Journal

Antiques as Slow Décor

04.25.2019

yellow traffic light

 

During every waking moment, all of us are bombarded with opportunities to buy things, and then experience quick satisfaction when those goods arrive on our doorstep one or two days later—or perhaps even by drone on the very same day.

Although commercial consumerism has been a component of people’s daily lives for hundreds of years,

 

old advertisement

 

now that we spend so much of our lives online it is ubiquitous, insidious and inescapable.

Linger for 30 minutes comparing backpacks in an online store, and receive a 10% discount postcard in the mail from that outdoor gear store two days later.

Abandon a package of LED light-bulbs in an online shopping cart, and get periodic email reminders to log back in to close the deal.

Shop multiple fashion sites for elegant special-event garb, and be subjected to pop-up ads for similar clothing for months after you’re hoping never to need such fancy apparel again.

(For an amusing and only slightly exaggerated take on the tentacles of online commerce and smart speaker eavesdropping, see the recent short New Yorker humor essay Disturbing Digital Coincidences.”)

smart speaker

 

This aggressive marketing of online behemoths results in “fast consumerism,” in which getting the goods we want or need is just a mouse click away. But to cultural critics, “fast” means more than the timeframe in which we’re able to choose, purchase and receive goods. It also implies excessive rather than conscious consumption, which cascades into a multitude of environmental, ethical and social ills.

In contrast, “slow” consumerism means taking charge and being more thoughtful about how and what we buy. But just as the word “fast” implies more than a timeframe when describing consumerism, “slow” also means something more than a dimension of time when it is applied to our buying habits.

The “slow movement” has been described as nothing short of a cultural revolution (Honoré, 2004). It promotes a philosophy of not only slowing down the pace of life, but also of opting for quality over quantity and sustainability over wastefulness in our choices as consumers.

How does the slow movement relate to buying and decorating with antiques? To explore that question, let’s start with a brief look at the roots and expansion of “slow” trends.

vintage traffic sign

 

“Slow” as a Lifestyle Choice

The slow movement began in the 1980s when a group of epicureans and social activists in Italy coined the term “slow food.” They were reacting to the opening of an American fast-food franchise in the heart of a historic district of Rome, and were concerned that their country’s local food producers and the tradition of savoring food in small cafés would be overtaken by the fast food industry. They opposed the cultural standardization of how and what we eat, and sought instead to uphold regional food traditions.

In the 30 years since slow food activism began, it has morphed into a variety of similar slow movements, including:

Slow fashion – supports environmentally sustainable clothing manufacturing and good working conditions and livable wages for overseas garment makers, as well as advocating buying vintage clothes, redesigning old clothes, shopping from smaller producers, making clothes and accessories at home, and buying higher-quality garments that last longer.

Slow cities – improves the quality of life in towns by slowing down the pace of life and encouraging conviviality, with special attention to preserving a town’s cultural uniqueness, resisting homogenization, and protecting the local environment.

Slow money – catalyzes the flow of capital to local food enterprises and organic farms by investing in local food producers.

Slow design – creates goods that are made to last and are produced with low environmental impacts.

To expand this list, we hereby introduce and explore the term “slow décor.”

 

Antiques as Slow Décor

Slow décor is not the same as slow decorating. You can decorate your home slowly, taking time to find and arrange just the right pieces, whether you use mass-produced goods or bespoke and antique objects. Rather, slow décor refers to the décor object itself embodying the slow philosophy.

The following list presents a case for regarding antiques as perfect exemplars of slow décor. Each word highlighted in bold references a tenet of “slow movements,” especially those of slow design (Strauss & Fuad-Luke, 2002), and applies them to antiques and antiquing.

1. Antiques fit the time dimension of the slow philosophy. It takes time to learn about antiques, particularly to understand the history and cultural contexts that gave birth to their design. It also takes time and experience to learn to judge good from bad, and authentic from fake. Finally, once you’ve learned about a genre of antiques and zoned in on what you’d like to acquire, it often takes time to find them. (Hint: Let an antiques dealer know what you’re looking for and the often ultra-slow process could become just sort-of-slow.)

2. Antiques fit the quality dimension of the slow philosophy. Good craftsmanship was the norm 100+ years ago, so antiques typically are solidly, even exquisitely, made.

3. Antiques fit the sustainability dimension of the slow philosophy. When you reuse things such as antiques that already exist, then there is no new environmental impact required to produce them.

4. Antiques fit the durability dimension of the slow philosophy. This refers to buying things that were built to last. High quality antiques typically survive well to be reused for generations to come.

5. Antiques fit the uniqueness dimension of the slow philosophy. Since antiques are typically one-of-a-kind, they are by definition unique. Curating a personal collection of antiques also celebrates the uniqueness of one person’s individual vision and aesthetics.

6. Antiques fit the less-is-more dimension of the slow philosophy. This promotes choosing quality over quantity. Antiques make it possible to be satisfied owning fewer good things instead of lots of lower-quality objects.

7. Antiques fit the mind-satisfying dimension of the slow philosophy. While our appetite for novelty can drive our desire to acquire the latest trends, we can also satisfy our need for novelty by discovering new genres of antiques. The more you delve into the world of antiques, the more amazing surprises you discover.

