The collector: Gerson Lessa, designer and design teacher at UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), Brazil.
The collection: Design in plastics.
The story behind the collection...
I have been curious about how things are made since my childhood and this led me to graduate as a designer. I was also interested in antiques. Plastic materials and their processes caught my attention in design school. Then, in 1986, I came across a book, Classic Plastics by Sylvia Katz (Thames & Hudson, 1984); all of a sudden all these interests came together as a single topic. I was delighted and started collecting and researching at once.
I collect design in plastics; design understood in the broadest possible sense. My collection includes objects from all over the world, from the 19th century to the present day. I try to gather specimens of all important plastic materials, made in every possible technique, in all historic styles and design trends, from decorative to technological, from anonymous to 'designer objects'. Yes, this is a huge span, I know.
Braun Exporter radio, 1956.
Tupperware, c. 1980.
Rubik cube, 1980s.
Plastics are rich in texture, colour, shapes, values and history. They may be and look cheap or expensive, strong or delicate; they may lead to great or shoddy designs; they are used in almost anything around us, from throw-away wrappings to long-lasting furniture or wall paint. All these innumerable qualities and applications make them a very rich study field. My academic work is all about plastics and design, based on this private plastics collection.
Czech bakelite model car, 1940s.
Celluloid toothbrushes, 1890s.
Qualicraft shoes, 1940s/50s.
Kartell ashtray /wastebin, 1964.
Artificial flowers, 1950-50s.
I try to live among my collection. Most objects in my home are part of the collection, although seldom in use. Many are stored in drawers, in the best possible compromised conditions. They are kept away from daylight, their worst enemy.
It is hard to pinpoint a favourite, but I love the plastic flowers and vase found together in a thrift shop and the 19th century vulcanite jewellery items mostly found on ebay. There are lots of gaps in this design timeline, but I am particularly missing real Art Nouveau items, which are hard to come by.
Although my collection is always growing, I use academic criteria for the acquisitions, so they are kept under some kind of control. Academic work provides a wide range of excuses anyway. What does my collection reveal about me? My questionable tastes and compulsive nature.
I've been collecting for the last 26 years and, although I do not know for sure how many I have, there are more than 1000 items in my collection. Just a fraction of my collection can be seen on Flickr - there is more to come.
To learn more about historical plastics, visit the Plastics Historical Society (London) website http://www.plastiquarian.com/