By Allison Zisko
The hand of the artisan was evident everywhere you looked at last month's New York International Gift Fair.
Some of the most compelling tabletop introductions at the Fair were handcrafted either at home or abroad by artists interested in tweaking conventional designs, playing with the juxtaposition of materials or making a statement about throw-away society. The business goal, according to vendors, was to offer retailers a way to differentiate themselves with goods they believe American consumers now better appreciate and understand.
"People like the idea of coming back to work with artisans," said Dick Skorupski, director of sales for Canvas, a two-year-old company owned by a London banker that specializes in handmade goods in several product categories; its highest volume categories are glass, then wooden serveware and then ceramics. The company is based in the SoHo neighborhood of New York, where it also operates a retail store, and its aesthetic is clean and uncluttered, said Skorupski, the former owner of the now-defunct tabletop company Ambiance Collection.
Canvas works with sales representatives groups, but it came to the show this year with its own booth, and Skorupski was pleased. "The show has proven to be a huge success," he said. "It was right to come under our own banner."
A company called Merge was new to the show this year, and it introduced porcelain mugs, in either white or a gunmetal finish, with riveted black walnut handles. An accompanying wood saucer can double as a lid. "We had a quest to do something not done before," said designer Thomas Ryan Barkman. He was pleased with the show as well. "I'm loving it," he said. "The reception has been unbelievable."
Japanese company Kinto, which exhibited last year in the Japanese pavilion, showcased its wares in its own large booth this year. Its white porcelain Mugtail collection, new to the U.S., offers mugs with a different approach to the handle--it's formed by the furry tail of a forest creature whose outline is depressed into a thinner wall of porcelain on the body of the mug. Kinto also highlighted its Artisan collection of glazed porcelain dinnerware handmade in Japan, and its Couture line of double-walled porcelain mugs with either a lace or sweater-knit texture.
Italian company Seletti offered Era mugs, made of clear glass with white porcelain handles. A boxed set of six includes six different handle designs. The company also featured Glasses from Sonny, a line of stemware originally rejected by the factory for its undulating and wobbly (yet perfectly balanced) appearance. "The idea is to turn imperfection into something nice," said Cristiano Gozzi, export manager. Seletti also gave a figurative wink to trash with its Daily Aesthetics collection. The line remakes throw-away products such as plastic bottles or flip-top cans in white porcelain. A black porcelain version will be unveiled at the Maison & Objet show in Paris this month.
Middle Kingdom also approached the concept of recyclables in an artistic way, unveiling its Bottles collection. Inspired by trash from the canals of Rotterdam, Holland, the pieces (like dish detergent bottles) are rendered in a rainbow of porcelain hues and redefined as something worth keeping.
Magnor, a Norwegian glass company, introduced a line of porcelain dinnerware called Antarctic Lights, created by a painter who was inspired by the light on the frozen continent and by the penguins he studied there. The company also introduced a dinnerware collection featuring a peacock feather design.
The hand of the artist was also obvious in the expanded collection of J. Fleet lacquerware, showcasing the traditional handiwork of the Vietnamese. Old techniques such as inlaid mother of pearl are used on contemporary shapes of trays and bowls. Because the items are handmade, J. Fleet owner Emily Rubin Persons allows retailers to order in very small quantities, and she keeps a tight inventory, a strategy that has kept her in business, she said.