Published: December 12, 2006
Dean Failey, senior vice president and senior director of American furniture and decorative arts at Christie’s, has been named the 2007 recipient of the Award of Merit, presented annually by the Antiques Dealers Association of America (ADA). Failey will be honored at a dinner organized by the ADA at the Philadelphia Antiques Show on Saturday, April 14.
Failey got word of the prize — whose past recipients include Albert Sack, Elinor Gordon, Wendell Garrett, Betty Ring and R. Scudder Smith — from ADA president Skip Chalfant the first week of December.
“I was out when Skip rang and left the message ‘Please call. It’s urgent. Don’t worry. Nothing bad happened,'” Failey recalled with a laugh. When told the news, the Americana expert was speechless.
“I was enormously surprised and extremely pleased. The award is totally unexpected. I consider it a true honor that the ADA even thought of me,” said Failey.
“Dean has been a gentleman throughout his career and has made important contributions in the academic and commercial spheres of American decorative arts,” said ADA Vice President Arthur Liverant.
Failey joined Christie’s in 1979 and assumed his current post in 1991. A Winterthur Fellow, he received his master’s degree in early American culture from the Henry Francis du Pont Museum and the University of Delaware in 1971, having earned a BS degree from Case Western Reserve University. After Winterthur, he served as associate curator of the Bayou Bend Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
In 1974, Failey was named curator of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, where he organized the bicentennial exhibition “Long Island Is My Nation.” The show was accompanied by a book of the same name, updated and republished in 1998.
Prior to joining Christie’s, Failey was executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society. He is writing a book on the collections of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities and working on a monograph of Long Island silversmith Elias Pelletreau.
Christie’s Americana sales have grown from $700,000 in 1980 to more than $42 million in 2006 during Failey’s tenure. Key sales have included the highly publicized Lindens auction in 1983 and the 1986 sale of a Philadelphia Chippendale tea table, the first example of American furniture to break the $1 million mark. The firm broke the record for American furniture again with the Nicholas Brown desk-and-bookcase, auctioned for $12.1 million in 1989. In January, Christie’s realized $32 million on property from the collection of Mrs J. Insley Blair, a record for a single-owner sale of American decorative arts. “George Washington at Princeton” by Charles Willson Peale fetched $21.3 million, a record for an American portrait.
Failey has served as a governor of the Pewter Collectors’ Club of America and the Society of Winterthur Fellows. Presently he serves on the board or advisory board of Old Westbury Gardens, The Decorative Arts Trust, The Nassau County Museum of Art’s Advisory Committee, The Heckscher Museum, Rock Hall and Bowne House.
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