Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Verre Églomisé: An ancient Roman technique, who knew?

Hello again!  The last few weeks have been filled with finishing up some projects, starting some new ones, and trying to grasp control of life in general.  The change of a season seems to bring that out in everyone, so I am not feeling so guilty about writing more often, although I have missed it!

Since everyone seems okay with my rambling I thought of a few things yesterday morning that may be interesting to you.

I am an avid reader of Heather Clawson's Habitually Chic.  Heather has her hands on the pulse of all things New York and most recently the  Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse 2011.  A little history on the eponomous Showhouse:  In 1973 several supporters of the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club launched this event to showcase the work of celebrated interior designers and to raise funds for after school enrichment programming.  Each year, the designers transform a luxury Manhattan home room by room, into an elegant exhibition of fine furnishings, art and technology.  Personally, I love how this event raises funds for something wonderful but has also grown to be quite a career honor if you are chosen as one of the "celebrated designers" to use your best skills to transform a space!

Heather's post yesterday was about the Lady's Library in the Showhouse designed by Celerie Kemble of Kemble Interiors.  

Courtesy of Miriam Ellner
So not only is this space gorgeous and very feminine without being too girly(for a library) but since finishes are my business, I can't stop thinking about this ceiling!  I would love to see this room in person because the ceiling has an unexpected sparkle which makes this wooden paneled room feel so bright.

This is the work of Miriam Ellner.  I first heard her name from my involvement with The Society of Gilders, as she taught a class this past year at the annual meeting and convention of Gilders which takes place each year here in New Orleans combined with a community project.  I sadly, did not take her class and now I regret it(terribly). 
The technique which Miriam is known for is called verre églomisé .  To quote Thomas Jayne from a blog post on Interior Design's website: "The art form of verre églomisé can be described as reverse painting on glass. The process has several steps, starting with etching the design, setting it off with color, and then gilding precious metals to it. The gold and silver metals, of course, are the reflective ingredients that give it its mirror like effect.  Historically, verre églomisé is an ancient medium that underwent a great evolution of technique as technologies changed. It began with application on bowls and vessels, then later added as a feature into furniture and mirrors, and finally with the advent of sheet glass and then plate glass, wall decoration. Within room settings, the effect is truly transformative and magical."

Verre Églomisé used in its "expected" and traditional sense
Reliquary of Mary Magdelene, 14th or 15th Century Tuscany, Italy
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
What I find impressive about this work of art is Miriam's vast knowledge of this ancient technique and how she uses her design skills to create something so modern.  Brilliant!  In my mind, the mark of a true craftsman.

Close up pictures of Miriam's ceiling panels before installation

In this field of decorative painting we all have the same skills, or we can learn them.  Some are easier than others and they all become second nature to us with lots of patience and practice.  The real question is what will we do with them that sets us all apart?