Published: August 16, 2011
How do you pass the time of day when you know your lifetime collection is being sold? The answer was easy for Steven Kellogg, “I just stayed in my room at the Radisson and worked on a new book I am writing and illustrating about Rip Van Winkle. It made time go by very quickly,” Steven said. He added that “it has been a long and enjoyable journey, it has enriched our lives, but our collecting days have run their course.”
As it turned out, it was probably not the greatest time to sell a collection of folk art, with the stock market slipping and sliding all over the place and forecasts of even worst times ahead. “But taking in all the bad economic news, we were pleased with the end result, and we cannot say enough for the support we have had for this auction,” Steven said. He mentioned that working with Ron Bourgeault and his Northeast Auctions staff was a most cooperative venture, and the time and effort Pat Bell of Olde Hope Antiques gave to the catalog resulted in an outstanding publication.
The sale, 220 lots, grossed $1,525,000, with the 18 percent buyer’s premium added on, causing Ron Bourgeault to say, “I was very pleased with the sale, especially considering the market.” He added that the Kelloggs were “great to work with, very cooperative and shared so much information about their collection that things moved very smoothly.” One percent of the sale was passed, 35 percent sold under estimate, 19 percent sold within estimate and 38 percent sold over estimate.
Pat Bell of Olde Hope Antiques, a longtime friend of the Kelloggs, spent days compiling the information and doing the layout of the catalog, including bits about Helen and Steven written by dealers and friends. “The response to the catalog has been very positive, and we were so happy to see many of the older members of the folk art community turn out for the auction,” Pat said. “All in all, we were pleased with the sale, there were some really good buys, and everyone seemed happy with their purchases,” he added.
The second lot of the sale (the first lot is pictured), a Nineteenth Century paint-decorated dome-top chest, original blue and brown graining on a cream ground, probably Maine, 12 inches high, 24 inches wide and 11¾ inches deep, went just over the high estimate, selling for $5,664 to Olde Hope Antiques. “These are here to be sold,” Ron Bourgeault said of a set of eight decorated arrow-back side chairs, rush seats, polychrome floral decoration on a yellow ground, New England, circa 1820. With a high estimate of $8,000, the set sold for $3,186.
Among the many portraits in the sale was one by the Beardsley Limner, identified as Sarah Perkins, of a lady seated in a Windsor chair, probably Jemima Wolcott Steele, probably Ellington, Conn. This oil on canvas, circa 1790, measures 32 by 25¼ inches, lists Stephen Score in the provenance and sold for $35,400, right in step with the high estimate. The lot was followed by a Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania pine small standing cupboard with single raised-panel door, original blue paint, circa 1820‴0, that sold for just under the high estimate at $15,340. The provenance lists Olde Hope Antiques.
One of the lots taking two pages of the catalog was a New England round pine chair table decorated with trompe l’oeil designs and dated on the top, “Merry Christmas 1890.” It was presale estimated at $20/25,000, opened at $8,500 and was passed. That same table was sold 11 years ago in the same room by Northeast, a lot from the Virginia Cave sale.
Three absentee bidders competed for a Vermont blue-painted pine four-drawer chest on a boldly shaped bracket base, circa 1820, that opened and sold for $10,000, $11,800 with the buyer’s premium. Selling below the $15,000 low estimate was a pair of portraits by Erastus Salisbury Field of Franklin Pierce and Jane Appleton Pierce as bride and groom, New Hampshire, circa 1835, oil on canvas, 33¼ by 27¼ inches, for $11,800. This pair was last sold by Christie’s, January, 2001, from the collection of Kendra and Allan Daniel.
An American heart and hand painted carving, late Nineteenth Century, 10¼ inches high, had a $900 high estimate and lots of interest, driving the final bid up to $6,136. Possibly hoping that interest in hearts and hands would last, two more examples were offered at the antiques shows the following week.
Interest in hooked rugs remained strong throughout the sale, with lot 587, a New England example depicting a house with pine trees framed in a hit-or-miss border, early Twentieth Century, 39½ by 46½ inches, selling for $22,420. This rug came to the Kellogg collection from Grace and Elliott Snyder. The next lot, a carved, turned and white painted carrier, New England, late Nineteenth Century, 6½ inches high, 26¼ inches wide and 13 inches deep, went over the $1,500 high estimate, selling for $4,720. The provenance lists Stephen Score, the underbidder.