8. Antiques fit the cultural and emotional connections dimension of the slow philosophy. Objects that originated in an authentic past culture of design are a far cry from the homogenized, culturally unrooted or appropriated aesthetic offered up by mass-produced goods. Also, understanding the cultural heritage of antique objects inspires our emotional connections to them.

Taken together, these eight principles of the slow movement form a very positive case for buying and enjoying antiques—a.k.a. slow décor.

Tiffany lamp makers

Tiffany Glass Studios artisans at work.

 

But . . . Is Slow Décor Elitist?

Many people cannot afford to buy antiques whose prices range from several-hundred, to several-thousand, to several-hundred-thousand dollars. In contrast, new decorative objects that are mass-produced cheaply overseas are available to people along a greater spectrum of the economic ladder.

So it is legitimate to ask whether branding antiques as slow décor simply promotes an elitist perspective that justifies having expensive taste and the means to indulge it with a feel-good “slow” label.

We argue that promoting antiques as slow décor is not inherently elitist because antiques and vintage goods are also widely available at the same low to high price ranges as new goods.

You can go to any flea market, antiques mall, small local auction, or online platform such as eBay to find lots of interesting, old things for $20 or less. Fill your kitchen cupboard with vintage drinking glasses for instance, or buy a solidly-built 1800’s dresser for the same or less money than what a particle-board version would cost at a new furniture store.

The craze of fixing up antiques, such as newlyweds who were establishing their own households in the 1960’s and 1970’s did by refinishing affordable old oak furniture, has been reborn as creative millennials refurbish, repurpose and restyle inexpensive old things to fit current tastes and trends.

Slow décor, then does not necessarily mean expensive décor, and is thus not a pursuit solely to be enjoyed by the economic elite.

 

flea market finds

 

Our Own “Slow” Identity

We entered the antiques business in part because it was a way to enhance our own and other people’s lives aesthetically and intellectually by learning about and acquiring what are essentially recycled objects. While the bins holding recyclable cardboard, newsprint and aluminum cans in our homes may help to reduce our environmental footprint, they do not kindle delight in the way that beautiful antique objects do.

The various slow movements, including what we’ve defined here as “slow décor,” ask us to be more aware of the the larger environmental, social and cultural impacts of our choices as consumers.

Buying antiques has always entailed contemplating their origins and longevity, taking time to learn about and appreciate them, and knowing that the earth’s remaining natural resources were not freshly depleted to satisfy our needs and wants. Those also happen to be the core tenets of “slow” movements that as antiques dealers and collectors we heartily endorse.

 

collage of rustic antiques

 


References

Honoré, C. (2004). In praise of slow: How a worldwide movement is challenging the cult of speed. Toronto: Vintage Canada.

Strauss, C. & Fuad-Luke, A. (2002). The slow design principles: A new interrogative and reflexive tool for design research and practice. http://raaf.org/pdfs/Slow_Design_Principles.pdf.

Biophilic Design and the Role of Rustic Antiques

02.15.2019

If given the choice between spending our indoor life in spaces that have: minimal or maximal natural daylight; negligible or plentiful views outside to trees, sky, and spacious vistas; concrete block or wooden walls; sounds of breezes, birds and babbling brooks vs. the background drone of machines and traffic; or some house plants, an aquarium and pets vs. only inanimate metal and plastic objects, most of us would gravitate to the indoor environments that have copious infusions of nature.

biophilic design of an atrium

(photo: Kellert, 2016)

That, in a nutshell, is the fundamental tenet of biophilic design, a set of principles that guides architects, builders and urban planners to create built environments that allow people to feel the presence of nature within the buildings they inhabit.

Thorncrown chapel

Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a well-known exemplar of biophilic design. (photo: archdaily.com)

While “green” architecture seeks to design buildings whose construction materials and ongoing energy consumption have minimal environmental impact, biophilic design is concerned primarily with how buildings can promote human psychological and physical health through recreating the patterns, processes and organic presence of nature indoors. (Green and biophilic designs are complementary, however, and are often implemented together.)

Biophilic design is grounded in a concept from evolutionary biology called the “biophilia hypothesis” which asserts that all humans alive today have a hard-wired emotional affiliation with other living organisms due to the millions of years during which our bodies and minds adapted to surviving among the plants, animals and landscapes of pre-civilization environments. (See our Journal article “Nature is a Happy Pill” for more details on the scientifically-documented, beneficial effects that nature has on our physiology and mental health.)

The best way to understand biophilic design is to study buildings that enact its principles. One of its most inspiring recent manifestations is the new Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. In response to the immense tragedy that the community experienced at the old school in 2012, a new elementary school was completed in 2016 which totally embodies the “healing and hopeful presence of nature.” (svigals.com)

the new Sandy Hook Elementary School

(photo: svigals.com)

From its use of recurring shapes, patterns and colors that mimic organic forms, to the prioritization of natural building materials (e.g., wood cladding over steel safety doors), to its sunlight-washed interior spaces, to its landscaping that creates functioning natural habitats, the school affirms and celebrates life.

the new Sandy Hook Elementary School

(photo: svigals.com)

 

Representations of Nature are the Next Best Thing: From Biophilic Design to Biophilic Decor

While a central goal of biophilic design is to create buildings that promote direct connections to nature (light, air, water, plants, animals, landscapes), its practitioners also advocate infusing representations of nature into architectural and interior design.

