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Something Rich and Strange: Antiques and Crafts at James Kennedy Galleries

By S. Mathur

If you happen to be looking for a unique gift or antique for your home, such as a late 19th century Chinese apothecary chest, a large binocular microscope from c.1870, a rare ceremonial family gathering carved sculpture by the Akye tribe from Ivory coast, a 1854 US Coastal Survey Chart of Beaufort Harbor or a 1920's Pond Boat, then James Kennedy Galleries in Durham, NC is the place to go. The unusual and diverse collection covers a wide range of time and space.

Now celebrating their 33rd anniversary, the Galleries are located in Brightleaf Square in historic downtown Durham, NC. Offerings include a wide range of intriguing and beautiful objects: antiques, estate and contemporary designer jewelry, contemporary American art glass and other crafts, African masks, sculptures, bronzes, textiles, beads, antique Chinese furniture, antique maps, prints and scientific apparatus, nautical arts and antiques, and fossils and mineral specimens.

While TV programs like Antiques Roadshow and a whole sub-genre of detective novels featuring antiques and antique stores doubtless contribute to their popularity, the love of antiques and unique crafts has deeper roots. James Kennedy, owner of the Galleries, feels that "Antiques have always been collected and used by subsequent generations, some because of nostalgia but most often because of the durability, quality of workmanship and design that the most desirable pieces exude."

In other words, it is their enduring quality and beauty that draws people to antiques and rare crafts. Which is why, when choosing special gifts or items for home decoration or a personal collection, people turn to antique stores. Kennedy says, "Our customers are probably evenly divided between gift buying and buying for personal use or collecting. Having been in business for over 40 years we have many sources to purchase new and interesting merchandise in stock. Many people come in to explore the shop after seeing the unusual variety in the window at night."

Individual taste is a strong factor. Kennedy says, "Buying antiques or collecting other art forms or natural materials like fossils and minerals is not unlike buying clothes or a new pair of shoes. Our eye picks up quality, design, color, form, function, rarity, and many other things that simply attract us to one thing and not another." The thrill of owning one's own little piece of history - human or geological - has a strong pull. Many cultures believe that previous owners impart something of their essence or spirit to the objects they own, making them unique and treasured.

Merely browsing through the collection is an enriching experience, bringing the visitor face to face with Russian folk art, semiprecious stones set in rings and necklaces, prints, blown glass, nautical antiques and much more. There are all kinds of unexpected touches, like the traditional nesting Russian dolls painted in the likeness of a jovial family of lions on a picnic and fishing trip. The collection is constantly changing and being renewed with fresh arrivals.

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