When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone? By hand? Can’t remember? Although letter writing may not make a comeback anytime soon, other forms of handiwork have found new life as a host of designers discover that we’re using our opposable thumbs to produce more text messages than keepsakes. Among those trying to correct that trend is Austrian designer Thomas Feichtner, by reviving tactile craftsmanship through objects that dovetail the handmade and historical with the modern and the machine. His latest effort is the Saliera, a solid silver salt cellar for Jarosinski & Vaugoin, from which spices must be served the old-fashioned way—with two fingers.
Feichtner’s Vienna studio is a short walk from the 166-year-old silver manufacturer, and in spite of Saliera’s ascetic form, the salt cellar takes its name from an 1543 by Benvenuto Cellini of two golden nudes made expressly for serving, of all things, salt and pepper. “It is one of the most widely known pieces of art in Austria,” Feichtner says, “so it was provocative to take the same name. It’s like a painter in Florence calling one of his paintings The Mona Lisa.” Yet the name points to the designer’s habit of making uber-modern objects using traditional craft techniques accumulated over centuries by historical Austrian brands.
The original Saliera is a complex object full of symbolism and made of pure gold. “And yet, the only way to serve the salt is with two fingers,” Feichtner says. “This simplicity beside its opulence impressed me.” And so in this same deliberate way, the new cellar requires users to touch what they will eat—a small gesture freighted with big meaning these days.
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