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a tasteful history: salt, pepper and Michael Aram


Michael Aram is an American-born artist working in metal, and a fortnight ago I had the opportunity of touring his design studio in Chelsea as an invited guest of Modenus’ BlogTourNYC 2013.  If you don’t know, Michael is a prolific purveyor of delightful, hand made sculptural (but practical) objects made by artisans in India.  He is a master at bridging that area between craft and design.



And what stood out for me where his whimsical pairs of nature inspired salt and pepper shakers, beautifully molded and crafted in oxidized bronze, gold plate and copper plate.  The interplay of materials, finishes and textures made them very appealing and perfect for elegant yet casual entertainment.



Salt and pepper have not always been a pair.  Prior to the 17th century, it was salt that reigned supreme in the elegant tables of the aristocracy.  There, it was contained in open elegant vessels (called salts) and acquired the pride of place at the head of the table with the master of the house. You knew your place in society by where you were placed in relation to the master’s salt.



While salt could be mined in Europe, pepper had a more circuitous route coming from southern India. The colonization of India, Indonesia, and the Philippines was a direct result of the desire for a constant supply of pepper and spices to European markets.   Pepper remained an expensive luxury through most of history.  It wasn’t until the late 1600s that you begin to see casters made for pepper appearing in inventories of English silver. It’s also at this time that French fashionable society deemed pepper the only spice that didn’t overpower the flavors of food so that it, along with salt, were the only two condiments to have a home on the dining table.  It really wasn’t until the Victorians showed up that you find salt and pepper casters in the form of animals and cartoonish figures and then in the 1930s when a boom of mass-produced shakers were introduced to the public in general.



Today, while they’re not exactly Polynesian maidens doing the hula, Michael Aram is really at the forefront of bringing back the long and storied tradition of decorative, well-made and beautiful salt and pepper shakers to a public used to boring casters … and for that, I applaud him.


image credits: Michael Aram, New York


PS: Thank you for stopping by and reading my feature today.  I love what I do as an interior designer and art advisor, and it’s my hope that through these blog posts I’m enriching and heightening your aesthetic sensibility towards art, design and fabulous interiors in some way ~ Richard Rabel (a.k.a. the modern sybarite)

The Modern Sybarite

Interior Designer, art advisor and blogger, Richard Rabel brings fresh perspectives on art + design for today’s interior in his blog TheModernSybarite.

Based in New York City, Richard is consistently asked by his clients for advice on art, design and decoration and ultimately provides clients with livable, warm and unique interiors that reflect a 21st century lifestyle based on his rich experience in fine and decorative art of all periods.

A multi-linguist with a ten-year career as a senior director and specialist with Christie’s, the London-based global auction house, Richard has lived in seven countries and has had access to some of the most exquisite and exclusive spaces.  From San Francisco to Mexico City, Sao Paulo to Geneva, Istanbul to Delhi and Sydney to Shanghai, the breadth of his travels has cultivated his eye and contributed to defining his exacting taste and modern aesthetic.
The Modern Sybarite

  • Margaret Dubois

    I’m always happy to see you here at Modenus. This is a great post – something we all have and yet never take time to think about where it came from. Aram’s designs are little gems themselves.

  • http://twitter.com/modernsybarite richard rabel

    Thank you Margaret. Thanks for reading.

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