Friday, February 22, 2013

Arty Farty Sculptures at Home

Just for an arty farty change, a bit of chit-chat about three pieces we've acquired during our travels. The first, I found just last weekend while we were in McKinney, Texas. As mentioned in some archived posts about my "Black Magic Woman", she was made by Austin Productions Inc. in 1972 by artist "Morfy". I found another piece from Austin Productions last weekend, one that I could afford - some Austin Prods are priced beyond what I'm inclined to pay. While deciding what else to feature here I discovered we do have yet another Austin Prod. sculpture - and didn't realise it until now.

First a line or two about the company from THIS WEBSITE
"Austin was founded in 1952 in Brooklyn, N.Y., as a museum reproduction company featuring selections from great art collections of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Asian, African and Contemporary sculpture.

The site in Brooklyn expanded several times before the firm moved its facility to Holbrook, N.Y., in 1971. Although we have expanded the business to include the world of decorative arts, Austin still remains a family owned and operated company with manufacturing facilities in Reynosa, Mexico and Corby, England as well.

With the most extensive collection of sculpture reproductions in the world, a wide range of pedestals, and an extensive line of Garden Sculptures, Austin is the leading manufacturer of decorative, gift and home furnishing accessories."

The piece I bought last weekend isn't as old as my Black Magic Woman. The imprinted date on the base is 199?-something.
The trade mark, also imprinted is that newly registered in 1995 "Austin Sculpture", and the engraved name of the sculptor looks like F. Bone (though not 100% sure that's what it says). It stands 15 inches high. The correct name of this shape, or at least of the purpose of the originals from which the style is copied is: finial. The straight definition of a finial in architecture is a sculptured ornament found atop a gable, pinnacle, or other structure, an ornamental "finishing-off piece".

A little about the history of finials - I found this interesting:
From Do It Yourself Network, by Maureen Gilmer (2004)

Sharecropping was big business in old England. If you were lucky enough to own a manor house with extensive landholdings, you needed workers to make it pay. So you gave them a bit of your land to farm and they would return a share of each crop as payment. Problem was that sharecropping peasants weren't always grateful for this often inequitable relationship. They stayed poor as the lord of the manner grew fat and wealthy. He didn't want these workers to get any ideas about land redistribution, so he ruled this miniature kingdom with an iron fist. If someone broke the law on the estate, the lord would exact retribution.

Execution was a favorite form of punishment. Severing heads, per Henry VIII and his wives, was once in vogue. But the lord wanted everyone passing by to feel his wrath and so he took the head, dipped it in hot tar and impaled it on a stake in some high-profile location. Just as Romans used public crucifixion to intimidate their conquered cultures, the lord wanted the criminal's head as a gruesome warning that he meant business.

Design ideas have never come from stranger inspiration. Some garden aficionados in Britain claim this is the reason that ball-shaped finials became so popular in garden design. They got used to the head-on-a-pike in front of the manor house. So when new homes were built, those wishing to emulate all that defined the noble English manor adopted these round accents in stone. Gruesome, yes, but probably true.

A finial can be as simple as the spheres described above or quite decorative in a variety of shapes. Pointed finials created in Chinese porcelain to ward off evil spirits were adopted in western gardens during the popularity of oriental design known as Chinoiserie. Egyptian obelisks inspired a sleek tapered finial. When the pineapple was first imported into England about 1720, it became a highly popular finial design. During the Victorian era finials became impossibly decorative to match the gingerbread detailing on houses.

This owl sculpture, 12 inches high, is also an Austin Productions piece, dated 1976 (or could be 1971). My husband has had it for many years, and before we knew each other. He remembers buying it in a store selling museum replicas. That fits with the information on the company's history (above) that Austin Productions Inc. began business as "a museum reproduction company". I don't know from which culture this particular owlish representation originates - perhaps someone else might enlighten me.

