Remember that quirky cup you drank cocoa from in your childhood? You just might find one like it in a museum. Those doorstops, chairs, vases, teapots, lamps, and bowls sitting casually in your parents’ or grandparents’ homes, those mundane everyday objects, just might be valuable.
Do-it-yourself “Antiques Roadshow”
One way to discover whether you have family treasures is to a visit a local decorative arts museum or antique mall.
In Denver, a special place to check out the art of the everyday is Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art. The museum is home to more than 3,500 pieces of decorative art. Room upon room is crammed with household items – rare chairs designed by famous architects whose major claim to fame was buildings; vases, lamps, stoneware, glassware, tea pots, canes, tables. There are thousands of unique, carefully collected and curated items made between 1870 and 1980. And given that 1980 was not that long ago, your family did not have to come over on the Mayflower to possess museum-quality household items.
What qualifies as decorative art?
The category “decorative art” means objects that can be useful, designed both with function and aesthetics in mind. (As opposed to the fine arts like painting and sculpture which do not have practical function. Crafts are something else – the word really refers to making something in a skillful way with wood, paper, clay, beads, etc.)
So we’re talking about functional items that your parents or grandparents may have used – or that could be used – but were designed in a unique and aesthetically pleasing way. Of course, as with all art, the beauty of it may be in the eye of the beholder – or in some cases, the style of the time. That said, on a recent visit, I spied high on a shelf in the studio of Vance Kirkland, the artist whose collection was the impetus for the creation of the museum, a brushed stainless bowl. It looked very familiar. It was just like the one that used to sit on the kitchen counter when I was growing up. Little did I know it was museum material! A friend saw an odd little cat object and found out it was a doorstop. “My mother has one just like it in a glass cabinet at home. I wondered what it was!” she said. My friend had thought the thing a bit odd and had not been fond of it. Her opinion changed.
Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art houses, in addition to decorative art, the paintings of Vance Kirkland, (1904-1981), a professor of art at the University of Denver, and paintings by 170 Colorado artists (hence the “fine” in its name). Many of the decorative items were Kirkland’s, but most have been collected specifically for the museum and are now housed in the building that was his studio.
Museums like these provide an opportunity to rethink everyday household items – their design, their color and artistry, and their value. Even if you don’t recognize some object that you lived with as having new value, it’s still a good reminder that having something artistic in our homes, even something as mundane as a pitcher, can elevate even the act of pouring water into a beautiful experience.
Update – the Kirkland Museum is moving to the Golden Triangle neighborhood near the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum. Kirkland’s studio was put on a flatbed and moved through the streets of Denver on Nov. 6, 2016. The Kirkland will reopen in a new, larger space in fall, 2017.
Photos courtesy of Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art
Story copyright by Bojinka Bishop, Feb. 18, 2014 and updated Jan. 2017.
- Celebrate spring, walk an art garden (or cemetery) Art in the outdoors – fresh air, green grass, blossoming trees, sculptures of people, horses, birds, family medallions, mythical gods and goddesses, and an endless array of imaginative creatures await you. Where?...
- Thoughts on Inside LLewyn Davis The Coen brothers’ latest film “Inside LLewyn Davis” is notable for being dark – in mood and message. It takes place in 1961 and the scenes are dulled out, absent of color. Davis is a lone folk singer trying to make it after the other half of his duo jumps...
- Liquid soap in plastic bottles is horrific for our environment Liquid soaps in their little plastic bottles may seem convenient. They don’t dribble their suds or coagulate in a soap dish. But they have at least two huge drawbacks. Going back to the bar can solve a couple of big problems....
- Solo Dinners: Treat Yourself Cereal for dinner? No way. You deserve a lovely meal. Cooking for yourself has many advantages. You can 1) eat what you really enjoy, without catering to other’s tastes, 2) save money, it’s cheaper than eating out or buying prepared foods, ...
- Have a dog? Getting one? Or scared of them? Dogs can be our best friends, can prolong life, and help with psychological problems. Some even find lost kids or track down criminals. But a lot of what they do depends on us. Here’s what to know about dogs....
FlyingHighSolo.comCelebrating special people, good ideas, and useful actions
Keep on top of what's new – subscribe to Flying High Solo! You'll get a brief email alerting you to new articles. (Your email is safe -- we will not share it with anyone).
What readers are saying
"amazing variety of topics"
"an intelligent, strong, creative, eclectic approach .... that we don't get a chance to read everyday"
"very cool and intelligent"
Bella DePaulo's blog for Psychology Today, "the truth about singlism..." News, analysis, facts, and stories about being single in America