Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Of salt and water, and poignant design

Tear catchers have existed for thousands of years and are most widely associated with the Romans, whose mastery of glass-blowing enabled them to produce small, decorative vials perfect for collecting the delicate drops. Capturing tears was a way to honor the dead, and the tear-filled vials would accompany the bodies of the mourned to their graves.

The practice fell from fashion for centuries but returned under Queen Victoria, who so publicly mourned the loss of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861. The practice also experienced a resurgence in America during the devastating years of the Civil War. Sometimes the vials were buried with the body; sometimes they were worn as necklaces and emptied at the grave site on the first anniversary of the death.

So many years later -- thousands of years later -- we're still coping with the same sorrows, the same pain, the same fears. What's changed, though, is the way in which tears can be captured. Dutch designer Roos Kuipers, a 2009 graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven (the Department of Man and Well-being), has created a new way to approach the ancient art.

Based on the belief that tears shouldn't just be dried with a tissue and discarded, Kuipers has designed a collection of tear catchers made from glass and bamboo. The glass rings, by their very nature, imply fragility, while the bamboo-fiber pieces take a more utilitarian approach: the material is three-times more absorbent than cotton and is anti-allergenic, making it gentle on sensitive eyes.

The charm of Kuipers's designs, which range from practical to playful, comes in the act of using them. Be they needed for tears of joy or tears of sorrow, the designs are as integrated with the body as tears are with life. 

When the water of the tears caught on Kuipers's glass rings has evaporated, a delicate pattern of salt remains.

Each of Kuipers's rings are meant to be worn two ways, either visible to all or turned into the palm for privacy.

The bamboo-fiber puff necklaces come in a variety of lengths.

A traditional handkerchief made of ultra-soft bamboo.

Kuipers's bamboo-fiber glove features an extra pad for the index finger, making it doubly absorbent. The idea is based on the Dutch expression "een traantje wegpinken," or "to brush away a tear."

For more information on Roos Kuipers, visit her Web site and Etsy shop. Prices range from about $80 to $130.

There are loads of images of antique tear catchers online, but this Pinterest board offers a handy collection.

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