Certain objects in any Northeast sale bring back memories to Ron Bourgeault, and it happened when lot 596, a carved and painted wood running horse weathervane, came across the block. The provenance listed Moira Wallace, an antiques dealer of years ago in Woodbury, Conn., prompting Ron to ask, “Does anyone in the room even remember her?” Only a few hands went up (including mine), but lots of bidding numbers went up, ending at $17,700, just over twice the high estimate. The vane, early Twentieth Century, measured 20¼ inches high and 31½ inches long, and came from Essex, Mass.
A rare Nineteenth Century American painted circus lantern with its original carrying case, decorated with applied stars on a red, white and blue painted ground, 25¾ inches high, went well over the $1,200 high estimate, selling for $6,490. That piece came from another old time dealer, Paul Weld. A paint on velvet picture of a seated gray cat in the original mahogany frame, 8¾ by 10¾ inches overall, American, circa 1840, sold well over its high estimate of $2,000 at $7,080, and an American painted and decorated 42-drawer apothecary cupboard found in Maine, mid-Nineteenth Century, 50¾ inches high, 91¼ inches wide, sold for $11,800, right on the high estimate.
A Nineteenth Century American painted and decorated tin candle sconce with the original snuffer, circa 1840, 13¼ inches high, was purchased from Lewis Scranton and sold for $4,012 against a high estimate of $1,500. Several lots later, a large molded copper and cast zinc Ethan Allen running horse weathervane, stamped by the maker, J. Harris & Son, Boston, circa 1880, 47 inches long, sold for $16,520. It had a high estimate of $10,000 and listed David Schorsch in the provenance.
The sale ended on a happy note when the Halloween candle lantern (pictured) sold for more than ten times the high estimate. “It seemed as if anything ever went wrong when we were living in Sandy Hook, I would be in view of that jack-o-lantern, which we had hung in the corner of the living room, and he always seemed to be laughing at the problem,” Steven Kellogg said. “But I know he is bringing smiles to his new owner, and both Helen and I hope our things are bringing as much pleasure to their new homes as they brought to ours.”
Stephen Score Talks About Helen & Steven Kellogg
For Steven and Helen Kellogg:
In the winter of 1974, Eleanor and I bought a small, wonderful watercolor portrait of a woman from Joy Piscopo at Sarah French’s flea market in the old New Hampshire Highway Hotel in Concord. There was a small mouse nibble on the edge of the paper, it was unframed and the price was right up there †enough to make anyone think twice †$1,800. I couldn’t put it down. The artist was Ruth Shute. Sometime later, I offered the painting in my ad in the Maine Antique Digest .
The first person to call was Gail Savage, who asked me to hold it until she could come to Boston and see it. The second person was Helen Kellogg. That was the first time we had ever spoken and it was love at first hearing. Helen Kellogg wanted that painting. She wanted it in no uncertain terms. She wanted to buy it right then and there and she went on to tell me why it had made such an impression on her, why it was so special. The Shutes, husband and wife, were artists she’d been actively thinking about. And, oh, could Helen Kellogg think! She should have been running IBM †in her spare time.
The Shute Lady With Mouse Nibble got away. Bert and Gail Savage bought it for Barbara Pollack, who owns it to this day. That was my introduction to the world of Steven and Helen Kellogg. Steven and Helen. Helen and Steven. You just couldn’t mention one without the other. They never missed another Shute from me again.
Our first visit to their home in Sandy Hook, Conn., was a dream. There were Helen and Steve greeting us as we walked down the slate stairs from the drive onto a broad terrace set in a vast expanse of lawn. From somewhere nearby came the bubbling sound of falling water. Helen came to greet us: “Well, hello there.” A beauty! Her hair pulled up behind her head, she was wonderfully dressed in an elegantly tailored, white, old-fashioned, high-collared blouse under a lavender tunic that blossomed over a textured, gray skirt †a style so inimitably her own. There was a frank look of acute and friendly appraisal from lively blue eyes which might have said, “So there you are. What took you so long?” Steve was right behind with twinkling eyes and beaming smile and diffident nods, adding his special voice to our welcome. And, so, it began.
