Published: September 16, 2015
Review by Rick Russack
Photos Courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
THOMASTON, MAINE — A wide assortment of quality merchandise brought out the crowd for Thomaston Place Auction Galleries’ August 29–30 auction, which totaled around $2 million. Fine art led the way as an Andrew Wyeth watercolor was the highest grossing lot in the sale, with paintings by James Taylor Harwood and William Trost Richards also bringing strong prices.
Kaja Veilleux assembled a group of 189 paintings by 101 contemporary Maine artists and almost all found new homes. Weathervanes did well and there was a group of marine and artillery cannons, more than 100 lots of Asian arts, almost 200 lots of American, European and Asian furniture, fine jewelry, Brother Thomas pottery, Lalique hood ornaments and six antique horse-drawn wagons. With more than 1,200 lots in the sale, one really had to take time at the preview to inspect the offerings. Small treasures awaited diligent buyers. As the auction got underway, the salesroom was full, multiple phone lines were ready and three online platforms were set to go.
The Wyeth watercolor and ink on paper was identified in the catalog as “Island Cabin With Swallows.” It was a particularly striking scene showing a weathered cabin with a flock of swallows overhead. Estimated at $60,000, it finished at $138,000, just a few dollars less than another Wyeth watercolor at Northeast Auctions’ mid-August sale. When bidding opened, there were several phone bidders ready and the Internet was also active.
Bidding quickly came down to a contest between one of the phone bidders and the Internet. Adding to the drama of the moment, each bidder waited until the last possible second before increasing his/her bid. To a round of applause, the phone bidder prevailed. The day after the sale, Nicholas Wyeth, the artist’s son, discussed the painting with Antiques and The Arts Weekly. He said that his father did the painting in 1949, that the proper name for it is “Bert’s Camp” and the island is Little Green Island in Muscongus Bay. The cabin pictured belonged to Bert York, a friend of the Wyeth family, who fished around the island. The strong interest in the painting, Wyeth said, was partly due to the fact that it was a local Maine scene, and those, he said, are sought-after by collectors.
The second highest price of the day was also for a painting, this one by James Taylor Harwood (1860–1940). His oil on canvas, “Webs of the Morning, My Home” sold for $60,375. Another Harwood, “Family Outing” ended up at $44,850. Both Harwoods were unframed when brought into the gallery by Harwood’s grandson, and Veilleux had frames made for both. A few lots later, Veilleux asked, “Do you go to yard sales? Ever fantasize about a “big score”? He went on to say that a customer brought in a painting that he had bought at a yard sale near Old Town, Maine, and asked Veilleux, “Can you sell this”? The answer was yes, and the painting, a scene of a rocky coast and seascape, with sailboats and steamer, by William Trost Richards (1833–1905) ended up selling for $49,450.
Other fine art highlights included a circa 1910 oil on canvas by William Arber Brown Kirkpatrick (b 1880), “The New Shoes,” which earned $34,500 and a painting by Milton Clark Avery (1885–1965) of New York Harbor for $12,650. It had been brought in on a free appraisal day.
The sale included a grouping of 189 paintings by contemporary Maine artists that were popular with the crowd. Most works sold under $5,000 and several sold for less than $1,000. Most likely, several summer homes in Maine will have some new artwork on their walls. An oil on Masonite by contemporary Maine artist Lois Dodd, “Two Nudes, One Straw Hat,” took $5,750. An oil on board by well-known Maine antiques dealer Chris Huntington, “Buckshot in Killdeer,” fetched $575, and an oil on canvas by Alfred Fuller (1899–1980), “Gull Rock,” went for $690.
A circa 1830 Empire work table was one of the many surprises at this sale. It was a rosewood, French-style work table with drop leaves, two drawers with ormolu mounts and bowed column legs on a shaped trestle base. Estimated to bring $1,200, it soared to $46,000. Several lots of Pilgrim Century furniture came from the attic of a home in Alna, Maine. The first of the items from the attic, a William and Mary period keepsake box with bun feet, a heavily molded lid and original wrought iron lock made $4,025. It was followed by an Eighteenth Century round-top hutch table in old red paint, which went out at $1,955.
An oak William and Mary four-drawer chest on bun feet with overhanging top and original hardware seemed quite reasonable, finishing at $1,725. A Seventeenth Century Brewster slat-back armchair with large turned finials and sausage-turned stiles fetched $4,600. Other brown furniture did better than it has in some recent auctions. An Eighteenth Century Queen Anne gaming stand made $3,750. It had an inlaid burl walnut and tiger maple chessboard as its top. A New England Chippendale mahogany slant-front desk, circa 1760–90, brought $4,720.
