Pearls of Passion
by Sybille Forster-Rentmeister
Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum has always offered the public exquisite exhibitions, interesting to the layman and the scholar alike. The current exhibition of pearls is another fine example that spans the entire social strata.
Who does not know something about pearls? Who has not possessed a pair of earrings or a necklace, even if they were not the real things? Who has not heard some hand-me-down sentiments from grandma or a favourite aunt?
My mother’s name is Margarete and stems from the old Greek, meaning Pearl. She also told me that pearls are related to tears, but why I have not been able to discover.
That pearls need to be worn to have a living lustre is another wisdom passed on.
Hollywood certainly did a big number on pearls to make them popular. Just think of Breakfast at Tiffanies and the fabulous set of pearls worn by Audrey Hepburn. Sure, it was likely not the real thing, but who cares if they were wax pearls, those amazing recreations that look and feel like the real thing and have been purported to be worn by the rich and famous for insurance purposes, and on occasion have been used for fraud.
The fact is we all know something about pearls and where they come from and we certainly know how pretty they are and that now real pearls are affordable, even to a slim purse, and they do not have to be fake. Cultured pearls are artificially inseminated, farmed you might say, and come in all shapes and colors to us, and have been an inspiration for modern designers as much as the "real" thing that could only be obtained by dangerous diving adventures in shark infested waters.
We recall stories of deep diving accidents, shark attacks and other misadventures that could be met by a freshwater pearl fisher. Especially the Orient was famous for this activity and the quality of pearls. Japan has a lot of history on pearls.
But so do other nations, as we learn in the exhibit at the ROM. For centuries, nay, millennia, the pearl has taken a special place in the hearts and coffers of the ruling classes, worldly or spiritual.
From the moment one enters the exhibit the palpable fascination with the pearl becomes satisfied. We learn all about the many different origins of the pearl and are astounded at the huge variety of species.
As we walk among the showcases stories are related by well-informed guides, who have anecdotes and interesting tidbits about kings, queens and church patriarchs, all those who championed pearls as their realm’s treasure.
On Thursday, November 18 the ROM opened its doors to the Material Ball, a fundraiser. The theme of course was Pearls. Already the staircase was shimmering in candlelight and icy frozen pearls. In the foyer rows of frozen pearls were hanging from the ceiling, slowly dissolving as the evening wore on.
Guests arrived sporting pearls in many different ways. Gorgeous gowns were available for silent auction before dinner, while hobnobbing with other art connoisseurs, sipping champagne and having fresh Newfoundland oysters.
Among the many well-known art patrons present we spotted City TV’s Jeanne Beker with a terrific pearl necklace. Pearls on clothing were rare. I only spotted one lady in an incredible chiffon gown, and then there was myself in an evening jacket, adorned with a pearl border: both got a lot of attention.
The spectacular exhibit "Pearls- A Natural History" runs till January 9, 2005. Do not miss it.
For all other happenings in the ROM go to the website at www.rom.on.ca
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