Published: August 18, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Osona Auction
NANTUCKET, MASS. – Rafael Osona remembers the days when he would stand at the podium in full dress sports coat and tie while calling an auction. That was 40 years ago and, more telling, before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. At his most recent two-day sale, August 8-9, Osona said he looked at himself dressed in his most comfortable shorts, worn tee-shirt and sneakers and quipped to his wife Gail, “Look at what we’ve become after 40 years!”
It was weird, he agrees, selling to a handful of staff at computers and phones for the two-day event that featured more than 800 lots, comprising old Boston and historic Nantucket material, plus Americana, fine art, continental and American furnishings and décor. Still, despite the lack of a gallery audience, he told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, “It was really over the top. Nothing was really soft.”
Good material knows how to find him. A painting that someone bought at a thrift store for $14 gets $9,000 at auction. A Nantucket carving acquired for under $20 crosses the block at $12,000. After 40 years, he has many stories like that.
More than 160 lots of scrimshaw and whalemen’s crafts were offered in this most recent sale, along with a full range of the maritime and Americana fare that is Osona Auction’s wheelhouse. Topping the sale was a singular sperm whale tooth, “The Wiscasset of Wiscasset,” circa 1836, flying the American flag, which sold for $152,500 on day two. According to Osona, it went to a collector in Wiscasset, Maine, and he added that he believed that the wonderful discovery would have brought even more had COVID-19 not been around because “people can better appreciate the value of something like this when they can see it in person and hold it in their hands.”
The Wiscasset is depicted flying the American flag and in full sail approaching a headland, with lighthouse and signed in fraktur “S. Svenson.” The underneath is inscribed “A tooth of a 90 bbl whale got on the coast of New Zealand, Jany 7th 1836.” The verso of the 8¾-inch-long tooth depicts the Wiscasset engaged in whaling with three boats out on the ocean with whalers busy on a pod of five whales.
Another scrimshaw sperm whale tooth, “The Audley Clarke of Newport, Rhode Island,” circa 1840, brought a solid $30,500. A starboard view of a cutting-in scene with red polychrome, deck hands, ship on the horizon with legend “Audley, Clarke. New, Port, RI,” the storied 8¾-inch-long tooth relates the last real voyage of the ill-fated vessel. On February 15, 1849, as gold rush fever spread in California, 75 Newporters sailed on the old whaler Audley Clark under Capt. Ayrault Wanton Dennis. After 198 days and having rounded Cape Horn, the ship pulled into San Francisco Bay. Audley Clarke was immediately deserted, used as a storeship and floundered in litigation concerning ownership and customs matters. Most passengers stayed out west or embarked on a voyage to Australia’s Gold Rush.
The second day of the sale also saw an Antonio Jacobsen (1850-1921) oil on artist board “Portrait of a 3-Mast Clipper Ship in Turbulent Sea” leave the gallery at $10,160, a mahogany and cherrywood inlaid box, circa 1850, attributed to Captain Spencer Pratt, Bristol, R.I. (active 1835-1855), command $10,980 and a Gilbert Gaul (American 1855-1919) oil on artist board “Portrait of a Standing Sailor,” garner $7,320. Gaul was born in Jersey City, N.J., attended school in New Jersey and moved to New York where he studied art at the National Academy of Design from 1872 to 1876, and privately with the noted genre painter, J. Antiques Show G. Brown.
The first day of the sale featured material from the estate of Linda Loring, a prominent resident of Nantucket who was a devoted wildlife advocate and conservationist. A Gustav Stickley reverse tapered bow-arm Morris chair from her estate was bid to $48,800. Made by the Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Eastwood, N.Y., circa 1901, the chair was of oak with original black leather upholstered seat back and cushion. With reverse tapering legs it was overall 39½ inches high and 28-3/8 inches wide.
Luminist painter Robert Stark Jr (1933-2014) was represented in the sale by an oil on canvas, “Off Coatue – Nantucket,” signed lower right and in a custom carved rope gilt frame. Measuring 19½ by 39½ inches, it went out at $33,020. Having attended Nantucket schools, Stark is a local favorite. After graduating from Nantucket High School, he served in the US Navy during the Korean War. He was the founder and director of Nantucket’s oldest gallery, the Stark Gallery on Old North Wharf.
Two works by another Nantucket favorite, James Walter Folger (1851-1918], a local artisan who was mainly self-taught, were notable in the sale. His carved half-body “Shell Drake in Flight,” circa 1911, beautifully carved and painted on a cloudy sky panel, took $29,280. “Stone Alley Nantucket,” a deep relief carved wood scene, circa 1900, realized $21,960. Folger worked briefly in 1869 as a journeyman for a wood carver in Cambridge, Mass., and continued to create carved animal heads, ornamental carvings and historical dioramas upon his return to Nantucket. Folger was also a painter in oil and watercolors, creating historical scenes of Nantucket.
Additional highlights of the first day included Wendell Macy’s (1845-1913) oil on canvas “Sankaty Light from Sankaty Head Road Looking South,” circa 1898, from the estate of Linda Loring, which fetched $12,200, and an oil on board by Anne Ramsdell Congdon (1873-1958), “Green Hull Fishing Boat at Island Service Wharf,” unsigned, in a white washed molded wood frame, 6¼ by 4¼ inches, which made $14,640.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.rafaelosonaauction.com or 508-228-3942.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm