Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Beauty of the Baltics - A Road Less Traveled

Angie & Hugh have been traveling to Sweden for decades to buy everything from clocks to furniture to paintings. Sometimes they would spend a week and other times they would spend a month, shopping, buying and shipping the entire time. They always said that one of these trips they were going to hop on a plane and visit the Baltics. Unfortunately it never happened. A couple of days was never enough time and whenever a week became available something would always come up. Last month they finally found their way to the Baltics.

Rather than hopping over from a trip to Sweden, they flew straight to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, 60 miles south of Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland.  Although on a map it looks like you might be able to see Finland or Sweden from the shores of the Baltics, in reality you can’t. But one thing you might see on the shores is amber, as the Baltics are home to one of the largest deposits of the stone in the world. Although amber is usually seen as yellowish in color, it can also be red or even black, depending on what was in or around the tree sap from which the stone was created.

Hugh & Angie weren’t quite sure what to expect from the Baltics. Would they resemble Prague, which held relatively few scars from decades of Soviet occupation or would they more closely resemble Berlin, which emerged from the Soviet empire sheathed in drab, lifeless concrete buildings? They were pleasantly surprised. What they found were three beautiful countries that, while quite modern, had the unmistakable stamp of Old Europe. From glorious churches that had been repurposed under the atheist Soviet regime to architectural details that very much give the feeling of Scandinavia, the trip was a visual delight. And there was much time for delighting as the summer days in the Baltics are quite long with the sun rising at 4:30 and not setting at night until about 10:30.

Tallinn is home of one of the best preserved old towns in the world, with many buildings originally built during the Hanseatic League period, a trading confederation that dominated the Baltics between the 15th and 19th centuries. From Tallinn they traveled to Riga, the capital of Latvia, where they visited the Neo-Byzantine styled Nativity Cathedral, built in the late 19th century. During the Soviet period the cathedral was turned into a planetarium but today it’s been restored to its prewar glory. Finally they ended their trip in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania and home to the Užupis district, a Paris like area populated by bohemian artists.

While the capitals were the main cities, they visited quite a number of small towns along the way and one quickly notices the absence of suburban sprawl that is found in many places in Western Europe. Once one exits the city you quickly find yourself in the rural countryside or heavily wooded forest. In the little towns that dot the countryside you could usually find something good to eat… as long as you like pork & potatoes … which seem like the national food of three different counties! Of course in the cities it’s easy to broaden your palate’s choices, as like much of Europe today, most have large numbers of Italian, Chinese and various other ethnic cuisines.

The museums were sometimes like passing through a time capsule, featuring volumes of period pieces of 17th century Italian Baroque and 18th Century French styles, displayed in beautifully carved rooms. Many of the antique shops carried inventories that were similar to those in Sweden, and a number of them featured jewelry and crosses carved from the original skin of a 16th century cathedral that had its steeple replaced. And then of course there are the centuries old buildings themselves, many wooden, whose exteriors seem to defy the ravages of time. Finally, in addition to everything antique one might imagine would be captivating, possibly the most fascinating visits of the trip had nothing to do with antiques or art or architecture. In each of the three capitals they visited a building from which you were able to “see Siberia”. It wasn’t equipped with a powerful telescope however. In each city the KGB had a headquarters, each of which is now a museum. During the occupation, if one were unlucky enough to enter through its front door the next place you would likely see was someplace in Siberia.

Below are just a few of our intrepid travelers’ favorite shots from their visit across the three countries that like their flags, are very similar, but have their own unique styles.

The Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia

Windmills in Estonia.  Although the windmills are original, the arms are new. During the Cold War the Soviets tore down all windmill arms in the Baltics as they were concerned that they could be manipulated by spies to transmit codes.

The remains of the Tartu Cathedral in Tartu, Estonia. The foundations were built in the 13th century with extensive modifications made in the 15th century only the see the cathedral fall into disrepair in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today within the ruins sits a three story library that was built between 1804 & 1807.  

These are examples of the exquisitely decorated doors that are found throughout the Baltics.  

The sign of a music store in Tartu.  

A knight's castle in Cesis Latvia.

Gardens and castle on the road to Riga, Estonia.  

An extraordinary doorway in Riga, Estonia.

A fresco and a grandfather clock sitting in a niche, in a merchant's home in Riga.

A painted ceiling in that same merchant's home.

A Russian Orthodox church in Riga.

A Lithuanian government building in Vilnius. During the Cold War this building was a KGB outpost... from which anyone brought in was said to be able to see Siberia. In addition, it made a great vantage point from which spy on those attending church across the street... which was problematic for careers as the USSR was officially atheist.

This is the home of the Brotherhood of Blackheads... an association of local unmarried merchants, ship owners, and foreigners that was active from the 15th century until 1940. These buildings are the reconstructed replacements in the exact style of the originals, which were destroyed during WWII.

An Art Nouveau facade of a building in Riga.

A lower level of the same building...

And its neighbor building.

The Rundale Palace in Pilsrundāle, Latvia on the way to Lithuania. Built between 1734 & 1768, today the palace and its gardens are a museum and on occasion some of its many rooms are is used to host foreign delegations during state visits.

This is a ceramic stove that heats one of the rooms in the Rundale Palace. It is fed through holes in the walls of the rooms that connect with this room. Once hot these ceramic stoves can give off heat for many hours after the fire has gone out.

A Rococo console and chair in the Palace.

An exquisite 18th Century Rococo chest in the Palace. This is a slightly more ornate version of a chest we have in our shop.

Begun some 200 years ago, the Hill of Crosses in northern Lithuania is said to have over 100,000 crosses and crucifixes planted on it as well as countless rosaries, carvings of Lithuanian patriots and statues of the Virgin Mary. With as many meanings as there are crosses, the Red Army bulldozed the site three times in 50 years but each time the citizens would immediately begin replacing the crosses.

Not far from the Hill of Crosses is the Hill of Witches, which was begun in 1979 and includes a great variety of totems that depict characters from Lithuanian folklore and pagan traditions.

Saint Peter Paul Cathedral, Kaunas, Lithuania

Saints Peter and Paul’s Church in Vilnus, Lithuania.   

Altar with the reliquary in the Church of St. Anne, Vilnius, Lithuania. It was hidden from the Soviets during the occupation, but today it shines like a beacon to believers.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bringing Objects to Life... Sometimes in Unexpected Ways

One of the great things about visiting museums or galleries is that you often get an opportunity to see objects differently than you might otherwise. A perfect example of this played out years ago when I was an Art History student in Paris. While our classrooms were in the Louvre, we often studied in other museums, including the Musée d’Orsay. One of the paintings in the Musée d’Orsay is Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 version of The Bedroom. Although it has been replicated everywhere from coffee table books to posters to screensavers, it’s far more spectacular in person than one could imagine.

On this particular day as I inched closer to examine the viscous paint I noticed something unexpected… He had used a newspaper to tamp down the paint in different areas. And how did I know this? Because you can see the letters of the newsprint embedded in the paint! It was spectacular. In my mind I could imagine him with a piece of newspaper wrapped around his finger tamping down the paint then tilting his head as he ponders whether or not to add paint to cover the ink. Thankfully he didn’t and it made a spectacular painting even better.

Such is the world of art and design: it’s bringing something to life, sometimes in unexpected ways. This gift applies particularly well to the world of design.

For thousands of years man has created objects, art and structures that sometimes were functional, sometimes stylish and sometimes both. Unfortunately history has a way of losing things, from buildings to coins and everything in between. Thankfully, museums and galleries function as time machines giving us a glimpse of an earlier time.

Whether it’s a building or a piece of furniture, an Objet d’Art, or an element on an assembly line, usually a great deal of work went into creating something of value. But as time goes on things sometimes become, less functional, less desired and often fall into disrepair and are eventually discarded.

