my turn to bid.  The bough pots are rapidly approaching and I can feel my heart pounding harder and harder

I've been in this room many times prior to today and have often been the successful bidder on items that are now resting proudly in my home.  However, on this occasion, seeing the interest intensify as my lot approaches the auction block, wracked with nerves I turn to jelly. I am suddenly a feeble wobbly mess and stand little chance of surviving the battle ahead. There is only one thing to do.  I turn the paddle over to my trusty husband, my rock, and take my chances.  And, what a good job he did!  The two bidders in the room, one a dealer who had already successfully won many items of furniture and decoration, the other a collector, have rapidly run up the price. Then, out of the blue, a live internet bidder chimes in to raise the heat.  My husband is next.  I can barely look as the auctioneer announces "we have a new bidder in the back".  It is now a war between the internet bidder and us.  After several bidding rounds, my husband looks at me and says "should I?", meaning shall we bid to win.  "Yes do", I nervously mutter, trepidation etched on my face, barely getting the words out of my parched mouth, and praying this will not lead to ruin as the pace and price escalate in tandem. I begin to breathe again just in time to see the auctioneer motion towards my husband to show her his paddle. Victory! We've won!  I can barely comprehend it. I need to sit down and compose myself.  I really should have packed my smelling salts as I have transformed into a complete nervous Nellie.   Although I am not a serious collector of ceramics, at least by most people's definition, I feel as though we were pitted against a few of them at this auction.

Chronica domus
Our bough pots looking pretty with their spring blooms
Photo: Chronica Domus


I am ecstatic that we are now the proud stewards of these two beautiful vessels that will be very well appreciated and used for their intended purpose.  In fact, just this morning, I raced out of the house to purchase some spring blooms at the farmers' market.  It was so much fun to arrange the flowers within the pyramidal lids.  Each has a dozen holes, three per side, and act much like a flower frog. When not in use, they shall have pride of place on one of our side tables or atop the mantle.  I cannot help but wonder where the veiled caryatids at each of the four corners of the pots have lived in their two hundred years of existence, how they've traveled across the seas from England and their humble beginnings in Staffordshire, and how their prior owners used and displayed them.  This evening, these two beauties will grace our dining table, where they shall punctuate our lily white tablecloth with their dark and stately presence.  Admittedly, these were a bit of a splurge for us, but the color has finally been restored to my husband's face and all is well as I await the next great find.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

An Auction Preview To Excite


Chronica Domus
A substantial (and tempting) late 18th century black basalt urn shaped vase and cover by Wedgwood & Bentley
Photo: Chronica Domus


This past February, I attended an auction where, unfortunately, I was the unsuccessful bidder on a piece of artwork. While there, I spotted a few items of interest that were not part of the current sale.  They were prominently displayed in the two glass cases flanking the entrance doors to the auction house. I inquired at the registration desk as to when the two Wedgwood urns and the black basalt sphinx candlestick would be coming under the hammer.  I was told these items were to be featured in the next Period Art and Design sale at the end of March. Unfortunately, the catalog for that auction was not yet available for viewing.  All I could do was wait another month to see what else might catch my eye.

Chronica Domus
A pair of 19th century Wedgwood jasper urns in an unusual straw color with black decoration.
Photo: Chronica Domus


When the catalog was eventually made available for viewing in mid-March, I found myself being simultaneously overjoyed and heart poundingly nervous at the sight of a substantial haul of ceramic goodies on offer. Part of the overall sale featured a large collection of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century black basalt pieces manufactured by Wedgwood and his contemporaries, a particular collecting interest of mine.  There were also many pieces of jasperware in an assortment of colors and color combinations, caneware, and several impressive porphyry glazed terracotta pieces.  I knew this auction could steer me into imminent danger and lead to my undoing upon spying lot after lot of items I'd only ever seen between the walls of a museum or the covers of reference books.  This was by far the largest collection of  early Wedgwood I had ever seen outside of the official Wedgwood museum in Stoke-on-Trent.  Of course other large collections have come up for sale in other well respected auction houses within the United States, but I can tell you that I live on the wrong side of the country for such things to appear locally.  This was definitely an auction to induce an experience worthy of smelling salts.


Chronica Domus
A diminutive black basalt urn shaped vase and cover
Photo: Chronica Domus


With this in mind, what was a girl to do when confronted with a veritable chocolate box of goodies?  Well, the answer, of course, would be to attend the auction's preview, and that is exactly what I did last Saturday. My good friend and neighbor, who is often my partner in crime on such hunts, accompanied me on this expedition and was my voice of reason as we both ogled the cases bursting with pretties.