As antiques dealers, we’re particularly intrigued by those dimensions of the biophilic design framework that are not focused so much on the structure of a building and its landscape as on its interior décor. That subset of biophilic design principles promotes what we and our clients know to be true: it feels good to be surrounded by reminders of nature indoors.

moose antler chair

Moose antler chair (cherrygallery.com)

A study of people’s behavior in a medical office waiting room illustrates the power of bringing representations of nature indoors (Ulrich, 2008). The first photo shows the original waiting room where researchers logged aggressive interactions and high levels of stress among visitors, patients and staff.  Clearly, the room is devoid of any inkling of nature.

waiting room

The researchers then redecorated the room with representations of nature—a mural of a savannah, house plants, earthy colors, floral patterns on fabrics, and furniture made of wood rather than metal (note the hickory chair in the right corner).

waiting room

They then observed and documented how people behaved and felt in the redecorated room, discovering that there was a significant reduction in conflict and stress for everyone working in and visiting the office.  Although it was still the same windowless room, the representations of nature created a more positive and calming effect on human emotions.

 

Rustic Antiques as Biophilic Décor

Here are five recommendations drawn from biophilic design frameworks (Kellert, 2018; terrapinbrightgreen.com) that specify ways to infuse representations of nature inside the spaces we inhabit.

Each recommendation is accompanied by images from our past inventory to illustrate how rustic antiques provide indirect experiences of nature, and thus how they can contribute to biophilic design’s fundamental aim: creating human habitats that promote our health, performance and emotional well-being.

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Moose We Have Known

10.18.2018

moose hooked rug

October is a good time to celebrate one of the largest mammals native to North America, the stately Moose (Alces alces). These mid-autumn weeks are rutting season, when moose do their best to ensure the production of offspring.

Our thoughts turned to moose on a recent trip to northern Maine. We saw a few of the majestic beasts atop trailers being hauled behind pick-up trucks, as Maine’s highly-regulated and restricted moose hunting season had just begun.

We were in the area to check out one of the newest additions to our National Parks system, the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument (KWWNM).

Mount Katahdin

One of the views we captured of Mt. Katahdin (find out more about the KWWNM at https://www.friendsofkww.org/)

After driving along the KWWNM Loop Road, stopping at scenic vistas and taking a few jaunts to explore short side trails, we finished the day with a hike along the historic Wassataquoik Stream—used in the 1840s by loggers to access stands of virgin white pines, and later for driving spruce logs downstream.

Wassataquoik Stream

Wassataquoik Landing by George H. Hallowell, circa 1901. Maine state Library collection.

Explorers, naturalists and sportsmen—including Henry David Thoreau in 1857 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1879—used Wassataquoik Stream in the latter half of the 19th century as an upstream route to access Mount Katahdin.

Wassataquoik Stream

The Wassataquoik looking upstream.

Wassataquoik Stream

The Wassataquoik, looking downstream while dreaming of paddling it.

When we were not musing on Wassataquoik Stream’s distinguished history or looking for boreal birds (we saw two Black-backed Woodpeckers!), we were thinking about moose. That is because we were frequently reminded during our hike that moose are prominent denizens of the northwoods—not because we spotted any, but because we had to watch where we stepped along a trail dotted with piles of fresh moose droppings.

moose droppings

(photo: pressherald.com)

There were also recent moose tracks everywhere.

moose track

(photo: wildernessvolunteers.blogspot.com)

Although we didn’t see a living moose that day, like anyone who has spent time hiking in northern Maine or canoeing in Canada, we have seen our share of moose in the wild.

moose family

A decades-old photo taken by a family friend of three moose on Maine’s East Branch of the Penobscot River which runs along the border of the KWWNM.

Occasionally we also hear first-hand stories of the worst kind of moose encounters: those involving cars. Last October, Kass’ sister was driving along a country road in northern Maine and hit a moose that bolted out in front of her car.

impending moose hit

Coincidentally, a teenager had been videotaping the bull moose in a field next to his house and was still filming as it darted across the road, so he recorded the moose/car crash—the photo above is a still shot from his videotape showing the moose just before its collision with the car.

Luckily, the driver was going slowly so nobody was hurt, although since the moose ran off into the woods we don’t know its ultimate fate.

Indoor Moose

Now to transition to our indoor encounters with moose, namely those we’ve experienced as antiques dealers. Moose have long been a favorite subject for fine artists and folk artists to depict in a wide range of mediums. Moose in many renditions have always been a popular rustic accessory.

So here is a look back at some of the hundreds of moose we have known—and owned—over the past 25+ years in the antiques business.

Moose Textiles

moose with bears hooked rug

Moose with bears hooked rug

mooe blanket

Camp blanket with moose border

 

moose hooked rug

Moose, cattails and ducks hooked rug

 

moose hooked rug

Moose at sunset hooked rug

 

moose hooked rug

Naive portrait of a moose hooked rug

 

moose hooked rug

Moose hunting hooked rug

 

moose hooked rug

Moose by a stream hooked rug

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A Collector’s Passion

08.14.2018

While this month’s musings are inspired by one collector and her passion for tennis antiques, our reflections delineate three of the universal driving forces that impel collectors of every genre of antiques, including our specialty which is Adirondack/rustic antiques.

