I confess to having only a passing interest in most antiques and decorative objects. When I am in a museum, I make for the paintings and generally ignore most of the knick knackery. For example, there is a room at the Legion of Honor filled with porcelain. I never go in there. I’ve ignored it for years until a friend with a baby and I discovered it is the perfect, quiet place in the museum to nurse a baby. No one will care. The room is usually empty. Though a few ladies in Dresden porcelain might be a bit scandalized.
Cloisonné is an exception. For some reason I have always been drawn to it. Years ago when I was studying in Switzerland, there was a big cloisonné exhibit at the Museum Rietberg in Zürich. Over the years I’ve seen many museum shows, this is one that has stuck with me.
Today cloisonné is most associated with China and most commonly seen in Chinese pieces like the ones pictured above. The process of setting glass, enamel and gems in metal is thousands of years old. It goes back to Ancient Egypt. It actually came to China more “recently” — about 700 years ago. There is a thorough article about cloisonné on Wikipedia.
Recently my grandmother’s collection of cloisonné found a new home in San Francisco. They have sentimental value and I also find them simply attractive. Some of the pieces are early 20th Century and a few were acquired on her trips to China. I unpacked them, placed them on top of a shelf and then sat back on the sofa to admire them. Behind the cloisonné is a recent piece of my own art. It’s made from about 3,000 small pieces of postcards. I sat there looking at the cloisonné and my own colorful work and began to understand why I am so drawn to cloisonné.