Ancient art of cameos featured at shop


Delectable Collectables owner Monica Fowler, shows some of her larger cameos of more than a thousand she has in her shop in Micanopy, Fla. Saturday March 9, 2013.

Jon Singley / Ocala Star-Banner
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.

MICANOPY—If art is something folks are seeking along with spring blooms and soft breezes, it’s easy enough to find some, especially this time of the year.

In Micanopy, where visitors can find oil paintings, pottery, wood-turned bowls and stained glass, one shop features more than 1,000 finely carved and mounted cameos, a type of art that began in about the 6th century B.C, when Roman emperors wore them at ceremonial functions and used them for dipping into wax and pressing onto correspondence as a seal.

“I bought my first cameo when I was in my mid-20s at an antique show and just fell in love with the whole medium, the whole bas relief sculpture. I started doing research on them, and they became a real passion,” said Monica Beth Fowler, owner of Delectable Collectables.

Bas relief, or art in which figures project slightly from a flat background, holds a certain fascination for many people, said Rob Thomas, the owner of Cottage Antiques just down the street.

“Monica has the most cameos and knows the most about it. But I do have a few cameos in my shop, ones that I like and picked up at the shows I’ve been to,” Thomas said.

Fowler recently attended an antique show in West Palm Beach to show and sell cameos and exchange information with other vendors. The more one learns about the ancient craft, the more fascinating cameos become, she said.

“Cameos are a southern-coastal Italian phenomena, with the materials used to make them found within and around the Mediterranean Ocean. These materials would be conch shell, coral, lava and hard stone from the banks. That’s why you don’t see a lot of ivory cameos, because ivory was not really an available medium,” Fowler said.

Conch shell, when carved, would be creamy on the raised portions and then a rich bronze-brown on the lower layers. Sometimes artists reversed this process, turning the shell and carving it so the colored portion became the raised area and more a part of the design, and the creamy area became the background.

Cameos carved by the best-known artists generally are shown in museums and are not for sale. There are some signed ones available for purchase, but given the artistry of cameos in general, this is not generally what is the most important factor for people who wish to purchase cameos, Fowler said.

Instead people seem intrigued by the miniature scenes, sometimes a pastoral setting and sometimes an old-fashioned European city street, religious themes, portraits of women often in profile, flowers and even scenes that depict romance, with a gentleman wooing a lady.

Because they were and continue to be an export industry, many were carved in Italy and then sent to other parts of Europe for mounting.

What determines the price of a cameo generally is the setting, the age and condition, and the material from which it has been carved. The less common the material, the more costly the finished cameo might be, Fowler said.

“All my cameos are in their original mountings, mountings that were custom-made for them,” Fowler said.

People like to look at, collect and wear cameos, which is not surprising given the compact size and varied, old-fashioned subject matter, Thomas said.

“It’s wearable art,” he said.

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