Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Brief History of Patina

According to Grant McCracken's Culture and Consumption, patina was the visual proof of status prior to the 18th century's consumer revolution and the onset of the fashion system. Patina served as an icon of a family's longevity - during the Elizabethan era five generations were required to gain full gentle status. "Patina made certain that those who merely enjoyed wealth but who had not yet qualified for standing could be identified as such." When fashionable objects became more desirable than patinated ones, the waiting period for the gentry evaporated, encouraging "new mobility and the recognition of ability."

McCracken goes on to say patina still represents status today, but on a much smaller scale, only used by the most high-standing groups. Today, "for the mass of society, the notion of patina is itself hopelessly antique, a charming notion that has passed from fashion."

I think an appreciation for patina and wabi-sabi is developing, for some objects, outside of the antique. For example, through the greatly increased use of easily scratched stainless steel in the home, people are learning that objects, when used, shouldn't necessarily remain in their original pristine condition - they can develop an even more interesting, meaningful, and rich surface through normal use.