Finnish Beauties
These two kettles from different sales have different histories but both hail from a place Americans primarily associate with saunas: The Republic of Finland. A Nordic country which was, at times, either a part of Sweden or of Russia, Finland has the distinction of having fought against BOTH sides during World War II, keeping its independence from both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Although a member of the United Nations and the European Union, on the world stage Finland is neutral. And it has repeatedly been ranked absolute highest on the annual World Happiness Report, so you could do worse.

The country is sparsely populated (only 5.6 million people) and 75% of the land is forest. There are more than 180,000 lakes. This copper kettle is from Finland’s agrarian past, it was designed for boiling water on wood-burning stoves that heated the farmsteads.

 

 

Simply remove one of the inset cast iron plates from your range top and settle the kettle into the round hole. The kettle’s low- set flange rests neatly on the circular edge of the opening, suspending the kettle’s bottom above the open flame – much more efficient than boiling water through a thick layer of cast iron! Very old kettles are often entirely copper but this one is newer and lined with tin. This is because we now know that copper is toxic and repeated uses of unlined copper vessels can result in a poisoning that causes diarrhea, headaches, even kidney failure! If you do have pure copper cooking pots, be careful how often you use them. Age has tarnished this kettle but it could be shined up nicely with commercial brass and copper polish or a mix of lemon juice and salt.

The smaller enameled turquoise kettle was made by Finel in the 1960s. The pattern is called “Lehvä” (twig).

Multiple entities were involved in this kettle’s creation. Founded as a sawmill in Järvenpää in 1834, the Wärtsilä Oyj Abp company converted to an ironworks in 1898. In the 1950s its subsidiary Arabia began making enamel kitchen wares under the trademark Finel. At first they hired foreign designers, but as the Scandinavian design movement took off many fine Finnish designers stepped up. Scandinavian design championed sleek, minimalist functionality and a color palette that might combine bright and dull colors in the same piece. It was the genesis of what we in America now call Midcentury Modern.

This kettle’s shape is by Kaj Gabriel Franck while the decoration is by Harry Molainen. Interior architect and designer Molainen studied at the Aalto University School of Arts and Design in Finland and taught architecture at Washington University in St. Louis in 1968.

 

Franck was a Swedish-speaking Finn, one of an ethnic minority that makes up less than 6% of the population. Finnish is rare among European languages in that it is not of Indo- European origin and so is very important to Finland’s national identity. Nevertheless, Franck designed for many companies and became artistic director of Arabia ceramics. He was also artistic director for the College of Applied Arts (now Aalto). In 1964 the King of Sweden awarded Franck the Prince Eugen Medal for outstanding artistic achievement, while today Design Forum Finland awards a yearly Kaj Franck Design Prize, so both sides of his heritage are proud to claim him.

 

Wärtsilä (including Arabia) is now owned by scissors maker Fiskars while Finel makes bath fittings, but we still have this kettle to remind us of the glory days of Scandinavian Design.

Want your own a glorious kettle? Visit QBO!

Zulu Wire Baskets

Intricate baskets made from outdated technology

This little work of art is from one of our Beehive sales. If you are unfamiliar with these unique Zulu baskets, you’d be surprised at how heavy they are. Their unusual weight and vivid colors come from the recycled copper and plastic they are made from, specifically, plastic-jacketed copper wire salvaged from out-of-service telephone lines. They are an unintended but charming side-effect of perpetually obsolescing technology.

Telegraph, the first electrical communication system, began in 1840s. It sent short text messages between two geographically separated offices connected by overhead wires spanning the landscape via utility poles. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, so phone lines quickly joined the telegraph lines. The copper wires were insulated, first in lead, later in colored plastic, and bundled into large cables. First long distance phone service came in 1881. By 1915 we had the first transcontinental phone line and copper wire was snaking out across the globe like an invasive species.

But then the more efficient fiber optic cable (which uses laser light zipping through glass instead of electrons zapping through copper) was invented in 1952. And, by 1979 cellular network service started in Japan.

Over the next decades when satellite-supported cell phones spread around the world, the amount of copper telephone wire in active use steadily decreased, although in rural areas and less-developed countries, many land-line phones still use copper wire. The varied colors of these telephone wires is not random, they identify individual conductors when wiring telecommunications into buildings. The major colors are white, red, black, yellow and violet; the minor colors are blue, orange, green, brown, and slate.

