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Collecting: Tile Style

Ceramic maven prefers searching in person.


“In the 1960s I started going to antique shows and was overwhelmed by the beauty of these tiles,” she says. “Some were from the Aesthetic Movement and others were art deco or art nouveau.” She was partial to the latter.

Stacy, now retired after serving under the leadership of five directors as librarian at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, familiarized herself with art nouveau as it gained attention in the 1960s. “I kind of arrived at my appreciation of the style by myself,” she says. But then, in the mid-1970s, Richmond connoisseurs Sydney and Frances Lewis loaned their considerable art nouveau collection for a special exhibition at the museum. “The Lewises really pumped me up,” Stacy says.

“I like the use of line and the flat use of color,” she says. “Many of the forms are naturalistic; they recall the forms of nature. But there is a flamboyance that classical design doesn’t have.”

When Stacy began collecting tiles, they were affordable and available. The least she ever paid was $10 and she wouldn’t go over $25. “Even Barbra Streisand [famous for her collecting] says that you should never pay more for something than you could sell it for.”

Now, Stacy marvels that dealers ask much more per tile.

“Two things happened,” she says. “There has been an awakening of design as art — not just in tiles but in other things as well. And when the newly wealthy dot-com people began buying things, that blew prices out of the water.”

Initially, Stacy was reluctant about collecting as a pastime. “My mother thought the idea of collecting things was a spend-thrift hobby,” she says. But when Stacy discovered that her mother quietly collected butter dishes, she was freed from filial guilt.

Although prices are inching upward, Stacy says she loves the thrill of the find at antique shows and has not succumbed to buying antiques on the Internet. “I like seeing the dealers and talking about the pieces,” she says. “You might as well be buying a piece of machinery over e-Bay. There is no mystique, no personal interaction. You can’t handle the piece or bargain to perhaps get a better price.”

With 85 tiles, Stacy says her collecting has slowed. “I can’t find things that are that much different from what I already have.”

She now gives considerable attention to her displays. Some tile collectors frame the objects and others install them in bathrooms and kitchens. Stacy simply sets her pieces tabletop alongside other objects or places them on a high, shallow shelf she installed along four walls in her dining room. Where others might have put a decorative wallpaper frieze, there are now glazed textures, bold and somber colors and dynamic patterns. “That room was a stepchild so I thought, why can’t I put them in there?”

Stacy glances up admiringly at her tiles and then pauses, saying, “I suppose if there is ever an earthquake they might all come down.”

Do you know someone with an intriguing collection? Let us know. E-mail us at hstyle@styleweekly.com or write Home Style, 1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond, Va. 23225.


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