One of the best trips that my husband Tray and I ever took was when we went to London to watch our son, Tanner, compete in the London Paralympics. While he didn’t place, the whole experience was amazing. Of course, Tray planned enough time for us to antique.
Tray, his sister, her husband and I spent a whole day in Portobello Market in Notting Hill. Within a half block, my role shifted to one very familiar to me—that of pile watcher. They’d already collected so much that it was impossible to wander the narrow aisles and blending in with the crowd was not easy. So, I was leapfrogged down the street with the pile. I am often the pile-and-people-watcher and have just as much fun as they do.
Toward the end of the day, Tray came rushing out of a place, waving his hands, saying, “Simone, Simone, you’ve got to come in here and see this!“
“Okay,” I said, wondering what could be more awesome than the things he’d already collected.
Once the family had the pile in possession, I walked with him into what looked like a small storefront that opened up after we walked through a back door and turned into a small mall with an indoor fair-like atmosphere.
He took me over to a stall that had the most gigantic glass cloches I’d ever seen—three of them. Imagine a cloche large enough to cover your squash or zucchini plants. They were at least two feet in diameter. They were so heavy that I could hardly lift one. Tray was in love. He held them like babies, caressing the glass. He would look from cloche to me and back again. I know that look. Yet even he admitted they were too big for carry-on luggage. These were definitely not fitting in the overhead bin. It was a dilemma. After spending an hour trying to figure out how much the shipping would be, he finally realized it was just too much. In the end, he settled for a small antique book on cloche gardening.
That day, I knew there was no way reason would talk him off the cloche mountain because cloches are the best of many of Tray’s worlds—he has been an avid gardener since the age of fourteen and he loves creating studies of his favorite finds under glass. The first time he came home with a cloche was about 35 years ago, one of our first Christmases together. We lived in a 500 square-foot home. There wasn’t room for a tree.
When he burst through our door so pleased with himself, I asked, “What’s that for and where are we going to put it?”
He said, “I’ll show you—it’s a surprise.“
And off he went into the bathroom/closet and shut the door. Imagine his pride when he came out with a cloche filled with his antique ornament collection. He was beaming. It was beautiful, especially to me with my love for all things shiny. It looked great on the antique tiger-oak chest in the den. And that was the first piece of his, er, “our” cloche collection. I didn’t even know what a cloche was.
Some date the advent of the cloche to Italy in the 1600s and claim that soon after the French adopted cloche gardening. Cloche is French for bell. In the 19th Century, French market gardeners used the glass bells in fall and spring to cover the out-of-season vegetables that fed Parisians. Barn-shaped cloches were used to warm plants across Europe. On warm, sunny days, farmers would prop up one side of the cloche to vent the air and then lower the glass to protect the plants from the cold at night. In the early days, there was no knob on the top. Once knobs were added to the top, farmers quickly discovered that leaves burned from the sun’s rays passing through the glass balls so many chopped off the ball. The cloches that survived with the ball on top were often those not used.
Sitting here at our kitchen island, I can see three cloches. In front of me next to the stove, a cloche covers an antique ironstone mortar and pestle-holding nuts all sitting on top of a silver pedestal cakeplate. Just to my left on the island, a cloche covers three antique sheep. To my right in the den, an antique cross is featured under a cloche.
Tray has pared the kitchen collections down for a while but, until recently, he had a small collection of old trophies and, of course, one was under a beautiful cloche we found in one of the street markets in Paris. One of my favorites is a small cloche that covers a picture of our boys when they were six and seven years old and altar boys. The picture stands in an old metal frog and their sterling silver first communion rosaries drape across the frog and pool on the base.
Another favorite is a small cloche that covers a collection of antique wire-framed glasses—you know, the delicate, small round gold ones. When my mother wanted to toss out her grandmother’s Jesus statue because the wire was showing in the extended arm, Tray cringed. The minute the car doors closed, he said, “That’s going to look great under a cloche.” I knew what he meant. He paired it with my great-grandfather’s prayer book and a bird and placed the whole cloche in front of the mirrored door of a tall wooden cabinet so we were able to see front and back at the same time, which made the whole display even more special. Sure, each of these gems would be lovely on its own but under a cloche, whether alone or grouped, they sparkle.
Denise, one of the vendors at the market, has been making cloche vignettes—small, curated collections under glass that are just so precious. Last market, Tray had a large cloche filled with very old, very small clay pots, all atop an old breadboard. It was gorgeous.
When they were putting all of the clay pots in the cloche—it took three of them—Lisa asked, “Should we count the pots in case someone wants to buy the whole thing?”
The cloche was so big and was very heavy and they were already a third of the way in, so Tray said no. Well, hours after the market opened, one of our awesome customers couldn’t resist and said, “I’ll take the whole thing.” I could really relate because each pot had old green moss and mold in places, and under the glass, the green seemed greener and the chips and cracks looked so special. I couldn’t help but wonder what the tiny pots had been used for as I counted to 169 and wrapped everything up. I hated to take it apart—it just looked so pretty.
And that’s what I love about a cloche. No matter how mundane, no matter how exquisite, beloved treasures look wonderful under glass.
Simone Gers began her antiquing journey 35 years ago when she married Tray, an avid collector. They still have the first piece they bought together—a pegged farm table that was so decrepit it was behind the antique store—and they have been upcycling vintage finds ever since. The Gers own Gather A Vintage Market in Tucson, AZ, a monthly market (www.gatheravintagemarket.com). Simone has taught writing and literature at the college level for many years.