Thursday, September 29, 2011

Under the Deep Blue Sea - Ceramic Sea Creatures

I don't know if it's the little girl in me or my constant love of the ocean but I have always found these ceramic sea creatures from the 1950's, whimsical and fun. Especially the mermaids. Why is it that little girls are so smitten with mermaids? Venus and Ariel, Madison (remember the movie, Splash) and even the icon for Starbucks ~ a mermaid.  Girls just have a thing for mermaids.  Anyway, as a child, I use to imagine my arms stretching out, kind of like Gumby, giving me the ability to grasp in my tiny hands any object out of my reach.  It seemed that every bathroom in every home I ever visited had mermaids or tropical fish with bubbles or starfish or seahorses hanging on their walls.  How I wished I could hold them in my hands.  Gleaming iridescent colors, swishing tails, jeweled eyes or smiling pixie faces.  It didn't seem fair to me those magical creations were meant to adorn bathroom walls.

A Norcrest Mermaid ~ birthday gift from my sister, Vicki

It took fifty two years to get my first wall decor mermaid, a fine china beauty made by the well-known Japanese company, Norcrest.  A birthday gift from my dear sister, Vicki.

Norcrest labels have a tendency to lift, tear or fade over the years.  My mermaid has a clean example of a Norcrest label.
When I stared collecting vintage ceramic sea life, I wasn't familiar with the makers or the markings.  I had seen Cramicraft stamped on several pieces over the years but have yet to find any information on this company.  This is a Cramicraft tropical fish from my personal collection.  I purchased it at an antique store in the older part of downtown, Arroyo Grande, California.  I have to admit, I wasn't crazy about the color combo of this ceramic fish.  Yes, there are yellow and black fish swimming merrily in the waters off of Hawaii, I have seen them while snorkeling.  It wasn't the color which won me over, it was that one green jeweled eye.  Along with mermaids, girls also like sparkly things!

Cramicraft Tropical Fish ~ Wall Decor ~ on sale @ Ooh La La, Maui!
the mystery mark

I am not sure which is more frustrating, a piece with a label you can find no information on or a piece with no markings at all.  When I purchased the seahorse below it had three things going for it ~
it's blue, it's a seahorse and it's shiny  ~ but it has no markings.  

A shy expression on this sweet blue wall pocket Seahorse
For sale at Ooh La La, Maui!  (SOLD) 

Vintage Fish Vase ~  for sale at

And not all vintage ceramic sea life are wall decor.  This sassy yellow fish with the squinty "fishy" eyes, is actually a vase.   Or, how about a vintage shell vase for your tropical flowers ....  torch ginger, tuberose or pink anthuriums? 
for sale at BG's Classic Art Pottery and Ceramics online store

Reproduction Vintage Mermaids.....aren't they adorable?  Another gift from my sister, Vicki

Regardless of the size of your pocket book, there are ceramic sea creatures for every budget.  In Clovis, California, I found reproduction ceramic mermaids at an antique store for a very reasonable price.  Another birthday gift from my sister, Vicki (I think she has a thing for mermaids) are these two precious, child-like mermaids holding shells with delicate pink lining and small pearls.... also reproductions.  


Since Norcrest makes it's figurines with fine china, they do have a tendency to crack or break.  When considering buying a piece, regardless if it is Norcrest or another company, make sure you examine it with the upmost care.  Get out those Granny glasses if you have to.  Unfortunately, I have purchased several Occupied Japan (another blog) figurines and found them to be broken and glued back together.  Most antique stores and sellers online do not except returns.  So, buyer, beware of your wares!


Just a footnote.  Last week I blogged about a trip I was taking to Oahu.  I had a blast!  In all the adventure ~ climbing Diamond Head, collecting shells and sea glass on the North Shore, swimming in the calm waters off of Punaluu ~ I neglected to hit the thrift and consignment stores.

I did, however, make a purchase.  I bought a Sunrise Shell to make a necklace.  The Sunrise Shell can range from $35 to $500!  Mine is not of the best quality but I love it just the same.  The Sunrise Shell is somewhat rare.  Found along the northern shores of Kauai and Oahu, it is a scallop shell known as the Langford's Pecten.  Their colors vary but are mostly vibrant oranges and soft hot pinks.  It has been said only Hawaiian Royalty could wear these shells.  Now anyone can wear them.  Necklaces, earrings and rings!  You just have to find a deal (like me) or have the bucks to shell out (pardon the pun) to buy one.  It is also said that you'll be blessed if you find a Sunrise Shell washed up on the shore.  I don't need a shell to be blessed, to look pretty, yes.  Blessings are from above!

