Wednesday, September 26, 2012

February I: Museums, Books, and Beer

So, for about the first month of my two-month trip in the UK, I was essentially a bum.  Albeit a bum with an extraordinary taste for museums, and the knack for not getting thrown out of them, largely by way of not being an actual bum.  The first three weeks represented the seeding of my forever unrequited love for the British Museum, the Museum of London, the Wallace Collection, and perhaps most of all, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the exposure to which I must first attribute to my good friends Jake Powning and Owen Bush.  I cannot begin to explain the combination of reverence you feel in the presence of such shockingly beautiful artifacts, the mad pangs of inspiration and urge to pay homage to the craftsmen past, and the deep, longing, unanswerable question of "how, how?"

One of my favorite pieces from the British Museum is this truly striking La Tène period iron Celtic sword with a fascinating cast bronze scabbard chape.  Note the double fullers, flawlessly ground.  This culture had an understanding of the circle and the curve that I chase far behind. 

These Russian and Caucasian kindjal are among my favorite types of exotic blades.  Stylistically descended from the Roman gladius, it's an out-of-place weapon imbued with all the material and ornamentation of its native culture.  The blades are often naturally-patterned crucible steel, which we call wootz but the Russians may have called bulat.  They are also cleanly and skilfully scraped with tasteful fullers and grooves, and decorated with mesmerizing gold koftgari overlay.

These are the richest, however, seen in the Wallace Collection; there exist many, many more of a much less refined and opulent finish, but no less lethally beautiful with a tarnished blade and plain wooden grip scales.

Next is a set of wootz knives, either Turkish or Persian.  Apart from the obvious intrinsic value of the materials and the untouchable level of craftsmanship evident, I am most smitten with the composition of the piece, the idea of three knives in a matched set.  It's all very aesthetically pleasant. 

 This may remain the most beautiful knife I have ever seen:

While in London, I fell afoul of the un-endingly generous and awesome Julio Rincones Gamboa, whose graciousness as a host and enthusiasm as a fellow scholar and artist I will never forget.  In spite of his grueling schedule as a student of dentistry, he shared many hours with me in conversation philosophical and worldly, hilarious and grave, in museums ogling artifacts and in rare old bookbinders' shops, admiring ancient tomes bound in hardy materials.

Julio (left) and Lord Nelson (right).
 We also share a love for the grotesque, and took great pleasure in seeking out this sort of fantastic print:

"Cat Priest Bathing Troll Dude Regurgitating a Miniature of Himself" - 1490

In fact, the mutual interests extended also deep into the culinary and brewerial.  We have a mutual reverence for the varieties of St. Peter's ales, expensive and rightly so.  Julio himself is a fantastic cook; once again, I can attest to the world-class hospitality I was shown as a guest.

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