Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Some patterns have no repeat. It's one of the many intrigues of antique Chinese blue-and-white ceramics, where the lie of dragons, peonies and scrolling foliage falls to intuition as often as it claims order and symmetry. And one of my favorite places to hunt the depths of these ceramics is C.W. Smith Imported Antiques in Minneapolis—a rare outpost of treasures from China, Tibet and Burma as well as British, Dutch and French Colonial furniture.    
I came seeking a desk, the kind that looks European Baroque but on closer inspection yields humbler, more irregular and slightly rustic carvings. I found a small stout painted gray Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) jar, an early 1800s Indian rosewood cabinet carved with sunbursts in the British fashion, brass jewelry masterfully mounted as abstract sculpture, and a range of ceramics in unusually bright and lustrous green and turquoise glazes. 
 And I trust that none of the above was ordered by the crate. Each piece was hunted,
 inspected and  genuinely loved by gallery founder Carol Smith or daughter, Vanessa, who I knew insisted on handpicking all items "in country." No shopping by photo, and no restoration beneath Smithsonian standards. 
Thomas Gunkelman shops here as do many galleries that designers haunt in other cities. (Carol used to smile with pride leafing through an Elle Decor or Met Home to see where some of her old finds eventually landed). 

I was lucky enough to meet Carol on my first trip to her shop in late 2005, while scouting locations for a Beautiful Homes photo shoot. I was struck by the unique combination of her obvious passion with a warm, serene and welcoming presence—an aura that the design of her eponymous shops exudes. I was saddened to learn that she was in fact ill at the time and, in May of this year, lost a long and painful six year battle with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's disease).  
Her namesake shop is now in a new location, even more homey than the last, and its objects and exhibitions are in the very knowledgeable, very capable hands of daughter, Vanessa Smith. Both owners sharing traits with their ceramics sold: each intuitive, original in their own right, and having established a pattern that bears repeating. 

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