The Far East

By Karen Parr-Moody


The Far East, or East Asia and Southeast Asia, is scattered with a thousand exotic vistas, from pagoda-studded hills to Buddhist shrines. Sprinkled throughout one’s décor, items with a touch of Asia can impart an exotic mood.


At GasLamp and GasLamp Too, a variety of Asian items speak to a range of decorating styles, from folksy to whimsical to elegant. The sculptures shown here, at right, are a lighthearted blend of folksy and whimsical ($32; B-150). They are hand-carved wooden musicians reminiscent of the marionettes used in Burma, Thailand and Indonesia for hundreds of years. This pair play their music while wearing tunics and headdresses, a traditional style of Asian dress.


In India, elephants are a national and spiritual treasure — and they can also be works of art. Those same creatures that once carried soldiers into battle now carry grooms to their weddings in splendid processions and participate in religious festivals. The carved wooden elephant, photo left, represents such an elephant ($55; B-150). Its decorations are based on those painted on elephants during Holi, the Hindu festival. Professional artists paint these great beasts in advance of the festival using special pigments.


I adore the Asian figurines of the '30s, '40s and '50s, with their splashy color schemes and pared-down design like these fellows in their sedge hats (photo, below right; $16; Booth B-313). They possess an inimitable Mid-century Modern appeal. Clearly, they are not representational. But that is what makes me love them. It's kind of like when Jennifer Jones, in the 1955 film "Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” was supposed to be Dr. Han Suyin, a Eurasian woman. Did anyone ever look less Chinese or more beautiful in a cheongsam than her?  


One of my first vintage purchases was that of a Ningyo doll I found at a flea market in New York City. She was a graceful geisha from the 1940s, but fans of the Ningyo craft know these dolls can represent many characters, including the exquisitely made samurai in the photo at left ($325; Booth B-225; comes in a glass case, not shown here).


In Japanese, the word Ningyo translates to “human shape.” Ningyo dolls were once believed to possess the power to keep bad spirits at bay, a notion that dates back to the 11th-century Heian Period, when there was a custom called hina-nagashi, or “doll floating.” With this, dolls were sent down a river to the sea by boat and were thought to take away troubles or bad spirits with them.


If one wants to grace a room with a true spirit of Asian elegance, one need simply look to these lovely statuettes ($75 for the pair; Booth B-310). Dressed in the historic clothing of an emperor and empress, they certainly have a royal air about them.


When decorating with Asian finds, one does not have to create a “themed” room. The idea is to put a piece here or there, or to create a vignette of beautiful pieces. That way, one creates an eclectic look that has some real Asian flair, because there are few styles that pack such a punch. 


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