The preview rooms were hopping with interested individuals and potential bidders scouring both the decorative arts pieces on offer, and the trove of fine jewelry that was to be featured as part of the Salon Jewelry Sale on the day following the Period Art and Design Sale.

The collection I had come to view was divided into forty-three lots.  Of those, seventeen comprised exclusively of black basalt pieces. There was an abundance of tea and coffee pots, sugar bowls, creamers and milk jugs decorated in a variety of engine turned designs and applied relief molding.

Chronica Domus
A lot of tea ware including a tea canister (back right), and a teapot with a swan finial manufactured by William Baddeley of Eastwood
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
This lot of tea ware included a teapot manufactured by the Spode factory (back right)
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
Yet another lot of tea ware comprised mainly of engine turned designs
Photo: Chronica Domus

Several urns were featured in various sizes along with incense burners, spittoons, vases, a tea canister and even a large punch pot.  Oh, and the lone sphinx candlestick I had seen back in February was now featured as a lot on its own.

Chronica Domus
A beautiful late 18th century Wedgwood & Bentley black basalt urn shaped vase with lid, a very tempting piece
Photo: Chronica Domus


All of  the pieces I examined appeared to be in excellent condition with barely a chip or scratch between them.  Obviously, whoever compiled the collection (and I would guess at least the basalt pieces came from a single collector), took great care of it and had exacting standards when adding to it.  Some of the pieces I handled came complete with previous auction tags marking their passage through prior sales.  I spotted a few from an auction that Sotheby's held in New York in 1984, and others from their earlier sales.  There were even lot tags from auctions held at Philips in London.  One sticker of note adhered to the underside of an urn had indicated its provenance through the collection of Milton Milestone, the renowned international collector of Wedgwood. Further research tells me it may have left the nest during one of two great sales held in 1975 and 1976 by Sotheby's in New York.

Chronica Domus
 A spittoon, urn shaped vase (formerly in the collection of Milton Milestone), and a sublime incense burner
Photo: Chronica Domus

Chronica Domus
An appetizing  lot comprised of a cylindrical vase (center), an urn shaped vase (right), and what I think to be the bottom of a cassolette (left, described as a vase)
Photo: Chronica Domus

Within the dizzying selection of lots, there were several examples of basalt to tempt me. However, those pieces were distributed over several lots and I was not interested in buying  lots in their entirety just to add a minority of included items to my own humble collection. Not to worry, as every item I'd seen, no matter how impressive it was initially, fell to the wayside once I'd spotted the one spectacular lot I knew I had to have. It was one of those visceral moments that set my heart aflutter and took my breath away, and it most assuredly qualified as a smelling salt moment.

I could hardly contain my excitement and nervousness and could tell that it would be an agonizing twenty-four hour wait until the opening of the auction the following day.  My poor dear husband, not hearing the end of it, would surely be feeling as though the time could not arrive soon enough.

Chronica Domus
A Wedgwood & Bentley porphyry glazed terracotta vase on a black basalt base with mask decorations at the base of the handles
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
An impressive pair of late 18th century Wedgwood porphyry glazed terracotta urns formerly in the Zeitlin ceramics collection
Photo: Chronica Domus


In my next post I will share what held me so spellbound and whether or not I was the successful bidder on what I considered to be the holy grail of black basalt pieces for my small personal collection.

I hope you'll join me on the auction floor for the conclusion of my story.



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What Is (was) Blooming Inside

Spring blooming flowers arranged in a black basalt sugar basin
Photo: Chronica Domus


Nota bene: I had intended to publish this post back in February but it somehow got buried within the other posts I was working on.  I hope you enjoy it despite the fact that these little flowers are long gone and remain but a pleasant memory.

As you will learn over time on this blog, I love flowers and other natural elements that I am able to bring into my home to enjoy.  I feel that no matter how fine the contents, or how beautiful one's home is, it becomes even more so with the addition of seasonal gifts from the natural world.   Take, for example, the diminutive arrangement pictured in the preceding photograph.  I picked the last of the blue grape hyacinth stragglers and the sunny Avalanche narcissi that were blooming around my home (seen here), and added some cheery yellow and white tulips I had purchased at the San Francisco Flower Market.  The arrangement sits on our drawing room's mantel and brightens the room no end.  Don't you agree?

A close up view of the cheery arrangement on our mantel
Photo: Chronica Domus


Any surface or corner of your home will be enhanced greatly by any size arrangement, no matter how small or large,  in a vessel of your choosing.  For this arrangement, I utilized a black basalt sugar basin for my little corner of cheerfulness.  As I gaze upon it, I cannot fail but to smile and gain a sunny disposition.

Tell me, do you make a point of enjoying fresh cut flowers, branches, seed pods, leaves, fruit or other such offerings from nature around your home throughout the year? 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...