Published: February 5, 2008
How do you make a show that is pretty close to perfect even better? It is not easy, but after 14 years at the helm of the Winter Antiques Show, chairman Arie L. Kopelman and executive director Catherine Sweeney Singer keep refining New York’s reigning favorite, which opened at the Park Avenue Armory for 11 days on Thursday evening, January 17.
“Perfection” was the theme of this year’s show, which defined the word with graphic precision in a display of furniture and other arts from the Shaker Museum and Library in Old Chatham, N.Y. A revised floor plan, which allowed for two additional dealers, and better display by the fair’s 75 exhibitors elevated the overall presentation. The Seventh Regiment Armory Conservancy’s ongoing building improvements were evident everywhere and, thanks to Sweeney and staff, special events ran like a Swiss watch.
East Side House Settlement, the charity sponsor, sold a record number of tickets for opening night. Attendance through the week was on par with 2007, management said. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg led a procession of celebrity visitors, from Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon to Nancy Pelosi, Lella and Massimo Vignelli, Steve Martin and Katie Couric.
“This is America’s show. It brings customers from everywhere,” noted Chicago dealer Daniel Sullivan. Malcolm Franklin Antiques’ booth glowed with early Eighteenth Century Queen Anne furniture in rich walnut.
Under Kopelman and Sweeney, the loan show has become a focal point. Credit for these small but stunning installations go, for his 11th and final year, to Stephen Saitas. The New York designer alluded to the arched roof of the 1824 Church Family Meetinghouse in Mount Lebanon, N.Y., in the structure that housed “An Eye For Perfection: John S. Williams, Sr, and The Shaker Museum and Library.” The museum took the opportunity to publicize the Mount Lebanon project, which will ultimately relocate America’s most comprehensive Shaker collection with its most historically significant Shaker site, Mount Lebanon.
“When we found that we didn’t have to keep all four corners of the floor open, we gave arms and armor dealer Peter Finer a new booth to suit his scale,” said Singer of the English dealer, whose showstopper was a $2.4 million suit of North German field armor dating to 1549.
David Wheatcroft’s resignation made way for John Alexander, a dealer in English Arts and Crafts furniture who created a suite of rooms at the back of the hall. Taylor B. Williams Antiques moved into Wayne Pratt’s old spot. Textiles specialist Jan Whitlock, who had a sell-out show, may have benefited the most from greater visibility in her new booth on the far left aisle.
Elle Shushan, who defines show business in her annual East Side extravaganzas, worked with interior designer Ralph Harvard to recreate English gardener William Kent’s 1730s folly for Queen Caroline. A portrait of William Kent studded Shushan’s Merlin’s Cave, a twiggy grotto that housed American and European miniatures by the dozen.
“We wanted to contrast with Shaker,” said Harvard, who also designed Sumpter Priddy III’s stand, an bright olive room-set inspired by interior details at Blandfield Plantation in Virginia. Two rare Eighteenth Century Virginia slab tables were among the exceptional contents.
Barbara Israel invokes nature in her large, center court garden displays. A regal cast iron figure of a Hamadryad, or mythological tree nymph, dominated this year. The life-size French figure dated to between 1858 and 1877 and cost $89,500. A bronze birdbath, $45,000, was by Alexander Reul, Harriet Frishmuth’s studio assistant.
“This show attracts its own clientele,” said new exhibitor Elliott Snyder, happy with his decision to join East Side. Early sales included a decorated wall box and a chandelier.
Folk art was a hot sales category. David Schorsch and Eileen Smiles sold “Augusta Maria Foster,” $475,000, one of Ammi Phillips’ loveliest portraits of women. The Woodbury, Conn., dealers, who acquired the picture at Skinner last June, get top marks for their sensitive conservation treatment of the oil on canvas, newly cleaned and relined.
Portraiture was front and center at Frank and Barbara Pollack, where a recently discovered circa 1840 portrait of a girl in a red dress, framed by a curtain swag and seated before a landscape, was $150,000.
Two East Side veterans, James and Nancy Glazer and Giampietro, had blockbuster shows, the Glazers all but selling out their collection of Greensboro, Penn., pottery, recently on view at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art as part of “Made In Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition.”
“The trend is very much away from classic folk art to material with a real edge,” said Fred Giampietro, who counted an arresting handmade game board with a snake motif and an A.L. Jewell centaur weathervane among his more than a dozen sales.
Olde Hope Antiques, which featured selections from the Shein collection, had a banner opening night, according to Pat Bell. “We sold pretty much all of our weathervanes along with watercolors and furniture. It was extremely busy.”
