Saturday, February 21, 2015

Floral Paperweights: Dose of Spring and a Capote Connection

David Graeber Asian Rose Bouquet Paperweight, $1,850,
Leo Kaplan Ltd., 212-355-7212;
Photo by F. Martin Ramin WSJ, Styling by Anne Cardenas.
By Alexa Brazilian
WSJ, Feb. 20, 2015

It's funny which images remain imprinted on our minds, like vivid snapshots, for years and even decades after we’ve first seen them. They can be of anything—the soft weave of a childhood blanket, a great aunt’s tea set, the wallpaper at a long-since-gone summer house.

One of mine is the memory of my grandmother’s glass paperweights: crystal clear globes with kaleidoscopic patterns of glass flowers floating inside. I remember her house in balmy Bal Harbour, Fla., where a few of them rested on bookshelves in the living room like colorful raindrops. I would sit on her orange shag carpet holding them in my hands, staring into their secret worlds, as a breeze filled with the fragrance of jasmine, avocado and kumquat trees floated in from my grandfather’s garden.

That scene came rushing back to me on a recent cold, rainy Saturday in London. I was browsing in the impeccably curated boutique Mouki Mou, a clothing and décor shop on
Chiltern Street in Marylebone, when I spotted a small globe with a single dandelion suspended inside, captured just before you’d make a wish and blow.

It had come from Hafod Grange, a family-owned paperweight company that preserves wildflowers, mostly handpicked at its South Wales farm, in clear bubbles of resin. And while they differed from my grandmother’s antiques—these were real, not glass, flowers—they made me feel the same way I did as a child.

Maria Lemos, the store’s owner and founder of an agency that represents fashion designers such as Peter Pilotto and Lisa Marie Fernandez, first fell in love with these floral orbs at designer Christophe Lemaire ’s shop in Paris. “It seemed to freeze a moment in time,” she said, “something impermanent that is made permanent.”

Capturing blooms inside paperweights is an old tradition, beginning in the 1800s with Venetian glass blowers who made paperweights according to the millefiori, or, thousand flowers, style—the rather psychedelic glass blooms my grandmother favored. The finest French crystal houses, such as Baccarat, Clichy and Saint-Louis, soon followed with paperweights containing glass flowers rendered with varying degrees of realism, inspiring a host of American and English companies to take up the craft. Over the years, both the Irish writer Oscar Wilde and Argentine first lady Eva Perón succumbed to these orbs’ humble charms. 
Groovy Baby: Millefiori paperweights originated
 with Venetian glassblowers in the 1800s
and experienced mass popularity in the 1960-70s.
Truman Capote became an avid collector of antique examples at the age of 23, when the French writer Colette (another devotee) gave him one of hers—a crystal Baccarat weight with a snowy rose at its center. In his essay “The White Rose,” he recounts first seeing Colette’s collection at her Paris home: “I concentrated on what seemed like a magical exhibition, some fragment of a dream.”

Alan Kaplan, owner of Leo Kaplan Ltd. in Manhattan, which deals in contemporary and antique paperweights, said they began
as functional décor and evolved into an art form. “There was obviously no air conditioning in the 19th century,” he said. “And when it was warm you left your windows open and papers would blow around. They were prettier than using a rock.”

These days, modern, hyper-realistic arrangements filled with honeybees, wildflowers, peonies, berries and fresh spring blossoms have become de rigueur—a cross between the globes I fell in love with as a child and the all-natural ones that stole my heart in London. Mr. Kaplan attributed this naturalistic movement to Massachusetts artist Paul Stankard, who got into the game in the 1970s and has influenced a crop of contemporary glass artists such as David Graeber, Colin Richardson and Rick and Melissa Ayotte.

In the deepest, darkest months of winter, a floral paperweight can give your eyes a small but potent dose of summer. An assortment of Hafod Grange’s wildflowers would make a beautiful (and lasting) centerpiece on a wooden farm table at a rustic country house. Individually, they’d be sweet in a guest room atop a stack of good books on a bedside table. Mr. Stankard’s more intricate designs, with their bolder and moodier presence, would stand out nicely in stark surroundings, such as an all-white bathroom next to some fresh linen hand-towels, or on the cool marble mantle of a roaring fireplace.

Mr. Capote would even bring a few with him (individually wrapped in flannel, of course) when he traveled, to spruce up a dreary hotel room, or, as he described in “The White Rose,” to lull him to sleep. To him, they made “the most sinisterly anonymous hotel room seem warm and personal and secure.”

No comments: