Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Art or Craft

Seaneen, a collector for many years of aluminum items, was fortunate in securing a ticket to the Antique Roadshow when it appeared in Minneapolis. In addition to a few other items, she decided to take a group of aluminum pieces. How many of us have dreamed of having such an opportunity!

There were four jewelry appraisers and none of them knew anything about aluminum jewelry. The appraiser gave an estimate of #1,200 to $1,500, which Seaneen thought was rather high. The appraiser also appeared very impressed with the pieces. Nice aluminum does seem to have that effect on people! I have often wondered if one of those bank lamps or patio tables ever appeared for their appraisal, if they would have a clue concerning their value or history.

Nome of the items were marked although in other collections, there have been tentative identifications according to patterns. In my opinion, many belts and the pins and pendant groups were made by Everlast.  Handbags with a chrysanthemum pattern were sold in the recent auction and indicated that this was the Continental Chrysanthemum  pattern. It was indeed a chrysanthemum but not the one  we normally associate with the Continental Company. Seaneen stated that she had once seen a handbag like hers with a NYC as part of its mark. She also notes that the bag and the belt are matching pieces. That would be an attention getting  wear and carry ensemble!

In the fifties I purchased a gold mesh belt and a belt of aluminum sections embossed with a rose motif, paying $5 each for the belts. My clothing allowance was shot for a month and I knew I should have stayed out of that ritzy department store but I wore the belts for years. I remember a time or two when the aluminum one fell to the floor with a clatter!! I still have the belt as a memento of my first piece of aluminum and of those days so long ago when a 22" waist was more important than breathing.

Before the publication of my first book on hammered aluminum, many antique and collectible dealers confessed they sent all aluminum items straight to the recyclers. Even later, after several shows, numerous articles, and a tremendous rise in prices, there was a surprising lack of interest on the part of sellers, in seeking knowledge. We who appreciate the skill that has produced the decorative aluminum that we love, find it hard to understand this attitude among those who are in a position to have first access to the best and most interesting items.
The fact that aluminum is not a precious metal is not acceptable, for there are collectible pottery items, made of the most common of materials.....clay. Then there are carvings of wood, another material that cannot be classified as precious.

 The best reason may lie in the large number of aluminum items made by homemaking clubs, 4Hers and scout groups in the 1950s. Although many of these items were cherished for years, few could match the items made by more skilled craftsmen in facilities better suited for their production. Combined with the  declining quality of aluminum used in many mass produced and imported items that hit the market in the 50s and 60's, aluminum began to get a reputation for trashiness. Still, after ten aluminum shows, several books and hundreds of collectors on the prowl, one would assume that "hammered aluminum" is important.

A conversation yesterday with a person with a long-time museum connection has tweaked my curiosity about this:

When does a craft become an art?.
What exactly determines art, anyway?
What is the category of Arthur Armour's Pioneer  pattern and others like it?
What about some of the old landscapes by the Forge or even the elephants marching across a tray?
Then there are the multitudes of cast figures; are them merely eye pleasing little do-dads, or are they artistic little objects?

I rather doubt there is a definitive answer to my queries. Judging by the extremes I have seen in museums, there's a wide difference in opinions. Perhaps our aluminum items are not wildly extreme enough to be eye catching.

Your opinions, please. The box below is waiting for you!