The sad thing is that much heart and soul and energy likely went into the creation of those objects and after their use is faded they’re simply gone and the sweat and energy that went into them is forgotten. It’s because of that trajectory however that we sometimes are able to find objects that can be re-purposed and brought back to life, often in unexpected ways. It’s almost like we’re reaching back and waking the spirit of the craftsmen or artisans or artists by giving life to their efforts in the modern world.

Whether it’s Van Gogh leaving a clue about his technique hiding in plain sight, Marcel Duchamp turning a urinal or a bottle rack into works of art or a building capital finding new life as a console, art and design find countless ways of making life more beautiful, often in the most unexpected of ways.

Below are some wonderful objects that have undergone a metamorphosis from their original use to become beautiful unique pieces that are not only functional, but at the same time have the added allure of connecting a room with some distant piece of history.

In this case the manufacturer is Mother Nature, but this coral lamp is nothing short of spectacular.

The frame of this Greek key mirror came from the facade of an early 20th century building in the US North-East, similar to the building below in Riga, Latvia

These decorative pieces were used as money in Papua New Guinea. They are called Yua Wenga (Money +  Clam Rings) and are made from Clamshells.  They are still used in some areas!

This French print block from the mid 20th century was used to apply patterns to fabric similar to the way a printing press applies ink to a newspaper. 

These are cork bee hives that now make great drink tables with that rustic look about them.

This lamp is made from an Italian gilded and painted wood fragment that likely came from the interior of a building.

Boat prows are the tip of the spear as a boat sails through the water. More decorative than functional, intricate boat prows were not at all unusual when wooden ships commanded the sea. (Below is an example.)  This prow has come back to life as a decorative piece that suggests the fantastic voyages for which it was the lead.  

These sconces started out life as Italian Processional Columns. Yesterday they illuminated the soul, today as beautiful sconces they illuminate the room.

This unique piece is made from a European millstone that was likely used to mill wheat or corn and today is a rather sturdy table.  The notches carved in the middle to stabilize the millstone as it turned make great holders for drinks or things decorative.  Below is a grinding wheel from Estonia that is a vertical version of  how such stones are sometimes used.

These beautiful objects are splash boards from Papua, New Guinea, which are used in the front of a canoe to protect from splashing. Their vibrant colors and intricate wood inlay make them stunning objects d'art.  

This spectacular console began life in the early 20th century as an iron capital on a building in  New York City. It spent most of its life being seen from hundreds of feet below where it was impossible to make out the details. Today, seen from only a few feet away as a console, its beauty and detail are no longer invisible to the naked eye, as can be seen by the image below.  

These petrified wood drink tables started out as trees and a short hundred million years later they are prepared to entertain and support... pretty much anything! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

From Greece, Japan and Ireland to Alabama and Atlanta... The Love of Design Flourishes with Jackye Lanham

Who knew that growing up as a military brat moving all over the country and the world could set someone up for finding their vocation, particularly if they weren’t destined to join the army? In Jackye Lanham’s case it did just that. Growing up in places like Greece, Japan, Washington, DC, Oregon and North Carolina, among others, certainly exposes one to a wide variety of cultures. With those cultures and geographies come vast differences in architecture and design and just by osmosis one can pick up a sense style. And with Jackye it stuck… and led right to Queens College in Charlotte.

According to the Census Bureau, three quarters of college graduates don’t work in their major. That’s often because students study a subject right out of high school, get their book education and then discover that the real world application is frequently much different. That’s not Jackye. After a year at Queens College she transferred to the University of Alabama when her Army father became the Commanding Officer of the university’s ROTC program (Reserve Officers Training Corps). And indeed she graduated from Alabama with her BA in Interior Design.