A cherry tall case clock by Levi and Abel Hutchins, Concord, N.H., circa 1790, went for $5,175. They are considered by many to be New Hampshire’s premier clockmakers. The clock had a painted face, eight-day brass works, an arched bonnet with three brass finials and an applied bracket base. European furniture also did well, with a pair of Louis XV armchairs, in carved fruitwood, achieving $10,350. Chinese furniture performed reasonably. A caned rosewood export sofa with rolled arms, a fluted crest and carved fluted legs seemed to be worth more than its final price of $1,035.
As one might expect, folk art did well. Exceeding its estimate, a 25-inch Merino ram weathervane brought $31,625, and a full-bodied realistic bull, probably by Jones, went out at $10,350. Both had good surfaces. A pair of portraits by William Mathew Prior (1806–1873), in grain painted frames sold for $7,670 to an online bidder. The husband and wife were thought to be from Bath, Maine. A large pair of scrimshawed walrus tusks with ships, an eagle with shield and serpents earned $2,006.
Numerous marine items: ship portraits, cased ship models, half-hull models, as well as accessories, sailed across the block. A yacht hull test model for the racing yacht Intrepid, winner of the America’s Cup races in 1967 and 1970, finished at $11,500. A second test model, this one for the yacht Weatherly, winner of the 1962 America’s Cup, went out at $6,612, probably to the same phone bidder. Both models were Davidson Laboratory water tank test models, used by yacht designers testing new hull designs and both came from a home in Bristol, Maine. A model of J.P. Morgan’s yacht, Corsair, in a walnut case on a walnut base, fetched $3,162. The model itself was 40 inches long, and undoubtedly the case alone cost more than the model sold for. Other cased ship models also were relatively inexpensive.
Some interesting art pottery crossed the block the second day of the sale, including three pieces by Brother Thomas Bezanson. Brother Thomas was a Benedictine monk who died in 2007. His forms are derived from Japanese and Chinese traditions, and his glazes are what sets his work apart. His work is in the permanent collections of more than 80 museums. One of the pieces in this sale was a squat ovoid vase with a rare pumpkin colored glaze. It earned $3,220. Two other similarly shaped pieces each brought $1,150. One was finished in a celadon green glaze and the other was in a plum glaze. Each piece was signed and numbered. There were two green Hampshire pottery lamp bases; one with inverted tulip-stem decoration earned $805. A partially glazed plaque by Pablo Picasso, “Flute Player and Goat,” finished at $5,750. It was from a limited edition of 450 and was done in 1956.
As mentioned, things you might not have expected to find do turn up at Thomaston Place sales. A 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers team-signed baseball brought $2,006. It included all the greats: Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and all the rest. Rudy Valle’s freshman college scrapbook, from the year he spent at the University of Maine, was passed for some reason. It had a low estimate and had turned up in the attic of a home in Maine once owned by Valle. It was full of photos and other memorabilia. His cocktail shaker and seltzer bottle, both with inscriptions, went for $3,245.
Rounding out the auction was an orotone, “The Canyon of Death,” by famed western photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952) that did well, going out at $13,800. Orotones are photographs printed on glass using a labor intensive specialized technique that greatly enhances the photos. They were more expensive at the time they were made and were delicate. Just a limited number survive. A Civil War-era marching band flute, with its original box, brought only $115, and a pine violin made by a Maine POW during the Civil War earned $805. It came with full provenance, stating that its maker, Corporal Jackson W. Clark, had died of starvation in the Confederate prison at Salisbury, N.C., on December 2, 1864.
One of the bargains of the day was a handwritten account of a 1786 wreck of the sloop Fame out of New London, off the coast of the Dutch Indies. Twelve pages long, it was very detailed, explaining that Captain Colfax and the other few survivors lashed themselves to the bowsprit for three days. Written by Thomas Williams of Plainfield, Conn., one of the survivors, it sold for only $1,180 to an Internet bidder.
Before the sale both days, Kaja gave the audience some insight as to the labor involved in arranging a two-day, 1,200-lot sale. He said that over a three-month period, 15 staff members working full time put in more than 7,000 hours to get everything moved, photographed, researched, cataloged and then displayed for the actual sale.
He also said that he has often been asked where the name “Kaja” comes from. His response: “I picked that name myself when I was about 12 years old. I didn’t like my name, and my parents were okay with me changing it.” After the sale Veilleux said, “It was really a fun sale for us with all the Maine stuff. Some things really took off like that Empire stand. After the sale, there were several phone calls and emails about the Corot that was passed at the sale. One guy offered $150,000 for it. We’re arranging a private auction now and I’m sure it will sell by the end of the week.”
“We only passed about 18 percent of the lots, which is very low. And it was good to see some of the stuff that had been brought in on free appraisal days do well. I’m the originator of free appraisal days — I started doing that over 45 years ago.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.thomastonauction.com or 207-354-8141.
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