My watercolor of a Sunrise Shell

Friday, September 23, 2011

Now Open ... Ooh La La, Maui!

Bessie Pease Gutmann ~ un artiste de bebes!

Honolulu Academy of Arts

Tomorrow morning, very early, I will be flying over to Oahu to spend four days with my husband. It is a working mini vacay for him as he has to attend classes on Monday and Tuesday. While he is expanding his knowledge on new 911 systems, I plan on hitting historical spots, the Honolulu Academy of Art and any thrift or consignment stores I come across.  My hope is to find something exciting to share with you.  Since time is a factor, I am keeping my blog posting simple this week with lots of amazing photos. Prepare yourself to grin from ear to ear.

If you ever decide to collect vintage prints, consider Bessie Pease Gutmann.

Bessie Pease Gutmann born April 8, 1875
I came to know Gutmann prints through my mother's collection.  She has focused mostly on the baby and cherub prints and has them hanging throughout her home. You might say my mother has a soft spot for Gutmann's ability to capture the innocence and beauty of a young child in a magical and dream-like way.  Bessie Pease Gutmann's paintings of small children, infants and angelic creatures were only a small part of her career. After attending numerous art institutes, Bessie Pease became an independent commercial artist drawing portraits and newspaper advertisements.

Alice in Wonderland

She was eventually hired in 1903 by Gutmann and Gutmann, a publishing firm, which specialized in fine art prints. You guessed it! Bessie married one of the Gutmann brothers in 1906, Hullmuth Gutmann ~ what a name. At Gutmann and Gutmann, she illustrated A Child's Garden by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1905 and several years later, Lewis Carroll's, Alice in Wonderland. During her career, Bessie's paintings graced the cover of 22 magazines. Her crowning glory, however, was her numerous paintings of tiny infants and cherubs, capturing their simplest gestures in the most delightful way. Her 3 children from her marriage to Hullmuth, were her models.  I love that.  Imagine her sketching a sleeping son as he snuggles angelically in a soft blue blanket.  Better than a Polaroid! Although her tender and realistic paintings were quite popular in the 1920's, her stardom faded after WWll.

The Butterfly                                                                                                                                                                                               

My mother bought this Gutmann print at an antique fair for $15!
On Dreamlands Border

On Dreamland's Border and The Butterfly (my favorite print) hang in my bathroom


Her prints make you all warm and fuzzy inside, don't they?

To Love and Cherish ~ she did seem to focus on the family

Sunbeam Girl
A Little Bit of Heaven
Tommy Eats His Porridge
A mother's love
Good morning!
The past 20 years has found a resurgence of Bessie Pease Gutmann's work.  You can find her paintings printed on plates, tins, note cards and posters.  Bessie Pease Gutmann died in 1960 at the age of 84 but her paintings of children will remain immortal.

Some years ago, my mother told me Bessie Pease Gutmann was Clark Gables mother. Then recently, I discovered that my mother was incorrect with that bit of information. But, I decided not to tell her.  She can continue to believe this as she finds something charming about this story. Can I tell you a secret? I am pleased that one of those darling babies was not Clark Gable.  Can you imagine Tommy Eats His Porridge with those large flapping ears?  

Do you own any Bessie Pease Gutmann prints or have a favorite?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vintage Souvenirs

"There are no foreign lands.  It is the traveler only who is foreign"  Robert Louis Stevenson

San San Beach, Jamaica

My first visit outside of the country was to a sliver of paradise called San San Beach, on the north east side of the island of Jamaica.  I was a single mother, desperate for a vacation and on a budget.  Thankfully, my funds deemed sufficient enough to go on a shopping spree for souvenirs.  My Jamaican plunder consisted of three large shells (one purchased, two found), a hand carved bird, two wooden drums for my sons, a stack of reggae 45's, a bag of Blue Mountain coffee, a Red Stripe t-shirt and a partridge in a pear tree ~ just checking if you are still with me.  My connecting flight home, to Kingston from Port Antonio, required traveling on a 4 seater plane with a pilot and a co-pilot (go figure), another passenger and cargo space the size of a car trunk.  I had no choice but to stuff all of my souvenirs in a woven basket and hold it on my lap as we dipped and soared, flying over the Blue Mountains towards Kingston.  My concern was not the possibility of doing a nose dive, crashing and burning in the slopes of a Jamaican hillside, no!  My thoughts were focused on getting my "traveler's treasure" safely home to California.

