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Mother Nature's "Paint" as the Primary Surface

Posted 21 Feb 2013, by Don

Seldom does one find skillfully made, non-utilitarian works of folk art that were never painted, stained, or resin coated (varnish, shellac, lacquer), in which the wood itself, and the patina it developed over the years, is the first and only surface.  I am fortunate to have acquired two such items recently:  a carved horse, ca. early to mid-19th century, and a carved soaring eagle, ca. late 19th century.  Both are exceptionally well sculpted and exhibit rich, nut brown patina developed by oxidation, and exposure to handling and airborne particles, often from the hearth fire.  The vast majority of antiques have been refinished, or had their surfaces altered, often in the owners’ misguided desire to see the underlying wood better, or to clean the surface.  Once these surfaces were refinished, newly painted, or stained, the piece can never be returned to its original state, and is like a ‘book without its …

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Why is provenance important?

Posted 17 Feb 2013, by Don

An antique that has a confirmable provenance to a great collector (or great dealer), particularly from years ago, often adds considerably to its value.  In the space of folk art, names that come to mind include Nina Fletcher Little, Jean Lipman, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch.  I have a Garbisch piece now, a beautiful pair of watercolor frakturs.   Why does the Garbisch association with these frakturs add to their value? ……..When the Garbisch’s were scouring the countryside in the 1940’s and 1950’s in a passionate, obsessive pursuit, great material was still readily available, much of it had not been yet “collected”.  It was flowing from family homes where it had been for generations.  Some of these pieces were the remarkable, breathtaking examples that are now in private or museum collections.   The Garbish’s could choose from the best of this material, had the means to …

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Is it art? How does being art impact value?

Posted 14 Feb 2013, by Don

A key to the assessment of good, better, best is the answer to the question:  “Is it art”?  Art can be a painting or sculpture, yet it can also be furniture, a paint decorated box, a bowl, a candlestick, textiles, etc.  Take for example the valuables cupboard on my website.  Is it art?  My response is a resounding yes.  The maker did not have to embellish the door with the swan’s neck, it was carved by hand and took considerable time and skill to fashion.  The swan’s neck did not add at all to the utility of the chest (it would lock just fine whether it had a split pediment or not).  Yet look what that swan’s neck accomplished.  It provides a light and graceful end point as one’s eye rises from bottom to top, it provides a negative space to view the swan’s neck in silhouette, and it dramatically …

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The Real Reason behind President's Day: It was not for auto and mattress ads!

Posted 10 Feb 2013, by Don

Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays were honored separately until Congress combined them into “President’s Day”.  Observance today seems mostly a prop for advertisements, yet through President’s Day maybe a few will become aware of how important Washington and Lincoln were.  Due to the popularity of the movie “Lincoln” about his effort to get the 13th amendment to the US Constitution ratified (Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction), the accomplishments of Lincoln are probably better known than those of Washington.  Yet, without Washington, and his leadership during the American Revolution and as first President, the US as we know it would have been much different.  Early Americans so realized this that after his death in 1799, Washington was memorialized and honored for DECADES.  In fact, the …

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Books and SEEING

Posted 9 Feb 2013, by Don

I have hundreds of books in my library that deal with early American antiques (from the 17th century through 19th century), ranging from furniture, to folk art, metalware, woodenware, fakes and frauds, textiles, clothing, museum and private great collections, etc.  Many of my books have worn covers as I have been through them so many times, TRAINING MY EYE as to what is great vs what is not.  In any period, pieces made by one craftsman in a given shop are more successful than like pieces made elsewhere, and my library helps me to learn the difference.  If I had to choose just one book, it would be Fine Points of Furniture, by Albert Sack, known in the trade as “good, better, best”.  Albert’s book starts one down the journey of learning which design is better than another for a given form in a given early furniture period.  Often a …

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