Collecting Japanese Biscuit Barrels

Are some people born collectors and others not?  I tend to think so.  I love to surround myself with beautiful  objects, and if I was asked to name what I collect I would generalize and say art,  but I am not a collector at heart.  I have never made a conscious decision to collect any one thing in particular, and then motivated myself to seek only that to build a collection.   My wife Jeanine is a true collector.  She’s wired that way. 

When we first started attending auctions, seeking to buy some inexpensive but interesting furnishings for our new home, Jeanine decided to collect enamelware, focusing on blue and white.  Over about a six year period this was her focus.  What drove her to get out early in the morning to go to the yards sales, shops and auctions. In the early 80’s we even planed a one week, two-lane blacktop holiday, where we drove across the Eastern United States looking for unusual blue and white pieces to add to her growing collection.   It was great fun, and exciting when we would encounter something special, and it provided us an excellent excuse for just getting out there and experiencing other places, and people. This was before we had a credit card.  We just took a chunk of money, drove wherever the wind took us in an easterly direction and when we were approximately half through the pile, we turned around and headed back home.  At least that was the concept.  When we hit the half way mark we were getting pretty close to the Eastern Seaboard so we decided to keep going to put a toe in the sea, and then drive directly home.  As it happened we popped into an Antique store on the coast in Maine as our last stop before the retreat,  and met a friendly, and trusting gentleman who had a big sign above his desk “Ask me about my motel”, so I said “o.k. I’ll bite, what about your hotel?” “Well you should stay there.  It’s right on the beach and it’s clean and inexpensive.”  “Sounds great, but we’re almost out of money so we will have to check it out next time.”  “Do you have a cheque?” Well yes, but would you want to accept an out of country cheque?”  “Why not? I can tell you are decent people.”  So we wrote a cheque for a couple more night’s accommodation.  He even tacked on a bit extra for some spending money.  We had a wonderful time there.  I remember it as a golden time, walking along the coast, and enjoying the beach with the then (probably) four year old Cassandra.  Eating clam strips in a little joint down on the beach.  Not a care in the world.  Then we packed up, said our good-byes to our new friend, and drove straight home in a marathon 20 hour drive. 

The natural evolution of collecting is to initially to buy widely, and of various conditions.  As a collection develops and you’ve got all the common stuff it takes longer to come across the rare  things and eventually the space allotted for your collection fills, and then if you are truly motivated to collect, you might move on to find something else interesting, and start the process all over again.

“Belleek” pattern Japanese biscuit barrel

This happened to Jeanine after about six years of collecting the blue and white enamel.  One day she decided that was it, she had enough.  She would sell off the enamelware,  and start again. Her next collection would be ceramic Japanese biscuit barrels. What interested her was that after WW2 the Japanese began to produce the then popular biscuit barrel inexpensively in many different styles, often imitating established pottery forms of Europe, and England along with some of their own culture.  They were not too large and fun to see gathered together in a hanging cupboard. Also, she was aware there were lots of them out there, and they were inexpensive to buy.  She set her objective at collecting 100 barrels of different styles.  It took her 20 years to accomplish this, but when she hit about 135 barrels about the year 2000 that was it.   We now have about twenty of her favourites, and the rest have found new homes.

Donatello pattern. First barrel bought from Marcel Gosselin

Her first buy was from our old friend, the Quebec picker, Marcel Gosselin.  This “Donatello” themed pot which she bought for five dollars.   She went on to usually pay from $25 to $45 for most.  The highest she paid was $145 for an elaborate, larger pot of Chinese design.  That was towards the end of her collecting about 2000. Then as before, one day she made the decision that that was it.  No more biscuit barrels.   We talked about photographing all one hundred pieces before she sold the collection with the idea of releasing a little coffee table book on the subject, but like so many good ideas, it came and went.  Still, we had great fun making the collection, and looking at them for all those years.

Japanese design with rows and rows of tiny faces

Advertisements

For the Birds

As I have mentioned before in this blog, my wife Jeanine collects folk art carved birds.  Our kitchen is full of them.  I miss them when we are away.

Birds, for the most part are a pleasant and relaxing part of our natural environment.  Except of course when they are dive bombing you for being too close to their nest, and then they’re not so relaxing.  Otherwise, we enjoy watching them fly, and chirp, and hop around the back yard looking for bugs. They are entertaining.  I suggest that this is the reason that it is one of the most commonly carved species, and often the first carving an artist will undertake.  Birds makes for an interesting collection because there are so many approaches and attitudes to the subject.  Some strive for accuracy.  Others a stylized approach.  Some are abstracted, while others are barely recognizable.  I tend to admire skill and craftsmanship, but it’s the crazy and primitive ones that turn my crank.  After my morning coffee I took a look around the room and photographed a few of my favourites .   With some little notations attached.

