Sunday, 29 January 2012


81. Venetian mask

I have bought many souvenirs, over the years, from Venice, my favourite city. The earliest purchases were of shoes, bought from small shops that sold custom and ready made shoes of the softest, jewel-coloured leathers. Sadly the shoemakers have now gone, but many other skills survive. The pleasure of shopping in Venice is that craftsmanship is still alive. In back rooms the paper makers, framers, glass blowers and mask makers are all busy producing their goods, skills passed down unbroken through the generations. Like every other tourist I have bought my fair share of embroidered and initialed handkerchiefs and mementos of Murano glass.
As well as sunshine we've also experienced a fair amount of rainfall in this city of water and one year we came home with an extremely large and elegant gentleman's umbrella. It was not remotely British, the fabric was a rather racy navy with brown spots and each metal spoke was tipped with wood to match the handle.
Now the city is awash with tourist tat, imported fabrics that are a dull echo of the work of previous years. Masks are big business. They vary from the traditional to the revolting to the magical. I bought this blank to decorate myself. It has been hanging on the wall of my workroom for years, a quiet presence, with a teardrop moulded into the papier-mache. Initially I had some complicated idea as to how I would paint it, but now I like it just as it is and it will remain unadorned.

I am usually disdainful of holiday souvenirs, but can hardly be so about those from Venice, after all I have bought so many! Half masks and full masks, vases, glass sweets and jigsaws, water carafes and ice-cream sundae dishes, the latter stretching my Italian vocabulary to the limit but improving my miming skills considerably.

82. Jigsaw of the Palazzo Pesaro-Rava.

Venice is a place for moving slowly, on foot through the myriad small alleyways, by boat up and down the canals. It gives a pace for looking, observing more closely, discovering all manner of small pleasures, the sounds of footsteps that have not been obliterated by the roar of car engines. You stroll along the same streets each day, you linger in a shop doorway, and you are tempted. It isn't possible to buy the Palazzo Pesaro-Rava, so beautiful on the Grand Canal, but you can take home the jigsaw that bears it's name.

83. Classical casts.

A ramshackle wooden box, bought years ago at auction for a few pounds, holds four layers of these delicate small casts, souvenirs from an era when people embarked on the 'grand tour'. They brought these items home as a reminder of the works of art that they had seen on their travels through Europe.

An old German book, 'Gemmen und Kameen des Altertums Etder Neuzeit' helped me to identify much of the subject matter and the source material.
Some of the pieces had perished and Peter set to work to reproduce the remainder whilst they were still sound.

Moulds were made, after which the fun really started. What materials to cast in, and what colours to choose? We made a mixture of resin, marble dust and pigments and worked alongside examples of different stones to imitate their qualities.

We were delighted with the results and had several pieces made into jewellery. We thought that we could sell these. 
We couldn't ! Our skills didn't extend to commerce, or any ability to make money. After the pleasure of making durable copies, followed by designing a letterhead and leaflet, our enthusiasm and salesmanship faded and our little gems were put away in a cupboard.

Stick to what you know!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Ivory figures

79. Japanese entertainers
ivory, 4 cm high.

I handed over my father's collection of ivories to my nephew several years ago and then saw this beautiful little object in an art gallery while Peter was looking for something else. The man's toe is broken. I had picked the piece up by the clear perspex base, thinking that the figures were attached, but no, they were not, and the figures went flying, so the missing  toe is down to my own clumsiness. I was delighted to buy this ivory and bring it home, it is a pleasure to put in the palm of my hand and study closely, each small detail of the patterned clothing, the ribbons beneath the chin. My father would have enjoyed this object and my buying it feels like a continuation. Our daughters are the same, the younger tells me, "we don't do tidy, Mum, we're too fond of stuff."

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Street cries of London

78. Street cries of London figurines
8cm high.

Some time before the luxury of having a hamper delivered from Fortnum and Mason, produce could be bought on the streets of London from the many sellers, each with their own distinctive call.  They are a popular subject matter for small figurines such as these.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


77. Fortnum and Mason wicker hamper.

On the morning of Christmas Eve a few years ago a courier struggled up the garden path with a large present for me. Oh, joy - it was a hamper from Fortnum and Mason, absolutely packed with goodies! The family and their partners were arriving later that day so I opened the hamper on the kitchen floor and examined the contents. There was everything that a hostess could wish for to add to her celebratory meals. 
We were feasting all week!
The hamper has been re-stocked and taken on various outings since then, the F&M logo adding a bit of style to happy occasions!

Nativity set

75. Pottery nativity set

We bought this nativity set many years ago, in the week before Christmas, from a pottery in the narrow streets around Palma cathedral. Its simplicity is charming, the sheep made from just a squidge of clay with four nails for legs.
Several years after having bought it my parents took our elder daughter to Majorca to recouperate from a serious illness. She was ten years old and insisted on an expedition to the pottery, although she could not remember exactly where it was. My parents told me later that it took a lot of finding!
They bought this black and white Spanish bull to add to our nativity set.

76. Boxer dog.

And because my own childhood had been spent with a faithful boxer dog as companion my father bought me this dog as a momento, (although Bruce was a brindle boxer and an altogether more solid character!)