Published: March 27, 2012
Longtime antiques and Americana collector David L. Davies (born July 5, 1926, in Illinois) died at home on Telegraph Hill on March 17 at the age of 85 from lung cancer.
Early employment included the American President Line (shipping) and Shell Chemical (advertising) until he created his own company, the Americana Calendar Co., which produced a highly successful calendar for more than 20 years. Davies also worked in real estate management.
He was a member of the Board of the American Federation of Arts in New York City for 15 years. An avid collector of Americana, he also served on the board of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City for more than 20 years.
He is survived by Jack Weeden, his life partner of 45 years. They were married in New York City December 13, 2011.
At Davies’ request, there will be no service or memorial nor flowers/donations in lieu.
“He just liked things,” says Weeden, noting that David started collecting weathervanes more than 35 years ago and at one time was sure all the good vanes came from Maine. Weeden recalls climbing up a Maine barn to take a vane off a cupola for David that he had just bought for $5.
Weeden noted David’s fine eye and says that David was passionate about collecting what he liked, moving on from vanes to doorstops, then cocktail shakers and, lastly, to American abstract art from the 1930s to 50s, which filled their San Francisco home. David did well buying what he liked and ironically, only lost money on the two things he bought as an investment, Weeden said.
More so than the joy of acquiring that special piece was the journey along the way and making friends in the tight-knit antiques community. “The greatest thrill for the collector is the marvelous people you meet along the way,” Weeden says, noting the journey of collecting for David and he has been “tremendously rewarding.”
R. Scudder Smith, publisher of Antiques And The Arts Weekly, said, “David Davies has been a great friend for many years and Helen and I have always enjoyed his company. He was fun to be with, a very serious collector of folk art, and along with his partner Jack Weeden, was extremely generous with their collections as witnessed by donations to the American Folk Art Museum, the Smithsonian and other important institutions.”
Smith noted David’s “keen eye for perfection,” adding that David put together collections of weathervanes, wood carvings, photographs, pottery and doorstops, just to name but a few of his interests.
“He had so many friends, all scattered about the country, and he maintained a rigid schedule visiting many of them annually, always showing up in one of his fancy new shirts with a matching bowtie, and often with a tennis racquet in hand. He is going to be missed by many,” Smith said.
Fellow Americana collector Joan Johnson was good friends with David for many years and described him as a fun person to be with. “I adored his caustic sense of humor and admired enormously his exquisite taste.”
Johnson said David was very generous to the Folk Art Museum and was a very good friend of Bob Bishop, who became the museum’s director in 1977. Through his friendship with Bob, Joan said, David became an active collector of folk art and got involved with the museum “and then after he had collected [Americana and folk art] for 40 years, he changed his focus [to American abstract art] and his eye in that field was equally good.”
Linda Dunne, acting director of the American Folk Art Museum, said Davies was a wonderful, longtime friend of the museum. In a notice the museum published in the New York Times last week, the museum mourned Davies’ passing and noted that he had generously donated important American weathervanes to the museum collection as well as the iconic, circa 1899 “Man on a Bicycle Trade Sign,” and Morris Hirshfield’s 1945 masterwork “The Artist and His Model.”
“A bon vivant of the old school, Mr Davies will be deeply missed. Heartfelt sympathies go to his devoted partner, Jack Weeden,” the notice read.
Nancy Druckman, senior vice president and director of the American folk art department at Sotheby’s New York, also described David’s keen eye and recalled how diverse his interests were.
“When I think about David †over the 30-plus years of our professional association and deep friendship †so much comes to mind. I guess the ‘bottom line’ was his singular eye for American folk art †of the sculptural, abstracted forms †unsentimental, powerful †with a sense of the ironic and playful, humor.”
His eye extended beyond American folk art to Greek, Roman and Egyptian sculptures, pre-Columbian pottery, Dale Chihuly glass, Modernist paintings, American photographs of Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe, American automotive hood ornaments, cocktail shakers, cast iron doorstops, as well as Twentieth Century-designed furniture and interiors, and beautiful gardens †in Newport, Philadelphia, Provence and, most notably, his and Jack Weeden’s verdant hillside garden on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, where sculptures, stone carvings and weathervanes punctuated the dense plantings of flowers, trees and cactus, Druckman noted.
“David had a visceral reaction to this kind of beauty, whether it was a piece of folk art, painting, table, architecture, which worked on a very quick response time. His steely determination to get the object of his desire knew no impediment whatsoever. If it meant flying a handmade leather sofa for his and Jack’s apartment in New York from South America, which involved crating the sofa, flying it over the polar ice cap to get to New York †that was okay †he did it,” she said.
“If it meant building a small interior pyramid in the living room of their brownstone apartment so that a particular refrigerator of choice could be slid over a partial kitchen wall †that was all right. The pursuit, the strategy, the working out of the plan was never easy. David never took a short cut †he persevered †with hilarious stories that became part of the legend,” Druckman recalled.
“Beyond all of this, David was extraordinarily good company †a huge sense of energy, fun, engagement and response †David and Jack were the best hosts and the best guests, with stories of exotic travels, parties and friends that encompassed a broad range of interesting and accomplished people,” she said. “When I think about David I think about a bright and beautiful Turnbull and Asser shirt with bright and beautiful silk bow tie †thank you, Scudder! †and I feel an anticipation of enjoyment and companionship, and I hear laughter.”
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