Inspired Wire

Antiquetrader.com, February 2011

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Wire gadgets collections, courtesy of http://www.eastmarketstreetantiques.com.

Like doodling with a pencil, wire artists, with pliers, a stretch of wire, and a stretch of the imagination, coax the linear into form. Some, like Alexander Calder, the “king of Wire” who invented the mobile in the 1920s, create whimsical, delicate, wired fantasies.

Some, like traditional Slovakian tinkers, create children’s toys and decorative pieces or adorn Easter eggs in knotted, wiry patterns. Some, with wires of various widths, materials, and colors, portray stylized animals or people. Others celebrate the ordinary, creating true-to-life wire-art sculptures of chairs, motorcycles, or bicycles. Others create pure wire art, whether for garden or gallery.

Twisted, pinched, curved, bent, knotted, scrolled, and woven wire objects have been part of our lives for generations. Many of them, like wire bottle racks, trivets, decorative baskets, garden seats, settees, aquarium stands, bird cages, fire place guards, and flower stands, which feature rows of repeated patterns, are useful and durable, as well as beautiful.

Antique wire ware continues to be a hot seller. Whether it’s the low price point or exposure in decor magazines, wire is the new trend. The 6 3/4 inch tall folk art wire ware compote is a good example of wire art that’s gaining a following. It is available from dealer Marni Baskt for $295 at www.rubylane.com/shop/oh.
Antique wire ware continues to be a hot seller. Whether it’s the low price point or exposure in decor magazines, wire is a new trend. This 6 3/4 inch tall folk art wireware compote is a good example of wire art that’s gaining a following. It is available from dealer Oh for $295 at www.rubylane.com/shop/oh.

Charming early 20th century wirework egg baskets, in which farmers’ wives once collected henhouse eggs, are perennial pleasers. Whether circular or hen-shaped, old or new, these can be found inexpensively at flea markets, gift shops, kitchen stores, antique stores, and online. They can actually be put to use too, for storing eggs or other foodstuffs or, if filled with marbles or multi-colored balls, used as country-style décor. Collectors may also find related items, like egg-boiling baskets and egg scoop strainers, appealing.

Wire rug beaters, old fashioned dust busters that predate electric vacuum cleaners, are popular collectibles too. While most feature simple metal swirls that ably rout the dirt out, those with wires shaped like hearts, rabbits, houses, geese, double hearts, or teddy bears surely made this onerous chore a little easier to bear. Vintage pillow fluffers, which resemble rug beaters in style but not in purpose, are also highly collectible.

Collectors of bygone wire kitchen tools will also find twisted-wire meat and butchering forks, mesh soap and sponge brackets, spring-type beaters, hand-held toasters, bottle totes, cup holders, canning jar holders, book stands, vegetable strainers, scoops, tea pot stands, and spoons. Fans of vintage clothing may delight in related accessories like wire dress forms, glove drying forms, spectacle frames, and clothes pins. Most of these items, sturdy enough to have survived the years well, are plentiful, selling for under $25 each.

Mark Indursky, owner of www.lostfoundart.com, reveals that even antique wire clothes hangers, with their “Calder-esque look and their lightness and, like all wire creations, their great negative space,” have a devoted following. His current compiled wire hangar collection, which features pieces from the 1880s through the 1930s, retails for $975.

Like Indursky’s hangers, his vintage wire cushion springs and a rare, signed French eel trap, valued at $475 each, “have an almost contemporary sculpture quality that allows them to work equally well in a sleek modern setting as they would in a classic Victorian.” Indursky reports that his wire-art clients range from new homeowners to older, retired collectors, as well as designers and architects. All tend to be creative and open-minded, “seeking something that will stand out in their homes, alternatives to mundane generic paintings, posters or home furnishing store decorations, something that will evoke inspection, interest, and questions.” Lostfound, along with other old-like-new treasures, currently carries a primitive forged steel clam rake, a large antique rectangular wire basket, and an artistic display of three antique dog muzzles as well.

Antique barbed wire, strands of wire fencing that are punctuated with sharp points at intervals to deter the passage of man or beast, is another popular historic collectible. Beginning collectors may prefer to start small, purchasing a single strand or two for anywhere between a few cents to a few dollars. Alternately, they can purchase starter sets, which typically cost under $25, swap with fellow aficionados, or scour ranches and ranges for abandoned bits and pieces.

Although barbed wires vary in weight, thickness, design, and density. Collectible samples, for display purposes, should be at least 18 inches long, with barbs evenly spaced from each end, with none missing or broken. Those strands identified by origin, material, style, and era are far more valuable than unidentified ones. Simple differences between wires, though sometimes difficult to discern with the naked eye, can make all the difference in their worth. Since more than 530 different types of barbed wires are patented, along with scores of homemade or unlawfully produced ones, probably more than 2000 variations exist.

Those who value barbed wire as decoration, but without the pace of the chase, can purchase primitive yet elegant collections ready-made. Sculptress Sandra Mackintosh, owner of East Market Street Antiques in Red Hook, New York, has creatively arranged early barbed wire examples on 19th century tobacco racks. “Each 48 inch long rack,” she explains, “is laced across the top with a row of early Brinkerhoff wire. Collections vary. One might feature delicate decorative wires while another might feature sturdier wires that were used to pen in animals. Each group or collection, depending on the rarity and age of its strands, can command up to $2,500.”

Mackintosh also offers powerful, whimsical, and sculptural Calderesque-like hanging wire collections of pure and simple — and neither pure nor simple— strainers, lid lifters, whisks, ladles, rug beaters and other interesting and rare wire objects. Each group is visually delightful, delicately and beautifully arranged either by shape and form or by size and serendipity. These collections range in price from $1800 to $2800. Her circular 19th century decorative country store hanging wire broom holder makes a striking statement for $350.”

Inspired by wire, contemporary wire artists, along with using time-tested techniques, continue to develop their own methods, often adapting those used in basketry, jewelry-work, and textiles. Although their materials are simple and similar, this results in a remarkable diversity of styles as they transform the ordinary into art.