On August 30, 2018 The Jeanne Cherry Collection of Tennis Antiques will be sold at Morphy Auctions in Pennsylvania.

(View lots from a desktop or laptop computer at:
http://auctions.morphyauctions.com/Category/Tennis-826.html)

On mobile devices scroll to Lot 746 from this link:
https://www.liveauctioneers.com/catalog/125381_fine-art-asian-and-antiques-day-2/)

Jeanne Cherry (1932-2017), the mother of Cherry Gallery’s co-owner Jeff Cherry, was the author of a landmark book on tennis antiques, a leading member of tennis collector societies in the U.S. and abroad, a mentor to other collectors, and an indefatigable huntress of tennis antiques.

Jeanne Cherry’s 1995 book on tennis antiques.

The depth and diversity of Jeanne’s collection reflect her interest in the entire breadth of tennis history and its related material culture.

Group of 27 tennis tintypes; Lot 877

She acquired antiques related to the game of tennis in every possible category—including books, ephemera, photography, equipment, clothing and accessories, toys and games, fine art, jewelry, decorative arts, and furniture.

 

The Renshaw cup won by the first American finalist at Wimbledon, Maurice McLoughlin, in 1913; Lot 820.

 

Jeanne Cherry Collection of Tennis Antiques

This oil on canvas of four women tennis players by Edouard Francois Zier (1856-1924) was one of Jeanne’s favorite paintings – it hung in a prominent area of her home where she passed by it many times a day; Lot 748

 

The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques.

An 1887 oil on canvas of a Victorian lady with a tennis racket; Lot 747

 

The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Tennis table service items including a dinner gong, toast racks, salt & pepper set, and knife rests; Lot 753

 

The following sections highlight three of the motivating factors that compelled Jeanne to amass and curate her collection of antiques and which, time and again, we have also seen propelling other people’s collecting passions.

1. Fascination with History

There is an intellectual component to being a good collector, and thereby to forming a good collection. Driven by her keen intellect and unquenchable curiosity about all things related to tennis history, Jeanne was as much a scholar of the sport as she was an enthusiast.

For instance, she loved periodically living in and often traveling to England, where the modern game of tennis had its earliest origins in the 16th century game of court tennis.

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Estate collection of Cecil “Punch” Fairs, four-time Court Tennis Champion of the World, 1900-1910; Lot 820

 

Visiting museums, historic homes, palaces, and tennis courts in England and elsewhere helped her develop a grounded understanding of the broader social and cultural contexts that gave rise to tennis objects.

In addition to telling a cultural story, antiques tell a story of human innovation over time. Tennis racket shapes through the ages, for instance, are physical manifestations of how sporting practices evolved over decades and centuries.

The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Sample tennis racket head shapes; over 125 tennis rackets are grouped in Lots 776-818

Another area of tennis history that Jeanne found fascinating was how class and social norms played out, literally and figuratively, on the tennis court. She loved learning about and acquiring the “tennis costumes” that both men and women wore, and understanding how women in particular coped with clothing that in our modern judgment would have severely restricted any woman’s potential for athletic prowess.

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Early tennis attire including dresses, camisole, belts, and a cap; Lot 842

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Antique and vintage tennis shoes, Lot 902

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Locking tennis skirt lifter used in the 1880’s to raise a dress hem to make it easier to play tennis; Lot 935

2. Social Aspects of Collecting

Humans are social beings, and as such we enjoy forming and joining tribes.

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A Brief Rant

06.25.2018

Antiques show sign (from singerly.com)

When shoppers make the effort to visit an antiques show, they should be able to expect that every item in each dealer’s booth is an antique—an object with history and heritage that is authentic to a past period, not recently made.

It is difficult enough for antiques show patrons to view thousands of items in all of the booths and make decisions about what they like, what will work in their home, what will enhance their collection, what fits their budget, and so on. They should not also have the pressure of needing to worry about the age or authenticity of the merchandise for sale.

The titles of some shows prepare buyers to expect that not everything for sale will be antique—for instance at a show called an “Antiques and Design Fair,” a recent moniker for shows that mix old and new (usually high-end, artisan made) goods, or at a “Flea Market,” a shopping venue well-known for anything goes.

santa monica flea market

A stall at a flea market where anything goes.

But there should be no place for selling contemporary merchandise at an event billed as an Antiques Show. Period. That is our strong opinion.

This long-standing pet peeve of ours was reinvigorated recently when we saw this brand new furniture displayed prominently in a booth at an antiques show:

It is a recently manufactured hickory game table with four hickory hoop-arm chairs from Old Hickory Furniture Company, Shelbyville, Indiana.

The handwritten tag identified the set as “Old Hickory” (true), and it was dated as “20th century” (not true—it should have said 21st century). Even if the dealer thought the set was made as far back as the 1990s it was disingenuous to tag it simply as “20th century,” leaving it up to a shopper to determine when in the 100 year period from 1900-1999 the furniture was made.

We would classify this set simply as contemporary furniture, possibly lightly used, but definitely not vintage and not antique.

The set was priced $2,800 which might be slightly less than it would cost at a contemporary furniture store, but far more than its resale value as used furniture. Since shoppers attend antiques shows hoping to go home with a treasure that will likely retain its value, it is a sad outcome if they unwittingly purchase something whose resale value becomes a fraction of what they paid for it before the ink on their check is even dry.

