Amazing Kids! Magazine

Some Handicrafts from Around the World

By Sean Traynor, Editor-in-Chief

When we chose “Handicrafts from Around the World” for our theme this month, I wondered how we could cover such a wide topic. There are so many colorful, creative and useful items that I’ve seen in my travels. Since we couldn’t cover everything, I decided to just focus on a couple interesting collectibles that you may find when you visit around the globe – paperweights and boxes.

Paperweights

A paperweight does serve a function, but it can also be a break from a stressful day as you gaze at a beautiful and artistic item on your desk. Paperweights must be made of a solid material and be sufficiently compact and heavy to hold down paper. Most collectors focus on paperweights made of glass because the artistry is colorful and easily seen.

Paperweights first emerged in the early 1840s, when letter writing was popular with the middle classes and a market developed for a range of articles for the desk. They were valued more for their decorative qualities than their practical application. Today there are millions of paperweights, most produced in large amounts to sell inexpensively in retail stores. Most are inexpensive, however on June 26, 1990 a dealer paid $258,500 for a 19th century French paperweight at Sotheby’s in New York. It is a hobby that can be pursued by all people with any budget.

Paperweights made in the 19th century are considered antiques while those made in the 20th century are considered modern. Antique paperweights are the most expensive because of their historical significance and scarcity. Very nice paperweights are being produced today by both large companies and studio artists.

Paperweights use the greatest use of refraction of all forms of art glass, allowing us to see images encased in the glass that vary in size and detail, adding a personal attraction to each viewer.

Paperweight using the Millefiori Technique

 

Paperweights began by the use of the Millefiori technique, which uses patterned glass canes drawn out to create miniaturized motifs. In around 1843, a Venetian named Pietro Bigaglia first made millefiori paperweights. They were exhibited at an international fair in 1845. From millefiori, the glass centers moved on to other glassmaking techniques, including lampwork. Glasswork designs spread through France, (Venice) Italy, Russia and the United States. They moved their way into Britain, Scotland and Spain. Today you can find glass paperweight artists all over the world. European makers improved their quality during the 1970s, using traditional techniques and designs. In the United States, however, the artist Paul Stankard set the high standard in the lampwork technique. His botanical subjects had exceptional accuracy and delicacy.

Lampwork Technique

 

Other artists also continue to take the art in new directions by way of subject matter and technique. China and Murano have produced hundreds of thousands of low-cost paperweights with lower quality. A high end producer is Perthshire Paperweights of Scotland, who offer high quality and limited quantities.

 

An example of a Perthsire Paperweights of Scotland Paperweight

 

A technique called torchwork is now also used. Rods of colored glass are heated, shaped, and trailed onto the surface of a gather of semi-molten glass taken from a furnace. This is covered with a layer of clear glass. This process can be repeated to produce three-dimensional effects.

Another type of paperweight looks like a pinwheel. White and colored rods are swirled low in the weight to get the best effect from magnification. Swirls with a rose or flower cluster in the middle are more rare and higher priced.

There is a lot to study and learn about paperweights. By doing a little research, you can appreciate this type of art form even more. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll start a collection.

Boxes

Boxes also play a useful purpose. But did you know that throughout history boxes have played social roles? Ritual containers have been built to house everything from food to perfumes and have been found in ancient Egyptian and Chinese tombs. Medieval boxes sometimes played a religious role. Snuffboxes during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gave people a mark of distinction as they were given as gifts from royalty. In the nineteenth century this tradition continued as sophisticated wooden boxes were used for ritual exchange of presents.

They can be tiny, like the pillbox or large, like the tea caddy or Japanese “picnic” box. They can be used to mask the shape of what is inside, or made to show off what is inside. Early examples were carved from wood or stone or made of baked clay. Precious metals were then used and even when wood was carved for a box, sometimes metals or precious stones were used to enhance its quality.

Interesting boxes can found today including English and Continental Boxes. Master craftsmen have turned out boxes in almost every material over the years. Examples include pill boxes and sewing boxes.

 

Another example of an English container is a box made with painted enamel. Enamels are common on patch boxes and comfit boxes.

Every country in Europe has produced fine boxes. French craftsmen have long created works of art with their boxes. Some of the best examples of this are their snuff-boxes. They often included painted depictions of important buildings or festivals. The snuff-box was considered a status symbol and even royalty had large collections of them. In Russia, under the czars, craftsmen were expected to have very high standards and the court commissioned excellent containers. Most famous of all are the jewel-encrusted pieces, many in the form of Easter eggs, which were produced for the royal court by the designer Peter Carl Faberge. These pieces, set in gold, silver and platinum, were very precisely made and sometimes even concealed elaborate music boxes.

Moscow produced small containers by silversmiths to hold snuff, pills, comfits and tobacco. They incised tiny designs into the surface of a silver object then filled the impressions to create a dramatic contrast.

The majority of North American boxes are made of wood since timber was easily obtainable in the New World. Decorated tin, iron and brass have been used for cash or snuffboxes. Carved ivory, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl and leather have been used to add decoration. South American boxes tended to be made of ceramics.

Today, you can find intricately created boxes made of metals, ceramics, wood or virtually any kind of material. Value can be added with the addition of carving, engraving, painting of artwork or adding other materials such as precious stones. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so spot the pieces which show the unique story of the person who created it. Sometimes it is not what is inside the box that is valuable. Each box can have a story and a beauty all its own.

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