I hope that you enjoy looking at them.  I do.  Every morning.

sparrows in flight

Jeanine is keen on finding more of these little carved sparrows.  We may because I have the feeling that these although hand carved, were commercially produced and sold in gift shops.  Perhaps a little cottage industry item from Eastern Canada, where we found them.  Or even possibly overseas. If so, I would think Europe or England as opposed to Asian.

Red-winged blackbird by Yvon Cote

a Cote decal. Not used on every carving.

This Cote red-winged blackbird is typical of the Gaspe artist.  I will make him the subject of a future blog, but for now suffice to say that his work is easy to recognize because he used pencil crayons for colour and then lacquered over top, and even when a piece doesn’t have his decal, you can tell it is him by the form, colour, and little wire legs.

Here’s a new addition to the family.  this friendly little Carolina Wren was created by C. Bodley of Toronto.  He was good enough to name and sign it on the bottom.  It’s a good example of a work that looks like the species, but also contains personality.  He also created this wonderful diminutive owl

Owl bu C. Bodley, Toronto

 

 

 

 

What follows is a bunch of little birds with different approaches, by different artists at different times.  Most of them are from Quebec.  You can see run the gamut in terms of approach.  Although it is perhaps the piece that looks the least like an actual bird, I love the little beige bird by Cadieux.  His name is stamped on the bottom.  I also love the little blue bird which looks almost like a cartoon.  it is made very carefully. Those wings are thin wood, not metal.

Which one of these do you like the most?

Someone even decided to make a little bird using wicker. This little fellow somehow comes across as looking quite mad.  And last but not least we have this hanging black and white bird on a perch.  Interesting construction, and can anyone figure out why his wings are on backwards?   Could this really be intentional?  Perhaps dyslectic?  Go figure.

 

Folk Art Treasures of Huron County

It is a significant, and useful contribution to the appreciation of folk art, when an inspired and knowledgeable individual or individuals  put in the enormous effort necessary to survey and document the folk art and artists of a region. It doesn’t happen all that often.  Especially outside of Nova Scotia where folk art has become established, and is promoted as a significant part of the cultural mosaic. Read, tourist dollars. Follow the money.

So I was delighted a few years back to find in a used book store, a copy of the catalogue for the “Folk Art Treasures of Huron County” Exhibition, which took place in 1991 as a part of that county’s sesquicentennial celebrations.  The event had three components;  Contemporary  Folk Art at the Blyth Festival Gallery, coordinated by Bev Walker , Historical Folk Art at the Huron County Museum, coordinated by director Claus Breede , and as a third component  documentation and a map of the Immovable Folk Art of Huron County, coordinated by John Rutledge.  You can imagine it was a monumental task to pull all this together, but this group did an excellent job.  In the acknowledgements coordinator  Bev Walker thanks over 25 people for their contributions. She also thanks the Folk and Native Section of the Ontario Arts Council for generous financial support.  I hope the province can still find a few bucks for such things, what with the deficit and overspending, and all.

Mom and Dad at the Russell Fair
by Ray Bird

The Painter
by Bud Oke

The contemporary section along with several examples of the work, has three pages of artist’s bio’s  which is a great reference tool. I have bought many pieces by Bud Oke over the years and always appreciated his particular humor and talent, so I was delighted to know his story and see his picture.  I think Ray Bird’s “Mom and Dad at the Russell Fair” is somewhat of a masterpiece and I would love to see more by this artist.  His address is listed as RR#2 Brussels so he shouldn’t be that hard to find, but it also states he was born in 1929 so he’s 88 if he’s still kickin’. Could well be for that matter, and maybe painting better than ever. I’m pretty certain that Stuart Taylor, born in 1908 isn’t available for comment, but my goodness isn’t his Annie Oakley just the best? Yikes!

Annie Oakley
by Stuart Taylor

The historical folk art section of the catalogue  is also full of wonderful things dating back to the 1850’s. Of particular interest  are many working “models” depicting the lifestyle and technology of an earlier generation by Herbert J. Neill.  These “gems” are in the permanent collection of the museum, and so still available to be seen today.  It’s on my list.

Butter Churning
by J. Herbert Neill

However, I’ve got to say that of all these wonderful things Janis and Peter Bisback’s early 20th century weathervane really pushes all my buttons. Happy face on one side.  Sad on the other.   Peter and Janis still have a big barn full of wonderful antiques in Huron County, and are serious collectors. Worth a visit when you are in those parts.

For me, perhaps the most interesting and unusual part of this publication is the third section “Immovable Folk Art”. For the most part, we take outdoor folk art for granted.  Look at the picture of Tom Culbert’s Black Horses on Red Doors. If you drove by there every day it would pretty much look the same, but go away for twenty years, and you may come back to bare wood. Huron County winters are harsh.