So how do contemporary goods end up at antiques shows? Here are a few ways:

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Rustic Plant Supports

04.19.2018

Rustic garden ornaments naturally complement any home garden, whether or not the home itself has a rustic style or setting.

(from carolyneroehm.com)

While anticipating gardening season several springs ago, we posted a Journal article titled Rustic Garden Structures that featured mostly sizable, intricate outdoor rustic structures manufactured by furniture companies such as Old Hickory and Lincraft from the early 1900’s through the 1940’s.

Although that article did describe a pair of large, never-used 1920’s Old Hickory obelisks that we once owned, wooden rustic garden structures typically do not survive long enough to convey into the antiques trade.

(from archive.wiltonbulletin.com)

So to add time-honored rustic designs to your garden, a good option is to make your own simple rustic garden structures using natural, sustainably-harvested twigs, trunks, and branches. It is best to choose rot-resistant varieties such as cedar and black locust so that your handiwork will last longer than one season in the outdoors.

(from hydraz.club)

The following do-it-yourself instructions and design inspirations gleaned from the web focus on three kinds of simple rustic plant supports:  trellises, tuteurs, and wattle surrounds. These types of structures have imbued gardens around the world with a traditional rustic aesthetic since at least medieval times, and perhaps as far back as when humans first began cultivating crops.

 

A Rustic Trellis

(from sunset.com)

Flat trellises can support climbing plants, or be used simply as ornamental backdrops for garden beds or to add architectural interest to the side wall of a house or garden shed.

 

How to Make a Simple Trellis from Prunings
(adapted from sunset.com/garden/backyard-projects/make-rustic-trellis)

Tools and Materials:

12 straight branches, limbs or canes, each approximately 1″ in diameter:
– Three pieces, each 3 feet long (A)
– One piece, 6 feet long (B)
– Two pieces, each 5 feet long (C)
– Two pieces, each 25 inches long (D)
– Two pieces, each 221/2 inches long (E)
– Two pieces, each 391/2 inches long (F)

One box of one-and-three-quarter inch nails

Hammer

Spool of floral wire

Directions:

The finished structure is 7′ 4.5″  tall x 3′ wide.

1. Trim any side branches from the prunings.
2. Lay the crosspieces (A) horizontally on a flat surface, with two of them 18 inches apart, and the third 16 inches above the center one.
3. Lay the centerpiece (B) vertically across the crosspieces. The bottom end of the centerpiece should overlap the lowest crosspiece by 4 1/2 inches. Nail centerpiece to crosspieces at center joints.
4. Lay side pieces (C) vertically over crosspieces as shown, setting them about 3 1/2 inches in from the ends of the crosspieces. Nail to crosspieces at the joints.
5. Place D and E pieces diagonally between crosspieces, slightly overlapping the horizontal crosspieces as shown. Nail them to the horizontals at the joints.
6. Place top pieces (F) so they cross behind the centerpiece (B) and on top of the side pieces (C).
For additional stability, turn structure over and nail joints from the back side, then wrap wire several times around the main intersections.

 

Here is some additional inspiration for designing your own rustic trellises:

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Nature is a Happy Pill

01.16.2018

Let’s face it – stress and unhealthy habits are ubiquitous in modern society. Equally ubiquitous (in affluent cultures) are self-help books, diet plans, personal trainers, and by-the-hour therapists to help people achieve and maintain their best selves. But what if one of the most potent fixes for our woes is as basic as spending more time outdoors, in nature?

That is the idea that Florence Williams explores in The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative (2017, NY: W.W. Norton). As a journalist (and contributing editor to Outside magazine), Williams delves into the topic by taking a participatory journalism approach in which her experiences are part of the story. She becomes an insider in the scientific research she seeks to summarize about nature’s effects on the human mind, body, and spirit, both by becoming a research subject herself and by probing the thinking of leading scientists in the field.

She explains the impetus for writing the book succinctly: “Scientists are quantifying nature’s effects not only on mood and well-being, but also on our ability to think, to remember things, to plan, to create, to daydream and to focus—as well as on our social skills.” This work has such important implications for all of us that Williams makes an impressive effort to summarize the many avenues of this research being done around the world.

Forest bathing in Japan (hikingresearch.wordpress.com)

Williams reports on her experiences traveling to research sites in seven countries where scientists and practitioners are doing cutting-edge work on nature’s effects on people’s well-being. She participates in “forest bathing” in Japan and Korea; attends a hiking retreat with neuroscientists in Utah; wears a portable EEG device on her head to explore the physiological effects of noise pollution in the U.S.; participates in a nature virtual reality lab experiment in Canada; walks along “health nature trails” in Finland; participates in outdoor adventure therapy and meditative walking in urban parks in Scotland; observes horticultural therapy in a garden in Sweden; becomes a research subject for a Canadian scientist studying the mental health effects of sustained (30 minutes a day for 30 days) outdoor walking; goes on a camping trip with psychology graduate students in Utah and on a rafting trip in Idaho with female veterans suffering from PTSD to explore the effects of longer-term immersion in nature within social groups; visits a summer camp in North Carolina for kids with ADD and learning disabilities; and explores green spaces in densely populated Singapore. She is ambitious and energetic, and those qualities permeate the book.

Hammock in an urban therapeutic garden in Sweden (landscapeinstitute.org)

Although the scientists Williams visits are focusing on different aspects of nature’s effects on humans, and are using a wide range of clever measurement tools to do so, an underlying theoretical tenet of all the research is evolution. Since we, Homo sapiens, evolved in nature, we still have deep, automatic, physiological reactions to environmental stimuli. The idea is to recognize, understand, and then use those reactions for beneficial outcomes in our modern lives.

Some Fascinating Research Findings

Japanese and Korean scientists have documented positive changes in physiological responses such as pulse rate, variable heart rate, and salivary cortisol after people have taken sensory walks in forested National Parks. In one study in Korea, spending two days in nature lowered the cortisol levels of 11-12 year old “technology addicts,” and those effects lasted two weeks after the kids had nature immersion experiences.

Another avenue of this “forest bathing” (i.e., walking in the woods) research found that “nice tree smells”—specifically the aromatic substances that cedar and pine trees emit—boost natural killer (NK) white blood cells that strengthen our immune systems. Even a month after people walked in piney woods a few hours a day for three days, their NK cells were 15% higher than those of people who walked the same amount of time on urban streets.

(hikingresearch.wordpress.com)

In addition to affecting us through our sense of smell, nature also triggers profound effects through our visual system. One of the reasons that spending time in peaceful natural settings can improve our ability to think effectively and creatively is that we don’t have to use up as much precious cognitive fuel (specifically oxygenated glucose) filtering out distractions. Our inherent “soft fascination” with natural scenes gives our brains a rest so we have the potential to become better at higher order thinking.

Even brief views of nature, such as seeing green trees out a window, can have positive effects on our bodies and minds. One hypothesis is that visually processing nature scenes triggers natural opiates in the brain and “happy molecules” flow. Indeed, studies have shown that nature views outside hospital windows reduce patient stress and lead to better clinical outcomes. In schools, office buildings, and housing projects touches of nature visible from windows have been shown to support increased worker productivity, less job stress, higher academic grades and test scores, and less aggressive behaviors. Scientists propose that this is due in part to congruence in how nature scenes (“natural fractal patterns”) are fluently processed by our neurons, setting off a cascade of positive physiological effects.

In short, Frederick Law Olmstead (the father of landscape architecture and designer of urban parks such as New York’s Central Park) seems to have had it right back in 1865 when he wrote that viewing nature “employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”

(centralparknyc.org)

Our sense of hearing also has deep evolutionary roots, so ambient nature sounds trigger very different automatic responses in our bodies than industrial noise. Our sympathetic nervous system (the coordinator of our “fight or flight” responses) reacts dramatically to threatening sounds by elevating heart rates, blood pressure, and respiration. Those are stress responses, and when we’re constantly subjected to annoying noises, everything from airplanes and jack hammers to cell phone ringers and lawn mowers, those frequent stress responses can accumulate to the level of chronic stress within our bodies.

Given that there are fewer than a dozen sites in the continental U.S. where you can’t hear human-made noise for a span of at least 15 minutes (according to research conducted by an acoustic ecologist), this lack of respite from industrial noise can become a major health issue. For instance, every 10-decibel increase in nighttime noise is linked to a 14 % rise in hypertension. In primary schools located near major airports, every 5-decibel increase in aircraft background noise is linked to a drop in reading scores equivalent to a two-month delay in progress.

(fastcompany.com)

There are individual differences in people’s noise sensitivity, and Williams found that she is among the most sensitive. She wore EEG headgear to measure her brain wavelengths in different settings to see which places put her brainwaves in the desirable, meditative-like state of “calm alert.” In places where human-made sound is constantly in the background, our brains have to work hard to ignore the irrelevant soundscapes, stealing physiological resources and constantly creating undesirable small side effects. So it is hard for someone with noise sensitivity (like Williams) to unwind in an urban park. After numerous forays outside, Williams finally attained Zen-like brain wavelength tranquility one early morning while kayaking alone on a lake in Maine. The take-home message is that when you’re feeling stressed, go to a quiet place to reset your mind and body to a calmer mode.

(adventuremaine.us)

In addition to documenting nature’s profound influence on our physiology, Williams also reports on how it can affect our emotional well-being. A researcher in Finland recommends that to elevate mood and stave off depression, people should spend a minimum of five hours per month in nature, and that 10 hours per month yields even more positive results on emotional stability.

 

(visitfinland.com)

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Robotiquing: The Future Could be Closer than We Think

10.23.2017

 “Name an occupation, and there’s somebody considering a robot to take it over.”

(David Pogue, cbsnews.com, August 2017)

In all of our contemplations aimed at anticipating the next waves of the antiques business, the possibility of our job sector being taken over by robots or computers programmed with artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms had never occurred to us. Yet given our technologically innovative economy, predictions are that nearly 40% of jobs currently held by real people in the U.S. could be lost to robots and artificial intelligent systems by 2030 (PwC’s Global Artificial Intelligence Study, pwc.com). So perhaps we should worry about our job security.

robot cartoon

While it is easy to envision robots zipping around an Amazon warehouse plucking merchandise from shelves to fulfill orders,

warehouse robots

(from cnet.com)

it is a stretch to imagine them galloping around the fields of an antiques market such as Brimfield in Massachusetts or Round Top in Texas to find antique treasures.

robotic horse

(from dreamstime.com)

Yet robots are not only taking over manual jobs in many sectors of the economy, they are also encroaching on jobs that rely more heavily on cognitive expertise. Collecting and analyzing data in insurance and financial industries, drawing up standard contracts in the legal field, and doing routine health assessments or disease diagnoses as general practitioners and pathologists now do in the medical field, can all potentially be accomplished better and more efficiently by intelligent non-humans.