Over the years, I have continued to travel, not alone, but with my husband.  We have preferred visits to Europe, a seemingly sharp contrast to our tropical lifestyle on Maui.  France, Italy, England, Scotland and Ireland albeit are far from our island home in the Pacific, but worth the journey.  In the past while traveling to these far off lands (and before weight limits on baggage and charging for more than one suitcase), we would stuff our bags full of museum books, pamphlets, linens, small statuary and anything else that symbolized some meaning of our vacation together. I am sure we were loathed by the baggage handlers at United Airlines.

A small red urn from Pompeii and an armless Aphrodite (Venus de Milo) from the Louvre in Paris

When we got home from our travels, we did not hesitate to open our suitcases and "ooh and ah" over our souvenirs of the country we had just visited.  In rushed words, we would excitingly talk over each other, remembering parts of our trip, a moment in time, in a foreign country, sharing the same experiences together.

Yes, dear reader,  the heart of a souvenir is in the memory, a keepsake or memento of a time and place you hopefully, enjoyed.  It's almost impossible to pinpoint when the concept of souvenirs came into exsistence.  Drawings or water colors, a pressed flower or shamrock in between pages of a book, rocks or shells ... maybe even a fur or scalp?  Who knows. In the 1800's, artists would paint large canvases of popular scenery, ancient ruins or famous architecture to wealthy tourist as they leisurely trekked across Europe without a care in the world.   On a much smaller scale (and easier on the pocket book) in the mid-1800's, the souvenir spoon was crafted and marketed to tourists.  The souvenir spoon came mostly with decorative handles depicting the site or place you were visiting.  Some even had printed pictures in the cupped part of the spoon. It's hard to believe, and strange in a way,  a lowly spoon would become the top selling souvenir around the world. Everyone has seen them in a tourist shop or even on Granny's wall .... who knows, you may even have a collection for yourself.

I started collecting vintage souvenirs after finding this lovely glass box ~ with faded blue tucked padding on the inside and a painted picture of the Mont Sainte Odile de Couvent encased in glass on top.  I was scouring around an antique store on the central coast of California when I spotted this little gem sparkling in a clutter of knick knacks. Charming and unique, never seen anything like it! I was intrigued, I had to have it.  This tiny glass box has now peaked my interest and quest in vintage souvenirs ..... mainly those from France.  

A Vintage Glass French Jewelry box ~ a convent souvenir 
a plaque for a French chapel ~ for sale at Ooh La La Maui @ Etsy
a vintage ashtray from Paris with pebbles from Moonstone Beach

However, as much as I love France and all things French (and would be secretly delighted if someone considered me a Francophile), I love other countries equally, even more so, my own.

a vintage pitcher from Ireland

God Bless America, Land that I Love ....

 a bronze Statue of Liberty found at a antique store in Cambria

From sea to shining sea ........ even us way out west!
made for each state in the union

Whether you are into retro, shabby chic or modernistic, I am sure there is a spot in your home for a collection of vintage souvenirs.  The beauty of vintage souvenirs is you don't even have to travel to purchase them.  A quick trip to the computer and a Google search will find you oodles of souvenirs.  How nice!  You can be an armchair traveler or as Meryl Streep's character, Karen Blixen, in Out of Africa explained ~ 

"I have been a mental traveler"

Arm chair, mental or the real Mc Coy ... go travel!  And don't forget to pick up a few vintage souvenirs along the way.