It was Zulu security guards working graveyard shifts in South African factories who first wove these colorful salvaged wires together to reinforce their nightsticks grips. And, since the Zulu tribe was already famous for making beautiful baskets from plant materials, the leap to wire baskets was a short one.

Unlike most baskets, wire weaving is done from the top down. A thick wire forms the top rim of the basket, then the weaver works their way toward the bottom, pulling each wire taut against a form to create the basket’s shape. Most are made by men due to the hand-strength required.

Zulu wire baskets vary in size, design and price. A small basket takes a few days to produce, medium-sized baskets may take thirty days and large, elaborate baskets can take more than six months. New, a Zulu wire basket can cost anywhere from $24 to $375. Each Zulu basket is unique in shape, size, color and design. Some weavers are prolific enough that their basket-making provides a livable income, for others it’s a side gig.

The Zulu call themselves ‘the people of the heavens’. They are one of the original inhabitants of their region, having settled there thousands of years before it became the country of South Africa. Traditionally fierce warriors, they historically lived in protected homesteads made of wood with thatched roofs. Today there are over nine million Zulu people, the majority living in KwaZulu-Natal. As time and technology marches inexorably forward, some Zulu weavers have had to replace phone wire with similar-looking annealed steel core wire as the outdated phone wire becomes scarce.

But, you can still find lovely phone wire baskets at QBO Estate Sales. See you soon!

Pinup Girls for Calendars

Pinup Girls for Calenders

From a past Queen B sale comes this 1946 calendar, printed over 70 years ago as American servicemen (and women) returned home from World War II. Risqué art has been around forever, but the sexy yet wholesome “Pinup Girl” reached the height of popularity during the war when thousands of eager G.I.s bought calendars to stand in for girlfriends they left behind. Pinups were everywhere that men might be without women – locker rooms, barracks, machine shops, even on the noses of Air Force planes. Some of the ‘girls’ were famous actresses or singers, some were models, and some were fantasies invented by the artists. Their impossibly skin-tight clothes were also something of a fantasy as Spandex had not been invented yet.

King of the pinup artists was Vargas, or Varga, as he is called on this calendar. Vargas worked in a combination of watercolors and airbrush. His favorite model was his wife Anna Mae, who was also his business manager. This calendar published by men’s magazine Esquire represents Vargas at his finest but behind the scenes he was teetering on the cusp of a career-crippling fallout with one of his most profitable employers.

Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez was born in Peru in 1896, son of Peruvian photographer Max T. Vargas. As a young man Alberto went to Europe to study art. There he saw a cover for French magazine ‘La Vie Parisienne’ by Austrian artist Raphael Kirchner, Art Nouveau illustrator and creator of some of the earliest sexy girl pinup art. Mr. Vargas was inspired! In 1916 he moved to the U.S. to work for the Ziegfeld Follies in New York and Hollywood movie studios in California, all bursting with sexy girls. Although it is almost 90 years old, his dramatic 1933 pinup-style poster for ‘The Sin of Nora Moran’ is still admired by some as the greatest movie poster of all time.

Following a bitter contract dispute, in 1940 Esquire Magazine hired Vargas to replace illustrator George Petty. His new contract by publisher David Smart had Vargas drop the S from the signature on his artwork, changing it to ‘A. Varga’. It was sadly common then for creatives with ‘ethnic-sounding’ names to be asked to change them to something more neutral so this might not have raised any red flags, but the end result was that Alberto Vargas did not own the Varga signature, Esquire did. In 6 years Vargas produced 180 paintings for them but gradually Esquire dropped his signature from published work and ‘Varga Girls’ morphed into ‘Esquire Girls’, even though Vargas was still painting them.

He took Esquire to court, claiming that pictures made by him were wrongfully published without being accredited to him. Note that he was not suing for money, just for his signature to appear on his art. Such a lawsuit today might have different results but back then Vargas lost and was not asked to fulfill the remainder of his 10-year contract.

For 12 long years he struggled. Finally in 1959 Playboy magazine began publishing his art. During the 16 years he worked for them he produced 152 original works and experienced an impressive comeback, showing in major exhibitions around the world. When his wife Anna Mae died in 1974 he retired, creating only a few select album covers after that.

Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez passed away in 1982. His original paintings still sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars and his command of the airbrush is still so admired that there is a yearly ‘Vargas Award’ given out by Airbrush Action Magazine, and yes, the award is spelled V-A-R-G-A-S with an S (take THAT, Esquire!) Craving a sexy Vargas pinup of your very own? Why not visit QBO…