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06 Not afraid to mix styles Esther's dining table came from a school and the chairs are 1950's Shaker. A blue and ivory chequer-board rug from Tibet lies on the floorboards
07 Esther showing one of hundreds of exquisite pieces that she stores in chests and drawers throught the flat
08 Typical Georgian architecture of Hampstead – tall, red brick houses with elegant proportions and wonderful windows
09 Detail of Peruvian feather tabard and 2 old Ethiopian chairs carved from single pieces of wood
by these gorgeous textiles, which, after all, have always been a symbol of power, privilege and wealth. As I was broke, I decided to show (the lace) to Christie’s and try to make a profit. I was overjoyed to find I’d made £990 at the sale and thought I’d start shopping for a living’. Esther recounts hair-raising tales of bidding at auctions, but as her expertise increased she began buying and selling superb quality pieces.
‘Listen to this for a best bargain story’ she says. ‘I’d just sold my house and had the money in the bank when I saw a 14th century, very rare, Chinese Mandala Kosu silk. The reserve was only £2,000, but I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as the New York Metropolitan had just paid $350,000 for a similar piece. I agreed with two friends that we would bid up to £70,000. We finally paid £82,000 – can you imagine the excitement and tension?’ Needless to say, it is no longer in Esther’s possession.
International travel plays a surprisingly small part in Esther’s quest for the best. ‘You know, the English were great travellers and collectors and there are still large numbers of beautiful things being sold at fairs, auctions, even street markets – one just has to look very carefully. I was told once that a ‘good eye’ is emotion without intellect. I don’t know if anybody can do it, but intuition is important and I buy on merit.’
There are stacks of old Pashmina shawls in the sitting room awaiting a trip to India for careful repair. The old ones were traditionally 12 feet long and the vegetable dyed colours are almost impossible to replicate these days. Esther speaks with passion about the old techniques and how weaving from the heart, rather than weaving for a market, makes the difference between good and fabulous work.
‘My clients are often people who have never bought a textile before, but once they live with a piece for a while they inevitably begin collecting, not just for hanging but more for texture and touch.’ Even the tiny kitchen contains favourites but this time they are housed in the freezer not hung on the wall. Out comes a Waitrose bag stuffed with 2 much loved, spidery, moth eaten Shartoush – the finest of all cashmere shawls. ‘I have had these for 30 years and as you can see there is not much left but once scrunched up as a scarf the moths don’t matter at all.’ True, they are the lightest, warmest bits of fluff imaginable.
The flat is furnished with a simple mix of Chinese and African chests, tables and stools. The refectory dining table came from a school, the chairs are 1950s Shaker and the linen covered sofa is temporarily replacing a Georgian sofa, removed when Maude, a retriever-collie, had 8 puppies and Esther felt quite sure they would eat it. A charming little green cupboard from the 1920s was made in the Omega workshop at Charleston, home of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.
To take advantage of the wonderful views, both Esther’s bed and that of her son Alexander have been put on top of plan chests, a clever device which of course provides bountiful storage for, yes, more textiles. A tall Chinese architect’s chest with 10 drawers is crammed with other enchanting pieces of textile history and Jacobean embroidery, Coptic and Moghul pieces, mantles, tunics and precious fragments abound.
But what is so striking about the Fitzgerald home is its utter simplicity; wooden floors, white walls, large windows and the judicious choice of well crafted, usable furniture with the minimum of fuss. Esther illustrates the ‘less-is-more’ philosophy with great panache. ••• Johanna Thornycroft
Esther Fitzgerald next exhibits at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Centre, San Francisco 28 - 31 October 2004 T: +001 415 989 9019, www.sffas.org Her collection can also be viewed by appointment T: 020 7431 3076. www.esterfitzgerald.com
ANGELA THOMPSON VENTURES INTO PASTURES NEW Into the valley lie Marsha
The air is thick with dust as the line of girls snake beyond the confines of the pillared dancing floor and out into the open. Raising even more dust, they are followed closely by groups of young men waving walnut branches over their heads – symbols of a good harvest to come. As the drumbeats increase in tempo, the girls sing and whoop – their chants rising to a crescendo, answered by the cries of the men who try unsucessfully to break into the girls’ circle.
