Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Playmobil Pyramid Enchants Children With The Ancient World

I am always excited to see toy companies produce items that introduce children to the ancient world. Last Christmas when I was shopping for my grandchildren at Toys-R-Us I noticed Playmobil had introduced a line of figures and accessories based on ancient Rome. I couldn't resist buying a pair of Playmobil gladiators and a chariot with legionaries for my own collection (My husband claims I never grew up!). Today I got an e-mail from Toy Directory Monthly and noticed they offered a library of videos of new toys. When I searched Playmobil I found a video of a wonderful Egyptian pyramid, galley, and figures including a Pharaoh and his court. I've got to get me one of these!

Watch video

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Collecting Nativities from Around The World

by Mary Harrsch © 2008

Seven years ago I had the opportunity to view a wonderful collection of nativity scenes that were displayed during the holidays by a local LDS church. I had an early digital camera but managed to capture some nice images of many of the different sets I saw there. Since then I have watched for an announcement that the exhibit would be repeated but did not see any until this year.

[Right - A nativity from the Masai of Africa]

I was so excited to be able to repeat this wonderful experience and to photograph the sets again with a newer camera designed for low light environments. I found the nativity sets from such far away places as Africa, Vietnam, Japan and Russia marvelously unique.

Like the first exhibit, the event I attended Sunday was very well organized and I was told included over 900 creches. I spent two fascinating hours trying to capture the most interesting entries, shooting almost five hundred images.

[Left - Kokeshi nativity from Japan]

The event included performances by a very talented singer and two other musicians who played holiday music, much to the enjoyment of all. I don't think I've been to any finer concert!

[Right - Nativity from Peru]

I was told the event has been held every year for the past seven years so I must have just overlooked any notices about it before.

I'm uploading my images to Flickr, so if you are interested in seeing these wonderful examples of folk art, take a look. I have been titling the images "The Many Faces of Christmas". I emailed the local newspaper and offered to provide high resolution versions for printing so the event could be shared with the rest of the community, although I don't yet know if they are planning to run any of them at this time.

I found this interesting note on a web page about the placement of nativity figures:

"A nativity tradition is to not place the baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas morning, but it is not necessary to follow this practice."

It also point out that "some nativity icons actually display Joseph at a distance from the manger, looking away from Christ with an old man representing Satan at his side. The purpose of this is to give place in the nativity scene to the role of doubt in human faith."

[Left - Painted stone nativity from Vietnam]

I actually have several nativity sets of my own. I made my first set myself out of egg carton cups and greeting card images. We were newly married (that was 40 years ago!) and didn't have much money so we celebrated Christmas as best we could.

Later, my daughter sent me a whimsical nativity set from a store where she worked. I have treasured it over the years, too. Then, as I started to frequent flea markets I found a finely detailed hand-made porcelain nativity set complete with real hair and beards.

Then a chance discovery at an antique store, turned me onto collecting Fontanini figures. I found a 7" shepherd boy and girl first in an antique shop in Prairie City (OR) and didn't even know what they were. I just loved the detail of their features and the soft patina that gave them an aged look. I later picked up a 5" holy family set that I found at the local Picadilly flea market. My sister, a UCC minister in California, began collecting Fontanini and I stumbled across a flea market vendor with an entire table full of the 5" figures, so I bought them all and have parceled them out as Christmas gifts to Pam each year since. This year, however, I found a quart sandwich bag full of basic Fontanini 5" nativity figures including the three wise men on camels [alone worth $99] , a donkey, a shepherd, an angel and a holy family all for $7. I couldn't believe my luck. As I had already given Pam a holy family, I kept these for my own collection and they have now taken an honored place on the fireplace mantel for this holiday season.

According to the same website referenced above, Fontanini is 100 years old this year.

"Founded by Emanuele Fontanini in Bagni di Lucca, a village in the rolling hills of Italy's famed Tuscan region, the House of Fontanini has been producing handcrafted nativity sets since 1908.

Using an artist's sketch, master sculptor Elio Simonetti forms an actual-size clay sculpture. Once this design is approved by the Fontanini family, Simonetti creates a new model from beeswax. This beeswax model is highly detailed and used to create the rubber or metal molds used in casting Fontanini nativity figures.

Painting Polymer

Most high-quality figurines are made from porcelain, but a Fontanini nativity set is cast in polymer. The advantage of polymer is that the material permits exquisite detail work, but unlike porcelain is very resistant to breaking or chipping.

A Fontanini nativity piece is created by pouring liquid polymer into a mold at a very high temperature and pressure. The polymer is removed from the mold while still warm and pliable, and is cooled for two hours by immersion in continuously running cold water.

Once the polymer figures are cooled, they are taken to the homes of artisans in Bagni di Lucca for painting. Sometimes three generations of women from the same family will paint Fontanini figures together. The pieces are painted one feature at a time rather than one figure at a time, e.g. first the pants of every piece, then the shirts, then the shoes. The only feature left unpainted is the eyes, which are left to a specialized group of painters in order to capture the reverent and lifelike quality so crucial for an outdoor nativity scene.

