Trace Mayer Antiques

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chaos, Turbulence, and Van Gogh's Mystery

One of our brains greatest gifts is the ability to recognize patterns.  It enables us to survive, compete, and navigate our world.  It helps us to remember our friends, favorite foods, avoid dangers, read, and stop at a crosswalk.  One of the patterns we see every day is turbulence.  We see it in the wind on a pond, clouds moving in the sky, and cream in coffee.  I would venture to guess that most of us take these simple swirls for granted each day, but they are incredibly complicated things.  These structures give physicists problems and have proven difficult to express mathematically. 

While studying stars with the Hubble telescope in 2004, a group of scientists saw eddy's of dust and gas around a star that reminded them of Van Gogh's work.  After studying these eddy's and comparing them to Starry Night- they were able to realize that he was able to visually express with paint a remarkably high level of scientifically measured proficiency.  

Natalya St. Clair, author of The Art of Mental Calculation, addresses this subject in a short Ted ed video here:

The intersection of Science and Art reassures me that many school curriculum's would benefit from teaching the two together.  Jackson Pollocks paintings and fractals; and  Fibonacci and Da Vinci to name a few.  The impressionists masterfully worked on the study of light and it's motion.  They manipulated paint on a canvas in a way that exposed the mechanics of our brain.  They tricked us into seeing cascading energy and light as it radiates, moves and fades away.   They created a dynamic experience out of static objects.  It's wonderful magic.  I hope you enjoy the Ted ed video.  

I'll leave you with a quote from Rothko: 
'A painting is not about an experience. It is an experience.'

Friday, October 3, 2014

When the Walls Speak

 Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, 
discovered by French scientist Pascal Cotte. Photograph: Lumiere Technology

I hear many phrases over and again in an art gallery.  Sparing you the more basic ones-  'If this piece could talk' is one I enjoy.  A variation on if these walls could speak... What if they could talk?  What if Hemingway's typewriter still holds hidden information.  Or if Gandhi's glasses still keep the memory of what they reflected.  Does the mythical spear head remember Achilles heel?  One of the joys of dealing with Art and Antiques is that among other things they are also historic documents.  They are cultural reflections, and they are fully imbedded in the society and culture in which they were originally created.

They may not be able to tell you the conversations they witnessed, or the events that took place in their presence, the plotting, intrigue, love, drama, or even just rudimentary events that swirled around them; however, a discovery by Pascal Cotte has helped to unveil the process by which they were created. 

This technology pioneered in France, called the LAM (layered amplification method) does just that.  It is able to record, analyze, and display each layer of paint on a canvas in the order in which it was painted.  In the photographs above you can see the evolution of da Vinci's painting of Cecelia Gallerani.  It reveals the process, evolution, and decisions the master made in this creation- and appears to do so without harming the painting.  I look forward to the revelations this technology will reveal- and hope that Apple will create an app for us all to use. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Anatomy of Museum Bee Installation

I am excited to visit Omaha, Nebraska this week.  It is easily of my favorite towns.  The people are incredibly gracious, the development of the downtown is impressive, and the food/ culture/ and sites are interesting and refined.  I am exhibiting at the Lauritzen Garden Antique Show.  So- in preparation for the show I have included part of what we do here in the shop to prepare.  This Gif shows the initial preparations and creation of our 'Bee' wall.  For reference: this is six feet in diameter and made from pieces we create from antique frames.  For more information on our bees visit our website here

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Behind the Scenes

Frequently I find paintings in distress.  There's nothing wrong with the paintings- the condition is fine.   In fact, they are typically in perfect shape.  The problem is that they are frequently housed in the most horrible, terrible, no good, very bad... frames (to steal from the children's book title).  It's often really difficult to see that they are anything at all. 

For that reason, a quick visit to the gallery usually reveals a number of paintings floating around without frames. You will find them leaning under tables, perched on chairs, nestled into a plate stand, hung on the wall, and even stacked up waiting for a frame. 
After all, No frame is better than a bad frame! 
I buy a lot of antique frames for this very purpose.  Not that there's anything wrong with new frames, but I prefer the old ones.  They integrate much more effectively and anything with patina and character is usually much better than not (wrinkles and gray hair included).   So I've detailed a few pieces that have been in the gallery for a while- and the frames that I think will bring out the better qualities of both the painting as well as the frame. 

One wonderful by-product from this process is that we recycle the left over pieces of frames to create  our 'Bee's' (pictured bottom right)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Introduction to Antiques: Part 1

One of my first assignments as an intern at Sotheby's in 1992 was to catalog an English chest of drawers.  It wasn't a terribly fancy or complicated piece, but furniture was foreign to me and it took much longer than I expected.  What took me fifteen minutes over twenty years ago, now takes a quick glance and a few seconds. 

