The Antiques Dealers Association of America (ADA) broke with tradition on April 28, for the first time presenting its annual Award of Merit to a group. Forty members of the American Folk Art Society traveled to Philadelphia to collect the prize, presented at a dinner on Saturday night at the Philadelphia Antiques Show.
“It’s a pleasure to have you here this evening. We present this award for significant contribution to the field of American antiques. Early in the Twentieth Century there were people with the foresight to collect American folk art. The members of the American Folk Art Society have followed in their footsteps,” began ADA President Judith Livingston Loto.
“Over the past 35 years it has been a pleasure to get to know members. Their passion for collecting folk art is repeated in all aspects of their lives,” said master of ceremonies Patrick Bell, citing the group’s enthusiasm and knowledge.
“For a long time, the society was as transparent as Skull & Bones,” joked Bell, noting the by-invitation-only group’s preference for anonymity. “I was convinced that members traveled all over the country to beat dealers to the best collections.”
“We respect the friendship, support and years of interaction that we have with members,” said Edwin Hild, co-master of ceremonies.
Bell singled out society members Kathy and Bob Booth and Joan and Victor Johnson for special recognition. Of the next speaker, society member Raymond Egan, Bell said, “He is one of the most discriminating collectors that I have ever met.”
“On behalf of collectors, I want to thank dealers for their hard work,” said Egan, noting the enormous energy that dealers put into discovering and vetting the objects that ultimately find their ways into top collections.
Society member Elizabeth V. Warren, a collector and consulting curator, recalled the first auction that she attended. The excitement of the landmark sale of the Stewart Gregory collection in 1979 encouraged her to pursue a career as an American folk art scholar. Warren recounted the history of the society, from its first meeting in November 1978. Early members included Jill and Austin Fine, Howard Feldman, Harvey and Isobel Kahn, Thomas Rizzo, Charles Santore, Ralph Esmerian and Helen and Steven Kellogg.
Through dues, the American Folk Art Society funds exhibitions, publications and programs. Its first award was to the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. It is currently underwriting “Artist & Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revisited,” opening May 26 at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“Yes, we do look happy. That is partly because we travel on our stomachs,” explained Warren, recalling highlights of past society trips: a clambake hosted by Ron Bourgeault, an elegant dinner in Arthur and Gigi Liverant’s barn, oysters at Bill du Pont’s and a barbeque in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Speaking for his colleagues, California collector Jeffrey Pressman said, “Thank you, dealers, for your hard work.”
Accepting the award on behalf of the American Folk Art Society, President Tracy S. Whitehead said, “When Arthur Liverant called me, I was speechless and thrilled. All the previous awards went to individuals. The thought that a group would receive this award never crossed my mind.”
“We are folk art’s best advocates,” said Whitehead, asking society members to stand. Then, asking ADA members to join them, Whitehead urged everyone to congratulate the assembled group for its years of fruitful partnership.