Souvernir Of The Week: Black Pottery From Oaxaca, Mexico

You’ve been reading Gadling writer Jessica Marati’s Oaxaca dispatches. What did she bring home? Black pottery from 1050° Ceramics Collective, an artists’ group with a focus on sustainability. Every piece is lead-free, but otherwise, artisans adhere to the region’s 2,000-year-old techniques for making the earthy, ebony-hued objects, buffed to a high shine by hand. Products range from vases and bowls and platters to pendant lights to jewelry.

Oaxaca, a National Geographic type of cultural destination in southern Mexico, is as renowned for its folk-art traditions as it is for complex moles. Travelers hop between outlying towns beyond the state’s eponymous city, each village specializing in a particular craft – naturally dyed rugs, fantastical wood-carved animals and black pottery chief among them. The 1050° collective’s works are sold in four shops in Oaxaca City (not to mention the MoMA in New York). The Dona Rosa hacienda is also a popular destination, where visitors watch a demonstration before shopping its huge selection of pottery.

[Photo Credit: 1050grados]

Ashmolean Museum In Oxford Receives Major Gift Of Renaissance Art

Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum has received a major bequest in the form of nearly 500 works of Renaissance gold and silver from the collection of Michael Wellby (1928–2012), the museum has announced.

Wellby was a well-known antiques dealer specializing in German and Flemish silver of the 16th and 17th centuries. He ran a shop in London for many years. As is typical with antiques dealers, he kept some of the best pieces for his personal collection.

Some of the pieces were made for royalty, like a silver gilt ewer made in Portugal c.1510-15 that bears the Royal Arms of Portugal. Another stunning item is a lapis lazuli bowl with gold mounts made in Prague in c. 1608 by the Dutch goldsmith Paulus van Vianen. Many of the pieces incorporate exotic materials such as ostrich eggs and nautilus shell, items that were just becoming available to the wealthy of Europe through the new global trade routes.

The collection will go on display in a temporary gallery this month and will remain there until a new permanent gallery is opened to house the collection. The Ashmolean already has an impressive collection of Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern art, including a large display of English silver.

The Ashmolean, like the equally famous Pitt-Rivers, are both free museums, making Oxford a good budget travel destination.

[Photo copyright The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford]

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Museum Of Craft And Folk Art In San Francisco To Close

San Francisco’s Museum of Craft And Folk Art has announced in a press release that it will close its doors forever on December 1.

Museum officials said, “Sustainability in the current economic climate, with reduced funding for the arts, was a significant factor in the decision.”

The museum tried to put a brave face on the announcement by highlighting its past achievements. It was founded in 1982 in San Francisco at a time when artists carrying on craft and folk traditions were generally overlooked by the art market. The museum was instrumental in changing that, the release said.

The closure is scheduled to coincide with the end of its current exhibition “Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers.”

There is no word yet on what will happen with the museum’s collection. The museum is the only one of its kind in northern California.

The global recession has hit museums and the arts particularly hard. Many museums are scaling back exhibitions and reducing hours. I’ve written before on how Greek museums are facing the economic crisis. They’re not alone. The Edgar Allen Poe Museum may have to close, and a Dutch museum is selling part of its collection to survive.

[Photo of guitar/record player from the museum’s collection courtesy Marshall Astor]

Masterpieces of silver in Antwerp

Belgium is famous for its silver. Belgian silversmiths have a history stretching back hundreds of years. Their work has always been sought after for its high degree of craftsmanship and so it’s no surprise there’s a Silver Museum in Antwerp dedicated to the craftsmen that make these works of art.

Besides talent, they have a sense of humor too. This wine cup, shown here in a photo copyright Hugo Maertens of Bruges, is actually an early drinking game. It’s shown upside down so you can get a good view of the clockwork mill. When it’s wound up, the mill begins to turn and the people climb up the stairs. After a few seconds the clock strikes 11, and if you haven’t drained the cup you have to drink 11 more times. The fact that this was made back in 1688 or 1689 shows just how good the Belgian silversmiths were, and what people liked to get up to on their off hours.

Antwerp has been a center for silversmithing for 500 years and the Silver Museum is in the castle of Sterckshof. Different sections explain how silver is mined, processed, and worked. Sumptuous displays of silver items from all times fill the many rooms.

Until 9 April 2012 there’s a special exhibition called Esthétique Moderne focusing on Belgian silversmiths of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This covers the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements. It’s an impressive collection of works of art. For images from the exhibition, check out the gallery, and if you like seeing beautiful works of art, check out the Silver Museum.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: The oldest printing press in the world!

This trip was partially funded by Tourism Antwerp and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.


Making your own message in a bottle

You’ve probably already heard the story of Olivier Vandewalle, a Belgian who in 1977 at the age of 14 threw a message in a bottle into the sea while sailing off the south coast of England. Lorraine Yates found it 33 years later on a beach at Swanage, England. Figuring the address Olivier included was out of date, she tracked him down on Facebook.

While 33 years is an impressive time, it’s nowhere near the Guinness World Record for a bottle being at sea. The record holder was cast adrift in 1914 and recovered 92 years later in 2006.

A message in a bottle is a romantic way to call out to the world (just ask Sting) and a fun way to kill some time on the beach, but if you want your message to last, it’s best to follow some simple rules. Olivier used a wine bottle with a cork and his father insisted he seal it with “candle grease”, by which he probably means melted wax. This is important because a cork will decay much more quickly in salt water if it isn’t protected by a wax seal. One writer suggests using a bottle with a screw cap but it’s doubtful it would stay waterproof for long as it expands and contracts with temperature changes. A cork will absorb a tiny amount of moisture and expand in the neck of the bottle to make a snug fit, which is why they’re used in the first place.

Opinions differ on how to put the message inside. When I chucked my own bottle into the sea off the coast of South Carolina back in the early 80s, I wrote the message on the outside of the rolled-up paper. I included my address (now long out of date) and a request to write me and throw the bottle back into the sea. I hoped to get a whole series of responses. That hasn’t happened and I don’t think I’ll last long enough to break the world record. On further reflection I’m thinking that if my bottle is still floating out there, the sun shining through the glass has probably made my message fade away, so it’s best to put the message on the inside of the roll of paper. Sealing the message in a plastic bag is also a good idea.

One writer suggests using a clear bottle because the message be more noticeable. Wine bottles are best because they float well and have that classic look. Gadling blogger Jamie Rhein used a wine bottle for her message and got a response.

If you want to keep your message in a bottle, here are some tips on making it look old and weathered, just like it had been in the sea for years. Or if you want a bigger craft project, make a boat out of plastic bottles.