Bon Voyage!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ceiling Light Fixtures and Shades ... Ho-Hum

It's a beautiful September day on Maui and I 'm writing about ceiling light fixtures? Do I hear a collective yawn from my readers? Come on! What could be more exciting than ceiling light fixtures? Here in Hawaii you would hear crickets at the mere mention of it.  Our island homes all have the ubiquitous ceiling fan in almost very room. Heaven forbid, ceiling decor in a tropical home?  Certainly, ceiling fans are a necessity for a hot and humid climate. So imagine this ~ my husband's horror when I declared, "I am tired of ceiling fans, I want a chandelier in our bedroom".  While I had visions of a heavenly celestial orb hanging from the bedroom ceiling shooting out beams of light when the morning sun crept in our bedroom, Fletch had visions of sleepless, sweat-soaked nights awakening to swollen eyes and a bad attitude from the lack of sleep. "We'll be hot" he said.  I quickly responded,  "Our bedroom will look pretty". I saw the defeat in his eyes.  Once again aesthetics had trumped practicality.  This is a picture of our bedroom chandelier.
a chandelier adds charm to any room or entry way

Ceiling light fixtures and shades come in every size and fashion, designed to meet your personal needs and of course, personality. Light fixtures are like "the cherry atop the cake".   It ties the essence of the room with one decorative bow ~ or in this case, not so decorative?
Antler Chandelier? Not my cup of tea but I am sure who ever owns this, LOVES it! Says oodles about their personality, doesn't it?

Besides my chandeliers, yes I said it in the "plural" (I have one in the boudoir), I adore these glass fixtures from the 1930's.
Because this particular fixture is in our dark hallway, I was unable to capture the true pallid color of this shade without illuminating it. The glass on this shade is called "milk glass" because the white is so, well, milky. Milk glass is easily found on sites like eBay but finding an old piece like this can be challenging and expensive.
for sale at Ooh La La, Maui

This is another example of a glass ceiling shade from the 30's (pictured above). If you are over 50 (or a visitor to my home), you will remember these type of shades hanging in your Grandma's house. They are suspended by 3 sections of ball chain, secured from fixture to 3 small holes in the shade. These types of shades come in all sorts of colors and designs. From light blues, shades of creams and blood reds to raised ornate glass with flowers and leafs or etched glass with a simpler motif.  

I have these shades scattered around the house ~ in the computer room, entry way and guest room. This beautiful blue shade (photo below) was bought at a tiny antique store in Shell Beach, California, located on the main street running along the community. I had every intention of using it in the guest room as a ceiling light shade but Fletch put his slippered (flip flop) foot heavily down at this suggestion. He would not allow our guests to suffer the indignity of awakening in the night to sticky jammies and dampened hair like the creature from the horror flick, "The Ring". So, what to do with my shade? I fashioned it to hang on three silky ropes and then nestled a tea candle deep in the shade surrounded by clear decorative stones.

Stumped on how to clean these fancy shades?  Glass light fixtures are easy to keep clean but may require you, from time to time, stepping onto a footstool and detaching the shade to be washed in your kitchen sink. We always find a collection of dust and dried up dead moths in our shades.  With very dirty or recently purchased vintage shades, you may have to soak them for a few hours, then take a used toothbrush to scrub in nooks and crannies to get the job done.  Be kind to your vintage pieces, use a mild dish soap.

Chandeliers and cut glass shades are a little trickier because you do not want any residue left on them, you want that baby to SHINE!

Here are a few tips on how to clean your chandelier, cut glass or any fixture with crystals.


TURN OFF YOUR LIGHT! And cover the switch with a piece of tape as a reminder.

Cover upward pointing lights with plastic or sandwich bags. Make sure you securely fasten the bags.

Lay a water proof covering under the light to protect floors, rugs or fabric that could be damaged by drips of water.  The solution you'll be using is strong.  I cover my nose with a bandana tied around my head to mask fumes.  I'm kind of wimpy. 

Mix one part isopropyl alcohol with three parts water and pour into a plastic spray bootle

Spray the fixture with the cleanser avoiding any wires. Let it drip dry. Once dry, remove the bags and wiped down wells and non-crystal parts with a soft dry cloth.

Do not turn on fixture for at least 24 hours.

If I have some crystals with a coating of stubborn Maui dirt, I dip a cloth in the solution and gently wipe the crystal until the grime is removed.

After the 24 hour period is over,  grab another form of alcohol ~ preferably a glass of fine wine, a flute of bubbly or a sophisticated cocktail ~ turn on the light and voila'!  Enjoy the light show.