The Last Details

The process of creating a Fontanini nativity figure ends with the application of patina, a compound of oil, lime, and burnt oils and earth. The patina is applied with a brush, after which the figure is wiped with a cloth, placed in a tub, and wiped dry. These last details ensure that each Fontanini figure is clean and non-toxic. A final extraneous touch is the creation of a story card explaining the history of the particular Fontanini nativity character.

The most popular Fontanini outdoor nativity scene is composed of 5-inch characters and is a seven-piece set. However, Fontanini nativity characters are available in eight different sizes up to 70 inches tall." [Right - A 70" Fontanini Nativity includes a figure of Mary for $6,499, Joseph for $7,499 and baby Jesus - regularly $1,500 on sale for only $1,275.00!"]

Friday, November 21, 2008

Michigan Toy Soldiers hosts W. Britains - Meet the Artists Event

On November 22, The Michigan Toy Soldier Company hosted a W. Britains - Meet the Artists event. This event gave collectors the opportunity to meet the creative minds behind the products of one of the world's premiere miniature producers and attend demonstrations on sculpting and painting

In late 2005, the William Britain toy soldier company, founded in London in 1893, was purchased by First Gear, Inc. an Iowa based producer of very high quality replica work and construction vehicles. A team of three Detroit area collectors and artisans were brought on board immediately to lead the rebirth of this iconic brand.

Richard Walker, formerly of Grosse Pointe Farms, was hired as General Manager to oversee all aspects of the business in the United States and United Kingdom.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The meaning of R.A. in the description of a painting or print of one

I recently received a question from a Cameo Creations Collector that may be of interest to others. So I thought I would post my response. I was asked what the meaning of R.A. was that you sometimes see in regards to painting descriptions. R. A. means "reproduced after". Essentially it means the portrait was painted as a classical reproduction of a well-known work by a famous artist. For example, If I was a painter that was painting after the time of Rembrandt and actually "reproduced" one of Rembrandt's paintings, I would note my endeavor as reproduced after the same work name by Rembrandt. It's sort of like giving proper credit to the original master. Yes, you are acknowledging the painting is one of your originals but it's composition was copied from an existing work.

The image at left is a print of a Cameo Creations portrait of Countess Hochnstein by Vincent Nesbert after (R.A.) an original by Carl Ferdinand Stelzner.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Women In Art

By accident I stumbled across this video on YouTube in my recommended video list. I found it a fascinating combination of technology (morphing) and beauty, both music and images)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Small English collectibles

As a remembrance of my English grandparents, I collect items made in England. I have small saucers decorated with detailed and colorful colonial scenes and fish bone plates featuring detailed renderings of Currier and Ives prints.

I particularly enjoy my collection of English egg coddlers produced by Royal Worcester. An excellent reference site I use to identify the pattern of my egg coddlers is:
Although antique stores frequently charge as much as $22 for the large coddler and $18 for the small ones, I have been able to find them for as little as $2 and pay an average of $12 - $18 for them. They seem to be more plentiful on the east coast than here on the west coast. I was told by a shopkeeper in Charleston, South Carolina that they were a popular wedding present in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on the east coast. I have also noticed that there is usually a distinct difference between the large and small version of a single pattern. Here on the west coast, the most plentiful pattern seems to be "Birds". My current collection includes the patterns Evesham, Lavinia, Birds, Bournemouth, Torquay, June Garland, Louise, Strawberry Fair, A Skippety Tale, Pershore, and Woodland. I would be interested in any of the other patterns featuring naturalistic images of animals and flowers (I don't care much for the stylistic). I would really like to add one of the "Old Game Series" pattern to my collection (if the price is right).

I was in an antique store in the little town of Monroe a few miles north of here (Eugene, Oregon) and saw some beautiful porcelain jar lids, that originally capped jars of English fish paste, adorned with detailed Victorian scenes. The antique store wanted $325 each for them.

So, when my sister and I traveled to London last spring, I kept an eye out for them and found a wonderful one complete with the jar as well at the Portobello Road Antique and Street Fair for only 48 pounds (about $96 U.S.).

Civil War figurines and miniatures

An unpainted crushed pecan shell figurine.
In 1993, my husband and I helped my daughter move to Charleston, South Carolina. After we got her settled in we had a chance to do some site seeing. We toured Boone Hall Plantation where the miniseries "North and South" was filmed and took a launch out to Fort Sumpter. On the weekends, the old slave market in downtown Charleston is converted into a thriving flea market and street fair. There I found some figurines of Civil War soldiers made out of a resin created with pecan shells.

I bought five of them and wish ever since I had bought all the seller had as I have not been able to find any more since then. The pecan resin takes paint very well and I was quite pleased with my first effort. I even added gray streaks to the beard and mud smudges to the boots.

1990 Melanie Wilkes miniature by the
Franklin Mint
I also discovered that the Franklin mint produced some beautifully detailed resin "Gone With The Wind" miniatures. I was able to win the bid on several of them up on Ebay. Some of them come glued inside a small ornate bell jar but I actually prefer the stand-alone versions.

1990 Scarlett O'Hara miniature by the
Franklin Mint