Eclectic Traveler
By Karen Parr-Moody

Years ago I visited the beautiful country of Croatia, where I traveled by boat to the island of Pag to find the fabled lace that women have made there for centuries.

Upon arrival, I discovered that what I sought was not to be found among the souvenirs near the shore. Although there was lace there, it was not particularly extraordinary. A local pulled me aside and said that I had to go farther inland to find the real Pag lace.

So I walked through the cobblestone streets until I found a small, wizened woman sitting before a window in one of the homes. I asked her about the lace. She walked away and came back holding small circles of it, the fine threads more intricate than any spiderweb.

I brought the piece that now hangs in a frame in my bedroom. It is certainly beautiful, but it is also symbolic: It serves to remind me of the days when I was a young adventurer in a foreign land.

In decorating a home, the style I like to call "Eclectic Traveler" is all about collecting and displaying items that remind you of the many cultures of this planet on which we live. They may have been items you found yourself by sallying forth into foreign lands. Or they may be items found in antique stores such as GasLamp.

While I have never been to China, I am fascinated by the whimsy and rootedness of that country's culture. So when I found these antique Chinese children's hats at GasLamp Too, I was thoroughly enchanted (photo, above right; $95; Booth T-504).

These two silk hats date to the late 1800s and are hand-sewn with embroidered silk appliqué and the three-dimensional faces of dragons. Such hats were typically made by the minority peoples of certain northern and southwestern provinces of China. Children still wear such hats in the more isolated regions today, but most hats of this genre ceased to be made in the mid 20th century. (An excellent source of information on this genre is "Stories of Chinese Children's Hats, Symbolism and Folklore" by Phylis Lan Lin & Christi Lan Lin.)

These hats were made by children's mothers for the same purpose: They were meant to provide protection from demons, evil spirits and ghosts. They were also thought to foster important qualities in the child who wore them, including academic success, happiness, wealth, health, courage, long life, grace and beauty.

Another item that fits into the category of "Eclectic Traveler" style is this 26-inch basket with leather handle and cowie shells (photo, left; $125; Booth B-310). Such baskets are famous in Ethiopia, where they are made in the pre-industrial, hilltop city of Harar.

Women weave these baskets, which are made mostly of grass and straw. Harar basketry is always made by binding continuous coils of grass with transverse fibers, which gives each basket a tidy, geometric appearance. 

Harari baskets come in a variety of shapes and sizes and even include a table called a mesob. Inhabitants of Harar decorate the walls of their houses, according to the native tradition, with kitchen utensils and basketry.

The continent of Africa has an incredibly rich history of sculpture. But as nature would have it, it also has an environment that hosts ravenous termites that are an enemies to the carved wood of most African statues. Pottery and metal have had better survival rates.

The Nok culture of Nigeria was responsible for the pottery figures that developed around 500 B.C. and became the characteristic sculpture for which Africa is known. Cast metal was another material that could withstand the continent's termites and metal sculptures were developed in around the 12th century, also in Nigeria.

The sculptural tradition of Africa involves the distortion of human limbs and features in a dramatic manner, as seen in the metal figures in the photo, right ($65; Booth B-310). It is no surprise that Pablo Picasso, the most well-known Cubist artist of the 20th century, was inspired by the fragmentation of reality through African sculpture.

The curves of women have been depicted in carvings for millennia, dating back to the Venus of Willendorf statue of 24,000 to 22,000 B.C. This 4-inch statue, discovered in Austria, is carved in limestone and belongs to a category collectively called Venus figurines.

The woman in the photo, left, is certainly of more recent origins, but she possesses the same Venus-like quality of her predecessors ($24; Booth B-236). Best of all? This hand-carved beauty happens to be a nut cracker, as well. Now that's having your sculpture and using it, too.

Traditional handicrafts are one of life's joys. And for someone who likes to imbue a home with character, choosing global items from skilled artisans is a way to celebrate tradition in our rapidly changing world.

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