The heads of the English Furniture Department at that time were Larry Sirolli and Peter Lang.  The patience Peter and Larry demonstrated while I ''worked'' for them was monumental.  My next assignment came quickly- and they led me to believe that I was to catalog the Important English Furniture Sale.  One of two major English furniture sales they had each year in New York City at that time.  After a quick drive from 72nd street up to the warehouse in Harlem- I was surrounded with 375 sublime items in need of classification.  Larry and Peter coached me through that first catalog- which really meant that I mostly wrote down what they dictated- and with flashlight in hand they both kindly pointed out the subtle details that distinguished them from others.

Since then, I have been searching for an easy introduction on the subject.  I figured there must be a course or book on Antiques that can get you started, but for the most part this knowledge is one that tends to be passed down orally through the ages.  Unlike Art History, which is part of the scholastic curriculum from Middle School on- Antiques and the decorative arts haven't had mainstream advantages.

Keeping with these oral traditions, and with a grateful nod to Peter and Larry, we have put together a series of video's on Antiques.  My principle interest is to communicate the trends and styles as simply as possible.  We hope that you enjoy the talks, and more importantly-- that these help you to experience the beauty, grace, and art hidden in these wonderful pieces.

Click Here to go to the first video.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Antique Academy: Anglo Indian Tea Caddy

Trace Talks: Video Series!

We understand that you all can't all make it to the shop to visit,   so we are delighted to bring our talks to you.  We plan to cover antiques and fine art and introduce specific pieces in this 'behind the scenes' tour of the art world.

In our first talk, I'm delighted to introduce you to a piece that I have only seen once before in twenty years, and haven't had the opportunity to handle until now.  This is a rare object made in India under British rule from the 1830's.  Click here to go to the video on our YouTube Channel:

Look for more Trace Talks in the near future on our Blog/ and other Social Media outlets.  If you would like to be added to our mailing list send us a note at

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

From Han to Eternity!

I am frequently amazed with what I find in the houses in Louisville, KY. 
Nicknamed Fred by my oldest, this Han Dynasty Terracotta Horse dates from 200 BC to 200 AD.   It is large example that is four and a half feet tall.  These pieces were traditionally housed in wooden beamed underground chambers, the majority of which collapsed.  For that reason, we expect to see damage.  If the condition of a piece is too good to be true, it often is not to be trusted.  The best diagnostic tool anyone can have is their eyes and gut instincts. 

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink, he recounts the perils of relying on technology at the expense of your instincts.  Gladwell details The Getty Museum's purchase of a statue based on scientific results to their detriment.   With that in mind, we still will use the best diagnostic tools at our disposal, but always weigh those results with other analysis.  With this piece we have used two tests.  The first is a TL test (Thermoluminescence).  This we can't illustrate here, but a TL test will measure when the clay was originally fired.  The second test is a good old fashioned X-Ray.  Luckily, in Kentucky there are plenty of Horse Vets with portable X-Ray machines.  Below you will see the results of these X-Rays, detailing where this piece was restored.  Each of the lines in the X-Rays show where the horse was broken and re-assembled. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Wax on ... Wax off!

  WAX ON!   Nothing like a Karate Kid reference to get things going. I am excited to show you this.  This is an 18th Century English Elm Cricket Table.  Though I think the table is great- I'm going to address the finish- not the piece.  When we saw the surface for the first time I was really hopeful, but having had my hopes dashed before- I was cautiously optimistic.  You see, when a table has survived this long- many MANY bad things can happen, even with the best of intentions.  I've seen 18th Century pieces refinished, sanded, coated in poly-urethane, shellacked, varnished, lacquered, oiled, and painted to name a few.   The conservation of these surfaces can become a tricky endeavor- and usually requires us to put our best 'chemistry hats' on to discover what lies on top of and imbedded into the grain of the wood.    What we had hoped for came true.  This table had been benignly neglected through the years, so it is the perfect candidate for a good old fashioned coat of wax.  Less is usually more, and this is a great example of just that.  So here you have the before and after pictures from a dry and thirsty surface to one with a single coat of wax.  

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Unexpected Intrusions of Beauty

 Unexpected Intrusions of Beauty
That is what life is-   
Saul Bellow

Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication-
Leonardo Da Vinci

"Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together."
- Vincent
Van Gogh

"A moment's insight is sometimes worth a life's experience."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes
"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."

"Wine is sunlight-
Held together by

 "Ridicule is the Burden of Genius"
-Daffy Duck

  "A chair is a very difficult object.  A skyscraper is almost easier.  
That is why Chippendale is famous.."
-Mies van der Rohe 



"The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety."
W. Somerset Maugham



"We live in a rainbow of chaos." 
Paul Cezanne 

 The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. -Aristotle

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Summer Reading

The sensational tale of this Mozart manuscript reminded me that the Art world is filled with incredible stories. This just sold at Sotheby's for just under a $Million. Like the movie The Red Violin, this document has a story to tell.

The sublime, murder, crime, intrigue, and tales that are frequently stranger than fiction.    Before you fill your summer reading list, check out a few  of my favorites.  I hope you like them too.