“Indian Summers” Accoutrements

By Karen Parr-Moody

 

In one of the early episodes of “Indian Summers,” the new Masterpiece period series set in 1930s India, viewers watch a lead character, Alice Whelan, unpack delicate items from boxes. From her native England, these items include a Staffordshire figurine.

 

Alice has arrived in the Indian town of Simla to visit her brother, the dashing Ralph Whelan (photo right), who is the private secretary to the British viceroy. Like other members of the British upper class, she is prepared to decorate and entertain for the summer, a time at which the Civil Service eschews the hot lowlands and operates from Simla’s cooler climate. Calls will be paid and dinner will be served.

 

“Indian Summers” aired throughout the fall season on Nashville Public Television every Sunday at 8 p.m.; the season finale was Nov. 22. The series can also be purchased as DVD sets at www.shoppbs.org and some episodes can be watched, free, at www.pbs.org.

 

Despite the volatile undercurrents expressed through the natives’ call for national independence, the English socialites naively kick up their heels in “Indian Summers.” In doing so they employ much-needed accessories, from candelabras to cut crystal decanters. Delicate and breakable, just like empires, these pieces are reminders of home.

 

Nashville’s GasLamp Antiques and Decorating Mall and its sister store, GasLamp Too, offer such accoutrements for modern-day decorators who seek a hint of British Colonial style.

   

Among the cardinal accessories in British Colonial homes were candles. Even after the installation of electricity, power could sometimes be intermittent in the jungle. In one key “Indian Summers” scene, two gorgeous candelabras sit on a grand table in the Civil Services offices, a hint at history. Those seen are similar to a pair of Fostoria candelabra currently at Booth T-101 of GasLamp Too (photo, above left; $150). Created circa 1936, their sunburst motifs speak of the Art Deco glamour that was so popular during the period. This “flame” style will create drama on any modern dining table that craves some elegant lighting.

 

Much of the “Indian Summers” drama unfolds at the Simla Club, a resort operated by a crafty widow named Cynthia Coffin. No, Alice Whelan wasn’t the only Brit seen in Episode One unpacking the best glassware, silver and china for the summer respite at the foot of the Himalayas. Cynthia was also unpacking the finery.

 

Modern-day entertainers who want to make like they’re at the Simla Club could do so with this fabulous assortment of whisky decanters and goblets at GasLamp Too’s Booth T-101 (photo, right). The lead crystal decanter to the rear of the vignette is a J.G. Durand Cristal D’Arques piece that was made in France and is of recent vintage ($58). The pair of Czech Bohemian whisky decanters, with cut crystal stoppers, are a fine set ($175). And the goblets, at $22 each, sparkle like stars.

 

The 19-inch platter in the photo, left, is a piece from the maker Royal Doulton ($298; Booth T-101). One can definitely envision an “Indian Summers” character bringing this to Simla from England. The pattern – Blue Willow – is said to be the most collected china pattern ever produced.

 

Blue Willow was an early pattern of transferware that dated to the late 1780s and was attributed to Thomas Turner and Thomas Minton. In fact, some collectors call all transferware “Blue Willow.” Royal Worcester, Adams, Wedgwood, Davenport, Clews, Leeds and Swansea all went on to design their own versions of Blue Willow, which depicts the romantic story of two star-crossed lovers whom fate ultimately turns into mystical birds to enjoy what eluded them on earth as humans. The story, while charming, was actually not an authentic Chinese tale, but rather a clever merchandising ploy.

 

Silver and silver-plate items were most certainly among the baskets, bags and bundles that entered the summer capital of the Indian empire each year. As the British settled in, they would have naturally invited one another over for tea and biscuits.

 

GasLamp Too currently features an array of silver-pated accoutrements that would be perfect for entertaining, including a charming set of six demi spoons in their original case, each with a tiny rooster motif at its tip ($48; Booth T-108). There is also an intricately worked silver-plated biscuit box for offering sweets to one’s guests (photo, below left; $165).

 

Unlike a similar Masterpiece period drama, “Downton Abbey,” “Indian Summers” provides dramatic arcs with a sharper edge. There are no frothy quips a la Violet Crawley, the dowager countess of Grantham. Rather, this new series straddles a serious fault line: as the English remain blissfully secure in their status as the ruling class, some natives seethe with a desire for home rule. It will become a clash of wills.

 

Still, just like “Downton Abbey,” this series gets the historic aesthetics pitch perfect. It is visual hyperbole – and viewers love it. So if you, too, want to finish off your British Colonial décor with the proper accoutrements, go shopping at GasLamp for some glassware, silver and transferware that speaks of empires gone by.

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