Black horses on Red Doors
painted on his barn by Tom Culbert

You can see that Mother Nature has already erased about 40% of the paint.  In the photo notes it says that he painted the doors first in the 1960’s “even before I married my wife”, and has repainted them about five times. Remember this was 1991.  Is Tom still around and willing to put on a fresh coat?  Of course for many of us the wear is an integral part of the appeal.  That’s another reason photo documentation is so important.  Things fade away.  It’s either that, or you manage to buy  them from Tom and have a room big enough to display them in, and then of course you are completely taking them out of their original context.

Clipper ship
concrete sculpture by George Becker

Just look at that 2 ½ ton concrete clipper ship built by George Becker in the 1970’s, and owned by John and Wilfred Tiesma.  It stands at the end of their farm laneway, permanently dry-docked atop a fieldstone mound.   (12’x 3’ x 15’)  You don’t expect to see that when driving down a country lane.  It’s on the map along with 35 other points of interest.  And then, of course, inevitably we come to the cement work of farmer George Laithwaite (1873-1956). The Laithwaite Apple Park Farm near Goderich has, for three generations fascinated visitors with it’s many sculptures fashioned from cement, metal, fieldstone, and found materials, made mostly during the depression.   It’s still open to this day.  For the serious folk art devotee it is Mecca.  Admission is free and there is a farm market.

Do I hear “Road Trip”?

Man and Donkey
by George Laithwaite

Our Encounter with the Golden Dog

Jeanine’s interest in, and knowledge of French pottery grew over the years as she bought and sold it at the shows and on e-bay.   She was mostly dealing in Quimper, as that was a hot ticket item at that time, but she was interested in all the pottery producing regions of France.

In our Quebec travels  she learned of a French pottery that was made specifically for the Quebec market with Quebec themes , marked on the bottom – C A.  It was quite possibly brought over for the 300th anniversary of Quebec in 1908, and most likely made by Alcide Chaumeil who operated out of Paris, but the jury is still out.  Many pieces include crests and mottos such as “Je me Souviens”, and some even have representations of the “Golden Dog” which is a very popular image in Quebec.

The golden dog is an image of a yellow dog lying down with a bone in it’s paws. The verse under the picture is as follows  “Je Suis un chien qui ronge lo.  En le roneant je prend mon repos. Un tems viendra qui n’est ps venu, que je mordray qui m’aura mordu.”  In English, “I am a dog who chews the bone.  While chewing I take my rest. A time will come which is not yet come, when I will bite the one who has bitten me.”

You can see the original plaque today over the main door of the Quebec General Post Office.  It had been moved there when it’s original residence was torn down. This was the 1736 residence of a  Dr. Roussell.  There are plenty of theories, the most popular being that it is likely referring to disputes and threats of revenge between the doctor and certain town officials, but you can see why it has a certain resonance with all Quebecers. In fact the original statue of the golden dog, circa 1650,  resides in Penzenas in southern France on the garden gate of a M. Delbousquet’s estate. It turns out Roussell originally came from this area, and probably he duplicated it as best he could recall as a simple remembrance of his native land.  This might explain why the words on the Canadian plaque are somewhat different than the original. It is most likely is a case of poor memory.

The factory also produced decorative items featuring emblems of the royal chateaus of the Loire valley for the tourist trade, and busts of royal figures, etc.

Years passed and in spite of our constant search, we found only a couple of C A pieces, and they were not of the Quebec theme.  We started to think that we would only see them in pictures.  Then one day we got a lead from a fellow dealer.  He knew of a lady in Kingston who had several pieces of the Quebec themed CA pottery she wanted to sell, and he was only interested in her Canadiana.  Great lead.  As it happened we would be going through Kingston in a couple of weeks, on our way to do the Eastman Quebec show, and wouldn’t it be great to turn up at one of Quebec’s premier shows with some extremely rare Quebec themed pottery. 

We made the call, and the very gracious lady on the other end of the line said she would be happy to accommodate us.  She sounded interesting. Her name was “Bunny”.  We arrived at her place on time and went straight into the dining room where, sure enough, the table was covered with several pieces of C A pottery.  Large serving bowls and plates with emblems and crests, salad servers, and there among them a plate with the famous “Golden Dog”.  There was also a nice little selection of Quimper and other French pottery, but of course our eyes were stuck on the golden dog.  “So Bunny it works best if you can just tell us if you have a figure in mind, and we will see if we can agree.”  Bunny thought for a couple of minutes and explained that she had bought most of the pieces years ago for not much money, but that she watches the Antiques Road Show so she knows these things have gone up, and then she hit Jeanine with what she thought was a big figure.  Jeanine knew she was low because she was unaware of the extra value of the rare pieces so she “talked her up” by $500.   Bunny was delighted, and we were happy because we would do well, and hadn’t stolen from her.  We went on to sell the entire collection within 15 minutes of the show opening to a collector who was over the top happy to have it.  Happy ending all around.

