january 23.2009—————————bone numbing cold and the asbestos dandelion


on settling in at cia, i had only a few days to catch the end of the exhibition, Artistic Luxuries, at the cleveland museum of art across the street.  the exhibition was primarily a compilation of works by tiffany, lalique, and faberge.  over 300 objects that had last been assembled together at the 1900 paris world’s fair.  the day i walked over, it was about 8 below zero.  the lining of my nose had frozen by the time i got to the door and i wanted to cry, but i was brave.

i thought i would spend about an hour or so seeing the exhibition.  three hours later i came out very satisfied.

one gallery was dedicated to each workshop, tiffany, lalique and faberge with excellent documentation, for the most part.  in general, lalique always wins this competition for me.  the other two are no match for his sense of composition and willingness to be a little creepy.

but there was one piece from faberge that blew me down:  a small flower study of a dandelion gone to seed.  it’s estimated date is between 1870-1920,  a rather vague time frame.  beautifully rendered in gold, diamonds and jade, what made this study so special to me was that the seed fluff was made from asbestos.  which meant it was not only gorgeous, it was relatively lethal.

at first i thought that the choice of materials was surely naive on the craftsman’s part;  that the health effects of asbestos couldn’t have been known at that point.  but on shallow research, it appears that in britain, “as early as 1898 …asbestos had ‘easily demonstrated’ health risks”.(wiki)

so faberge could have known.  hmmm.

anyway, it was a lovely thing made more compelling by this little mystery.

catalog available. the show goes next to san francisco.


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