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It's Snow Time: in praise of the snow dome

by anna battista

Hands up those of you who don't have a snow dome in their house. Don't cheat, I know you have at least one. Though often considered kitsch objects (ever seen the infamous Pope snow domes sold on stalls in Rome, possibly with a 'Made in China'-sticker hidden under their bases?), snow domes have achieved cult status throughout the years or rather throughout the centuries. They became popular for the different scenes they contained that ranged from typical Christmas scenes or winter landscapes, to military scenes, religious subjects, cartoon characters, animals or cinema icons.

Created as a development of the glass paperweight, snow domes became popular in England in the 19th century and were later exported to the States where they became collectors' items. The first snow globes consisted of a glass dome placed over a ceramic figure on a black ceramic base. They were filled with water and the snow was produced using chips of porcelain, sand or sawdust. As time passed, the globes became lighter, often made of plastic, while the snow was created out of soap, chips of mothballs or simply plastic. Snow Domes were later neglected for a while, but there were those who kept on avidly collecting them.

Now imagine what would happen if contemporary designers would be invited to create their own versions of the snow globe. The answer is now on display at Glasgow's The Lighthouse (Scotland's Centre for Architecture, Design and the City). The exhibition (its curator is Diane Hutchison, herself a snow globes collector) entitled "It's Snow Time" includes bizarre snow globes, mostly based on a single theme, winter, designed by twenty artists "from Glasgow and beyond": there's "Qanisqineg" (meaning "Snow floating on water") by artist Hugh Pizey, a simply ethereal snow globe inspired by Lapland; "Toy Shark in (kid-on) formaldehyde" and "Toy Cow in (kid-on) formaldehyde", both by Bell Graphic, take the piss out of Damien Hirst's more famous works which displayed sectioned animals in formaldehyde and contain a toy shark and a toy (obviously sectioned) cow; "Drinky Poos" by Chunk, features a little drunkard; "Doggy Style" contains a little dog with a ruby encrusted coat and it's designed by Ruth Morris from Edinburgh's company Roobedoo; "A Merry Money Christmas" by furniture maker Digby Vaughan, features a -shaped Christmas tree, symbol of mad spending, while "Chilli ('Is it me, or is it chilli in here?')", designed by Katty Barae (from award-winning designers One Foot Taller), contains a single chilli pepper.

While wandering through the displays you'll see kitsch objects becoming art, turning themselves into snow domes containing a reproduction of a pair of Native American snow goggles ("Snowscreen" by Patrick Macklin) or into cutting edge globes such as "Extreme Snowglobing (only for the hardcore)" by designer company Timorous Beasties, the latter takes the snow dome to another level by inserting pieces of ice rather than fluffy fake snow in the globe.

The downside of this exhibition is that it's too small and often the buttons that make the globes spin do not wok, leaving children and greedy collectors starving for some good fun.

You can catch "It's Snow Times" at The Lighthouse, Glasgow, Scotland, till 11th January 2004.

{www.thelighthouse.co.uk}

Issue 18, December 2003


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