Selective Perception…Maekake at the Heiwajima Antiques Fair and Kawagoe Shrine Sale

I am having another round of selective perception. Do you know the feeling when you notice something once and then next thing you know it is just everywhere? That has been the case with vintage Japanese maekake, the heavy cotton aprons, usually dark indigo in color, historically worn by staff at small manufacturers and breweries. These days they are retro-chic with the young set, being worn by staff at cool izakayas (simple food and bar restaurants). They have almost a denim feel and the waist ties are a thick woven double-sided cotton, often bright orange. Their simple but strong graphics caught my eye again and again at the Heiwajima Antiques Fair last week.

Many are around the fifty year old mark. You can often tell more specifically by the old-fashioned telephone numbers or styles of writing.

One idea on how to reuse the maekake, besides the obvious original intention, is to turn them into visually graphic pillows like these in Paul Ludick’s living room made from simple kamon (japanese crests) banners.

But the best idea by far is one I don’t have a photo of. Aaargh! Much to my chagrin, I was too busy talking to a lovely gentleman at the fair about his handmade maekake tote bag that I forgot to take a photo. (Hmmm….seem to be doing a lot of that lately). Anyway, he (or actually his wife) had sewn a bag out of a vintage apron and it was great looking. The zipper pocket in this one got me thinking about making one for myself – perfect for a cellphone or a couple of bucks (or should I say yen?). I didn’t end up buying any but went home stewing on the idea.

A few days later the Kawagoe market was full of aprons too.

I found a fabulous and unusually colored faded green one too, but another young woman browsing seemed to want it so desperately that I gave it to her. I found more joy in her happiness than I would have had in purchasing it.

My favorite dealer was wearing one exactly as it should be worn! I noticed other dealers wearing the sturdy aprons too.

So if fate was surrounding me with aprons, then I was clearly meant to buy one. I found a really cute small one with an outside pocket and a great design. I am pretty sure it is from a sake brewery.

Stay tuned to see the finished project!

Speaking of indigo bags, my friend Jane Farrell has been sewing absolutely beautiful patchwork and sashiko totes. I am going to try to have her work for sale sometime soon!

And speaking of selective perception, the aprons are not the only things that have been clubbing me over the head. Remember those great vintage shoyu (soy sauce) bottles I just wrote about?  I had never particularly noticed them before either, yet I saw them everywhere at the Oedo fair with Peri Wolfman and also at Heiwajima. Definitely different bottles and different dealers too!

Continuing off the topic, but still kinda on it, hop over to the post I wrote this summer about Wedgwood jasperware cheese keepers. Had a huge spate of selective perception there too so I added a big addendum to the post!

Image credits: all photos mine with the exception of the Elle Decor December 2006, photo credit: William Waldron, and Jane Farrell bags courtesy of the artist.

When it Rains, it Pours…Wedgwood Jasperware Cheese Keepers

Josiah Wedgwood’s famous Jasperware – unglazed stoneware, encircled by classical bas-relief motifs – is a familiar sight to us all. I think everyone has a grandmother or an aunt with a dish or small box on display and I can’t remember a large group antique store that didn’t have a piece in stock. I even find it floating around shrine sales in Japan and I am sure there are some die-hard Japanese collectors. Colors include blues, greens, purples, browns, yellows and black, with the light blue being the most common. What is unusual this summer is my sightings of a rare form – the cheese keeper – a plate with a large covered dome, similar to a cake stand with cover, but narrower and higher, traditionally used to keep one’s Stilton fresh. They are not often seen and tend to be quite expensive, as one might expect from their rarity.

Whether it is my own selective perception or simply supply and demand, I cannot turn around these days without stumbling across one. First, there was this dark green example with dancing maidens at the tag sale I visited earlier this summer…

…then there was this tall brown one with oak leaf and horse motif at Shore Antiques Center in Allenhurst…

…followed quite quickly by this blue neoclassic version up at The Antiques Center of Red Bank.

I can’t think of an interior featuring a cheese keeper, but I think one would make a dramatic decorative statement. I did check my inspiration files and found this photo of stacked Jasperware tins from Martha Stewart.

And I spy a cheese keeper (albeit not Jasperware) atop the china cabinet in this charming blue and white room.

For the record, I would happily take the Gustavian painted sideboard and the glass door china cabinet from these two photos. They would make the perfect finishing pieces for my dining room.

It’s quite a paradox. As cheese keepers are hard to find, they are expensive. Because they are expensive, they are not often purchased. But if not bought, are they no longer rare? Hmmm…

Image credits: 1-3. me, 4-5. Martha Stewart

Addendum: September 29, 2011

I know this is well after the writing of this post, but in the last two days I have some across three great examples and photos of these unusual items. The first is a photo from the August World Of Interiors. I didn’t see it this summer because the issues come here to Japan.

The next I came across catching up on reading back columns of Michael Penney’s blog at Canadian House & Home. He has a great post on on a shop called Cynthia Findlay Antiques in Toronto that makes me want to go there! She certainly has quite a bit of jasperware…

And the very next day I saw these on a great post about white marble in the kitchen (I vote a major yes!) that Joni did over at Cote de Texas.

Absolutely dying for this kitchen. I’d take it exactly as is for the beach house!!!

Estate Sales…An American Institution

My neighbor E. knocked on my door early this morning and offered me a little antiquer’s crack cocaine…a low entry number to an estate sale at a big house a few blocks away. Rumour had it that it was chock-full of furniture, books, memorabilia and a few generations of general accumulation. With four floors to cover, I was hoping for some great scores. While US flea markets are akin to shrine sales, I don’t think the estate sale has a comparable entity in Japan. And speaking of items made for the export market the other day, I was hopeful there might be some lurking in the 100+ years of stuff.

Unfortunately there was no luck on the Asian goods. As you might expect, the house was full of heavy Victorian furniture, like this massive Renaissance Revival bookcase and velvet covered chair.

Less expected perhaps, although less so on reflection, was this. Need a buffalo head anyone?

Most of the more valuable items were traditional antiques. There were a few tables covered in Wedgwood Jasperware, including this rare domed cheese dish. There were many other tables full of crystal and china.

All of those giant bookcases were full of books. Even though I have taught my daughters not to judge a book by its cover, I am definitely weighing books for their physical appearance these days. I want my bookshelf here in Ocean Grove, which I have yet to find by the way, to be visually beautiful. That being said, I don’t want a bunch of fake things picked just for their appearance so I do try to pick up classics and others things that sound like they might be interesting to page through. I am sure my husband will be excited by Speeches and Letters of Abraham Lincoln.

My house has no coat closet in the front so I have been keeping an eye open for a coat/hat rack. I had been thinking about a Thonet bentwood style, but stumbled across this simple Mission oak one at the sale. I think it will do to hold an occasional sweater and sun hats, if only it would warm up and stop raining, that is.

I also picked up a little silver plate and glass condiment basket to add to my bits and bobs of antique silver. There is nothing like the patina of old silver.

And no groaning, those of you who are bored with this topic, but for those who aren’t, I got this mid size glass fishing float for ten bucks. You know how sad I was to leave my big ones behind in Tokyo, but I think I can ft this one into my tiny bathroom. To give a sense of its relative size, I have put a few of my tiny ones into the photo. Still searching for the perfect basket or container for those, so styled photos yet to come!

Rumour has it everything will be half price tomorrow. Let me know if you want me to run back and get the buffalo head!

Tokyo Jinja

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