By Karen Parr-Moody
The summer months tempt us to travel, so we toss off the shackles of responsibility and aim for parts unknown. With so many lands to explore, where should one go? At GasLamp, one can visit countries without a passport by perusing items from far-flung lands. It’s a fascinating journey one can take through the aisles, discovering aspects of foreign cultures by examining their artisan wares.
Take this charming hand-painted cart, for example. It was made on the island of Sicily, Italy, most likely in the 1950s, based on the design. It is a small-scale model of a painted Sicilian cart, or “carretto Siciliano.” Such “carretti” were once seen carrying goods to market in the towns of Piccolino, Cattania and Palermo ($45; S-113 at GasLamp Too).
The carretto has become a cultural icon for the Italian island and carretti are still used in festivals and for purposes of tourism. In the 1800s, they were used to haul lemons, almonds, wine and such. Their surfaces were covered in decorative elements of carved wood and geometric and floral paintings. The horses that bore these carts wore elaborate harnesses trimmed in colorful feathers, silk bows and ribbons.
The small-scale models of the carretto Siciliano, as seen at GasLamp Too, are called “carrettino” and have been made for almost as long as the full-size carts themselves. It is said that Queen Mary brought one home as a souvenir in 1925 after visiting the hilltop town of Taormina with the king. In the cart on view at GasLamp Too, a diminutive couple is transported by a feather-festooned horse. On one side is an illustration of a visit King Roger II of Sicily, who began his reign in 1130. Such a vignette would have been seen on a full-size cart in its day, as they were painted with imagery that represented moments from Sicilian history, such as medieval battle scenes and actions by various kings.
This hand-painted tole bistro tray is a way by which one can visit the Biscuiterie de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel, known in English as The Biscuit Factory of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel ($143; T-355). While the tray features a painting of the rocky island of Le Mont-Saint-Michel, topped by its famous Benedictine abbey, the factory is in Pontorson, a French village across the bay.
Biscuiterie de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel has been churning out sweets since 1927. On the menu are butter-laden madeleines and cookies (naturally), as well as candies, cakes, tartlets and the delicately layered “kouign-amann” (described in the New York Times as “the fattiest pastry in all of Europe”). Pass the tea, s’il vous plaît!
This conical hat, called a “nón lá”, will take you on a mental trip to Vietnam ($30; T-255). Images of the nón lá have been seen on Vietnamese artifacts dating back some 2,500 to 3,000 years. Traditionally made of palm leaves stitched to a bamboo frame, the nón lá was born of the legend of the Rain-Shielding Goddess, an ancient deity who taught Vietnamese farmers how to grow rice in fields that had been soaked by monsoon rains.
While the nón lá has long protected farmers from the scorching sun and pouring rain, it has been embraced by every social strata of Vietnamese society. The nón lá that is currently for sale at GasLamp Too was made with a rare texture of raised shapes. Most of these hats feature a smooth surface, but this one displays a complexity of weaving that is rarely seen.
Another handmade fiber item currently available at GasLamp is a multicolor lidded coil basket featuring a removable lid and side loop handles ($120; T-271). Hand crafted by female artisans in Rwanda, such baskets traditionally feature a kaleidoscope-like range of bright colors and geometric patterns.
This one-of-a-kind basket features a deep eggplant and hot pink that infuses hints of homemade whimsy into a world of homogenized mass production. This gorgeous example of Rwandan artistry would have taken days to make; it was created by wrapping hand-dyed strands of sisal around bunches of sweetgrass to form coils. What a fine piece to add to one’s collection of storage vessels, for it is both beautiful and practical.
Whenever you feel touched by wanderlust, there’s no need to hop a plane. Simply drive over to GasLamp or GasLamp Too and wander the aisles instead. You’ll soon be transported to exotic lands via a treasure trove of global wonders.