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Tuesday 8 December 2009

You're the top

"Tops", 6th December 2009

Sunday afternoon fun at the Fembohaus

I was trying to make the most of my one-day-just-Sunday weekend (I had worked on Saturday) by getting through everything on my to-do list and then getting round to the last item: “Have some fun”.
It was almost 4 p.m. on a grey and drizzly second Advent’s Sunday by the time that the list of ticks was complete, all but “Go to Fembohaus and Christmas market”.

It was time for a conductor’s bits-in-between, time for some fun!

I made my way up the hill in the direction of the city, to take a look inside the city walls. It is all of a three-minutes walk from my flat!

A visit to the Fembohaus Art and Handwork exhibition had been at the bottom of the list of chores along-side stopping at the Christmas Market for a hot-toddy. It had been at the bottom of the list as motivation to get the less pleasant chores done and get out of the house. I had made it, all the things that I must do were done.
It was already dark and still dreary, but dark-and-dreary is always cheered by the Christmas lights, and this doesn’t work quite so well in the daylight.

The lights added to the atmosphere, as did having a Russian lady and her Italian husband for company on my walk after they had asked me for directions to the Christkindlesmarkt. We walked there together, while I heard about Italy and Russia at Christmas and the New Year.

I had planned a late afternoon visit to the Fembohaus exhibition as I had hoped that there would be fewer visitors at this time of day. I was right. The museum is so small that when it is crowded it is impossible to see the artworks, but on Sunday evening it was perfect. There was lots of space and the artists had time to speak to potential customers even if those who were dropping on their feet after a busy day.

This year, from the thirty-two people displaying their wares, ten were exhibiting for the first time. This meant that ten of the old-timers were not there. Unfortunately, one of those missing was the man who designs weird and wonderful working cardboard models. He sells these models printed on flat sheets to be cut out and constructed. I had decided on one of these as an ideal gift to post to a friend, and perhaps another for me too. Now with this artist's absence I will have to go to the model shop around the corner to search for something else.

This purchase had been one of the aims of my visit but I had a few more to get on with: enjoying myself, being artistically inspired, talking to a few artists and perhaps even buying myself something nice.

I arrived home in my flat after this outing, full of excitement. Spinning with delight.

Why had that happened?

After first meeting a friend who was exhibiting her brightly coloured 2009 collection of clothes, and arranging to meet her over the Christmas holidays, I went about ten yards further, walked into a space that opened out into a semi-circle, and just couldn’t believe my eyes, for there I saw ta table covered with the most beautiful spinning tops that I have ever seen.

Sometimes I come across someone who works with wood and who has created one or two spinning tops for fun, out of left-overs or as a break from normal work. There were even a couple of such people here at the exhibition and I purchased the smallest top that I have ever seen, from one of them, less than a centimetre in diameter.

But what I encountered that made my eyes wide with amazement here was something very different. Here was an artist, a potter, who was specialising in creating artworks, spinning tops in different forms, all original works of art.

I was so very obviously in my element. Even before I could get the words “I am a collector” out of my mouth the artist said that he knew. He knew immediately he saw me. He said that he always knows but that the collector doesn’t always admit it. I wonder why that is, I cannot think of anything more interesting to collect, apart from tin-toys and trains, and spinning tops take up less space, especially when they measure less than one centimetre!

I knew that here was the place that I would buy myself something special for Christmas. But the question was, with so many beautiful objects, how does one select just one to stand on its own and still be so inspirational and fun.

We got chatting, the artist and I, and he said I could always come back on another day having thought about it for a while. I decided, however, that this was not a good idea because the tops were all one-offs. I would be bound to make my decision then return at a later date only to discover that my choice had been sold.

No, after deciding "Yes, I would buy one", I knew that it would have to be bought today. So I took myself off for a walk around the rest of the exhibition to ponder on the choices.

During my wanderings and ponderings I actually bought myself a new winter hat. Hats are another of my passions but they do not need much pondering on! I only buy a hat when once on my head it fits like a glove, as if it belongs there, as this one did.

Thirty minutes later and with a hat on my head, I made my way from the hat-maker to the top-maker. He, I know, was certain that I would return. I was thrilled to have found an enthusiast to talk to and one who had created his own method for producing tops, which had taken five years to perfect. He turned their bodies on a potter’s wheel and the ebony axles on a lathe.

Next time that I visit my potter friends I will be giving it a try.

I asked the top-maker whether he met many people who collect tops. He explained that although people do collect them they do not get together like model-railway addicts or stamp- collectors, they do not form clubs to discuss their hobbies and swap and trade ideas and exsamples. Apparently there is one club in Barcelona but he thought that this is more for the thrown style of tops. He also told me that the bulk of what he produces is sold to a gallery in the USA. It appears that there is a bigger market there!

Back to choosing a top

What was there to choose from?

There were porcelain tops marbled with different coloured clays, stoneware tops with coloured slips and oxides providing the design under clear glazes, and there were acrylic tops of any colour imaginable. There were tops powered by a string, there were pots with tops as their lid. There were black-and-white tops, pastel-coloured tops, there were orange and lime-green tops. There were also tops made from Danish Krone, the coin with a hole in the middle.

The ones that fascinated me most were the tops with two uses. I decided to opt for a “pot top”, not only because it had two uses but because of the name, how it sounds and what it looks like written down.

The artist helped me to decide on which one would be easier to use. I wanted to lift the lid often and make the top spin. The bigger, more rounded pots were more works of art than useful objects and those with bulbous sides would be difficult to clean. Some were too small to be of any use at all, but one was just right I could use it for sugar! I was even more perfect when I was allowed to put the top of my choice in place as its lid.

The enthusiasm of this talk was not unlike what develops when I meet a fellow CE enthusiast when, though there is lots to enthuse abou,t there is no great need for words.

I took my enthusiasm with me, and my spirits could not be dampened by the now pouring rain, as I walked down hill from Nürnberg’s Burg to its Christmas Market. There I boosted my spirits even more with a hot-toddy. This warmed me up as I took in the twinkling Christmas lights and decorations on my first visit of 2009 to one of my favourite events of the Nürnberg year. I listened to the foreign tongues of the tourists, heard the brass band playing traditional German seasonal songs, then I slowly made my way back home, to play!


You’re the top, Cole Porter


Just a short walk away from the main Market Square, en route to the Castle, the magnificent faced of the Fembohaus (built between 1591 and 1596) projects from a row of houses.

In the unique museum atmosphere of this house, craftsmen offer their fine products to regular customers and to those visitors interested in a very special present: textiles, paper, glass, wood and metal objects, ceramic and porcelain. Each object is an original and unique Christmas present.

Nürnberg’s only remaining Renaissance residence also offers the possibility of a journey through time – spanning 950 years of city history.

Harry Kramer’s pot tops -

Barcelona Top Club -
This is a brilliant mine of spinning-top info.

Hot toddy – a hot whisky and spice drink that is available with single malt or blended whiskey as an alternative to mulled wine at the Twin-Towns Market next to the main Christmas Market. This Glasgow stand is always my first port of call before I make my way through the fairyland of the main market.

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