> Guide 102 - Age of the Artwork - WOVENSOULS Art Gallery
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Guide 102 - Age of the Artwork

Antique Vintage Textiles
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AGE ATTRIBUTION
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The word Antique has been used across the website as an adjective as per the definition in dictionary.com
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However, the generally accepted definitions are:
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Around 25-70 years old = Vintage
Around 70-100 years old = Semi Antique
Over 100 years old = Antique
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In some categories such as coins, dating is very precise and one can classify them perfectly based on age.
But in many categories of art - especially folk art - where people made these artworks for self-consumption rather than for commercial use, no one thought of tagging the article with the date of production.
So how do we know whether the piece was produced in 1945 or in 1919 or in 1910.
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We don't. And we can't.
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[Carbon dating doesn't help as the margin of error of the process is stated to be +/-150 years to +/- 600 years]
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But what we do know from articles written in those times, are the changes introduced in society at a particular decade. The approximate dating of material
introductions, the approximate history and cultural influences of trade or invasions
or migrations etc.  The association of these events with the history of material usage  within a community allow us to make a guess
about the age of the item.
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In studying the construction, we get clues about the date of product from 2 factors:
1) The Materials used
2) The Process employed in creating it.
1.1 DYES
For instance the introduction of aniline dyes by Bayer in a particular region is traced to the year 19XX. So we know that prior to that year all dyes were natural.So when we see something with aniline dyes from that region, we can safely say that it was produced afterthat year. But on the other hand if we see a piece with natural dyes from that region, that information alone is not sufficient to conclude the date of production.
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1.2 RAW MATERIALS
In beaded artworks from the Dayak world, we see that the glass beads used ages ago were neither round nor uniformly shaped. This is because the process was not automated to produce standardised sizes or shapes. The use of these is a good indicator.
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In the case of hand woven textiles, the presence of slubs in the yarn is an indication that the yarn was hand-spun. Now since this technique is not completely extinct today, finding slubs in the yarn is not a sufficient clause to conclude that a piece has age. But the converse is indeed true - that machine spun standardised yarn is only an 1800s introduction to most of Asia. So if we see commercially woven cloth, we would know that the age cannot be more than X. [Details depend on the area - China with the silk route  connections would have a different historical date compared to a hilltribe in Myanmar when commercially woven cloth was introduced on a  large scale. And history books are a good guide to offer clues to the industrialisation of a nation.
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In the case of Laotian silks, through the handling of textiles, I've noted that the silks produced early on are ultra-lightweight while the ones produced in the mid 1900s are heavy. And the ones that are recently made are not light again. This is true for the pieces that I have personally handled but may not be universally true.
Maybe the type of silk changed - maybe the weaving efficiency was different or maybe some processes changed.
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CONTEXT
We rely on cultural practices such as introduction of sewing machines.
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And incidence of war or famine or tsunamis that bring about dramatic changes in the social lifestyle of the region and use these to date 'before' or 'after'.
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For example, we date Tampan shipcloths based on the Krakatau volcano that destroyed life (and weaving) in that region. Again, although we know that a particular piece was produced 'before the tsunami' we will never know precisely whether it was produced in 1870 or 1850 unless additional data is available.
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Sometimes it is none of this - it is just a firm assertion of the trustworthy dealer who has seen thousands of individual pieces pass through his hands.
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Although the dating of piece affects the value, it important to ask why does age matter.
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The obvious answer is that the older the piece the harder it is for it to have survived for longer - so pieces from the 17th century are rarer than pieces from the 19th century. So older pieces are rarer.
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But not everything that is antique is beautiful. Some have only age going for them and fall into the "why bother" category.
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And conversely not everything that is young is not beautiful.
[there is no typographical error in the previous sentence].
There are exceptional pieces being produced even today that are museum worthy and will be worth handing down to the future generations.
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So age is a wonderful feature to be looking for in an old artwork. But in my view, it is because age is supported by other factors such as rare motifs, amazing colors, vanished craftsmanship, no-longer-used construction etc etc etc that age adds value to the piece.
Otherwise age alone is not sufficient to make a piece attractive.
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