As for owls in general - here's information from THIS WEBSITE:
Although it's impossible to prove, owls probably have had mythic roles as long as humans have existed. Imagine Cro-Magnon families huddled fearfully around a campfire, listening in the darkness to a distant chorus of owl hoots. Or think what must have gone through Neanderthal minds when a rabbit struck by owl talons shrieked to shatter the nighttime silence. Such fearful moments are the stuff of modern day horror films, so it's reasonable that primitive humans associated owls with evil, pain, and death.

According to Paul Johnsgard (North American Owls: Biology and Natural History, Smithsonian Institution Press), Mesopotamian tablets from 2,300 B.C. depict the goddess Lilith as "winged, bird-footed, and typically accompanied by owls," a significant association because Lilith was Sumeria's goddess of death. Pallas Athene--Greek goddess of fertility and power--was also affiliated with the owl, possibly "because of the nocturnal (and especially the lunar) . . . associations between female fertility goddesses and the cycles of the moon."

In Rome, owls were respected for prophetic abilities. Johnsgard reports Pliny's description of fear and confusion when an owl entered the Forum, Virgil wrote of an owl that foretold Dido's suicide, and Horace associated owls with witchcraft. Until recent times, "nailing up of a dead owl or its wings has been widely believed in Europe to help ward off such dangers as pestilence, lightning, and hail."

Native American tribes also have stories about owls--many of which are so similar to Oriental myth that they support the theory of an Asian origin for Amerindian peoples. Oral traditions in most American tribes associate owls with death soon-to-come, and an owl is typically the bearer of the deceased's soul as it passes from this world to the next. In the Carolinas, Cherokee women bathed their children's eyes in water containing owl feathers, believing it would help them stay awake.

Rounding off the trio of decorative sculptures here's one that isn't from Austin Productions, as far as I know. I found this one around 6 years ago in an antique store not far from home. It was standing outside by the door, very heavy, almost too heavy to lift. The store owner told me that she had earmarked it for herself, so would entertain no bargaining effort from me! I liked it a lot, so coughed up the necessary dosh. It has stood in our front narrow strip of garden ever since. I don't know exactly what it's meant to represent -other than it appears to depict an Eastern motif - a prayer to Buddah perhaps?


mike said...

Maureen Gilmer's finial history made me realize that maybe we humans have evolved a touch! Can't say that I'd want a tarred human head on a stick out front of my house...maybe an ersatz piece would work as a deterrent to crime and no need for a gun here. I have to wonder what the lord did with the severed hands...ash trays? good luck charms?

I like your I stated in a previous post, I need to acquire.

I have a fondness for gargoyles. The real gargoyles from years past are extremely difficult to find...most have been destroyed. Reproductions seem plentiful, but I'd like to find the authentic. Did you see the movie, "Ghost Busters"?...those were GARGOYLES!

DC said...

I'm not exactly sure but the last statue could be a sculpture depicting an Indian (Native American) rain goddess. Many times they are depicted holding a bowl while looking up at the sky....and sometimes with a flower or flowers on them at some point on their body. Just a guess tho. :)

Twilight said...

mike ~ There's probably a pit somewhere near each Manor House where the used heads were thrown and eventually buried - someday one of these pits will be discovered and those finding its contents will wonder...."What the.....?!!!" (A guess).

Glad you approve - I enjoy all my arty farty bits and pieces, both for themselves and as reminders of our various trips. :-)

Didn't see "Ghostbusters", but have seen lots of gargoyles on the outsides of many very old churches in England. Not something I'd want indoors, but maybe out front, to scare away....Jehovah's Witnesses (?)

Twilight said...

DC ~~ Oh! I hadn't considered Native American, that's a possibility. The facial features tend more towards oriental though. I Googled "Native American rain goddess statue" and saw several examples of figures holding a pot, though the general style is very different from this one. Some manufacturer could have designed a kind of hybrid version with a more modern look.

I like that the figure seems to be praying for rain - we do need lots, and lots more rain in this part of the country - drought conditions have persisted for several years.