Even those higher order job skills, however, still seem more codifiable into computer algorithms than the uncertain processes of buying and selling antiques. Experts in artificial intelligence acknowledge that computers still don’t succeed very well when trying to accomplish tasks that require flexibility and non-routine procedures. Since a course in Antiquing 101 would have as its first lesson how to be versatile, intuitive, and adaptable, our profession may still have some time remaining in the human realm before computers catch up with us.

But perhaps not much time. Researchers on the cutting edge of AI are working diligently to program computers to master abstract reasoning, learning, creativity, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility. A major goal of this work is for AI to mimic intuitive judgment so that a computer will be able to make good decisions on the basis of uncertain and incomplete information, just as humans do every day.

One challenge of this research is to understand and then codify how irrationality enters into decision making. If researchers crack the irrational, emotion-laden dimensions of how professionals make decisions in their day-to-day work, then perhaps they are getting closer than we realize to building robots that could become antiques dealers.

(from nytimes.com)

So to determine how likely it is that we’ll have antiquing robots in the not-too-distant future, let’s get analytical by breaking down the various components of the antiques dealer’s profession, and then rate each dimension from 1 (low) to 5 (high) on an automatization likelihood scale, which is a computer takeover Threat-O-Meter of sorts.

An Antiques Dealer Has to Know Stuff

Despite a trend towards melding the antiques business with the world of design in which what matters most is an object’s visual appeal rather than its age and historical authenticity, we still believe that it is essential for antiques dealers to focus on objects that are original products of a past era. Understanding an antique’s origin requires contextual knowledge of historical periods and their artistic or stylistic movements, who was making what kinds of things during that era (whether individuals, collectives or manufacturing companies), variations of forms by geographic locations (continents, countries, regions), typical materials and assembly or creation techniques used, and so forth.

(from robohub.org)

All of this factual background information is supremely suited to becoming a massive database that could anchor object identification algorithms. So this dimension of our professional skill set merits a score of 5 on the takeover likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2          3          4          5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Find Stuff

A huge part of an antiques dealer’s job is seeking and finding antiques that are worthy of buying and selling. Computers are much better at certain kinds of searching (i.e., querying databases) than humans. But those searches will only be productive if the raw information being searched is high quality.

Most sellers, other than high-end auction houses that employ specialists in various subfields of antiques or specialist dealers who post their goods online, write sketchy or inaccurate descriptions of antiques which could pose a challenge for search algorithms that lack the wisdom to a) filter out worthless keyword hits, b) dig for unlikely labels and associations, and c) fill in the blanks of what isn’t said about an object. Then there is the challenge of following up on potential leads; will the antiques dealing “bot” chat with the auction house bot to get its questions answered?

friendly robot

(from jonvilma.com)

Beyond these challenges to an intelligent robot scanning through antiques online, many antiques—in fact, most of what we purchase—never appear online. Robots finding antiques anywhere other than through a database search is highly unlikely (unless home monitoring security cameras that are becoming increasingly popular begin to automatically upload photos or video of the insides of homes, garages, barns, and storage units as searchable, pictorial data—yikes!). Since AI systems have high potential to search databases, but low potential to search physical nooks and crannies, this dimension of antiques dealing merits a score of 3 on the takeover likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2          3         4          5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Evaluate Stuff

Evaluating the merits of an object is where the first two dimensions of an antiques dealer’s repertoire—knowing stuff and finding stuff—interact. It is not enough just to know facts or to find an object; it is essential to be able to retrieve and apply knowledge in reference to a particular object that is in front of you. Is it real or fake? Is it old or new? Is it intact or broken? Is it solid or wobbly? Is it in original or modified condition? Is it rare or common? Is it aesthetically pleasing or unappealing? Is it a desirable or undesirable form in the eyes of potential buyers? Is it appropriate for our specialty niche within the vast universe of antiques? More often than not a dealer has to do all of this evaluation under time pressure to make a decision to buy or not to buy something before another interested party comes along.

thinking

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Glamping: 21st Century Rusticating

08.21.2017

As summer nears its Labor Day finale, I am already wistful for opportunities to spend warm days and starry nights in peaceful, outdoor surroundings. Recently watching a movie filmed on the steppes of Mongolia (The Eagle Huntress – the best, albeit the only, G-rated movie I’ve seen in a long time) got me thinking about one way to live with just a fabric’s (or sheep’s hide) width of separation from nature: in a semi-permanent shelter such as a traditional Mongolian ger (more familiarly known as a yurt).

(from jcreore.wordpress.com)

Having stayed as a guest in several back-to-the-lander friends’ yurts over the years, as well as having spent part of a college semester living in an oceanside tipi (free housing!), I can attest to how sleeping in a white-walled, round shelter somehow feels spiritually uplifting. Or perhaps it is the lack of clutter, the simplicity of lifestyle, the gorgeous setting, or the combination of all these things that feeds the soul more robustly than dwelling within the squared walls of a solid house.