Upon graduation and after a short stop in Birmingham Jackye and her Army JAG husband Bill – yes, like the one on TV, but landlocked – moved to the Ft. MacPherson Army Post in Atlanta. Once here she took a job at a small interior design firm where she spent two years learning the ropes. She decided to go back to school and enrolled at Georgia State with the plan of getting her masters. In typical fashion it didn’t take her long to figure out that learning by doing was far more educational and fulfilling than reading about what you’re supposed to be doing, so she jumped back into the world of work. Here she landed with a two person antique furniture and wholesale firm who sold antiques, wicker and rattan to the design community. She loved it… and spent 13 years there! (And, incidentally that’s where she was when she first met Hugh and Angie, who were still selling at shows and out of their very scary warehouse in Jacksonville!)

One of the great upsides of this job was that Jackye became a world traveler once again as she went to places like Spain, the Philippines, Hong Kong, England and France to work with locals to manufacture wicker furniture and accessories. More art than interior design, she would watch as the craftsmen and artisans brought her designs to life. The beauty of being right there in the weaver’s workrooms was that if a piece didn’t come out exactly as she had envisioned, she could make adjustments right on the spot so that they were perfect before they went into large production runs.

L to R the Ladies of Lanham Designs:
Liz, Amy, Jackye & Jennifer
As fulfilling as that work was, the pure notion of interior design was never far from her mind, and she’d long thought about hanging out her own shingle. The timing seemed right when some friends lured her back into the business as they wanted her to design a new house they were moving into. Soon thereafter she took the leap and purchased the building on East Paces Ferry Road that Jacquelynne P Lanham Designs, Inc. calls home today.

Of course, as we all know, Interior Design is not exactly a cookie cutter business. Sometimes there’s just a room that needs to be decorated, other times a house needs a complete makeover and other times you’re designing while the project is being built! While she loves all sorts of design work, Jackye’s favorite pursuit is the latter… forming a team and starting from scratch. That team includes an architect, a builder, a designer… and of course the client. The thing she loves about such ground up endeavors is that as the interior designer she’s intimately involved with everything associated with the overall project. That was exactly the case when she worked with the builder and architect in designing the spectacular Doonberg Golf Club in Ireland. She did such a great job that the club was purchased last year by a certain presidential candidate who’s known for firing people, putting his name in gold on the side of buildings and operating exclusive golf courses. If he wins maybe she can ride on Air Force One with him the next time he flies into Doonbeg – on the west coast of Ireland – to check on things.

Apparently Jackye’s pretty good with golf clubs because she just won the 2015 Shutze Award for Commercial Interior Design from the prestigious Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. (Applause goes here!) The award was for her work on The River Course at the Kiawah Island Club in South Carolina.

Another aspect of design Jackye likes is when a room or a house tells a story, where the pieces, rather than being limited to one particular style or period, are suffused with stories that bring them together to create a vibrant tapestry of life such as a 19th century gentleman traveler might collect. In creating such rooms or homes this organized disorder makes them more approachable and more livable than they might be if they were constricted by a narrow style or period.

Watson & Elliott hard at work!
When she’s not busy designing – which, with up to 10 or 20 projects going on simultaneously isn’t often – she and Bill like to travel with their favorite companions Watson & Elliott, their second pair of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. (They came by the first pair in Umbria, Italy when a friend with six of them suggested they contact her UK. They did just that… albeit in the middle of the night after a few too many glasses of Sagrantino.) Besides their hideaways in Jacksonville and Charleston, their favorite places to visit are the United Kingdom, London in particular, and Italy… pretty much anywhere. (Shouldn’t France be on this list???)

Although she’s been doing interior design for some time, she has no plans to slow down anytime soon. In addition to projects in and around Atlanta, she’s currently working on projects across the globe, including one in Hawaii, another in Harbor Springs, Michigan, another in San Francisco, soon to be joined by a new project in Cashiers, North Carolina. So the next time you’re in the airport and see a stylish woman holding two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, say hello, it’s likely to be Jackye on her way to scout out a new project.