The secret life of objects

I have been awared the Stylish Blogger Award by Colette of NH Design Blog. Isn’t that a pip?!

Set of samurai armour, at Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I would like to hand the award on to Barbara Sarudy of It’s About Time and Janet Blyberg of ~ JCB ~, two of my blog gurus, leading by example.

Figure of Japanese wind god, at Snowshill Manor. ©NTPL/Stuart Cox

As part of this award one is supposed to share some stylish things. I would like to use this opportunity to show a few more images (which I hope are reasonably stylish) relating to ‘Japaneseness’ and ‘Britishness’, in response to the throughtful comments on a recent post on the subject of preconceptions.

The Japanese Garden, Kingston Lacy, Dorset. ©NTPL/Mark Bolton

The images in this and the earlier post are all of artefacts that have been taken out of their original context and appropriated by someone for whom they were not originally intended. In all these cases this was done lovingly and with admiration, but inevitably the meaning of the objects changed along the way, although that might not be obvious at first glance. One might call this elusive pattern of change the secret life of objects.

Granite temple lantern in the Japanese Garden at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/Mark Bolton

The Japanese artefacts at Snowshill were originally made either for the Japanese market or for the export trade. They must have been bought by a British visitor or entrepreneur, probably sold again in Britain at some point and then picked up by Charles Wade, who was continuously adding to his Aladdin’s cave at Snowshill in the 1920s and 1930s.

Wade admired Japanese objects as examples of fine craftsmanship, which he saw as being in decline in Britain. That response drove his collecting mania, which has made Snowshill what it is today. But the previous lives of these objects are interesting as well. Was the suit of armour sold by an impoverished samurai family after the abolition of the military class in 1871? Was the wind god part of the decoration of a temple, and if so why was it disposed of?

Corner cuboard at Hill Top with ceramics including an Edward VII coronation teapot which found its way into one of Beatrix Potter's illustrations for 'The Pie and the Patty Pan.' ©NTPL/Geoffrey Frosh

The Japanese garden at Kingston Lacy was created for Henrietta Bankes around 1910. Even though she clearly wanted a ‘genuine’ Japanese garden it was inevitably influenced by its time and place.

Furthermore, its current appearance is a recent restoration, after it had become overgrown and almost lost. It was recreated as faithfully as possibly, but inevitably the result is slightly different from the ‘original’ – which itself was a recreation on foreign soil of a Japanese original. Nevertheless these echoes, and echoes of echoes, are now part of the genius loci, the spirit of place, of Kingston Lacy.

Vignette in the Hill Top garden reminiscent of Mr McGregor's garden implements in Beatrix Potter's 'Peter Rabbit'. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

At Hill Top Beatrix Potter preserved the old Lake District farmhouse and collected local furniture and furnishings. She played an important role in preserving parts of the Lake District, but at the same time her view was inevitably that of a well-off, philanthropically-minded outsider. Originally cottage gardens and interiors like this would not have been quite as pretty as she made them, with her artist’s eye.

We owe Beatrix Potter a great debt of gratitude, but at the same time we should not forget that her vision of the place is a particular one, coloured by her Edwardian aestheticism. Today, of course, Hill Top receives many visitors from far and wide (including from places like Japan), who know it through the illustrations in Potter’s famous children’s books, and of course they see it through a slightly different lens again. And so the secret life of objects continues.

6 Responses to “The secret life of objects”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Thank you. You are the treasure, no futher hunt needed. Please keep teaching us about the theories of art in Japan. Your time there & your eye are invaluable to all of us.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Gurus are supposed to be stern and disapproving, Barbara :)

  3. Barbara Says:

    The intersection of “evaluation of Emile de Bruijn” and “stern & disapproving” is a null set.

  4. Janet Says:

    Oh, what a thrill! My only diappointment is that I can not nominate you in turn. Thank you. I will start crafting a response. . . Your Japan reference is spot on. Talk about style.

  5. le style et la matiere Says:

    Now you know that title caught my eye. You manage to stay informative even when accepting your award! Congratulations !

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Le Style, thank you. I hope I am not boring people with too much intellectualism, but I enjoy teasing out these issues.

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