Reinvigorating the spirit with a return to simplicity was the same motivation that impelled 19th and early 20th century rusticators to flock away from cities into the wilds.

(from newyorkhistoryblog.com)

 

(Camping on Lake George, NY in 1919 – from newyorkupstate.com)

Yet the rusticators of yore also wanted their creature comforts at the end of a day exploring the wilderness, which gave rise to the elegant Great Camp style that we still appreciate in lodges, inns, and private homes today.

Dining room in an Adirondack Great Camp on Upper Saranac Lake, circa 1903 (archives of The Adirondack Museum)

The recent rise in popularity of “glamping” (glamorous camping), in which resort-style amenities are paired with overnights in simple structures such as yurts and tents, reveals that not much has changed in the desires of the rusticator demographic. Glamping proprietors proudly advertise tents provisioned with queen beds, sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, mini-fridges, coolers, fans, heaters, electric lights, bath amenities, and lounge chairs. Flush toilets, hot showers, and sometimes gourmet meals are available just a short walk beyond the tent flaps.

(from sandypinescamping.com)

 

(from lakedale.com)

At a certain point one has to wonder, why not just stay at a luxury inn that is situated in a gorgeous, isolated setting?

(fogoislandinn.ca)

I suppose novelty is one motivation for choosing glamping over a traditional luxury inn – experiencing how it feels to sleep in a traditional Adirondack guide tent, for instance.

(from poshprimitive.com)

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A Captured Moment of Tennis History

04.20.2017

This month our musings on antique sporting goods continue, but as the season gradually progresses towards summer our focus shifts from ice skates (our February posting) to tennis antiques.

 

full plate tennis tintype

 

We recently acquired and sold this rare tennis tintype. Tintypes were a photography innovation introduced in 1856 and used into the 1880s, in which images were printed on thin metal plates. The size of tintypes range from large full plates (6.5” x 8.5”), which are the most desirable to collectors, to small 1/16th plates (1.375” x 1.625”). This tennis photograph is a full plate tintype.

 

tennis tintype

 

Tennis antiques do not fit exactly within the genre of rustic antiques so it may seem surprising to see this tintype featured here, yet there are some interesting areas of overlap. One connection between tennis and rustic antiques is that tennis was a popular sport enjoyed by genteel rusticators in places such as summer colonies near the turn of the 20th century.

 

squirrel island tennis match

A circa 1905 women’s tennis match on Squirrel Island, a summer colony off the coast of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where tennis was a popular island activity. (from the Stanley Museum)

 

Another connection is that early sporting accoutrements make intriguing accessories within present-day rustic décor, especially in vacation homes where enjoying leisure sporting activities has been a long tradition.

 

rusticators with tennis rackets Lake George

Rusticators with rackets on the porch of a Lake George, NY home, circa 1890 (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

So the occurrence of an antique tennis tintype in our recent inventory is not completely anomalous. Also, like most antiques dealers we occasionally step outside of our main specialty area to buy and sell other types of antiques. Jeff has learned about tennis antiques over the years thanks in large part to the expertise and enthusiasm of his mother Jeanne Cherry, author of the 1995 book Tennis Antiques & Collectibles (the source for much of the historical information included here).

 

While the flourishing of tennis in the United States coincides with the height of the rusticator era, from the mid-1870s through the first decades of the 1900s, it is a game with a much longer history—the precursors of the modern game of tennis date back to the 12th century. By 1750 a game called court tennis had evolved in Europe, and although players (members of royalty and other elite classes) used a racket similar to the shape of the rackets used today, they played in a walled court using rules that were very different from those of modern tennis.

 

early tennis

Major Walter Clopton Wingfield of Wales who, beginning in 1873, was among the first to play and popularize lawn tennis as a social activity among Great Britain’s Victorian gentry (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

It was not until the 1800’s that tennis started to be played outdoors on lawns, giving rise to the game of lawn tennis which is the game we refer to simply as “tennis” today, whether it is played on grass, clay, or hard courts. The year 1877 marked the start of tournament tennis at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, and by the 1880s lawn tennis had “supplanted croquet as a social garden party activity in which men and women could participate together” (Cherry, 1995).

 

tennis tintype

 

Indeed, the seven women and four men shown in this tintype were most likely participating in just such a garden party. Based on some limited information we received with the tintype, we think the photograph was taken in the outskirts of New York City, which is plausible because one of the earliest lawn tennis courts in the U.S. was established in Staten Island, NY, thereby introducing people in that region to the game. In 1874 a young socialite named Mary Ewing Outerbridge had just returned from Bermuda where she had played tennis and acquired a boxed set of tennis equipment. When she returned home she convinced her local club, the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club, to mark lines and set up nets to create lawn tennis courts so that she could introduce tennis to her friends.

 

webstatenislandclub

An 1885 photo of tennis courts and players at the Staten Island Cricket and Tennis Club (aliceausten.org). By 1895 there were over 100 tennis clubs in in the United States.

 

The men and women in our tintype are holding lopsided tennis rackets, which is the earliest form of lawn tennis rackets.

 

lopsided tennis racket Keep Reading