some of the C A pottery we brought to the Eastman, Quebec show

Fond remembrances of participating in L’ Exposition et Vente d’Antiquités d’Eastman

In the late nineties, it was common knowledge that the two finest country antique shows in Quebec were the North Hatley show held in July, and The Eastman show which ran in late September.  The two towns are situated about 30 kms apart in the beautiful Eastern townships region,  and so you would think that many of the same people would attend both shows, but the reality is these shows reflect the “two solitudes” of Quebec, with the North Hatley show being attended mostly by local, English-speaking home and cottage owners, while Eastman is predominantly attended by local Francophones.   In those days at least, not many of the English dealers who participated in North Hatley would consider doing Eastman. They believed that unless you were recognizably French Quebecois with good language skills you would be overlooked.  We heard this over and over for a few years before we decided to test the theory.  I get by fairly well with my high school French, and of course Jeanine being from France, speaks the language beautifully.  The thing is although neither of us were Quebecois,  we determined that we could overcome this by just being welcoming, open, and good natured.  We also liked the town and would go through from time to time to visit a good shop there,  Antiquities Rosalie.  A family place where we often found good folk art and early smalls. 

Antiquities Rosalie

We knew also that the mayor there,  Mr. Pierre Riverin was one of the biggest collectors of Quebec folk art in the country.  He had “made” our show in North Hatley the previous year and suggested that we come to Eastman.   So we contacted the show promoters and were happy when they welcomed us to come, and gave us a space in the main salon which was in the basement of the church at that time.  This original space only held 15 dealers and as this was 1999 it was the first year that the show had been expanded to a second salon in a “Golden Years” club a couple of blocks away, bringing the total to 30 dealers.  Of course people checked out both locations.

Unloading through the back door into the basement we definitely felt like the “new kids’ at school, but everyone was friendly and helpful and it didn’t take long to set up and feel quite at home.   We discovered that Tom Devolpe,  a dealer friend of ours from Montreal was doing the show as well, and we were staying at the same motel so we suggested that after setting up he come to our room for a glass of wine and a snack before going to the dealer welcome night, being held that evening in the restaurant of the same motel.  What a nice idea to have all the dealers get together for dinner before the show.  Dealers love to be fed. 

Tom DeVolpe and me having a glass on another occasion

We stopped in a local depanneur, or convenience store to pick up a bottle of red and some cheese and bread to share with Tom in the room.  This is one of the wonderful things about this region.  Even the smallest local stores have a good selection of wine and cheese, not to mention pates.  We bought a great baguette, and a soft ripened cow cheese from France  called Chaource which we had never encountered but which immediately became one of our favorites.  I remember that it was 40% off because it was quite ripe, but this of course made it even more delicious.  We should have had to pay more because it was perfect.  It could have been that we were just really hungry from setting up and skipping lunch, but that snack of fresh baguette, Chaource, and a few olives  with Tom in the motel room remains one of my favorite all time eating experiences. 

I recall we were a little tipsy walking over to the restaurant for our 7 p.m. seating.  When we arrived we were taken directly upstairs to a private room just large enough to hold the 60 or so people participating in the show. We were all assigned a table and presented with the menu, and a program. A program of all things.  We sat next to our old friend Alan Chauvette who owned a pickers barn near Victoriaville.  It was his first year as well. 

The meal was excellent, and surprisingly we still had a bit of appetite after all that bread and cheese.  The place was soon hopping, and quite noisy with all those ramped up dealers.   Then came desert, and along with it a few friendly greetings and encouragements from the promoters, followed by a sing along.  Yes. I didn’t see that one coming. There in the program were the words and tune to follow for three or four special antique dealers songs.  Everybody now, let’s sing,  “Nous sommes les Antiquaires”  set to the tune  of  “Les Miserable “ or some such thing.  I forget exactly but it was hilarious, and good natured, and friendly, and everybody sang along. 

This was followed by the announcement of who had won the “best booth” award which was a prize of a free ad in a local trade magazine were you could announce your honor I suppose.   Being newbies we had no expectation of winning, and it was no surprise when a local couple won who not only had a beautifully set up booth, but also wore (get this) period costumes.  I looked over to Alan, and said “ah that’s it Alan, next year, –  Costumes!”  We just about fell out of chairs.  The festivities and merriment continued well into the night, but we soon made our good-nights and left to get a good night’s sleep. 

The show was great. People were friendly and interested, and sales were brisk.   Contrary to the fears of our fellow Anglophone dealers we were made to feel most welcome and accepted.  We went back for another four or five years until we changed policy and only did shows close to home.  It’s still going on today but has been moved to a larger facility “La Grillade” where there are 50 dealers in one space.  Well worth a trip to this region, especially in the fall. 

us setting up in Eastman