The house was really two houses †one, a 1742 farmhouse with center chimney with a 1720 tavern from Massachusetts added on in the 1940s, all tucked away in a magical realm. The charcoal-brown stain on the clapboards helped this fairytale castle fade into the landscape and set the foil for the colorful treasures inside: graphic hooked rugs on walls and floors, affecting portraits, colorful painted furniture and a plethora of sculptural Windsor chairs vied for attention †along with a mammoth Great Dane comfortably seated on a small sofa, a number of cats and the sounds of an Italian opera piped through all the rooms. Helen was right. We had arrived!
What was at the heart of their collection was heart. And soul. Lyrical soul. When it came to picking paintings, Helen always said she wanted to walk into a room and be forcibly struck, over and over again, by the sitter on a wall: “Oh, there you are, you wonderful creature!” The paintings they chose were often almost experimental in composition, rather than formulaic, and yet managed to capture the essence of the sitter †like the Romantic soul of the Shute portrait “Young Man in a Lavender Waistcoat” †with an economy that took your breath away. The Kelloggs gravitated †a funny word to describe choices so free from relentless gravitas †to the irresistible whimsy and elegance of line and abstraction, color and flat shapes. “Childlike” was no slur in their book. Bring on floating horses, nose to nose, on bended knee, lollipop flowers, the happiness of sun-yellow furniture and pink roosters!
All of this at a time when the folk art field was burgeoning and opening up to new discoveries that seemed to be coming out of the woodwork with an astonishing frequency. That, of course, hasn’t happened for a long time. The material presented here, like Proust’s Madeleine, is a remembrance of time past.
Nowhere were Helen’s powers of analysis keener than in the identification of artists, their work and the changes in that work that occurred over the course of their active lives. I remember her coming to visit us on Marlborough Street, in Boston, early one afternoon and leaving at three in the morning to drive back to Connecticut. We had spent the evening on the floor looking at photos of watercolors Helen was researching for an article on the Shutes, trying to tease out the contributions and characteristics of each. She’d place all the images upside down so that we could concentrate on the eyes or noses or mouths themselves and not be prejudiced in some way by the constellation of other facial elements. It took a little getting used to but I learned a lot that way.
Nor was it just faces; Helen had already begun her research into stagecoach and steamboat schedules in the 1830s the better to understand how itinerant artists moved from town to town, placing advertisements in local papers offering to paint likenesses for modest fees. And so it went with the Beardsley Limner and any other area of interest †including politics, Richard Nixon and OJ Simpson. But, let’s not go there&
And inexhaustible. Have I mentioned inexhaustible? Both Steve and Helen had amazing energy and zest. Children and guests would come and go at odd hours. Dinners were delicious and long and often ran late. Running conversations covered a lot of ground. You quickly learned that Helen was a contrarian †willing and eager to challenge conventions to get to new possibilities and truths. She was a humanist to be sure †but, relentlessly logical. She kept us all on our toes †trying to leap with her.
Late at night, over more wine and another opera †Steve rushing to play Maria Callas in some exquisite performance pirated in Corfu when she was 21 and comparing it to another recording of the same aria when she first appeared at La Scala and then the Met †that was the time when the Kelloggs started to move their beautiful paintings and furniture around the house to create new experiences and juxtapositions to help see things anew and discover fresh aspects of old friends. I must say, in all my years as a dealer, this was a startling and wondrous revelation. Steve was tireless in moving things around, putting another log on the fire, and when, on the point of collapse, I made my way to bed, he’d be off to his studio to write and illustrate enchanted children’s books in which images of Helen, the dog, the cats, the folk art would find a place in the story.
When Helen and Steve decided to sell their house in Sandy Hook, I, along with many of their friends, cried. I could never envision another setting as fanciful and magical and complete. But, you see, that was only my limitation, not theirs. On the shores of Lake Champlain, in Essex, N.Y., Helen and Steve transcribed Folk Art Eden into a new, fully realized setting †along with a barn that made us all think of Stewart Gregory, replete with a pale, imperious 5-foot stuffed lamb sculpture sitting in a Windsor armchair that’s the spitting image of Mary Allis.
What all this tells me is that it’s okay to let go and change and keep growing. That collections have to be as alive as their owners and owners as alive as their collections. Steven and Helen Kellogg have managed to do this †to the delight of their family and friends †with booming generosity of heart and spirit, mind and eye. Like the Shutes, the Kelloggs, husband and wife, are artists of life.
I salute them.
And, now, it’s your turn.
June 22, 2011
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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