Published: June 29, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Skinner Inc
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – It was not the Danes nor the French, but the Americans who ruled the roost at Skinner’s timed online Twentieth Century Design sale that closed June 16. The 550 lots on offer spanned the entire century, from Art Nouveau and Art Deco makers to Scandinavian, International Style and Midcentury Modern designers. As the auction lured in bidders with the delicate forms of craft furniture artists, it dared to offer Post-Modernism. Forms ran the gamut of the decorative arts, from furniture to glass, ceramics, lighting, wall-hangings, prints, radios and bronzes. If it looked good, it was here.
The sale grossed just under $1 million and went 92 percent sold by lot.
The offerings were led at $62,500 by noted American contemporary furniture artist Judy Kensley McKie with her cast bronze and glass “Dragon Table.” The Boston artist produced the work in 1997 in an edition of 12, this numbered 4. Her works invariably center around an animal of some sort, whether used as an element, a base or appearing as the entire furniture form. She returned to the image of a dragon in at least one other coffee table and a settee design. This was the first time a “Dragon Table” had appeared on the secondary market, sale director Dan Ayer said. It sold to a New York City gallery.
“There’s always a strong demand for her work, but the bronze pieces definitely bring more than her wood-carved works,” he said. “The unique nature of this with the animated dragons – they’re fun-looking for sure.”
It came out of a modernist home in Chestnut Hill, which also supplied a hand carved and painted Wendell Castle “Starry Night” table circa 1990. The table, with a painted homage to Van Gogh on the underside, supported by a free-form carved and painted base appearing as an arm bent at the elbow under a hinged top veneered in an exotic zebra or rosewood (or something similar), sold for $3,750. It’s a bargain price for a hand carved work by Castle and the private New York collector who purchased it was thrilled to be on the receiving end. “Wendell’s output from this period is confusing to so many because it seems almost antithetical to the better-known work from the 1960s and 1970s,” the collector told Antiques and The Arts Weekly. “However, once you look at the broader themes and developments through the three decades leading up to this piece, the most confusing elements may be surface paint and almost anthropomorphically suggestive sculpting of the wood. Both elements have been with his work before and after… the material choice [on the top] reflects on over a decade of working with incredible (and incredibly rare) wood veneers.”
A deep relief cabinet by Paul Evans, circa 1969, went out at $50,000. In welded, patinated and polychromed steel, the cabinet featured four doors with one adjustable shelf per side and a slate top. It had been acquired new by the consignor from Rapids Furniture Company in Boston and sold to a dealership in the Netherlands. The other New Hope furniture artist, George Nakashima, was represented by a black walnut round coffee table with three butterfly joints. At 38¾ inches diameter, it went out at $31,250.
Scandinavian makers found their apex at $11,250 with an office desk by Bodil Kjaer. A rosewood desk top with four locking drawers floats above a chrome-plated steel base on this work, which was originally purchased from CI Designs in Boston, the North American licensed manufacturer for Kjaer designs. The desk is sometimes referred to as “The Bond Desk,” noted for its appearance in three James Bond films.
“I walked up to the home, a Federalist Captain’s house in Salem, Mass., thinking there’s not going to be much in the house for me, but the whole home was full of midcentury furniture,” Ayer said. It was being sold by the daughter of an architect who had used CI Designs in many of his projects during his career, and who chose to furnish his own home with the same makers.
Skinner split up a Chicago-based Steuben collection into three different sales, this auction includes works that were of high style and non-traditional forms, often incorporating gold leaf.
“Most exceeded estimates,” Ayer said, “It was probably one of the larger collections of Steuben to come to the market in a long time.”
Highlights among them included a “Moses Breaking The Tablets” glass sculpture, the 18K gold Moses appearing at the summit of the glass mountain with the tablets cocked back above his head, ready to be thrown off. It was designed by Don Weir in 1970 and sold for $6,875. An 18K gold seal sat at the top of a cut crystal glacier in a 5½-inch-high work that brought $4,375. A fabulous design by George Thompson and Alexander Seidel in 1972 featured a birdcage with cut crystal dome over a hanging 18K bird on swing. It would sell for $3,250.
The showroom of contemporary craft furniture makers Thos. Moser sits on Arlington Street, just off Newbury. The Auburn, Maine, workshop has developed a relationship with Skinner, sending many of its clients wishing to sell in downsizing moves to the auction house. “Due to the pandemic, there’s a back order with new Moser works now, so we may have gotten a bump from that,” Ayer said. “Every sale now, we seem to have five to ten pieces of Moser.”
This sale had 21 lots that ranged from full dining sets to wardrobes, cupboards, reclining chairs and sofas. Stylistically, the evolution of the company’s aesthetic was on full show.
“They started out with a very strong New England Shaker influence, and the second generation of Moser is starting to take over, introducing more varied designs,” Ayer said.
Among them was an “Edo” dining table and chair set, demonstrating a Japanese aesthetic. With five chairs, it sold for $4,375. An “Edo” bench brought $1,876. A custom double-sided atlas stand was perfect for the cartography collector or architect and sold for $3,375. A minimal Shaker influence was seen in a tall chest of seven drawers produced in 2008, which sold for $6,875.
Ayer said many of the Moser collectors are not new to the maker and are adding pieces to their already established Moser collections.
“It was a good sale for American craft,” Ayer concluded. His next Twentieth Century Design sale will take place in December.
All prices reported include buyer’s premium. For more information, www.skinnerinc.com or 508-970-3000.
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