Published: December 17, 2019
WELLINGTON, FLA. – Carl L. Crossman passed away at his home on November 13 in Wellington, Fla., at the age of 79. Carl was born in Danvers, Mass., where his parents, Hazel and Lester Crossman had settled. At an early age Carl competed in regional equine events such as “The One Hundred Mile Trail Ride” in Woodstock, Vt., as well as volunteering at the Peabody Museum in Salem, Mass.
After graduating Wesleyan College as an artist himself, Crossman found his direction almost immediately. Two years following his graduation, he published A Design Catalogue of Chinese Export Porcelain for the American Market, 1785 to 1840. The Peabody Essex Museum, as it is now called, printed it along with his next work, A Catalogue of Chinese Export Paintings, Furniture, Silver, and Other Objects, 1785 to 1865. Then came Crossman’s first hardcover book, The China Trade: Export Paintings, Furniture, Silver and Other Objects, 1785-1865, published in 1972. It was an instant success and a Book of The Month Club selection, ensuring it sold out quickly. It was reprinted several times before a substantially updated version, The Decorative Arts of the China Trade: Paintings, Furnishings and Exotic Curiosities, appeared in 1993. It is still considered to be one of the most important resources for the China Trade to date.
“In some ways, Carl has done more than all of us to promote interest in the field. He has a passion for the people behind the objects. He brings the subject to life,” William R. Sargent, then curator of Asian export art at the Peabody Essex Museum, told Antiques and The Arts Weekly for a 2007 feature story on Crossman.
Carl moved to Boston where he ran Childs Gallery on Newbury Street. In 1973 Carl and Roger Howlett bought 257 Commonwealth Avenue, a residence that hosted many legendary costume-themed parties and formal dinners, with the 1976 “Bicentennial Ball” being a standout.
“More than anyone I have ever known, Carl has an almost magical instinct for quality,” said D. Roger Howlett, then president of Childs Gallery in Boston and Crossman’s former partner. “He feels the essence of an object, something he can’t always intellectualize. It will take someone else ten years to prove what Carl said as a snap judgment and was correct.”
Carl spent time in Puerto Rico where he lived back and forth for years in historic Old San Juan. After leaving Boston, Carl purchased a house and a frame shop back in his hometown of Danvers. He restored the house and created magnificent formal gardens on the grounds. Still involved with almost every aspect of the art world, Carl was lecturing on cruise ships that traveled to China, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia. His knowledge of the China Trade was truly hands on. Carl’s next venture led him to Portsmouth, N.H., where he worked with The Strawbery Banke Museum as a senior research fellow in archaeology, and as a consultant with Ron Bourgeault at Northeast Auctions. He appeared for eight seasons as a guest appraiser on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow.
“His knowledge on China Trade was grassroots,” said Ron Bourgeault, past owner of Northeast Auctions. “There was very little known about it. He volunteered at the Peabody Museum, now the Peabody Essex, and he got to know many of the descendants of the China Trade seamen, as that trade ran into the 1880s. He knew those people when he was 20 years old, they were 80. And they had known their grandfathers who were in the China Trade and brought all those treasures back. He listened to their stories, and he was very inquisitive and bright, and he put those pieces together and wrote the first book on the China Trade. It was just like Wallace Nutting’s first book on American furniture. Then he did more scholarship and more studying and wrote really the definitive book on the decorative arts of the China trade, which is a classic in every dealer and curator’s library.”
From Portsmouth, Carl moved to Wellington, Fla., where his sister, Christine Vining was living. The siblings were close and both self described as non conformists. Never to stray from the art world, Carl continued to lecture and perform appraisals in the Palm Beach area and exhibit quality pieces in the most prestigious antique shows around the country.
Penned by Laura Beach, an in-depth story on Crossman’s career can be found at https://www.antiquesandthearts.com/the-china-hunter-carl-l-crossman/.
In it, Beach wrote, “Tucked away in a long-forgotten album are Crossman’s instructions for his final party, to be celebrated posthumously: ‘No more than three (underlined twice) speakers ‘who have something to say.’ Lots of dramatic music. Late in the day, followed by a big party at home (the estate can afford it) with orchestra, food, bar. No mention of it ‘being a time of rejoicing.’ That’s baloney unless I’m dying of something horrible.'”
Carl is survived by his nephew J. Fred Vining, his wife Jamie and their daughter, Harper of Marblehead, Mass. He will be sorely missed by the many around the world he impressed and shared his vast knowledge with. The service, to be held in the spring, will be announced.
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