Higher up on the mountainside, led by the Shaman priest in his bright golden robe, men make sacrifices to their animist Gods in an area forbidden to women. From below, wreaths of grey smoke obscure the carved wooden animal heads of this holy place, where, in the past, goats were ritually sacrificed. Nowadays, the gods are appeased with a bloodless offering of bread and goat’s cheese. Welcome to the two day Spring Festival in the Kalash valley of Rambur.
Balanguru village is situated in the first of three narrow valleys in the remote mountain area of Northern Pakistan, where the land borders Afghanistan to the west. Festivals are the mainstay of entertainment in the area. Preparations begin three days before and the village is a hive of activity. This is an occasion for new clothes, or for the washing of old ones. The stream that runs through the village powers the village mill wheel before it reaches the shallow washing area. The women crouch down, beating their black garments onto the flat stones with a wooden bat. They are joined by small children with sticks, eager to copy their mothers.
In this patriarchal society it is the men who run the villages, although the women are responsible for the ordering of their families. Their religion is based on clean and unclean objects, areas and people. They must adhere to strict purification rules. One of these rules is that young women are not supposed to drink from any kind of vessel, so they must pour water from a bottle into their hand before drinking.
The menfolk now wear the traditional Pakistani salwar kameez – a wide shirt and baggy trousers. The women’s costume, which is worn every day, is a long black dress; in winter it is made of a woven woolen fabric, in spring and summer of a purchased shiny black satin. The cut is simple. The wide garment has a long vertical slit for the neck, making the dress gape at the top. This space is filled in with layer upon layer of brightly coloured beads. The sleeve bands, neck opening and dress hem are decorated with machine embroidery in wool with an outline stitch, or with vivid hand embroidery.
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Never never land WHEN I USED TO READ FAIRY TALES, I FANCIED THAT KIND OF THING NEVER HAPPENED, AND NOW HERE I AM IN THE MIDDLE OF ONE!’ ALICE IN WONDERLAND
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LURID LANDSCAPES OF URBAN DECAY: DAWN DUPREE SPECIALISES IN CHEERFUL IMAGES OF DERELICTION Photography by Jackie Hurst
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04 bias / contributors Letter from the editor and comments from our contributors.
05 correspond / enquire We welcome your questions, comments and criticism.
06 inform / inspire / insight Four pages of news, trends and novel ideas.
18 concept Alien nation: Catherine Harper looks a little closer at Yinka Shonibare.
30 cohabit Hand blocked, hand painted and even hand stitched, it’s certainly hanging around. Clare Lewis looks at past, present and future wallpaper moments.
50 destination Into the valley. Angela Thompson travels to the Kalash region of Pakistan to uncover their traditional costumes and festivals.
45 anecdote Sock monkeys. We jump feet first into the social history of these charming characters.
64 project Structurally sound: Ptolemy Mann maps the points of contact between architecture and weaving.
74 global Symbols of the past. Basket making in Kwa Zulu-Natal looks to the future.
82 quintessential Jack Lenor Larsen tells us about a few of his favourite things.
84 read Reviews of the latest books that speak volumes.
86 view Critiques of the latest shows.
93 divulge / declare / disclose International listings and previews.
12 compose Dawn Dupree: A fresh focus on printing.
22 cloth capital Melanie Miller extols the virtues of Manchester.
24 Persephone Books Fabric designers and female writers celebrated with style.
26 Ashley Havinden Artist or ad-man? Serena Trowbridge seeks to define this prolific designer from the 50s.
40 the comfort of the familiar Freddie Robins’ amazing toy collection.
44 Raggedy Ann and the miracle of merchandising.
46 folk dance Fashion is getting in on outsider art but for Alexander Girard it was a lifelong passion.
47 fairy folk All the handmade toys you could wish for.
49 first time exhibitor at Chelsea Crafts Fair Alison Willoughby is having the last laugh.
56 Hussein Chalayan: Nicola Donovan deciphers this most cerebral of creators and Amy de la Haye speaks to the man himself.
60 Bradley Quinn: A seamless guide through the structural importance of ‘the fold’.
69 home is where the heath is Johanna Thornycroft visits Esther Fitzgerald’s beautiful Hampstead apartment.
78 pretty perverse Designer Shelley Fox demonstrates her unique sense and sensibility at Belsay Hall.
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