Suzanne Courcier and Robert Wilkins, who wrote The Magazine Antique ‘s January 2008 cover article on “The Shaker Aesthetic Reconsidered,” sold Shaker chairs, a box and accessories, along with non-Shaker objects such as a decorated bench, a soldier-boy whirligig, a Nantucket basket, a tin chandelier and a Grenfell rug.
Leigh Keno wrote up one of the earliest pieces of American furniture in the show, a circa 1710 oak, maple and pine painted chest of drawers. The chest, probably from Massachusetts and a recent discovery, was extensively tested by Winterthur, which determined that most of original paint survives. Conservator Jennifer Mass will describe her finding at the March 6‷ Winterthur Furniture Forum.
“Most of our sales were opening night,” said Keno, who parted with a table chair, a worktable, a banister back chair and an Edward Hicks decorated trinket box.
A Philadelphia tiger-maple dressing table starred at Peter and Jeffrey Tillou, where early sales included four Nineteenth Century locomotive and tender paintings by Charles H. Caruthers.
Elegance was the watchword at Hirschl & Adler, where a Cumberland-action dining table, $285,000, attributed to Thomas Seymour and bearing the label of retailer Thomas Constantine of 157 Fulton Street in New York, joined 16 Boston dining chairs of about 1820.
Later Nineteenth Century American decorative arts included an Aesthetic Movement breakfront bookcase attributed to Daniel Pabst, $125,000. Associated Artists of Southport, Conn., filled it with Doulton Lambeth pottery, Gorham silver and other accessories.
Macklowe Gallery, Ltd, sold a Tiffany Studios Grape table lamp, circa 1900, on a tree trunk-style patinated bronze base. The asking price was reportedly $1.25 million.
Jonathan and Paige Trace, who recently purchased the Wentworth family house in Portsmouth, N.H., and will soon count Ron Bourgeault, Hollis Brodrick, Sharon Platt and Ed Weissman as neighbors, said both furniture and early American silver were selling well.
Stephen and Carol Huber, specialists in early American needlework, pulled out all the stops with an intricately worked, brilliantly colored mid-Eighteenth Century canvas work sampler with pastoral imagery. Probably from Boston, it was $240,000.
“We have eight Yup’ik dance masks, more than have been shown here in a decade,” said Donald Ellis, an Ontario dealer known for Eskimo and Northwest Coast Indian art. His sales included a basket, marked $1.2 million, by Da So La Lae of the Washoe Tribe on the California/Nevada border.
Spencer Throckmorton concentrated on Mesoamerican sculpture in jade and basalt, from the Olmec to Aztec cultures.
Sales of ancient art included a Greek terra cotta red figure lekythos of circa 430‴10 BC at Rupert Wace. The private collector who bought the piece hopes to lend it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wace also sold Egyptian art.
“English furniture is the gold standard,” said New York dealer Clinton Howell, who brought Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century pieces up to the minute by arranging it a bright, spare setting.
Other dealers in English and Continental furniture and accessories emphasized color and pattern. Foster-Gwin of San Francisco offered Regence beech fauteuils covered with gross point needlepoint. Philip Colleck displayed an early Eighteenth Century Venetian red chinoiserie bookcase. L’Antiquaire & The Connoisseur featured painted furniture of Italy’s Piedmont region, shown in a both entered through two antique carved and painted doors.
“It’s as good a Lamqua as you’ll find,” Martyn Gregory said of his Chinese portrait of the Hong merchant Howqua. The painting, which descended in the family of Connecticut China trader Samuel Russell of Russell & Co., sold to a buyer from Texas.
“I’ve sold four American paintings and one French one so far,” fine arts specialist Thomas Colville said about halfway through the show.
Schwarz Gallery of Philadelphia sold its centerpiece, a pair of portraits of Robert Hall and Mary Fenner Hall by Robert Street, a Philadelphia Academy-trained artist.
“This is James Buttersworth at his best,” Janice Hyland of Hyland Granby Antiques said of two oil on board paintings, $750,000 for the pair, of ships in New York Harbor.
Alexander Gallery sold its catalog pieces, two quirky 1870s astronomical paintings by Henri Harrison, as well as Old Master paintings on panel from Alexander and Laurel Acevedo’s personal collection.
“It’s been extremely steady,” Catherine Sweeney Singer said with satisfaction.
For information, 718-292-7392 or www.winterantiquesshow.com .
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