Turning back the hands of time

Geoff Burr of Muir and Burr shows off vases from the 1900s.

Wind-up watches, vases from the 1900s, old coins and antique art and furniture. These are some of the things that one can see along the route of the antiques and design tour by the South African Antique Art and Design Association (SAADA).

The tour to antique stores and galleries around the city centre, which is currently done about two or three times a year on an ad hoc basis, aims to make antiques more accessible to people, and to provide information about collections and the market.

A recent design tour on board the “epochtoplane” was in preparation for Saada’s annual art and design exhibition, this year themed Time Travel, happening at the Lookout, V&A Waterfront, from Friday February 17 to Sunday February 19.

Saada CEO, Paul Mrkusic, said the tours were something they would promote in future. “In Cape Town we focus on stores taking part in the show we do once a year, but there are so many more we could visit. We change up the tours a bit each time, depending on what people are looking for, but we want to incorporate it all into one walk through the city centre, and print it onto our pamphlets. A guide will be available by arrangement.”

The epochtoplane took off from Strand Street Geoff Burr and Graham Muir opened Burr and Muir in 1987, specialising in Art Nouveau, Art Deco and 20th century design antiques, among them a wide range of vases from the 1900s, the most popular ones being by French glass designer Rene Lanique, who pioneered glass-blowing techniques.

Mr Burr, a collector himself, said one can see how rare an antique is by its availability on the market. “Something which is rare could cost millions.

“We’ve got a few collections here and these things are getting harder and harder to find. But the antique industry is bigger in Cape Town than in Johannesburg.”

The next stop was The New Modernist in Buitengracht Street.

Emma De Crespigny, the owner of the vintage store moved to Cape Town from New York a few years ago. Emma specialises in pieces from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, while also making her own pieces, and recreating and restoring classic pieces.

She told us of a rosewood table in her store made by Tommi Parzinger, a 20th century designer and creator of the Hollywood Regency style. “Marilyn Monroe was one of his customers,” she pointed out.

Mr Mrkusic said antiques were often things that our grandparents had which became fashionable again. “Fashion re-emerges all the time, and things don’t get made the way they used to.”

He said nowadays, people consider things made 30 years ago as antiques, whereas our parents and grandparents only considered things 100 years and older as antiques.

“This is scary. People don’t hand stuff down from generation to generation anymore, and antiques are getting more rare, because people did not have many things in the past, but modernism is taking over.

“Twenty to 30 years ago, antiques were seen as just for the elite or privileged, but now it is more accessible and done more casually. For example, people will have a modern table in their homes, and have a stack of records on top of it for decor. It’s so much more relaxed.”

Eclectica Contemporary Gallery in Buitengracht Street exhibits mid-century modern and contemporary design.

“One of our oldest pieces is an early 1960s version of the egg chair. The oldest one was designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1958 for the Radisson Blu Hotel,” said gallery manager Olivia Bowers.

“The original design was shaped in clay in his garage, and he used new techniques to fit in with the modernists.”

She said the egg chair, which will be showcased at the Saada expo, had been used in many movies and magazines, with Michelle Pfeiffer being pictured in this chair on the cover of Esquire magazine in September 2007.

“The chair came from Denmark in the early 1960s. The value of this one is R160 000. It was made after the war. They wanted to do something different, they wanted to do art, and there was a fine line between art and design – the two influenced each other a lot.”

Joao Ferriera, who owns a gallery of the same name in Hout Street, is an art consultant and collector of paintings. “I look for works that are recorded as important pieces in an artist’s life,” he said.

He showed an original drawing by William Kentridge, called Landscape at Stadium, done in 1987, after he won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award.

“It was pivotal. He used techniques that he would use later in his life, so he was forward thinking with his techniques. His ideas were based around the concept of placing people in space. And for an odd reason, he only used half the page.”

He said the painting was placed on the market for R3 000, and in 2010, its worth climbed to
R500 000. Now, it’s on the market for over
R1 million.”

He also showed a piece from Fred Page, an artist of the 1960s and 1970s from Port Elizabeth.

“He is one of South Africa’s leading surrealists. His paintings were always quirky, with unresolved ideas. His work is limited because he died, but there are quite a few collections.”

The tour ended at the Jewel Tree, an antique jewellery store in Long Street, where Pieter van Straaten showed off a collection of watches from as far back as the 1920s.

“These watches are wind-up. There were different hands indicating the amount of hours the watch will run. If the hand indicates 60, the watch will run for 60 minutes after you wind it up. “But watch designs changed in response to technology and what people needed them to do. The earliest watches were on walls in churches. Then people needed to carry time with them and they made pocket watches.

“They soon realised their hands needed to be freed, so they put them on their wrists. Then people needed self-winding watches, and Rolex was the pioneer of that.”

He showed a watch made by Omega in 1968. “This watch was the first watch to go into space and survive all the elements. The earliest model came out in 1962.

“This one is called a speed master, but it is very technical and detailed. The value of it today is about R10 000.”

Asked about the oldest item in the shop, Mr Van Straaten said: “There’s a Chinese plate that is about 300 years old, but I don’t know the story. However, there is a snuff box that belonged to a doctor who served in the Napoleonic Wars in the 1820s. It’s made of tortoise shell and gold, with an emerald detail in the centre.

“It was obviously made for someone who was very well off, and the fact that it survived and is still beautiful is amazing. It’s one of a kind.”

The Time Travel Expo will take place at the Lookout at the V&A Waterfront on Friday February 17, from 10am to 8pm; on Saturday February 18, from 10am to 7pm and Sunday February 19, from 10am to 5pm. Tickets cost R100 each.

The gala opening will be on Thursday February 16, from 6pm to 9pm. Tickets are R250 each. For more information or to book, call 011 880 0815 or visit www.saada.co.za